Gentlemen’s wagers on carbon emission policies

The political fight over climate change policies continues to rage in our parliament, with the shadow minister for Climate Action apparently threatening a double dissolution of parliament if that is what it would take to repeal the current policies. The deeper question for analysts in the background is whether emission policies are a political feasibility, not just at the world level but even within Australia.

Some public commentators believe that reducing carbon emissions is possible and that we are on the right way with the current policies. Others, like me, see carbon emission policies as a political dead end and advocate geo-engineering and adaption. Hope versus realism one might say. Endless debates full of emotions and hot air ensue, yet how can an outsider tell who is right?

In the best of Aussie traditions, I propose a set of gentlemen’s wagers. For each one, the stake is 1000 AUS to a favoured charity (mine is Amnesty International). The propositions[1] which I offer to any Australian scientist active in the climate change debate are:

  1. Australia will not meet its 2020 Kopenhagen emission commitments in that domestic emissions in 2020 will not be at least 5% lower than they were in 2000.
  2. World emissions of CO2 (measured by the EIA) in 2020 will be higher than they were in either 2000 or 2010. And there will be no global Emission Trading Scheme in 2020 of which the participating countries cover at least 80% of world GDP (measured in PPPs).
  3. Both Australian and world coal production will be higher in 2020 than in 2010.

 Conditions: first come, first served; names are made public; scientists active in the debate only; I win if and only if, measured in 2021, the proposition holds; disputes to be settled by ESA peers; offers close end of October 2011.

Proposition one should appeal to Labor politicians who write flowery speeches about how the government’s emissions policies are good policies that are going to work. I am calling those policies symbolic wastes of time that are not going to achieve anything substantial, like delivering our promises. The bet is on domestic emissions because there is some chance we will pay other countries to pretend they are reducing their emissions, which should not count.

Proposition two is a judgment on world developments and is a challenge to anyone who believes serious international cooperation to reduce emissions is going to happen. Note that there are various non-political events that could deliver the outcome: a major world recession or a technological breakthrough could also tilt emissions down, so one gets several bites at the cherry.

Proposition 3 is a direct challenge to those who believe Australia is serious or will become serious about carbon emission reductions: the whole point of emission trading schemes is to get to a situation where we stop digging up our fossil fuels and leave them unburnt in the ground. The wager is that neither Australia nor the world is going to actually do this.

Why am I offering these wagers? Because I have found that scientists often dodge the question of whether their policies are politically feasible. They debate on the basis of the policies they want to see succeed rather than on the basis of what could succeed. The arguments are thus emotional, involving the intricacies of climate science, or how we owe it to the next generation to do something. Yet, precisely when you truly believe the doomsday scenarios and our inter-generational obligations, you need a calm look at what is politically feasible in this world: whoever thinks carbon emissions policies are not going to work given the political realities of this world, owes it to the next generation to say so and move on to advocating things that might work. If those emotionally defending current policies believe their own words, they should be brave enough to take up the offered wagers.

I would advocate more bets on this debate and others debates in which the number of participants is too small to sustain a commercial betting market. Bets are an open signal to the public as to where the balance of probabilities lies on complex questions. They are a quick way to force scientists to stop posturing and have a calm look at the political realities of the world, which in turn should help to focus the policy debate on what is workable.

Besides, Australia is the betting capital of the world and we should make that national trait work to our benefit.


[1] In terms of the reasoning behind these propositions, see here, here, here, here, and here.

 

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Barry Brook
10 years ago

Paul, good to point this out. People who advocate for idealistic ‘solutions’ MUST be called to task, and putting their money where their mouth is, well, that’s a decent start. That said, I’m not sure anyone who has looked realistically at the situation would be wiling to take you up on any of those bets. Bad odds…

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
10 years ago

barry,

agreed, they are bad odds, but would you really want to deprive my charities of the chance of making a solid buck?

I am also not expecting any takers, but that goes to show that most of the debate is for show….

