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

Climate Costs in Context


A recent publication by the Manhattan Institute looks at the costs of proposed climate change policies versus the estimated benefits.  Note that positive effects from warming are not included, only the benefits of reduced damages from assumed future warming.  Even on that narrow basis, the costs of “fighting” climate change are vastly greater than simply adapting to a changing climate.  The paper is entitled: Climate Costs in Context (here).  Excerpts below

Uncertain Greenhouse Effects

.The chain of causation from greenhouse gas emissions to human impacts is lengthy: economic growth, the energy intensity of economic activity, and the emissions profile of energy use all combine to determine emissions levels. Those emissions then produce a concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, from which climate models can offer projections of temperature increase. Other models must translate any given temperature increase into estimates of natural-world effects, such as sea-level rise, drought, or ecosystem disruption. And another set of models and qualitative analyses must try to estimate how those changes in the natural world will affect the society that emitted the greenhouse gases in the first place.

Scientific assessments vary widely at each of these steps. However, climate researchers have settled broadly on an expected temperature increase of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 if efforts are not made to reduce emissions.

Climate Costs According to IPCC

To estimate the economic cost of warming, researchers use “Integrated Assessment Models” (IAMs), which translate a given level of warming into estimates of natural-world impacts and then economic costs. Such analysis requires as much art as science, and, especially for larger temperature increases, the results are highly speculative. Still, they offer the best available estimates and should indicate at least the relative magnitude of the threat.

These models indicate that for 3°–4°C of warming, global GDP in the year 2100 will be 1%–4% lower than in a world with no warming.

These are large costs—all three models estimate that global GDP will have grown to at least $500 trillion by 2100 versus a 2015 total of approximately $75 trillion. So if climate change reduces GDP in 2100 by 3%, that would represent $15 trillion—nearly the size of the entire American economy today. But by the standards of 2100, the cost is manageable.

Exaggerated Popular Notions of Climate Impacts

Such modest economic estimates seem incompatible with the severe disruptions popularly assumed to accompany climate change. However, it is generally the popular assumption rather than the detailed economic research that is in error. For instance, while descriptions of sea-level rise often depict large scale melting in Greenland and Antarctica producing several meters of sea-level rise, such scenarios are forecast to play out only over the course of several centuries or even millennia.

The IPCC itself offered an estimate of what this might cost: “Some low-lying developing countries and small island states are expected to face very high impacts that, in some cases, could have associated damage and adaptation costs of several percentage points of GDP.”In other words, even for those poorest and most vulnerable countries, damage still amounts to only the small share of future wealth forecast in the economic models.

The pattern repeats itself across other potential effects of climate change. For instance, researchers call attention to the prospect of widespread ecosystem disruption and species extinction. The IPCC emphasizes: “With 4°C warming, climate change is projected to become an increasingly important driver of impacts on ecosystems.” But the actual magnitude of these impacts will only “becom[e] comparable with land-use change”—the disruption the world is already experiencing from human development. That disruption has not been costless—in either economic or less tangible terms—but neither has it produced widespread or insurmountable challenges to continued growth and prosperity.

Conclusion: Adapt Rather than Fight

Analyses consistently show that the costs of climate change are real but manageable. For instance, the prosperity that the world might achieve in 2100 without climate change may instead be delayed until 2102.

All these costs—both economic and noneconomic—are substantial and have the potential to cause significant damage and disruption. Policymakers should take them seriously and seek to reduce or prepare for them when the expected benefit of action exceeds the cost. However, none are outside the range of other challenges facing society, and none support the apocalyptic rhetoric of many politicians and activists.


The world is currently spending a lot fighting climate change:

  • UN and governmental agencies and conferences;
  • Research funding to claim alarming impacts;
  • Advocacy by foundations and NGOs;
  • Subsidies for renewable energy and low carbon technologies.

This climate alarm industry, Climate Crisis Inc., is estimated to cost at least 1.5 trillion US$ each year.  That is 2% of present global GDP, and alarmist leaders say it isn’t making a difference.

Looking into the future, IEA expects additional spending just in the energy sector to meet climate change targets on the order of $35-trillion over the period 2015 to 2030. All this remarkable growth comes in a market for non-solutions to the non-problem of global warming.

For more on Uncertainties of Integrated Assessment Models:

Further comments by Oren Cass, author of the Mannhatton paper:

Adapt, Don’t Fight Climate Change

The Dutch solution to floods: live with water, don’t fight it. The same thing applies to climate change.

Recently visiting again in the Netherlands, I was reminded that adapting is the only way to contend with natural forces. Praying or paying indulgences like carbon taxes does not stop nature, so we humans must prepare for the most probable extremes that can come our way.

Top-down, global initiatives like the IPCC and the Paris Accord are called “Mitigation”, an attempt to prevent warming of temperatures by reducing fossil fuel emissions. In fact, the 1 degree Celsius warming over the past 150 years has been a blessing for human civilization, and a further 1 degree will also be beneficial.

