Monday, 16 November 2009

Another boring economics/climate change rant

One of the denialist movement's widespread tactics these days is to claim that it would cost too much economically to do anything to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Subtle sceptic/deniers like Bjorn Lomborg say that it would make more sense economically to instead spend the money (that it would cost to mitigate emissions) on adapting to any changes that may happen.

They claim to believe that the results of any man-made climate change will be much less than the overwhelming majority scientific opinion predicts (even though both sides may be being over optimistic!). Real world measurements coming in show global warming speeding up, harder and faster than expected previously.

This subtle denier/inactivist "Lomborg" position does not admit in public that they are inviting us to effectively gamble with everybody’s future because they are so convinced that they are right, despite their beliefs being very far away from the best scientific opinion in the world. They may believe their position sincerely, or they may hold it because they believe that the industries and political ideologies that sponsor them are more important than our future.

Actually, the sceptic/denier position on the economic problems with greenhouse gas reductions is complete garbage. True, it will cost a lot to do but the costs of not doing it will be vastly larger.

Deniers/sceptics will never tell you that because they don’t want to believe it. Not believing it themselves makes them sound more convincing when they mislead people.


What follows is a recent New York Times article which scuppers this denialist position and indeed predicts that the changeover to a green energy system will have positive economic benefits – about as far apart from the “convenient” economic doom and gloom consequences spread by deniers. It’s not “just” the assertions of greenies or scientists either, it’s the cream of academic economists’ thought.

Click for here for original article (you might need to register to read it)


A New York University School of Law survey found near unanimity among 144 top economists that global warming threatens the United States economy and that a cap-and-trade system of carbon regulation will spur energy efficiency and innovation.

“Outside academia the level of consensus among economists is unfortunately not common knowledge,” Richard Revesz, dean of the law school, said during a press conference on Wednesday. “The results are conclusive – there is broad agreement that reducing emissions is likely to have significant economic benefits.”

The law school’s Institute for Policy Integrity sent surveys to 289 economists who had published at least one article on climate change in a top-rated economics journal in the past 15 years. Half of those economists responded anonymously to a dozen questions that solicited their opinions on a range of issues, from the impact of climate change on particular industries to how the benefits of reduced greenhouse-gas emissions should be calculated.

The survey found that 84 percent of the economists agreed that climate change “presents a clear danger” to the United States and global economies – hitting agriculture the hardest – even though the severity of global warming remains unknown.

Only 5.6 percent disagreed with that statement, while 7.6 percent were neutral and 2.8 percent had no opinion.

Not surprisingly, the economists favored a market-based approach to limiting carbon emissions, with 80.6 percent supporting the auctioning of emissions allowances, while 9 percent believed the government should give them away.

Climate change legislation before Congress would initially distribute some free allowances to industry while increasing the number of auctioned permits over time. “Some of the answers we get were fairly consistent with what we expected, to the extent that they are consistent with general economic theory, which is likely to favor an auctioning system,” said J. Scott Holladay, an economics fellow at the institute and an author of the report.

Nearly all the economists – 94.3 percent – said the United States should agree to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through an international climate treaty. Fifty-seven percent said the country should make such a commitment even without an agreement.

Seventy-three percent of the respondents agreed that the uncertainty surrounding the severity of climate change raises the economic value of implementing measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Such measures would increase energy efficiency and promote innovation, according to 97 percent of the economists.

There was far less consensus on how to calculate the economic damage from each ton of carbon emitted, which the survey called the “social cost” of carbon dioxide. The economists’ estimates generally ranged from $20 to $100 a ton, though one calculated the cost at $10,000 and another at $10 million.

According to the report, some economists who responded to the survey felt it was it too focused on the United States, while others objected to the nature of the questions.

“Several respondents argued that the questions were too simple to accurately capture the complexity of climate change or that specific questions could not be answered,” wrote the report’s authors.


1 comment:


I know where I would put my the hands of the economists and scientists. As a parent, consumer and tax-payer, I would much rather be in the position of having tried first and invested in a sustainable future rather than risk the cost of the consequences of any alternative plan.