Thomas Schelling on Adapting to Climate Change

by on December 10, 2015 at 7:25 am in Economics, Law, Science | Permalink

Yesterday, Thomas Schelling gave a seminar on climate change here at the Center for Study of Public Choice. Schelling’s main argument was that lots of resources are going into predicting and understanding climate change but very little thought or resources are going into planning for adaptation.

If Washington, DC, Boston and Manhattan are to remain dry, for example, we are almost certainly going to need flood control efforts on the level of the Netherlands. It takes twenty years just to come up with a plan and figure out how to pay for these kinds of projects let alone to actually implement them so it’s not too early to beginning planning for adaptation even if we don’t expect to need these adaptations for another forty or fifty years. So far, however, nothing is being done. Climate deniers think planning for adaptation is a waste and many climate change proponents think planning for adaptation is giving up.

Schelling mentioned a few bold ideas. We can protect every city on the Mediterranean from Marseilles to Alexandria to Tel Aviv or we could dam the Strait of Gibraltar. Damming the strait would be the world’s largest construction project–by far–yet by letting the Mediterranean evaporate somewhat it could also generate enough hydro-electric power to replace perhaps all of the fossil fuel stations in Europe and Africa.

Schelling didn’t mention it but in the 1920s German engineer Herman Sörgel  proposed such a project calling it Atlantropa (more here). In addition to power, damming the strait would open up a huge swath of valuable land. Gene Roddenberry and Phillip K. Dick were fans but needless to say the idea never got very far. A cost-benefit analysis, however, might show that despite the difficulty, damming the strait would be cheaper than trying to save Mediterranean cities one by one. But, as Schelling argued, no one is thinking seriously about these issues.

I argued that capital depreciates so even many of our buildings, the longest-lived capital, will need to be replaced anyway. Here, for example, is a map showing the age of every building in New York City. A large fraction, though by no means all, are less than one hundred years old. If we let the areas most under threat slowly deteriorate the cost of moving inland won’t be as high as one might imagine–at least if the water rises slowly (not guaranteed!). Schelling agreed that this was the case for private structures but he doubted that we would be willing to let the White House go.

If we are going to save cities, especially buildings not yet built, should we not start taxing land today that is under threat of future flood? Act now to mitigate future moral hazard problems. John Nye and Robin Hanson raised this issue. See Robin’s post for more.

It was an enjoyable seminar. At 94, Schelling remains sharp, provocative, and in command of the facts.

1 John Thacker December 10, 2015 at 7:31 am

Considering that we couldn’t even make a reform of the National Flood Insurance Program stick, as Biggert-Waters was partially repealed in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion (including the vote of Maxine Waters, a title sponsor of the original bill), it will be difficult indeed to assemble the political will for mitigation. That’s when Biggert-Waters was just preventing only secondary residences (vacation homes) from being subsidized to rebuild in flood plains.

Having the citizenship pay to compensate richer folks with vacation homes would be more sensible than our current policy of having us pay to rebuild vacation homes.

2 John Thacker December 10, 2015 at 7:33 am

On the other hand, I suppose having taxpayers on the hook for rebuilding all these luxury homes may make mitigation look like a reasonable cost-saving public alternative. In any case, we shouldn’t expect a lot of private contributions towards mitigations (even if it didn’t seem like a collective action problem to begin with) thanks to the subsidized NFIP.

3 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 10:17 am

If we can’t kill the penny, how on earth can we do anything like this?

4 Mark Thorson December 10, 2015 at 12:27 pm

There are just some projects that are out of reach of anything less than a worldwide authoritarian government. Any system composed of a mosaic of local and regional interests and stakeholders cannot implement difficult global changes, even if they’re badly needed — even if they may be vital to survival.

The big one is, of course, global warming. If the only solution is to severely limit the use of fossil fuels and it requires global cooperation, this won’t happen even if the consequences include mass extinction. Piecemeal commitments to reducing the growth of fossil fuel consumption by some future date won’t cut it. Everybody will see the benefits of their own use as having higher priority, especially while the U.S. and China are the leading consumers.

We really have only two possibilities: a) accept that fossil fuel use will continue until the consequences themselves limit consumption, for example by widespread famine and reduction of the human population or b) some new technology comes along that can make fossil fuel obsolete. Small-scale fusion might deliver b), but nobody has demonstrated such technology, so that one is still pie-in-the-sky. We can only really count on a).

5 mulp December 10, 2015 at 1:30 pm

Yep, we can’t afford to stop burning fossil fuels because the cost would be paying so many workers wages would soar from labor shortages that too many middle and upper middle class workers would be burden by no longer getting the EITC they would not be able to afford their $60,000 electric SUV on their $100,000 year factory job with all the benefits….

Better to import oil and create low wage jobs in security and military dealing with the unemployment in the nation’s where big oil pillage and plunders the land by paying off dictators who focus the anger of the population into terrorism against the people who kill jobs burning job killing oil imports.

Just remember, cheap energy is cheap because it has less labor cost, just as everything else is cheaper if labor costs are cut. Oddly those who advocate cheap stuff and especially cheap energy are not standing up and saying “to make energy cheaper, I will no work for $1 and cut the pay of all managers and the board of directors to $1 per day worked.”

TANSTAAFL

If everything is supposed to be better if cheaper, then you will be paid less as a worker, though if you can gain the power of a rentier you might be better off sucking off everyone else without providing any contribution to the economy.

6 Chuck December 10, 2015 at 1:32 pm

This is why we need world government. Run by me and my friends of course.

7 Bill December 10, 2015 at 7:33 am

We should build a wall

Around the East and West Coast

To prevent flooding

And Have the Mexicans Pay for It.

8 aMichael December 10, 2015 at 11:28 am

+1

The short statements + the spacing are spot on. Beautifully done.

9 Thor December 10, 2015 at 11:59 am

Haiku policy announcements. Markets in.

10 Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta December 10, 2015 at 6:54 pm

Have the Mexicans pay for it.

But let the Chinese build it.

They know how to execute and build big infrastructure projects quickly.

And they apparently know how to build walls that stand the test of time.

11 Bill December 10, 2015 at 11:17 pm

+1

And the Chinese will lend us the money to pay for it.

12 Asher December 10, 2015 at 7:35 am

I wish that I could agree that “lots of resources are going into predicting and understanding climate change.” But I am not optimistic. I see resources being channeled into a few very narrow areas of research, in my opinion not the most promising ones. There are hundreds of things affecting the climate but almost everything is being focused on greenhouse gases, which may be the small change. Within greenhouse gases everyone is focused on CO2 but there are other greenhouse gases. Within CO2 people are very focused on one kind of model which to be generous compares not unfavorably in the credibility of its assumptions and in its performance with structural macroeconomic models. There is also not an atmosphere of open discussion and scientific inquiry to say the least. Extremely respected and nuanced scholars such as Roger Pielke Sr. are being excoriated for being apostates and a balanced scientific consensus is not being sought.

13 mulp December 10, 2015 at 1:32 pm

Ok, that is a straw man.

I will assume you are just ignorant.

14 Baphomet December 10, 2015 at 7:57 am

I also heard Schelling give this talk at the Center for Study of Public Choice. That was 25 years ago.

15 Rich C December 10, 2015 at 7:58 am

Either don’t use the term climate deniers, or at least symmetrically also use the term climate alarmists.

16 mecklin December 10, 2015 at 8:22 am

” Schelling remains sharp… and in command of the facts”

He is clueless and should be ignored.

AGW (aka Climate Change) is total and complete nonsense, the biggest ‘scientific’ hoax in history.
Alarmists are immune to rational discussion on this issue and vigorously oppose any questioning of their politico-religious ideology.

17 Dan W. December 10, 2015 at 8:39 am

The greatest rates of sea level rise occurred between 15,000 and 8,000 years ago. Then real climate change happened and sea level increases greatly abated. But the seas have continued to rise and likely will do so until the next ice age. Those blaming humans for rising sea levels are either ignorant or intentionally dishonest.

18 decimal December 10, 2015 at 9:16 am

I never knew we had so many climate scientists on the MR boards!

19 Dan W. December 10, 2015 at 9:23 am

Nah, one just needs to know how to read a graph.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_level_rise

20 JWatts December 10, 2015 at 11:33 am

Clearly the data behind that graph is incorrect and should be adjusted to match current sensibilities.