It was warmer than now in the Medieval Warm Period, warmer still in the Roman Warm Period, and warmest of all in the Minoan Warm Period.  Before that was the Holocene Optimum lasting many centuries with still higher temperatures.  Evidence indicates that 7000 years ago the Sahara desert was a savannah with several large lakes.  Human life and the biosphere prosper in warm ages, and we are presently sub-optimal. Cold is the greatest threat to the biosphere and the longer term trend is in that direction.

Even in the unlikely event that the Paris Accord results in lowering emissions, it is additionally uncertain how temperatures will be affected. It is rational to argue that we should burn more fossil fuels if we are sure that warming will result.

In any case, leaders and alarmists have in the past repeatedly declared deadlines for stopping climate change (oh, what hubris). With Trump’s election there is now the opportunity for rational climate policy. History shows us that there will be future periods both warmer and colder than the present, and prudent policy makers should prepare for both.

Trump and his advisers should not cede the high ground to climatists. Instead this administration should announce that it is serious about protecting the American people against future climate extremes, especially the cold.

The US has been blessed recently with tranquility instead of typical levels of hurricanes and tornadoes. That can not be expected to continue, and the first priority is to rebuild a robust infrastructure, suitable to at least confront a return of 1950’s weather. I am pleased to see PE Trump already talking about this.

The second key to adapting is ensuring reliable and affordable energy. It is now obvious that electrical power grids are crippled by shackling them with intermittent, expensive feed-ins from windmills and solar panels. Rational energy policy will rely on clean coal, nuclear and hydro for electricity, oil and gas for transportation, with various other energy sources added on when and where they make economic sense. It appears Trump’s advisers are also on top of this priority.

Let them not say they will do nothing about climate change;  they will do the only thing that makes sense.  Trump has the potential to become the real environmental president, who makes the EPA get results on its real mission: Clean Air and Clean Water without actual pollutants.

More on Dutch Adaptation:

“The Dutch are extremely proud of their water management and we have eight million people [almost half the population] living below sea level who depend on it. We have learned a lot from floods in the past, especially from 1953, the big flood which Britain also had, when we had a lot of damage and 1,800 casualties. We started the delta programme then and put a lot of flood protection in place.

“Our organisation is very important. We have regional water boards with their own tax system who are in charge of dredging and of the programmes of dyke maintenance. We have adapted climate change into urban planning, and development on flood plains has not been allowed since the 80s. More and more we are working with nature – on the coast, management is about building up the sand dunes and beaches.

More evidence that Adapting Works, Mitigating Fails


Adapting Works! Mitigating Fails.


Two schools of thought regarding future climates:
Adaptation: As changes occur, adapt our methods and practices to survive and prosper in new conditions.
Mitigation: Cut down on use of fossil fuels to mitigate or prevent future global warming.

The Paris Agreement and various cap-and-trade schemes intend to Mitigate future warming. Lots of gloom and doom is projected (forecast) by activists claiming mitigation is the only way. But the facts of our experience say otherwise.

What has been human experience with Adapting to climate change?

Feeding ourselves is the most fundamental social need, so we should look at the history of Agriculture and climate change. Here is a data-rich study:
Adapting North American wheat production to climatic challenges, 1839–2009, by Alan L. Olmstead and Paul W. Rhodes Accessed at PNAS (here).

Numerous researchers have speculated about how farmers might change cultivars, cropping patterns, and farming methods to mitigate some of the costs of abrupt climatic changes (8). Researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) anticipate that North American wheat farmers may extend the margin of wheat production roughly 1,000 km north into northern Canada and Alaska, whereas heat and drought will make cultivation untenable in many areas of the southern Great Plains (9). To provide perspective on these and other predictions, this paper asks how farmers responded to past climatic challenges.

The spread of wheat cultivation across North America required that farmers repeatedly adapt to unfamiliar and hostile climatic conditions. The variations in climatic conditions that settlers encountered rivaled the magnitude of the predicted changes at given locations over the next century. We quantify the extent of the geographic variations and decipher how wheat growers learned to produce in new environments. Because of the paucity of Mexican data before 1929, most of our analysis of “North America” refers to Canada and the United States. Inclusion of Mexico in the later part of the 20th century highlights the role of the Green Revolution in pushing production into hotter and drier zones. (my bolds)

Because of climate change, some areas presumably will decrease or cease wheat production, whereas other areas, particularly in northern Canada and Alaska, are expected to enter production. Although the anticipated movement in the wheat frontier is substantial, it is unlikely to be as great as the past geographic shifts in production. The difficulties in extending the transportation infrastructure to facilitate future shifts also appear less imposing than those overcome to open the Plains and Prairies. The challenging problems deal with adapting growing practices and creating improved cultivars. (my bold)


Shift in the North American spring–winter wheat frontier, 1869–1929.

