Talking with the taxman about carbon

MI0001719482 Those of you paying attention will have noticed several approving references here recently to Cafe Hayek, run by one Don Boudreaux (an American libertarian economist, author, professor…). For economics or law, I like it. For GW, it is regrettable; for example, he’s keen on George Will.

Aanyway, just recently he ventured into why he oppose[s] a Pigouvian tax on carbon emissions, and the results are unconvincing. Which is a shame, because I would have been interested in a coherent argument. Instead, we’re treated to an unconvincing analogy (calling for such a tax strikes me as being akin, say, to homeowners whose homes have been routinely vandalized calling on the vandals to vandalize also the factories that produce the spray paint, sledge hammers, and crow bars used by vandals), and an argument that essentially says “you can’t trust a govt, therefore all tax is bad” (I’m not totally opposed to him making such and argument, but then I can’t see why you’d restrict it to Pigouvian taxes; it would apply to all tax; but if his argument is all-tax-is-bad then he should say that, clearly). There is one bit that can be argued to make some sense (What good reason is there to believe that the same agency – the state – that has routinely distorted energy, and other, markets… will reliably implement and enforce such an optimal tax?) And indeed, it is rare to hear a discussion of carbon taxes that doesn’t rapidly veer off into “of course my favourite cause will not have to pay these taxes”. But meh; that’s just pols talking so isn’t a strong argument against any particular tax.

I commented. Naturally, I was too unimportant to be worth replying to (or, more optimistically, my arguments were irrefutable and so he made no attempt to defend his indefensible post). But Timmy also commented – and DB has approvingly quoted Timmy in the past – and this time DB did feel obliged to reply. But to me his reply is just mush.

[Update: DB has another go, but I think he is just repeating himself; there’s nothing new there. Notice, if you do visit, that the quote is somewhat misleading; they are trying to adduce the respected Coase to their side, but actually he has nothing to say on GW; the connection to GW is instead by the far less respectable Bailey.]

[Later update: and, sigh, also puffing nonsense like How the Debate on Climate Change Is Cooling Down, by Marian L. Tupy; as usual you’re better off reading RC. And he’s still going; and more.]

Life’s a riot with JA vs JA

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life%27s_a_Riot_with_Spy_vs_Spy “I am the milkman of human kindness, I will leave an extra pint”. But not today; try Dover beach if you want me being nice.

In this strange shadowy incestuous world of the blogosphere, it is hard sometimes to remember that there’s an outside world, and even otherwise well-informed and intelligent people find the banter somewhat confusing.

In this case the offending item is a tweet of mine, and I keep forgetting that Twitter forwards my tweets to fb, where people not in the know may actually read them. And the offending words are:

The parties to this are James Annan (Il buono) and Judith A. Curry (il1 cattivo, then, I suppose she must be). Astute perusal of those links will show that I’m not entirely unbiased in this matter, but in counterpoint to that, I am right. The particular bit of banter ran:

* James: <thing that annoyed Curry> (oh yes; it was her puffing Murry Salby)
* Judith: FYI, my cv http://curry.eas.gatech.edu/files/currycv.pdf
* James: Thanks but we’re not hiring right now.

Quite why Curry was dumb enough to think that argument-from-authority in the shape of her CV was going to win her any points will just have to remain one of those mysteries. Also, it looks to me as though her CV needs an update; it claims she is still a Prof, but I think she’s Ex and even she says she’s heading for Emeritus.

As an introduction-for-the-uninitiated to Curry, I find that I don’t have much to add to the link above: She is suffering – uninterestingly – from having nowhere to go. Her scientific papers are of no interest but she is, by now, accustomed to a role in the “scientific debate”. With nothing to say on the “light side” she is inevitably left talking to the dark side. Somewhat like Richard Lindzen. Whereas James can run faster than me.

