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The Cost of Delaying Action to Stem Climate Change

By Jason Furman, Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers; Ron Shadbegian, Jim Stock, Economist in the Benefits Assessment and Methods Development Division, National Center for Environmental Economics; and Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Economics, Harvard. Originally published at VoxEU

The cost of delaying climate action has been studied extensively. This column discusses new findings based on a meta-analysis of published model runs. A one-decade delay in addressing climate change would lead to about a 40% increase in the net present value cost of addressing climate change. If anything, the methodology used in this analysis could understate the cost of delay. Uncertainty and the possibility of tipping points provide a motivation for more action as a form of insurance against worse outcomes.

Climate scientists and economists have shown widespread agreement that anthropogenic climate change has the potential to cause substantial economic damage, and that taking action to mitigate carbon emissions is essential for reducing the risk of catastrophic effects. Of course, there is scientific uncertainty about the magnitudes of these effects and an active debate about the most appropriate course of action. Some have argued that the uncertainty in the climate science is an argument to delay any response until we know enough to identify the best course of action. However, a recent meta-analysis by the Council of Economic Advisers shows that reaching a climate target is costlier – or even impossible – if policies designed to reach that target begin at a later date. Because a delay results in additional near-term accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, delay means that the policy, when implemented, must be more stringent to achieve the given long-term climate target. This additional stringency increases mitigation costs, relative to those that would be incurred under the least-cost path starting today.

The Cost of Delayed Action Based on a Meta-Analysis of 16 Studies

We reviewed 16 studies that compare 106 pairs of policy simulations based on integrated climate mitigation models.1 The simulations comprising each pair implement similar policies that lead to the same climate target (typically a concentration target but in some cases a temperature target) but differ in the timing of the policy implementation, nuanced in some cases by variation in when different countries adopt the policy. Because the climate target is the same for each scenario in the pair, the environmental and economic damages from climate change are approximately the same for each scenario. The additional cost of delaying implementation thus equals the difference in the mitigation costs in the two scenarios in each paired comparison. The studies reflect a broad array of climate targets, delayed timing scenarios, and modelling assumptions as discussed below. We focus on studies published in 2007 or later.

In each case, a model computes the path of cost-effective mitigation policies and mitigation costs, constraining the emissions path so that the climate target is hit. Each path weighs technological progress in mitigation technology and other factors that in the beginning generally allow for a less stringent, less costly policy against the costs that arise if mitigation, delayed too long, must be undertaken rapidly. Because the models typically compute the policy in terms of a carbon price, the carbon price path computed by the model starts out relatively low and increases over the course of the policy. Thus a policy started today typically has a steadily increasing carbon price, whereas a delayed policy typically has a carbon price of zero until the start date, at which point it jumps to a higher initial level then increases more rapidly than the optimal immediate policy. The higher carbon prices after a delay typically lead to higher total costs than a policy that would impose the carbon price today.

The costs of delay in these studies depend on a number of factors, including the length of delay, the climate target, modelling assumptions, future baseline emissions, future mitigation technology, delay scenarios, the participants implementing the policy, and geographic location. More aggressive targets are more costly to achieve, and meeting them is predicted to be particularly costly, if not infeasible, if action is delayed. Similarly, international coordination in policy action reduces mitigation costs, and the cost of delay depends on which countries participate in the policy, as well as the length of delay.

We construct a data set describing each delay cost estimate and information about the simulation. The data include all available numerical estimates of the average or total cost of delayed action from our literature search. Each estimate is a paired comparison of a delay scenario and its companion scenario without delay. To make results comparable across studies, we convert the delay cost estimates (presented in the original studies variously as present values of dollars, percent of consumption, or percent of GDP) to percent change in costs as a result of delay.3 We capture variation across studies and experimental designs using variables that encode the length of the delay in years; the target carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) concentration; whether only the relatively more-developed countries act immediately (partial delay); the discount rate used to calculate costs; and the model used for the simulation.4 All comparisons consider policies and outcomes measured approximately through the end of the century. To reduce the effect of outliers, the primary regression analysis only uses results with less than a 400% increase in costs (alternative methods of handling the outliers are discussed below as sensitivity checks), and only includes paired comparisons for which both the primary and delayed policies are feasible (i.e. the model was able to solve for both cases).5 The dataset contains a total of 106 observations (paired comparisons), with 58 included in the primary analysis. All observations in the data set are weighted equally.

Analysis of these data suggests two main conclusions, both consistent with findings from specific papers in the underlying literature. The first is that, looking across studies, costs increase with the length of the delay. Figure 1 shows the delay costs as a function of the delay time. Although there is considerable variability in costs for a given delay length because of variations across models and experiments, there is an overall pattern of costs increasing with delay.

Figure 1. Additional mitigation costs of delay by length

furman fig1 24 feb climate change

Source: Council of Economic Advisers calculations.

Notes: Data points are percentage increase in mitigation costs from delay and the associated length of delay for a given paired simulation. The scatterplot presents a total of 58 paired delay simulations. The solid line is the regression fit to these data, restricted to pass through the origin.

For example, of the 14 paired simulations with ten years of delay, the average delay cost is 39%. The regression line shown in Figure 1 estimates an average cost of delay per year using all 58 paired experiments under the assumption of a constant increasing delay cost per year (and, by definition, no cost if there is no delay), and this estimate is 37% per decade. This analysis ignores possible confounding factors, such as longer delays being associated with less stringent targets, and the multiple regression analysis presented in the Annex below controls for such confounding factors.

The second conclusion is that the more ambitious the climate target, the greater are the costs of delay. This can be seen in Figure 2, in which the lowest (most stringent) concentration targets tend to have the highest cost estimates. In fact, close inspection of Figure 1 reveals a related pattern – the relationship between delay length and additional costs is steeper for the points representing CO2e targets of 500 ppm or less than for those in the other two ranges. That is, costs of delay are particularly high for scenarios with the most stringent target and the longest delay lengths.

Figure 2. Additional mitigation costs by CO2 concentration target

furman fig2 24 feb climate change mitigation

Notes: Data points are percentage increase in mitigation costs from delay and the associated CO2 concentration target for a given paired simulation. The scatterplot presents a total of 58 paired delay simulations. The solid line is the regression line fit to these data.

Conclusion

This analysis concerned the cost of trying to hit the same climate target with a later start date for the policies. It showed that the cost of achieving a given target would rise by about 40%. This, however, is only one factor to consider in assessing the timing and magnitude of action on climate change. Because CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere, delaying action increases CO2 concentrations. Thus, if a policy delay leads to higher ultimate CO2 concentrations, that delay produces persistent economic damages that arise from higher temperatures and higher CO2 concentrations. Based on the DICE model as reported by William Nordhaus (2013), a delay that results in warming of 3° Celsius above preindustrial levels, instead of 2°, could increase economic damages by approximately 0.9% of global output.6 To put this percentage in perspective, 0.9% of estimated 2014 US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is approximately $150 billion. The incremental cost of an additional degree of warming beyond 3° Celsius would be even greater. Moreover, these costs are not one-time, but are rather incurred year after year because of the permanent damage caused by increased climate change resulting from the delay.

