Continuing Education... Matt Ridley on Climate Change

EconTalk Extra
by Amy Willis
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Matt Ridley on Climate Change... Alvin Roth on Matching Markets...

Denier? Lukewarmer? Alarmist? Why so many pejorative descriptors for those engaging in conversation about climate change? This is among the questions explored in this week's EconTalk episode with with Matt Ridley.

Now we'd like to continue a civil conversation on this important issue. Please use the prompts below as conversational sparks, and share your reactions in the Comments. As always, we love to hear from you.

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1. What part of this week's conversation most surprised you, and why?

2. What is Pascal's Wager, and why does Ridley refer to the climate change debate as a new version of this wager? (Extra credit if you can also explain how the reasoning behind Pascal's wager is different than in the case of a Black Swan.)

3. At approximately the 50 minute mark of the conversation, Ridley suggests that "'therefore' is a gigantic leap." What does he mean by this? Can you think of a time when you made a similar type of logical leap in a decision? What were the consequences?

4. Why has Russ become a little less skeptical about climate change? Can he overcome his own confirmation bias? Has your thinking on climate change evolved over time?

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COMMENTS (30 to date)
DMS writes:

The silliness of Pascal's Wager, the fear of Black Swan events, and Russ's putative decline in skepticism are all related to misapplications of the Precautionary Principle.

If it were costless to the non-believer to feign a belief in God, then Pascal's argument might carry some weight on strict dominance - I would have more total utility (potentially) by feigning belief than not. If it were costless to build an asteroid shield for the low-probability, but high-cost event of an earth collision, then one would handle that Black Swan potential by building the shield. Again, total potential utility is maximized with the cost-free shield in place. But of course, there are always costs of precaution and prevention - there's the rub. By the way, this includes the theologically painful cost of facing God after one's demise and trying to explain why the path of duplicity for access to heaven was an admirable choice. My guess is that The Lord is not a fan of Pascal's Wager...

I voluntarily wear a helmet when riding my motorcycle, but I do not choose to wear it in an automobile. Am I some kind of crazed risk denier? Or am I making a rational tradeoff given my own desires and personality profile? There are 1.2 million traffic fatalities annually worldwide - a number that dwarfs even the most extreme concerns of climate alarmists in the distant future. Shouldn't we mandate a reduction in worldwide traffic speeds by two-thirds (or some such figure), thereby saving hundreds of thousands of lives each year, essentially forever? That is a known benefit, available immediately, and doesn't require any risk calibration or future discounting. Aren't we racing around too much in our capitalist society anyway? In fact, we will probably create all sorts of new jobs in the alternative "slowed-transport" industry. Is reducing ground speeds that onerous when so much is at stake? What's wrong with all you people that fail to recognize this - are you Traffic Deniers?

And yet, I have never heard any call for worldwide traffic speed reductions. But I am bombarded constantly by the casuistry of the Precautionary Principle as it applies to global warming. Surely we must act given the terrifying risks - logic and decency demand it! Well, no, logic and decency demand that we prioritize as best we can given our limited knowledge and foresight. We must recognize that we have virtually no ability to forecast the probabilities or the outcome (good or bad, I might add) of global temperatures thirty years from now. I think it is perfectly rational to leave worldwide traffic speeds untouched, and it is equally rational to let our worldwide economic activities adapt gradually over time to whatever the future climate brings, good or bad.

Like Matt Ridley, I consider myself a lukewarmer. I have no idea what the details of the future will look like, but I do think there are two hypothetical scenarios. One is for us to be warm, rich and smart while the other is to be cool, poor and dumb. I'll take the former, thank you.

Jerm writes:

Listen Ajit,

Russ and Matt Ridley will tell you who's right in the climate change debate if you want them to, but it'll just validate their theory that you cared more about being right than you did about the scientific method.

However, they may be so clouded with bias that subconsciously they want to be wrong. In which case, I'd bet the farm on "catastrophic global warming."

wellbasically writes:

I don't feel like enough credit is given to the apocalyptic here. In St. John's time, the powerless Jews constructed an end of the world where the Romans would get theirs. If it hasn't been warming it has been something else, so predictably and so persistently trying to reign in capitalism.

