Architecture and morality

omd I’ve said this before – in Carbon Tax Now – but you could be excused for missing it, because that was mostly about carbon taxes, oddly enough. So I’ll be more explicit, here, and argue for solving GHG emissions as a matter of economics, to be handled by taxation, rather than as a matter of morality, to be handled… somehow. Context: Eli wants to handle it as ethics. And a fair amount of the comments on Can global emissions really be reduced? are about this. Disclaimer: I don’t understand economics.

I think this view (the morality view) is shared by, say, Greenpeace, whatever their public pronouncements about costs might be. They think GW is Bad and should be forbidden. Not taxed; not slowed; not ameliorated; not adapted to: forbidden. This is the moral approach: it is a bad thing, so don’t do it.

This is the approach we adopt for, say, murder. Or rape. Or a host of other crimes: they are forbidden. You can’t pay blutgeld as reparations for murder and avoid prosecution: this isn’t ancient Norway, or present-day Saudi Arabia (and let us not complicate the issue by worrying about the rich and lawyers).

But its not the approach we adopt to smoking. Smoking is Bad, but its not forbidden, its heavily taxed. Partly in order to discourage it, and partly as a pure money-raiser, which I admit complicates the analysis. And smoking differs from Murder in that whilst it may be Bad, in that your mummy told you not to do it, it isn’t morally bad1. [Would be nice to throw in another couple of examples here: anyone?]

wrmf And emitting GHG’s isn’t morally bad, in itself: only the GW consequences are. But they are “balanced” by “good”s, which are the things we get from burning GHG’s: light, heat, shelter, food, cheap shit from China. I say “balanced” because whilst they are goods and bads, they probably don’t balance. Indeed all economic analyses say that the goods (far) outweigh the bads. Anyway, that is to wander from my point.

Dealing with GHG’s as a matter of ethics throws up the problem that we might well not agree on our ethics. Though dealing with it economically throws up the problem that we don’t agree on the costs, true. Do you think polar bears going extinct is Bad? If so, how Bad? Is it bad enough to rule of GW all by itself (I doubt that would fly) or does it need other buttressing bads (in which case it isn’t absolute). And so on.

Some have raised the “intergenerational moral issue” as though it makes a qualitative difference. I don’t think it does. Indeed I don’t think it even appears in the economic analysis, because ownership of assets and debts just cascades: it makes no difference to the analysis whether you live a long time, or if your children pick up your goods and bads, or their grandchildren do. You could, perhaps, argue that this is a hole in the economics analysis, in which case I’m sure there are scholarly papers discussing this kind of issue.

But in the end, my main reason for arguing for the economic version (with all significant externalities internalised, of course, per std economic theory) is that it is the only approach that has any chance of working. Trying to do it via morality won’t work, but will offer vast scope for special pleading and political interference, all of which is Bad.

[Update: an important question in all of this is, do the gains from CO2 production outweigh the losses? Or, said another way, Are we producing negative wealth?. This was a question I asked yeeeaaarrrsss ago in sci.env, and got no answer. The link points to a paper which suggests that in some cases the answer is that the losses are larger. I don’t know if it is correct.]


1. There’s a legal distinction worth mentioning here (2018) that I wasn’t aware of, or only dimly,when I first wrote this post, between Malum in se (things bad in themselves, essentially irrespective of the law) and Malum prohibitum (things bad because prohibited by law). Murder is “in se”, smoking, whilst mildly “in se”, is mostly “prohibitum”.

Can global emissions really be reduced?

Prompted by David Hone (“bonkers”, says NB :-). But it says something that I’ve been thinking for a bit, and haven’t seen anyone else say:

Arguably, we are in a time where underlying global energy demand exceeds supply. This isn’t to say they are out of balance as that is not possible, but it says that if there were more energy then global economic growth would be even faster. This condition could well persist for a long time given population growth and the rapid expansion of several major economies – with more to follow. A direct implication of this thinking is that the production of all fossil fuel energy is infra-marginal, i.e. there is nothing at the margin and that even the most expensive to produce barrel or tonne on the planet is profitable at current price levels.

Now I’m not entirely sure about his economics there, but I do think his basic point is either true or close-to: that for a lot of fuels, oil most obviously, use is limited by production. If we (we? The West, say) limit our use by being nicely green, then someone else is going to burn it instead. I’m not saying “and therefore we should do nothing” but it does present a problem.

CRU tooo?

Dunno yet. I’ll expand on this if I do. For the moment, CRU themselves are not excited.

Update: it looks very much like this is nothing new, just those mails deemed to dull to release last time. So, as Deltoid points out, and claims to being doing this for “information transparency” is a clear lie. Pic ripped off from Bart who presumably ripped it off someone else…

More update: I forgot that the most exciting thing is to look for my name – doh. And I find:

On Thu, 4 Jan 2007, Caspar Ammann wrote:
> check figure A9, there the 17th century is cold, and this is probably
> the curve that was used. In that case, then its Central England from Lamb.


Ah, you mean A9(d) (I thought you meant A9(a) for a bit). Yes, that looks 
pretty similar to IPCC 1990. Though not identical - the scaling is different, 
but the timing is similar.


Makes it all worth while. That is all about the semi-mythical IPCC ’90 fig 7.1c.