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
10 years ago

“I am also not expecting any takers, but that goes to show that most of the debate is for show….”

Alternatively it might just go to show that bugger-all climate scientists read Troppo!! As far as I can tell, we’re more of a hangout for economists, lawyers and public servant types, with the odd journo as well.

cbp
cbp
10 years ago

I think most climate scientists realise they are fighting against the odds.

Plus its a lot easier to start making bets nowadays when the odds look a lot worse than they did 5 years ago, in the pre-Palinification of the political right.

Judging by climate science blogs I think the mood is one of resignation, where the only reason to persist is that those who do will one day be vindicated whilst the delayers and deniers will be despised. Kind of like how Oscar Schindler didn’t stop the war but they still made a movie glorifying him… Does that count as a Godwin?

rog
rog
10 years ago

These “gentleman’s wagers” do nothing to address the issue – maybe weaken the resolve – the issue of carbon emissions remains.

If a gentleman’s wager is the best economists can come up with then they deserve further condemnation.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Yeah, I agree this is counterproductive. Forming a consensus about political impossibility is self-fulfilling.

I think what climate scientists are after now, as ever, is that policy makers do as much as they can, as fast as they can.

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
10 years ago

funny, neither cpb, rog, or dan seem to disagree with the proposition, but Dan is still talking about ‘do as much as they can, as fast as they can’ and rog still wants to condemn economists even though he cannot deny they are basically right about whether a certain policy actively being pursued will not work. Like little children clutching a dream rather than facing up to reality and dealing with it.

How can stating what all gentlemen who so far commented see as a truth be counter-productive in this debate?

Ken,
yes, this blog is mainly read by economists and policy makers/policy interested. Who else are the experts on the policies designed to alter human behaviour that will or will not work?

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
10 years ago

Paul

But you said:

I offer to any Australian scientist active in the climate change debate …

Are you intending the wager to open for acceptance by economists as well?

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Straight-up, I think we’re fucked. I think we’ve left it too late, and what we need to do at this stage is move as fast as we can to salvage whatever we can.

It needs to come from morally courageous leadership and grassroots pressure and awareness.

As for the wager, yes, I’m not a climate scientist, so on my understanding of your post, am not qualified to bet.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

Paul, that’s a great bet. If you are inundated with offers I will share your side.

Simon
Simon
10 years ago

You’ve framed it as an even-money bet, but in reality it’s a slight long-shot with the chance of a massive payoff. So in reality, investing in a carbon tax/emissions trading scheme is a bargain. But if you’re only offering even-money on the slight long-shot, then of course nobody will take you up on it.

cbp
cbp
10 years ago

@Paul comment 7

I believe you will win the bet but that doesn’t mean I agree with you that “emission policies are not politically feasible”. As per Simon in comment 11, politically feasible doesn’t have to mean politically likely.

Also, if you are infering that because something is not politically feasible/likely it therefore shouldn’t be advocated, then I think you’re in serious error.

My bet would be that some countries do actually implement decent emission policies by 2020, although not the States. By 2030 the situation is likely to be quite different as the world will be undeniably a warmer place and most of the current contingent of conspiracy theorists and hardcore conservatives will be retired or dead, much in the same way as the world has progressed in terms of racial and sexual equality as the older generations have disappeared into the past. With that in mind, ongoing advocacy of sensible emissions policies will prove to have been productive one day, even if it occurs later than one would have hoped.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

cbp,

Yeah, that’s pretty much my take too.

If even the politically naive drag the debate further towards meaningful action, then they should be issued with megaphones.

The thing is, with racial and sexual equity, these are great things and its wonderful that we’ve had the advances that we have had (still victories to be had, of course), but climate change is affected by really important tipping points (Greenland ice shelf, Siberian permafrost, etc.) that if we let through – and maybe we already have – we’ve done something terribly irresponsible and irreversible.