Yes it's true that restraint of the successful, in the form of big energy consumers, can be just an excuse for people who don't want to work hard. But social control of achievement and runaway meriticracy Is necessary. Isn't that what this is?

Gary Mullennix writes:

Man made? Perhaps. Warmer? It has warmed over 400 years. It could warm further. Bjorn Lömborg has addressed the scenarios repeatedly with the appropriate behavior to deal with the negatives of warming while enjoying the benefits. Don't build next to the oceans. Build far greater infrastructure for water management. Reflect heat. And many more. But, there is no viable economic value in returning CO2 levels to some past historic level some planners have decreed is the only way to respond.

Gary Mullennix writes:

Man made? Perhaps. Warmer? It has warmed over 400 years. It could warm further. Bjorn Lömborg has addressed the scenarios repeatedly with the appropriate behavior to deal with the negatives of warming while enjoying the benefits. Don't build next to the oceans. Build far greater infrastructure for water management. Reflect heat. And many more. But, there is no viable economic value in returning CO2 levels to some past historic level some planners have decreed is the only way to respond.

john Penfold writes:

So far we’ve gotten cash for clunkers, corn based ethanol, Solendra et al, wind turbines, restrictions on gas and oil development, not to mention nuclear and we’re supposed to have confidence that our centralized bureaucracy and Congress will know how to ameliorate global warming? There are many dozens of ways to reduce energy consumption most from reducing regulations and controls and allowing markets and changing prices to sort things out. If we did that we’d almost certainly find new technologies and better ways to reduce expensive consumption, longer commutes, greater sprawl etc. Having Washington or Brussels find new technologies means that existing companies with existing technologies, or hopeful new tweaks and who are big enough to have K street presence, will determine how we allocate those resources. So I’ll remain a skeptic until I see the global warming crowd recommend policies that allow greater adaptation and adjustment, promise a process that is likely to produce greater savings, lower energy consumption and don’t merely empower and enrich themselves or their friends.

John Roesink writes:

4) It seems that Russ has become a little less skeptical because of the increased concern of people he respects. As someone who discovered the EconTalk podcast by searching iTunes for "Taleb", I have an immense amount of respect for NNT, too. But I think I understand the fundamental mistake that the Talebs and Jerry Taylors of the world are making. Russ believes the field of economics has suffered from trying to copy the methods of the physical sciences, from trying to implement too rigorous mathematical methods in areas they don't apply. I believe climate science is suffering from trying to be too much like economics. It is possible to understand and "know" some of the physical equations that govern the interaction of different aspects of the atmosphere. It is impossible to accurately model the interactions of all of the knowable functions, but more importantly, there is no fundamental reason we should believe we'll ever even know all of the forces that operate on the atmosphere.

Economic systems are the creation of humans, they didn't precede human evolution, they'd disappear tomorrow if we did. Since they are our creation we should be able to understand and model every aspect of them, all of the elements are revealed to us because they are of our making. But consider the following hypothetical. What if an intergovernmental panel of the 1700 greatest finance professors on the planet built the most complex and amazing computer model to predict the global change in interest rates. What if they issued a report that confidently predicted the value of the LIBOR on the last day of business in 2099 (with 5 decimal place precision, because they're macro guys) and then predicted a whole host of social and economic ills that result from the certain rise in interest rates. Would Taleb be writing papers describing the size of the fat left tail? Or would he be laughing so hard he couldn't hold an espresso?

There have been several podcasts on artificial intelligence recently. I'm not worried about artificial intelligence, I'm worried about artificial stupidity. AS is when humans build computer models which oversimplify the complex system they represent, and then believe the output of the models. The real downside risk from AS is that a really fancy computer model prevents intelligent humans from stepping back and saying, "Wait. Is this even something that is knowable?" The climate debate will always hinge on predicting the future. As long as we're in the realm of predicting the future, I'll cast my lot in with Niels Bohr, a scientist who worked at a time when it was still possible to step back from the problem and think.

Jason Haines writes:

This was a very interesting interview and a counterpoint to previous interviews with "Climate Alarmists"

As Russ has previously noted, new evidence on a topic should make one shift one's views. How far the shift should be depends on the quality of the evidence.