The immeadiate issue is the Red Team nonsense. There’s something of interest there, because Trump-or-the-GOP are kinda keen to splash out and buy themselves some rentaclimatologists, and there are plenty for sale, but obviously they don’t want the cheap tarnished ones they want some with at least a surface veneer, and there aren’t many of those on the market. Is Curry on the market? She’s now an ex-prof and still, achingly, not-really-famous. I think James has it close to right when he says now she’s obviously been tapped up for membership of the “team”, it’s finally dawned on her that she’d have to work with a bunch of crazies and losers who have no idea what the hell they are talking about. What hasn’t dawned on her yet, is that that’s where she belongs. The bit that’s missing is something I find hard to put into words. Perhaps the idea of an auction, or biding one’s time. Sell yourself too early, and you’re just one of the forgettable cannon fodder. Wait too long and it’s all over. Trump, despite all his pro-coal rhetoric and pulling-out-of-Paris hasn’t showered boondoggles on the “skeptics” and they must be feeling disappointed. Probably the case is that Trump-et-al aren’t really interested in having an scientific advisors on their executive team; there aren’t really any spare places. After all, a scientific advisor is only going to use long words that Trump doesn’t understand, and why would he want that? He already knows what he wants – he wants whatever is running through his head that moment, another bad feature of a science advisor is that they might have a memory and be impolitic enough to use it – so he doesn’t need a scientific advisor he needs, well, a snake-oil saleman I suppose.

Notes

1. Or “lo cattiva”, perhaps, as one of my somewhat more linguistically astute friends points out via fb.

Refs

* Via ATTP (who really should know better by now) I find the amusing Vitaly Khvorostyanov responds (arch).

We need to make democracy work in the fight to save the planet?

21586814_10155690861412350_3358290160055203579_o By AC Grayling in the Graun, h/t Timmy. And it’s the thing you’ve read so many times before, the idea that Democracy is great but, alas, doesn’t deliver what the article writer wants. In this case the thing he wants is something all right-thinking people want, a solution to GW, but that doesn’t mean the logic of the article is any good. And indeed it isn’t; the klew if you need one is There is nothing new in this. Plato, two and a half millennia ago, criticised democracy precisely because of this. But this is now a major life-threatening dilemma for our time. Despite being given loadsa space in the Graun for his views, the nearest he has for a positive suggestion only occurs about 4/5 of the way down, and it is: an overwhelming, unceasing drive to educate and re-educate every single individual on the planet about climate change. Which is vague, hardly novel, and in the “re-education” element has somewhat disturbing connotations.

He’s wrong

So first off, I think he is wrong. If you want democracy to “solve” GW in something more than the incoherent way that we’re doing so far, attempting to “educate” the populace in the specific area of GW is the wrong way to go about it. For two reasons. One is that within the education system, this determined education drive is already happening, and has been for quite some time now, at least a decade. And two is that what is missing is far more general: something like a more active citizenry; a more inquiring mind; even, perhaps, a resistance to being led by low-quality articles in the meeja and an ability to tear them apart.

The Shadow of Plato

If philosophers quoting Plato on governance doesn’t ring alarm bells with you, then you should read The Open Society and Its Enemies. And Grayling is a pro, so must have read it. In which case, what’s with the Plato-approval?

The solution

Obviously, I’m not going to wimp out of offering my solution. Which is the obvious: more Popper, less Grayling.

Avoiding dangerous to catastrophic climate change?

DSC_6952 ATTP started it by posting on Well below 2 °C: Mitigation strategies for avoiding dangerous to catastrophic climate changes by Yangyang Xua and Veerabhadran Ramanathan. But as you can tell from ATTP’s post, the principal question – although he is far too polite to put it so bluntly – is “where’s the novelty?”1 All their GHG and temperature scenarios, as they themselves stress, are consistent with IPCC; so there’s nothing new there. Neither are the stochastic runs and attempts to assess the probabilities of exceeding various thresholds. Neither, alas, are the attaching of arbitrary labels to arbitrary temperature thresholds, although this is without doubt the bit that will interest the meeja.

FWIW, I think that 3oC GW is certainly “dangerous”, though I’d be hard pressed to assign a clear meaning to the term.

I could try reading their PR which confirms my suspicions: A new study evaluating models of future climate scenarios has led to the creation of the new risk categories “catastrophic” and “unknown” to characterize the range of threats posed by rapid global warming. I think that really does mean tht the labels are the novelty. They continue, Researchers propose that unknown risks imply existential threats to the survival of humanity which is either meaningless or vacuous, I can’t quite tell which.

While I’m here, I’ll quote Climate risks can vary markedly depending on the socioeconomic status and culture of the population… the poorest 3 billion people living mostly in tropical rural areas, who are still relying on 18th-century technologies for meeting basic needs such as cooking and heating… mostly subsistent farmers, whose livelihood will be severely impacted, if not destroyed, with a one- to five-year megadrought, heat waves, or heavy floods… But the article errs, I think, in not considering possible changes to this population. Certainly the proportion, and absolute number, of people living in absolute poverty has decreased over the last 50 or 100 years, and can be expected to continue to decrease, especially or almost entirely if their governance improves; see-also Harvey. That doesn’t help the ecosystems, of course. But the West has entirely removed the class of “subsistence farmers”2; everyone else will follow suite in due course.