The shilly-shallying on this issue, while Stephen Gardiner has helped me understand it (if there is a better analysis of inaction out there, please let me know), I continue to find simply unforgivable. Literally everything else is deck chairs on the Titanic.

rog
rog
10 years ago

I have found that scientists often dodge the question of whether their policies are politically feasible.

More properly it is the politicians who should be held to account, to be scientifically feasible. Politicians, not scientists, are the ones who formulate policy.

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
10 years ago

Ken,

yes, I will take offers from economists.

Rog’s line that politicians should be held to account shows the attitude I wish to expose: it is a statement of how he wishes the world to be, not how it is. It ultimately simply wastes time.

It is not just the attitude of politicians that ensures I win. Even if politicians ere all on board with emission policies, they still couldn’t do it: we are looking at something too big for politicians to be able to deliver on. You might as well ask them for snow this X-mas in Australia. Put enough pressure on them and they will promise it to you, but that doesn’t mean they can deliver.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

Dan, Rog, cbp, great work. That’s sterling stuff, one could have doubted at first glance that climate spending advocates were really as pig-headed and dumb as Paul paints them, desperate to spend money on something now hoping that it will eventually lead to spending more money on something else, which in turn may or may not make a slight difference to our chances of avoiding the perpetually imminent tipping point….

Paul’s point is that absent economic meltdown or rapidly scalable sudden technological change (possible, but unlikely in less than 10 years) nothing is going to materially change the emissions trajectory. Not ‘nothing politicians dare do’ but ‘nothing politicians can possibly imaginably in any reality you care to name do’. Not even China’s lauded and far-sighted brutal dictatorship can materially change the short-term (less than 10 years) emissions trajectory because even they aren’t brutal enough.

North Korea of course will almost certainly succeed if it tries.

Everyone else will have to settle for exporting their emissions like the Europeans have (and like we are apparently planning to). That should make Rog, Dan and cbp much happier, others can think of it as a(n inefficient) form of global wealth transfer.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Paul,

This verges on nihilism.

rog is right that policy implementation is not the preserve of scientists – their job is to deliver descriptions of the problem, which they have been doing with greater and greater precision and sense of urgency.

The policy response is for politicians and ultimately all of us.

Let me ask you (and the other contributors) what I believe to be a more helpful question.

What is the *best remaining possible outcome* at this point, and how can it be achieved?

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Patrick,

Have you got anything constructive to offer?

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
10 years ago

dan,

You are quite right to ask what can then realistically be done. In previous posts, stretching back a number of years already, I have argued for adaptation policies and to have a more serious looks at geo-engineering. I am no engineer or agriculturalist so all I could do in those posts was give an educated guess as to the adaptation we should try and the geo-engineering we might consider.

As I recall, in the post on adaptation, rog took on the role of heckler, trying to steer the debate towards the question who knew more about the science of climate change. Now, it is easy to blame rog for such childishness, but the same attitude could be seen by virtually all climate-science-oriented responders: they reacted to the premise with open hostility, attempting to draw the debate into nuances of climate science that were irrelevant for the question at hand. In short, emotional responses.

As to what the preserve is of scientists, I agree with you 100% that their job is to signal the problem and scan various solutions. The job of economists in this debate is to tell scientists and politicians what can and cant be done, and if something is to be attempted, how to best structure the policy.

I love Patrick’s phrase about the limits of what politicians can deliver. Quite right.

cbp
cbp
10 years ago

If you’re going to start throwing childish insults around I don’t think your worth anyone’s time in explaining why you are so wrong, and I hope that you are ignored.

@Paul

You are going to have to do more to convince me that a debate on the nuances of climate science is an “emotional response”. It sounds like the climate scientists were trying to have intelligent discussion based in the area of their expertise and you didn’t want to engage with them. If you can characterise a nuanced scientific argument as ’emotional’ then one can equally label your ‘politically feasible’ argument as ’emotional’.

Am I right that you are implying that because something is not politically feasible it should not be advocated?

