How good a climate change solution do we need?

by on June 23, 2014 at 7:45 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Law, Political Science | Permalink

Responding to the recent Henry Paulson piece, Paul Krugman writes today:

In policy terms, climate action — if it happens at all — will probably look like health reform. That is, it will be an awkward compromise dictated in part by the need to appease special interests, not the clean, simple solution you would have implemented if you could have started from scratch. It will be the subject of intense partisanship, relying overwhelmingly on support from just one party, and will be the subject of constant, hysterical attacks. And it will, if we’re lucky, nonetheless do the job.

I would put it this way: climate change is like neither the financial crisis nor the Obama health care plan, but above all it is an international problem requiring an international solution.  And it’s not like banning land mines, where most countries have little reason to continue with the practice.  It is also not like ozone, where a coordinated solution is relatively low cost, more or less invisible to voters, threatens few jobs, and involves few incentives for defection.  A climate change solution requires a lot of countries to turn their back on coal-generated pollution long before we did (as measured in per capita income terms) and long before the Kuznets curve suggests they otherwise are going to.  A climate change solution, if done the wrong way, will look to China like a major attempt to unfairly deindustrialize them and, if it is backed by trade sanctions, it will look like an act of war.  Trade agreements do best when most or all of the countries already wish to act cooperatively toward much lower tariffs.  For a green energy solution, China (among others) in fact has to want to solve the problem, as do we.  And the already-installed or in-process coal base in China is…forbidding.

The problem isn’t just coming up with “something better.”  Think of today’s fossil fuels as a stock in the ground.  The problem is coming up with something “better than the lower and falling prices for the fossil fuel stock once some countries start going green.”  That’s really tough, because it means competing against a lower fossil fuel price than what we see today.  What will Africa choose?

In other words, a climate change solution has to involve a relatively cheap form of energy, relative to the status quo.  Not just cheap to citizens because it is subsidized, but cheap to governments and cheap at the national level too.  Alternatively, you could regard all of this as reason to be pessimistic.  But in the meantime, it is entirely reasonable to insist on solutions which can generalized, and that means solutions which are relatively cost-effective.

1 Tarrou June 23, 2014 at 7:54 am

It won’t do the job, because we only had until 2010 to pass a carbon tax, or else global warming was going to be unstoppable. We missed the window!

Ever notice how the problem is IMMEDIATELY PRESSING, but the point-of-no-return horizon is always two and a half election cycles away?

2 anon June 23, 2014 at 8:04 am


3 ThomasH June 23, 2014 at 8:05 am

I’m not aware of any model that has those characteristics.

4 Tarrou June 23, 2014 at 8:32 am

My model of the models says that 100% of them have these characteristics. Who are you going to believe, the actual models, or the model of the models?

5 mulp June 23, 2014 at 7:11 pm

Your model of the model is the personal sacrifice gets worse and its already too unacceptable for you to pay others to work, so you want to keep burning capital stocks instead of hiring labor to build productive capital.

After all, for the lazy, living off the existing capital, burning capital, saves you a lot of labor. Who wants to work when you can chisel out a lump of coal to burn and then play the rest of the day. Building a wind generator is way too much work, and yeah, you build one and it produces all you need, but the woman always wants more and bitches until you build another, and then another, and well, then you need to build an electric hawg because if she’s not scrubbing clothes by hand and sitting around drinking wine, then you get to go night riding on your bike.

Better to burn capital than create jobs building capital. Better to have wages going lower by killing jobs burning capital which is in scary places so the supply can be restricted to generate huge profits to fund capital destroying wars. Saudi princes have been funding terrorists for three decades and have funded ISIS which is not taking your dollars spent on oil to wage war to gain control of oil to drive up profits on oil.

No matter how much the US mines its own capital, unless the US becomes totally isolationists and cuts off all trade, high global oil prices will mean high oil prices here, with lots of the profits going to fund terrorism and war. Oil is a big reason for war.

6 Jerome June 23, 2014 at 8:34 am

Indeed, it is frightening that we are accepting higher and higher temperature raises. Staying below 2°C seemed feasible 10 years ago but has became highly unlikely, and the hope is now to remain below 3°C.

7 KPres June 23, 2014 at 9:18 am

Yeah, it is frightening that people are “accepting” higher and higher temperatures when the temperatures aren’t changing. Pseudoscience driven policy is terrifying.

8 dead serious June 23, 2014 at 9:33 am
9 KPres June 23, 2014 at 10:55 am

Yes, I’ve heard the theory. Too bad the projections don’t match the data.

10 Tony June 23, 2014 at 11:27 am

Um, no, the BAMS report includes a totally different graph for surface temperature. The one posted above is apparently cherry picked or fake:

11 KPres June 23, 2014 at 11:51 am

The two graphs show the same data. The difference is that mine covers the period that the models actually made future projections, rather than simple historical reconstructions. I guess testing a model’s actual projections against reality is unfair cherry-picking to some.

12 Tony June 23, 2014 at 1:03 pm


KPres, the two graphs show entirely different “average temperature” curves for the period 1980-present. The historical data is in no way similar. The model average from your graph generally agrees with the actual surface temperatures in the BAMS report, with both showing an increase of ~0.8-1C over that time period, showing that the “future projections” from your graph were entirely successful. But the balloon and satellite averages, taken from “various sources”, show no resemblance to anything I’ve ever seen before and, if based on real data at all, don’t reflect the average surface temperature that is the subject of most predictions.

You have been caught with your pants down, and anyone who takes the trouble to click on the two links can see it plain as day. That you would say they show the “same data” is a remarkably clear indication of how unhinged deniers like you have become. So thanks, you have actually given a lot of support to the fact that the models were more or less right all along.

13 KPres June 23, 2014 at 2:42 pm


LOL! My graph is in celcius, yours is in fahrenheit.

I’ll accept your apology for that ridiculous rant in your next post.

14 Tony June 23, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Actually, I did make one error, which is to write “C” instead of “F” in my previous comment. Otherwise, on taking a more detailed look, my argument stands. And I do apologize, not to you but to all the other readers, because small errors like this are what deniers often seize upon to obfuscate the issue. As you have done. Obviously I am doing this in a hurry and this is not publication-quality research I’m doing here.

Here are the same graphs with some annotation added, to illustrate my point more clearly. I have added markers to clarify the temperature changes in the range 1980-2010. The top graph, showing average surface temperatures, is the best I could do to come up with the “sources” for the lower graph, which appears to wilfully misrepresent the conclusions of the cited report.

15 Tarrou June 23, 2014 at 9:41 am

But the sea will swamp 500% of the world’s land mass at 1 degree C warming! The very air will immolate us all at 2 degrees! At three degrees, the molecular structure of the universe inverts and we will all be unmade at the sub-cellular level! We’re dooomed! Dooooooooooooooooooooooooooomed!

16 Arjun June 23, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Nobody has ever argued this.

17 Tarrou June 24, 2014 at 7:34 am

I just did, and I have a handy model that says this is the most likely outcome unless we immediately stop eating food.

18 dead serious June 23, 2014 at 8:51 am

Sort of how Social Security will bankrupt us, or immigration will kill off normal red-blooded Americans, or if we cut military spending we all die? That kind of hysteria?

19 Nathan W June 23, 2014 at 7:51 pm

I a not aware of any problem which may be solved if the solution is always proposed as something which starts more than 2 and a half election cycles into the future.

And every year of inaction and sand-neck-digging will make it more costly to adjust to the more severe impacts, assuming the gulf stream doesn’t tail off and whip us in the ass with an ice age.

20 andrew' June 24, 2014 at 5:05 am

And acting too soon with knee jerk moves like banning us coal to make electricity more expensive just to burn transiently cheap natural gas that can be used IPO gasoline in vehicles when the actual solutions are PV r&d, CSP with molten salt, and nuclear makes it more costly.

21 Nathan W June 25, 2014 at 3:45 pm

LOL, painting policies which target outcomes in the range of decades and centuries as “knee jerk moves”.

Where is coal banned? I thought we just agreed that high end technologies for scrubbers to remove toxic garbage must be used, and that we should find ways to fully cost the impact of carbon-intensive energy sources in order to optimize economic outcomes?

I’m not sure what you mean with all those acronyms and stuff. it’s confusing me. There is too much misinformation and propaganda already. Can you please be more clear in explaining the solutions? If there are existing solutions, we don’t want them hidden away in confusing acronyms, etc.

