Global temperature pricing; reply to my critics

In a comment to my previous post, Statsguy raised a number of objections to geoengineering.  In principle, those objections should be included in the pricing scheme.  Thus if the sulfates approach has more nasty side effects that the cloud creation approach, then the (risk adjusted) estimated cost of those nasty side effects should be incorporated into the relative subsidies (or taxes) on various geoengineering-type strategies.  But I understand that not everyone will find this persuasive, so here I will try to answer my critics with some relatively pragmatic arguments.  Statsguy linked to an article with 20 objections to geoengineering.  How many of these are persuasive?  I’d say only the first one, and even that one is debatable.

1.  Possibility that it would create regional droughts.

I simply don’t know the science well enough to comment on this.  Robock refers to Mt. Pinatubo, which emitted all its sulfates from a single point source.  Could this problem be reduced by dispersing sulfates from many different locations?  Or does it depend on the fact that sunlight hits the tropics more directly (or vertically), and thus is less affected by stratospheric particles than sunlight hitting the polar regions?  I would appreciate if anyone who knows the science behind this issue would provide a comment.  From an economic perspective regional droughts are less of a problem than global warming (which could also produce droughts.) Less clear is whether they are less of a problem than the economic cost of a truly effective carbon mitigation program.  In an increasing globalized world it might be cheaper for a country like India (which is rapidly increasing its wealth) to buy food in global markets during drought, rather than do a crash program of moving away from carbon energy.  But obviously that would depend on the anticipated severity of the droughts, which I simply don’t know.  With world population growth slowing, and technological change in food production accelerating (due to biotech) I am not too worried about global food production going forward.  Also recall that higher CO2 levels combined with stable temperatures tends to boost plant productivity.  Finally, I see any geoengineering program being scaled up gradually, so it could be abandoned if nasty side effects developed.  This means of course that we should be doing a small scale test now, as we wouldn’t want to find out the policy doesn’t work when abandoning it would lead to a sudden 5 degree spike in temperatures.

2.  Ocean acidification.

My plan addresses this issue by calling for both carbon taxes and temperature taxes.  Some pundits have falsely used the moral hazard argument, suggesting that geoengineering will cause us to do less carbon abatement.  Yes, but in that case we should do less.

3.  Ozone depletion

This problem is temporary, and is of manageable size.  It could be figured into the tax/subsidy on sulfate emissions.  And it would therefore also push entrepreneurs toward polar cloud formation.

4.  Effect on plants.

Most studies suggest the net effect is positive.  Again, this is a good reason for scaling up the program gradually.  The effects on plant growth could be studied, and factored into the pricing scheme.  If it is a problem, it might provide an additional boost to the cloud formation approach (or the opposite, if clouds hurt plant growth in polar regions.)

5.  Acid rain.

Obviously this could be priced into the sulfate approach, and would not apply to the cloud formation approach.  This is really small potatoes.  Exxon-Mobil would be able to pay for their geoengineering program by paying China and India to install a few scrubbers to negate the effect of geoengineering on acid rain.  Because the material stays in the stratosphere much longer than ordinary pollution stays in the troposphere, it would be relatively easy to offset this effect.

6.  Effect on cirrus clouds.

Don’t know much about this one, but I assume that any nasty side effects would be related to point one above.

7.  Whitening the sky

Personally, this bothers me a lot.  I don’t think most other people are as “visual” as am.  Unless I see blue skies I get very depressed.  Again, cloud formation in the polar regions might be better—I just hope Eskimos don’t get SAD.

8.  Less sun for solar power.

This would be relatively easy to price into the subsidy.  Again, the super-low cost of geoengineering schemes could overcome this side effect.

9.  Environmental impact of implementation

Much less of a problem for some plans than others.  Again, easy to price in, as carbon would still be taxed.

10.  Rapid warming if deployment stops.

A good reason to test it now.  And also a good reason to fund research on emergency and scalable programs of carbon capture from the atmosphere.

11.  There is no going back.

False, sulfates wash out in about a year.  The cloud approach is reversible within a matter of days.

12.  Human error.

Another reason to test it now.

13. Undermining mitigation strategies.

If so, then it would be appropriate that these be undermined.

14.  Cost.

Obviously not a problem for my pricing plan, as they wouldn’t be built unless cost effective.

