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Trusting Nature as the Climate Referee
January 31, 2011 2:39 AM   Subscribe

NYT article discussing a hypothetical proposal for a temperature based tax on carbon by Canadian economist Ross McKitrick.
posted by Philosopher's Beard (44 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Global-warming policy is stuck in a permanent stalemate for very basic reasons. Important divisions of opinion still exist on the extent of humanity's influence on climate, whether or not the situation is a crisis, whether and how much greenhouse-gas emissions should be cut, if so how to do it, and what is the most we should be prepared to pay in the process.

The proposal does not address the first two points of "stalemate". Nor is there much that seems new in this. The Economist magazine has long supported (and continues to support) a carbon-tax, but I am skeptical.

In Sweden, petrol is the equivalent of 8 dollars a gallon and it seems to me that people none the less drive as much as they need to. The introduction of a congestion fee around Stockholm city has not either changed people's driving habits. Both are just sources of cash income for the national government to spend on whatever.

The carbon tax might start off at a rate that would raise the cost of a gallon of gasoline by a nickel — or, if there were political will, perhaps 10 or 15 cents. Those numbers are all too low to satisfy environmentalists worried about climate change.

See above. Adding 10 or 15 cents tax to the cost of an American gallon won't do anything to change people's driving habits. Introducing a new tax will just piss a large part of the population off.

If there were political will - assuming conservative will support any tax and liberals will not oppose the regressive nature of the tax - to raise the price of petrol to 8 dollars a gallon it might have some effect - mostly keeping poor people off the streets - but if the example of Europe is any guide Americans will re-adjust and continue to drive as much as before.

If there were political will to raise the price to 25 dollars a gallon which might actually influence the driving habits of Americans, then America has bigger problems than controlling global warming.
posted by three blind mice at 3:13 AM on January 31, 2011


Yeah let's raise the gas prices on a people that have no public transit so they can suffer while rich hip liberals get to talk about saving the planet as they drive their hummers around!!!
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 3:25 AM on January 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


From what I understand, tropical tropospheric warming is not a "unique fingerprint" of anthropogenic global warming. It should happen in response to any increase in surface temperature. The fact that it appears (according to some interpretations of the data) not to be happening despite measured surface temperature warming means that either our measurements are wrong or the models are wrong with regards to the tropical troposphere. The current consensus seems to be the former - not so much that the measurements are wrong, but that satellite measurements have a wide margin of error, and there is high variability between different sensors.

In any case, tying a tax to this single indicator is a problem. It would not reliably target anthropogenic global warming, and it completely disregards the fact that the models could very well be wrong about the effect on the tropical troposphere and still be correct about the overall trend. I find it odd that someone would be willing to believe so absolutely in what the models predict about the connection of surface and tropospheric temperature, and yet reject what they predict about the consequences of increased greenhouse gasses. It strikes me as the same old cherry picking that every crank uses to justify their preconceived notions.
posted by Nothing at 3:43 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Global-warming policy is stuck in a permanent stalemate for very basic reasons

Because people like McKitrick and his partner MacIntyre deliberately muddy the waters, and are paid by denier organisations to do so.
posted by daveje at 3:46 AM on January 31, 2011 [15 favorites]


Cyclopsis Raptor, if you're driving a Hummer you probably aren't much of a liberal. Also, good job of piling on strawmen.

I am skeptical that a temperature-based tax will be helpful unless its source data was scaled for long-term climate change. As has been demonstrated by the regular waves of shortsighted news reports proclaiming the death of global warming due to single-year cold spells, individual years vary too greatly to be of much use for determining emission penalties. We have an unusually cold year, the bottom falls out of the index, everyone fills the air with CO2, the average temperature rises a fraction of a degree.

Also, using a mechanism like this to determine carbon taxes gives greedy industrialists another route toward figuring out a way to allow themselves to produce more pollution, by possibly mucking around with the measurements and standards that are used as index temperatures. If important taxes are defined through scientific means, those measuring processes need to be hardened against industrial tampering.

In any case, corporations are largely preoccupied with moving their operations out of the U.S. This may not even accomplish anything except giving China an economic boost.
posted by JHarris at 3:50 AM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow daveje, good find.
posted by JHarris at 3:54 AM on January 31, 2011


davejo. That profile doesn't say much., In any case, everyone gets paid by someone. It's too easy to do this ad hominem thing and avoid considering the arguments.