I was hoping to find some counterarguments to Matt Ridley's claims in this comments thread. Finding nothing here, a quick internet search returned this site which gave some counterpoints:
http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

Jack Roberts writes:

I'm acustomed to Econtalk guests with insights and ideas that make me think and even change my mind. Accepting the view of "97% of scientists" and noting this show's topic, I was excited to have my position challenged. Unfortunately, I was let down and feel I just wasted an hour.

Not being very knowledgable on climatology, I was initially intrigued by what I was hearing from Mr Ridley. It took only a couple of searches to determine he was repeating criticisms (some valid some specious) that were addressed years ago.

To take just one example, the 1998 "hockey stick" graph was initially challenged and rightfully so. The finidings are shocking. What Ridley does is use the initial challenges (by legitimate scientists) as proof that the "hockey stick" is worthless and misleading. He fails to mention that many independent studies using other forms of temperature measurement have corroborated the findings since it was first published. He is either purposely hiding that information or ignorant of the science. Not sure which is worse.

Robert H. writes:

I think he copped to this a little, but Ridley has a really bad habit of declaring his favored studies definitive. For example, in this op-ed he cites a new study that he says shows that "the amount of warming that, with rising emissions, the world is likely to experience by the time carbon dioxide levels have doubled since pre-industrial times... is 1.3 C." This he thinks is definitive: "Why trust the new results rather than the Met Office model? The new study not only uses the most robust method, but joins several other observationally based studies from the past year that also find lower climate sensitivity than complex climate models exhibit."

But even the people who did that study are like, "dude, ours is just one model. We aren't that confident in it." Ridley's answer to your precautionary principle guests is "no, there is a new consensus around new studies showing that climate change will be fine," but even the people doing those studies don't agree that their results are definitive and don't agree that, even if their predictions are the accurate one, that means everything will be fine (several people have done cost-benefit analyses using the less-alarmist model that still show a possibility of significant costs). There is no consensus.

Having googled around, Ridley looks something like a vacuum cleaner that hoovers up studies or news stories indicating climate change won't be so bad and then declares them the bee's knees. He's probably right that it is unfair that that gets him painted as a corporate stooge but that groups that suck up and regurgitate only the most alarmist predictions get a seat at the discussion. He's probably wrong that he has a much more accurate picture of what climate change will be like than what people think of as the scientific consensus. I think he's definitely wrong to the extent he tried to paint this as something everyone does -- "oh, here I am focusing on all the studies that back my opinion but you know the guys on the other side are just looking to studies that back *their* opinion." Just spending two hours on Google I found lots of scientists addressing and incorporating into their world view the studies Ridley thinks his opponents are ignoring. The "evil forces of orthodoxy are smothering climate science" story still seems kind of overplayed to me (ie, there are no or very few stories along the lines of "here is my great paper I couldn't get published;" "here is my stellar monograph everyone ignored;" "here is the great research agenda that didn't get funded;" etc. The stories I do hear are less "good science was ignored or underfunded because of climate change orthodoxy" and more "people were mean to me because of climate change orthodoxy").

In general, his arguments throughout the podcast were so contradictory as to baffle me. "There is a new scientific consensus that climate change isn't a problem. You haven't heard about it because there is an unshakable scientific consensus that climate change is a problem." What?!?

I give the dude two stars out of five. Your precautionary principle guests were much, much more convincing.

Kendall writes:

I haven't finished the podcast or read all of the comments so I apologize if this has been addressed but I wanted to ask a question while people are still reading the comments.

My understanding is Matt is correct in saying to get run-away warming you have to have some kind of positive feedback from the warming caused by CO2. I think both sides agree on that. My question is since the positive feedback is based on warming then wouldn't warming from any source cause run-away warming? If there is really positive feedback from warming then the earth's climate system is inherently unstable and nothing we can do will stop the run-away warming due to the positive feedback from the first part of the 1900's. There has to be some kind of negative feedback on warming (and cooling) or else we would have had run-away warming (or cooling) centuries ago. What is the normal explanation for that?

jw writes:

John R:

I'm not worried about artificial intelligence, I'm worried about artificial stupidity. AS is when humans build computer models which oversimplify the complex system they represent, and then believe the output of the models.

This is one of the most astute observations that I have seen in a long time.

This dovetails with my comments on AGW are in Weitzman/Continuing. The AGW/IPCC modelers do not understand the concept of IS/OOS, modeling techniques, the limits of their data sets, the techniques to re-model and have made very basic errors since their founding.

