Climate Change Isn’t the End of the World

Climate change is often misunderstood as a package deal: If global warming is “real,” both sides of the debate seem to assume, the climate lobby’s policy agenda follows inexorably.

It does not. Climate policy advocates need to do a much better job of quantitatively analyzing economic costs and the actual, rather than symbolic, benefits of their policies. Skeptics would also do well to focus more attention on economic and policy analysis.

To arrive at a wise policy response, we first need to consider how much economic damage climate change will do. Current models struggle to come up with economic costs commensurate with apocalyptic political rhetoric. Typical costs are well below 10% of gross domestic product in the year 2100 and beyond.

That’s a lot of money—but it’s a lot of years, too. Even 10% less GDP in 100 years corresponds to 0.1 percentage point less annual GDP growth. Climate change, therefore, does not justify policies that cost more than 0.1 percentage point of growth. If the goal is 10% more GDP in 100 years, pro-growth tax, regulatory and entitlement reforms would be far more effective.

Yes, the costs are not evenly spread. Some places will do better and some will do worse. The American South might be a worse place to grow wheat; Southern Canada might be a better one. In a century, Miami might find itself in approximately the same situation as the Dutch city of Rotterdam today.

But spread over a century, the costs of moving and adapting are not as imposing as they seem. Rotterdam’s dikes are expensive, but not prohibitively so. Most buildings are rebuilt about every 50 years. If we simply stopped building in flood-prone areas and started building on higher ground, even the costs of moving cities would be bearable. Migration is costly. But much of the world’s population moved from farms to cities in the 20th century. Allowing people to move to better climates in the 21st will be equally possible. Such investments in climate adaptation are small compared with the investments we will regularly make in houses, businesses, infrastructure, and education.

And economics is the central question—unlike with other environmental problems such as chemical pollution. Carbon dioxide hurts nobody’s health. It’s good for plants. Climate change need not endanger anyone. If it did—and you do hear such claims—then living in hot Arizona rather than cool Maine, or living with Louisiana’s frequent floods, would be considered a health catastrophe today.

Global warming is not the only risk our society faces. Even if science tells us that climate change is real and man-made, it does not tell us, as President Obama asserted, that climate change is the greatest threat to humanity. Really? Greater than nuclear explosions, a world war, global pandemics, crop failures and civil chaos?

No. Healthy societies do not fall apart over slow, widely predicted, relatively small economic adjustments of the sort painted by climate analysis. Societies do fall apart from war, disease or chaos. Climate policy must compete with other long-term threats to always-scarce resources.

Facing this reality, some advocate that we buy some “insurance.” Sure, they argue, the projected economic cost seems small, but it could turn out to be a lot worse. But the same argument applies to any possible risk. If you buy overpriced insurance against every potential danger, you soon run out of money. You can sensibly insure only when the premium is in line with the risk—which brings us back where we started, to the need for quantifying probabilities, costs, benefits, and alternatives. And uncertainty goes both ways. Nobody forecast fracking, or that it would make the U.S. the world’s carbon-reduction leader. Strategic waiting is a rational response to a slow-moving uncertain peril with fast-changing technology.

Global warming is not even the obvious top environmental threat. Dirty water, dirty air, and insect-borne diseases are a far greater problem today for most people worldwide. Habitat loss and human predation are a far greater problem for most animals. Elephants won’t make it see a warmer climate. Ask them how they would prefer to spend $1 trillion—subsidizing high-speed trains or a human-free park the size of Montana.

Then, we need to know what effect proposed policies have and at what cost. Scientific, quantifiable or even vaguely plausible cause-and-effect thinking is missing from much advocacy for policies to reduce carbon emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s “scientific” recommendations, for example, include “reduced gender inequality & marginalization in other forms,” “provisioning of adequate housing,” “cash transfers” and “awareness raising & integrating into education.” Even if some of these are worthy goals, they are not scientifically valid, cost-benefit-tested policies to cool the planet.

Read the rest at WSJ

Comments (6)

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    G

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    Great topic.

    IF,… and that’s a very BIG IF, our climate is suddenly endangered,
    And IF,… and that’s a HUGE IF, humans play a significant role,
    How do we then make the incredibly ENORMOUS leap to the conclusion that socialist political and economic reforms would cure this “scientific” problem?

    And why does the media and Hollywood so readily accept this illogical political/economic solution as a matter of faith?

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      Brian RL Catt

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      Because Hollywood is a propagandist outlet for alternative reality and junk science, as well as hsitory and everything else. If ypou are rich you can beieve anything and sell it to others less fortunate. As long as it makes money from the simple folk at the Multiplex. Government and the greens are the same. Just follow the money. How is it done?