People do respond to prices even when they don't respond to moral arguments
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 4:37 AM on January 31, 2011


When I was a graduate student in economics, I attended a talk McKitrick had been invited to give. It was basically a boring presentation in which he dodged meaningful questions about his research with vague homilies about skepticism and opened mindedness. Whereas most of the faculty (and all of the students) were essentially frothing at the mouth the moment he began to talk, the economists seemed to be maintaining an embarrassed decorum. Finally, though, he was pressed on the question of whether or not he gets any money from the oil industry. He absolutely, indignantly, also angrily claimed that he saw not a cent from them and would never consider taking their money.

Sadly, this was before the days of ubiquitous smartphones, so the other Econ grad students and myself weren't able to confirm until later that Prof. McKormick was indeed dissembling. Even if it's true the oil companies aren't directly funding his "research", they're directly paying for various activities and events promoting that research, and he is funded indirectly by ideological think tanks and other groups very invested in global warming denial, that are themselves heavily funded by the oil industry.

To me at least, this dissembling is all you need to know about the guy.

But here's some background from deep climate:


posted by ~ at 4:46 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh for goodness sake. Here's the link.
posted by ~ at 4:47 AM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


“We need everything that’s out there.
We don’t log to a ten-inch top.
We log to infinity.
Because we need it all.
It’s ours.
It’s out there,
and we need it all.
Now.”

–Harry Merlo, CEO, Louisiana Pacific
posted by larry_darrell at 5:39 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


SurfaceStations.org has been comparing the NOAA stations vs their siting criteria. By those criteria, only 10% of the stations hit an estimated error rating of under 1C. 61% show a potential error of +5C or greater - (see this, para 2.2.1 for criteria) This is with 1003 of 1221 stations surveyed by unpaid volunteers.

A near ideal station looks like this. Note the clear views in all directions, the low ground cover, the lack of any sort of surfaces like parking lots or buildings to trap heat. There's a gravel parking lot over to the NW, but from the graph of the 100-year record there doesn't seem to be much influence from it.

Compare it to this - where there's many sources of heat bias - from the cell phone tower to the air conditioner heat exchangers to the close proximity to the parking lot and concrete walkways. For some reason, this one shows a significant warming of the local area.

And with any computer model, your output is dependent on both input and the 'adjustments' done to the input data inside the program itself. Garbage in, garbage out - bad data in can't be 'adjusted' to give a good result. Good data in, 'adjusted' all over the place... gives a fictional result - not reality. Computer models aren't reality and shouldn't be confused with it. They may MATCH reality - but that doesn't mean they will continue to do so - and if it doesn't match observations now the probability it'll do it

One last thought... would the siting criteria of stations outside the US be better, or worse?

As I've said before, I believe in AGW (due to Ruddiman's paper on agriculturally induced methane) - but I also think that if it weren't for AGW we'd be about two thousand years out from the bottom of an ice age. Personally, I think that since we haven't reached the peaks of the MWP or the RWP (from data collected in Alaska here) and seem to be sliding down from those that to start obsessing about CO2 is very likely to prove an expensive mistake.
posted by JB71 at 5:48 AM on January 31, 2011


Well, spit...

"and if it doesn't match observations now the probability it'll do it" should be finished with "later isn't exactly high."
posted by JB71 at 5:50 AM on January 31, 2011


People do respond to prices even when they don't respond to moral arguments

Corporate entities respond not by changing their ways, but by lobbying the ever loving christ out of Washington that the world is ending and that there will be zero jobs in America if the tax continues.

So, this whole idea is contingent on the strong backbone of a resolute government. They need to stand up to the endless pockets and campaign contributions of corporation lobbyists and hold the line, which come to think of it, would solve about 10,000 of our problems.
posted by dflemingecon at 6:01 AM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


People do respond to prices even when they don't respond to moral arguments

The idea with the carbon tax is to create a real "cost" and in that sense it is a very reasonable conclusion for an economist to come to.

The problem is that when these costs are based on moral arguments (and not, for example, production costs) the whole scheme becomes subject to political manipulation. Like the congestion charge which was introduced to reduce congestion, the price level was adjusted to maximise revenue to the state. Too few cars paying the tax just would not do, even if this is the stated goal of the tax. But that lure of that sweet, sweet "fee" revenue proved too strong for the cash-strapped city government.