Update: still not very exciting; may even have passed away. That sure sign o’ the times, wikipedia, is seeing minimal activity (Climatic Research Unit email controversy#Further release, 2011). We do have William M. Conway, though.


* Part I
* Decoding Swifthack
* Barry Bickmore isn’t excited – but he has a nice collection of links.
* Even the Daily Mail can’t bring itself to rant
* KK is more interested in how the press might handle it than the thing itself
* Quark Soup goes against the flow and thinks they are “devastating”
* RC is bored
* The Grauniad is interested in periods and commas
* Phil Plait isn’t excited either, but does quote Mike Mann.
* Wikipedia isn’t very excited either
* WUWT are wildly excited, though.
* profmandia with more links
* Stolen CRU emails: the rejects – Deltoid.
* Plumbum
* Media Already Botching Reports On Hacked Climate Emails by Jocelyn Fong, Media Matters

Plus ca change

Via Tamino (Tisdale Fumbles, Pielke Cheers) I find Tisdale at WUWT talking nonsense – nothing new there. Tamino points out the obvious flaw in the argument (if you can call it an argument; to be fair, it is hard to tell what Tisdale wants to say, other than “its all wrong”), and then Nick Stokes is kind enough to tell the Watties (I did wonder if any of them might be good enough to think of it for themselves, but no such luck). But! The knowledge does not fit their worldview, so even when presented with the obvious they are still unable to understand it.

Well, that wasn’t very exciting, was it? Sorry. Maybe you’d like to read about the Winter Head instead; or hear that I managed 43:47 in my 10k today.

IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation

Which is a bit of a mouthful, so they call it SREX. In the traditional and slightly unlovely IPCC way, you can read the SPM now but will have to wait awhile for the report. But it provides enough for me to mount my hobby horses, so giddy-up!

The first point is that extremes are useless for detecting or attributing climate change: if you want to know if the globe is warming, you should look at the global temperature series. Attempting to say “floods in Pakistan – global warming must be real” is silly (depending on what you mean by “real”. I mean, “is actually happening”. If you mean “will have actual noticeable effects on you in real life more interesting and alarming than just a gradual rise in average temperature” then you might just justify the “real”, but its a confusing use of the word. And of course, floods in Pakistan don’t have any effect on me. Or you). Extreme events don’t have stable statistics, because they are extreme, so concluding anything from them is much harder than concluding things from averages. So they start with

There is evidence from observations gathered since 1950 of change in some extremes. Confidence in observed changes in extremes depends on the quality and quantity of data and the availability of studies analyzing these data, which vary across regions and for different extremes. Assigning “low confidence” in observed changes of a specific extreme on regional or global scales neither implies nor excludes the possibility of changes in this extreme.

which is really only preparing you for the lack of excitement later on:

It is very likely that there has been an overall decrease in the number of cold days and nights, and an overall increase in the number of warm days and nights, on the global scale… there is medium confidence that the length or number of warm spells, or heat waves, has increased… There have been statistically significant trends in the number of heavy precipitation events in some regions. It is likely that more of these regions have experienced increases than decreases, although there are strong regional and subregional variations in these trends.

So far so dull: it has got warmer. We knew that anyway. Then they go on to wind up the cyclone-trend folks:

There is low confidence in any observed long-term (i.e., 40 years or more) increases in tropical cyclone activity (i.e., intensity, frequency, duration), after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities. It is likely that there has been a poleward shift in the main Northern and Southern Hemisphere extra-tropical storm tracks. There is low confidence in observed trends in small spatial-scale phenomena such as tornadoes and hail because of data inhomogeneities and inadequacies in monitoring systems

but don’t forget their original point that low confidence doesn’t exclude an effect. And then:

Increasing exposure of people and economic assets has been the major cause of the longterm increases in economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters (high confidence). Long-term trends in economic disaster losses adjusted for wealth and population increases have not been attributed to climate change, but a role for climate change has not been excluded (medium evidence, high agreement)


There is evidence that some extremes have changed as a result of anthropogenic influences… It is likely that anthropogenic influences have led to warming of extreme daily minimum and maximum temperatures on the global scale. There is medium confidence that anthropogenic influences have contributed to intensification of extreme precipitation on the global scale… The uncertainties in the historical tropical cyclone records, the incomplete understanding of the physical mechanisms linking tropical cyclone metrics to climate change, and the degree of tropical cyclone variability provide only low confidence for the attribution of any detectable changes in tropical cyclone activity to anthropogenic influences.

Yup, that’s right: its got warmer, as wedunnit. We knew that already. But the cyclones are too wobbly to say much about them. And dealing with it? Deep insights such as

Developed countries are often better equipped financially and institutionally to adopt explicit measures to effectively respond and adapt to projected changes in exposure, vulnerability, and climate extremes than developing countries

So all in all, nothing exciting or surprising. RP Jr is happy with it, no surprise, and Romm is well pissed off, ditto. As usual, Pielke wipes the floor with Romm. Revkin appears to be sane but dull.

I seem to have forgotten what my second point was. Never mind. I didn’t quite get to the end of the SPM. Hopefully that isn’t too obvious.


* Nurture – boring
* RC is mostly interested in the cyclones
* JF has the right idea