15.  Commercial control of this technology.

I’m not sure why this is a problem, but I suppose it could be limited to state-owned enterprises.  We do have commercial enterprises running nuclear power plants.  We might want to apply anti-trust laws so that no single company has much impact on global temperatures.

16.  Military uses of technology

It would make a good Oliver Stone film.  That’s all I have to say on this one.

17.  Conflicts with current treaties prohibiting technologies that modify climate in a detrimental way.

The point would be to improve climate.  And any regional losers could be compensated out of the tax/subsidy.  And finally, doesn’t the current Chinese policy of building one coal plant a week violate this treaty, but I don’t see anyone trying to apply it to the Chinese.  Or consider the Canadian firms digging up the tar sands.  Why doesn’t that violate the treaty?

18.  Control of the thermostat

Robock asks: “Would Russia agree?”  But that is equally true of the carbon abatement approach, and Russia has already said it doesn’t object to those policies.

19.  Question of moral authority

Robock draws a non-existent moral distinction between passive and active steps that affect the climate.  We need an international agreement with moral authority for carbon abatement to work (a la Copenhagen), and we’d need the same for temperature pricing to work.

20.  Unexpected consequences

Another reason to gradually scale up the program, and to start experimenting right now.

Looking back at these 20 items a few things stand out:

1.  Point one seems the strongest, which is why I spent the most amount of time on the possible adverse regional effects.

2.  In many of the earlier items there was a difference between the more widely known sulfates approach, and the less well known proposal to create more clouds in the polar regions.  Even if the cloud proposal is more expensive, it seems like it might be the way to go, as either plan would be far cheaper that carbon abatement.

3.  I do understand peoples’ gut reaction that a geoengineering policy requires far more international cooperation that carbon abatement.  But I also think that is only because people instinctively believe (probably correctly) that carbon abatement will be a partial failure.  The Earth will get warmer, so no country is likely to complain that we are putting so much effort into carbon abatement that the Earth is too cool.  But the same logic applies to geoengineering.  If we can’t get international agreement to stop all global warming, just create a pricing system that tries to cap temperatures at a level that everyone can accept.  Say a policy of geoengineering that caps global temperature increases at no more than 2 additional degrees.  I don’t think there would be much resistance to that sort of policy.  Even Russia has to worry about St Petersburg being flooded by rising sea levels.

4.  The overall effect of reading this list of 20 items is to make geoengineering seem like a foolish exercise in hubris.  Here’s how I think about the issue.   It seems to me that the human race is rapidly approaching a crossroads where we need to decide whether we will continue to pretend to be innocent creatures inhabiting the Earth, like bunny rabbits, or whether we will forthrightly acknowledge that for better or worse we basically control the fate of the Earth from here on out.  No matter what, whether we decide to use geoengineering or not, we will decide where global temperature will be 100 or 200 years from now.  We will increasingly decide which species become extinct, and which species that would have gone extinct (even without humans existing) that we will artificially save.  Within 100 years we will be able to prevent any future asteroid impacts on Earth.  We have already created nuclear technologies that require us to watch over nuclear waste for 10,000 years.  I don’t think it makes sense to use intuition about not fooling with Mother Nature any longer.

Yes, we have to factor in the “unknown unknowns” but that is true for anything we now do.  We don’t really even know for sure what would happened without carbon abatement.  It is even possible that those “climate cooling Cassandras” of the 1970s were fundamentally right.  Perhaps if we remove the excess carbon we’ll slide right into an Ice Age.  For better or worse we are now (increasingly) in control.  The human race needs to face this reality in a mature way.  I am 100 times more frightened about the potential nasty side effects of medical research (say a biotech-created bug as dangerous as the 1918 flu, or HIV, and transmitted by casual contact) than I am by side effects from gradually scaled up geoengineering programs.  And yet for better or worse we continue plunging into the great unknown of gene modification.  I am also far more frightened of the potential impact of a solar storms knocking out our electrical system for months, in the middle of a North American winter.  I don’t have the answers, but my intuition is that our revulsion at tinkering with Mother Nature is leading us to grossly overestimate risks in some areas, and grossly underestimate risks in others.  I’m sure someone like Robin Hanson could provide lots of examples.

As Arnold Kling would say: “Have a nice day.”