21 RustySynapses December 10, 2015 at 12:41 pm

I don’t understand some of these comments – aren’t most “deniers” deniers that human activity is causing climate change – whatever is causing it, the poles are clearly melting and the sea level is clearly rising, so even if you disagree that it’s worth trying to change human behavior (fossil fuel consumption) to address climate change, mitigating the effects of rising sea levels seems like something worth discussing.

22 Asher December 10, 2015 at 1:24 pm

decimal, you have to recall that posters are not a random sample of the blog audience. If only a tiny fraction of readers are informed about climate science, the relevant posts could reflect a very high level of expertise. In addition, the time series techniques relevant for studying global warming are more or less identical to those used in econometrics so the expertise tends to port. So it woud hardly be surprising if a large number of readers of an economics blog had some scientific understanding of the climate science dialogue (or lack thereof).

23 decimal December 10, 2015 at 1:24 pm

So because the oceans rose rapidly up until 8 thousand years ago because the glaciers were melting, mans activities cannot be having an effect on current melting? Ok….

24 decimal December 10, 2015 at 1:30 pm

Asher, you are quite right about the possibility of expertise. Although I’d disagree with the time-series technique understanding on this board (as you can see from Dan W.s thought process on the time series he linked).

25 JWatts December 10, 2015 at 1:56 pm

“So because the oceans rose rapidly up until 8 thousand years ago because the glaciers were melting, mans activities cannot be having an effect on current melting? Ok…. – ”

Why would you even frame it that way? Outside of just trying to turn it into a political fight. You could just say that the seas have been rising for millennia and we need to be aware they still are.

26 decimal December 10, 2015 at 2:06 pm

I’m not sure how that is political? To point at a general trend across time and not identify the mechanism (or different mechanisms) about why the rate changed doesn’t further the discussion.

“Look, it was going up before, so that means that the ACC theory is false.” <– not a good argument

27 JWatts December 10, 2015 at 3:17 pm

“I’m not sure how that is political? ”

You don’t see how a long run trend in rising oceans, being framed in a way that makes it appear to the uninformed observer, to be solely caused by AGW is not political.

28 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 4:24 pm

You need a moment of introspection, JWatts. Global warming, with a possible human component, is a purely scientific question. There is no single political bias to that. Every possible political bias maps to it. Ideologues will ALL see it their way.

I guess it is kind of sad that the “predisposed” are just lucky or not on such things. Those who mistrust corporations were unlucky when GMOs turned out to be safe. Those who mistrusted the medical industry turned out unlucky when immunization proved safe and effective. Those who trusted Exxon turned out being unlucky when AGW proved true.

29 JWatts December 10, 2015 at 4:56 pm

“You need a moment of introspection, JWatts. Global warming, with a possible human component, is a purely scientific question. ”

Sigh, It’s like you didn’t even read my post. A purely scientific addressing of rising oceans would be clear that the ocean has been rising for centuries. And then addressed the potential additional rise that might be do to AGW. Ignoring, the underlying trend that predates any significant AGW is misleading to the uninformed readers.

30 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 5:09 pm

I read your post and was saddened by it.

You complain that AGW gets all the blame, and that’s not fair, because it only deserves some.

Why would you do that?

Politics?

31 JWatts December 10, 2015 at 5:41 pm

“You complain that AGW gets all the blame, and that’s not fair, because it only deserves some. Why would you do that? Politics?”

Truth

32 Yancey Ward December 10, 2015 at 10:27 am

See, DanW, you aren’t in the priesthood, so shut up, you apostate!

33 decimal December 10, 2015 at 1:26 pm

Good one!

34 mulp December 10, 2015 at 2:12 pm

Ok, so you have pointed to the effect of the Milankovitch cycle, but we are on the downward part of the cycle which is supposed to lead to global cooling and sea level fall.

To the point, when in the past million years has the natural variation increased sea level above the current sea level?

Other than man’s actions being natural, what other than burning fossil fuels is causing sea level to rise beyond the natural high point instead of beginning to fall as glaciers begin to build mass on land?

35 brickbats and adiabats December 10, 2015 at 10:42 am

Those grapes are so sour they appear to have matured into a fine balsamic vinegar.

36 Omri December 11, 2015 at 4:02 pm

“the biggest ‘scientific’ hoax in history”

If it’s a hoax, the hoaxer was Svante Arrhenius, and the hoax began with the paper he published in 1894 about the link between CO2 and the climate. Care to explain why he decided to o that?

37 yenwoda December 10, 2015 at 11:34 am

Seriously, Alex. One more time and Rich will file a grievance with the local department of microaggressions.

38 Rich C December 10, 2015 at 12:53 pm

Said with the snark of a pajamaboy pussy.

39 mulp December 10, 2015 at 1:34 pm

So, if I tell you that you absolutely will die, I’m a death alarmist?

40 Rich C December 10, 2015 at 4:44 pm

1. The ultimate death of each individual is much more certain than the impact of anthropogenic global warming / climate change.

2. I’m not advocating either the alarmist label or the denier label – unless someone is playfully/poetically using both in a satirical manner – because the language doesn’t advance thoughtful or civilized discourse. Reasonably enough, a lot of the audience will tune out arguments when those kind of labels are included.

41 Adam December 11, 2015 at 12:43 pm

This thread is such a wonderful sampling of epistemic closure. Hard to pick out my favorite bits, but I think I’ll go with these two:

> are either ignorant or intentionally dishonest

Ah, the old “lying or stupid” rhetorical gambit. This is a situation where meta-rationality really pays off. If you ever find yourself accusing others of either lying or being stupid, then you are 100% guaranteed to be suffering from a failure of imagination. Then there’s this:

> the time series techniques relevant for studying global warming are more or less identical to those used in econometrics so the expertise tends to port

Porting expertise! This is the funniest freaking thing I’ve read all day. Keep fighting the fight, MR commenters!

42 Axa December 10, 2015 at 8:16 am

A new low land tax is for sure controversial. However, there are many non-controversial planning and building decisions that can be taken today but don’t. There shouldn’t be any important infrastructure in flood risk areas such as airports, hospitals, schools, electricity generation plants, etc.

However, who is going to say “seaside land is going to flood” and cause land prices to collapse?

43 JWatts December 10, 2015 at 9:05 am

“A new low land tax is for sure controversial.”

Just call it what it is. An insurance fee designed to reimburse the Federal Flood Insurance program.

44 yo December 10, 2015 at 8:20 am

Weren’t Americans the specialists for demolishing something and building it up whole somewhere else? Hearst Castle, London Bridge…

45 Dan Cole December 10, 2015 at 8:23 am

Thanks for posting this, Alex. Along with William Nordhaus, Tom Schelling was one of the first two social scientists to participate in National Research Council panels on climate change in the mid-70s. After winning the prize in 2005, Tom decided to focus nearly all his presentations on the two issues he considers most important for the world today: climate change and nuclear proliferation. The work he has done on both problems is important and undervalued (which might well explain why he has been given similar talks for a long time now).

46 mecklin December 10, 2015 at 6:16 pm

Schelling was chief architect of the LBJ/McNamara Vietnam War Strategy — which was a complete, world-class disaster. Heckuva Job Tommy!

He deserves no respect at all. Leftists choose to only see his ideological Berkeley/Harvard/Yale/Swedish-Bank-Prize credentials, not his full record.

47 Christine Staffa December 10, 2015 at 8:27 am

I saw a wonderful show once all about Herman Sorgel. It was a very likeable life story, and he dedicated his life to his dream of damming the strait of Gibraltar. On his deathbed, he is said to have said, “My life has been a waste.” Maybe not, Sorgel, maybe not…?

48 Dan W. December 10, 2015 at 8:30 am

Given sea levels have been rising for thousands of years how exactly is the risk of flooding a “climate change” issue? So that distortion ought to be dropped and quickly.The solution is geo-engineering and the policy question is where to do it and who pays. The answer is obvious: The people who most benefit from it. So if you want your house on the shore of the ocean, bay or river then the cost of protecting that property from flooding rests on you. The cost certainly should not be transferred to people who live far away and who would gain little if anything from projects to save waterside property.

49 Pshrnk December 10, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Because us inland folks don’t benefit from ports.

“how exactly is the risk of flooding a “Climate change” issue?” Warming worsens flooding! If you have already shot me, how exactly is your then knifing me an issue?

50 mulp December 10, 2015 at 2:18 pm

Given sea levels are as high as they have been in a million years and would absent the burning of fossil fuels would be slowly falling, why do you think the recent rise in a cycle of rise and fall should suddenly simply become rise to infinity?