22 Naj June 23, 2014 at 7:59 am

Well we could accelerate alternative sources to make them more attractive, but…

23 anon June 23, 2014 at 8:05 am

But what?

Oh look! Squirrel!

24 Naj June 23, 2014 at 8:32 am

Oh wait, people and companies with hundreds of billions of dollars and strong incentives to block alternative energy sources. They may even have a little tiny bit of influence on public policy and private sector investment!

25 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 9:40 am

Can you point out specifically what’s been done to halt the construction of alternate energy sources? Because when I look at the data we’ve been building record numbers of both solar and wind since around 2001.

26 Naj June 23, 2014 at 10:42 am

Even very small, long-term alt source energy mandates are starting to go away. Surely you have seen all the lobbying on this issue.

27 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 11:01 am

The article you linked to wasn’t about the removal of a mandate. Instead the mandate was locked at current levels for the next three years.

28 Naj June 23, 2014 at 11:16 am

Kasich’s signature makes Ohio the first state to roll back both its efficiency rules and its renewable energy mandates. The law required a staggered implementation with the share from renewables to increase each year. The mandate for the next three years has gone away. It is dismantling existing policy.

29 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 12:07 pm

“The mandate for the next three years has gone away. It is dismantling existing policy. ”

A three year pause in the mandated percentage requirement for renewable energy is not the same as “dismantling existing policy”.

30 Naj June 23, 2014 at 12:29 pm

The state was on a path to more renewable energy usage, guided by public policy. Now that policy has changed. The legislation does not require any catch-up for the three years for which the annual increase is frozen. Would you like to guess as to whether fossil fuel industry groups will push to extend this three year pause when it comes time to expire, or even before?

31 Jim Satterfield June 23, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Oklahoma is charging anyone who dares to install solar panels.

32 The Other Jim June 23, 2014 at 4:11 pm

To a liberal, refusing to cut a nine-figure taxpayer check to a CEO whose company has the word “green” in the title is the very definition of “blocking alternative energy sources.”

And God help you if you point out that nothing comes of it, the company is bankrupt in 18 months, and everyone on the Board who gets large bonuses is an Obama donor.

33 C June 23, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Selective outrage. Yeah Solyndra was crazy. $500 million taxpayer dollars wasted.

Doesn’t the oil industry get $4 billion in tax breaks every year?

34 Nathan W June 23, 2014 at 7:53 pm

The people of SF should not better than anyone (think buying of street car tracks) that auto producers and energy producers alike have long had zero influence on policy.

35 Duracomm June 23, 2014 at 8:52 am


Alternatives are mandated and subsidized

That pretty much crushes the argument that political opposition is why alternative energy sources are not doing better.

36 Naj June 23, 2014 at 10:48 am

Those mandates are starting to go away, Duracomm. Policies passed years ago by state legislatures are being challenged at every step. Of course industry-led organizations are colluding with the supposedly independent local non-profits making bogus assertions that have been disproven state studies.

37 Jeff June 23, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Are legislative mandates helpful, though? I think they might actually be counterproductive in the long run. Think of it like this: if you want green, cleaner energy, then the best way to get it is to make clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels. People will switch out of economic self-interest. However, in the absence of cheaper green energy, then the alternative is to force people to buy it through mandates, such as the one’s you mentioned. But if people are forced to buy their products/services via legislation, do green energy companies have any incentive in the long run to improve the competitiveness of their energy products vis a vis the price of fossil fuels?

38 Naj June 23, 2014 at 12:34 pm

While I think long-term it makes sense for the government to foster capacity in the green energy sector due to the negative externalities of burning oil and coal, this issue can also be debated on the shear volume of incentives offered to the two sectors. This article provides a good breakdown of the tax breaks received by fossil fuel companies. It suggests there is a large amount of market distortion in favor of traditional, dirty energy sources:

39 Douglas Knight June 23, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Under a mandate, clean energy companies do not directly compete with coal, but they still compete with each other. Some innovations may not be worth it until the industry is already large, so a mandate may encourage innovations. This is a standard explanation of why lots of industries have cost curves like Moore’s law.

One danger is that this may interact badly with the separate mandate that utility companies get paid cost plus, giving them a strong incentive not to buy from cheap suppliers and thus fail to put competitive pressure on technology.

40 Jeff June 23, 2014 at 1:12 pm


You’re not getting any arguments from me about the desirability of getting rid of subsidies for fossil fuels. But offsetting them with other distorting subsidies for green technologies doesn’t exactly give me the warm and fuzzies.

Doug Knight: good points. I guess I would be worried about locking in lousy policies, too. E.G., state governments subsidizing the construction of inefficient wind farms with taxpayer money, then mandating that utilities purchase power from them for forever, regardless of whether there’s any tangible reduction in carbon emissions to be had from doing so.

41 Nathan W June 23, 2014 at 8:01 pm


Your point is well taken, and thinking environmentalists should have strong interest in the counteragument/challenge that you present here.

However, the failure of each marginal dollar to create competitive pressure on technology is not equivalent to a failure of the entire policy to promote technological innovation. I am concerned that the line of reasoning could lead someone to think something like “if he gets paid 1c/kWh too much on any occasion ever, then no company will never innovate”, which is surely not what you are saying.

Similarly, we do not decry that the $200 superprofit on the iPhone might buy will deter the entire market from innovation. Instead, and as in the case of pharmaceuticals, many people prefer to focus on the potential that 100 million consumers * many superprofits = huge potential to spend more money on R&D.

If superprofits for pharmaceuticals are a cause of R&D, then why worry if some wind farm earns greater than normal returns?

42 Dave June 23, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Naj, this example supports Tyler’s point – “In other words, a climate change solution has to involve a relatively cheap form of energy, relative to the status quo. Not just cheap to citizens because it is subsidized, but cheap to governments and cheap at the national level too.” Solar is an intermittent, expensive electricity source that requires mandates or highly favorable regulatory rules – de facto subsidies – to attract investment.

Net metering for solar is one of those ideas that superficially looks great, but quickly breaks down if any appreciable number of people do it. Solar is an intermittent source, and that will only change if cheap electricity storage is developed. Net metering gives people with home solar a call option on the grid when they want more electricity and a put option to sell to the grid when they have extra electricity. Those call and put options logically should cost money, but that economic reality damages the cost savings argument for home solar. Restated in everyday terms rather than finance terms – someone has to pay for the backup capacity that’s in place to allow for home solar to engage in net metering. Home solar advocates want that cost to be spread among all electricity sold to all users rather than pay a fee to reflect that home solar is cherry picking the grid.

Germany has done something almost exactly the same with wind and solar (not home solar, but utility-scale solar), providing those sources with priority access to sell the electricity that they generate. That has massively increased German electricity costs, because of the large amount of backup power required to cover for periods of low wind or solar generation.

43 anon June 23, 2014 at 8:03 am

You want your climate change? I got your climate change right here:

“the “Azolla event” of 49m years ago—a giant bloom of her beloved fern that coincided with one of the biggest climate shifts known”

44 ThomasH June 23, 2014 at 8:10 am

This suggest a kind of carbon sequestration technology thaat might become quite profitable to pursue with a carbon tax in place.

45 ThomasH June 23, 2014 at 8:03 am

All very true about the difficulties. Which reinforces the need to make the measure taken as low in cost as possible. The US can afford all sort of subsidies for hybrid cars and percentage set asides for renewable electricity generation. China needs the lowest cost solution like a carbon tax. But if all we are asking is that their carbon tax rate be the same as ours, it will not be and need not look like an “act of war.”

46 The Other Jim June 23, 2014 at 4:12 pm

>The US can afford…

The US is $17 trillion in debt, and rising, with no end in sight. Try again.

47 dead serious June 23, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Cut the military budget in half. Cut all bennies for government workers (especially Congresscritters) across the board. End farm subsidies. End corporate welfare. Tax the rich more. End unemployment benefits and require those out of work to install these for pay:

48 Brenton June 23, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Increasing debt says nothing about what the US can afford or not. Try again.

49 prior_approval June 23, 2014 at 8:08 am

Unfortunately, the empirically measured rate of melting of the West Antartic Ice Sheet (apparently due mainly to volcanic warming) will likely cause a several foot rise in sea levels in less than a century. A problem whose direct impact makes climate change concerns look almost trivial in comparison.