29 Responses to “Global temperature pricing; reply to my critics”

  1. Gravatar of Bob Murphy Bob Murphy
    21. October 2009 at 06:23

    No matter what, whether we decide to use geoengineering or not, we will decide where global temperature will be 100 or 200 years from now.

    You can’t know that with such confidence, at least for the 100 year framework. I think you are overrating scientists’ understanding of the global climate system.

    I think you are here possibly being analogous to someone defending the Wright brothers from Luddite critics, and saying, “We need to decide as a species if we want to fly like birds or not. In 100 years, everyone will have personal devices that allow them to soar through the skies. Get used to it, people.”

  2. Gravatar of Thorfinn Thorfinn
    21. October 2009 at 06:26

    This list is a little overkill. With apologies to Einstein; if it was really a bad idea, surely one argument would do.

    Geoengineering has many issues, but the best response is to say that the costs are low relative to the consequences of severe global warming.

    I have yet to hear any good arguments against the Levitt-Dubner idea to redirect sulphur emissions higher into the atmosphere. After all, we built smokestacks to do exactly this; no one seems to complain about that. Everyone agrees that high-altitude sulphur will lower temperature at no adverse cost. Suppose by a quirk of regulation our power plants did exactly this. Would anyone support spending a lot of money to redirect that pollution further down in the atmosphere?

    Really, this is a classic “nudge.” We have to pollute, and can choose to pollute in a way that will prevent climate-induced catastrophe.

  3. Gravatar of Paul Johnston Paul Johnston
    21. October 2009 at 08:53

    Sorry for posting something of absolutely no importance/usefulness to the discussion, but just wanted to let you know that this comment made my day:

    “Again, cloud formation in the polar regions might be better””I just hope Eskimos don’t get SAD.”

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. October 2009 at 09:21

    Bob, Yes, we cannot precisely fine tune the global temperature. But we do have it within our power to set the expected temperature at different levels, and that would still be true even if all geoengineering schemes were outlawed.

    Thorfinn, That is an excellent way of framing the issue. What if we were already doing it, and someone proposed shifting the particles to the troposphere? I think the main problem is fear of the unknown. But if we do it very gardually, I just don’t see how that risk is all that great.

    Thanks Paul.

  5. Gravatar of Carl Lumma Carl Lumma
    21. October 2009 at 10:41

    The problem isn’t negative effects of geoengineering, it’s unknown effects of geoengineering. Ecosystems and climate systems are tremendously complex and impossible to fully understand or predict. Even if sulfate tubes are merely a smaller version of natural volcanism, the latter is unpreventable. So are any number of climate-disrupting natural processes.

    The idea is to be guiltless. Warming and ocean acidification aren’t necessarily the only detriments of CO2. You mention that environmentalists are generally in favor of white roofs. I think the point is they merely help offset black roofs (and roads), which we did in the first place.

    Personally I’m not sure a warmer planet is a bad idea. If we’re going to geoengineer, why not stick with warming? A fixed cost of $1T per degree might be dwarfed by long-term economic benefits. But those are also hard to predict.

  6. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    21. October 2009 at 11:20

    Carl, You said;

    “The problem isn’t negative effects of geoengineering, it’s unknown effects of geoengineering. Ecosystems and climate systems are tremendously complex and impossible to fully understand or predict.”

    But what I am proposing is that we do less of what we are already doing, which is to warm the planet. Does this uncertainty mean we shouldn’t do carbon abatement? After all, if the climate is so hard to predict, how do we know that carbon abatement won’t plunge us into another Ice Age?

  7. Gravatar of DW DW
    21. October 2009 at 12:04

    I’m with Bob Murphy.

    Scott, your response to #20 is inadequate. What if climate change works like a camel’s back instead of a motorcar’s accelerator? You just want the camel to kneel, so you keep piling straws with no result, until it breaks.

    Or, what if there’s a lag and it works like pouring a pint of beer? If you stop pouring too late, you are forced to watch in agony while the foam keeps spilling over the top and you watch your beloved beverage go to waste.

    And wind up with a sticky glass.

    Aren’t the risks of screwing this up waaaay to big for us to start monkeying around with the climate?

    I’d say our climate models are substantially worse than our economic models at predicting the weather and look at how often we screw THAT up.

