The Benefits of Procrastination: The Economics of Geo-engineering:
Although procrastination is often a sign of immaturity, in the context of climate change it may not be. In the typical debate over geo-engineering, proponents argue that it is "the" solution to global warming, while the critics worry about all the things that could go wrong. Yet this "geo-engineering: yes or no?" debate overlooks the important possibility that the most economically efficient outcome involves the postponement of carbon-abatement strategies, along with the simultaneous research and development of varied geo-engineering techniques to be deployed if they should become necessary. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that this strategy could leave our descendants many trillions of dollars richer than the alternative of implementing immediate and large cuts in emissions.
As an aside, there's a bit of a discussion of SuperFreakonomics, so I wonder: has Steven Levitt become the new Malcolm Gladwell? Gladwell doesn't have one of these, but there's the same desire to be a ''rogue thinker'', the suggestion that the reader is being presented with new and startling insights, the middlebrow sales pitch that wins large audiences before pissing off the reviewers. Maybe Levitt-2009 is Gladwell-2004? I do think Gladwell might deserve a modest recovery though - too many people have bashed him, too much. He isn't that terrible.
Here's the best thing I've read about the Copenhagen Conference:
In this environment, it is in the interests of participants to stop trying to discern what is symbolic from what is real. Copenhagen's signifiers -- its words and images -- have a conveniently shifting relationship to the external world.Well worth reading through. I didn't know this:
The final result is a conference that is desperately fake from beginning to end. It opened with a fictional girl who loses her polar bear to an angry earth. It will end on December 18, when President Obama and President Hu Jintao will, to the sound of thunderous applause, call for bold action while they, in reality, implement business-as-usual energy policies.
There is no better symbol of the phoniness, the manic self-referentiality, and the desperation of global warming politics today than the one created and projected by United Nations diplomats upon the screen: a scared little girl with a video camera.
Europe gamed the Kyoto protocol in 1997 by rigging the framework to start from a high 1990 baseline, instead of the much lower 1997 baseline. Europe was thus able to count big emissions declines dating back to the early 1990's and create a perception of European leadership.
Europe's claims are nothing short of fraudulent. Its emissions declined for reasons having nothing to do with Kyoto: rapid deindustrialization and a switch from coal to natural gas in the early '90's in Britain, and German reunification with a collapsing East German economy, are responsible for most of Europe's claimed reductions.
James Randi has become a climate change skeptic, though he also tries to walk it back. It's pretty unspired stuff - science doesn't work by consensus, the climate is too complex to model, normal range of variation, yada yada. I've been a fan for a very long time, so there is psychic cost to seeing him go this route. In some ways this isn't a completely unexpected occupation for Randi - as a magician non-scientist who's had great success catching para-frauds who fool researchers, Randi has always projected a certain (very mild) contempt for egg-head PhDs who possess arcane knowledge but lack basic street-sense.
I will say in his defense that, in the course of a very rich and extremely productive life, he hasn't had quite as much time to acquire science and math as the average scientist. Nor has he lived in any scientific communities. Then again, were I a layman of the Randiian persuasion (a high compliment) I might possibly be a bit of a global warming skeptic myself - the communities in question aren't unusually confidence-inspiring. Even as a member of a 2000+ person collaboration where people behave very badly indeed, this seems uncommonly dysfunctional. Of course, here too some signs have always been visible - in healthy scientific communities it is not customary to act as if it's no big deal when it's shown that one of your money plots acquires a certain shape even when fed brown noise, or that its author doesn't know PCA, just because as it happens the conclusions can be independently arrived at by other means.