It is too easy for an economist to offer the preamble - "If there is political will..." - and ignoring the fact that no such political will exists. And where it does exist it is corrupt and feckless.
posted by three blind mice at 6:13 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's tax murder, next.
posted by eegphalanges at 6:43 AM on January 31, 2011


So what you're saying is that human-related greenhouse gas emissions really begin in the Neolithic period, with the clearing of forests, the raising of livestock, and the introduction of (methane-producing) wet rice cultivation, and that we should not be looking back at human activities during the last 200 years or so as the prime cause of warming.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:47 AM on January 31, 2011


That's what Ruddiman's saying, KokuRyu. His hypothesis (and the data) fits pretty well. (Fig. 1, Chart B.) There's also a number of indications that CO2's a trailing indicator, not a leading one, but that's certainly open for discussion.

Add in that the sun may well be going into a Maunder Minumum-type sunspot cycle (which was an immediate precursor to the Little Ice Age) and we might well be wishing for 'warming'.
posted by JB71 at 7:21 AM on January 31, 2011


I don't know about the rest of you, but I pretty distinctly recall when the gas prices spiked back in ~2005, and people's driving habits definitely changed, at least in the short term. I'm not sure if people really drove fewer mileage (although I've heard it said that they did, and that the price eventually started to moderate due to "demand destruction"), but just around DC it seemed to me like people slowed down significantly. So even with the same number of miles being driven, the amount of fuel consumed and greenhouse emissions produced could have decreased.

For many people -- those who commute and don't have public transportation available, which in the US is a huge chunk of the population -- there's a hard minimum to how many miles they're going to drive. Even if gas is $8 a gallon, they still need to get to work, and they're going to drive. (Although they might carpool if it got dire enough, but I think the carpool-inducing pain level is really high for people used to driving themselves.) However, there's a fair bit of non-essential driving that can be reduced, and is reduced when fuel prices go up. Plus, when gas is cheap, people tend not to think about the route they're going to take while running errands, or about putting the pedal a bit further down when they're running a minute or two behind. That's the kind of behavior that seems to be price-sensitive.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:15 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Garbage in, garbage out - bad data in can't be 'adjusted' to give a good result. Good data in, 'adjusted' all over the place... gives a fictional result - not reality.

lol


Personally, I think that since we haven't reached the peaks of the MWP or the RWP

*yawn*


There's also a number of indications that CO2's a trailing indicator, not a leading one, but that's certainly open for discussion.

*sigh*...
posted by Bangaioh at 8:41 AM on January 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


Paul Krugman on elasticity of demand for gasoline:
In the long run, the best estimate of the price elasticity of demand for auto fuel seems to be -0.7. That is, a 10 percent rise in prices will reduce gas consumption by 7 percent. Of this, 4 points come from shifting to cars with better mileage, 3 points from driving less.
Even though McKitrick is a well-known member of the "no action required" camp, it's an interesting proposal. The troposphere is indeed warming.

The more typical carbon tax proposal is simply to introduce a tax on CO2 emissions, gradually and steadily increasing.

If the "no action" camp is willing to accept a carbon tax in principle, that'd be a big step forward.
posted by russilwvong at 8:56 AM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am skeptical of your skeptical skepticism, Bangaioh.

Talk to me in 50 years, I'll bet you a beer the trend will have either been flat or curved down.
posted by JB71 at 9:02 AM on January 31, 2011


JB71, I'm curious what surfacestations.org has done with all that data. After all, they seem to be doing a great job of classifying surface stations based on potential bias. Why haven't they analyzed all that data and published?

Oh wait, researchers at NOAA beat them to the punch, and published their results in the Journal of Geophysical Research. What did they find when they compared the "good" and "bad" stations? "...we find no evidence that the CONUS average temperature trends are inflated due to poor station siting."
posted by [citation needed] at 9:14 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry, Philosopher's Beard, McKitrick is an industry shill. And if you're playing with facts, on this issue, it makes one a thug. He's a go-to "respectable, reasonable" voice by the denier/opposed-industry crowd (I say opposed industry, as there are fossil fuel companies and utilities which have been very progressive on climate policy), a favorite of Joe Barton and his ilk. I worked in Congress on this issue for the past three years (you're welcome, America!) so I do have special knowledge on this front.

