*Superfreakonomics*, chapter five

Here is a link to the chapter which is causing all the controversy.  Out here in Edmonton I haven't been following the blog debates, although at every meal I am asked about carbon taxes and tar sands.  (By the way, I believe the Alberta strategy is to pay any forthcoming tax and be profitable enough to keep on producing fossil fuel energy.)  My view is to be skeptical of geo-engineering as a solution, for reasons outlined here.  In any case it's a question I'll be thinking more about.  Among the questions I need to think through more are how bad is it to control global temperature but keep the CO2 in the air, how much acidification of the oceans matters, how geo-engineering affects the variance of global climate, and what the long run looks like if the world becomes "addicted" to the eighteen-mile hose or whatever is used.  For a start on the current brouhaha, here is a link to Krugman and Levitt.  Mark Thoma offers up other links.

Addendum: This post seems to imply the chapter reproduction is not authorized, so I've taken down the link to the link.


Those do seem like the right questions to ask. The acidification issue seemed especially troublesome to me, until I found out how low current CO2 levels currently are compared to any other time in earth history:


To me, this suggests that acidification, to the extent it is a problem, is unlikely to be related to CO2. Something like overfishing would seem to be a much larger suspect (due to the decrease of non-acidic fish excrement, etc.)

But, I'm no expert, which is the real problem with these politicized debates. The insight I'd most like everyone to learn is that just about all the things that work well in our lives came about precisely because nobody asked our opinion about them. So the fact that I'm expected to have an opinion about this doesn't fill me with hope about its resolution.

I tend to view most climate change stuff with a lot of skepticism. The holy wars surrounding it and the politicization of it are worry-some.

@kebko: That plot makes a lot of sense, as once the carbon in fossil fuels was part of the food chain and the CO2 cycle. (Hence the name, fossil fuels.)

where is the link to the chapter?

Geoffrey Falk,

Everything? Really, everything?

Brad Delong has posted Ch 5 here:

This professed certainty about inherently uncertain events makes them sound religious.

No, it makes them sound like political whores they are.

Tom Powers,

Basic non-linear payoffs. A global temperature increase of 10 degrees would be much more then twice worse then one of 5 degrees.

So, as uncertainty increases, you increase the probability of tail events, and since the loss on the right side of the distribution is so much worse then on the left, expected economic damage increases as uncertainty in future temperature goes up.

The risk to the economy is we will all star laying around on the beach smoking ganja. Ever wondered why the people near the equator are so unproductive? Because they are HAPPY!

Also, isn't technology fairly independent from economics? If geo-engineering is a political problem, then it isn't a problem, from a technology standpoint. If we can warm the world without even trying, aren't we already geo-engineering?

My bottom line at this point is that the '18 mile hose' -- which could be built an operated for effectively nothing and that could be switched off at any time is far and away less risky and less likely to lead to human misery on a mass scale than attempting to 'eco-engineer' the entire global economy to use 90% less carbon-based energy by 2050. (Even though I think such a reduction is a pipe-dream that'll never happen, I don't discount that a great deal of damage might be done in trying -- that what scares me more than anything).

Of course, at this point, if you *had* an '18 mile hose', would you even switch it on (given that we seem to be 10 years into a global warming 'pause')? I mean, I remember the Mt Pinatubo year -- the sunsets may have been lovely, but it was pretty damn *cold*.

Here's a comment from the hockey stick promoting crew at Real Climate:

“There would almost certainly be ‘unknown unknowns’ – things we don’t yet know that we don’t know. A great example of that was the creation of the Antarctic polar ozone hole as a function of the increased amount of CFCs which was not predicted by any model beforehand because the chemistry involved (heterogeneous reactions on the surface of polar stratospheric cloud particles) hadn’t been thought about.†

A good point. Given this, I would ask why doesn’t this apply to our current climate models as well? In other words, why are we confident that our current computer models used in the IPCC predictions have any forecasting validity at all, especially since they haven’t demonstrated any forecasting success at long time scales, and all have exactly the problem described here of ‘unknown unknowns.

This issue cuts both ways and they appear not to recognize or accept that. Both the backward looking ("hockey stick") proxy reconstructions and forward looking("computer model") justifications for immediate action on climate are massively problematic. The best way to look at this problem is the experiment we have run over the past 100 yrs: CO2 has increased a lot. the planet has gotten a little warmer, and it hasn't been any kind of problem. If we double CO2 in the next 100 yrs, some parts of the the planet will get a little warmer (assuming natural variations don't negate it), and we will probably adjust just fine, thank you.

Stratospheric SO2 production is well within the reach of the house of Saud. The new global terrorism? Sweeter crude EU (US)? It's fun to sell oil until coal is more desirable.

I have not read the chapter and the discussion has gone all over the place. I make the following observations
based on what I have read.

There is a lot of misrepresentation of what went on in the 1970s. While there was not as much consensus then
as now, in fact global temperature did decline during the 40 years prior to the 1970s, albeit at a lower rate
than it has since increased by.

DeLong makes some claim about "the big four emitters" in 2050 being China, US, India, and the EU. But the world's
current #3 emitter is Indonesia.

Regarding geoengineering, I think there is a case for further research into it, with Schelling's view that it might
prove to be a backstop if we do get into a Weitzman style tail event catastrophe, but that indeed there is no point
in stopping everything else to push it for many reasons.

The best way to look at this problem is the experiment we have run over the past 100 yrs: CO2 has increased a lot. the planet has gotten a little warmer, and it hasn't been any kind of problem.

That sounds suspiciously like "housing prices have never declined on a national scale before so there's no reason to think it's a risk we face today." This completely ignores the whole point of discussing unknown unknowns: the past is no guide to the future.

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