If business cycles have times of falling gdp, would you argue that falling gdp is totally natural and should continue forever, and whatever policies that produce the falling gdp should be continued?

51 prior_approval December 10, 2015 at 8:39 am

The White House has a current elevation of 121 feet above sea level – I think it might be a while before anyone is worrying about it being flooded.

52 Brian December 10, 2015 at 12:03 pm

Not that it changes the point much, but the White House elevation is about 55 ft.

53 chuck martel December 10, 2015 at 8:49 am

Less than 10,000 years ago there was a continental glacier over a mile thick covering much of what’s now the US Midwest. The idea that modern man, in his incredibly brief time on the planet, can produce a climatic stasis there is a hubris unique to this generation fueled by scientism.

54 Pshrnk December 10, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Oh please! Modification is not the same as stasis. Because we don’t have much control; do you think that is a good reason not to do what we can to mitigate harm?

55 chuck martel December 10, 2015 at 2:27 pm

If stasis isn’t the goal, what is? And if indeed that is the goal, what particular stasis are we looking for? Was there a particular moment in history, obviously the history recorded by humans, when conditions were typical or optimum or “normal”? It’s probably safe to say that the climate world-wide was never exactly the same in two consecutive years. Do we establish the world climate baseline at 3000 BC, 1492 or the day before yesterday?

Since climate obviously does change through time, and always has, why are we so concerned about the minor, practically unmeasurable changes that we’ve seen through our incredibly short lifetimes? Does anyone believe that we’ll witness sea water lapping at the grandstand at Gulfstream Park any time before 2115? Even if Florida’s premier horse racing facility is forced to become a speed boat track, none of us will ever know. This whole subject is a topic of conversation for people that need to devote only a tiny portion of their time to scrabbling for a living. Normal people wouldn’t know anything about it if it wasn’t fodder for an insane media industry.

56 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 3:34 pm

Since I jump off the front porch all the time, why should I be worried by longer drops?

That is the level of your question.

57 tjamesjones December 11, 2015 at 6:58 am

Or perhaps, since I jump off the front porch all the time, why should I be worried about someone doing a longer drop in 100 years time.

58 Omri December 11, 2015 at 5:03 pm

“Less than 10,000 years ago there was a continental glacier over a mile thick ”

And if not for CO2, we would slowly be cooling towards that older era. Instead we are warming. And unfortunately, warming makes the planet less hospitable for human civilization. Do try to keep up.

59 Chip December 10, 2015 at 8:53 am

Oh grow up, Alex. No one denies that climate changes. If you can’t idefine the problem correctly you have no business pontificating to others are clearly better informed (surveys show skeptics are indeed better informed).

As for sea level, it’s rising at the same gradual rate it has since the last ice age, with none of the acceleration that was predicted by the models. It even slowed for a while recently.

In fact there is much dispute over how accurately we measure sea level, as the change is so slight, while our measurements are imprecise and isostasy another confusing factor.

And the Dutch? They held off the sea with 18th and 19th century technology. But Boston won’t be able to deal with the same gradual rise today?

60 Dan W. December 10, 2015 at 9:02 am

Boston is the city it is today because in the 19th century the tidal basin was filled in. When I consider the reluctance, if not outrage, progressives express about geo-engineering solutions to climate change this sentence from wikipedia always delights me: “Prior to a colossal 19th-century filling project, Back Bay was a literal bay. Today, along with neighboring Beacon Hill, it is one of Boston’s two most expensive residential neighborhoods.”

61 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 10:26 am

That’s funny Chip, because many of us do remember those who denied any climate change.

We are fully aware that they have slid to “yeah, change but not for your reason!”

Of course they would.

62 dearieme December 10, 2015 at 10:51 am

Somebody denied that the climate changes? Name him! Then we can ask him why he doesn’t believe in the Ice Ages.

63 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 10:59 am

That was the game, to say that it was all ancient history, and mega-slow changes.

It is hard to find old links on the web, but I remember (for instance) when people claimed that there was no accelerated warming, and that it was all heat island effects corrupting weather data.

“Skeptics” fought tooth and nail to say that recorded National Weather Service data could not be trusted as evidence of warming. Now of course, satellites and other data series confirm.

The same skeptics (liars) forget all that and invest in new BS.

64 JWatts December 10, 2015 at 11:37 am

First, you failed to name anybody, so at this point your post looks pretty much like a straw man argument.

Second, how is it wrong if somebody who did deny any Climate Change (as unlikely as that sounds) and then later modified their position in light of the facts?

I suspect you can probably find some devout Creationists that believe that the world was created 6,000 years ago who might completely deny any Climate change, but that’s a pretty narrow brush.

65 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 11:43 am

I guess you’ll have to take it as my testimony. I have been following the debate since the 80’s. I remember when global warming was merely a weird idea. At first I was sympathetic, and then I spent about 10 years as a skeptic, unsure of the data and biosphere feedbacks, and then I decided that enough data was in to flip again in the 90’s. The Mauna Loa concentrations kept climbing, as did temperatures.

Since I flipped I have seen a cascade of repeating defenses. Never ones that stand. New ones that last about 5 years before being abandoned.

It is a little like a castle wall defense, isn’t it? At first there was no warming, then there was warming but man wasn’t accelerating it, then OK it is accelerating but it is too expensive to deal with.

I think that puts a the castle’s keep, with no further retreat.

66 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 11:47 am

BTW, we now have EXXON on record as funding these retreating defenses.

That while the vast liberal conspiracy has never been documented. Strange. It is almost as if EXXON looked around the room, at their own conspiracy, and realized that “conspiracy” was the best charge to make. 😉

67 Cliff December 10, 2015 at 12:16 pm

Do you mean that Exxon funded climate research?

68 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 12:27 pm

The thing that is now documented is that Exxon’s research found climate change, global warming, but they lied about it.

The weird thing about US law is that it is legal to lie to the public, but not to investors. When they told investors that climate change was not a threat, they were tripped up.

link

69 Stephan December 10, 2015 at 12:40 pm

@Gochu. We have had the doomsday predictions for years
— In the 70s, Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book “The Population Bomb” has predicted mass famines in Europe and America to occur within 20 years. It did not happen.
depletion of resources was another big deal. They were claiming that the oil, coal, and natural gas would get exhausted. Once again, the prediction was said to be realized within 20 years. It did not happen. we’re awash in oil.
–Global cooling in the 70s ( cover of Time)
–acid rain: modest problem
— ozone hole: modest problem
Warming is occuring now at the rate of 1.5C per century. The contribution due to CO2 may be much lower , witness the current 18 + year pause when 1/3 of the CO2 since Industrial revolution has been emitted but no warming. This warming is not a big deal, see level rise is at 3 mm per year, again not a big deal. Best solution is to do nothing and not decelerate economic growth and curtail human freedom which are much more important.

70 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Stephan, the whole discussion has been slowed by denial, but there have been inroads. Efficiency has been embraced by business and consumers who see lower costs, not higher. Renewables have sometimes been misapplied, but not completely so.

We have made progress despite the myth that is a trillion dollars or nothing.

71 Stephan December 10, 2015 at 2:21 pm
72 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 3:20 pm

As I say, sometimes misapplied. Still the technology is pretty amazing, and a 5mw turbine has valuable uses. If nothing else there are remote locations that require fossil fuels be expensively delivered. Every kWh that reduces drain on the local stockpile is a big win.

Perhaps every location that requires fuel import in bulk is an opportunity for renewable, and coincidentally, local production.

73 mulp December 10, 2015 at 2:37 pm

Yes, sea level rises along with the natural climate warming cycle, but the natural cycle is at maximum warming and maximum sea level rise. The natural cycle is now for cooling and sea level fall. Not rapidly but over 50-80,000 years. Then a rapid rise in sea level back to about current levels.

Unless you believe there are no climate cycles, and the sea level and climate temperatures have been rising constantly over the past 4 billion years from sea level at the center of the earth…

74 David December 10, 2015 at 9:05 am

Why isn’t climate change risked already priced into real estate prices? Your call for a tax is an implicit recognition of this.

Are people trusting in gov’t to build dykes, so this a de facto transfer of wealth to the private sector from the public sector? Is at matter of high discount rate on future value of real estate by non-state actors? Is there too much uncertainty in the time frame of the problem to make an investment decision?

Climate change could be one of the great real estate opportunities in human history. So why don’t we see it happening?* If climate change were that economically real to people, its deniers would be irrelevant.

