Reasoning About Climate

As the stool above shows, the climate change package sits on three premises. The first is the science bit, consisting of an unproven claim that observed warming is caused by humans burning fossil fuels. The second part rests on impact studies from billions of research dollars spent uncovering any and all possible negatives from warming. And the third leg is climate policies showing how governments can “fight climate change.”

It is refreshing to see more and more articles by people reasoning about climate change/global warming and expressing rational positions. Increasingly, analysts are unbundling the package and questioning not only the science, but also pointing out positives from CO2 and warming. And as this post shows, essays are challenging the policy proposals advanced by climate activists. David R. Henderson and John H. Cochrane published at WSJ on July 30, 2017 Climate Change Isn’t the End of the World  Even if world temperatures rise, the appropriate policy response is still an open question.  Complete text below (my Bolds)

Climate change is often misunderstood as a package deal: If global warming is “real,” both sides of the debate seem to assume, the climate lobby’s policy agenda follows inexorably.

It does not. Climate policy advocates need to do a much better job of quantitatively analyzing economic costs and the actual, rather than symbolic, benefits of their policies. Skeptics would also do well to focus more attention on economic and policy analysis.

To arrive at a wise policy response, we first need to consider how much economic damage climate change will do. Current models struggle to come up with economic costs consummate with apocalyptic political rhetoric. Typical costs are well below 10% of gross domestic product in the year 2100 and beyond.

That’s a lot of money—but it’s a lot of years, too. Even 10% less GDP in 100 years corresponds to 0.1 percentage point less annual GDP growth. Climate change therefore does not justify policies that cost more than 0.1 percentage point of growth. If the goal is 10% more GDP in 100 years, pro-growth tax, regulatory and entitlement reforms would be far more effective.

Yes, the costs are not evenly spread. Some places will do better and some will do worse. The American South might be a worse place to grow wheat; Southern Canada might be a better one. In a century, Miami might find itself in approximately the same situation as the Dutch city of Rotterdam today.

Rotterdam–Ninety years thriving behind dikes and dams.

But spread over a century, the costs of moving and adapting are not as imposing as they seem. Rotterdam’s dikes are expensive, but not prohibitively so. Most buildings are rebuilt about every 50 years. If we simply stopped building in flood-prone areas and started building on higher ground, even the costs of moving cities would be bearable. Migration is costly. But much of the world’s population moved from farms to cities in the 20th century. Allowing people to move to better climates in the 21st will be equally possible. Such investments in climate adaptation are small compared with the investments we will regularly make in houses, businesses, infrastructure and education.

And economics is the central question—unlike with other environmental problems such as chemical pollution. Carbon dioxide hurts nobody’s health. It’s good for plants. Climate change need not endanger anyone. If it did—and you do hear such claims—then living in hot Arizona rather than cool Maine, or living with Louisiana’s frequent floods, would be considered a health catastrophe today.

Global warming is not the only risk our society faces. Even if science tells us that climate change is real and man-made, it does not tell us, as President Obama asserted, that climate change is the greatest threat to humanity. Really? Greater than nuclear explosions, a world war, global pandemics, crop failures and civil chaos?

No. Healthy societies do not fall apart over slow, widely predicted, relatively small economic adjustments of the sort painted by climate analysis. Societies do fall apart from war, disease or chaos. Climate policy must compete with other long-term threats for always-scarce resources.

Facing this reality, some advocate that we buy some “insurance.” Sure, they argue, the projected economic cost seems small, but it could turn out to be a lot worse. But the same argument applies to any possible risk. If you buy overpriced insurance against every potential danger, you soon run out of money. You can sensibly insure only when the premium is in line with the risk—which brings us back where we started, to the need for quantifying probabilities, costs, benefits and alternatives. And uncertainty goes both ways. Nobody forecast fracking, or that it would make the U.S. the world’s carbon-reduction leader. Strategic waiting is a rational response to a slow-moving uncertain peril with fast-changing technology.

Global warming is not even the obvious top environmental threat. Dirty water, dirty air and insect-borne diseases are a far greater problem today for most people world-wide. Habitat loss and human predation are a far greater problem for most animals. Elephants won’t make it to see a warmer climate. Ask them how they would prefer to spend $1 trillion—subsidizing high-speed trains or a human-free park the size of Montana.