Moreover, there is considerable uncertainty around all of these estimates – including the possibility of damages significantly greater than assumed in these calculations, potentially as a result of ‘tipping points’ above which climate change becomes a self-amplifying cycle. Climate policy can be thought of as ‘climate insurance’ taken out against the most severe and irreversible potential consequences of climate change. Events such as the rapid melting of ice sheets and the consequent increase of global sea levels, or temperature increases on the higher end of the range of scientific uncertainty, could pose such severe economic consequences as reasonably to be thought of as climate catastrophes. Confronting the possibility of climate catastrophes means taking prudent steps now to reduce the future chances of the most severe consequences of climate change. The longer that action is postponed, the greater will be the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and the greater is the risk. Just as businesses and individuals guard against severe financial risks by purchasing various forms of insurance, policymakers can take actions now that reduce the chances of triggering the most severe climate events. And, unlike conventional insurance policies, climate policy that serves as climate insurance is an investment that also leads to cleaner air, energy security, and benefits that are difficult to monetise like biological diversity.

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124 comments

  1. Jill

    Why doesn’t this cost matter? It’s also very costly to clean up all the damages and rebuild after the increasing number of disasters caused by global warming.

    We’re always told there’s no money available to mitigate climate change or it would cost too much money to do so. That has always seemed so bizarre. Of course it is cheaper to remediate climate change. It will also create jobs and save some lives! Elites appear insane to me because these very simply calculations elude them entirely. They could get rich off mitigation. Why don’t they want to get obscenely rich off of doing something necessary and helpful? I just don’t understand their “thinking”. Apparently, being king/queen of a crap pile looks great to them! Seriously, it must because I have no other explanation for their actions.

    1. Garrett Pace

      My assumption has been that as soon as the “elites”, as a group, start to feel more comfortable with their control over the world and its resources, they will start caring a lot about the environment, and willing to take steps to reduce the effects the proles can have on it.

      1. hunkerdown

        That’s one of the side effects of the Controlled Substances Act: ever tried to buy fine chemicals as a private individual? Also, RoHS has certainly not made life for the electronics hobbyist any cheaper or easier.

    2. Mark

      video of Greenland ice sheet which retreated as much in the last ten years as in the previous one hundred.

      “The calving event lasted for 75 minutes and the glacier retreated a full mile across a calving face three miles wide. The height of the ice is about 3,000 feet, 300-400 feet above water and the rest below water.”

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hC3VTgIPoGU#t=82

    3. different clue

      Global warming is a good way for the elites to kill off 6 billion non-elite people over the next 100 years. Therefor they support global warming and oppose every effort to slow it down. Of course they will never put it that way in public.

    4. Oguk

      Perhaps it’s a failure of the imagination. They can’t imagine it will be any fun for them in the post-fossil-fuel world – no fast cars, big yachts, planes, private spectacles…it’ll be all cold, small, meager, rationed, limited. They’d rather indulge now while they still can. One last hurrah and then you all (i.e. kids and grandkids) can enjoy the future, whatever it is. It’s all zero-sum in their minds, and they want to stay rich. Of course it’s short-sighted, but that’s the way the elite are behaving in all aspects these days.

      1. MartyH

        OGUK, remember, they will hoard the last milliliter of fuel for their cars and jets. The armed forces will be running on empty, back on horseback but the descendants of the Masters of the Universe will have 10,000 gallons of gas and 100,000 gallons of Jet A (each) … it’s only money. And they have plenty of it.

    5. spigzone

      It’s already too late. The arctic methane bomb is currently detonating which will accelerate global warming by a few orders of magnitude – as in a 6 to 10 degree C rise, a ‘blue water’ arctic ocean for several months and Greenland melting so fast it’s adding 1 to 2 inches of sea level rise ANNUALLY, all by 2025.

      Changes of this magnitude this fast all but guarantee a majority of the worlds nuclear power plants and spent fuel pools sooner or later go into meltdown.

  2. c1ue

    Meh.
    This so called study is based on climate models which have proven to be highly inaccurate for more than a decade.
    Equally this study of studies failed to examine what the impact of massive climate mitigation spending would be itself vs. the purported damage said mitigation is intended to prevent.
    Another failure point: the operational challenges posed by “mitigation” where action must be taken unilaterally across the entire globe which encompasses another series of poorly thought out scenarios such as:
    a) Mitigation costs are not worth the economic growth benefits for 2nd and 3rd world countries
    b) Free rider effects for nations which choose not to undertake mitigation (aka measles vaccination)
    c) Cheating – i.e. one or more nations agree to mitigate, but in practice are unwilling (or unable) to actually accomplish it

    All in all, more sound and fury signifying nothing.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Huh? Why don’t you just keep making stuff up. The models if anything have been inaccurate on the conservative side. 2014 was the hottest year on record. And that’s before you get to the fact that ocean temperatures are rising, which is mitigating surface temperature increases.

      It’s official: 2014 has taken the title of hottest year on record. That ranking comes courtesy of data released Monday by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), the first of four major global temperature recordkeepers to release their data for last year.

      The upward march of the world’s average temperature since 1891 is a trademark of human-influenced global warming with 2014 being the latest stop on the climb. All 10 of the hottest years have come since 1998.

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/2014-officially-hottest-year-on-record/

      1. wbgonne

        The models if anything have been inaccurate on the conservative side.

        Every single time. Each new study shows AGW is WORSE than previously believed. The scientists are frightened by the Right Wing Noise Machine and are almost always too conservative. The IPCC, itself, is largely a watered-down politicized document and it still demonstrates the horrors we are unleashing on ourselves and our children. And each day we here about unexpected collateral consequences, like ocean acidification that is already destroying the shellfish populations in the Pacific Northwest and soon coming to the North Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Not to mention the collapse of the jet stream or the defrosting methane hydrates. Insanity is the only word to describe what we are doing. Insanity fueled by money-lust and ignorance.

        1. NOTaREALmerican

          Re: and our children

          Not to worry about this one. As the climate gets worse and worse the pessimists will have less children. After all, knowing how bad things are who would consider children.

          This leaves only the optimists having children. This means society will get more and more pathologically optimistic (if you can imagine); and not only about solving climate-change but also about the effect of climate-change.

          Massive storms? Dude, is this a GREAT storm, or what? Besides, we can solve this problem with more “infrastructure”.

          Climate refugees? Dude, isn’t it great we’ve got so MANY new neighbors from so many diverse backgrounds? Besides, we can solve this problem with more “infrastructure”.

          Wars? Dude, these new war toys are the BEST in history, dude. Dude, totally, and we can solve this problem by WINNING! Dude, let’s kick ass, dude. Totally.

        2. metamars

          Nonsense. Almost all are running hot. As per 2014 IPCC Plenary, climate models have been “discounted”. Significantly so.

          When I was in a graduate level applied math program, I took an applied math course that mostly targeted engineers. The instructor was the head of the Applied Math department. In an exam, I set up the solution correctly, but made a ‘stupid math mistake’.

          The instructor gave me 0 points for my answer, explaining that “when the engineer’s bridge falls down, nobody will care about the details”. When I pointed out that I was in his own, beloved math department, and had no plans to become an engineer, he was unimpressed, leaving me with no credit for the problem.

          You may score political or ideological points by implying that climate models that are running hot, are actually running cold, but you wouldn’t get far with such an attitude in a serious science/math environment. Also, your notion that “The scientists are frightened by the Right Wing Noise Machine” is silly, except, perhaps, in a few red state universities.

