Political heavyweights such as Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary GeneralBan Ki-moon name climate change the “defining issue of our times” and “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” Yet, the biggest environmental killer we face is actually indoor air pollution.
More than one third of the world’s population – 2.9 billion people – still burns wood, charcoal and dung indoors to keep warm and cook food. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 4.3 million people in 2012 lost their lives due to indoor air pollution. Compare these figures to the losses from global warming. The new report from the UN Climate Panel recognizes that “at present the worldwide burden of human ill-health from climate change is relatively small compared with effects of other stressors.”Estimates from the WHO and others suggest that between 30 and 150 times more people are killed due to indoor air pollution than global warming. Yet, the latter dominates the headlines.
In the 20th century alone, 260 million people were killed by indoor air pollution, which is more than the losses of the century’s many wars. Together with 21 of the world’s top economists, I analyzed the impact of a wide range of global problems, including air pollution, over a 150-year time span. We calculated the cost of these problems in percent of global GDP in order to compare the progress over time. The good news is that we’re seeing quite some improvements on air pollution. Whereas in 1900 the total cost of this problem was as high as 23 per cent of global GDP, today it is around 6 per cent of world GDP and we believe this number will fall to 4 per cent in 2050.
Thanks to increased access to electric stoves and heaters, the problem today is much less prevalent than before. It is therefore regrettable that some climate-worried Western politicians have second thoughts about further electrification because of CO2emissions. Instead of helping the 2.9 billion people gain access to cheap and plentiful electricity, thus combating our biggest environmental problem, we insist that developing countries focus on renewable energy. For example, the U.S. has decided tono longer support the building of coal-fired power plants in developing countries.
Besides being hypocritical (in the Western world we get only 1.2 per cent of our energy from solar and wind), we deliberately end up choosing to leave about 70 million people in darkness and poverty. An analysis from the Center for Global Development found that if the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the main U.S. development finance institution, spends the next $10 billion on gas electrification, we can help lift 90 million people out of poverty. If on the other hand they continue their preference for investments in solar, wind and other low-emissions energy projects, the same $10 billion can help just between 20 and 27 million people.
Electrification has ended the scourge of indoor air pollution in the rich world, saving millions of lives. In the West, we take our supply of reliable electricity for granted. At the same time, we put our climate concerns before giving access to modern energy to those who desperately need it and die from indoor air pollution. It’s about time we get our priorities right.
Unless government has a technique for solving the demand revelation problem that private entrepreneurs cannot adopt, [Paul] Samuelson and [William] Nordhaus’s statement that “because private provision of public goods will generally be insufficient, government must step in” is a non sequitur. Lacking a way to elicit the necessary information about willingness to pay, we lack assurance that government stepping in will move us closer to economic efficiency…. Whenever private provision of a good is presumed inefficient because of a demand revelation problem, government provision should also be presumed inefficient. We should expect the same goods that exhibit market failure ipso facto to exhibit government failure to achieve Pareto efficiency.
Unless government has a technique for solving the demand revelation problem that private entrepreneurs cannot adopt, [Paul] Samuelson and [William] Nordhaus’s statement that “because private provision of public goods will generally be insufficient, government must step in” is a non sequitur. Lacking a way to elicit the necessary information about willingness to pay, we lack assurance that government stepping in will move us closer to economic efficiency….
Whenever private provision of a good is presumed inefficient because of a demand revelation problem, government provision should also be presumed inefficient. We should expect the same goods that exhibit market failure ipso facto to exhibit government failure to achieve Pareto efficiency.
— Larry White, The Clash of Economic Ideas 
If you have the temerity to challenge calls for the government to take aggressive action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, you will probably have someone call you a “climate science denier.” You will further be lectured that “97% of climate scientists agree” on this consensus.
What’s the source of this bogus stat? Cook et al. (2013) is a paper which claims to do the following:
We analyze the evolution of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11,944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’. We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming…Our analysis indicates that the number of papers rejecting the consensus on AGW is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research. [Bold added.]
To repeat, there’s a bait-and-switch occurring here. As Friedman spells out in a very straightforward way, all you need to do is actually look at Cook et al.’s own tables in their paper to see that others (including Cook himself in a subsequent paper!) are misrepresenting their findings. Only 1.6% of the surveyed abstracts clearly say that humans are the main cause of global warming. The 97.1% figure includes papers that merely claim that some amount of warming can be attributed to human activities.
Many of the prominent scientists associated with the “denier” label–such as Richard Lindzen, Roy Spencer, Pat Michaels, and Chip Knappenberger (whom I feature here a lot)–would fit into this “consensus.” You could quite consistently hold the following beliefs:
(A) Human emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases have made the earth warmer than it otherwise would be. (Thus this person would be in the “97.1% consensus.”)