What makes this fail as climate policy is that the temperature you are seeing at any given time (even the three-year moving average that he proposes) is the result of emissions and warming built into the system decades before. This is the problem of climate change, why it is such a vicious conundrum given the way humans make decisions--by the time the really bad shit is happening, it is far too late to do something about it. Policy is about future temperatures, not current ones. We have to act now as if future temperatures are too high. Because if we go the way we are going, they will be. And then we will go, because the human habitat will be seriously threatened.

If you wanted to devise a way of eradicating the human species in the most ironic way possible, by playing on our in-built cognitive weaknesses, climate change would be the way to do it.
posted by oneironaut at 10:08 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is a pretty clever idea because it forces the parties to put their bets on the table. If oil companies and Republicans really believe that global warming isn't an issue, they have no reason to oppose this tax. There are significant practical hurdles, like the choice of temperature measure. But if it's politically possible and a straight-up carbon tax isn't, then it's a good compromise.

I think the carpool-inducing pain level is really high for people used to driving themselves
Last time I did the math, two people carpooling in a small car is more efficient than riding any kind of subway, bus, or train, doesn't require any sort of public subsidy, and doesn't have quite the same cultural stigma. I suspect it might take off before public transit for middle class Americans.
posted by miyabo at 10:22 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, [citation needed] ... This site isn't affected at all by what's been built up around it? That temp sensor isn't going to react to heat reflected onto it, or by being downwind of air conditioning heat exchangers, or next to (for example) an idling vehicle?

Damn - got to stop believing my lying eyes, then, and my common sense. Because my experience has been if you've got a thermometer and you're measuring something and trying to be accurate about it, you've got to try to keep what you're measuring as unaffected as possible by outside heat sources.

Or could that paper you link be the result of researchers who understand that their reputations, therefore tenure and longevity, are threatened because a formally supposedly impeccably clean data base is shown to have some pretty glaring problems? CYA happens everywhere, you know, and if the sites you thought were spotless are suddenly shown to be dirty, are you going to go "Uh, you know all that global warming stuff? We wuz wrong..." or are you going to come up with a really really good reason why sites that (by their own criteria) can be up to 5 degrees off are suddenly as unbiased as it's possible to get?

Nah - that never happens, does it? Except... One in seven scientists say colleagues fake data, though only 2% will confess to doing it themselves.

Looks like there's been some significant 'adjusting' of the data over time by NOAA, too. Of course, one example doesn't prove much of anything... but does it generate the least bit of doubt in your mind that MAYBE things are somewhat different than presented?

I mean, I can understand Al Gore pushing the meme till it broke - he had a stake in carbon trading. Hansen has to push it - he called for it after all and if he doesn't say it exists what he's done will collapse.
Energy Tribune- Is It Really The Warmest Ever?

Despite claims to the contrary, in recent years, global temperatures stopped warming. Even Phil Jones of the UK Climate Research Unit after Climategate admitted there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995 (15 years) and between 2002 and 2009, the global temperatures had declined 0.12C (0.22F).
And a bit more on that...
BBC News - Q&A: Professor Phil Jones

B - Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming?

Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

C - Do you agree that from January 2002 to the present there has been statistically significant global cooling?

No. This period is even shorter than 1995-2009. The trend this time is negative (-0.12C per decade), but this trend is not statistically significant.
I think there's a lot less 'warming' going on than advertised - and I also think it's not going to matter at all to those who get some sort of satisfaction (either financial or emotional) out of pushing it.

Because this site? Shows variability... but I don't see much in the way of long-term warming.

Me? I'm looking for honesty in it all. The question then becomes, how will I know it when I see it?

To me, something like the chart from that second site is a start. Show me the raw data. Don't process it, adjust it, manipulate it. don't make me think (like Al Gore) that you've got something to be gained (either rep or renumeration) by pushing the "OMG!AGW!We're all gonna FRY!" alarm.

Your mileage may vary, of course. But just remember it's not a bad idea at all to question authority.
posted by JB71 at 10:22 AM on January 31, 2011


JB71: Damn - got to stop believing my lying eyes, then, and my common sense. Because my experience has been if you've got a thermometer and you're measuring something and trying to be accurate about it, you've got to try to keep what you're measuring as unaffected as possible by outside heat sources.

JB71, if you don't trust surface station measurements, the satellite measurements of temperature in the troposphere also show warming. Also see ocean heat measurements.

By the way, check out this visualization of increasing CO2 levels, as measured by the NASA Aqua spacecraft.
posted by russilwvong at 10:36 AM on January 31, 2011


Talk to me in 50 years, I'll bet you a beer the trend will have either been flat or curved down.

