It's the people who use stuff that emits that cause climate change Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech

We’ve yet another of these dire warnings, that we’re all about to boil Flipper and we really must do something. The underlying logic of the claim being entirely wrong. Whether or not climate change is taking place is a scientific question. Sure, lots of lovely arguments about that science. But start from the information point that the IPCC is right, it is, we’re causing it and something should be done. Well, what is it that should be done?

That’s then an economic question. One laid out very well in the Stern Review. It’s also one discussed at length in the IPCC’s own reports. They manage to get it right, too.

It’s the final call, say scientists, the most extensive warning yet on the risks of rising global temperatures.

Their dramatic report on keeping that rise under 1.5 degrees C states that the world is now completely off track, heading instead towards 3C.

Staying below 1.5C will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

It will be hugely expensive, the report says, but the window of opportunity is not yet closed.

That’s entirely the wrong logic.

No, this isn’t to use economics in the guise of arguing for privatisation, or in favour of state control. Nor the level of inequality, none of that stuff at all. This is to use the insights into basic activities that the subjects grants us:

“The type of change required to limit warming to 1.5C is really unprecedented,” said Jim Skea, one of the authors of the report and a professor at Imperial College in London.

“We need to extend the kind of progress we have made in renewable energy [and the decarbonisation of the electricity sector] into other areas like transportation and land management.”

That is entirely arse over tit.

The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released on Monday say urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which they say is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.

As is that equally fundament over fun bags.

Start at the very beginning, our aim is to maximise human utility over time. We want as many humans as possible to be a happy as possible. Utility is defined by the humans themselves. Utility includes having the latest iPhone, a baby’s smile and Bath City Football Club reaching the Beazer Homes Leagues South West Division One. Yea verily, even the impossible. It is also over time. Making us happy at the expense of there being no humans in 200 years time doesn’t work.

There is some risk that whatever we do there might be no humans in 200 years time – that asteroid might arrive. Thus there is a discount rate to future humans and their happiness – those chapters of the Stern Review.

No, no, leave the details. That’s the logic. The empirical bits get filled in after we’ve all agree on these basics.

So, we do realise that some things need to change given that we’ve already started from the point that there’s a problem, we’re causing it and something should be done. Our limitation here is that we don’t want to decrease current utility more than that we’ll save in the future by changing. We could indeed all return to being subsistence peasants, billions would die and climate change wouldn’t happen. That’s too high a cost for that future benefit. If it all cost thruppence ha’penny to solve then we’d do it in a flash and not even worry about it.

A classic economic point, we want to have the right balance here. The optimal amount of action – the optimal amount of climate change. What we’re trying to optimise being that well being, that utility of humans over time, of all humans over all time.

That optimal amount being where the costs of making the changes to prevent it, in reduced human utility, are equal to the damage to human utility avoided. If we do less change than this then we’re reducing future utility by more than we’re adding to present. Equally, if we do more than this then we’re increasing future utility by less than we’re reducing current. Neither of those is optimising utility over time.

Note that this isn’t some denialist logic, it’s not some right wing nor neoliberal invention, this is the plain flat out economic logic of the situation. As parts of the IPCC reports make clear, as the Stern Review does.

So, when we start to talk about what must be done. We do not start with a temperature target and then pledge, whatever the cost, to meet it. We start with the cost and then work out what temperature that’s going to lead us to. Because it is costs and benefits we are trying to balance, not temperatures.

So, now we’ve got the scientists, none of whom would recognise economic logic if it came up and bit them on those fundaments, telling us that in order to meet a temperature target it’s going to be very expensive, very expensive indeed. And that is our problem. The more expensive it is to meet that temperature target the less we want the target to be that temperature.

Again, start from where we accept, arguendo, the basic idea that it’s all happening and something must be done. Even with that we’ve the entire world following the wrong logic. The more expensive it is to hit 1.5 degrees then the less we want 1.5 degrees to be our target. If 1.5 degrees requires massive expenditure now, more than the gains in human happiness in the future, then we want to allow the temperature to rise 1.75, or 2.0, or 2.5 degrees.