* We see evidence of investment strategies changing around climate-affected land prices. When Archer Daniel Midlands decommissions a grain elevator in Oklahoma, they open a new one in Minnesota. Perhaps there is a similar change in agricultural land prices… might be a good Ph.D. thesis in that question.

75 JWatts December 10, 2015 at 9:19 am

“If climate change were that economically real to people, its deniers would be irrelevant.”

Revealed preferences indicate that Climate Change alarmists don’t really buy into their own rhetoric. How many of the elite Left have stopped flying around in private jets?

I read this article this morning:

“Harrison Ford hits out at global inaction on climate change, warns of ‘disastrous’ consequences

He also called upon the public to value their environment beyond being merely about “cute animals and a place for them to vacation”.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-09/harrison-ford-hits-out-at-global-inaction-on-climate-change/7015380

The man owns a fleet of personal planes and helicopters.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Ford#Aviation

That’s just some over the top hypocrisy. It also tells me that many prominent environmentalists don’t actually believe it’s a calamity. It’s just a talking point.

76 Bob from Ohio December 10, 2015 at 10:13 am

“That’s just some over the top hypocrisy. ” Yes it is.

“The decision to sell occurred several months after purchasing their Brentwood, California home for $12,650,000, approximately 20 percent lower than the original asking price of $15,895,000.

Who can blame them, Ford already owns several other properties and Flockhart has one her own home, now a rental. His properties include a 3,530 square foot home in Encino, an 1,855 square foot home in Rancho Park, another home designed by architect Gerard Colcord also in Brentwood and an 800-acre ranch in Jackson, Wyoming.

This newer, but not brand new addition to the real estate collection sports 13,767 square feet of living space, almost enough to hold the other homes in Ford’s real estate portfolio. It has seven bedrooms and nine bathrooms. Obviously one for each bedroom and two for guests. There are six fireplaces and a cute detached cottage in the back with a screening room and guest suite.”

http://www.famefacts.com/harrison-ford-calista-flockhart-brentwood-house-13-million-mansion/

Just doing his part to save the world!

77 Floccina December 10, 2015 at 4:16 pm

How many CAGW believers have bought land in Maine close to the ocean but above the expected sea level rise?

78 Floccina December 10, 2015 at 4:19 pm

I have should have said have invested in land in Maine close to the ocean but above the expected sea level rise?

79 Rick Hull December 11, 2015 at 3:15 am

worth noting that the top google result for CAGW is Citizens Against Government Waste

80 Boonton December 12, 2015 at 5:30 am

Revealed preferences indicate that Climate Change alarmists don’t really buy into their own rhetoric. How many of the elite Left have stopped flying around in private jets?

Your example of Harrison Ford indicates nothing of the sort. For one thing, since the man is in his 70’s, so clearly even if he buys climate change, it doesn’t make much sense for him to worry about it personally. Also you have a ‘tragedy of the commons’ effect here. If no one will act, then Ford not enjoying his private planes will not address the problem at all. So all he would be doing is harming himself.

More importantly, though, climate change is not a problem of bling or extravagant consumption. In a carbon tax or cap-n-trade system you would still have rich people who would fly private jets or people who zip around in sports cars wasting gas. Doing so simply costs them a bit more thereby reducing their budgets for other types of activities while those who enjoy less carbon intensive things see their budgets rise.

81 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 10:52 am

“If climate change were that economically real to people, its deniers would be irrelevant.”

We know from BE that humans suffer hyperbolic discount rates. People prefer $50 now rather than $100 next year, even though they know they can’t get that return anywhere else.

Think how magnified it is when they are thinking they’ll get 20 good years near the beach, and sell well before seas rise?

82 JWatts December 10, 2015 at 11:44 am

“Think how magnified it is when they are thinking they’ll get 20 good years near the beach, and sell well before seas rise?”

So, they should sell out their beliefs for money, but harangue everyone else for being a “denier”. Sure, do whatever it takes to get you invited to the cool cocktail parties, I guess.

83 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 11:57 am

Behavioral economics, and simple psychology, can probably explain both kinds of inaction. One group “disbelieves” and does nothing. Another “believes” and does little.

I think it is less that one is “hypocrisy” than that both groups are protective of their laziness, and their short term appetites. They just justify their lifestyles in different ways.

They have more in common than they recognize.

84 JWatts December 10, 2015 at 2:00 pm

“Behavioral economics, and simple psychology, can probably explain both kinds of inaction. One group “disbelieves” and does nothing. Another “believes” and does little.”

Fair enough. I’ll wait till there’s enough evidence to be conclusive then.

85 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Many plan on being safely dead by 2100, it is true.

86 decimal December 10, 2015 at 1:35 pm

Good way of framing the issue.

87 Floccina December 10, 2015 at 4:22 pm

We know from BE that humans suffer hyperbolic discount rates. People prefer $50 now rather than $100 next year, even though they know they can’t get that return anywhere else.

Anyone who buys a bond or a bond fund or a mutual fund is willing to pay far more than %50 now for $100 next year!

88 Patrick L December 10, 2015 at 9:12 am

“It takes twenty years just to come up with a plan and figure out how to pay for these kinds of projects let alone to actually implement them so it’s not too early to beginning planning for adaptation even if we don’t expect to need these adaptations for another forty or fifty years”

Not in the face of armageddon. People put up with incompetence, corruption, and roadblocks when they’re not on the verge of losing everything. In a democracy the incentive structure reverses towards maximizing scapegoats and peak efficiency. Veto points that slow down the normal process are allowed only the grace of communal indifference. Even if you have legitimate complaints or veto rights, the political process will blame you and create tremendous pressure to push through their objections.

For comparison Three Gorges Dam averaged 1.5 tons of cement per minute, probably much faster at peak. At that pace it would take about 1.5-2 years to build Oosterscheldekering, the largest of the Dutch Sea Walls. It shouldn’t even be ‘that’ expensive, maybe $5-10 billion each? Much of the cost is from the mediocrity and idiocy these things attract, and trying to go around veto points. I doubt we’d need anything built this quickly, this isn’t Pacific Rim; we’re not building a wall to keep out the Kaiju. The real issue is in building up swamps to act as natural barriers, a rather expensive prospect because until the flooding happens the areas you’d most want to build your natural barriers are inconveniently the most expensive. A big hurricane knocking all the beachfront property into the ocean helps to fix that problem. Abolishing federal insurance and guarantees would go along way to help discourage people from continuing to build in these places to begin with, but that kind of futureproofing isn’t exactly on the table.

89 Steven Kopits December 10, 2015 at 9:28 am

Sea level in New York has risen by 1 foot in the last century. It is on track to rise another foot in the next century (although sea level, as measured as the Battery Park tide gauge has declined since 1998).

See this and much more in my assessment of climate claims made by Mark Carney in a speech he made to insurers in late September:

http://www.prienga.com/blog/2015/10/9/fact-checking-mark-carneys-climate-claims

90 Bob from Ohio December 10, 2015 at 10:15 am

“(although sea level, as measured as the Battery Park tide gauge has declined since 1998)”

Climate change is apparently helping NY stay dry.

91 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 10:31 am

Why would anyone use one location? Surely the land can move as well.

I’d much prefer a North Atlantic average.

92 Steven Kopits December 10, 2015 at 3:22 pm

The link you post says exactly the same as my study, with the difference that we have no indication that sea levels will be four feet higher a century hence. One foot, yes, in all probability. Four feet, nothing in the historical or current data says that.

93 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 4:39 pm

The global data supports the idea of acceleration. Why would “historical or current data” capture that?

It certainly does not support a straight line “one foot last century, one foot next century.”

94 Steven Kopits December 10, 2015 at 5:11 pm

The global data are in my analysis. They do not support your assertion.

http://www.prienga.com/blog/2015/10/9/fact-checking-mark-carneys-climate-claims

95 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 10:38 am

As an aside, I need 35 feet for beachfront property. Please turn up your furnaces.

96 Harun December 10, 2015 at 1:32 pm

You won’t be alive in 100 years.

97 decimal December 10, 2015 at 1:38 pm

I think this is a big issue with the climate change debate. It is really hard for people to think out a year away, let alone 100 years. The change is very slow moving from a humans perception, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t carry extremely high risks for the future.

98 Pshrnk December 10, 2015 at 3:03 pm

And, what did those people 100 years from now ever do for me?

99 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 3:22 pm

I wonder if they’ll forgive us in the same way that we forgive for the buffalo or the passenger pigeon. “People were dumb then, they didn’t know any better.”