The last two columns of the table, which show the differences between the Columbus baseline and the other four locations, illustrate the wide array of climatic conditions to which wheat has been adapted in North America during the past 170 y. Even with the predicted annual mean temperature by 2100, farmers near Edmonton, AB, and Dickerson, ND, will confront substantially colder conditions than eastern wheat growers faced circa 1839. Even with the anticipated increase in precipitation, the northern farmers will have to make do with about half the precipitation that the earlier generation of eastern farmers received. The predicted changes in Dodge City, KS, and Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, Mexico, suggest both hotter and drier conditions than were common at the center of North American production in 1839 (again, a climate akin to that in Columbus, OH, in the baseline period). Note, however, that the difference in temperature between Columbus and Ciudad Obregón was roughly six times the increase predicted in the latter city by 2100. Wheat production is sensitive to seasonal fluctuations in weather conditions, which probably will become more variable in the future and which are not captured by annual mean data (29). Nevertheless, the historical record of adapting wheat cultivation to areas with widely varying climates is impressive. (my bold)

For the most part, the settlement process required adapting cultivation to colder and more arid regions, not to hotter climates as predicted in the future. Farming with less water is more of a problem if the temperature also is hotter. However, biological innovations also were crucial to the expansion of production in hot-arid areas such as Texas, Oklahoma, central California, and northern Mexico. The currently predicted changes during the next century will, in a sense, reverse the predominant historical path of the past two centuries by creating a warmer and wetter environment in the Plains and Prairies that will partially approach the conditions that existed in the Middle Atlantic region when it constituted the North American wheat belt. (my bold)

The historical record offers insight into the capability of agriculture to adapt to climatic challenges. Using a new county-level dataset on wheat production and climate norms, we show that during the 19th and 20th centuries North American grain farmers pushed wheat production into environments once considered too arid, too variable, and too harsh to cultivate. As summary measures, the median annual precipitation norm of the 2007 distribution of North American wheat production was one-half that of the 1839 distribution, and the median annual temperature norm was 3.7 °C lower. This shift, which occurred mostly before 1929, required new biological technologies. The Green Revolution associated with the pioneering work of Norman Borlaug represented an important advance in this longer process of biological innovation. However, well before the Green Revolution, generations of North American farmers overcame significant climatic challenges. (my bold)

How successful has mitigation been?

A recent report of California’s cap-and-trade concluded:

The problem is that the permits are selling at a slower and slower rate. The surplus of allowances is becoming so large in systems run by Europe, California and Quebec — which together account for more than 90 percent of global trading — that by 2022 it could cover the emissions spewing from every car on Earth for a full year, according to estimates by the London environmental group Sandbag Climate Campaign CIC and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

In California’s market, all 23 million allowances sold in an auction in 2014. In May 2016, 7.3 million permits found buyers, only 11 percent of what was put up for sale.

ReGGI, the carbon market joined by Northeastern US states is also ineffective but has the potential to threaten affordable electricity there. See my post: Cap and Trade Hype

Even more telling is the recent revolt by Democrat politicians against the way California distributes proceeds from auctions of carbon credits. From the LA Times: A big question complicating the climate debate: Where’s the money for poor people?

Unless more money gets directed to poor communities, lawmakers whose votes may be needed to continue the climate change efforts say they’re wary. Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), a leader in the business-aligned bloc of his party, said he hasn’t made up his mind, in part, because he’s outraged that people living in a handful of wealthy Bay Area and West Los Angeles communities have received by far the largest shares of state rebates to purchase electric cars.

“It’s welfare for the rich,” Cooper said. “It’s dead wrong in my book. It should be wrong in anybody’s book.”

Inadvertently, they are scraping the lipstick off the Mitigation Pig. They know (but don’t say out loud) this scheme does little to lower fossil fuels, and has even less impact on future climates. But it does create a pot of money, and they want the poor to have their share. If you are going to redistribute wealth, at least transfer it from the rich to the poor, as Robin Hood did. Mitigation is failing in every imaginable way.


Farmers have successfully grown and harvested crops in places formerly deemed too cold or too arid, and most of the new fields were in the North. Remarkably, today’s average climate where wheat is produced is both drier and colder:
“The median annual precipitation norm of the 2007 distribution of North American wheat production was one-half that of the 1839 distribution, and the median annual temperature norm was 3.7 °C lower.”

Agriculture has demonstrated our massive capacity to adapt to changing conditions, whether it becomes warmer or cooler, wetter or drier.

The rational climate change policy has been proven successful: Don’t Fight It, Adapt.


Bumper crops expected
Grain companies predict near-record western harvest
Source: The Western Producer

The 2016 harvest is shaping up to be a whopper, according to Western Canada’s largest elevator companies.