Rich & Warm or Poor & Cold?

Coyote properly casts the debate over global warming as one over whether we should live in a rich, warmer world or a poor, colder one:

In a nutshell, given current technology and likely government intervention approaches, slowing global warming almost certainly entails slowing world growth. And while the true cost of warming is poorly understood, the true cost of reduced world economic growth is very well understood and is very high. The real question, then, is do we understand global warming and its potential downsides enough to believe that curbing them outweighs the almost certain negative impact from a poorer world.

Note that this argument does not depend on a disbelief in global warming, although the exact tradeoffs do depend on quibbles about the degree to which the recent warming is caused by manmade CO2 vs. the fact that the sun is burning more brightly than anytime in the past 1000 years. It seems almost certain that manmade activity is causing some amount of climate change, and the question is whether the enormous, known costs of reducing that change are worth the perhaps enormous but unknown benefits.

I agree with Coyote that in order to be persuaded that we should slow down the engines of wealth which are lifting literally billions of people out of poverty, I would want to see some hard research on the exact net effects of global warming. The fact that warming is supposed to be the largest in cooler latitudes makes me awfully suspicious that there may be some large *positive* benefits. There are big negatives too - just look at the hurricanes in 2005, or at Amsterdam's slow conversion to a floating city - but remember that we are weighing them against the transition of a billion Asians from poverty to a nice middle-class life:

Currently, there are perhaps a billion people, mostly in Asia, poised to exit millenia of subsistence poverty and reach the middle class. Global warming intervention will likely consign these folks to continued poverty. Does anyone remember that old ethics problem, the one about having a button that every time you pushed it, you got a thousand dollars but someone in China died. Global warming intervention strikes me as a similar issue - intellectuals in the west feel better about man being in harmony with the earth but a billion Asians get locked into poverty.

A transformation to a prosperous middle class in Asia will make the world a much safer and more stable place, particularly vs. a cooler world with a billion Asian poor people who know that their march to progress was halted by western meddling.

There is a fundamental paradox here that guarantees that global warming will not be stopped unless a non-polluting technology becomes cheaper. As we move into the 21st century, most pollution will be from poor countries trying to get rich. Yet sacrificing wealth to help the planet is a luxury for the rich, and there is no way that China and India are going to stop their economic miracles because the countries that *already have* the lifestyle they are trying to achieve pooh-pooh about the environmental effects. And I fully agree with them. Why should the rich countries be the only ones allowed to pollute the commons, just because they came first?

I don't think the pollution will last, either, I think we'll find better energy sources. But we have to be rich to do it. This isn't a crazy transhumanist futurist sort of claim - just look at where advancements in nuclear reactor safety and the efficiency of solar cells are coming from. They aren't being developed by poor countries with slow growth, but by countries that got rich by burning oil and coal, and can now afford to look for something better. So lets all burn dead dinosaurs, get rich, and then use the crazy futuristic technology that a world with billions of rich, well-fed, well-educated people can generate to deal with the results.

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Patri, I had Warren's post

Patri,

I had Warren's post on my task bar when I noticed that you had already referenced it. A long post, well worth reading in its entirety, and, as far as I can tell, correct and reasonable in all respects.

My favorite section --

Above, we looked at the effect of a cap and trade scheme, which would have about the same effect as some type of carbon tax. This is the best possible approach, if an interventionist approach is taken. Any other is worse.

The primary other alternative bandied about by scientists is some type of alternative energy Manhattan project. This can only be a disaster. Many scientists are technocratic fascists at heart, and are convinced that if only they could run the economy or some part of it, instead of relying on this messy bottom-up spontaneous order we call the marketplace, things, well, would be better. The problem is that scientists, no matter how smart they are, miss with their bets because the economy, and thus the lowest cost approach to less CO2 production, is too complicated for anyone to understand or manage. And even if the scientists stumbled on the right approaches, the political process would just screw the solution up. Probably the number one alternative energy program in the US is ethanol subsidies, which are scientifically insane since ethanol actually increases rather than reduces fossil fuel consumption. Political subsidies almost always lead to investments tailored just to capture the subsidy, that do little to solve the underlying problem. In Arizona, we have thousands of cars with subsidized conversions to engines that burn multiple fuels but never burn anything but gasoline. In California, there are hundreds of massive windmills that never turn, having already served their purpose to capture a subsidy. In California, the state bent over backwards to encourage electric cars, but in fact a different technology, the hybrid, has taken off.