100 Thomas December 11, 2015 at 5:10 pm

Eliminating capitalism and establishing global wealth redistribution and ignoring all power sources that aren’t solar or wind provides high risks for the future too, but that is the goal at every single international climate meeting.

101 Justin Kelly December 10, 2015 at 9:34 am

“… we could dam the Strait of Gibraltar. Damming the strait would be the world’s largest construction project–by far …”

Cha-Ching!! If I had a construction company I would certainly be in support of climate alarmism, it is such a great revenue stream, just think of all the rent seeking! A frickin damn on the Gibraltar! A new Suez/panama Canal to charge rents on international trade! A whole new class of vessels (we already have Suezmax and Panamax, lets add Gibraltarmax!) If we had proposed this outside of the narrative of climate change Environmental groups would cry bloody murder because of the effect on the ecosystem. How narratives change based on rationalization is hilarious. If Margaret Thatcher shuts down the coal industry shes the spawn of Satan, if a Green does it, they are Environmental Jesus.

It is just like whenever there is a climate debate on CNN or MSNBC. You should always watch the commercials, they tell you more about what you are watching than the actual content. The advertisements are usually all by technology companies with large investments in renewable technology. It must kill them to see all this development going on around the world and they aren’t getting a cut. There is a reason why developing economies like China undercut global climate deals they realize it is about regulatory capture and rent seeking.

102 _NL December 10, 2015 at 9:37 am

So if we damn the Mediterranean, then we have to build some sort of canal locks, right? I don’t know how much shipping moves through Gibraltar, but constricting it would presumably bottleneck that trade route. That might lag shipping time and/or raise shipping costs to go around the locks, such as by Suez or truck/train around the locks. That needs to be factored into the cost of construction.

103 Ted Craig December 10, 2015 at 9:48 am

“Gene Roddenberry and Phillip K. Dick were fans…” Putting that in there really doesn’t help your argument.

104 Bruce Cleaver December 10, 2015 at 10:13 am

Yeah, I noticed that too. All we need is William Burroughs for the trifecta.

105 Radford Neal December 10, 2015 at 9:48 am

The relative sea level at New York City is rising because New York City is sinking. It’s sinking because 15000 years ago there was a huge amount of ice just north of there, whose weight pushed the earth down there, and up at New York City. Now that the ice age has ended, New York City is slowing sinking back down.

106 dearieme December 10, 2015 at 10:56 am

Roughly the same is true for London. Scotland is rising, the south of England falling. This gives Scotland many beautiful raised beaches and London the rather handsome Thames Barrier. Win, win.

107 Lord December 10, 2015 at 9:49 am

Coastal cities, being more temperate as well as concentrated, contribute less to warming, so this would be akin to subsidizing polluters.

108 Ray Lopez December 10, 2015 at 10:09 am

LOL, AlexT is good with these troll posts. Dam the Med, indeed, dam it! Actually the biggest natural dam was across the strait of Gibraltar, in prehistoric times, and they say it failed catastrophically, meaning a wall of water from the Atlantic, several hundred meters high, cascaded down on flora and fauna in the Med basis. But, water bunches up as it flows, so if you were a very fast runner, and could run for days, you could outrun this tsunami. Or if you could run to an island, like Crete, Sicily, and the like.

109 Jeff December 10, 2015 at 10:12 am

Glad to see someone else picked up on the fact that capital depreciates, although I have no idea what the cost/benefit ratio would be it is certainly something to consider. It isn’t just that old buildings cost more to maintain, but also that cities built for an era of horses and buggies impose additional costs.

110 anon December 10, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Property owners stifle their own cities though land use regulations. Older cities thrive in part because their built density was formed before NIMBYs took over urban planning.

111 Bjartur December 10, 2015 at 10:14 am

“Climate denier” is a phrase that doesn’t make sense. Nobody denies the climate. Anyone who flippantly uses this phrase demonstrates their own disregard for logic and accuracy. Why should I value such a person’s opinion on a complicated, politicized subject when there are many others who are not only more educated on the subject matter but who also show more respect for their readers by using words accurately and logically? Also, ad hominem attacks are best suited for people whose opinions are not supported by data (see Trump, Donald). You have undermined your position by stooping to his level.

112 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 10:28 am

Come on Bjartur, it is not hard to look up page and see very poor science service of denial.

It is hard to deny denial when it stares us in the face.

113 Dan W. December 10, 2015 at 10:58 am

What portion of current sea level rise is natural? What portion of current seal level rise is human-caused? What impact will climate remediation policies have on reversing the human-caused portion?

These are the questions that matter. Good luck finding a “climate scientists” who will answer them honestly.

114 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 11:01 am

That is a stupid question, because it denies feedback effects.

It actually seeks to draw the eye from feedbacks. If CO2 melts permafrost and frees methane, that’s a “different” and “natural” forcing, right?

115 Dan W. December 10, 2015 at 11:49 am

Just as I wrote, “Good luck finding a “climate scientists” who will answer these questions honestly”

116 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 11:59 am

That is a stupid response. The foundational paper describing chaos was in the climate prediction domain. It was the origin of the concept of self-similarity and strange attractors.

You demand that we forget the science to answer “honestly.”

Do you not get it, or are you plain dishonest?

117 Dan W. December 10, 2015 at 1:24 pm

What you are saying is “we don’t know”.

But notwithstanding this declaration of ignorance the advocacy is to do something! But do what? If man does not understand what will happen how can it know what to do?

118 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 2:05 pm

You: so can you tell me what day, exactly, I’ll die of this “lung cancer?”

Doctor: ah no, that’s not the way this works.

You: well then, this science of yours doesn’t sound too reliable. I’ll just keep smoking.

119 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 11:03 am

I hate to play the Jeff Goldblum character here, but read a good book on chaos and dynamical systems, and then (don’t) come back and ask why they are not fully predictable.

120 JWatts December 10, 2015 at 2:12 pm

So, the system is chaotic and unpredictable, but you want the world to spend vast amounts of money on the prediction that it will be more costly than if we don’t spend the money?

No, again I’ll wait for conclusive evidence.

121 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Chaotic systems can be narrowed down, unlike truly random ones. They do produce self-similar behaviors which can cluster around strange attractors, and all that.

The game is to ask for a false specificity, rather than the sort of ranges with uncertainties are more realistic.

122 Thomas December 11, 2015 at 5:30 pm

Solutions that just happened to align with the anti market anti-nuclear sentiments the people pushing for it previously held.

123 Bjartur December 11, 2015 at 10:06 am

Denial of what? All I’m asking is for people to use words and phrases that have meaning. It’s reasonable to have a heuristic that discounts arguments made by people who repeatedly use words and phrases that are vague or meaningless. If you want to use the word denier at least have the courtesy of defining it so I know what you’re talking about. Is Hans von Storch a denier? (i.e., if you’re not an alarmist are you a denier?) Is Judith Curry a denier? (i.e., if you’re a lukewarmer are you a denier?). Are people who just say “I don’t know what the answer is and neither do the experts” deniers? Are people who think the manmade part of the warming is less than half of the total warming deniers? Are people who think that there will be any positive effects of warming deniers?

I see poor science in the service of every position on this issue. I see good science in the service of every position on this issue except the extremes on both sides. I see ad hominem attacks used more by the alarmists than by the skeptics. I see references to the data more by skeptics than by alarmists.

124 charlie December 10, 2015 at 10:39 am

Exactly how is Washington DC going to flooded?

At a 7M raise in sea level — 21 feet — I’m seeing the Georgetown waterfront, Potomac parks, and the anacostia seashore.

http://geology.com/sea-level-rise/washington.shtml

125 Mark Bahner December 10, 2015 at 12:28 pm

“Exactly how is Washington DC going to flooded? At a 7M raise in sea level — 21 feet — I’m seeing the Georgetown waterfront, Potomac parks, and the anacostia seashore.”

Indeed. And the current rate of sea level rise is more like 0.33 meters per *century*. So even if the rate of rise somehow averaged double that over the next 100 years, in 2015, we’d be talking about 0.66 meters of sea level rise with respect to today. In other words, about a factor of 10 less than 7 meters of rise.

It simply does not make sense to plan for potential problems that are expected to occur 50+ years into the future. No one can see accurately that far into the future.

126 Mark Bahner December 10, 2015 at 12:37 pm

Oops. That obviously should have been, “In *2115*, we’d be talking about 0.66 meters of sea level rise with respect to today.”

127 Todd Kreider December 10, 2015 at 12:57 pm

“It simply does not make sense to plan for potential problems that are expected to occur 50+ years into the future. No one can see accurately that far into the future.”