  8. Gravatar of StatsGuy StatsGuy
    21. October 2009 at 12:05


    Ozone depletion, ocean acidifcation etc…

    My chief concern is not geoengineering, but rather certain kinds of geo-engineering. In my small mind, the sulfates approach and the water vapor approach are worlds apart.

    I do think you were underestimating the total costs of geoengineering in your previous post and all the side-effects we will have to mitigate, which is why I linked the article, but it’s hard to imagine those costs (all included) rising above the cost of meeting the problem 100% through CO2 reduction.

    Nonetheless, I would bet a lot of money that a relatively small carbon tax would yield some large changes in behavior and, at the margins, both delay the problem and generate a large pool of funds to invest in geo-engineering research. One could set a mechanism where the carbon tax was linked to a temperature futures market, and all proceeds were dedicated toward competitively bid mitigation efforts. The tax would float with the price of the temperature futures; the worse the expected problem, the more the behavior-changing tax, and the more money gets generated for mitigation. (The political/technical problem becomes measurement of ROI on mitigation effort bids.)

    We’ll call it “Temperature Futures Targeting”. Catchy name, eh?


    “Some pundits have falsely used the moral hazard argument, suggesting that geoengineering will cause us to do less carbon abatement. Yes, but in that case we should do less.”

    Rorty uses a moral hazard comparison, but that’s a bad analogy – it should be a game theoretic argument. Simply, the weaker the penalty in a prisoner’s dilemma game, the more likely we arrive at a second best solution. It’s basically the same argument used in the ABM treaty… if we take (expensive) steps to make nuclear war less bad, we increase the chance of a nuclear war.

    This presumes, of course, that CO2 control is in fact the first best option. As you have noted, a mix of solutions – implemented gradually – is probably the first best solution. DeLong, interestingly, expressed agreement (when he finally calmed down).


    “If we’re going to geoengineer, why not stick with warming? A fixed cost of $1T per degree might be dwarfed by long-term economic benefits. But those are also hard to predict.”

    It’s the distributional costs as well – I think we in the US might be a little less sanguine about another degree or two if we were seeing widespread desertification on the scale of subsaharan Africa. Or coastal villages swamped like Indonesia. Or increases in diseases like Malaria.

    Even within the US we have some distributional issues. Forest fires in the southwest, in combination with bark beatles (which trees defend against by producing sap), have become more of a scourge throughout that area. The widespread high alpine die-offs stand in marked to contrast the rather moderate weather that the Northeast has been enjoying (with less harsh winters).

  9. Gravatar of Carl Lumma Carl Lumma
    21. October 2009 at 12:52

    Scott: I thought you were talking about putting sulfates into the stratosphere with tubes, and the like. If you’re talking about CO2 scrubbers, there’s no known carbon negative way to do it, since even if you run it on clean power that power could have just replaced dirty power somewhere else. Basic thermodynamics makes the prospect of extracting gasses from other gasses on atmospheric scales a nonstarter.

    StatsGuy: I find the malaria thing rather pathetic, since the cure is just air conditioning (and in the meantime, nets and structure upgrades). I also don’t care about coastal cities. Cities have been thriving below sea level for centuries, and many urban centers (especially in Indonesia) should be rebuilt anyway. It’s hard to predict what the economic effects of warming will be, but ultimately the climate doesn’t serve at the pleasure of humans, or any other species. But ecosystems and humans are both highly adaptable.

  10. Gravatar of pireader pireader
    21. October 2009 at 13:20

    Unfortunately, the greenhouse gas load is cumulative–each year’s emissions get added to the previous total. And of course, emissions will grow with rising world GDP unless controlled. So the quantity of sulfates (or whatever) to be injected into the atmosphere would rise rapidly, year after year, just to keep global temperatures stable. Kinda like heroin: the addict needs an ever-larger dose to achieve the same high.

    Sounds like a plan … what could go wrong with that?

  11. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. October 2009 at 15:15

    DW, I don’t follow your argument. Bob says we don’t need to do carbon abatement because the risk of global warming is not so great that it is worth spending all that money. OK, fair enough. It is certainly possible that Bob is right. But if that is your view, how can you cite all of the scary uncertainties about geoengineering? The best scientific evidence is that the risk of global warming is far greater than the risk of geoengineering, indeed it isn’t even close. So why are you so opposed to us meddling in the atmosphere in one way, but not in another?