Besides, when has this government led technology revolution approach ever worked? I would say twice - once for the Atomic bomb and the second time to get to the moon. And what did either get us? The first got us something I am not sure we even should want, with very little carryover into the civilian world. The second got us a big scientific dead end, and probably set back our space efforts by getting us to the moon 30 years or so before we were really ready to do something about it or follow up the efforts.

Regards, Don

there is no tangible proof

there is no tangible proof that the hurricanes were caused by global warming. Large storms like these and in such frequency have been recorded since the days of the first Spanish explorers. Furthermore, I have personally heard it from a climatologist that global sea level is not measurably rising, and that most measurment techniques are deeply flawed. Whats the proof or evidence that amsterdam is sinking at all?

i believe the atom bomb

i believe the atom bomb ultimately will be exonerated and probably will have 'saved' millions of lives from mass war strategies.
otherwise BUY URANIUM, i've been buying the equities for 3 years and made stupid amounts of money. you'll be "SAVING THE WORLD" by decommisioning the bombs, and lessening the impact of oil
(who cares)? and making capitalists like me TOTALLY rich. its a win win.
i can't say it enough. I LOVE GLOBAL WARMING!!!!:smitten:

Stephan - I am not a

Stephan - I am not a metereologist, but I believe that large storms are driven by temperature differentials, they suck up energy from warm water. So it is quite plausible that if global warming makes larger temp. deltas, it makes stronger storms, and I have seen a paper on exactly that. In fact, given basic physics, I would be quite surprised if larger temp deltas did not give rise to stronger storms, although I don't know if global warming actually causes larger temp deltas.

As for Amsterdam, checking up on it, I don't think it has anything to do with global warming, they have been keeping the sea out with dykes and pumping and so forth, which keeps the land dryer, which seems to lead to it sinking more and exacerbating the problem. So they are building more and more floating buildings. But the claim that higher temperatures lead to higher water levels through melting of the ice caps seems rather uncontroversial - why do you disbelieve it?

I question whether a major

I question whether a major reduction in living standards is necessary to deal with global warming. Global warming is a result of government-created externalities: subsidies to transportation and energy consumption.

Because of those subsidies, it's artificially competitive to produce light consumer goods in a big factory a thousand miles away, instead of a small one twenty miles away. Because of those subsidies, it's artificially competitive to grow lettuce and broccoli with government-subsidized irrigation water on corporate farms in California, and undersell small farmers in rain-rich Massachusetts. And because of those subsidies, it's artificially feasible to have two separate cities for every person--one where we work and shop, and one where we sleep--instead of living, shopping and working in the same one.

Eliminating government subsidies to waste and inefficiency won't reduce the standard of living.

Kevin, Because of those

Kevin,

Because of those subsidies, it’s artificially competitive to produce light consumer goods in a big factory a thousand miles away, instead of a small one twenty miles away.

Your argument won't fly. Pursued to its logical end you are saying that we should produce most consumer goods within 20 miles of home. This might be fine for the Amish, but for most of us it would set back standards of living at least 50 years. While transportation costs are significant, they are generally overwhelmed by economies of scale and comparative advantage.

Regards, Don

But *if* the price of

But *if* the price of gasoline reflected it's true price to the earth, the transportation costs *might* overwhelm the economies of scale.

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Kevin,

Because of those subsidies, it’s artificially competitive to produce light consumer goods in a big factory a thousand miles away, instead of a small one twenty miles away.

Your argument won’t fly. Pursued to its logical end you are saying that we should produce most consumer goods within 20 miles of home. This might be fine for the Amish, but for most of us it would set back standards of living at least 50 years. While transportation costs are significant, they are generally overwhelmed by economies of scale and comparative advantage.

Regards, Don

Comment by Don Lloyd — January 03, 2006 @ 7:53 am

Interestingly, the

Interestingly, the scientific community has largely stopped talking about "global warming", specifically because it perpetuates misunderstandings about the actual concern, which is that regional climates are changing relative to each other (as Patri says, "temp. deltas") at rates and to degrees that have never been recorded in human history.

So, so places get warmer (especially the places that are now very cold), while others get colder. The overall "average temperature" of the planet (at the surface or in the upper atmosphere) may change a couple degrees in either direction, but that's not really relevant to anything, since none of us occupy the entire planet...