          You would do well to research where most of the $$ funding for climate science research comes from, from which you can probably make reasonable inferences about what sort of conclusions are politically favored.

          1. wbgonne

            Yes, all of the climate scientists are on the take except for the ones getting bribed by Big Oil. Like Willie Soo. Got it. Now go tell Michael Mann how “silly” it is to be attacked by the Right Wing Noise Machine.

            But thanks for the authentic frontier gibberish. Fox News would be proud of you, Your children will despise you but, you know, prioritie$.

          2. Bart Fargo

            Accusations that climate science is money-driven reveal ignorance of how science is done
            http://arstechnica.com/science/2012/05/accusations-that-climate-science-is-money-driven-reveal-ignorance-of-how-science-is-done/

            One of the great things about actual science, as opposed to the applied math exam you evidently bombed, is that models are constantly being refined to take more recent data into account. Multidecadal oscillations in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans explain a great deal of the so-called “slowdown”, and far from suggesting a cooler future, coming shifts in these oscillations are expected to return the Earth to the pre-1998 pace of surface warming. If you’re going to critique the science, you’d do well to at least familiarize yourself with it before implying that climate models are riddled with “stupid math mistakes” rather than just being reflections of the best data and theory (incomplete thought they may be) at the time the models were generated. If you could do better, you’d be published by now, not posting comments on a blog.

            http://news.sciencemag.org/climate/2015/02/cold-pacific-ocean-offsetting-global-warming

          3. davidgmills

            Really? Here’s a mathematics professor that would disagree with you. It is a video of a lecture and the mathematician discusses fluid dynamics starting about the 20 minute mark of the video. Since both air and water are fluids, as you know as an engineer, how heat transfers through them is based on fluid dynamics. He points out that the major equation of fluid dynamics applicable to climate, something called the Navier-Stokes equation, has never been solved, and that there is a million dollar prize to anyone who solves it. There are two other mathematical problems he discusses with respect to climate modeling as well. We are essentially guessing with all three of these mathematical problems when climatologists model. If you watch the video you will at least get some concept of how difficult climate modeling can be.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19q1i-wAUpY

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              That video is garbage. See here:

              http://blog.hotwhopper.com/2015/02/climate-science-as-portrayed-by.html

              One of the arguments in Essex’s video he also tried pushing in a paper that has been debunked, see here:

              https://greenfyre.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/450-more-lies-from-the-climate-change-deniers/

              And another issue he’s touted is refuted here:

              http://bigcitylib.blogspot.com/2007/03/global-warming-deniers-deny-concept-of.html#links

              Essex is funded by the Heartland Institute, which is Koch affiliated, and his other organizations are similarly astroturf groups.

              1. davidgmills

                Did anyone debunk his point that the Navier-Stokes equation is the equation we need to solve?

                Did anyone debunk his point about the finite capability of computers?

                If they didn’t do that, it matters not if Satan funded the guy.

                1. davidgmills

                  Let me say it another way. If the Koch brothers funded Isaac Newton or Einstein would their theories be wrong?

                2. craazyboy

                  If you want Navier-Stokes solved, then you’d better worry about your car and definitely airplanes too. They couldn’t possibly work!

                  And digital?! Jeez dump those Cds and go vinyl. We got analog computers too. They could use those.

                  This guy is jerking your chain.

                1. metamars

                  You surely know that I don’t deny that the climate changes any more that Richard Lindzen, Nir Shaviv, Roy Spencer, William Happer, Freeman Dyson, or Bob Carter does. The first 5 gents have produced or worked on quantitative climate models that make quantitative predictions of temperature changes, partly as functions of CO2 green house gas phenomenon.
                  Your real problem with them (and me) is that they don’t predict catastrophe.
                  The dissident scientists (so-called “deniers”) have apparently ‘converged’ on a climate sensitivity of about 1-1.5 deg C per CO2 doubling. Which is closer to the “most likely” climate sensitivity than the CO2 catastrophists who so enthrall you.

              2. wbgonne

                Yves, have you considered banning AGW deniers? I realize that is a drastic remedy but the fact is that the AGW deniers manage to derail nearly every discussion of AGW issues. In fact, I suspect that is their purpose. As such, they are classic blog trolls.

                Again, I have no idea if NC even does ban commenters but, if it does, you might consider doing so in this case. After all, what would happen if an army of disruptors arrived every time there was a discussion of Greece and. derailed conversation by repeatedly posting their pet theory that Greece does not exist? Or derailing discussions about money wih their pet theories that money is fictitious? Or ruining intelligent discussion about satellites or planes by incessantly arguing that the theory of gravity is false?

                AGW is the foremost issue facing human civilization and this is the most intelligent blog around, yet each AGW post here is overrun with disingenuous AGW denier trolls.

                P.S. I hope this suggestion doesn’t get ME banned.

          4. davidgmills

            I made a post of a video of a professor of mathematics giving a lecture on the limits of climate modeling. Since it contained a video it went to purgatory and is awaiting moderation. In the meantime, I will describe the video. The major equation that governs the transfer of heat in fluid dynamics which would be applicable to all climate models is something called the Navier-Stokes equation. It has never been solved and a million dollar prize awaits the mathematician who solves it.

            The second major hurdle of computers is that they just can not process the large numbers we are dealing with when we have to model climate. It is a bit like having a calculator that has three places and when you add 500 and 500 you can never get 1,000. So they have to fudge. And when they fudge the equation they use is nothing like the mathematical equation you would use if the computers didn’t have this problem.

            He further points out it is not simply a matter of garbage in – garbage out, you can actually have good date imputed and still get garbage out.

            This is why consensus makes no sense. It is not a scientific concept. If everybody makes the same mistake, everybody gets the wrong answer.

            1. optimader

              “The major equation that governs the transfer of heat in fluid dynamics which would be applicable to all climate models is something called the Navier-Stokes equation. It has never been solved and a million dollar prize awaits the mathematician who solves it. “
              Didn’t watch the video, is he implying that N-S equations as applied to Computational Fluid Dynamics are unreliable predictive tools?

              1. davidgmills

                No he is implying that the NS equation that would be most applicable to climate change has not been solved. I could not tell from the video whether he was implying there are numerous NS equations (perhaps some of which have been solved) or there is only one NS equation that has been postulated but not solved.

                1. davidgmills

                  The video is called Believing Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast by Dr. Christopher Essex. It’s on Youtube. Put the title in Youtube’s search engine and it pops up.

                  1. craazyboy

                    Ok, I’ll check out video.

                    But first lets make it 7 things –

                    7) This guy found fault with climate change models, and that means the polar ice caps are NOT melting.

                    1. craazyboy

                      Listened to 20 minutes so far. Complete waste of time. He doesn’t even now what “carbon neutral” means. (his “funny” sugar anecdote) C’mon., we know they are not talking about the chemical composition of sugar.

                      Don’t know if I can finish the whole hour.

                    2. craazyboy

                      I think if everyone demanded the perfect models, calculations, and computer accuracy this guy seems to want for a climate model (one good enough for a global heat transfer model – but lets not worry about predicting temperature at any point in the atmosphere at any point in time) we would have never gone to the moon and budding engineers would decide to be luddites and artists.