Notes

1. Yes I know it’s ironic, isn’t it?

2. That’s someone, errm, telological, perhaps. No-one called “the West” decided to remove this class of people. But “the West” provided the kind of society in which no-one wanted to be a subsistence farmer, and no-one had to be if they didn’t want to be.

3. Picture: panel in font, Vallouise.

Refs

* rump administration loosens Obama’s guidelines for self-driving cars: States are advised against setting up too many regulations; the Verge.
* How A Warm Winter Destroyed 85 Percent Of Georgia’s Peaches – 538.
* Economics says time to shut down some coal plants (even ignoring externalities) – Brian at Eli’s.

The idea that climate scientists are in it for the cash has deep ideological roots?

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Ffansoffreelancer%2Fphotos%2Fa.10150111355746512.278048.353386506511%2F10154854686586512%2F%3Ftype%3D3&width=300 Or, “world is not as I like it shocker; villain must be found!”. Again; sigh.

[Note: the link above is a mangled version of an iframe. WP auto-mangles it “for security reasons”. See the stoat archive if you want the original.]

In this case the normally sensible Graham Readfearn in the Graun has picked up the unfortunately not very sensible Nancy MacLean‘s “Democracy in chains”2 and run with it. GR is sad about cynicism about the motives of public servants, including government-backed climate scientists and so is attracted to “reasons” why this might be so; and of course he like all right-thinking people hates the very word “Koch”; the combination is irresistible.

If you read GR’s article is is fairly clear that he isn’t familiar with what he’s talking about; he says frankly at one point In an interview at the Brisbane writers festival, MacLean told me… and it looks like much of the “information” is just parrotting MacLean. If you’re actually interested in the history of Mont Pelerin, then you’re better off reading The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression; or in the rather-more-likely event of you not feeling up to it, just my report on it. If you’re interested in public choice theory then you’re better off reading the Wiki article than the caricature in GR’s article. OTOH, if you don’t like Libertarians or their ilk but do like having your prejudices confirmed, by all means stick with the Graun.

What “public choice theory” actually does is recommend considering politicians (and other “public servants”) as human beings like any others, rather than as idealised nobility. To some this is anathema; as GR’s article quotes, Prof Steven Kelman, at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy school of government, wrote that Buchanan’s view was a “terrible caricature of reality” and belied the public spirit of elected representatives and government officials. This is akin to the level of discourse in the UK, where nurses are always “angels”1.

So all of GR’s point boils down to Suggesting that climate scientists are pushing a line about global warming because their salaries depend on it is a popular talking point that deniers love to throw around… But to suggest global warming exists only because climate scientists need the money, you need to ignore… [all the obvious things]. But (just like NMcL’s duff book) GR has failed to make the connections. There’s no connection made between PCT and denialism. The logical level is “PCT would tend to suggest X, denialists say X, therefore denialists are led by PCT”. This is simplistic to the point of silliness. Denialists aren’t sophisticated enough to be led by PCT; but they do possess the very minimal level of intelligence required to copy someone else’s obvious idea that it might be possible to smear scientists motives.

This is Exxon type thinking all over again. “Our problems are caused by super-villains” type stuff. They aren’t. They are caused by a whole complicated interlocking problems amongst which ranks highly the self-interest of the vast bulk of the populace; and our broken political systems. And PCT points towards the underlying problems with said broken political systems; and we won’t fix them by denying it.

Notes

1. Until they get convicted, at which point they become “angels of death” :-). This is not to say that public officials are never motivated by a spirit of service. Many are. But many are not; and treating the entire system as though it was composed of those who are so motivated is an error.

2. I wasn’t intending to argue about the book here unless you want to. I do need to point out that The book documents how wealthy conservatives… with the objective, MacLean says, of undermining the functions of government in the United States is a fundamental error. MacLean’s enemies3 certainly want to organise things differently to her; but are more nearly constitutionalists. It isn’t clear to me if NMcL is just using the std.propaganda technique of lying about her enemies, or simply doesn’t understand them. If you want the rebuttals to the book, the obvious source I know of is Don Boudreaux.