    Statsguy, You said;

    “One could set a mechanism where the carbon tax was linked to a temperature futures market, and all proceeds were dedicated toward competitively bid mitigation efforts. The tax would float with the price of the temperature futures; the worse the expected problem, the more the behavior-changing tax, and the more money gets generated for mitigation. (The political/technical problem becomes measurement of ROI on mitigation effort bids.)

    We’ll call it “Temperature Futures Targeting”. Catchy name, eh?”

    A couple years ago Aaron Jackson and I wrote a paper proposing climate futures markets as a way of providing guidance to policymakers. So we think alike. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to get it published.

    On your second point, I agree that in a game theoretical context you might be right. As you know almost anything is possible once one brings game theory into the picture. But that doesn’t at all mean that one would expect to end up second best, just that it is possible.

    Carl, You said;

    “Scott: I thought you were talking about putting sulfates into the stratosphere with tubes, and the like. If you’re talking about CO2 scrubbers, there’s no known carbon negative way to do it, since even if you run it on clean power that power could have just replaced dirty power somewhere else. Basic thermodynamics makes the prospect of extracting gasses from other gasses on atmospheric scales a nonstarter.”

    I’m not sure what you are referring to. Scrubbers can remove particles that might cause acid rain, but not CO2. I don’t recall saying anything to the contrary.

    pireader, I know the greenhouse gas load is cumulative. That’s one reason I think we might want to consider geoengineering–to hold the line on global temperatures for a few decades until we can come up with a cost effective solution that deals with the fundamental problem of greenhouse gases. What is the alternative? We know China is building 1 or 2 coal fired plants a week. Car consumption in Asia is exploding, with no end in sight. Combine that with the fact that CO2 stays in the air for roughly a century on average, and there is no realistic possibility to significant slow global warming for many decades. So if not geoengineering, what is your solution? Just allow all the horrible things to happen, or make them somewhat less bad, at a relatively low cost, until long run solutions can be put in place. And if it will have side effects, the sooner we find out the better. We should do a small program right now, just to see what happens.

    But I certainly favor continued research on alternatives like plug-in hybrids. Also nuclear/wind/solar power. Those are things rich countries could be doing, since those countries have caused most of the problem so far.

  12. Gravatar of David C David C
    21. October 2009 at 15:18

    A few complaints:

    1) You can’t have more than one geoengineering project running at any given time.
    Because geoengineering projects have to be executed on a global scale in order to truly test what happens to the entire planet, if more than one geoengineering project is running at any given time, it would be rather difficult to determine which project is causing which result. Because of the slow nature of climate change, a proper assessment of the effectiveness of each geoengineering project would take decades. CO2 production went big at WW2, but good evidence of the problem didn’t occur until the 1970s, and a consensus didn’t emerge until the 1990s. Given the slow moving nature of the government, which would have to be involved, I’d say we’d only have time to try one or two plans before 2100.

    2) The effect of carbon emissions on the atmosphere has been demonstrated through temperature readings. Geoengineering hasn’t been.

    3) See point 1 of Alan Robock’s article. You would have to tax geoengineering companies for undesirable outcomes they placed on individuals negatively affected by their plan.

    By the way, I think Alan Robock’s intro is very compelling. Climate abatement strategies are like cutting back on sugar to prevent a heart attack. Geoengineering is like getting an injection every morning to control your diabetes. And you still have to cut back on the sugar.

  13. Gravatar of Libfree Libfree
    21. October 2009 at 15:36

    I imagine that any attempt of humans to deal with nature will be plagued by unintended consequences. I apply that to geoengineering, reducing our carbon production and doing nothing.

  14. Gravatar of rob rob
    21. October 2009 at 16:02

    1) 85% of the world’s energy comes from hydrocarbons: 35 percent oil, 30 percent coal and 20 percent natural gas.

    2) Energy demand is expected to increase by about 1.3% per year for a long time to come, due to population and economic growth.

    Is it realistic at all to think that we can reduce CO2 emissions from today’s levels at any time in the next 5-50 years, short of some horrible historic event?* Can we stop lying to ourselves?

    *Maybe global warming will be the horrible historic event.