Give it up Mark. They don’t think like we do.

128 Mark Bahner December 10, 2015 at 1:06 pm

Hi Todd,

You write, “Give it up Mark. They don’t think like we do.”

I prefer to find areas where they and we agree. Storm surge is a problem. We just don’t know the where/when of specific future storm surge disasters. Therefore, a portable system trumps fixed systems, because the portable system can be deployed anywhere, immediately after development.

129 Todd Kreider@hotmail.com December 10, 2015 at 4:34 pm

It was just a little joke… Of course I want you to keep posting on topics like these.

It is just hard for many to see that they can’t predict four decades out, and I see it all the time with academics and journalists writing on Japan. For the past ten to fifteen years, they simply extrapolated current birth rates and death rates out to 2030 and 2050, assuming no advances in drugs that are likely to significantly shift what an elderly person looks like just within a decade to say nothing of four decades. The herd mentality among Japan watchers has kept this ludicrous idea going despite headlines with “anti-aging pill” in them for years.

Climate change is similar.

130 Mike Davis December 10, 2015 at 10:55 am

If Alex’s conjecture that infrastructure depreciates more quickly than sea level rises is correct—and that sounds right to me—then rising sea levels will redistribute wealth, not destroy it.

Think about it like this: If rising sea levels destroyed a lot of expensive infrastructure, that would be bad. But if rising sea levels just mean that there is marginally less usable land, I don’t much care. The U.S. has about 10 million square kilometers of land. How much would be lost to rising oceans? It can’t be more than a small fraction of one percent, not a big deal. Similarly, if building a dam across the Straits is going to save infrastructure, it might be worth it. If the dam would just save a few thousand square kilometers of land, it’s not worth it.

What people are mostly worried about is the possibility that rising sea levels will redistribute wealth in ways they don’t like. Some movie stars with nice homes in Malibu are probably worried that wealth will be redistributed from them in favor of their poorer neighbors living a couple of blocks inland. Everybody should be worried that wealth could be redistributed from really poor people living in places like Bangladesh and Indonesia.

It’s important to think clearly about the issue. The way you deal with a problem that might substantially reduce wealth is very different than the way you deal with a problem that will redistribute wealth.

131 Axa December 10, 2015 at 10:58 am

Global warming today is an issue for geo-science people and actuaries. This industrial and commercial property insurance provider studies the rising sea level without playing the blame game. It doesn’t matter who’s causing it, it is more important to estimate the insurance payment according to risk.

“There is no definitive scientific evidence that climate change has or will increase the severity or frequency of natural catastrophes. Nor can any individual event to date be solely attributed to climate change given the high degree of natural variability. Current changes in the climate, however, include increasing global mean surface temperature and rising sea levels. Sea level rise in particular has the potential to increase coastal flooding hazards in the future.”
http://www.fmglobal.com/page.aspx?id=01060400

132 Harun December 10, 2015 at 11:23 am

I was under the impression that as more science gets done, and more actual measurement is done to match up to models, that the more catastrophic scenarios are becoming more and more unlikely.

Furthermore, humans can easily adapt to such mild warming scenarios much as we adapted to our population preferring the Sun Belt to the Rust Belt.

How much planning was done 20 years before people decided they didn’t like Ohio’s winters and preferred Phoenix?

Not much.

Finally, models are models, not reality. I think we should see more actual data before we begin to spend billions on plans.

Oh, and damning the Med seems pretty drastic.

If you’re only interested in new land, just let warming happen. That will open up more of Canada and Siberia.

Warming takes place over decades and decades. Humans already move around a lot, and houses are built all the time: the natural movement of people will handle most problems.

133 Jack PQ December 10, 2015 at 11:31 am

I am surprised and disappointed you would use the term “climate denier”, a purposefully ugly way to talk about one’s opponents that evokes Nazis. Instead, “climate skeptic” is a perfectly reasonable expression. If one actually looks at the data, it is not unreasonable to be skeptical. I myself believe CC is probably real and that humans have contributed, but I respect skeptics and I do not believe that science is ever “settled.”

The continued use of “climate denier” is in itself a good enough reason to challenge CC proponents and to remain skeptical, because if you have science on your side, you do not need to resort to name-calling.

134 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 11:37 am

On the other hand, if you defend “climate deniers” you support the ugliest among them.

“ExxonMobil has reportedly hired famed attorney Ted Wells to lead the company’s response to a probe into whether it misled investors about the potential impact climate change could have on its business.”

135 Jack PQ December 10, 2015 at 11:55 am

That’s your opinion. It is not fact. What’s wrong with a firm defending itself? First amendment, people.

136 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 12:00 pm

I predict EXXON will lose this case, and then the deniers will invent lovely conspiracies to explain it all.

137 Cliff December 10, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Somehow I doubt your prediction is much better than other climate-related predictions. Seems like a classic politically-motivated suit.

138 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 12:29 pm

Are you preparing your position thàt the SEC is a puppet of Greenpeace? Lol.

139 rluser December 10, 2015 at 3:36 pm

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is not the SEC

140 Gochujang December 10, 2015 at 4:29 pm
141 Pshrnk December 10, 2015 at 3:10 pm

Defending its lies with further lies is morally indefensible.

142 anon December 10, 2015 at 5:26 pm

Jack, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You understand the terminology less than one would expect after reading a wikipedia article about it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change_denial

143 Bjartur December 11, 2015 at 10:25 am

Either “climate change denial” and “climate denial” are different things or words have no meaning. But they both accurately describe the position of literally no one on the planet. Nobody denies that the climate exists or that it changes. Why would people use such meaningless phrases? To avoid getting into the facts, to avoid the more difficult task of discussing reality. If you’re not interested in discussing reality I’m not interested in your opinion.

144 John Hawkins December 10, 2015 at 11:39 am

I remember one of my first economics classes, the professor demonstrated how industries where the capital has high depreciation rates reach equilibrium faster than industries with low depreciation rates, which for some reason to my nubile self was against intuition but now my intuition can’t see it any other way. Everybody talks about sticky wages, nobody talks about sticky capital!

145 Viking December 10, 2015 at 11:40 am

Hey, the part of damming the Gibraltar is cool: first estimate, let us assume length needed is 50,000 feet (10 miles), width 200 feet, average depth/height 1000 feet. This works out to 10 billion (10^9, not European 10^12) cubic feet of concrete. With 150 pounds per cubic foot, this is 1.5 trillion(10^12) pounds, adding another factor of 50%, we have 2.2 trillion=10^9 long tonnes of concrete. A quick first estimate is that the price of the concrete is more than $100 Billion, less than $1000 billion. The $100 billion figure is roughly aligned with $1000 per 10 cubic yard, if delivered to north american market. Of course the tricky part is attaching the concrete to the rock, and keeping it from washing away. The other tricky part is that the shortest crossing is not the shallowest one. However, there are concretes designed to be poured under water.

This is a buy one, get one free deal, included is a bridge from Africa to Europe, something Alex must like.

Regarding the other points, the revenue side of taxing sea level exposed property sounds like another social security/municipal pension like Ponzi scheme. The behavioral modification might be beneficial, but as a previous poster pointed out, abandoning federal flood insurance might have similar effects.

Of course $100 Billion ($10^11)is a bare minimum estimate, government workers and politicians should be capable of bringing this figure up to $10^13. If we round up the European population to 10^9, $10,000 per citizen is probably less than the drop drop in quality of life due to North African and Asian Near and Middle East immigration, when spread over a lifetime. For example in Oslo, at least tho thirds of violent crime (robbery, murder, rape) is due to perpetrators that are not ethnically Norwegian.

146 Harun December 10, 2015 at 1:26 pm

But its impossible to build a wall along the border.

147 alex b December 10, 2015 at 11:42 am

Rising sea levels will lead to a gradual loss of land and will also lead to increasing risk of storm surge damages. This means that even if infrastructure depreciation occurs faster than sea-level rise, it is not costless to simply wait for infrastructure to depreciate and then rebuild further back. Storm-surge damages are stochastic, and at existing protection levels, storm surge damages will increase over time, all else being equal. So even if central governments commit not to protect, and real estate markets fully price-in climate change risks, some infrastructure will be damaged due to SLR (caused by either CC or by local subsidence often due to groundwater extraction). If governments suddenly say, “let’s avoid future damages by taxing low-lying development or refusing to build more protection” what do you do with the legacy infrastructure that was built before course was changed?