Then, we need to know what effect proposed policies have and at what cost. Scientific, quantifiable or even vaguely plausible cause-and-effect thinking are missing from much advocacy for policies to reduce carbon emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s “scientific” recommendations, for example, include “reduced gender inequality & marginalization in other forms,” “provisioning of adequate housing,” “cash transfers” and “awareness raising & integrating into education.” Even if some of these are worthy goals, they are not scientifically valid, cost-benefit-tested policies to cool the planet.

Climate policy advocates’ apocalyptic vision demands serious analysis, and mushy thinking undermines their case. If carbon emissions pose the greatest threat to humanity, it follows that the costs of nuclear power—waste disposal and the occasional meltdown—might be bearable. It follows that the costs of genetically modified foods and modern pesticides, which can feed us with less land and lower carbon emissions, might be bearable. It follows that if the future of civilization is really at stake, adaptation or geo-engineering should not be unmentionable. And it follows that symbolic, ineffective, political grab-bag policies should be intolerable.

Climate science, impacts and policies also appear as a house of cards.

Mr. Henderson is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution and an economics professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. Mr. Cochrane is a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution and an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute.

More about Climate Policy Failures

Speaking Climate Truth to Policymakers

Climate Policies Failure, the Movie

Climatists Wrong-Footed


  1. oiltranslator · July 31, 2017

    Observed warming? By whom? Rudy Heller produces simple charts where anyone can see temperatures have been falling. But Al Gore supporters–whose party lost to Green spoiler votes–have hallucinated fake data like Dramamine abusers since the Y2k election. Divergence of reported ground from satellite began at that point in time, and now the fraudulent consensus (0.06% of science graduates) has organized a lynch mob to tamper with satellite data. Where’s the grief?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. joekano76 · July 31, 2017

    Reblogged this on Floating-voter.


  3. Hifast · August 1, 2017

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.


  4. manicbeancounter · August 3, 2017

    The third leg “Government Can Stop It” is the most important source for reasoned opposition to climate mitigation. There are around 195 Governments in the World. To prevent the 2C of warming they must collectively reduce global emissions by over 80% from current levels by 2100. Without policy emissions will rise – by the most in the now emerging economies of India, South-East Asia, and Africa. If these and other countries (such as China and Russia) drastically cut emissions it might lead to significant social unrest and possible revolution. They will have to reduce high levels of economic growth, which would disappoint many who dream of much higher living standards in a few short years. In any event, they have more immediate and important priorities than relatively small, possible, impacts decades in the future.
    There is also a lack of viable cost-effective policies to achieve massive emissions reductions, along with a lack of knowledge and managerial competency to implement such policies.
    All this means that any countries that do opt to reduce their emissions will bear the large costs of emissions reduction policies, whilst future generations will still endure almost the same costs of climate change than if they had done nothing at all.
    Even worse than that, climate mitigation policies increase energy costs. This means that in a competitive world with high levels of international trade, policy countries will be at a comparative disadvantage to non-policy countries. More importantly, in a world where there are only a minority of countries pursuing emissions reduction policies to a significant degree, the marginal cost of a non-policy country switching to extreme climate mitigation required to constrain warming to 2C will be higher than if all countries had adopted climate mitigation together.
    That means, even if the costs of climate change were certain to reach 10% or more of GDP in 2100, it still might not be viable for any one country to adopt climate mitigation. The “insurance” premium will not only fail to pay out, paying the premium may guarantee a worse future than doing nothing.


    • Ron Clutz · August 3, 2017

      manic, you will appreciate this short editorial that appeared in the Manchester NH Union Leader newspaper after Trump pulled the US out of the Paris accord.

      New Hampshire is famous for people who are direct, to the point and tolerate no BS.

      Paris freak-out: Hysteria over do-nothing deal

      The Paris Climate Agreement signed last year by President Barack Obama was not a treaty, and thus American commitment to it expired when Obama left office.