I guess my only point here is that, if Coyote's original point is referencing "global warming", I'm skeptical about how up-to-date he could be with regard to current scientific thought on the subject of climate change...

Don, Peak internal

Don,

Peak internal economies of scale, in terms of unit cost of production, are actually reached at relatively low plant size. And the level at which distribution costs offset internal economies is even lower. Most industrial plants in this country operate at at least several times maximum internal economy of scale. The reason they can do it is that the state absorbs many of the diseconomies of large scale, and companies in cartelized markets are partially insulated from the competitive effects of bureaucratic inefficiencies. You should check out the sections on multi-purpose production technology and decentralized economics in Kirk Sale's *Human Scale*.

Kevin, I find it dubious to

Kevin,

I find it dubious to suggest that such an effect is general to industrial organization- large scale industrialization and centralization occurred well in advance of subsidies for such modes of production. Advances in technology of all sorts (communication, transportation, energy generation, organization of shipping and warehousing) have constantly lowered the costs and "diseconomies of scale" as time has gone on; I am not convinced that government subsidy is either the dominant or marginal driver of industry size. Surely there is a distortion by government, but I think it is overestimated by perhaps several orders of magnitude.

Brian, Large-scale

Brian,

Large-scale manufacturing for the national market didn't come into existence until the 1870s and '80s, after it was made possible by 1) railroads and telegraphs, and 2) mass marketing and distribution networks. Subsidized distribution predated mass-production for a national market. To put it another way, such economies of scale wouldn't even exist except given an artificial rate of steady product flow through the distribution pipeline, made possible by government.

Kevin, Are you ignoring

Kevin,

Are you ignoring England's industrial experience in the late 18th and early 19th century on purpose or by accident? Large scale national (nay, international) production went on in England well before railroads and canals were owned or subsidized at all by the Crown, and before any sort of marketing networks were in place (indeed, the production found demand, as Say would say) and certainly before any large, meaningful, or systematic subsidies by the Crown.

The English experience would seem to refute the "necessary" imputation of US post-bellum industrial expansion. IN the US nationwide (or at least regional & international as far as New England went) production also preceded national industrial policy by the postwar Republicans, though in all cases there was the support of the tariff wall for internal markets. Still, history is against the notion that large scale industrial organization is dependent upon government support, as large scale national and international production preceeded industrial planning and policy by 50 years at the very least.

Kevin - in Europe, isn't

Kevin - in Europe, isn't petrol four times as expensive as in the US? Do you believe that to be subsidized, taxed, or correct relative to the true price? And if the answer is not "subsidized", don't they still transport goods from factories far away, despite high transportation costs?

And furthermore, isn't oil partly controlled by a cartel which limits production in order to increase prices? Given that its already priced far above discover and extraction (which is what, $5 or $10 a barrel?), why do you believe that its still underpriced relativce to its externalities?

I am awfully skeptical that a large portion of our transportation and energy consumption is due to government subsidy, rather than to the fact that energy is really cheap stuff, which miraculously oozes out of holes in the ground in concentrated form.

Transportation costs are so low relative to the total costs of making a product that they don't factor in that strongly in many kinds of manufacturing, which is why we transport stuff so much. Especially when it can go by water, where moving things is ridiculously cheap.

Brian and Patri, My comment

Brian and Patri,

My comment about the revolutions in transportation and distribution preceding the rise of mass production was based on the U.S. I don't know enough about the European and British experience with transportation to answer definitely. I do wonder, though, 1) how much the mercantile system and other forms of privilege affected the concentration of production, and 2) how significant the centralized sectors were compared to total economic output. I'm not arguing that transportation subsidies are the *only* force promoting centralization, only that they have that tendency, and that subsidies to the consumption of anything tend to encourage more consumption.

The oil cartels have the effect of restricting supply and raising price, but I suspect they're offset by other uninternalized costs. For example, if the oil industry were civilly liable for land subsidence from their extraction of oil (e.g., around the Gulf coast of the U.S.), that alone would probably mean a huge increase in price per gallon). Likewise, if the cost of a national security policy aimed at "guaranteeing cheap, safe, and reliable energy to the American economy" were fully internalized in the cost of that energy.