You seem to be arguing that because tight emission policies are infeasible that adaptation and geo-engineering are a better alternative. This isn’t a logical argument. Adaptation and geo-engineering may be inevitable, yes, but that doesn’t mean that they are the better option.

Also, am I right that you think there was never any hope of the world’s emissions peaking pre-2020 (hypothetically speaking, bearing in mind, for example, that the US came very close to having Al Gore as their president).

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

Does the OZ part include the proposed ETS is up and running?

2 is simply whether most countries actually realise what is going on. The Republicans in the US obviously live on another planet.

3 is a tad misleading. Australian coal production is almost entirely aimed at the world market not the domestic one. The Absolute level of production isn’t as important as the rate of increase slowing as well.

Gambling is inherently sinful as well!!

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
10 years ago

cpb,

Am I right that you are implying that because something is not politically feasible it should not be advocated?

You seem to be arguing that because tight emission policies are infeasible that adaptation and geo-engineering are a better alternative. This isn’t a logical argument. Adaptation and geo-engineering may be inevitable, yes, but that doesn’t mean that they are the better option.

Also, am I right that you think there was never any hope of the world’s emissions peaking pre-2020 (hypothetically speaking, bearing in mind, for example, that the US came very close to having Al Gore as their president).

yes, yes, and yes. That is a fair description of what I want to argue. I indeed think that the responsible thing to do if you want to solve a problem is to stick to advocating solutions that are politically feasible. Second best is better than an infeasible first-best. And, yes, there was never any hope of politicians being able to deliver emission reductions. The best one could hope for was technological breakthroughs that made low-emission energy cheaper. Those breakthroughs seem to have evaded us so far but from what I can see, it is certainly worthwhile trying some more.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

cbp, I’m not sure what Al Gore being elected would have had to do with emissions trading/reduction?

He wouldn’t have had a magic wand and you and KB Keynes would have been shocked to find what even Democrat Congressmen think of emissions reduction when they come from areas with emissions-intensive jobs.

You are right about the argument as to adaptation not being better merely by virtue of being more likely. Fortunately the argument actually being made is that material reduction is not possible, so adaptation is not an alternative or a complement, it is all there is.

As for not advocating what is not politically feasible, I think the point is two-fold. One, the time would be better spent advocating something that might actually help. Two, the advocacy tends to be in favour of spending money and regulating, and yet, there is widespread belief that neither of those is worth doing unless the achieve something worthwhile. If they are merely sops to the concerned climate change activists that don’t actually have a material impact on climate change then they would appear to be spending and regulation we should do without.

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

by the way if you do not like netting out emissions then stay well away from the Swaps market.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

Well I for one have nothing against it, but a net wash is not a reduction, and a reduction of 100 netted against an increase of 95 is only a reduction of 5.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

I think the truth is that no-one knows what’s politically feasible. A rough guide for why:

Scientists – “We *must* act now to whatever extent we can to save as much as we can. We have no idea how to do that. We’re scientists. We’re just telling you what’s going on in the atmosphere.”

Economists – “Yeah… about that… we’ve put a dollar value on species extinction and permanent destruction of habitat…” (thank you Professor Nordhaus) “…and, yeah, we know climate change is happening and everything, but we’re unconvinced the benefits of doing much to mitigate it outweigh the costs.” (Are you out of your fricking minds!?)

Resources sector – “What the economists said, plus a bit less. Ideally nothing. Hey! We’re digging shit up and selling it here, this is God’s Work! In fact, we’ll spend a bunch of money on astroturf and making denial look intellectually respectable just to slow things down a bit.”

Electorate – “While only our creepy uncles are convinced by the denialists, we’re more scared of our next energy bills than we are for our grandkids’ future, because the bills are temporally closer.”

Policymakers – “What the resources sector suggested sounds like the path of least resistance for at least the rest of the election cycle, and they do give us a lot of money, but we have to be seen to be doing *something*. Let’s just do something pretty token.”

What would actually happen if politicians stood up and actually *treated* it as the great moral challenge of our time – like, more important than a world war? The range of the politically feasible would change radically.