  15. Gravatar of pireader pireader
    21. October 2009 at 17:18

    Professor Sumner –“What is the alternative?”

    My answer is fairly conventional: Domestically, impose a gradually-tightening cap on carbon emissions. Internationally, cajole the other developed countires to follow suit. And then pressure and bribe the developing countries to do so as well.

    We can easily afford it. The annual cost would be fairly small, when compared to any number of useless public and private expenditures.

  16. Gravatar of Carl Lumma Carl Lumma
    21. October 2009 at 21:24

    Scott: There are several proposals for taking CO2 directly out of the air. Anyway, if you’d care to address any of these points let us know:

    * The known deleterious effects of CO2 on the environment are not limited to the two you mentioned, and the known effects are not necessarily all the effects. The same goes for any pollutant.

    * Environmentalists distinguish between human-caused pollution and natural pollution (e.g. volcanism). This explains typical environmentalist views on white roofs, which you flagged as inconsistent.

    * Most people find that taking stimulants in the morning and tranquilizers at night is not good for them. That’s because not all of the drugs’ effects cancel (e.g. tranquilizers are known to interfere with REM sleep). And the body is complex enough that we shouldn’t expect a pair of drugs which perfectly cancel to ever be found.

    rob: We could be completely carbon-free in 30-40 years with nuclear power. I tend to doubt that even humans will be stupid enough not to do this, but I’m ready to be surprised.

  17. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. October 2009 at 04:17

    David, Taking your points in order:

    1. I don’t agree that evidence of global warming popped up in the 1970s. In that decade some scientists were concerned about global cooling. Geoengineering will affect the world’s temperatures almost immediately. It is true that secondary effects may develop over longer periods, but that is equally true of carbon abatement.

    2. Actually the two are symmetrical. The effects of both carbon and sulfates has been tested. Neither geoengineering nor carbon abatement has been tested.

    3. I mentioned that in my post.

    4. I don’t see the analogy at all. Cutting back on sugar is much less expensive that insulin shots. But carbon abatement is much more expensive than geoengineering.

    Libfree, I agree.

    rob, I agree that it is unlikely. In fairness to the other side, I think relatively high carbon taxes would work, I just don’t see the political appetite for a huge tax on carbon in the US, China, or India.

    pireader, Suppose we do those things. Won’t the Earth keep warming anyway for many decades, as the impact of CO2 is cumulative? I recall graphs showing global temperatures with and without Kyoto and there was little difference.

    But if your plan works then I have no objection. I’m just pessimistic about the prospects. Wouldn’t the bribes to countries like China have to be pretty large?

    Carl, Yes, I know there are ways of taking the CO2 out of the air. So far they are not cost effective. I hope they become so in the future, as they are clearly better than geoengineering if they can be made affordable.

    Most expects seem to agree that global warming and ocean acidification are the two main problems from CO2.

    You said:

    *”Environmentalists distinguish between human-caused pollution and natural pollution (e.g. volcanism). This explains typical environmentalist views on white roofs, which you flagged as inconsistent.”

    That’s one of my complaints about environmentalists. Mother Nature has caused huge variations over time in climate, even in the fairly recent past (say 10,000s of years ago) there have been huge swings. If we alter climate there is nothing “unnatural” about that. The only question is what’s best for us (and those animals we care about.) But Mother Nature has done far “worse” to the climate than we will ever do. So if we are evil, Mother Nature is far more evil.

    Given that most environmentals oppose nuclear power, what are the chances that nuclear power becomes the answer to global warming? I have mixed feeling about nuclear power, but I certainly see the appeal. BTW, agriculture and deforestation are big contributors to carbon emissions, so I’m not sure we’d be carbon free, but I agree we’d be much closer.

    I want to thank you and pireader for cheering me up a bit. M

  18. Gravatar of David C David C
    22. October 2009 at 07:13


    I take it you agree that geoengineering attempts will have to occur one at a time, but you think the switch from one project to the next will be so quick that this is not a concern.

    The speed at which a geoengineering project affects the earth’s atmosphere will vary depending on which project you are discussing. I think it’s difficult to assert that most people will definitely know and be able to agree whether it worked or not as soon as the project gets off the ground.