      Had Obama submitted the Paris agreement to the Senate, it would not have received the votes necessary to ratify it.
      Had the Senate ratified the Paris agreement, targets for reductions in future CO2 emissions from power plants would have been voluntary and amendable.
      Had the U.S. failed to meet its voluntary emissions targets, there would have been no penalty imposed.
      Had the United States and every other country on Earth met their emissions targets from the Paris deal, the climate models used by its advocates predicted a reduction in the increase of global temperatures of just 0.2 degrees by 2100.
      These climate models have largely overestimated the marginal impact of atmospheric carbon dioxide on climate.

      There is no credible evidence that American withdrawal from the Paris deal will have any impact on future global temperatures at all.

      The entire Paris agreement was a largely meaningless piece of public relations stagecraft, designed for world leaders to give the illusion that they are doing something about climate change.

      It would have billed U.S. taxpayers for the lion’s share of payments to other countries, and locked in onerous Obama-era regulations on power plants that drive up electricity prices.

      President Trump was right to remove the United States from this non-treaty.

      Tracking the howls of outrage over this decision has been useful. It was an elegant way for people to reveal their ignorance of climate science.

      If and when the people arguing that climate change is too important to ignore come forward with a plan that actually does something about climate change, we will start paying attention to their portents of doom.


      • manicbeancounter · August 3, 2017

        Whilst President Obama circumvented Congress to get the Agreement through (and was helped by the UNFCCC by calling a Treaty an Agreement) it was due to the false belief that by acting he was “saving the planet for future generations”. This belief is derived from not thinking through the issues, and failing to generate an emission reduction plan broken down by country.


  5. manicbeancounter · August 3, 2017

    A couple of paradoxes of climate science revolve around the second leg of “warming is dangerous”. How dangerous in terms of costs (monetary, loss of life, etc.) depends upon how unpredictable are the events. For instance, a hurricane in Florida, ceteris paribus, is likely to be much less destructive than a hurricane of the same force in the South of England. Humans expect hurricanes in Florida, take preventative measures. Frequent hurricanes mean that the number of trees brought down in each hurricane is far less than the storm of 1987 in Southern England, which was the worst in 300 years. Identifying where in the world the costs of climate change are likely to occur, and the type of costly events, will help people to adapt to some extent.
    The first paradox is that if the climate scientists are totally incompetent and gave false forecasts, then adaptation cannot occur, and the human costs will be much greater than if they gave some generalized pattern predictions that turned out to be reasonably accurate. Indeed acting on false forecasts when climate change causes quite different impacts will be hugely wasteful.
    The second paradox arises from the uncertainties. If climate is thrown into chaos once temperature rise goes beyond two or three degrees, then the greater will be the break from what has ever happened in recent history. That is, the magnitude of costs of unmitigated climate change are inversely related to the strength of any evidence from empirically-based models. The paradox is that the greater the size of a REAL future climate problem, the less able it is distinguishable from FALSE climate catastrophism.


  6. Hunter · August 6, 2017

    Paris was not meaningless.
    It was carefully crafted to enmesh climate obsession into the world’s political culture.
    The culture of climate obsession leads to the near endless stream of obviously flawed and deceptive “science” studies that relentlessly push the case for reducing CO2 to prevent “x” from occurring.
    Yet when the least bit of critical review is applied it is obvious that either “x” is highly unlikely or that no link between CO2 and “x” exists.
    Like pretending a certain religious faith provides for better health, or if made theocratic better society, CO2 obsession is a faith like movement that claims reducing CO2 cures or prevents all that might possibly ail the world.
    The WSJ piece is probably too little too late however.
    Skeptics are decades late to pushing back against the missionary like corruption that the climate obsessed have spread throughout society.
    They have corrupted media, education, politics, Corporate boardrooms, universities, and sadly most actual religions.
    I recall how I used to point out and ridicule the large number of conferences on the topic of “communicating the risk of climate more effectively” or some such.
    Well Paris and the amazing flood of climate b.s. We See today was what it was all about.
    Climate obsession has been so well communicated that it is difficult to even discuss in the same way one would discuss an obvious real estate fraud reported in the news.
    The “communications” effort was about brain washing, not convincing rationally or rationally.
    They have largely succeeded.


  7. Pingback: Global Warming Fails to Convince | Principia Scientific International

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