148 Mark Bahner December 10, 2015 at 12:40 pm

“Rising sea levels will lead to a gradual loss of land and will also lead to increasing risk of storm surge damages.”

This assumes that no technology is deployed to decrease the risk of storm surge damages. In reality, it is easy to imagine the damages from storm surge 50-60 years from now to be *less* than the damages in the past decade. The world simply needs to develop a portable storm surge protection system.

149 anon December 10, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Sounds simple, even though storm surge damage is exponentially increasing in cost. You can’t design an Android app to stop storm surge. Engineers have been working on it for centuries.

150 JWatts December 10, 2015 at 5:59 pm

“Sounds simple, even though storm surge damage is exponentially increasing in cost.”

Storm surge damage is increasing linearly with coastal property values. Not because the storms are increasing in severity. So, requiring setbacks and minimum heights above sea level for new construction will drastically decrease the future costs.

151 Mark Bahner December 10, 2015 at 11:03 pm

“So, requiring setbacks and minimum heights above sea level for new construction will drastically decrease the future costs.”

Neither setbacks or minimum heights above sea level are required with a very effective portable storm surge protection system. For example, a portable storm surge system that reduces storm surge by greater than 50% would have reduced the damage from Katrina and Sandy by more than 50%. (Damage in Katrina would have been virtually eliminated.)

152 Mark Bahner December 10, 2015 at 10:45 pm

“Sounds simple, even though storm surge damage is exponentially increasing in cost.”

Per Roger Pielke Jr. et al,, there has been no increase in hurricane damage in the U.S., after correcting (normalizing) for the increased value of exposed property since 1900,

However, per that paper, hurricane damage has averaged $10 billion per year for the 105-year period. Assuming storm surge is about 40% of that damage (probably conservative…the true percentage is probably higher) that would be $4 billion per year, or $40 billion per decade.

“You can’t design an Android app to stop storm surge.”

No, but you create a design such that air and seawater–both of which are available in unlimited amounts for free–to stop storm surge. More specifically fill tubes with water and air. The air floats above the sea and blocks the windblown storm surge. The water adds mass so that the tubes don’t blow into shore very quickly.

“Engineers have been working on it for centuries.”

Yes, and engineers have been working on flight for centuries. But until piston and jet engines were available with very large power-to-weight ratios, the engineers didn’t get very far. It also didn’t help that they clung to the preconception that any flight must involve flapping wings like birds.

In a similar manner for storm surge, it helps that I’m not bothered by preconceptions, like that storm surge protection must involve massive walls or gates at the shore.

153 service December 10, 2015 at 12:15 pm

“If Washington, DC, Boston and Manhattan are to remain dry, for example, we are almost certainly going to need flood control efforts on the level of the Netherlands.” Not even the IPCC reaches that level of hysteria. The coastal provinces of the Netherlands are at −1 to −7 meters. The IPCC 5th Assessment Report projects, worst case scenario, global average sea level rise of 0.52−0.98 meters by 2100.

154 Harun December 10, 2015 at 1:28 pm

A lot of people are still imagining the catastrophic scenarios predicted in the 90’s or a little later.

Since those models have been very bad at predicting real world results, the “consensus” has come down so far as to make AGW be much less of a catastrophe.

155 Mark Bahner December 10, 2015 at 12:20 pm

“…we are almost certainly going to need flood control efforts on the level of the Netherlands. It takes twenty years just to come up with a plan and figure out how to pay for these kinds of projects let alone to actually implement them so it’s not too early to beginning planning for adaptation even if we don’t expect to need these adaptations for another forty or fifty years.”

This is why it doesn’t make sense to do anything to address effects expected to occur 40-50+ years in the future. Alex is assuming that the technology that the Netherlands applies is the best technology for protecting Washington, DC, Boston and Manhattan. But it’s probably not. The Netherlands uses 20th century (and earlier) technology.

A better technology is a 21st century technology…portable storm surge protection. The U.S. or any other large country in the world could–and should–develop and deploy a portable system capable of protecting any city anywhere in the world from storm surge. This could be done, to paraphrase JFK, “before the next decade is out.”

The cost would likely be below the cost of Superstorm Sandy alone…to protect any city, anywhere in the world.

The U.S. should build and deploy a portable storm surge barrier

156 jordan December 10, 2015 at 12:37 pm

ISIS’ greatest coup will be blowing up the strait of gibraltar dam

157 Harun December 10, 2015 at 1:28 pm

In the far future when resources are “free” we will build dams like this, just to blow them up for the media event.

158 That Jim December 10, 2015 at 1:15 pm

>lots of resources are going into predicting climate change

That’s very true! And — prediction efforts have failed utterly and spectacularly!

Care to explain why, when predictions have been so badly wrong thus far, we should be devoting resources to guarding against their future predictions?

If someone had been predicting alien invasion in the next five years — non-stop for the last thirty — how many billions would like to give them to fend off the attack which will surely come by 2250?

Thanks so much!

159 Harun December 10, 2015 at 1:29 pm

The smart set would be bringing up the Military Industrial complex if that were the case.

160 decimal December 10, 2015 at 1:43 pm

failed utterly and spectacularly! Really?!

The DOD seems to disagree. http://www.defense.gov/News-Article-View/Article/612710

161 Hunter Pritchett December 10, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Of course this all becomes moot if mass extinction of species causes catastrophic declines in crops. Our buildings won’t do us much good if we don’t have any food.

162 ohwilleke December 10, 2015 at 1:29 pm

Florida is far more vulnerable to rising sea levels than any place mentioned in the post. A very large share of Florida’s entire territory is less than 3 meters above sea level, and major cities there like Miami, Florida are much more vulnerable to rising sea levels than any U.S. city in the Northeast or any major city on the Mediterranean. The Everglades go from being a giant swamp to a chain of islands in a shallow sea at just 1-2 meters of sea level rise. Miami could make the NOLA disaster look like an appetizer before the ocean has its main course.

163 Bob from Ohio December 10, 2015 at 2:21 pm

“NOLA disaster look like an appetizer”

What does a storm surge caused by a massive hurricane have to do with rising sea levels in general?

Most of NOLA is under sea level already, hence the levees.

164 Art Deco December 10, 2015 at 2:49 pm

If I’m not mistaken, it was a levee breach, not the storm surge, which ruined much of New Orleans.

165 anon December 10, 2015 at 5:43 pm

Obviously the breach was caused by the storm surge.

166 Floccina December 10, 2015 at 2:45 pm

I think at least home owners should sued for clean up/pollution damages when a flood washes their stuff into bodies of water.

167 Art Deco December 10, 2015 at 2:51 pm

If Washington, DC, Boston and Manhattan are to remain dry, for example, we are almost certainly going to need flood control efforts on the level of the Netherlands.

Tabarrok also thinks municipal governments can self-finance through traffic fines. Amazing what’s considered credible in the George Mason rathskellar.

168 Floccina December 10, 2015 at 4:39 pm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raising_of_Chicago
During the 1850s and 1860s engineers carried out a piecemeal raising of the level of central Chicago. Streets, sidewalks and buildings were either built up, relocated, or physically raised on hydraulic jacks or jackscrews. The work was funded by private property owners and public funds.

169 Bryan Willman December 10, 2015 at 7:49 pm

If climate alarmists are correct, then even if CO2 emissions went to zero tomorrow, there would still be real sea rise. So failure to EMBRACE at least beginnings of preparations makes one doubt their confidence in their own thinking.

170 iolanthe December 10, 2015 at 9:47 pm

Given the Med is connected to the Black Sea (which admittedly is land locked so could drop in level as well) and the Red Sea via the Suez Canal, wouldn’t dams/barriers at the Bosphorus and the Suez Canal be necessary to allow the sea level in the Med to lower via evaporation to get the hydro inflo through the Straits of Gibraltar?

171 Barkley Rosser December 10, 2015 at 10:24 pm

Anybody sneering at Schelling is seriously out of it. Paul Samuelson declared him to be the most brilliant person he ever met, and Samuelson knew von Neumann and Arrow. Pretty much any room he is in, even at 94, Schelling is the smartest and most knowledgeable person in the room, modest and low key as he is. He is very aware of the uncertainties in the scientific models and forecasts. He did not say that current sea level rise is dramatic or due to water melting off the land, rather it is due to expansion of the ocean surface due to the unequivocal warming that is going on.

