Going Deeper...Christy and Emanuel on Climate Change

EconTalk Extra
by Amy Willis
Think, Read, and Write: Christ... Christy/Emanuel Postmortem...

For those of you wishing to dig a little deeper into this week's episode on climate change, here are some additional questions for your consideration. Share your thoughts in the comments, or share the questions with others, and let us know how it goes.

1. Why do you think non-experts are so passionate about climate change and macroeconomics? How do you think they would justify their passion? Do you think evidence can settle these disputes? What can be done to "detribalize" these debates?

2. In August, 2013 Roberts talked with MIT Economics Professor Robert Pindyck about the policy challenges of climate change. Unlike his MIT colleague Emanuel, Pindyck argues the climate change debate is not characterized by uncertainty, but by disagreement. How does the way Pindyck views the "climate change dilemma" compare to the views of Christy and Emanuel? By whom are you most persuaded, and why? [Note: The Pindyck episode also has a corresponding Listening Guide, which may be useful for further questions and/or instructional use.]

3. In December, 2013, Roberts spoke with Georgia Institute of Technology atmospheric scientist Judith Curry about the complexities and uncertainties of climate change. Like Emanuel, she emphasizes the variability and multiple factors that contribute to temperature fluctuations. But she concludes, "There's bigger things to worry about than climate change." What sorts of things is Curry worried about, and how do they compare to the concerns of Christy and Emanuel? What do you think our focus should be in terms of climate policy, and why?

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CATEGORIES: Environment (40)

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COMMENTS (6 to date)
John writes:

I don't think we are seeing a tribal fight. I believe we are more importantly seeing a public crowd-sourcing of the peer review process. Three referees are no match against a full public review on a specific topic or journal article. Many of the questions raised by the public lead to better research topics to study. We are already seeing major positives changes to health, nutrition and medical pratices because of the crowd-sourcing of the peer review process. Which brings us back to carbon dioxide based global warming theory.

To date, many if not the majority of the responses from the scientific climate experts to the public peer review process have been unscientific. When the scientists can't respond with actual data supporting their case, It makes one simply conclude that climate science is uncertain and the associated risks to the planet are equally uncertain. Religion simply doesn't have a place in scientific journals.

Keep up the good work.

Seth writes:

"1. Why do you think non-experts are so passionate about climate change and macroeconomics?"

Because their passion costs a lot less than the rewards of their tribal affiliation.

Mike F. writes:

1. I don't think non-experts are interested in the details of either climate science or macroeconomics, but are passionate about the human stories each of them tells. Both play very nicely into the red vs. blue narrative that colors all our news and commentary. Big business and the rich taking advantage of the rest of humanity to increase their wealth and power, even at the risk of their own offspring. Both areas offer a good background for the compelling story of the selfish plundering the not quite as successfully selfish. There is no evidence that could change this. The debate is staged to gather more converts to our tribe, not to gain perspective. (At least in the public commentary. I would be more charitable in describing private conversations, and a very few public forums like EconTalk that attempt to air more than one perspective without simultaneously heaping ridicule on the non-favored.)
2. I thought Pindyck's take on climate change lined up pretty closely with Emanuel's when it came down to practical policy implications. Human action could reduce the likelihood of catastrophic climate changes in the next 100 years, and the costs probably aren't all that high relative to the priority of reducing the risk. Whether you use a low discount rate or a high discount rate, if you make the catastrophe bad enough, it pays.
3. There are all sorts of compromises to human welfare to worry about, only one of which is climate change. Sufficient energy, breathable air, natural disaster mitigation, sufficient food and shelter for growing populations, sufficient water for agricultural, industrial and home use, global banking crises, global political crises, terrorism, and government paranoia as a response to name a few. Many of these have elements related to climate change. The planetary ecosphere is a complicated system and we don't understand all the feedback mechanisms for all our actions. That doesn't mean we can get away with not addressing the immediate problems as they arise. The long-term policy always gives way to the immediate need.

Joe writes:

I don't think there should be any public policy regarding climate change at all. At least based on the studies I've read, even if the first world relegated itself back to the 19th century re: greenhouse gas emissions, the rest of the world's emissions would render the effort meaningless. And that's assuming our contribution to warming to some extent is real, and assuming there is any warming at all.

Reference Bjorn Lomborg and Judith Curry's comments regarding more "bank for the buck" on spending e.g. malaria prevention, pharmaceuticals distribution to the third world, etc. vs the deleterious effects of fiscal spending and/or cap and trade policies.

Alan writes:

I think people are passionate about it because it hits them in the wallet. Like most things, if it costs money or might cost you money, it's worth paying attention to. A lot of the climate change debate isn't about whether the climate changes because almost everyone realizes that it does.

The big question, and the one that drives the passion, is will this cost me money or make me money?

Another facet of the debate is effectiveness of solutions. Even if you assume for the sake of argument that climate change is a problem and something must be done about it, a lot of people don't trust the US government (or any other government) to do something effective to fix it. Governments a long and sordid history of doing the wrong thing under the guise of solving a problem and then doing the wrong thing even harder when the solution proves ineffective.

[broken url removed--Econlib Ed.]

Brett_McS writes:

"1. Why do you think non-experts are so passionate about climate change?"

Er, because billions and billions (probably trillions) of dollars of tax payer's money is being thrown at this boondoggle?

Because politicians and bureaucrats are using "climate change" as an excuse to socialize the whole economy?

Because the reputation of science is being thrown to the dogs by shoddy "scientists" (actually modellers) who have suddenly become flavour of the month because they bring millions of dollars of tax payers money into the department?

Trillions of dollars have been 'invested' in this narrative before there was any debate at all. Having a 'debate' now is virtually an insult to the productive members of society who have been force to pay for this scam.

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