                    3. davidgmills

                      Actually I should have mentioned that he really does not mention his arguments about fluid dynamics till twenty minutes in. I would agree that the first twenty minutes is a waste of time.

                    4. davidgmills

                      Those are entirely different calculations. And that is his point. It is quite possible to predict that an asteroid will hit the earth in 2103 on Janaury 15. Predicting chaos is something entirely different.

                    5. craazyboy

                      The point is – all this stuff is as complex as he says- no doubt about it. But we have been dealing with similar complexity in all fields of science and engineering just like it. You have to except some error and hopefully quantify it and verify your models.

                      Actually I got an A in my undergrad fluid dynamics course and I was quite proud of that A. I never solved N-S either. The prof said we couldn’t, but that didn’t mean we should change majors. And almost 40 years later I can barely remember anything about the course.

                      This guy is just trying to scare you with the complexity and make you believe a lot of intelligent experts couldn’t come up with something reasonably accurate.

              2. craazyboy

                I think we’ll have to wait for the video. I know of few models that can be directly solved – they all use some form of iterative technique, perhaps finite element.

                Fluid Mechanics is a bitch – but we have jet engines that work pretty good. My prof in FM (who wrote the textbook) had a research grant making more advanced models for jet engine design.

                But iterative approaches take lots of computing power – that sure could be a problem with climate models.

                1. optimader

                  Fluid Mechanics is a bitch – but we have jet engines that work pretty good. My prof in FM
                  I remember a quote from one that worked on the space shuttle engine nozzle design making a point about Reynolds Numbers. (he was a Chinese immigrant) “look, you no have laminar flow, you piss all over shoes”

                  But iterative approaches take lots of computing power – that sure could be a problem with climate models.
                  As well predictive weather models, but they work

                  http://www.solidworks.com/sw/products/simulation/computational-fluid-dynamics.htm

                  most of the natural world is non linear, that’s not to say you cant create reasonably predictive simulation models.

                  1. davidgmills

                    And he addresses this point as well. We are able to predict it because we can observe it on an airplane wing in a wind tunnel. He specifically says that is one of the problems. We can’t put the earth in a wind tunnel.

                    1. skippy

                      He attacks the methodology used in modeling.

                      That is completely irrelevant to the known observations across multidisciplinary fields of inquire.

                      This is what is so ideologically dishonest about the anti AGW mob, they can only attack very narrow parts of a massive ongoing observation.

                      Skippy… and its taking funding away from searching for the Arch.

                    2. craazyboy

                      That’s more dissembling on his part. Yes, you always try to verify your model somehow. It’s the first thing scientists try and do.

                      His discussion was really just about the heat transfer “leg” of how heat from sunlight gets transferred back up from the earth’s surface to outer space. It’s turbulent flow heat transfer which is why he zeroed in on N-S and then he wanted it calculated for every 1 mm volume of air in the entire atmosphere and then went on to talk about how computers aren’t accurate enough to do it!

                      If we had that standard to meet for everything we would still be running around in loin cloths throwing spears at rabbits.

                    3. davidgmills

                      Predicting chaos is a bitch. Just because you want to simplify it into something it is not, doesn’t mean it is still not a bitch.

                      Solve the NS equation if you think this is easy stuff.

                2. Integer Owl

                  As those here who have studied engineering know, good modelling of complex problems requires intelligent choices as to be made regarding which variables to simplify, ‘lumping’ parameters, if you will. This is the issue with climate change models, and I would suggest that one could arrive at any conclusion one wants by privileging certain variables over others. To model the whole world at any given time is really pushing the limits of any one, or group, (of) human(s).

                  What is clear, climate-wise, is that something is happening. Therefore the logical approach would be to work out where we can reduce the risk factors in each and every locality, and get to it, pronto. The idea that we need to have a 100% indisputable model that tells us we are fast approaching our doom before any serious efforts should be made to reduce this risk is simply laughable. From an engineering point of view the more focused approach, i.e. on specific industries or even at the level of specific operations, can result in much more accurate data, and if every area of human life was examined and then subsequently addressed, the aggregate reduction in pollution worldwide would be huge.

      2. James Levy

        The Enlightenment was a great idea but it has never really caught on. The idea that reason and evidence are both self-evident and compelling just doesn’t cut it with millions of people from the richest to the poorest, the most powerful to the most ignored. These people will tell you that whooping cough, tetanus, and smallpox aren’t really dangerous but vaccines unquestionably are, and that polio is just a disease of primitive hygiene conditions and no longer a threat so why immunize children against it. Ditto climate change. Either they’ll tell you it is not happening, or that we can’t do anything about it, or that it really isn’t that bad because we can grow all our food in Canada and Alaska when they heat up so why worry (yes, I’ve heard otherwise intelligent people say that).

        Wishful thinking, greed, stupidity, and smug skepticism will do us in.

        1. jrs

          I really suspect animal hierarchies will be what do us in when all is said and done. Even if the masses accept the urgencies of climate change (and maybe we’re not at that if, but suppose through enough education we could be – and I certainly think anyone who works toward that education is well motivated), we still have an elite that would have to be overthrown first probably. Dominance and fear and submission, the blindness of the powerful that is inherent in having power, and the fearfulness and dependence of the powerless, will do us in. The Alpha and omega.

        2. BadBentham

          True. However, the common pattern of thought in a capitalist environment is: Trust noone. And, sadly, rather correctly so. (A case of a “necessarily wrong consciousness”, I guess) Big Science and Big Pharma fall in this scheme, as result of alienation, into the same category as Big Politics, Big Banking, and Big Industry do.

          In fact, scepticism is rather one of several (sad) possible results of Enlightenment, especially if you do not like philosophical speculation. It is partly a revenge for scientific falsification, where one concedes that mankind is unable for absolute (philosophical or theological) thruth , and one even expects that today`s insights will certainly prove wrong tomorrow – a “wisdom” deeply shared in popular culture. And science, seen from the outside, looks indeed like the “new religion”, and thus, from a certain (dialectical) “enlightened” POV, deserves special distrust .

          To me, as simple minded as I am, the discussion about Climate Change is simply the wrong battle ground, as it is effectively only the result of the underlying larger problems that it partly even conceals. In fact, I would rather offer self-evident, and still full-certain, sentences: If you plunder all planetar ressources, you plunder all the planetar ressources. If you turn the environment into a toxic wasteland, you turn the environment into a toxic wasteland. – And so on. No science is needed here whatsoever, to make the point fully clear; – and not even common sense.