3. As in, “people she regards as her enemy”.

Refs

* The World Turned Upside Down (and what to do about it)
* Win for Climate Science and the AAUP: Today the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected attempts by a “free market” legal foundation to use public records requests to compel faculty members to release emails related to their climate research.
* The left has a problem with public choice economics.

Don’t blame hurricanes Irma and Harvey on climate change?

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Femptylessmeaning%2Fposts%2F10154880226021299%3A0&width=300 Says Alan Reynolds in Newsweek, although originally at Cato. But Michael Mann says he wants you to let @Newsweek know what you think about them running Koch-funded Cato Institute climate denial propaganda. But I only care because someone called “Lawrence Torcello‏”1 Tweeted Quoting Popper against climate science signals Pseudointellectualism.

Obviously, quoting Popper against any genuine Science must be wrong. Although equally obviously it can’t possibly, of itself, signal pseudo-intellectualism; it could simply signal stupidity or error. But the more extensive implicit claim – that quoting Popper against anything said about climate science must be bad – is obvious nonsense. But enough generalities, what of the present case?

Before going on, it might be helpful to read, say, Neptune’s revenge by mt, who cannot possibly be accused of being Koch-funded or anything of that ilk.

The core of the Newsweek article is attributing today’s extreme weather to “climate change” regardless of what happens ( maybe droughts, maybe floods ) is what the philosopher Karl Popper called “pseudoscience.” If some theory explains everything, it can’t be tested and it is therefore not science. (Popper’s favorite examples of pseudoscience were communism and psychoanalysis.) [The article also contains various stats and numbers that I wasn’t very interested in and didn’t trouble myself to check; and some other rather dubious assertions that are uninteresting but which would earn my ire if I could be bothered to analyse them.]

I think it is interesting to ask if Popper’s viewpoint has any explanatory power in the ever-widening debate about how to say something meaningful about the relationship between hurricanes and GW. So for example I think it was inevitable that Harvey and so on would be “blamed” on GW, but that if they hadn’t happened, that wouldn’t have cast doubt on GW. But that latter point is uninteresting, because there are so many lines of evidence for GW that it isn’t possible to honestly doubt it. The Newsweek article, though, is too un-nuanced in its accusations to be much use. I’ve read lots of pieces about the connection between Harvey etc and GW, and almost all of them have been pretty equivocal about the causal connection. But is there any testable theory that Harvey would be evidence for or against? Remember, whatever the theory is, it must be proof against the absence of Harvey last year, or the year before that. Perhaps More on Bayesian approaches to detection and attribution is relevant.

Anyway, I wondered (sea-ice betting having rather faded out due to lack of diverging opinions) if we could translate this into a bet. Does anyone think that “GW caused Harvey (or Irma, or whatever)” translates in any way into a meaningful prediction ability for next year, 2018? Or if the storm season for 2018 reverts to normal, will everyone be completely unsurprised? I’ll take the “revert to normal” side of the bet, of course. If anyone has $1,000 or above for the “Ha! 2018 will make 2017 look like a picnic!” side, we can discuss terms. Actually, you don’t need to be that extreme, I’m sure something far more moderate would do.

Incidentally, if 2018 did turn out anything like 2017, it might be time to revive a piece of pure speculation I made on sci.env perhaps 20 years ago now. I was talking about tornadoes in the Southern US, but the concept works as well for hurricanes: how much stronger / worse would they have to get, to make the entire area economically uninhabitable?2 People will rebuild from one year, and perhaps even from one year a decade, but not from every year.

Notes

1. Ah. He’s a Mann co-author and climate alarmist.

2. Eli catches up.

Refs

* Bonus Quotation of the Day at CH: on new ideas.
* Eli says that climate change increased the DAMAGE from these storms.
* Corporate leaders must reject Trump’s tariffs – Charles Koch in the WaPo.

Retread: Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions?

Apparently, Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions? was so popular that it gets a retread. Despite the original being published in 20133, we’re now being told that Researchers have for the first time tied a group of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil, and their products to specific increases in greenhouse gases, global warming and sea level rise. A study published Thursday in the journal Climatic Change concludes that since 1880, 90 of the largest carbon producers are responsible for up to 50 percent of global temperature rise, 57 percent of the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and between 26 and 32 percent of global sea level rise. Don’t worry, people have memories like goldfish, and the meeja even less, no-one will notice or think to complain1.