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
10 years ago

no Dan, the span of control of politicians simply does not include the kind of endeavour involved in seriously halting carbon emissions when emissions are by far the cheapest form of energy going round.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

But it’s within their power to make them incrementally more expensive – which is precisely what they are doing. I’m saying, how much more could the increments be cranked up?

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

Patrick it is still a reduction.

Not counting emissions traded from overseas is quite silly after-all it is an ETS . T does stand for traded. It is also xenophobic.

Steve Dunera
Steve Dunera
10 years ago

Paul have you read Roger Pielke Jnr’s ‘The Climate FIx’ ? If not you may find it of interest. Pielke addresses the questions you are addressing.

It is interesting how people such as yourself and Barry Brook are not appreciated by many environmentalists.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

KB you are perhaps not talking about the same thing. If we currently emit 100 tons of carbon making steel, and we stop doing so, prima facie a reduction, yay. If we then buy steel from India which was manufactured at a cost of 120 tons of carbon emissions then, um, no xenophobia, no silliness apart from the regulations themselves and, oh yea, no reduction in carbon emissions.

Unless I am missing something, as I am under the impression that local reductions don’t materially affect anything except smugness, only global reductions can affect climate change?

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

Patrick there is a problem with your example.

cbp
cbp
10 years ago

As for not advocating what is not politically feasible, I think the point is two-fold. One, the time would be better spent advocating something that might actually help. Two, the advocacy tends to be in favour of spending money and regulating, and yet, there is widespread belief that neither of those is worth doing unless the achieve something worthwhile. If they are merely sops to the concerned climate change activists that don’t actually have a material impact on climate change then they would appear to be spending and regulation we should do without.

I still think this is a rather circular argument you have here, and one based on a room full of straw men.

What’s more, it’s your own adaptation/geoengineering solution the advocacy of which is essentially a ‘waste of time’ given that adaptation will involve economic restructuring unheard of since WWII and irrevocable changes to the world’s landscape and ecosystems, unseen since the last Ice Age, and that geoengineering is based on sci-fi scale deployments of yet-to-be-imagined future technologies. So all you’ve done is replacing the infeasible with the unfathomable.

By and large climate scientists, when they do comment on policy, have advocated variations on carbon taxes with the hope that carbon taxes would lead to the low-emission technological breakthroughs (that you have just now admitted are feasible). Many have advocated nuclear power and have hoped that a certain level of carbon tax would make the nuclear option more attractive. A large scale ramp-up in nuclear power would certainly make a big dent in emissions, and whilst nuclear power is contentious it is far from infeasible politically.

If we had started introducing mild carbon-emission taxes in the early 90s we may well already have the technology and infrastructure underway to make a pre-2020 peak in emissions a possibility. I would argue that such policies would have been feasible in the early 90s if people had made the effort, but its a moot point – maybe if you had made this wager 20 years ago then I would be more impressed.

rog
rog
10 years ago

Roger Pielke Jr complains when scientists express an opinion yet advocates for more proactive science policy.

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
10 years ago

one would certainly not want to let go of the hope that we will hit major new technologies that make low-emitting energy cheaper than high-emitting energy. After all, advances have been made in solar, wind, nuclear, tidal, and other forms of energy.
If the true hope is to hit new energy technologies, and leave the implementation of cheaper technology to markets, then you are looking at a whole set of different policy options. Pricing carbon emissions of a small sub-set of activities in a few countries that have the sophisticated monitoring capacity to measure that small sub-set of activities is an exceptionally inefficient way of trying to get technological innovation.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

I have written on this blog before that I support nuclear power, indeed that I think that anyone who believes that climate change is both real and something we should try and prevent would advocate for the replacement of Hazelwood, Playford and most of the Hunter Valley generation with larger nukes asap.
Of course this would do very little for anyone taking Paul’s bet given the emissions involved in construction and the timeframe involved. And of course nukes are not actually that widely supported even by professed climate believers.
And if this is the game then the government should just pay (and regulate appropriately!) to make it happen, not introduce a half-assed carbon tax that won’t actually make nuclear sufficiently attractive.

cpb; what strawman do you mean? How is it circular? Happy to refine the point if required.