          – However, climate science not only wants to present the (possible) facts, but also to offer -technical- solutions to the diagnosed problem. And these solutions are not about using less ressources, as it seems highly unlikely in a society that is, as its core, based on ever-increasing consumption, but rather about using wind mills or solar panels, no matter how sustainable these techniques, once introduced, may be . To me, this looks, tbh , like the classic scientific approach to solve a problem in reality by creating two new ones. ;) – What is not the worst definition of (technological) “progress”, btw ;)

          1. James Levy

            Jacob Bronowski titled one of the episodes of The Ascent of Man “Knowledge or Certainty”, and argued that although we must try to discern and act on the best knowledge we can, we must never surrender to dogma; we must always base our actions on tests in reality. What I think would have amazed and appalled him if he had lived to see 2015 is how little tests in reality matter to most people. We seem more interested in investigating the motives of people and guessing at their states of mind than looking to material reality to guide our actions. Marx said that no idea can be reduced to the class that created it (too few “Marxists” comprehend that fact). Ideas have value based on their own merit; do they reflect what we can learn about the world around us. This is what I mean by Enlightenment. The only discussions we should be having about climate change are what evidence would convert the skeptics and what should we be doing, given what we know, to mitigate the worst possible effects. The first question seems to be entirely derailed by the fact that no evidence I can see will convince people who want to see Climate Change as a “liberal” plot that it is actually happening, so all attempts to resolve the second question are thwarted by the power and number of the doubters. You see the same thing happen when the suffering inflicted on children who have contracted whopping cough is naysaid by those who think that all vaccines are a nefarious plot by Big Pharma to screw us over. We have been taught for two centuries that evidence, not authority, should determine what is likely true from what is just made up. The make-believers, however, are back with a vengeance (just look at ISIS or Likud or Christian Dominionists or any number of crackpot ideas which hold sway today).

            1. wbgonne

              Excellent comment.

              We are reverting to the Dark Ages, even (maybe especially) here in the world’s dominant nation. It is a terrifying reality and the descent could become even more frightening. Our civilization is in a tailspin and our inability to address anthropogenic global warming is one horrible piece of proof.

        3. davidgmills

          A false equivalency. I just got a tetanus booster that also protected me from whooping cough and smallpox. Predicting chaos is nothing equivalent.

      3. Jack King

        Well, from WWII to 1980 it was so cold that “they” were predicting another ice age. Since then the temp has been rising. But many intervals exhibited years of stasis. Al Gore predicted the the Florida Keys would be underwater by now. Opps. At any rate, the Chicken Little cry has always been that we must take IMMEDIATE action or we are doomed. Well the 2 biggest carbon emitters, China and India, in spite of lip service, are doing nothing. Ergo, my suggestion is that since we are doomed, let’s make the most of it and party.

        1. wbgonne

          And did you see Jim Inhofe today bring a snowball into tbe Senate?!

          Ah, but the strawberries! That’s where I had them. They laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with geometric logic, that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist! And I’d have produced that key if they hadn’t pulled Caine out of action! I-I-I know now they were only trying to protect some fellow officer and!….. Naturally, I can only cover these things from memory if I’ve left anything out, why, just ask me specific questions and I’ll be glad to answer them…one-by-one…

        2. optimader

          1.) who is “they”?
          2. ) “Al Gore predicted the the Florida Keys would be underwater by now.”
          Did Al Gore make that prediction, or did he relate a prediction made by someone else?

        3. Kunst

          [Al Gore predicted the the Florida Keys would be underwater by now.]

          Did you make that up or would you like to give us a source for that?

          1. Jack King

            A decade ago in his movie “An Inconvenient Truth”, Gore has a gif graphic showing Florida being inundated all the way inland to Lake Okeechobee. And this was just from a Greenland melt. And what evidence today is there of this? Not much…..real estate sales on the Keys are booming.

            1. pretzelattack

              i don’t think gore “predicted’ anything of the kind, and in any case gore is not a climate scientist. and no, the old canard about a scientific consensus predicting cooling the in 70’s is still not true.

              1. Jack King

                The “canard” is the term “settled science”. The latest walk-back is real questioning about “The Big Bang”. But getting back to my earlier post…if “the experts” truly believe that global warming is true with dire consequences, then let’s just live it up until the end since the big carbon polluters, as their economies are just now taking off, are not going to make any changes that will make a difference. It’s party time!!!

  3. Paul Simmons

    Should we also consider the possibility that damages could be significantly less than assumed in these calculations?

    1. wbgonne

      And what if the damages are worse, as they are almost single time a new report comes out?

      What if the scientists are right and you are wrong? Then what?

      1. NOTaREALmerican

        What difference does it make? There’s 1.5 billion Chinese people and 750 million Indians who want to turn the Air-Conditioning up because of their oppressive humidity. They also want some cool bling: like a McMansion and an SUV with those over-sized tires and glass-pack exhaust to make sure everybody in the neighborhood knows what a bad-ass car they’ve got.

        Like “global warming” is more important the cool sounding engines. Jeezzzz.

        1. jrs

          Even if one accepts the humidity is oppressive are air conditioners even an intelligent way to solve that versus design, versus swamp coolers, versus etc.. I won’t pretend any of them will solve climate change, but I’m just making an argument against being completely stupid.

          You can either make money or make sense the two are mutually exclusive.

          1. different clue

            You have to make enough money to stay alive enough long enough to make sense.
            Therein lies the koanundrum.

  4. Will

    This is a good reason to be skeptical of reductionist science or economists in general. Check this part:

    Because the climate target is the same for each scenario in the pair, the environmental and economic damages from climate change are approximately the same for each scenario. The additional cost of delaying implementation thus equals the difference in the mitigation costs in the two scenarios in each paired comparison.

    The implication is that mitigation=completely reversing the problem. Since that’s not true, the ‘additional cost’ is actually the additional cost of mitigation + the damage we suffer that we can’t mitigate. We can’t mitigate the additional species lost to extinction – they’re just gone, and their ecosystems dramatically weakened in ways that we can’t mitigate over time. The true cost of delay, if it even needs to be measured (which is truly impossible and shouldn’t be necessary) – should be measured in reduced carrying capacity of the land and reduced quality of life for humans and non-humans alike that can make it any sort of long-term steady-state culture in the future. Since ‘temperature’ or ‘CO2 concentration’ are so difficult to model and such a small part of the overall biosphere, we really just need to accept that the damage needs to end ASAP.

  5. Bill Frank

    What’s it going to cost? Really? How about – the cost will be equal to the habitable value of the planet. Anyone care to calculate what that is?

    1. Integer Owl

      Yes, shifting out of the economic paradigm proves elusive for some, no matter what is at risk.

      On another note, I wish you had posted this 17 mins earlier. I opened this article when there were only two comments, and I was really hoping someone named Bill would have made the third comment as I refreshed the page…

    2. Integer Owl

      Ignore everything after the first line in that last post, I guess some comments came out of moderation and spoiled my rhyming pun. This is such a serious topic that it was probably misplaced anyway.

  6. Chris

    It’s clear at this point that doing anything meaningful to reduce carbon emissions (as opposed to endless conferences, protocols and “agreements” that do little other than generate more carbon emissions themselves as the guests all jet off to lavish pow-wows) is diametrically opposed to the current economic and socio-economic systems that are established in most of the world.

    If the environmentalist and climate change intelligentsia want to do something meaningful, besides eat croissants and drink good coffee with their friends, they are going to have to tackle the debt ponzi scheme and endless “growth” mindset that pervades every neo-liberal institution and demand a real set of choices be presented to the public, not “grow or die.”

    I am not optimistic.

    1. NOTaREALmerican

      Re: debt ponzi scheme

      I’m sure the Krugmanites will find a way to green grow their way to perpetually increasing green prosperity, but only if they can have perpetually increasing debt. Of course, first, the nice people have to wrestle control of government from Koch Brother meanies and institute a government of da-people.

  7. NOTaREALmerican

    When have large groups of humans prepared for anything except killing each other?