      Delusional belief is easy to promote in the lazy minded and ignorantly fearful masses , who government and elites routinely manipulate for theit own ends, including/mostly profit from power. The whole business of climate change happens over many lifetimes, so exagerating these subtly long term changes into some hysterical catastrophe something MUST be done about is a rewarding approach with shallow people, who believe their lives are important, action is someone else’s problem they have to believe in, and they have meaning or significance beyond reproduction and evolution, until the Earth can no longer support humans. Ssuch self importance in the scheme of things seems to make some people feel important, and manipulating such beliefs makes a living for many more. John Lennon sang to expose all this while quite young. Imagine : Living for the day. Nothing to live or die for. No religion too. etc. Those who would control and exploit you don’t like that. The fraud is self evident if you are a real scientist with a calculator and physics 101.. Just enjoy the life nature and natural science has allowed us to develop. Note how the preacutionary principle is used to oppose change that benefits us (GM food, nuclear power, etc) and also to promote it when it suits (renewable energy that is fraudulent on every policy claim).

      Climate scientists who support renewable energy as a viable way to address the issues there may be re CO2 should have their professional qualifications cancelled for actual and dangerous professional malpractice, IMO.

      But telling the truth is hard when most of the world prefers to be scared and indignant, believe rather than understand, and allow the powerful to create a tribal belief systen for them rather than think for themselves. It worked well for Hitler and many religions………. plenty of blood, sacrifices and tributes to bring the rains, etc.

      I rewrote Goering in climate change terms on this, to present the Nazi propaganda techniques used by Greens and cynical troughing government officials who exploit the simple ignorance and fearful lives of the easily influenced to deny the truth and silence its tellers:
      ENJOY:
      “Natuarally, the common people don’t want expensive energy, the destruction of their farming culture and the vandalism of their environment.

      But, after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist state, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.

      Voice or no voice, the people can always be bought to the bidding of the leaders.

      This is easy. All you have to do is tell them the planet is in danger of climate catastrophe, caused by CO2 emissions they are responsible for, and denounce those who question this for lack of belief and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in very country.”

      THis is an old deceit, by well trained deceivers, to profit themselves at our expense, not protect us. Hollywood, Washington, Brussels, Waddayagot? Not CHina or India though…

      No planet’s will be saved by renewable energy, rather the opposite as they are in technical and obvious visual fact environmentally disastrous, on every measure of enrgy policy. But these are only the Science facts, not what people want to believe.

      Cliamte Change: I was ambivalent about whether current slight warming was CO2 related or noise until I studied the statistical modeling and actual historical climate cycles… It seems clear to me the atmosphere is simply a consequence of Serious enrgy sources direct actuion, which still take hundreds of years to creat significant change. The next one is 80,00 years of ice, coming soon, in a few thousand years, and our short warming hiccup is one of several in the record on a declining trend back to the next interglacial. I also have a belief about unprovable CO2 effects on climate. that most is aborbed by the natural plant response of the carbon cycle, that reduced the early atmosphere to <0.2% CO2 from 95% ,and kept it balanced near optimum, by dynamic response in specific absorption and overall amount of plants, until climate scientists were discovered.

      Mysteriously the IPCC doesn’t consider plants a significant factor in CO2 control, and the oceans that the atmosphere is supposed to heat are hard for them to include meaningfully in their models . IPCC report says this. A somewhat partial model, that studies the thin insulating blanket of gas where least energy can be held and a small amount deliver the largest effect, that is in fact controlled by the dominant energies of the sun and the oceans, possibly significantly controlled by magma heating the oceans, fuelled by the radioactive furnace just beneath our feet that continuously recycles the 7km thick basalt ocean floors with their Million small active volcanoes and 75,000 over 1Km, etc. As an engineer, the quantity of rock at 1200 degrees continually entering the oceans at varying rates is far more likely way to change their temperature, as well as keep us warm during ice ages, but no one’s looking, because that’s not what modellers are paid to prove. Figures? How about 4×10^11 tonnes pa, 4×10^17 Joules, anyone? Could be 10 times more if the relative thickness of the crust is applied to the large land based volcanoes I used as an example, because continental plates are ten times thicker than ocean plates, so any passage way offers 1/ 10 times the resistance to flow pe uikt pressure, etc. More is likely an i00K year Milankovitch extreme when gravity varies by 30% pa, and interglacial levels of warming can happen? (70 x10^24 Joules for 12 Deghrees K). Our orbital eccentricity is near zero currently as we cool off back to the steady state ice age. Discuss.

      I rest my case.

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        Sonnyhill

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        I love this website (despite what it does to my data plan). Welcome aboard, Brian.

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    Spurwing Plover

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    All of the Euroweenie Union as well as California and New York(Run by Demac-Rats) are taking the path of poverty and trump was right to pull the USA out of the Paris Accord which is just another step to World Goverment under the Useless Nations

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    Spurwing Plover

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    A few years ago MAD magazine came out with A MAD LOOK AT GOING GREEN

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    David Lewis

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    This article is flawed in one way in that it assumes there is a real man made climate change problem.

    However, it is right in that a cost benefit analysis by the eco activists is missing. That is because climate change is only an excuse for political agendas they want to make irregardless of what is happening with the climate.

    Fixed nitrogen pollution is a true environmental problem. Climate change is causing this problem to be forgotten. The trouble with fixed nitrogen pollution, is solving the problem doesn’t force changes that support political agendas.

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