Two beers says otherwise. I agree with the Rundiman hypothesis that AGW has been on-going for thousands of years, and that if wasn't for human-induced land-use changes we'd be well into an ice age by now, but current CO2 levels are simply unprecedented in the paleoclimate record, certainly for the past few million years. These are levels that are associated with a completely different climate regime from the one we've been enjoying.

The Milankovitch cycles might be going the other way, and maybe there's a Maunder minimum coming, maybe not. But it doesn't matter. CO2 is the big control knob of Earth's climate.

russilwvong: here's another visualisation of CO2 levels, but this one goes back hundreds of thousands of years.
posted by daveje at 11:14 AM on January 31, 2011


Daveje -

Tell you what - let's make it a six-pack, if the nursing home attendents will allow it! (I'll be over a hundred, so it might have to be IV!)
posted by JB71 at 11:18 AM on January 31, 2011


russilwvong - I trust the readings, of good-quality stations.

It's after they've been adjusted, normalized, and massaged to a happy ending that I start to wonder if they're an accurate representation of what was originally recorded.
posted by JB71 at 11:20 AM on January 31, 2011


Or could that paper you link be the result of researchers who understand that their reputations, therefore tenure and longevity, are threatened because a formally supposedly impeccably clean data base is shown to have some pretty glaring problems? CYA happens everywhere, you know, and if the sites you thought were spotless are suddenly shown to be dirty, are you going to go "Uh, you know all that global warming stuff? We wuz wrong..." or are you going to come up with a really really good reason why sites that (by their own criteria) can be up to 5 degrees off are suddenly as unbiased as it's possible to get?

If the data is so obviously flawed, why hasn't Anthony Watts published evidence of this bias? If he fears some great conspiracy among the journals that would exclude the paper, why doesn't he just publish the results online, or through the Heartland Institute, as he did with this slick booklet, replete with pictures of stations next to their temperature record? Why doesn't he publish a comparison of the good and bad sites? This project has been ongoing since 2007, where is his evidence of a warming bias from the poorly sited stations? Silence. Instead, he traffics in insinuation and anecdote.
posted by [citation needed] at 11:24 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


JB71: "russilwvong - I trust the readings, of good-quality stations.

It's after they've been adjusted, normalized, and massaged to a happy ending that I start to wonder if they're an accurate representation of what was originally recorded
"

But that could be said about any station, good or bad. Who's to say what's been adjusted, or how? (Besides the scientists and various people who have studied and worked in this field, of course... though you give the impression you don't trust them either...)

It's speculative and serves only to sow seeds of doubt, which does us no good in actually dealing with such a time-sensitive issue. The longer the climate change deniers manage to keep the focus of the debate on whether it is happening at all, rather than moving on to figure out how best to deal with it, the harder it becomes to actually improve the situation (or at least prevent it from getting worse).
posted by kilo hertz at 12:04 PM on January 31, 2011


Alternatively, what if we look at the situation through the lens of Pascal's Wager?

If climate change is happening and we do nothing to fix it, we effectively inhibit our ability to continue living on this planet.
If it is happening and we do something, we get to continue living, albeit with a few changes (cut back consumption, find/use alternative sources of energy, etc.).
If it isn't happening and we do nothing, nothing changes.
And if it isn't happening and we do something about it, our lives continue but with the above changes.

What reason is there, then, to not do anything?


I should make clear that in the context of philosophy, religion, and belief in god, I have issues with Pascal's Wager (specifically the values assigned), but that's more suited to a different discussion. For context of this discussion, however, I find the framework to be quite useful.
posted by kilo hertz at 12:18 PM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sorry, Philosopher's Beard, McKitrick is an industry shill.

Well, obviously. I still like his idea, though. Except that given the variability of climate, the moving average used should probably be ten years or something, instead of three.
posted by sfenders at 12:38 PM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


It appears that this thread disproves the notion (from the NYT piece) that "The penalties could start off small enough to be politically palatable to skeptical voters.", given the foaming at the mouth it seems to have induced in some of the participants.

I actually thought this was on the face of it an appealing proposal - but then I am a proponent of carbon taxes in general. If a sensible measure could be used to create a feedback loop, this would make the tax self regulating. Even if you favour a scheme where a carbon tax is introduced at a low level and gradually increased, unless you propose that the tax increases forever until carbon is not used at all, you need some measure by which to determine where to stop.