(B) Human activity has had a relatively minor role in the changing temperature/climate since 1750; other factors are far more significant.
(C) Climate change is not a problem worth worrying about. Malnutrition, war, and sanitary drinking water are far more urgent issues for the globe.
(D) Even if climate change poses a potentially serious threat to humans in a few decades, having governments enact certain tax policies today is not at all a suitable solution to this genuine problem.
To repeat, there is nothing contradictory about the above beliefs, and yet anyone holding (B) through (D) would be denounced as denying the “consensus.” (A)
The real issue is not whether one cares about nature, but whether one cares about people. Environmental sympathies are not in dispute; because one puts the interests of one’s children before the interests of the people down the street does not imply that one hates the neighbors, or even is uninterested in them. The central matters in dispute here are truth and liberty, versus the desire to impose one’s aesthetic and moral tastes on others.
— Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2
Those pushing for aggressive government intervention in the name of fighting climate change often claim that “the science is settled” and dismiss any dissenters as “deniers.” The so-called “consensus” is codified in the periodic reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The alarmist camp’s repeated references to “peer-review” and the number of organizations behind the IPCC are rhetorically very effective; they have done a great PR job in making it look as if their political solutions really do flow naturally from what the scientists in white lab coats are reporting. But allegations from IPCC authors show that politics and not science drive the process at the IPCC.
As we have documented countless times on these pages (here’s the latest example), the alarmists greatly exaggerate when they claim that aggressive and immediate government action is needed to prevent catastrophe. When you readthe actual scientific literature, as opposed to the pithy summaries given by a few outspoken activists, then we see no cause for alarm. As we shall see, the latest findings stress a growing role for adaptation to a changing climate.
In the present post, I’ll walk through the recent statements issued by two bona fide experts on the economics of climate change: Richard Tol and Robert Stavins. Even though both of them played important roles in the latest IPCC report, they have publicly condemned the IPCC process as political, which distorts the underlying science and misleads policymakers and the public. Besides their impeccable credentials on this topic, Tol and Stavins are both supporters of a (modest) carbon tax. Therefore, their strong condemnations of the IPCC process should receive special attention from those who think “the science is settled” and that anyone challenging the alarmists is a “denier.”…
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot
- Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (GRS) is an atmospheric storm that has been raging in Jupiter’s southern Hemisphere for at least 400 years.
- About 100 years ago, the storm covered over 40,000 km of the surface. It is currently about one half of that size and seems to be shrinking.
- At the present rate that it is shrinking it could become circular by 2040. The GRS rotates counter-clockwise(anti-cyclonic) and makes a full rotation every six Earth days.
- It is not known exactly what causes the Great Red Spot’s reddish color. The most popular theory, which is supported by laboratory experiments, holds that the color may be caused by complex organic molecules, red phosphorus, or other sulfur compounds.
- The GRS is about two to three times larger than Earth. Winds at its oval edges can reach up to 425 mph (680 km/h)
- Infrared data has indicated that the Great Red Spot is colder (and thus, higher in altitude) than most of the other clouds on the planet
Must be all the SUVs and cow farts.
Most environmentalists think that resources are “natural.” But they’re not. No substance on earth - not iron ore, not petroleum, not even land - is a resource unless and until human beings creatively figure out how to use that substance to produce outputs cost-effectively. And innovative, free markets are by far the most powerful engine ever stumbled upon to power such human creativity. As the economic historians Gavin Wright and Jesse Czelusta put it, “the abundance of … mineral resources should not be seen as merely a fortunate natural endowment. It is more appropriately understood as a form of collective learning, a return on large-scale investments in exploration, transportation, geological knowledge, and the technologies of mineral extraction, refining, and utilization.”*
So the great irony is that the chief source of “natural resources” is the very economic institution - entrepreneurial capitalism - that environmentalists accuse of destroying natural resources.
But here’s the mystery. Suppose that Facebook released a report that, after listing a slew of possible dangers of people’s failure to connect even more fully to social media, demands policies that compel greater use of Facebook. Such a report would rightly be greeted with extreme and widespread skepticism. It would be seen as Facebook’s self-interested plea for policies that enhance its power, reach, and profits. So why does so little skepticism greet a government report that demands policies that compel greater use of government?
Why, in other words, does the same healthy distrust of a private company’s alleged demonstration of all the good that will come from forcing people to use more of its services not carry over to government’s alleged demonstration of all the good that will come from forcing people to use more of its services?