    Have the “cost of global warming” people included the cost of the military? That’s definitely “preparation” for global-warming, and the nation with the biggest military will – as usual – start kicking the asses of the less “prepared” nations.

    Look, there’s a very simple solution for climate-change that EVERY pessimist on the planet can make: don’t have kids. The pessimists die-out, leaving the more abundant normal pathologically-optimistic humans to breed, resulting in even more optimism about “solving” the global-warming problem. And guess what the pathologically-optimistic “solution” to global warming will be? Yeah, killing other humans, and WINNING! Dude, we’re gonna kick their asses, dude! Totally, dude!

    1. washunate

      What’s kind of hilarious is that Xers and Millennials have been rejecting the prevailing worldview in exactly that manner for quite some time. People are having fewer kids later in life from France to Japan to the US.

      Which gives rise to that ridiculously funny neoliberal meme that we’re not makin’ enough workers.

      1. hunkerdown

        Graeber points out in Debt that “offspring” and (lending) “interest” were once the same word in several languages. That scene from Pink Floyd’s The Wall seems more and more prescient each day: selling children as the interest to pay off debt, then stuffing them into a meat grinder.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Why couldn’t they have sold their parents to pay off a loan? Or brothers or sisters into slavery?

          It was natural to think of the process as principal ‘giving birth’ to interest…interesting coming from principle.

          Later, people sold their grandparents, brothers or parents.

          Then, suddenly, it dawned on them – sell our retirement plan, our kids. Let’s cash it now.

          1. craazyboy

            Derivatives cause grandchildren. Is this progress? What would Graeber have to say about this? Hooray, ZIRP has saved us?

  8. Rosario

    I’ll give the benefit of doubt and assume the people who reason along these lines are well intentioned but I cannot more strongly disagree with a way to motivate people to action. Our culturally constructed sense of value is a major reason why climate and environmental issues will be the next great catastrophe facing our species. No commodity is more subsidized by the dogmas of Capitalist ideology than oil (one may argue coal and natural gas as well). An energy slave sold per gallon at the same rate as a loaf of bread which has orders of magnitude less energy per ounce.

    On to what we should be doing instead. Our critiques should center on the thought of individuals like Locke and other 17th and 18th century Englishmen who, though unintentionally, set us on our current course centuries ago. Unfortunately, most social and political theorists since still submit to their assumptions, primacy of markets and private property, the rational individual, etc. We need to start becoming comfortable with the fact that we are not very rational on a macro scale and chaos is inevitable, that is why science and technology are very important for our long term survival. The purpose of culture today should be creating behaviors and worldviews that optimize our living space and sustain it for as long as possible, and we no longer have the excuse of ignorance or lack of tools. We know what the problems are and we have the tools and know how to fix them.

    1. NOTaREALmerican

      Re: and we no longer have the excuse of ignorance or lack of tools. We know what the problems are and we have the tools and know how to fix them.

      The problem isn’t the tools. The problem is: who leads the teaming-masses of followers (50% of whom happen to be below average) allowing the (uh) “enlightened people” to “create behaviors and worldviews that optimize our living space and sustain it for as long as possible”.

      Seems like the (uh) “enlightened people” have a very very VERY marginal track record of leading the teaming masses (50% of whom happen to be below average). History shows the team-masses DO seem to love the charismatic sociopaths who create bullshit about national and ethnic glories (unless the world has evolved beyond that in the last few days).

      1. jrs

        Below average only matters if you have a low opinion of average (and based on a lot of other assumptions like the ability to measure intelligence and thus bell curve distribution etc.). I don’t necessarily have a low opinion of average. Only the average person has everything stacked against him/her making intelligent decisions, and meanwhile the pathological elite run the show.

  9. craazyman

    It’s strange how average temps are supposedly rising when it’s obvious the earth is on a long-term cooling trend. Then it occurred to me why. Most temps are measured where population centers are, and these are growing mostly in warm places. So all the new thermometers are measuring warm temperatures, and the cold temperatures, like in the arctic, don’t have lots of new thermometers to measure them. Consider two thermometers, one in a hot place, one in a cold place. The average temp will be “slightly warm to slightly cool”. Now imagine 10 new thermometers in warm to hot places and no new thermometers in cold places. the average will rise to “kind of hot”. That would seem like warming.

    “that’s ridiculous” I can imagine somebody would say. “Where do you come up with that nonsense? It’s so ludicrous it doesn’t even merit a response! Scientists measure temps in the same place, ovver time. that’s how they tell if temps are rising or falling.”

    OK, I realize that could be a devastating critique. But still. It’s at least plausible that measurement error is a factor in climate projections. How would people really know? It’s complicated, all the math and all the confidence intervals and tests for signficance and all the measurements and all the modeling structure. Who really understands all this? I don’t think as many people do as the number who think they do.

    Also the costs. I mean really, one person’s cost is another person’s revenue. This might be the biggest boom in history, in air conditioners and various cooling systems. They might name football stadiums after air conditioning companies, not financial services companies.

    Personally, I have to trust my instincts and they tell me the earth is cooling. It’s complicated why I think that but it’s not due to an aversion to green energy or love for the republican party. In fact, all energy should be green energy and I’d party with republicans but not vote for them. I reallly really think I’m right. In any event I suspect all the climate models are probably wrong and that almost nobody understands the math and that nobody really understands the economic impact under any scenarios 60 years from now. Frankly, they’re just making this stuff up too. But they claim virtue is on their side. That may be, but it’s not because of their theories. It’s an independent variable.

    1. craazyboy

      Yeah, average temperature is misleading. It’s possible to have melting polar ice caps AND have average temperature go down – resulting in Global Cooling. It just means temps in tax haven locals like Grand Caymen and Panama went way down.

      That could be what’s happening. I don’t pay attention to temperature at all, and prefer to just use Sea Level as my measurement of choice. Can’t mess with that one too much.

      But really, we can take our time because, if Global Coolers are wrong, things can quickly be fixed. Nuclear Winter can reverse the effects of Global Warming in short order!

      1. Tyler

        “Personally, I have to trust my instincts and they tell me the earth is cooling.”

        Craazyman should possibly be banned from this website.

        1. craazyboy

          Sometimes he says things he doesn’t really mean. Or it could be a lapse when he is just babbling. He does that too.

    2. different clue

      Major icecaps, icefields and glaciers are melting back, thinning and shrinking around the edges or more than the edges. It takes heat to melt frozen water. The consistent one-way meltoff indicates a heat buildup under way and invested into melting frozen water. That appears real whatever the error of some thermometers.

        1. cassiodorus

          The problem is that there is indeed a mismatch between the models and the observations. The observations are more extreme than the models. Many of the models do not adequately take into account the multiplier effects of climate change phenomena — so, for instance, the melting of ice reduces Earth’s albedo and thus increases its propensity to store heat. The models have caused people to underestimate the urgency of abrupt climate change.

            1. craazyboy

              Yup. The methane scenario is the really scary one.

              Makes me want to spend all my money in exactly 15 years.

  10. cassiodorus

    The capitalists and capitalist brains will not be able to figure out climate change, ever.

    The problem starts with the notion of capitalism as institutionalized plunder, which is what “profit” is. The core of it is described in volume 1 of Marx’s “Capital.” The surplus created by wage labor is appropriated as property enhancement and realized through sales. Labor creates whole civilizations and capital claims them as property.