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

“Patrick there is a problem with your example.”

That it makes you seem a goose Homer? It isn’t global emissions that count?

Here’s my summary of the argument so far:

Paul and Patrick:
“Like it or not, nothing’s going to happen”

Dan etc:
“don’t say that”

Homer:
“You’re a bad head”

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

“Pricing carbon emissions of a small sub-set of activities in a few countries that have the sophisticated monitoring capacity to measure that small sub-set of activities is an exceptionally inefficient way of trying to get technological innovation.”

It’s better than cash for clunkers, paid for in Aus in part by taking away funding from solar research. Sometimes I can’t help but think what is clunking around some of our politicians’ heads.

Tel
Tel
10 years ago

KB you are perhaps not talking about the same thing. If we currently emit 100 tons of carbon making steel, and we stop doing so, prima facie a reduction, yay. If we then buy steel from India which was manufactured at a cost of 120 tons of carbon emissions then, um, no xenophobia, no silliness apart from the regulations themselves and, oh yea, no reduction in carbon emissions.

Oh come now Patrick, you only have half the story. As well as buying steel from India, we also buy carbon certificates along with the steel. The carbon certificates contain a sincere promise from an Indian that they will improve the efficiency of their steel making and only emit 110 tons of carbon where previously they would emit 120 tons. Since we know these guys are good to their word, the Indians take our money and invest it in upgrading their infrastructure with improved technology and we count that as a carbon saving of 110 tons (i.e. 100 tons from shutting down our industry, and 10 tons from buying better efficiency infrastructure for the Indians to use).

The additional carbon burning in India gets chalked up to healthy economic growth and Australia’s GDP stays high because unemployed steel workers are given the job of unloading additional imports from the docks, or loading up Australian coal (sent overseas for burning), or they get a job in a bank trading certificates back and forth. Plenty of money for everyone.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

LOL@Pedro’s argument summary. I think you pretty much nailed it.

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
10 years ago

Barry at 1, Steve at 30,

thanks.

cbp
cbp
10 years ago

If the true hope is to hit new energy technologies, and leave the implementation of cheaper technology to markets, then you are looking at a whole set of different policy options.

Look, I think you are just a bit confused. Either you have a problem with existing proposals for emission policies (as advocated by prominent climate scientists, I presume, not those actually put forth by the current crop of governments, which are entirely different), and you have some better ideas, in which case speak up; or you have no better alternatives and simply think that there is zero hope whatsoever of ever reducing emissions by a meaningful amount, in which case I have sympathy for you, in that I feel sorry for you, but I think you’re wrong. It is certainly feasible that we will curb our emissions within the next few decades, that this will have a measurable effect on the climate, and the steps that we take today will ease the burden later on and speed up the process overall, and so are therefore worthwhile. Do you disagree with me?

what strawman do you mean? How is it circular? Happy to refine the point if required.

Its just a godawful argument in general. Go back and read it – the first point (that we should spend our time advocating second rate options, rather than wasting our time aspiring for first rate options) is sound but not borne out by the history of political activism. The second point (that advocates of tough emissions policies only advocte policies that would have no effect on emissions) doesn’t address the question I posed, is based on an entirely different undiscussed (and incorrect) assertion, and is a silly misrepresentation of what advocates are actually advocating.

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
10 years ago

cpb,

I see you keep returning to the authority of climate scientists on the issue of solutions, which means you reject the fundamental observation that those who are experts at the problem are not best suited to talk about the solution.