This entire climate change process has managed to become derailed from the most basic logic of what climate change is about. The more we’ve got to sacrifice today then the more correct is the decision to allow Flipper to boil. Any decision making process that doesn’t grasp that is simply wrong. Our problem being that the fools are trying to plan the world on their ignorance of this basic and simple point.

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Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

Tim, you are entirely too willing to go for the arguendo route. As far as catastrophic climate change is concerned, that is to concede too much. The fact is, it’s all bollocks and we don’t need to -indeed cannot afford to – do anything..

Spike
Member

“some things need to change given that we’ve already started from the point that there’s a problem” — I’m with Rhoda. “What do you mean, ‘we,’?” Unsurprising that a UN agency should publish a study (pron.: sales pitch) demanding “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”, given that finding that that is the case is the IPCC’s firm mandate. Regulation, not remediation, is its goal. If it found that all were well, the members would be replaced. To argue for gentler regulation that won’t push us all the way back to the Stone Age is to be… Read more »

BB01
Member
BB01

Where did 1,5C come from, why is it a magic number? It is said that it is only above this temperature increase that climate change outside natural variation can be observed. In the last 100 years, temperature increase is said to have been 0,8C, and more than half of this occurred prior to the late 1970s when it is said Man-made global warming started. This being so how can the alleged Man-made climate change caused by alleged Man-made global warming have been happening already for the past 30 years? An effect in the absence of its cause – now that’s… Read more »

Southerner
Member

The alarmists generally agree on a range 1.5 to 2.5 Celcius. People are not crapping their pants hard enough, so some extreme alarmists are doubling down on their nonsense by saying 3 degrees Celcius, a figure supported only by the climate journalists. The climate models depend for their scaremongering predictions on something called “feedback.” This feedback was never a scientific proposition and over the last 20 years it has been shown that if feedback exists at all, it is negative and would tend to reduce the rate of warming.

Spike
Member

Far from “feedback,” the most likely case is that some percentage of increased global heat energy will be radiated back into space (even if we don’t curtail our lives). About which we have absolutely no data.

Spike
Member

Regarding multipliers, did you know that every $1 of new government spending achieves $2 or $3 of economic “growth”? And that payments for being unemployed are the best way to get funds to people to spend? There is no time to wait for empirical evidence!

Southerner
Member

Yes but it’s a fact that every $1 spent on an Aventador has three times the multiplier effect of a dollar spent on a Tata. Well it’ll pick up at least three times as much fluff.

Spike
Member

And the two in the back seat won’t get gasoline on their shoes — no, sorry, that was the Yugo.

Yes, something better than my Hyundai would have a multiplier effect in cruising Hampton Beach, when one’s mind is set on multiplying.

Southerner
Member

Here’s the source of the 1.5°C — the IPCC themselves. Backed up by a genuine climate scientist (as opposed to climate politician, climate journalist, climate cartoonist or climate pope) Dr Judith Curry previously of BEST, Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature. https://judithcurry.com/2018/10/08/1-5-degrees/

Spike
Member

In fact, the real goal (which we cannot achieve, fighting the sunspot and Milankovitch cycles) (and except that no UN treaty has bound the most problematic polluters, and none will if it can instead mandate wealth transfers) is not to limit man-caused global warming [sic] to a consensus figure; it is to regulate Earth to its best average temperature. We are nowhere near knowing what this might be, but I vote for an era of hot beach days, bumper crops, and springtimes where baseball is not snowed out. He is occasionally an ogre, but thank God for a US President… Read more »

TD
Member
TD

Ok. So I’m not an economist. As someone who’s been a partner in a few privately held businesses I think grasp the fundamentals reasonably well. After all., I did take Econ 1A AND 1B over 40 years ago. Even today I think I could score a B or more likely, a B- on an Econ exam. So, I get the point of the Utility argument, but it seems to me that it fails to address just how much Utility varies among individuals. There are, after all, huge numbers of people (shall we call them liberals?) who think everyone (but them)… Read more »