As Alex noted, the concern for having various dams and dikes for blocking the flooding of coastal urban areas is based on what Alex reported, the serious chance that at some point the warming will lead to a fairly sudden falling into the ocean of either the Greenland ice sheet (or some sizeable chunk of it) or the West Antarctica one (or a big chunk of it). Schelling’s original calculations of how to protect Boston from a ten foot ocean rise was based on this, which he took to the Netherlands to consult with their experts. They told him build a dike at the entrance of Boston harbor and then drain it, making more land available for development, just like Back Bay and just like in the Netherlands. From that idea it was on to taking seriously the idea of a dam at the Strait of Gibralter.

He is fully aware of how difficult it is to organize anybody to seriously plan for any of this without some stronger evidence that all this is a serious problem worthy of the expense involved, with him pessimistic that anybody is going to seriously plan for this any time soon, even though a long lead time is really what is needed. The real hope is that there be some minimal but sufficient disaster, a big enough chunk of ice falling in that noticeably raises the sea level to cause serious damage, but not too awfully so, enough to inspire real action without too much loss of life and all the rest.

The guy is still brilliant, as knowledgeable on this entire topic as anybody on the planet, and willing to think far in advance about serious possibilities. Probably his only match is that other 94 year old Nobel Prize winning economist, Kenneth Arrow, who also thinks seriously about the global warming problem.

172 Barkley Rosser December 10, 2015 at 10:28 pm

BTW, Tom Schelling was the major prof of Tyler Cowen, who accurately introduced him as “one of the few people in the world who can be accurately introduced as the greatest living economist in the world.” One of the few others is his fellow brilliant 94 year old who is also still pretty much completely on top of it, Ken Arrow.

173 Baphomet December 11, 2015 at 8:13 am

How can more than one person be the greatest living economist in the world? It defies logic.

174 Mark Bahner December 11, 2015 at 12:44 pm

“How can more than one person be the greatest living economist in the world? It defies logic.”

It’s like I could introduce Barry Bonds as the greatest living ballplayer, and someone else could introduce Willie Mays as the greatest living ballplayer, and still someone else could introduce, “The greatest living ballplayer…Steve Carlton!”

175 Barkley Rosser December 11, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Baphomet,

Read it caefully. Tyler did not say that he was [definitely] “the greatest living economist.” He said that he was one of a small set of people (that would include Arrow most prominently as well) who could be accuratelyi introduced as such. The preface makes clear that the reality is that it is uncertain who is, so there is a small set of the “the greatest” who might be, especially with the introductory caveat.

176 Baphomet December 11, 2015 at 2:15 pm

I see. Still, you cannot accurately introduce more than one person as the greatest living economist in the world. On your interpretation, he should perhaps instead have said “A member of a small group of people, one of whom is the greatest living economist in the world, although we do not know who it is.” Then he could have invited the audience to place bets. I see a publishable paper here.

177 Barkley Rosser December 11, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Wow, Baphomet. You are right! I suggest you apply for funding to NSF to write the paper.

178 Mark Bahner December 10, 2015 at 11:52 pm

“Schelling’s original calculations of how to protect Boston from a ten foot ocean rise was based on this,”

Don’t you wonder about the arrogance and grip on reality of a man thinking he can accurately assess and address problems centuries in the future?

179 Barkley Rosser December 11, 2015 at 1:45 pm

Mark,

Your comment confirms the worthlessness and stupdity of pretty much everything you have had to say here. Schelling made a very specific calculation based on an estimate from scientists associated with the US National Academy of Sciences that there could be a ten foot sudden increase in sea level at some time in the future. Do you simply deny that there is such a possibility? Schelling was at Harvard at the time and serving on committees at the NAS dealing with this issue. So he simply took topographical maps of the area and made a reasonable estimate of what would be involved in building barriers that could hold off such a rise from drowning Boston. He did not forecast if or when such an event would occur.

Frankly, youi are an embarrassing fool seriously out of touch with reality.

180 Thomas December 11, 2015 at 5:46 pm

Wow Barkley Rosser of JMU is an embarrassment to his University, his field, and his father’s name.

181 Mark Bahner December 11, 2015 at 11:38 pm

“Your comment confirms the worthlessness and stupdity of pretty much everything you have had to say here.”

A single comment “confirms” the “worthlessness and stupdity” of “pretty much everything” I’ve said? I don’t follow the logic there. For instance, the main thing I’ve been saying here is that it’s silly to worry about sea level rise levels that will (or will not) occur centuries in the future, when a portable storm surge protection system could be developed that could significantly reduce storm surge damage for any city anywhere around the world. How does that suddenly become “worthless and stupid” because of something I subsequently said?

“Schelling made a very specific calculation based on an estimate from scientists associated with the US National Academy of Sciences that there could be a ten foot sudden increase in sea level at some time in the future. Do you simply deny that there is such a possibility?”

No, and I also don’t deny possibility that aliens could arrive and kill large numbers of people. The question is, what are the odds of that happening in 50 or 100 years? And what are the odds of a sudden 10 foot sea level rise in the next 50 or 100 years?

“Frankly, youi are an embarrassing fool seriously out of touch with reality.”

I’m sorry you’re “embarrassed”…but the logic of why you would be also escapes me. Can you explain why you’re embarrassed?

As far as my contact with reality…I’d be happy to bet you on the likelihood of seeing a 10 foot sea level rise in our lifetimes. I’d be happy to give you very favorable odds. Say 100-to-1 on a $20 bet?

182 stan December 11, 2015 at 1:51 pm

And Freeman Dyson is considered by many to be the world’s most brilliant scientist. And he says that rising CO2 is a good thing for the earth and for man.

If we have to defer to really old brilliant codgers, I’ll go with the scientist over the economist when it comes to science.

183 Minority Bolshevism December 10, 2015 at 11:26 pm

Maybe open borders would solve this problem.

184 jorod December 11, 2015 at 12:15 am

Maybe he should read Cool It by Lomborg.

185 JFA December 11, 2015 at 11:10 am

From a technical efficiency standpoint, damming the Strait of Gibraltar may be more efficient than protecting individual cities, but protecting individual cities seems to have the benefit of being less risky in terms of structural failure. It is not hard to think that the dam would be quite the target for a terrorist group.

186 Mark Bahner December 11, 2015 at 12:55 pm

“From a technical efficiency standpoint, damming the Strait of Gibraltar may be more efficient than protecting individual cities, but protecting individual cities seems to have the benefit of being less risky in terms of structural failure.”

It would make more sense to simply prevent the ice in Antarctica and Greenland from melting in the first place. That would benefit every coastal city in the world, not just the cities on the shores of the Mediterranean.

187 Barkley Rosser December 11, 2015 at 3:38 pm

Well, yes, Mark. But Schelling is a hard nosed realist who understands that even if an agreement comes out of Paris it will probably at best only slightly slow the warming that is already baked in given past actions and such nearly certain forthcoming actions as India electrifying its rural areas. Maybe there will be exogenous changes in solar radiation or an increase in volcanic activity or something else that will offset the current trend. But the most likely trend has it very unlikely that we shall be able to prevent at least some slippage of those major ice sheets. So he has been thinking creatively and out of the box about what to do in case of that.

188 TvK December 11, 2015 at 3:57 pm

Space mirrors or more aptly named “space sunshades” at the la Grange point (L1) could be an option in preventing future melting of the Antarctica & Greenland ice shelves. If you could even prevent a slight percentage of sunlight from reaching the poles it could reduce temperatures. If L1 is a step too far you could initially try it out in earth orbit and focus only on the poles.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061104090409.htm

I wonder why we don’t hear or more about these sorts of space-engineering projects*. It would be a boon for space R&D, engineering, actual exploitation of space beyond earth orbit. Instead most “global dimming” geo-engineering projects that focus on of the earth’s atmosphere are based on causing, in some ironic form or the other, what we have been trying to prevent the last 50-60 years: “pollution”.

*or the concept of space cannons (railguns) to launch cargo into space at regular intervals. 10 years on and the focus is still on rockets. What happened? Is it the costs? And what are the relative cost if you compare it with a regional solution by damming up the Strait of Gibraltar?

189 Thomas December 11, 2015 at 5:49 pm

Projects like that aren’t popular with environmentalists like Barkley Rosser because they dont sufficiently meet the goals which are to reduce markets, create a global wealth redistribution system, and achieve a symbolic environmentalism that ignores things like nuclear.

190 Lincoln December 14, 2015 at 12:00 am

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191 ken December 15, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Russia would not want to dam the Strait of Gibraltar since the Black Sea is it’s only warm port and the only way to get to the Black Sea is through the Mediterranean.

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