Which is probably why no one in either camp in the climate change debate is actually discussing what concrete planning and actions will be required to deal with this reality.

50 anon June 23, 2014 at 8:20 am

Nuke the volcanoes?

51 Urstoff June 23, 2014 at 9:39 am

Legalize and tax volcanoes.

52 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 9:43 am

Subsidize the Ice Sheet?

53 Ricardo June 23, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Cap and trade the volcanoes?

54 Jeff June 23, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Deregulate the ice industry.

55 Al Gore June 23, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Have John Kerry give a speech.

56 Dickhead Cheney June 23, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Shoot someone in the face!

57 msgkings June 23, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Send Germans to fix it?

58 Nathan W June 23, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Probably political solutions will also be needed.

Just consider the case of Bangladesh.

Speaking of legalizing and taxing volcanoes, geothermic energy is not an irrelevant part of the solution.

59 Z June 23, 2014 at 8:19 am

The first step may be to stop faking the data.

In any other area, this sort of mendacity would have draconian ramification for the people involved and their cause. The exception is religion, which holds up pretty well despite false prophets and scams.

60 Jon Rodney June 23, 2014 at 9:41 am

Clearly this must be true, because it is on the internet.

61 Z June 23, 2014 at 10:04 am

You unwittingly prove my point. To the true believer, no amount of evidence can cause doubt. If the AGW crowd were held to the same standards of, say, Nicholas Wade, AGW would have been laughed off years ago. Instead, all criticism and contradictory evidence is hooted down by the faithful.

62 Jon Rodney June 23, 2014 at 10:14 am

There are mounds of evidence on one side … it has been presented carefully, in excruciating detail, by thousands of climate scientists working over decades. On your side you have some hack writing for the Telegraph, highlighting misleading facts and providing no supporting evidence. I’m sure you can also point me to a few websites peddling conspiracy theories. If there were any real evidence to support your position, you wouldn’t need to take to the comment section of MR to vent your frustration.

63 Arjun June 23, 2014 at 3:02 pm


64 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 10:15 am

I think this is an overstatement the other way.

There is certainly evidence of recent global warming (particularly from roughly 1980 to 2000). However, global temperatures have been roughly level for the last 12-14 years, which indicates most of the IPCC models are faulty.

At this point the observable evidence is somewhere in the middle of the two sides position and I think the logical position is to wait and see what the long term data trend says. Will it start increasing again, decreasing or remain the same?

65 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 10:17 am

The above was directed at Z’s comment. Of course, it seems to be a middle view, so you could read it as directed at both Z & Jon Rodney.

66 Z June 23, 2014 at 10:26 am

I’m generally in agreement with the middle position. That being, the climate is warming very slightly. Humans have a small role in it. There’s nothing much we can or should do about it. My irritation with the AGW crowd is their corruption of science. That’s causing more harm than whatever AGW is real. The same folks who destroyed the humanities are laying siege to the sciences.

67 Jon Rodney June 23, 2014 at 1:10 pm

I’m confused here — the middle ground between “climate scientists are faking their data and global temperatures are cooler than in 1930” and “climate scientists have mounds of evidence that the climate has been warming steadily since the beginning of the 20th century” is: “The basic warming trend is intact, although temperatures since the beginning of the 21st century have stayed flat”?

68 Z June 23, 2014 at 1:34 pm

JWatts: I disagree with your definitions. Advocates, claiming the mantle of science, have been engaging in fraud. That’s not a point worth disputing. At the same time, there’s a lot of good data suggesting the climate warms and cools. There’s also good data suggesting human activity, like say volcanoes and solar activity, plays some role in the process. Humans are a part of the ecosystem, whether the Left likes it or not.

It seems to me a middle ground here is between those who reject all of it, based on the fraud of some, and those who think we need to commit mass suicide to save Gaia. That middle ground is to encourage the good science, vigorously prosecute the fraud and accept that there’s not much we can or should do now, based on the evidence.

69 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 1:45 pm

“I’m confused here …” Don’t be intentionally obtuse, this is much too bright a crowd to pull those kind of rhetorical tricks on.

“The basic warming trend is intact, although temperatures since the beginning of the 21st century have stayed flat”

That is a contradictory statement. Either the basic warming trend is intact or global temperatures have been flat for the last 12+ years. Trying to have it both ways is disingenuous. Just as, IMO, the head line of “The Telegraph” was disingenuous.

70 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 2:01 pm

“JWatts: I disagree with your definitions. Advocates, claiming the mantle of science, have been engaging in fraud.”

I can’t determine from the available evidence if many climatologists have engaged in fraud. I’m certainly aware that the global mean temperatures have been adjusted and that the raw data doesn’t look exactly like the current adjusted data graphs. However, I’m not an expert in the field, so it’s not easy for me to have a objective opinion on what the temperatures were 80 years ago. That being said, it’s much harder to keep adjusting modern data to make flat data resemble an upward trend. So even if some of the older temperature records can’t be reliably trusted, I would expect the modern records (which are observed by so many eyes) to be reasonably consistent.

Now, when you look at data from the last 30 years, you see roughly 15 years of a sharp temperature climb and then roughly 15 years of flat temperatures. Thus my conclusion: “I think the logical position is to wait and see what the long term data trend says”

By that I imply, keeping our current renewable subsidy structure relatively intact, but not adding any additional expensive regulations & subsidies. Then, in the future, when we’ve seen enough data to be able to accurately forecast the long term effects, we can better adjust our efforts.

71 Jon Rodney June 24, 2014 at 9:41 am

“That is a contradictory statement. Either the basic warming trend is intact or global temperatures have been flat for the last 12+ years.”

It’s not contradictory to my mind … we’re talking about a very long-term trend here. If you look at the period from 1940-1980, there’s no significant warming there either. But however you want to interpret it, it seems pretty straightforward that global temperatures now are significantly higher than they were in 1900, and they show no signs of reverting. This isn’t a random walk, something has pushed temperatures higher. The best science we have concludes this is due to higher concentrations of CO2, with a high degree of confidence.

As to why temperatures haven’t increased over the last 10-15 years despite increasing CO2 concentraions … that’s a very good question, a cause for some skepticism, and an active research topic. The most convincing theories I’ve heard involve the dynamics of how the oceans absorb heat. There’s a lot of uncertainty out there, just not around the behavior of CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

72 Jim Satterfield June 23, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Both the writer and the blog which was his only source of data for his claim are hacks.

73 Z June 23, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Have they been “debunked” yet? That’s a favorite amongst the unhinged.

74 Brandon June 23, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Sure. NASA released a statement explaining why the temperature adjustments were made back in 2007. Steve McIntyre was actually the one to make a big deal of it back then. Not sure why Drudge etc. are flipping out over this old news.

75 Dan W. June 23, 2014 at 8:19 am

It would also help if there was a climate change problem for a climate change solution to solve.

76 anon June 23, 2014 at 8:20 am


77 Jeremy W June 23, 2014 at 8:21 am

Completely agree, which is why I think the most prudent course is substantial investment in carbon-removing processes: Here’s a good source for information on this topic, recently started by a friend of mine in the field:

Carbon dioxide removal can be implemented unilaterally (bypassing the need for, as Tyler noted, diffucult and messy international consensus), would not be perceived as unduly agressive by China/Russia/etc., and unlike *other* geoengineering solutions is not highly untested with a large potential for adverse unintended consequence.

78 andrew' June 23, 2014 at 8:30 am

Note that unburned coal in the ground is the dumbest carbon sequestration technology. Sort of effective but dumb and probably not a copyable technology.

79 mucgoo June 23, 2014 at 8:30 am

Free rider problem?

80 Jeremy W June 23, 2014 at 9:26 am

You could call other countries free riders, but should the developed world really care? The whole world reaps the benefits of climate change prevention, true, but we shouldn’t need everyone to “pitch in” other than to satisfy some misguided sense of of justice.

The concern with free riders would be that it creates bad incentives… but if developing countries still on the point of the Kuznets curve are going to be massively burning coal anyway, I doubte our ability to effectively sequester carbon will have any effect on their behavior at the margin.

81 andrew' June 23, 2014 at 8:27 am

Yay i can agree.

We will overpay for something that just makes it worse. And voila, we have the stupid epa gambit.