As to what I advocate instead, I have been clear enough in previous posts. Just re-read them.
If I were to stimulate technological developments, I would follow the example fo the brits and pour a lot more into researching geo-engineering. I would also set up a series of big-money prizes for particular milestones on renewables. However, a reaction in a blog is not the place to lay out whole plans.

cbp
cbp
10 years ago

I see you keep returning to the authority of climate scientists on the issue of solutions, which means you reject the fundamental observation that those who are experts at the problem are not best suited to talk about the solution.

I’m not sure where exactly I have ‘returned to the authority of climate scientists on the issue of solutions’. All I have done is defend the solutions proposed by climate scientists, which seems to be fairly mainstream amongst economists too – i.e. carbon tax, ETS etc. Adaptation is, by definition, not really a solution and no I wouldn’t consider a climate scientist to be the final authority on geo-engineering although climate science is certainly part of the equation.

Look, I don’t disagree that it would be prudent to invest a lot more in geo-engineering and adaptation. We certainly need to be attacking the problem on all fronts. If you want to talk about researchers and governments wasting time and money there is plenty of other low hanging fruit to be picked. However I think there is both a hope and a necessity for significant emissions reductions too, in the long run, and I haven’t heard you disagree with me on that.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

The geo-engineering thing seems like more of the same sort of positivistic, anthropocentric thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. Reason in its most banal form, extrapolated to the nth degree.

I’m not saying it won’t be necessary – but I want to put a wager on it being far more complex and costly than advocates imagine.

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
10 years ago

cpb,

yes, a focus on emission policies (trading permits, pricing externalities, direct controls) has a large fan-base in economics too, though I do think more and more of the economists truly engaged with this are starting to realise the futility of emission policies.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

cpb, emissions trading is great in principle – look at sulphur dioxide – but in practice very tricky.

To start with it needs to be global, otherwise you just export emissions – which is what I believe the EU has done.

Secondly the real deal is coal v alternatives, and in particular, coal v non-gas alternatives. But coal’s price advantage is stupendous, particularly in Australia where the power plants sit on top of the mines. Maybe governments should be lobbied to act immediately (and expensively) on coal. For reasons beyond climate change, on which see the massive caveat in the next paragraph, this seems to me to be about the one short/medium-term angle worth exploring by advocates – but very few of them seem interested in exploring it in any way that bears any resemblance to political reality – for starters, we are not building a few GW of windpower!!). Ironically this is basically the much-derided ‘direct action’.

However, even that looks pretty much utterly pointless if it were done just by Australia. And here is where the problem starts – with China and India building new coal plants left right and centre (see especially figure 10(pdf)) it actually doesn’t really matter if Australia just shuts down, full stop. To repeat, because this is a really critical point, it just doesn’t really matter if Australia falls off the frikkin map entirely. Global emissions will still rise, substantially. The imminent disaster will stay just as imminent as ever.

But I’m always (relatively) open-minded, so over to you:

that we should spend our time advocating second rate options, rather than wasting our time aspiring for first rate options is …not borne out by the history of political activism.

Isn’t this imminent? Don’t we need to act now to stop armageddon! Don’t we? So, yes, we do need to focus on advocating policies that might achieve that, not policies that might achieve it sometime after said armageddon.

The second point (that advocates of tough emissions policies only advocte policies that would have no effect on emissions) doesn’t address the question I posed,

Well it addresses your belief in the policies that are proposed, notably an ETS.

is based on an entirely different undiscussed (and incorrect) assertion, and is a silly misrepresentation of what advocates are actually advocating.

Undiscussed? Seriously? But let’s go with the more important bit – what policies are proposed that might affect emissions in a meaningful way?

cbp
cbp
10 years ago

Paul’s original post and my original comment relate only to the political feasibility of reducing emissions, not to the actual merits and effectiveness of an ETS or carbon tax. I have no interest in going over all the talking points that you have just raised.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

Ok then take the bet.

john walker
john walker
10 years ago

Geo engineering would not be cheap and the benefits would go equally to the virtuous and the cheats so; Doesn’t geo engineering suffer from the same ‘you go first , no I insist you go first’ problem ? – at least this side of a global world government?