    Your understanding of the global cooling story is incorrect:

    “The paper surveys climate studies from 1965 to 1979 (and in a refreshing change to other similar surveys, lists all the papers). They find very few papers (7 in total) predict global cooling. This isn’t surprising. What surprises is that even in the 1970s, on the back of 3 decades of cooling, more papers (42 in total) predict global warming due to CO2 than cooling.”

    There’s also a nice graph showing when research articles on the issue popped up. Serious study of the issue began in 1972. By 1979, global cooling was a dead issue, and global warming very much outpaced neutrality in the literature.

    I don’t see how you can assert that the act of ceasing to do something that is known to cause a problem is at all similar to doing something else to counterbalance what you’re already doing. That’s like saying that if flying makes you sick, chewing gum is equivalent to not flying, hence the insulin comparison.

  19. Gravatar of kilgore kilgore
    22. October 2009 at 09:23

    I suspect Russia doesn’t object to carbon abatement because a) they think the West won’t succeed in affecting temps much, while also believing that b) the use of carbon taxes will hamper the Western economies a little bit in the global economic race.

  20. Gravatar of D. Watson D. Watson
    23. October 2009 at 06:25

    I trust you have/are reading Prof. Romer’s testimony about inflation expectations?

    She reminds folks that monetary/fiscal expansion leads to inflation only when it pushes the demand for goods beyond carrying capacity. She says inflation expectations are still anchored by the Fed’s reputation, cites the Japanese example, and closes that “This reinforces the message that the relevant inflation worry in a weak economy is inflation that is too low, not too high.”

  21. Gravatar of steve V steve V
    23. October 2009 at 15:21

    Scott- I notice Brad Delong deleted your second reply to his “Scott loses his mind” post (which I thought was an absolutely convincing rebuttal.)
    Unbelievable. If you have a copy of it, post it here.
    Steve V.

  22. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. October 2009 at 04:14

    David, I am not expert on geoengineering, but the fact that many climate experts who worry a lot about global warming and who favor strong limits on carbon emissions favor considering the idea, tells me that we ought to be do experiments right now. These would tell us if there are any severe side effects, and then we would have plenty of time to look for alternatives. The worst thing to do is wait until we are desperate, as you are correct we don’t know all the side effects.

    I am not opposed to what you say in principle, I just think we ought to get the best estimate of what the side effects are now, so that we can incorporate them into the pricing system.

    You data on global cooling papers does not contradict what I said, or what Levitt and Dubner said. Again, neither they nor I was trying to discredit the current consensus about global warming.

    I don’t follow your gum analogy. And I am not claiming the two are exactly equivilent. I just said that there are risks to either policy. Any respectable climate scientist will tell you that just as we don’t know exactly what would happen if CO2 increases, we don’t know exactly what would happen if it decreases. I agree that lower CO2 is likely to lower world temperatures, but they could also leave them too cold, which could have all sorts of climate effects. Even before human intervention there were fluctuations in temperatures, such as a mini-Ice Age in the late Middle Ages. I’m saying that lower CO2 might well trigger a similar event, and that would be very bad.

    kilgore, Maybe, but I sure hope Russia isn’t so delusional that it sees itself in a global economic race.

    D. Watson. Yes I read her testimony. She is right that inflation is not a threat right now, but wrong in her theory of inflation. We had high inflation between 1933-34 when the economy was as far below capacity as it has ever been in its entire history. So her demand bottleneck theory of inflation doesn’t even work in the period she is famous for researching.

    Thanks Steve, I quoted you in my newest post.

  23. Gravatar of Doc Merlin Doc Merlin
    25. October 2009 at 11:12

    @Scott, re: Malaria

    Malaria isn’t limited by the temperature part climate its just that the rich nations are clustered in the areas that got rid of malaria years ago. (They were rich first then they got rid of malaria)

  24. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. October 2009 at 04:44

    Doc Merlin, That sounds right.

  25. Gravatar of Graeme Bird Graeme Bird
    5. November 2009 at 23:18

    “My plan addresses this issue by calling for both carbon taxes and temperature taxes. ”

    Neoclassical economics cannot pre-empt the science on this matter. Because the inferential reasoning it built up from the ground with scientific assumptions the primary assumptions at the base.

    I assure everyone here that none of you have seen any scientific evidence that CO2-emissions are bad for the biosphere. Science sentiment cannot cut it. Until you find some scientific evidence then obviously Pigouvian taxes are quite inappropriate, and a distraction from authentic problems, not excluding environmental problems.