I'm not saying that McKitrick's proposed measure is the right one though - his background is enough to make me worry he might be cherry picking his measures.
posted by pascal at 12:45 PM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree that this tax is utter rubbish, but Three Blind Mice, when you say:

The introduction of a congestion fee around Stockholm city has not either changed people's driving habits.

you couldn't be more wrong:
    "Here are some of the early results from the Stockholm Trial, which involved a tax of between US $1.50 and 2.75 or so per car, depending on time of day and prevailing exchange rate: 1. The Trial reduced traffic even more than expected. Planners expected 10-15% reduction, and they got about 22% -- nearly a quarter, on average. 2. Mobility improved significantly. The data showed this, and everyone talked about it: it was a lot easier to get around, and you could more reliably predict that you would arrive at your destination on time. 3. Carbon dioxide emissions were reduced 2-3% overall in Stockholm County, just as a result of this one policy. Reductions were around 14% in the inner city, compared to pre-toll levels. 4. Particulates, NOx, and other noxious pollutants were also (rather obviously) reduced, and science-based cost-benefit calculations show the policy would save a number of people from early death with this policy -- in fact, it would save about 300 cumulative life-years. Probably about 25 people were spared the agony of a traffic injury, as well, just during the short period of the trial. 5. Public transport use increased by about 6% (but about 1.5% of that is credited to higher fuel prices during this period). And we got new buses.
Taxes can produce significant changes. It's not a blanket rule - and tax on temperature change is dumb, but generally speaking higher prices do indeed change consumer behaviour. Other examples of this include taxes on alcohol and cigarettes in Australia (I only pick this because I happen to know about it, I'm sure there are others) where rises in prices have been directly and incontrovertibly linked to consumption.

The main problem with this tax is that it's focussed on taxing the change - temperature - not the agent of change, carbon. The sooner we have a global carbon tax the better.
posted by smoke at 2:09 PM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dear JB71:

1. Why is England warmer than Maine?
2. Why is CO2 called a greenhouse gas?
3. What's a Hadley cell?
4. What are the residence times in the atmosphere for CO2 and methane?
5. There are many accepted uncertainties in climate research. Name a few.
6. Explain the 5 steps of the peer review process.
7. What's a positive feedback loop? Give an example.
8. How much money is given, in grants, to climate research every year?
9. What are the net annual profits for oil, coal, and natural gas companies?
10. Name a scientist who agrees with you who has demonstrated that they can answer the previous 9 questions.
posted by one_bean at 12:56 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


oneironaut The cleverness of a tax like this (it doesn't have to be exactly this one), is that if it works future temperature is actually factored into present consumption. Companies would compete with each other to develop their own super accurate climate models to show them what the temperature, and thus the tax, will be in 5 years, 10, or 20. They will then start planning their consumption - e.g. office and factory set-ups - and production choices - energy efficiency of their products - on the basis of how this tax will effect their total cost.

At present companies compete with each other to lobby politicians to grant them special exemptions from facing up to reality i.e. to get to keep dumping waste into the atmosphere without paying for its true cost. The idea of this is to more closely align companies' (and consumers) interests with reality. This is a case where economic thinking may give us a way to break through the veil of hypocrisy that politics so often generates.

NB I blogged more on this issue of how economics and politics should try to learn from each other elsewhere
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 3:03 AM on February 1, 2011


"Companies would compete with each other to develop their own super accurate climate models."

Ahem.

We already have them. McKitrick and his ilk would like you to believe that we don't, and you have apparently imbibed the colored sugar water.

What would be the business case for investing in the time, expertise, and computing power needed to develop lots of new climate models? It would apply to very few companies, I would imagine.

Do you know who has that incentive? Insurance companies. And that's why you can't buy insurance within a few miles of coastal areas in places like Maryland and Long Island. The long-term sea-level and storm models no longer work. You don't need to know precisely how much they no longer work--the point is, we have a great deal of uncertainty where we didn't have before. This is why a company like Marsh, which does business risk, was a member of the US Climate Action Partnership, which advocated for cap-and-trade. Marsh wasn't going to be buying and selling tons of carbon credits, but they wanted to do something about climate change, because the risk and uncertainty that is already here is already hurting their bottom line and their long-term business prospects.