Patri, I have read that half

Patri, I have read that half (or thereabouts) the two ice caps total ice mass melts annually in the summer, yet much of the Netherlands is still here. As far as the hurricanes go, Im very much in doubt that the recent hurricanes were a result of some sort of human caused global warming that has occured over the last 50-70 years. Nor, as some in the media have implied, were they caused by the U.S refusal to sign Kyoto haha. My main problem with the whole Global warming "crisis" is that its taken as an excuse for all sorts of half baked laws. Half baked because they are based on science that is not even remotely close to complete in its understanding of the Earths extraordinarily complex climatology. Furthermore, would Global warming be a bad thing? Increased crop productivity, and later harvests would be possible, not to mention a reduction in the use of fossil fuels for heating. It was only after the Global warm period of the early middle ages ended that Europe suffered from terrible famines.

Ummm, we know that the ocean

Ummm, we know that the ocean temperatures have risen by about 0.5 degrees Celsius since the 1950s. That's not half-baked science. We know that increasing ocean temperatures increases hurricane strength. That's not half-baked science either. We know that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leads to increases in global temperatures. That's pretty well baked. We know that that C02 levels are higher now than they've ever been as far back as the ice-core records go. The highest recorded pre-industrial revolution CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are around 280 ppmv. By 1958 they had reached 315 ppmv and are now ~370 ppmv. We know that these increases in C02 concentrations are man-made.

The uncertainty comes in because temperatures fluctuated quite a bit before humans arrived on the scene. As a result, we can not rule out that some of the observed temperature change over the last 50 years is due to natural variability.

So, there are unanswered questions, yes. But the science is more fully baked than your criticisms are. You say the earth has an "extraordinarily complex climatology." That's a half-baked criticism. To fully bake it, you need to show *how* that complexity refutes or obscures the arguments I made above.

Gravity, Just so you know,

Gravity,

Just so you know, CO2 levels were 3 times higher than current levels in the Mesozoic era.

And El Nino oscillations in the pacific suppress hurricane activity in the Atlantic/Carribbean, so ocean temperature effects are not clear cut on a larger level.

Minor points.

In any case, while I think it is clear now that some degree of the current warming trend is due to man, it is also clear that solar forcing has increased- we have weather stations on Mars, for example, and there is global warming occurring there as well (it is several degrees C warmer now than it was in the 70s when the Vikings were there; a faster rate would be expected since Mars' atmo has very little H20 compared to the Earth and is much, much colder), but this seems to get short shrift when discussions of GW are made (limiting discussion to AGW is a rhetorical figleaf that is somewhat dishonest given that you can't separate increased solar input from a discussion of what is to be done, since such discussions often turn critically on what was responsible).

Brian - I don't know what

Brian - I don't know what the temperature changes do to currents and so forth, but I am pretty sure that warmer oceans = stronger storms, and I am very sure that larger ocean/air temp differentials mean stronger storms. Hurricanes get their energy by sucking it from the warmth of the ocean, so the link between warmer oceans and stronger storms is rather clear :).

A Conversation with Kerry

A Conversation with Kerry Emanuel
From Today's NYT:

"Q. Because last year's hurricane season was so intense, many people declared: "Ah, ha! Global warming!" Were they right?

A. My answer is, Not so fast. That may have been a contributor. But the fact we had such a bad season was mostly a matter of chance. On the other hand, though the number of storms globally remained nearly constant, *the frequency of Atlantic storms has been rising in concert with tropical ocean temperature*, probably because of global warming.
There is no doubt that in the last 20 years, *the earth has been warming up. And it's warming up much too fast to ascribe to any natural process we know about*.

We still don't have a good grasp of how clouds and water vapor, the two big feedbacks in the climate system, will respond to global warming. What we are seeing is a modest increase in the intensity of hurricanes.
I predicted years ago that if you warmed the tropical oceans by a degree Centigrade, you should see something on the order of a 5 percent increase in the wind speed during hurricanes. We've seen a larger increase, more like 10 percent, for an ocean temperature increase of only one-half degree Centigrade."

Patri, I had a big response

Patri,

I had a big response typed up and realized that at the end I ultimately argued against my own position, so I will have to concede confusion. :)

Brian, Admirable admission!

Brian,

Admirable admission! Next time I recommend using a convoluted argument to claim that your new position has been your position all along. It's an advanced technique, but crucial if you want to go into politics.