Don Boudreaux, responding to Chip Knappenberger statement that “[t]he National Climate Assessment is a political call to action document meant for the president’s left-leaning constituency. What pretense of scientific support that decorates it quickly falls away under a close and critical inspection.”
I’d take Boudreaux’s point one step further: I think history has proven that the public can be convinced to shed their “healthy distrust of a private company’s alleged demonstration of all the good that will come from forcing people to use more of its services” when the state serves as facilitator of those services, such as with health care.
- New IPCC Report Unwittingly Shows Weakness of Alarmist Camp
- Have Past IPCC Temperature Projections/Predictions Been Accurate?
- Nordhaus Not Even Warm In His Energy Predictions
- Exaggerating the Damage Caused by Climate Change
- We have a new climate change consensus — and it’s good news everyone: Adaptation cheaper/better than attempts at prevention
- 95% of Climate Models Agree: The Observations Must be Wrong
- On the Dubious Social Cost of Carbon, Part I
- Renowned climate scientist and originator of the Gaia hypothesis retracts and disavows previous alarmism
- Bits From the Latest IPCC Report + A Few More Bits from the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report
- Will The Overselling Of Global Warming Lead To A New Scientific Dark Age?
- Contra Nordhaus: Three corrections
- Dealing with Climate Change: Prevention vs Adaptation
- Chill Out About Global Warming: We can love nature and still hate the tyranny of bureaucrats’ rules
- Climate Forecast: Muting the Alarm - Even while it exaggerates the amount of warming, the IPCC is becoming more cautious about its effects
- Social Cost of Carbon Inflated by Extreme Sea Level Rise Projections
- The Administration’s Social Cost of Carbon Turns “Social Cost” on Its Head
- Hiding Regulatory Burdens through Faulty Social Cost of Carbon Calculations
- MIT Professor Urging Climate Change Activists To ‘Slow Down’
- A Perspective In Which Carbon Emissions Are Not a “Bad”
- Debunking the 97% ‘consensus’ on global warming
- UN author says draft climate report alarmist, pulls out of team
- Our Fragile Planet
- More Evidence for a Low Climate Sensitivity
- Researchers Professor Judith Curry and Dr. Marcia Wyatt find that a natural cycle is responsible for the 17-year pause in climate change–as well as the previous period of warming–during which there has been no statistically significant rise in the earth’s temperature since 1997.
- Richard Tol reveals biases in IPCC data/report, pulls out
- The IPCC Exposed
- Climate Models’ Tendency to Simulate Too Much Warming and the IPCC’s Attempt to Cover That Up
- Hot Air About Cold Air
- The secret, dirty cost of the green power push
- Going Bananas: Another Climate Change Hustle
- If People Are Like Polar Bears, We’ll Be Fine
- Some Like It Hot
- 2013: largest year-over-year temperature decline in the complete 119 year record—an indication that 2012 was an outlier more so than “the new normal.”
- Climate Science Is Settled. Really?
- Majority rules on climate science?
- A Climate Falsehood You Can Check for Yourself
- It’s mind-boggling. 0.8°C ago, around 1900, life expectancy was one half what it is now. Malaria was endemic. Food and water-borne illnesses were real killers. All have been pretty much vanquished, despite dreaded warming. Not a mention of this.
- Al Gore Forecasted “Ice-Free” Arctic by 2013; Ice Cover Expands 50%
- The Great Green Con: The global warming forecasts that are costing you billions were wrong all along
- Warming Predictions vs The Real World
- Understanding the IPCC Climate Assessment
- With or Without a “Pause” Climate Models Still Project Too Much Warming
- Scapegoating Skeptics
- On “Social Cost of Carbon” Calculations
- Are Climate Change Mitigation Policies a Form of Insurance?
- Climate and the ‘Maunder Minimum’
- What the New IPCC Global Warming Projections Should Have Looked Like
- Reducing Livability: How Sustainability Planning Threatens the American Dream
- AAAS’ Guide to Climate Alarmism
- UN’s New Climate Change Report an Embarrassment, Self-Serving and Beyond Misleading
- Observations Now Inconsistent with Climate Model Predictions for 25 (going on 35) Years
Everyone, including environmentalists, has needs more basic than a pristine environment. We don’t worry about the earth until our survival is secure. This is a natural ordering of needs. Yet environmentalists, after meeting their own basic needs, want to force the poor to reverse their preferences and put the earth before their own survival. I don’t think most environmentalists intend this, but it is the inevitable result of using the force of government to enact protection measures. This is neither desirable nor effective in the long run.