Who else needs these models? The Federal government, so we can make multi-billion-dollar infrastructure investments, and guard against their being prematurely damaged by weather and flooding. State governments too. The military needs these models, to decide about base construction, and long-term strategic planning to deal with the instability from climate effects. They are already planning for climate change because we can't afford not to.

Notice a trend? The people and institutions whose reason for being is long-term planning aren't waiting for you.

So keep on with this infuriating "we just need to know more to act," but don't pretend it makes you sage or deliberative. It means you are on the wrong side of history, and you are swallowing the arguments of people who are paid to confound the issue to benefit the short-term bottom line of a small set of very powerful interests. We know that we are building a great deal more risk into our climactic risk. We don't know how much, but the uncertainty is all on the bad side.

And do you know who else isn't waiting? China. Europe. India. We are being left behind in energy technology. Go on, help turn America into an intellectual and technological backwater. Just don't pretend you're being wise in the process.
posted by oneironaut at 10:10 AM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Many good points. My concern is that your solution depends on politics working properly i.e. being good at converging and agreeing on the truth about science and the public interest. Clearly it doesn't.

This idea attempts to bypass much of that.

Just like insurers would act more from self-interest if governments didn't distort the price signals (reality checks) with enormous insurance subsidies to political constituencies living on the coasts (e.g. Florida see Economist article, towards the bottom)
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 11:40 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Right. And, as someone wrote above, McKitrick is part of the crowd that has deliberately prevented politics from working properly, by sowing half-truths and outright lies, to prevent the agreement about science and the public interest. And as JB71's parroting of that nonsense, as others have pointed out, like temperature stations, CO2 lagging--what that shows is that their campaign has been successful. Those are BS talking points generated by the denier crowd, abetted by lowlifes like McKitrick.

Look. I was there. I was an advocate and then I staffer. I helped write the bills. I had meetings with hundreds of House and Senate offices before I joined one. I did a hell of a lot of education. And then as a staffer, I worked closely with industry and enviros alike to get something done. And we got damned close. The failure of climate legislation was not inevitable. It was deliberately sabotaged.

So if you want to have a discussion about what now?, start a new thread. One that doesn't take as its jumping off-point someone who deliberately put us in this wilderness, and who personally profited from it.

Asking the climate policy folk here to engage in a serious conversation with you on a thread with McKitrick as its lead, is like asking abuse victims to discuss the physical therapy theories of someone who beat them up. Except in this case, it was the human race that took a boot to the head. That and the long-term health of the American industrial sector.

McKitrick is a villian.
posted by oneironaut at 2:44 PM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't understand. Are you saying Mefites are too stupid to talk sensibly about something like this? Does it have to be all heroes and villains like some kind of children's comic?

I posted this piece myself exactly because I wanted to try to have a different kind of discussion on this issue. It's true that hasn't exactly worked, but I have learned some interesting things about McKitrick (thanks especially to squiggle for the link to deep climate.org and interesting analysis of the counter-science lobbying movement there).

Several people did try to take the proposal seriously and I appreciated their points, but they were somewhat drowned out and excluded by those who just wanted to repeat the usual things. Including you.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 5:17 AM on February 2, 2011


If you want to have a different kind of discussion on the issue, than start with ideas that would lead there. This idea wasn't one of them.
posted by oneironaut at 10:26 AM on February 2, 2011


And let me just say, I did address the fundamental flaws of the proposal in more than one post. I addressed the moving average problem, as well as additional climate modeling. But don't be surprised if you get a strong reaction on a fraught issue. McKitrick's proposition is not value-free, it is not impartial, and it is not without a political agenda. You didn't know that, because you didn't know who he was. So when you say something like, "hey, there is a fundamental conflict here, let's move beyond it," make sure you understand the issues in the fundamental conflict first. That you didn't know who he was, and didn't do the elementary research to do so, shows that you don't. In the end, this could have been a much better post had you said something like, "now, I know this guy carries a lot of baggage with him, and is partially responsible for the current mess of the climate debate, but let's put all that aside and address his idea critically, impartially, as if it appeared sui generis and we didn't know who proposed it," then we could have had a debate more along the lines you wanted. But not including that is a very serious error, because this is not a trivial subject matter, and it bears preparing for. If you had said such a thing, the debate would have been shorter and more to the point.

Because he's wrong. ;)
posted by oneironaut at 10:53 AM on February 2, 2011


OK I can learn from that.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 4:59 AM on February 3, 2011


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