So one can hardly credit him with a prediction.

82 S June 23, 2014 at 8:27 am

I just dont see how we are going to get the climate to stop changing.

83 Urstoff June 23, 2014 at 9:40 am

correct the tilt of the earth’s axis

84 Bill B June 23, 2014 at 8:28 am

Krugman was not really talking about climate change, it was just another chance to take a shot at the opposition to the ACA.

85 Art Deco June 23, 2014 at 9:10 am

Krugman was not really talking about climate change,

Course not. Robin Welles writes the column.

86 chuck martel June 23, 2014 at 8:31 am

Problems? Solutions? No actual AGW problems have been experienced or even detected. Searching for solutions for problems that don’t exist while ignoring real problems is evidence of criminal activity.

87 Andrew' June 23, 2014 at 8:51 am

It is certainly negligence. The AGW hysteria boils down to it being a political football issue that has legs for several election cycles. The bonus is that it allows democrats to accuse republicans of being anti-science if they don’t succumb to a global economic governor- not that they acually have any workable solutions in mind. They will only offer periodic gestures like banning coal plants taking advantage of luckily low natural gas prices.

88 Dan W. June 23, 2014 at 9:01 am

“taking advantage of low natural gas prices:

This is the key point. Fracking technology has given our nation the luxury to temporarily reduce our dependence on coal generation power plants. When that luxury goes away voters will actually notice how much the AGW ideology costs and their willingness to go along with it will be greatly diminished.

89 Brenton June 23, 2014 at 7:45 pm

While ignoring the thousands of lives that coal pollution kills every year, on top of the massive amount of environmental damage.

90 Art Deco June 23, 2014 at 9:09 am

“The AGW hysteria boils down to it being a political football issue that has legs for several election cycles. ”

No, its another fashion amongst a certain sort of bourgeois. It’s what’s au courant in the moderator’s social circle.

91 Brian Donohue June 23, 2014 at 9:41 am

I think it’s an economic indicator- when the environmentalist sandwich boards come to the fore, that means the economy is doing better.

92 Z June 23, 2014 at 10:00 am

Polling indicates it is most popular in areas with the lowest church attendance. Humans are hard wired to believe. As Christianity collapsed in your neck of the woods, something else was bound to fill the void. A pagan faith like AGW has the veneer of science which makes it appealing to people who believe science and religion are antithetical.

93 Andrew' June 23, 2014 at 12:52 pm

My point is, for example, the EPA, with zero controversy, could act to reduce mercury and other actual pollutants.

Instead, they are relying on the reduction of mercury to cover almost the entire cost/benefit of banning coal plants.

Global warming is an issue because it will be an issue for a long long time. It will be an issue for a long long time because it is relatively unimportant.

94 JUSTIN CIDERTRADES June 23, 2014 at 10:09 am


By definition AGW, anthropogenic global warming is caused by anthrop-s, by people. More people you got more warming you get. More people you got in the stratosphere, busy at wholesale burning of carbon into our delicate atmosphere, more disaster. There is no wind in stratosphere, no rain to wash CO2 out. People are like dinosaurs, about to extinguish themselves forever from overpopulation.

You are my people, Populace. Think,

My People

95 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 10:23 am

“There is no wind in stratosphere, no rain to wash CO2 out.”

Ummm, there is wind in the stratosphere and CO2 is isn’t affected by rain, so the second point is moot.

96 Reed Hundt June 23, 2014 at 8:37 am

Well, create state and federal and international green banks. They borrow long at government rates, join up their funds with private sector money, lower the cost of capital for clean energy solutions to price points at which clean beats carbon in the market. Yes taxing carbon is a good idea too but it is also neither sufficient by itself nor absolutely necessary. Al Gore calls for this solution in his recent Rolling Stone article, as he also did at OECD last week. Reed Hundt, ceo of Coalition for Green Capital.

97 Art Deco June 23, 2014 at 9:06 am


98 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 9:48 am

So what your recommending is sort of like the Export-Import bank?

99 Hadur June 23, 2014 at 8:40 am

Gonna sound like a kook, but:

Terraform the Earth. Especially if you are a pessimist about a carbon solution, this is now an inevitable need. Put CFCs in the upper atmosphere, put a reflective mirror into space, do something.

100 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 9:50 am

Or we could just subsidize Nuclear power to the same degree we subsidize solar/wind. Roughly 2.2 cents/kWh for the first 10 years of the plants active life.

101 HL June 23, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Would be a great idea, but Genghis Khan has a stack of doom on my border and I don’t have the settlers to spare to terraform anything. They are too busy building a road to some oil I just discovered.

102 It's Over June 23, 2014 at 3:59 pm


103 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 6:44 pm

Well in that case, maybe it’s time to start planning a trip to Alpha Centauri. 😉

104 Dan W. June 23, 2014 at 8:43 am

“Al Gore calls for this solution in his recent Rolling Stone article”

If anyone needed more evidence that “climate change” is a political cause void of scientific merit this would seem to be it.

105 Art Deco June 23, 2014 at 9:05 am

I would put it this way: climate change is like neither the financial crisis nor the Obama health care plan, but above all it is an international problem requiring an international solution.

Calvin Coolidge once said, “You see ten troubles coming down the road, nine of them will roll into the ditch before they get to you”. I don’t think this one’s the tenth. We’ve lived through several waves of environmental eschatology in the last 50 years; this one’s peculiarly well-funded and durable. It gets to be a bore after a while.

106 F. Lynx Pardinus June 23, 2014 at 2:19 pm

I’ve always seen that quote used in an ironic sense considering what the log that didn’t roll in the ditch in 1929 wreaked upon the world.

107 Art Deco June 23, 2014 at 7:50 pm

The ‘log that did not roll into the ditch’ was the gold standard. Maybe their was an advocate of fiat currency in 1928 and maybe there was not.

108 ShardPhoenix June 23, 2014 at 9:09 am

I believe the majority of scientists when they say that climate change is real and at least partly man-made, but at the same time I’m not very concerned about it compared to other potential threats to humanity (eg nuclear warfare, biological warfare, strong AI). It’s slow-moving enough that some sort of geo-engineering will likely solve the problem for rich countries at least. Some low-lying Pacific islands might get screwed in the meantime unfortunately.

I also agree with Tyler that “stop burning coal” as a solution is unlikely to work given the incentives of China and other growing countries.

109 Zach June 23, 2014 at 9:21 am

Survivors can recover from whatever nuclear/biological warfare and strong AI (?) bring about. Increases in atmospheric CO2 take on the order of a millennium to return to equilibrium after you stop emitting CO2. The technology is there to scrub it out of the atmosphere, but it’s a lot cheaper not to put it there in the first place.

110 Dan Weber June 23, 2014 at 10:06 am

What is the impact of, say, the 99th percentile of the IPCC’s predictions of global warming?

111 John Smith June 23, 2014 at 10:14 am

So Zach, you think it’s a matter of survivability. Or Cost. And Cost?

I am curious to see your assumptions for the NPV cost calculation. Begin with effectiveness and discounted cost of 22nd century carbon-scrubbing technology, please.

112 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 10:26 am

“The technology is there to scrub it out of the atmosphere, but it’s a lot cheaper not to put it there in the first place. ”

Yeah, my first thought on reading his post was, how do we know that it won’t be much cheaper to scrub it out in the future?

113 KPres June 23, 2014 at 12:11 pm

“but it’s a lot cheaper not to put it there in the first place.”

Is it?

“”The IPCC produced two reports last year. One said that the cost of climate change is likely to be less than 2% of GDP by the end of this century. The other said that the cost of decarbonizing the world economy with renewable energy is likely to be 4% of GDP. Why do something that you know will do more harm than good?””

114 Ed June 23, 2014 at 9:13 am

“I would put it this way: climate change is like neither the financial crisis nor the Obama health care plan, but above all it is an international problem requiring an international solution.”

This is a topic I normally avoid in these forums, but I did want to chime in to argue that the above statement is not correct. Two countries, China and the United States, account for 42% of global carbon emissions ( In recent years, as covered by this blog, China has increased its carbon emissions and the US has been flat, while other countries did succeed in cutting them. This is simply not an international issue at this point. Its a bilateral Sino-American issue, to be best addresssed by a treaty between those two countries, which would be alot easier than getting agreement of two hundred or so countries, assuming that the Chinese and American government were as serious about cutting carbon emissions as they publically claim.