    You all may think you have seen such scientific evidence. You haven’t. You have seen maybe occasional pdf’s that are worded for sentiment. But sentiment doesn’t equate to evidence. And science-grant-whoring has got a long ways to go to even become a sentiment we ought to be sentimental about.

    While weak evidence is there either way that suggests that the emissions may cool or warm by the tiniest fraction this is not the question.

    Clearly all evidence suggests that CO2-emissions are good for the biosphere. This is before you get into these tedious debates about whether it cools a tiny bit or warms a tiny bit. What we do know is that CO2 levels are way too low, on the point of plant-food deprivation, ergo CO2-emissions are a positive externality. We also know that we are in a brutal and pulverising ice age. And almost definitely towards the end of an inter-glacial as well.

    I would have thought that Pigou was on the nose in the first place. But nonetheless, in extremis, I can see where the Pigouvian assumptions might apply to a negative externality.

    But since when have people become such Sado-Pigovians, that they are willing to ignore the science, in order to apply taxes to a positive externality?

    Clearly something has gone wrong here in Neoclassical town. Really. Something has gone very wrong. You cannot compartmentalize science, reason, logic and economics in the final analysis. Whether its economics or climate science its all one holistic story. If you get handballed something by science-workers and sundry whores, that isn’t evidence, then it is not right to build on it just on account of their whining.

    The answer is not to tax energy providers, such as coal to liquids. The answer is to go the opposite way. And to take any taxes off retained earnings in all energy companies. Because we are on the brink of energy crisis. And we need the CO2-emitters to expand their behaviour, in order to buy time while we are allowing the nuclear energy and other alternatives to get themselves ready to hold up their end of the log.

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. November 2009 at 15:31

    Graeme, You may be right about the biosphere. Plants like CO2. But what about:

    1. Melting icecaps and ocean levels.
    2. Ocean acidification and coral reef destruction

  27. Gravatar of Graeme Bird Graeme Bird
    16. November 2009 at 15:02

    1.1. Melting icecaps and ocean levels.

    You cannot find evidence in the record to say extra CO2 at the relevant levels has this effect. If its true and negligible we ought not look a gift-horse in the mouth. We are near the end of an interglacial. And were it true we would want any headstart on the ice we could. Antarctica cannot melt. Since the ice is -60 degrees C already. The arctic is ocean ice. So melting doesn’t affect sea level. That leaves only Greenland. Which will melt only slowly if it does melt. The crossing of the galactic center throws a spanner in the works. That aside we would know that we are in for cooling. Not warming. Cooling. If we go on evidence and not whining our problem is cooling.

    Furthermore it is in our power to cool the planet if we are that crazy. We have no power to warm the planet. So where does the insurance risk lie?

    2. Ocean acidification and coral reef destruction

    The ocean is alkaline or base. Its going to stay that way. Its a beatup based on a word-game. I read all those pdf’s until my eyes were sore. I could find nothing there. The rate of hypothetical movement to a less corrosive neutrality was glacial-slow. They didn’t mention ice water melting. They don’t talk about rate. But they infer such a slow rate of change that any species who doesn’t adapt is just too pathetic to live. And still it is the case that the oceans are alkaline. And they will stay that way.

    When they test an animal they bugger its ph level overnight. Not over decades. They throw HCL into the water and they wonder why the critter has trouble adapting. I’d have the same trouble. The whole beatup has no evidence in its favour. It amounts to science-grant-whoredom.

  28. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    17. November 2009 at 10:16

    Graeme, I’ll try to keep an open mind on these issues. I obviously don’t have any expertise in this area.

  29. Gravatar of Graeme Bird Graeme Bird
    17. November 2009 at 21:37

    You ought not keep open-minded about such a transparent hussle. You should be set against it until that day when the obsessive liars come up with some evidence. You know yourself that you have not seen any. There are real dangers out there and we have no time for scams and pseudo-dangers. It used to be that I thought it was a piece of sound armchair thinking, this CO2-emissions panic. That like most sound armchair thinking, it just turned out to be wrong. But when one looks into just what goes into climate and just what the flat-earth-model excludes, even the logic of it now seems foolish.

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