The current 17 year pause DISPROVES decades of AGW models. That doesn't mean that these models can be rejiggered, finessed, recalculated with slightly different values (and it certainly doesn't mean that they can go back and change their historical data, which they have done) - they need to be thrown out.

In a perfect world, they would come up with new forcing elements, better theories, make new predictions, then wait 20 or 30 years, maybe a century before declaring whether the model was correct or not, instead of immediately declaring that the sky was falling (sorry, WILL fall in 100 years) and that they need to have a lot of conferences in Rio and Paris to carry on about it.

Conversely, if the out of sample (OOS) real world data again doesn't adhere to the new model, admit that they were wrong and start anew a third time. I'm not holding my breath.

Climate is complex and chaotic. These problems are VERY difficult to model.

And as for the "use oil industry subsidies for AGW research" proponents, I would gladly vote for eliminating all oil subsidies (and sugar, banking, etc to be consistent...) if we could eliminate ALL "green energy" subsidies as well. The US would save tens of billions of dollars a year. Tesla, a few more solar panel manufacturers, and some bird chopping (sorry, wind farm) companies would go out of business, but that would be not be a loss to anyone.

Jason Musgrave writes:

After this interview, I want very much to have Dr. Steven Novella respond to the issues brought up. Dr. Novella does a lot of speaking and thinking about the sort of meta-science issues. I would bring two of my favorite podcasters and thinkers about science together and would be a fantastic interview.

http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/author/snovella/

Gregory McIsaac writes:

I appreciated hearing Ridley’s perspective on climate change. It seems he has read deeply on the topic, and I appreciated that he had a nuanced critique of the IPCC and the underlying science. The IPCC’s assessment is long and considers a wide range of studies. As pointed out above and by Dr. Ridley himself, Dr. Ridley has a tendency to cherry pick the studies that support his view. I suspect most scientists will tend to do so. But I don’t think it is all about politics. The survey of members of the American Meteorology Society (AMS) examined the association between political orientation and view of climate change and found that political association accounted for only 18% of the variation in views about the likely harms of climate change.

Regarding the AMS survey, I think Dr. Ridley misrepresented those results. He claimed that “there was a much bigger survey of members of the American Meteorological Association, most of whom are scientists and all of whom are climatologists in some sense; and that--the figure there, when asked about 'How many of you think that climate change is likely to be dangerous?' the figure there was 52%.”

Meteorologists are not necessarily climate scientists. Many members of AMS are broadcast meteorologists who report on short term weather forecasts. Climate is LONG term (multi-decade) average weather. Consulting weather forecasters about climate change is a bit like consulting pediatricians about diseases that typically afflict adults in their 40s and 50s. Yes, they may know something about it, but it is not their expertise. For this reason, the AMS survey results were categorized by area of expertise, which segregated climate scientists from meteorology and atmospheric science. Of all respondents, 52% said global climate change was occurring and mostly human caused. The percentage of respondents reporting that climate change is likely to be dangerous was not specifically reported in the published survey results. But the percentage of respondents who believed climate change to be mostly human caused was considerably higher (73%) among those who mostly focus on climate, with another 10% of this group believing that climate change was equally human and naturally caused, and another 6% agreeing that humans have had some influence but unsure of the fraction. From the published paper, we don’t know what level of danger the climate scientists associated with the climate change. Regression analyses were conducted on the responses of those who believed climate change was occurring and the expected level of danger was weakly (total r square =0.29), associated with the respondent’s perception of the consensus among climate scientists, their political ideology, their level of expertise and whether they perceived this to be an issue of conflict within AMS. But it should also be noted that climate scientists are not necessarily experts on the impacts of climate change. These impacts may be best evaluated by people with expertise in areas such as agriculture, entomology, infectious diseases, and urban infrastructure.