The original – not that it was terribly original – was Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010 by Richard “just call me Dick” Heede2. The retread is The rise in global atmospheric CO2, surface temperature, and sea level from emissions traced to major carbon producers by a pile o’ people, include R Heede, but also Myles “seminal” Allen.

Just to remind you of why the whole thing is bollocks: customers emit CO2, not producers. Don’t blame the people that sold you a thing for your using it. Hopefully that’s bleedin’ obvious4.

The article in climateliabilitynews is unusually explicit in positively vaunting the political motives of this “science”: The research could open the door for those who have suffered losses due to climate change to sue major oil companies for damages. The study also links each individual company to its percentage impact on climate change. “This study could inform approaches of juries and judges who are looking to monetize damages,” said study lead author Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Not even a pretence of that ivory-tower impartiality so notable in the usual caricature of scientists.

1980 or 1960?

There’s a detail of the analysis worth snarking about. From the article: In the century prior to 1980, companies may not have been aware of the harm their products cause, Ekwurzel said. After 1980, the firms had sufficient scientific data showing carbon dioxide from burning the fossil fuel they produce was harmful. [Obligatory Exxon drivel elided] “Once it became clear no later than the 1960s that continuing CO2 emissions would progressively undermine the climate, the major carbon producers could see that they were marketing harmful products,” said Henry Shue, a professor emeritus of politics and international relations at Oxford University, wrote in a commentary published alongside the study.

So, what’s it going to be: 1960 or 1980? In the (IMHO unlikely) event that this nonsense ever turns into money, two decades will be a pile of dosh and lawyers fees and doubtless the expert witnesses can expect some, too. The “1960s” claim is by one “Henry Shue” in a commentary. I think it is bollox. Admittedly, he is emeritus, but really? OK, I suppose I’m obliged to find out who this old geyser is. He sort-of makes wiki, in the “Negative and positive rights”. Ah, he’s at Merton. Lovely place, but no real history of understanding climate science5.

Can I prove that “1960s” is bollox? Of course. Just consider the 1975 NAS report. Recall that I wrote that summary many years ago, when showing that the “global cooling” stuff was, also, bollox; so if anything I had an interest in exaggerating its “warming” credentials. And as I quote from the foreword, we do not have a good quantitative understanding of our climate machine and what determines its course. Without the fundamental understanding, it does not seem possible to predict climate. Which I gloss: “I believe that this is an accurate assessment of the state of knowledge at the time”.

One of the sources quoted by this idiot Shue (“Later in 1965, the President’s Science Advisory Committee issued a report treating CO2 as a pollutant, with an appendix on “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide””) is (US, White House 1965). And the report (well, the little bit of it that deals with CO2; notice, tellingly, that it is shuffled off to an appendix) says:

I’m not sure I’d say 1980s is right, either. But it would depend on what you meant. By then [update: IPCC ’90 was of course published in 1990, so represents the thinking of the late not early 1980’s], IPCC were saying Based on current models, we predict: under [BAU] increase of global mean temperature during the [21st] century of about 0.3 oC per decade (with an uncertainty range of 0.2 to 0.5 oC per decade); this is greater than that seen over the past 10,000 years; under other … scenarios which assume progressively increasing levels of controls, rates of increase in global mean temperature of about 0.2 oC [to] about 0.1 oC per decade so certainly predicting future warming. But they weren’t signing up to attribution at that point: Our judgement is that: global mean surface air temperature has increased by 0.3 to 0.6 oC over the last 100 years…; The size of this warming is broadly consistent with predictions of climate models, but it is also of the same magnitude as natural climate variability. Thus the observed increase could be largely due to this natural variability; alternatively this variability and other human factors could have offset a still larger human-induced greenhouse warming. The unequivocal detection of the enhanced greenhouse effect is not likely for a decade or more.

Notes

0. Pic: seracs, Barre des Ecrins. One day I must learn how to do captions.

1. Other than a few grumpy old men, but they can just be ignored.

2. I know, I know. Forgive me. Also I used the same “joke” last time.

3. The published date is 2014 but my blog is from 2013; doubtless in the usual tedious way it was trailed by glowing clouds of PR.

4. I see form the comments last time that it isn’t; so I’ll say in advance: trying to palm our responsibilities off on other people is pathetic evasion. You buy and burn oil, that’s your decision. Don’t blame the guy you bought it from.

5. Though they did some good early work on physics.