The normally sensible John Fleck has a post pointing out the bleedin’ obvious – well; it points out the issue; the solution suggested is of course hopelessly wrong1 -, although to be fair it has escaped the attention of many other people too, so perhaps it is only obvious if you think about it. In this case, the obvious is that scientists …have characterized and clarified the physical science part of the problem, and it’s only natural to then turn to those scientists in our discussion of what to do about it. But… the “what to do about it” stuff lies in a domain different from the physical sciences. Tricky, huh? Well no, not at all. As I’ve been trying to tell you for quite some time.
Physical science can tell you how climate will change, if it gets it right, given certain plausible guesses about changes to CO2, etc. It does a pretty poor job about how important those changes are. I happen to have a vaguely-analogous-useful-example to hand: Report Shows Damaging Impact of Climate Change in 2015, which is a gloss on the State of the Climate report. And the lead item? “2015 Was the Warmest Year on Record Since the 1800s”. Fine: obvious lead. But that in itself tells you absolutely nothing whatsoever about damages. Global warming will unquestionably have clear obvious net negative impacts at some point, but IMHO the most probable impacts will come via ecology-type-things, and that’s harder to predict. Perhaps coral bleaching is the most obvious now (but, if you were a hard-nosed philistine you could say: “and exactly what were the negative impacts on me” and its hard to give a convincing answer).
Anyway, the point is, emitting carbon dioxide has some clear positive effects: we get to heat or cool our houses, drive our cars, fly off to foreign lands, and a myriad other things. Set against that are the negative externalities: SLR, coral bleaching, mass die-off of the rainforest, your favourite ski resort turning to rock, whatever. Physical science can tell you something about those negative externalities, though you’ll need someone else to cost them, but it can tell you nothing about the positive effects; so physical science really isn’t the thing you need to compare the two and produce a balance.
John’s article is keyed off Climate change as a wicked social problem by Reiner Grundmann in Nurture. There’s an old Chinese proverb which it is helpful to know in this context: Remember, glasshopper, anyone talking about climate as a wicked problem is talking borrocks (similar to “if anyone tells you that their chip tape-out plan is aggressive, they too are talking borrocks and really mean unachievable). I stopped at If social scientists had been involved significantly and from the beginning… but really I’d already gone too far by that point.
And to point out the really bleedin’ obvious the discipline that does balance competing costs and damages, and deals with the allocation of scarce resources, is economics.
1. I may have got a touch carried away ranting here. JF does manage to pull out an almost-sensible quote from RG’s article, for which he deserves credit, as so much of the rest of it is bad.
2. My other objection, which I failed to articulate because I was hardly aware of it until I thought more, is the deceptiveness of calling it a “social sciences problem” and that social scientists should work on it. Because: the physical sciences aspect has required a great deal of scientific work over the last, say, 25 years. It has involved “creating” a great deal of new science, because there were a lot of new questions to answer. By comparison, the “social sciences” problems are mostly old stuff with already known answers (or arguably in some cases, old lack-of-answers). In economic terms, its just another classic externalities problem, which (in economic science terms) is already solved: tax the externalities; i.e., a carbon tax.
* Eli isn’t very impressed either
* ATTP has a go. I didn’t read it though I’m afraid; I bored of this stuff
* You vant more of ziss driwel? KlimaZwiebel is there for you