Even unilateral action by either China or the US would have a big effect. While Chinese industrial production is the bigger factor, the US could stop importing so much stuff from China, not to mention backing out from the huge investment made in the auto-industry and a car-centered culture and lifestyle made after World War II.

115 bruce June 23, 2014 at 9:52 am

“Its a bilateral Sino-American issue…” But it will increasing become a Sino issue with the American part becoming a smaller part of the pie. And other countries, such as India, will be industrializing next.
“While Chinese industrial production is the bigger factor, the US could stop importing so much stuff from China” – see Tyler’s remarks above about trade wars.

116 Dan Weber June 23, 2014 at 10:20 am

China is almost at twice the United States’ levels. India is a bit under half of the US now and climbing fast. (At roughly 7% annual growth, that’s about 10 years to match the US, but lots of things can change in the meantime to hurry or delay that. It’s tough to get good numbers for them but they may have had a levelling over the past year.)

China is growing around 9% a year (annual rate from 2010 to 2012), which means that if the US and Europe were to somehow completely stop all CO2 emissions completely, China would more than make up for that in 8 years.

Framing it as a “Sino-American issue” is reaching.

117 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 9:55 am

“the US could stop importing so much stuff from China, not to mention backing out from the huge investment made in the auto-industry and a car-centered culture and lifestyle made after World War II.”

Or we could build more nuclear, solar and wind power plants. The transportation could then easily be powered by a mix of natural gas/oil (for long haul) and electric (for short trips).

118 derek June 23, 2014 at 10:11 am

Those nasty Chinese. The environmental initiatives raise the cost of production, so it is moved off shore to more friendly jurisdictions allowing enormous moral preening and self congratulation. Plus the bonus of continued cheap consumer goods.

119 John Smith June 23, 2014 at 10:21 am

Are we talking about outlawing coal?

If not, somebody please tell Ed that coal is nonperishable and easily transportable. It will be burned by someone, if not by the big boys.

120 Ricardo June 23, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Not entirely “easily” transportable: I don’t think it’s difficult to ban its export. The U.S. ban on the export of crude oil has been successful.

121 Axa June 23, 2014 at 9:14 am

It’s nice to worry about the CO2 ppm’s in the atmosphere, but………in a more down to Earth asessment what about infrastructure decisions? Explore the whole site, it’s science, not fearmongering

122 Zach June 23, 2014 at 9:15 am

Could countries really gin up popular support for a war over carbon tariffs or whatever regulation an alliance between the United States, Europe and other willing parts of the world would put in place to strong arm the world into cutting greenhouse gas emissions?

I doubt it. But saying China (and other countries w/ rapid coal-fueled growth) and Russia (and other fossil-fuel-export dependent countries) won’t play along is a good smokescreen to deploy if you want to justify doing nothing for another decade until those countries have the collective economic power to win a trade war instead of a real one that’d never happen.

123 Dan Weber June 23, 2014 at 10:27 am

“Saying China won’t play along”

It’s not just “saying” China won’t play along. China continues to deploy coal on a massive scale.

And there is nothing stopping China from proposing a carbon-reducing — or even a carbon-intensity-reducing — treaty to other countries. They aren’t a bunch of dumb mutes waiting for the US to “lead the way.”

until those countries have the collective economic power to win a trade war instead of a real one that’d never happen.

Does China have any self-interest in limiting CO2 emissions?

124 Jim Satterfield June 23, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Meanwhile, in the real world China is also pushing ahead on clean energy. But since they are also pushing hard to constantly improve their economy they do both.

125 Jeff June 23, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Well, you’re right that a real war over trade sanctions is at best a very romote possibility; but I don’t think that’s what Tyler was getting at. I think he meant that it would provoke a strong response from developing nations that would be affected by the sanctions, akin to an act of war, the results would be destructive the US, and thus politically untenable for democratically elected politicians in the West.

126 Chip June 23, 2014 at 9:37 am

It’s an interesting window into human psychology that a trace gas that is currently at a much lower atmospheric concentration than usual, is suddenly predicted to cause catastrophic change based on models that a) use a smidgen of data from a very complex system, b) and then fails in those predictions, still compels the chattering class to bemoan the threat of this same gas.

What other belief system persists unabated even as evidence undermines it at every turn. Well, theism.

The Carbon Peril certainly seems to be a modern manifestation of religious faith.

127 Bill June 23, 2014 at 9:37 am

What if we took the opposite approach: that nothing, or very little, will happen or be successful in reversing climate change.

Maybe we should tell people: you know that beachfront property you have, better plan to deal with the water. Tell a Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma farmer: guess what, don’t expect long term farm subsidies for your crop failures. And, people living near dry forests: your property taxes are going up to fund the costs of fire suppression, so decide to pay more, or clean up your backyard brush.

128 derek June 23, 2014 at 10:07 am

The cost of fire suppression increasing is due to a few decades worth of improved fire suppression. We haven’t had a really bad fire year since 2004, and the immediate suppression of small fires has allowed more fuel to build up, pretty much guaranteeing the next dry year will be a catastrophe. Global warming will be blamed.

129 Chip June 23, 2014 at 11:00 am

Sea level is rising slowly and steadily as it has for centuries since the LIA.

Crop yields are increasing as the planet warms and CO2 rises, just as forest cover globally is rising about 1% a year.

These are facts. It would be nice if policies were based on them.

130 Jim Satterfield June 23, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Sorry, Chip, but maybe it’s just not that simple.

High CO2 Makes Crops Less Nutritious

131 Jim Satterfield June 23, 2014 at 2:49 pm

The claim about sea levels doesn’t cut it either.

132 TMC June 23, 2014 at 8:35 pm

This shows sea levels rising for a very long time, just like this:

Not sure how you countered his claim.

133 Jim Satterfield June 23, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Another one on those crop yield claims of yours.

134 TMC June 23, 2014 at 8:40 pm

Crops in certain regions will be reduced, but increased in others. Much more land will be available to plant then before, so quantity will be up, as your link states. Interesting note about being less nutritious, counter of what most other studies have found, but worth watching.

135 Jim Satterfield June 23, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Oh, yeah. Then there’s the claim about forest cover.

“Quantification of global forest change has been lacking despite the recognized importance of forest ecosystem services. In this study, Earth observation satellite data were used to map global forest loss (2.3 million square kilometers) and gain (0.8 million square kilometers) from 2000 to 2012 at a spatial resolution of 30 meters. The tropics were the only climate domain to exhibit a trend, with forest loss increasing by 2101 square kilometers per year. Brazil’s well-documented reduction in deforestation was offset by increasing forest loss in Indonesia, Malaysia, Paraguay, Bolivia, Zambia, Angola, and elsewhere. Intensive forestry practiced within subtropical forests resulted in the highest rates of forest change globally. Boreal forest loss due largely to fire and forestry was second to that in the tropics in absolute and proportional terms. These results depict a globally consistent and locally relevant record of forest change.”

136 Bill June 23, 2014 at 1:48 pm

derek and Chip.

Great! Let’s take away price supports for drought, shore restoration, and fire protection for the West.

I knew you guys would come through.

137 Ronald Brak June 23, 2014 at 9:42 am

In Australia rooftop solar is now being installed for as low as $2 US a watt before any subsidy. Note this is point of use solar that competes with retail electricity prices, not wholesale. And our latest windfarm that’s just been completed cost about $1,500 US per kilowatt of capacity and It’s capacity factor will be about 42%. New coal and natural gas capacity can’t compete with wind and solar in Australia and so Africa is not going to build any extensive new fossil fuel infrastructure. Not now that cheaper options are available. Existing fossil fuel capacity is definitely cause for concern but fortunately there is still plenty of room for further decreases in the cost of renewables, especially solar.

138 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 10:01 am

I think you are right about solar (in sunny climates) and wind being roughly cost competitive with coal and natural gas. But without any means of economic grid storage, nations will have to build enough spinning capacity to handle the intermittency of solar/wind. The most likely solution will be natural gas, since it’s better at quickly ramping up and down than coal plants are.

139 prior_approval June 23, 2014 at 10:30 am

Or, as the cell phone has demonstrated in Africa, large connected systems will not be necessary for daily life in terms of charging a smart phone or having lighting at night using cheap batteries. Cooling of food is also well within that power budget, and in a slightly larger context of shared resources, power tools.