You may be able to do great harm to many of the world’s poor in exchange for some government attempt at environmental improvement (more likely to result in special-interest enrichment), but in the long run it is impossible to convince people to subjugate their survival to the perceived needs of their ecosystem. The real promise for environmental improvement is economic growth. Until people are wealthy enough to consider [voluntarily] paying the cost of a cleaner environment, the fight to force their choices is inhumane and ultimately ineffective.
One of the most disquieting features of the environmentalist movement is its evident abhorrence of modern technology and its Romanticist back-to-nature philosophy. Technology and civilization are responsible, they say, for crowding, pollution, despoliation of resources, so let us therefore return to unspoiled nature, to Walden Pond, to contemplation in a far-off glade. None of these critics of modern culture and civilization seem to realize that the back-to-nature path would not only mean shuffling off the benefits of civilization, but would also mean starvation and death for the vast bulk of mankind, who are dependent on the capital and the division of labor of the modern industrial market economy. Or are our modern Romantics operating on a death, as opposed to a life, premise? It very much looks that way.
If we pay heed to the state-financed scientists who have been found to twist their science to support the political ambitions of their Malthusian pay masters, then we must agree that mankind is doomed in so many ways that the only way out is to reduce our population, our energy consumption, and our standards of living. However, the history of the past two hundred years has proven Malthus and his followers to be dead wrong. Man’s ingenuity combined with a free market consisting of competition, price signals and the motivation of profit will ensure that the peakers remain on the wrong side of history.
Suppose someone from an insurance company came to you in the year 2050 and said, “We’ve run computer models many thousands of times using all kinds of different assumptions. In the worst-case scenario, a very small fraction of the computer runs—about 1 in 500—has you losing 20% of your income in the year 2100. In order to insure you against this extremely unlikely outcome that will occur in half a century, we want to charge you 3.4% of your income this year.”
Would you want to take that deal? Of course not. The premium is way too high in light of the very low probability and the relative modesty of the “catastrophe.” When someone’s house burns down, that’s a much bigger hit than 20% of annual income. And yet, the premiums for fire insurance are quite reasonable; they’re nowhere near 3.4% of income for most households. Moreover, the threat of your house burning down is immediate: It could happen tomorrow, not just fifty years from now. That’s why people have no problem buying fire insurance for their homes. Yet the situation and numbers aren’t anywhere close to analogous when it comes to climate change policies.
Recognizing that they can no longer make their case on the basis of down-the-middle projections, those favoring massive government intervention in the name of fighting climate change have resorted to focusing on very unlikely but devastating scenarios. In this context, they have likened their preferred government policies as a form of insurance.
However, this analogy fails for several reasons. First, insurance in the marketplace is voluntary; when the government forces people to buy it—as with ObamaCare—then there is indeed a public outcry. Second, actual insurance in the marketplace is based on extensive actuarial data; we have no such understanding with climate change, but instead the outcomes against which we are “insuring” live inside computer projections.
Finally, even taking the insurance analogy head-on, the numbers don’t work. Nobody would take out an insurance policy on the terms of likely payouts and expense of premium that climate change policy offers.
The former drives up costs of producing carbon. This incentivizes firms to reduce their carbon dioxide output, including spurring innovation in making carbon-dioxide become more productive (doing more with less, making that fuel work harder) as well as seeking technological alternatives to carbon production altogether.
The latter drives up costs of human labor. This incentivizes firms to reduce their salary expenditure, including spurring innovation in making labor become more productive (doing more with less, making that labor work harder) as well as seeking technological alternatives to human labor altogether.
Generally, the people who support the former tend to support the latter - yet their expectations of each contradict one another.
[T]he “social cost of carbon” is not an objective fact of the world, analogous to the charge on an electron or the boiling point of water. Many analysts and policymakers refer to the “science being settled” and so forth, giving the impression that the SCC is a number that is “out there” in Nature, waiting to be measured by guys in white lab coats.
On the contrary, by its very nature the SCC is an arbitrary number, which is completely malleable in the hands of an analyst who can make it very high, very low, or even negative, simply by adjusting parameters. Precisely because the SCC even at a conceptual level is so vulnerable to manipulation in this fashion, the analysts giving wildly different estimates are not “lying.” …
Generating estimates of the SCC involves using computer models with (arbitrary) simulated damages that go out centuries in the future, and then the analyst must arbitrarily select a discount rate to convert those future damages into present-dollar terms. Because of these ingredients in the estimation process, an analyst can generate just about any “estimate” of the SCC he wants, including a negative one—which would mean carbon dioxide emissions confer third-party benefits on humanity, and (using the Administration’s logic) ought to receive subsidies from the taxpayer.