Scientists and non-scientists alike tend to be skeptical of new and untested ideas. Most new ideas get modified or discarded in being vetted by skeptics. In the discussion with Dr. Ridley, several scientific discoveries were mentioned (e.g., stomach ulcers being caused by bacteria) that were initially ridiculed but did finally get through the vetting process. The implication was that the current consensus on climate change was similarly the status quo standing in the way of the next best idea (e.g., Ridley’s luke warmer view). But the examples mentioned was clearly a biased sample. You failed to mention things like cold fusion, and many other theories, discoveries and technologies that get reported each year but don’t live up to their initial promise. In those instances, the initial skepticism of the scientific community was legitimate and appropriate. If Ridley’s view turns out to be correct, he will have boasting rights like Marshall and Warren who were right about stomach ulcers. If he turns out to be wrong, like Pons and Fleishman were wrong about cold fusion, then his reputation may suffer (although this does not always occur in the journalism profession).

The current scientific consensus on climate change as articulated by the IPCC and the US National Academy of Sciences has been analyzed and vetted by various committees and represents the current state of the knowledge. I agree that the 97% figure has been misrepresented by advocates, but there is nonetheless wide agreement among scientists with relevant expertise. I think the US National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council does the best job of vetting the science on this issue by assembling expert teams with relevant expertise. (They have studied and identified flaws in the original hockey stick graph that Dr. Ridley discussed).

That said, the critics of the scientific consensus should recognize that there is substantial body of evidence supporting the consensus, and critics should expect rigorous scrutiny of their ideas in light of the existing evidence. Scientists are human and make mistakes. It is encouraging that the examples given of past scientific mistakes have largely been corrected.

On the role of water vapor in the atmosphere, Dr. Ridley is correct to point out that the water vapor feedback loop is a large part of the projected warming. But I don’t think it is correct to say that “we now know pretty well not to be true.” The IPCC reports that total water vapor in the atmosphere increased in the 1970s and 80s (when surface temperatures also increased), but has been relatively flat since the late 1990s, like surface temperatures. There has been a decline in stratospheric water vapor after 2000 (which is a small portion of the total), which is not well understood and has contributed to some cooling. But I haven’t seen any evidence contradicting the basic feedback between warmer temperatures leading to greater humidity and subsequently amplifying warming.

Dr. Ridley seems to be a loyal critic who respects the basic scientific foundations that inform the scientific consensus. This is in contrast to those who reject the basic science of climate change. In any community there will be a range of opinion and I think it is worthwhile to understand that range of opinion.

I don’t understand all the details of climate change or its impacts, just like I don’t understand all the details of quantum mechanics, nutrition, medicine or microbiology. So, I admit I depend upon climate scientists, physicists, and other specialists to provide some simplified explanations of the science underlying their expertise and its implications. I’ll seek out a range of opinions among experts, but given the historical tendency for the experts to eventually converge on the right answer, I think the consensus opinion of experts might be the best bet as long as the opinion has been relatively stable over a couple of decades.

Greg McIsaac

Antonio writes:

I really enjoyed Matt Ridley interview. His journey is eye opening and Russ honesty in better being skeptic than stand behind ignorance and bias is a good suggestion. Climate Change is a topic everybody talks about as if they knew but none seems to really know. Authority figures like Pope Francisco and Pres. Obama have a higher moral responsibility in being intellectually honest since their opinions create moral hazard among their followers.

When I heard the story of the recent bullying on Ridley I thought at least he is a well known figure. Recently came to light the story of Dr. Wei-Hock, Willie, Soon who more than a deniers seems to be also a Lukewarmer.

Savvy Street Story about Dr. Soon

Interviewing Dr. Soon could be interesting for the EconTalk listeners and the series on this topic.

Josiah writes:

Kendall,

The effect of CO2 on temperature is logarithmic, which means that as CO2 concentrations increase the effect of a set amount of increase in CO2 concentration diminishes. Past a certain point that will cancel out the effect of the positive feedbacks.

jw writes:

Prof. McIsaac,

Notice how many times you use the word "consensus". The IPCC and AGW alarmists rely on the public's mistaking consensus for science. It is not. You make a hypothesis, test it and validate or invalidate your hypothesis. The IPCC made its hypothesis and it has been invalidated for 17 years.

Now, I accept that on geological and climatological timescales, 17 years may not be significant, but IMHO, a century may also not be statistically significant either. The IPCC assumes that AGW can be separated from the noise on shorter timescales so it has to live with its failure on shorter timescales as well.

Also, a poll by the AMS of its members OPINIONS has no bearing on science.

michael pettengill writes:

Here is a political economy question deserving of a separate topic.