The Chinese are likely to make a killing – after all, they too still have a few hundred customers within their own borders for such ‘infrastructure.’

140 Ronald Brak June 23, 2014 at 11:30 am

If and when the grid arrives in these places they will find solar power already there. Of course the grid may never arrive. Here in Australia we are going to shrink our grid by using solar plus storage to remove remote rural communities from the grid because it is cheaper than maintaining the transmission infrastructure.

141 Ronald Brak June 23, 2014 at 11:25 am

A renewables heavy grid doesn’t require any more spinning reserve than an all fossil fuel grid. For example, here in South Australia we are now up to about 40% renewables (almost 35% wind and 5% rooftop solar) and this hasn’t required any increase in ancillary services from the days not that long ago when the state’s electricity was all coal and gas. Generally speaking, the amount of spinning reserve required is equal to the size of the single largest generator so there’ll be no disruption in service if it goes off line. Now just how much dispatchable capacity a region would require to meet demand 24/7 would depend on a lot of factors, but this dispatchable capacity will not necessarily be fossil fueled.

142 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 12:10 pm

“but this dispatchable capacity will not necessarily be fossil fueled.”

What will it be then?

The most cost effective approach I’ve seen for bulk energy storage is pumped hydro, but that’s still very expensive and it obviously isn’t viable in an arid area.

143 Ronald Brak June 23, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Whether or not gas is used will depend a lot on if a local supply is available in a region. Currently international prices are high and while they are likely to drop by a lot in the future, import facilities and pipelines are expensive infrastructure that generally does not exist at the moment. Not to mention the political risk of having a pipeline potentially cross several countries. Non-pumped hydro provides dispatchable power and Africa is the only inhabited continent with a large amount of remaining potential hydroelectric capacity. Currently hydro power has become a less attractive investment in Africa thanks to the decreasing cost of solar and wind but that’s partly due to their need to meet demand at all rather than 24/7, so that may change in the future but it will depend on what costs look like in other areas at that point. For example the cost of low efficiency but low capital cost electrical resistance thermal storage.

Half a billion people live off grid in Africa and many of them may never be connected to the grid thanks to improvements in technology. Here in Australia where we are looking at removing many regional communities from the grid to save on the cost of maintaining transmission infrastructure and we are currently looking at solar power, plus battery storage to provide electricity during the night, plus a small amount of diesel generating storage to boost electricity production during unusual weather conditions. Because there are batteries that can be charged the size of the diesel generator only needs to be small. It is possible that small scale wind will play a role, but it currently looks to be too expensive. In fact, the cost of grid electricity and connecting to the grid is so high here new housing developments in major Australian cities are considering providing all their own electricity through solar, battery storage, and a small amount of diesel or other generating capacity. (With fuel cells being given some consideration mainly due to noise and pollution issues.)

144 Dan Hill June 23, 2014 at 11:10 am

Solar is only competitive with grid-based power if you don’t pass any of the costs of using the grid as a backup on to the solar users. Electricity prices for those who can’t afford the capital investment for solar panels (the poor) have skyrocketed in Australia as grid costs are being distributed across fewer users. The current model is both politically and economically unsustainable.

The logical place to invest energy R&D dollars is therefore in storage technologies so that solar can deliver the reliability users need at a truly competitive (not subsidised) cost.

145 Ronald Brak June 23, 2014 at 9:30 pm

Dan, solar power provides about two and a bit percent of Australia’s electricity while household grid electricity use has fallen by about 10% from its peak.

146 Ronald Brak June 25, 2014 at 3:17 am

Dan, you might be intersted in this article which covers the Coalition government’s own review of Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET) and concludes that it will save consumers money:

The study arrived at this conclusion despite despite using the bizzare assumptions that exisiting coal capacity which already averages over 30 years of age could continue operating for another 75 years for an average lifespan of 110+ years, and that natural gas prices will fall from now until 2016 despite their surging upwards as they approach parity with international prices thanks to the near completiion of our new LNG export terminals, and that the existing price on carbon will be removed and that there will be no price on carbon through to 2040. Interstingly enough, despite the dishonest deck stacking, the report still didn’t give them the conclusion they wanted.

147 Urstoff June 23, 2014 at 9:46 am

Whatever happened to the revenue-neutral carbon tax? It should make those worrying about climate change fell better and addresses other externalities of burning fossil fuels (pollution, urban sprawl, etc.).

148 TMC June 23, 2014 at 8:44 pm

For most folks ‘urban sprawl’ is the reward, not an externality.

149 Jon Rodney June 23, 2014 at 9:49 am

“Think of today’s fossil fuels as a stock in the ground. The problem is coming up with something “better than the lower and falling prices for the fossil fuel stock once some countries start going green.” That’s really tough, because it means competing against a lower fossil fuel price than what we see today”

The logic here is that policies that encourage lower carbon emissions will reduce fossil-fuel demand and crush the prices. Fair enough … but it is important to note that there is a cost to removing the “stock in the ground” and making it available for use. Much of that stock (particularly crude oil reserves) has a high cost of exploration / extraction. To the extent that fossil-fuel prices crater, the economically viable supply of fossil fuels in the ground could decrease dramatically.

150 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 10:07 am

“To the extent that fossil-fuel prices crater, the economically viable supply of fossil fuels in the ground could decrease dramatically.”

Decrease dramatically is probably an overstatement, but it’s certainly true that the economically recoverable oil reserves will drop as the oil price drops. However, it seems unlikely that oil (primarily a transportation fuel) will be effected very much, unless we see a large scale switch to natural gas for long haul shipping.

151 Jon Rodney June 23, 2014 at 10:20 am

Re: oil, you may be right — to my mind it depends on how competitive electric vehicles can become over the long term. All sorts of energy sources could displace oil if electric cars become cheap enough.

152 JWatts June 23, 2014 at 10:32 am

Electric cars are not a viable long term transportation method with current technology. It’s hard to see batteries economically replacing trucking, ships, trains and jet liners in the next 30 years.

Following current trends, electric cars will probably offset the growth in world wide oil consumption. I’m doubtful if we’ll see much of a global drop in oil consumption over that period.

153 Willitts June 23, 2014 at 11:01 am

Battery technology may be reaching physical limitations.

154 Jim Satterfield June 23, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Then there is the problem of external costs that don’t get priced into the use of coal and oil adequately in our current system.

155 derek June 23, 2014 at 10:03 am

So Krugman wants something done, anything at all, even if it does nothing.

Like the biofuels legislation? Lets grow corn and turn it into fuel. Raise the price of a staple that millions of poor people all over the world eat, get rid of the Monarch butterfly and who knows what other consequence, so we can morally preen.

Krugman is a vacuous twit.

156 ummm June 23, 2014 at 10:39 am

he consulted for Enron .. go figure

157 chuck martel June 23, 2014 at 10:38 am

AGW isn’t a problem, the nation-state is. Japanese girls walking to school on August 6 and 9, 1945 weren’t immolated by rising oceans, they were victims of nation-state machinations. The millions of European Jews weren’t turned into ashes by an overheated atmosphere, a nation-state incinerated them. The aboriginal residents of North America weren’t decimated by excessive ultra-violet light, they were shot full of holes by agents of a nation-state. But if one mentions that perhaps the nation-state isn’t the best option for Mommy Earth he’s regarded as some sort of maniac.

158 Art Deco June 23, 2014 at 9:59 pm

You’re not a maniac, you’re a fool. Political life is lived within geographic boundaries. Get used to it.

159 ummm June 23, 2014 at 10:38 am

I guess I’m a warming agnostic

160 Willitts June 23, 2014 at 10:58 am

“Getting what I want would be much easier with a dictatorship.” – Krugman

161 Max June 23, 2014 at 11:05 am

What I wrote in my FB posting for this:

What will work NOW and is cheap to everyone? Energy Conservation … air sealing and simple insulation can cut the energy bills 20 to 50% in most older buildings … for a fraction of the cost of new windows! Right now you can buy a pickup truck that gets 55mpg … everywhere except the USA thanks to the 25% tariff on imported trucks. There’s two easy changes we can act on RIGHT NOW to get the ball rolling.”