    In the era of financialization, moreover, institutional forces move daily to preserve capital’s profit rates in a context of steadily decreasing economic growth. Expectations of profit, documented through business activity, are institutionalized into law — Yves here has well documented how the WTO has granted profits to business entities based merely on governmental efforts to move out of the way of corporate attempts at plunder.

    The preferred mode of capitalist “climate change mitigation” — conversion of businesses to alternative energies — will merely allow said alternative energies (solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear) to supplement fossil fuel energy in a capitalist context. To mitigate climate change, the oil wells, the gas wells, and the coal mines must be abandoned. The grease must be left in the ground. Capitalist society, which pegs its fate to the expectation of profits for fossil fuel capital, cannot do this.

    Moreover, the increase in energy options due to “climate change mitigation” will merely increase society’s total consumption of energy. This is what in economic lingo is called “Jevons’ Paradox” — the more efficiently and cheaply a society’s energy options are, the more likely that society is to increase its energy usage. A society dedicated in capitalist fashion to ever-increasing accumulation and profit will consume ever more energy, the sole limitation being the availability of that energy.

    We can see Jevons’ Paradox at work today in current human rates of oil consumption. Human society does not really need to consume 90 million barrels of oil per day, even with a global population of 7 billion people. But human society today does in fact do such a thing, because capitalist society is geared toward ever-increasing efforts at profit-maximization.

    So every profitable atom of carbon will be extracted from the ground, and there will be no mitigation of climate change under capitalism. Governments, all of which are today devoted to corporate profit, will not stand in the way. Our best bet in actually achieving climate change mitigation, then, is a transition away from the capitalist system altogether, created by ecosocialist government, toward a system of global production for human need rather than for corporate greed. Do the folks who create these cost-benefit analyses take this into account?

    The capitalists regard nature as a “free gift,” and in this regard one part of nature is the Earth’s fossil fuel reserves. At the very least said reserves must be placed out of range of capitalist profit-seeking. But this is to kneecap the capitalist system. “Cost” is involved, but what we are talking about at a bare minimum is the shutdown of an entire profit sector.

    The problem for the cost-benefit analyst is that she or he must regard this kneecapping as a “cost,” to be measured against the “costs” of ultimate doom to be incurred when climate change make Earth uninhabitable for most of its population. The logical problem with this thinking, the reason why it devolves into a bunch of insane babble when its implications are taken far enough, is that a “cost” is merely the result of an economic transaction, an exchange. Exchanges will not bring life back to the billions who will die, nor to the ecosystems which will be drastically simplified by climate change under capitalism. Exchanges will not even bring profitability back to corporate sectors which are disallowed from exploitation. So the language is all wrong. This isn’t economics, it’s ethics.

    Yves, many of your readers have already noted that the “real solution” in such an economic context will occur when planet Earth shakes off the human race like a dog shaking off a bad case of fleas. How insane are economists in this regard?

    1. wbgonne

      Excellent comment.

      As for this:

      The capitalists and capitalist brains will not be able to figure out climate change, ever.

      That is no accident:

      It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

      ― Upton Sinclair

      The level of stupidity I see in relation to AGW is amazing, even from otherwise

      1. Mark

        The country that leads with respect to moving to renewables is Germany. Another is Denmark. and Scotland. and Iceland.

        All capitalist aren’t they?

        1. wbgonne

          Anthropogenic global warming is a GLOBAL problem. Capitalism, also a global system, runs the world. Carbon emissions last year were the highest in history. Capitalism is not only not addressing AGW, it is making impossible to do. That is epic, catastrophic failure by the dominant economic-political system.

          1. spigzone

            The arctic methane bomb currently detonating renders any and all human mitigations efforts utterly meaningless.

        2. cassiodorus

          The rich nations are supplementing their fossil fuel habits with solar power while exploiting the rest of the world, so capitalism is ecologically kewl — and those poor nations which use a lot of coal while their cheap labor supplies the world with consumer goods are just whiny losers y’know.

    2. jrs

      I’m working on some models of the economic cost of the holocaust, I think they will show it’s not a good idea when all costs and benefits are fully accounted for. /godwin

      But yea that’s pretty much it, isn’t it?

      1. Cassiodorus

        Precisely. The economist might reason that if we charge prosperous Germany enough money, it will magically bring back all of those dead Jews, Roma, homosexuals, communists, and dissidents. This is to discount the distinct possibility that if we were to scratch deeply enough under the economy of “Germany” as an entity, we might discover that the nation itself is bankrupt .

        And weren’t they saying awhile back that the global derivatives economy was worth $1.2 quadrillion dollars?

        http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/06/09/risk-quadrillion-derivatives-market-gdp/

        What this brings to my imagination is the vision of a bunch of capitalists asking another bunch of capitalists: “Okay folks, your bill is $1.2 quadrillion dollars for services rendered. Pay up!” When you accept as an axiom, as an a priori chunk of knowledge, the idea that the world is composed of what economists call “value” and that “value” can be represented in exact numbers of US dollars or Euro or yuan or whatever, you are, at core, detached from reality.

    3. washunate

      I would wonder aloud about the point of distinguishing capital from labor in our present system of political economy? The profiting in our system primarily goes to connected insiders. That’s labor.

      I think the more radical critique is not to suggest that capital has subsumed labor, but rather, that labor has subsumed capital. Or perhaps to say it differently, the issue isn’t a conflict between labor and capital. Rather, the issue is the distribution of wealth and power within labor.

      1. cassiodorus

        What’s the point again? There is an owning class. It owns the lion’s share of corporate stock. CEOs and investment bankers may be “working class” but there’s plenty of theory already for a third class, a managerial class, discussed in detail in Burnham’s “The Managerial Revolution.”

        1. washunate

          So you are using capital and labor as class language, as meaning rich and poor, rather than distinguishing between wage earnings and investment earnings, between return on human activity and return on financial or physical assets?

          Or perhaps to ask it differently, are you opposed to our present system of using public activity to enrich private interests, or are you opposed to the idea of capitalism, of private property ownership and price setting amongst private parties and so forth? If it’s the latter, if you reject capitalism itself, what is your preferred method of ownership? For example, do you think that government should own the housing stock?

          1. cassiodorus

            The owners of capital are people whose money makes money (with of course a transitional form such as “stock holdings” or “bonds.”) They don’t really have to work for a living because they have “assets” which appropriate the surplus from wage-labor. I don’t know where you got the idea that I am merely distinguishing between “rich” and “poor.” Read my post again.

            If you want to mitigate climate change (rather than just force gasoline consumers through some hoops), the first thing you do is to nationalize all of the fossil fuel energy industries. This should occur in every country in which they are produced. The transition to carbon-free energy use has to be managed and thus removed from the profits system.

            Given that the starting point is a world-system in which government everywhere is owned by an elite few, and in which national boundaries often mark a distinction between core beneficiaries and plunder zones in the peripheries, the task of performing this nationalism must fall to a global socialist movement aimed toward a global union of free producers, a global co-operative of co-operatives.

            1. washunate

              I think that’s blurring capital and labor then, which was my original point about asking why it matters to distinguish them in the US context of political economy.