What happens to property rights when oceans rise and swallow up your property, or at least puts it under six inches of water almost constantly and the road to the property can't be maintained, along with other utilities?

Climate change that is only a minor problem that affects only 10,000 properties in the US per year out of the probably billion parcels of property in the US is certainly a minor problem.

Still, the properties affected will be concentrated in places like Louisiana and Florida.

Louisiana is losing land at the rate of one lot per hour. And most of that loss is due to oil and gas development cost cutting - jobs are not created and wages paid to restore the damage from laying pipe in the wetlands which lets salt water in which kills the growth that creates the land.

In Southern Florida and places like Norfolk, just the ocean warming is expanding the seas enough to raise sea level causing daily flooding at high tide that is certainly going to become constant flooding. Warmer water is less dense so gravity will pull the same mass of water to every spot as before but the level will be higher.

This is a different property right issue than riparian rights that drought will take away.

Whether an angry god or burning natural capital is the cause, the loss of property is a problem for political-economists.

michael pettengill writes:

jw:

The current 17 year pause DISPROVES decades of AGW models.

Do you have evidence of a 17 year pause in:
acidification of oceans
rising sea levels due to...
ocean waters warming
ice mass in the Arctic declining
the glaciers melting more rapidly than ever

If we look at the economy the same way you look at climate change, using just one metric, then the Obama economy has been fantastic! Just look at the trillions in wealth created in the stock market since Obama took office! Can you name any president with more trillions in wealth created than Obama? Don't offer other data on the economy unless you also back up your climate claims with lots of different data types.

Gregory McIsaac writes:

jw,

I used the term "consensus" 7 times. Please notice that I never claimed it was science.

Geologic time scales is not really relevant in this discussion. Climatologists define climate "normals" by 30 year averages. Thirty is an arbitrary number, but it is clearly shorter than the time scale that most geologists work on.

The most recent IPCC report points out that there have been 15 year periods with little or no warming in the past century. They also give some reasons that might explain the recent hiatus, including a series of small volcanoes and declining solar activity. They state, with high confidence, that projections for the next 15 years (2013-2028) are for more rapid warming (baring any major volcanic eruptions). If this prediction turns out to not be true, then I think we should see a different consensus among climate scientists.

BTW, 2014 was widely reported as being the warmest year on record, so maybe the hiatus has not extended to 17 years. Also, there has been a paper published that describes a readjustment of the historical sea surface temperatures to account for changes in measurement (Dr. Ridley made an oblique reference to this). But the upshot is that the revised temperature records result in a slowdown but no apparent hiatus in warming http://berkeleyearth.org/whither-the-pause-noaa-report-shows-no-recent-slowdown-in-warming/

Greg McIsaac

jw writes:

mp,

- I believe (not a lawyer) that in a hurricane, if the lot (and house) is washed away, the homeowner is out of luck. The same holds true if natural beach erosion washes away the lot (NC's Outer Banks, for instance, are constantly moving around and have been for millennia).

- The arctic ice is not melting, in fact it is growing rapidly (it DID melt for a while, but the fact that it came back as CO2 rose is just another hole in the IPCC models. (BTW, arctic ice has no effect on ocean levels.)

- Ocean acidification is more a SO2 issue than CO2.

Instead of refuting each point by point, especially since these points are not the forcing functions that the IPCC has determined are worth modeling, I suggest that you spend some time reading up on some of the more technical "denier" sites. There is a lot of good science that is being ignored by the AGW crowd.

As Russ as said several times, you have to look for the confounding factors, the biases (and they are MUCH heavier on the alarmist side), and other counter arguments, especially when it goes against the grain of what is easy and currently popular.

Your analogy to economics is apt (although the claim that I am focused on only one parameter is not). The Fed and other Central Banks have developed models and "stress tests" at great cost and created by math and economics PhD's. They failed miserably in 2008 and are still failing today.

Economics is also a complex and chaotic system and VERY hard to model.

Jesse C writes:

I'm a skeptic due to:

  • Motives that incentivize politicians/others to "do something" about the climate
  • Passionately strong opinions about man-made GW not commensurate with critical capability of the opinion holder seem to be ubiquitous

There's little I can do about the later, but I've often thought that if we could control the former, we might get more honesty in the conversation.
Years ago, I made a pledge to personally use only as much energy as Al Gore. (On average, but I'm pretty sure not a minute goes by where I outpace him). If I use less, I yield the remainder of my use as a credit back to the masses. If Al Gore ever changes his lifestyle to use less energy than I do, I will gladly reduce my own footprint.