We can make measurable inroads and SHOW people what a difference it makes:
1) Find ways for EVERY building to get a “Blower Door Test” to map out the air leaks. Air leaks are the number one way to lose AC and heated air. And the worst leaks are at the BOTTOM and TOP off a structure, not the windows! And so air-sealing is WAY more cost effective than replacement windows! But the insulation and air-sealing industry doesn’t have the marketing of the window industry and also fiberglass insulation just lets air flow right through it and so there’s a bit of a scandal there clogging the process of making people aware of the amazing Return On Investment of Air-Sealing. Just google :
Stack Effect
Conditioned CrawlSpace
… and DO NOT USE FIBERGLASS … use spray cellulose or foam. Fiberglass only works if there is ZERO AIR FLOWS through or across the top of it (google “Wind Washed” energy losses).

2) Repeal the “Chicken Tax” that puts a 25% tariff on imported pickups to the USA:

And that’s a pair of BIG STARTS toward the goal that we can act on RIGHT NOW.

162 Ricardo June 23, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Needs more caps.

163 Andrew' June 23, 2014 at 12:48 pm

CAP and trade!

164 Andrew' June 23, 2014 at 11:49 am

CO2 is increasing at 2 ppm per year. So something a little less than that is what we probably need to level off CO2. Concentrated solar power. Nuclear. Carbon sequestration. Etc. I’m not sure what obstacles stand in the way of continued research in these areas.

165 Andrew' June 23, 2014 at 12:42 pm

BTW, how did we get to the place where the easiest, most rational, most correct, and most agreeable thing to do is exactly the thing we cannot possibly do?

166 Andrew' June 23, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Also note how Krugman et. al. report that all future ideas are going to suck because the big bad Republicans won’t come to the negotiating table to raise the status of sucky ideas. I used to have an “everything gets worse” theory. Krugman has elevated it to policy!

167 Jim Satterfield June 23, 2014 at 2:59 pm

The inability of many people to think about long term consequences versus what’s convenient and profitable today hampers the willingness to fund solutions to long term problems.

168 Andrew' June 23, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Very few people get worked up over basic research. The problem with research is that people can copy you. In this case, we pray people will copy us.

What is more likely to dent CO2 release, banning coal plants in the US or developing a carbon sequestration technology? Banning coal plants in the US or demonstrating a safe nuclear design? Banning coal plants in the use or developing a proven solar plant that can store thermal energy?

169 Brian Donohue June 23, 2014 at 4:00 pm

I too am concerned with the crippling debt we are being bequeathed.

170 The Other Jim June 23, 2014 at 4:02 pm

>it is an international problem requiring an international solution.

The science-lovers among us would like to see evidence that there is a problem at all. Further, before we accept that today’s problem is tomorrow’s catastrophe, we’d like to see a model that is anything other than a disastrous failure.

AGW is a baseless theory and every model built upon it has been wrong.

You should keep that in mind. I am delighted that so many people are here to remind you of it.

171 Larry June 23, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Even if we did everything on Krugman’s list, it would have a basically unnoticeable effect on global emissions and therefore on whatever climate change is coming. To make a difference we need to cut back not to 1990 emission levels (which we’re getting close to) but to 1890 emission levels right now, which will take an unimagineably large revolution even if it comes by 2050.

We’re talking many trillions of investment, not the chump change that is already beyond the wildest dreams of most environmentalists. Think grounding the world’s aviation and shipping fleets – for a start. (By comparison, half a trillion private money is already slated for building LNG export terminals in the Gulf.

We should be putting money into 1000 Manhattan projects if we’re going to see any real change, not building more solar plants that are modest evolutions from what we already have.

The answer is probably nuclear baseload, probably fusion, maybe thorium, with solar making up the balance.

172 Bill June 23, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Storage, Batteries and efficiency.

173 Larry June 23, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Them, too.

174 Andrew' June 23, 2014 at 6:44 pm

No, not them. Concentrated solar power and nuclear. That’s it.

175 Larry June 24, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Solar is going to be big. Prices are exploding down and grid power is increasingly expensive. Batteries are also getting cheaper. Solar will continue to grow far more rapidly than other solutions, certainly until nuclear gets sorted. The latter is still far away.

176 HL June 23, 2014 at 5:14 pm

When I look at the AGW question, I consider what the various outcomes are for those who propose to do something about it. It seems like no matter what the outcome is, those who are clamoring to do something get something out of it. It would speak volumes if wealthy proponents of AGW would “walk the walk” and scale down their lives, which they are asking others to do. But that is rare and makes many suspicious.

This is why there is much scrutiny and skepticism, despite the often touted consensus. As is often the case, it boils down to trust. Personally, I think we as a species are so bad at predicting the future that heavy investments in a possible future have a large chance of being wasteful and counter productive. There is also a large chance that whatever will be done, will be a “success” by some measure or another, whether it is true or not. Much like grade inflation, there is a large incentive for “AGE effectiveness inflation” or whatever you want to call it. It leads to more situations where proponents can claim a win, no matter the reality.

If 50 years from now we are in a world where AGW is real, then hey good job! You were right! Yum that crow tastes good, especially after having been cooked in the desert sun in the newly formed Michigan desert. Hopefully whatever we have done will have made a difference that benefits all of society.

Will it have? I don’t know. It seems like policy changes that would make a serious dent in AGW will raise energy prices, making growing and even maintaining our industrial societies harder and harder. There are valid arguments that we should scale down our society significantly, but with diverse interests there are always going to be winners and losers.

We don’t quite know yet who those winners and losers will be 50 years down the line. Like I said, we are bad at predicting the future. But since many are suspicious already, and intuition and prior experience leads many to believe that there’s a pretty good chance at them being on the losing end.

Serious proponents of AGW need to build trust between themselves and their opponents if the AGW situation is that desperate. That they are unable or unwilling to do that continues to say a lot about the movement. Perhaps if we lived in a more homogeneous society with high trust levels, we could get something done about this and other pressing issues.

177 Alan June 23, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Climate change on MR is particularly intriguing. The MR fans are not like Tyler Cowen. Tyler is willing to outsource expertise when he knows that others have greater expertise than he does. Tyler looks at the provenance of the data and goes where it leads. The fans look where the data leads, don’t like it and condemn the data.

By the way, who here can explain *why* carbon dioxide absorbs more infrared than nitrogen? No? Still think you are competent to criticise the science?

178 HL June 23, 2014 at 5:37 pm

I’ve observed that the sciences, such as anthropology, sociology and our very own dismal science, which intermingle with politics are less trustworthy than the ones that don’t. There is more incentive to tweak/subjectify results for the sole reason of encouraging or scaring others to action. I will be the first to admit I know little of the details of climate science, that does not discourage me to be extremely skeptical of their intentions and desires. Basically I don’t trust them to be looking out for my own best interests.

179 Brian Donohue June 23, 2014 at 5:59 pm

I for one agree that science is a lot harder than, say, economics, and I have a lot of respect for scientists in their domain.

What I continue to find astonishing is how little so many scientists understand about economics.

180 dead serious June 23, 2014 at 8:00 pm

The way this is supposed to work is that scientists tell us what the problem is.

Economists then weigh the pros and cons of action vs inaction and in the case of the former what those options involve re: benefits less costs.

What’s not supposed to happen is that idiots with fingers in their ears shout as loudly as possible that what the scientists are telling us is untrue (because poorly argued reason bereft of facts).

When this happens, we never reach the economist part of the workflow because, by right-wing design, the people with brains are marginalized.

181 HL June 23, 2014 at 10:19 pm

It is important to note that being a scientist doesn’t make one infallible or inherently trustworthy. Neither are those with brains. I’d argue that the behavior of the managerial class has shown that their intentions deserve skepticism and scrutiny, rather than blind faith acceptance.

182 dead serious June 24, 2014 at 1:49 am

On a person by person basis, I totally agree.

When a huge cadre of folks – all experts in their field – concur, I tend to trust their information and their intentions (since it’s pretty tough to collude amongst such a large number).

Also: you consider the scientific community at large part of “the managerial class?” Again, theirs is not to make policy but rather to provide the data.

183 Brian Donohue June 24, 2014 at 8:39 am

Yup. We’re still on step one, not due to intransigence so much as the inability so far to forecast the behavior of this complex system with any accuracy at all. If I understand the nub of the matter, it is to do with the extent, if any, of ‘positive feedback effects’ on CO2 accumulation. Tweak this assumption, and results change a lot.