              CEOs and investment bankers may be “working class” but there’s plenty of theory already for a third class, a managerial class

              In the US, that ‘managerial class’ is the ownership class. Workers are the owners. Look at the Forbes 400. Almost all that wealth comes from time invested in companies, not money passively earning a return. And money investments from institutional sources often represent labor, especially pension funds. What you are describing is inequality within labor.

              The transition to carbon-free energy use has to be managed and thus removed from the profits system.

              You assume that profit (as in revenue minus expenses) is the problem, but it’s not. The problem is the expenses. Public policy incentivizes overproduction and overconsumption. Whether or not profit happens is largely irrelevant because most of the gain is going to workers (the expenses).

              Capitalism tried to correct the excesses of government policy. It tried to signal that McMansion sprawl had gone too far and that automakers were too big and that stock prices were too high. Government refused. Many educated liberals said hey, wait a minute, house prices can’t go down. Stock prices can’t go down. Auto makers can’t go bankrupt. We can’t let this happen. The losses must be socialized. Why? To protect workers and the economy!

              a global socialist movement

              So I’m curious what you mean by socialism. Socialism is what we’re doing right now in many ways. Your complaint seems to be with socialism as it operates in practice. Which of course you would say isn’t socialism. Which is the exact point I would make about capitalism. This is not a struggle between capitalism and socialism. It’s a struggle within labor for how to divvy up the wages of labor. That makes things much messier since there is no singular cooperative or union or perspective. The people who make cars are workers. The people who sell houses in unsustainable developments are workers. The people who staff prisons are workers. The people who benefit from IP law are workers. The people who provide overpriced healthcare and higher education are workers.

              I noticed you didn’t find my question about who should own the housing stock to be an interesting one. Development is one of the major causes of GHG emissions specifically and environmentally destructive energy usage more generally in the US over the past half century plus. Do you find private ownership acceptable in housing? Or do you think government should own real estate instead?

  11. wbgonne

    Excellent comment.

    As for this:

    The capitalists and capitalist brains will not be able to figure out climate change, ever.

    That is no accident:

    It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

    ― Upton Sinclair

    The level of stupidity I see in relation to AGW is amazing, even from otherwise intelligent people. Sinclair’s quote combined with corporate media propaganda explains it, I believe.

  12. Kraut

    Another game theory problem: Pay the price to reduce emissions and still lose because some major offenders did not join in or let the others pay the price and still cash in the profits ;-) Maybe Yanis Varoufakis can give us some advice…

    1. different clue

      Countries that “pay the price” should ban trade with countries that “do not pay the price” by “not reducing emissions and increasing carbon suckdown”. The thought of “global action” is a silly dream which will never happen. The thought of militant belligerent carbon-dumping protectionism by several countries which are restricting their carbon emissions is more possible. Such countries, acting in concert, could create a “forced march to the top” dynamic.

      1. Santi

        They could charge a “tariff” green tax on the estimated carbon consumed at the frontier, but I doubt current “Free Looting Agreements” would allow this

        1. different clue

          That’s why we America have to unilaterally and belligerently withdraw from every Free Trade Organization and repudiate every Free Trade Treaty and Agreement we have. Then we will be free to charge a carbon-tarrif against carbon dumpers.

  13. SPenfield

    This is an area of science I am quite familiar with and one thing I do know is that climate scientists moderate themselves and generally do not put the most doom-laden scenarios out there in the media. Looking at historical temperature series and fossil records, 2C is enough to melt the Arctic, 4C the Antarctic and a 6C rise enough for year round tropical forests on Antarctica. This is because more heat comes with more mixing and convergence of temperatures at all latitudes (eg more polar vortexes). So I am worried. Limiting to 2C looks like a missed boat already.

    I think this article is interesting but missing the important point that climate change is already imposing costs to society, even prior to mitigation. It also confers some benefits, like growing potatoes in Greenland. The cost in terms of money is nevertheless completely irrelevant. The cost is in real things needed to make more nuclear power, more renewables etc. plus technology needs to be shared, including the resources needed to enact the technology. This challenges the entire global geopolitical system based on systematic exploitation of weak nations.

    1. jrs

      Yea the data leads climate scientist to be a lot more alarmed than they let on, there is professional pressure to downplay things in science, and well they’ve got careers to maintain etc, so they have to play that game. They say they are lot more alarmed than they let on publically, they just don’t say that publically. One wants to scream: JUST TELL THE TRUTH. Raise hell. BE POLITICAL.

      But that’s not for me to determine, as I’m not them. So we must seek to deter the system of mass murder (and climate changes will lead to it, extinction or not) in our own ways.

  14. susan the other

    We need a project that produces measurable results so everyone can see and understand the progress we make against global warming and other pollution. Any project to fix our mess is going to be very long term. So starting now is a given. A planet-wide cleanup of just one aspect of the environment. Everyone is pretty worried about the disastrous condition of our oceans. We could begin by bringing the PH back in balance – that will take a very long time and it will require restrictions on smokestacks and tail pipes. And nobody can complain that it is a useless exercise because the oceans are in fact dying and something must be done, starting now. Nobody can say, well we don’t know if the planet is really warming or even if it is human caused because that isn’t even the point. The point is saving the oceans and they’ve definitely absorbed too much CO2. We are certain about it.

  15. Kunst

    Let’s hope Mother Nature takes care of the problem, because mankind isn’t going to. We value the benefits of energy too much. We will burn more and more fossil fuels regardless of the consequences. We are energy addicts, pretty much the same as heroin addicts, and with the same eventual result. In the long run, Homo Sapiens is going to be an evolutionary failure because we, as a whole, only care about the short term.

  16. Swedish Lex

    As you all know, most of the EU’s time and energy is spent on haggling over and not fixing Greece. Greece represents 1,4% of the EU’s GDP. Not the prioritisation of geniuses.

    In 2010 a stimulus of 2-3 trillion euro, by ECB printing, could have prevented depression and largely taken the EU off the fossil hook. But that amount has instead been spent on the banks and not fixing the euro zone’s core problems.

    And Germany is increasing its CO2 emissions by burning more coal:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/04/world/europe/germany-carbon-emissions-environment.html?_r=0

  17. vidimi

    cost analyses are, for the most part, useless. the costs of global warming will be disproportionately carried by the third world, by the poor, and by the taxpayers. the ultra rich will be less affected than the average person. the costs of doing something about global warming, however, would mostly be the burden of the first world, in particular the ultra rich. it’s no wonder then that, with our current political system, nothing is or will be done about it.

  18. Tenney Naumer

    Boys and girls, I have news for you! These are not climate models. This article is about the PAGE09 model runs. Read all about it here:

    http://www.jbs.cam.ac.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/research/workingpapers/wp1104.pdf

    The model constrains sea level rise to 0.75 m by 2100, which no one believes anymore (except in Virginia and North Carolina); the model permits no tipping points — only something they call discontinuities (read economic collapses); the model does not include the effects of ocean acidification; the effects of declining crop yields with increasing temperatures; the effects of extreme precipitation and weather events; the cost of relocating and rebuilding all of our coastal cities and ports; etc., etc., etc.

    This is the reality of the situation:

    http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2772427/survivable_ipcc_projections_are_based_on_science_fiction_the_reality_is_much_worse.html

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