There is a vague analogy to the Keynesian multiplier in there somewhere.

I recommend you direct your arguments to credible critics and not the lunatic fringe strawmen:

184 HL June 24, 2014 at 11:43 am

“When a huge cadre of folks – all experts in their field – concur, I tend to trust their information and their intentions (since it’s pretty tough to collude amongst such a large number).”

It is not collusion so much as putting too much faith in their models and their own predictive abilities. One of the weaknesses of people with brains tis hubris. I don’t think we are sophisticated enough to make these kinds of predictions well. The first analogy I can think of is with educational experts. There always seems to be a new program that will finally be the magic bullet. It never works and we just move on to the next one and the funding just keeps coming. I don’t think they are reclining in their chairs and rubbing their hands together looking for the next sucker. I’m sure most of them think they’re doing the best for their country. But they’re so smart they dismiss simple and fundamental truths, in pursuit of a more complex fix that is naturally more interesting to them as people with brains. That is the nature of the managerial class.

I’m not sure about the scientific community at large, but there are plenty of people “gathering data” through think tanks, universities or some other form of patronage on either side with your ideal workflow, working in reverse. I’m skeptical of them as much as you are I’m sure. Perhaps incorrectly, I lump climate scientists in with those people. They seem to share a lot of similar traits.

185 dead serious June 24, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Well, then I suppose you can say that about any data model, including any financial models, immigration models, and so on.

And then you’re left trusting nothing or nobody, which is fine but at least follow your logic through to its natural conclusion and admit that nobody should ever plan for anything.

186 HL June 24, 2014 at 2:31 pm

But who’s data modeling the data modelists? 😀

Seriously though, we don’t know as much as we think we know. We make plenty of policy based on false premises. Let’s not go even further down the rabbit hole.

187 TMC June 23, 2014 at 8:51 pm

HL, climate scientists should outsource their model making and statistical work.
Attempts and both are why climate science is the joke of the science world. The only respect they get is for their ability to milk funding.

188 andrew' June 23, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Bond resonance. But that is irrelevant to anything other than the political hacks.

So wtf are you attempting to say?

189 Brian Donohue June 23, 2014 at 5:56 pm

He’s saying that Tyler is smarter than his commenters. On this issue, though, I’m pretty sure the commenters are helping Tyler understand that there is less to the much vaunted ‘consensus on climate change’ than the sandwich-board crowd would like you to believe.

190 Andrew' June 23, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Appealing to authority doesn’t make you smart, it makes you dumb. Apparently he can’t read.

191 C June 23, 2014 at 6:47 pm

What’s beautiful about all the climate change threads here is that you don’t understand that you’re the sandwich board crowd. You have the same psychology as anti-vaccination nuts.

192 Andrew' June 23, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Why do you think that?

And what is it about vaccinations that you don’t understand?

193 Andrew' June 23, 2014 at 7:43 pm

1. What is it you think Obama’s EPA action will do?
2. What is it you think Tyler Cowen thinks the EPA action will do?

194 Brian Donohue June 24, 2014 at 8:27 am

‘The End is NOT Near!’

I think this might have some legs!

195 The Anti-Gnostic June 23, 2014 at 6:54 pm


196 Nathan W June 23, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Sounds like a call for fusion to me, but for all we know we could spend $100 trillion and get nowhere.

We should be funding more crazy ideas.

Curiosity based science all the way baby. Let private companies worry about market applications.

197 andrew' June 24, 2014 at 5:07 am

And acting too soon with knee jerk moves like banning us coal to make electricity more expensive just to burn transiently cheap natural gas that can be used IPO gasoline in vehicles when the actual solutions are PV r&d, CSP with molten salt, and nuclear makes it more costly. – See more at:

Dispute any if this with fact-based analysis.

198 Nathan W June 25, 2014 at 3:47 pm

I’m not sure what you’re even saying, so it’s hard to refute it.

199 Nathan W June 25, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Oh, I get it now.

Your cross-reference to an identical post in response to a different point I made has helped me to understand the quality of your argument.

200 Nathan W June 23, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Silver bullt-itis may be the most plentiful source of nail in the coffin.

In particular, silver bullet-itis makes it too easy for anti-fix anythingers to point out that the silver bullet is not so silver.

Traditional brass will do, and we will need the whole armoury.

201 freethinker June 23, 2014 at 8:18 pm

Alan says: “The MR fans are not like Tyler Cowen. Tyler is willing to outsource expertise when he knows that others have greater expertise than he does. Tyler looks at the provenance of the data and goes where it leads. The fans look where the data leads, don’t like it and condemn the data”. I think “MR fans” should be replaced by “extreme libertarians and extreme greens”. The libertarian fundamentalists either deny climate change or pretend the free market will take care of it. The green fundamentalists are impatient with economic reasoning in dealing with climate change. Tyler’s post make it evident that a) he recognizes that climate change is very real and a serious issue and b) it is important to think about it using the economic way of thinking. To use G K Chesterton’s observation in another context, since Tyler’s position will be condemned by the guys at the two ideological extremes, his stand on climate change must be the most balanced one

202 Art Deco June 23, 2014 at 9:57 pm

Tyler’s post make it evident that a) he recognizes that climate change is very real and a serious issue

No, his post makes it evident he has the prejudices of his tribe. The rest of us are looking around saying, “Hey Rocky, haven’t we been in this town before”. Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome pretty much poisoned the well for the world’s alarmists.

203 freethinker June 23, 2014 at 11:23 pm

Tyler is no alarmist. he just acknowledges that there is a serious global environmental challenge in climate change and as an economist he reflects on it in terms of costs and benefits of different ways of addressing the challenge. One need not be a fanatical green to recognize ecological dangers

204 Art Deco June 24, 2014 at 1:16 pm

No, he takes as a given what’s a handsomely funded viewpoint within climatology.

205 andrew' June 24, 2014 at 5:10 am

The free market will take care of it when adjusting for government policies on externalities and research funding.

Who do you think is going to do it?

Obamas best idea is a dubiously legal move to make our electricity expensive that won’t have any effect on global co2 emissions.

That is what tc said BTW.

206 freethinker June 24, 2014 at 5:46 am

andrew, is it your argument that the free market will take care of climate change if the government intervenes to deal with the externalities and invests in research which the private sector alone will not invest in due to its public goods nature? If so you agree the state’s role is more crucial than allowed for by fundamentalist libertarians? Or have I misunderstood your ?

207 Ian June 23, 2014 at 11:48 pm

Use the tax revenue to fund prizes for technological advances. I’m don’t know if anyone referenced this post, but it’s worth a read:

The post was from March, and it struck me as a no-brainer.

208 andrew' June 24, 2014 at 5:19 am

CSP will also shade the desert aiding reforestion and possbly reversing the deforestation estimated to cause ~20% of co2 release.

209 Bruce Stram June 24, 2014 at 10:03 am


Here is an open access cite to my paper just published which attempts to address the issues you raise about the need for a policy approach that can be generalized. It’s short at least..

210 JC June 24, 2014 at 11:21 am

“A 1% reduction in world-wide meat intake has the same benefit as a three trillion-dollar investment in solar energy.” ~ Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy

“As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.” Worldwatch Institute, “Is Meat Sustainable?”

“If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains… the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund

If Al Gore can do it, you can too! Step by Step Guide: How to Transition to a Vegan Diet

211 HL June 24, 2014 at 11:50 am

These are excellent suggestions. Population control would help too. Along with a general scaling down of society.

There is plenty of room for consensus between the right and the left for solutions to many problems. Too bad we have a large amount of diverse interests that have their finger in the pie that prevent such action. They won’t budge easily.

212 HL June 24, 2014 at 11:52 am

Also note that it is our success which leads to our failure. These things are cyclical!

213 Ronald Brak June 24, 2014 at 11:38 pm

I’ve just read that in their financial year ending in March Japan installed seven gigawatts of solar PV capacity:

That will produce as much electricity as one very large nuclear reactor and is about 10 times the solar capacity they installed the year before that. It is clear that now they have had time to ramp up their installation industry they are very capable of rapidly installing solar. And because some people get confused on this issue I’ll mention that there is no need for new energy storage to be built. For now added solar capacity reduces natural gas use and once they build enough it will let them reduce their coal use and conserve their hydroelectric capacity for peak periods and be used tp charge their existing pumped storage capacity.

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