If enough people out there agreed to the same pledge, and instead of just Al Gore, we defined a limit of average daily usage to be the maximum average usage of numerous passionately loud advocates of government intervention and regulation, then they will then have the power to fix the problem once and for all. If they choose to lower their footprints, then everyone wins, and my concern about motives would be unfounded - mea culpa. If they refuse to lower their own usage, then I think it validates my concern.

As it stands, my conscience is clean. (Regarding my choice of Al Gore as the model, I admittedly don't have special ability to choose a genuine spokesperson for the anthropogenic global warming crowd, so I contracted out to the Nobel folks.)

Gregory McIsaac writes:

Question 3. At approximately the 50 minute mark of the conversation, Ridley suggests that "'therefore' is a gigantic leap." What does he mean by this?

Dr. Ridley was referring to the difference between a trend in global warming and projected impacts. I agree it is important to distinguish between projected warming and estimated impacts. I agree that the estimated impacts are more uncertain than the projected warming, largely because of uncertainties about human abilities to adapt over long periods of time.

But adaptation to an increase in sea levels will likely require more than "just a little more air conditioning", as Dr. Roberts indicated. The impact of rising sea levels are likely to be severe in densely populated low lying places like Bangladesh.

And the connection between global warming and dangerous impacts are not not necessarily simple, naive leaps of logic drawn out of thin air. The dangerous nature of the estimated impacts have been developed by IPCC and the US National Research Council drawing on a wide range of expertise and professional judgement in agriculture, engineering, public health, etc. The impacts may be underestimated or overestimated. But institutions such as the US National Research Council have considered the science robust enough to make the following statement:

"Already, record high temperatures are on average significantly outpacing record low temperatures, wet areas are becoming wetter as dry areas are becoming drier, heavy rainstorms have become heavier, and snowpacks (an important source of freshwater for many regions) are decreasing.

"These impacts are expected to increase with greater warming and will threaten food production, freshwater supplies, coastal infrastructure, and especially the welfare of the huge population currently living in low-lying areas. Even though certain regions may realise some local benefit from the warming, the long-term consequences overall will be disruptive."

(page 19)
http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/exec-office-other/climate-change-full.pdf

Greg McIsaac

Simon writes:

Hi Russ

Love the podcast.

A richer line of questioning on your lessons from Taleb and Weitzman would have been the substance of their argument rather than that they are smart.

They bring a risk management framework to a highly uncertain topic. Matt was clear on the way his mind has changed with new info and that the data was volumous and uncertain. Yet there was little recognition of risk in the talk. Matts current view reflects overconfidence in his interpretation of the data. What if he is wrong?

I found his characterisation of the costs of mitigating action to he highly unconvincing.

neil21 writes:

To be explicit (and maybe set up a straw man, so I'd love to refine this statement):

The case skeptics must make is that tax-revenue-neutral of pricing carbon dioxide (i.e. cutting other taxes to compensate the median citizen) in the developed world will be a net negative for quality of life for the median world citizen.

I don't hear that case on this podcast.

jw writes:

To address the various economic impacts and costs questions above, I would suggest reading Bjorn Lomborg (a more than lukewarmer and certainly not a "denier").

Just as SCOTUS recently ruled that the EPA has not been taking cost/benefit analysis into account in its regulations, Lomborg spends a lot of time analyzing the costs (direct and indirect) of AGW and, if allocated that amount of money, would politicians or economists actually use it to offset AGW. The answer is that AGW is FAR down on their list of best uses.

Economics is the study of allocating scarce resources. This is true in spades when discussing AGW.

Jordan Hedberg writes:

Here is what Nassim Taleb has to Say about trying to predict "thin-tailed events.

It proves why you can't predict in any multivariate (not even complex) system.
Even thin-tailed variables are unpredictable.

The whole argument on Global warming is a giant "prediction fest" but guess what? We cannot predict.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/50282823/Propagation.pdf

Bryan MacKinnon writes:

A thoughtful discussion but then you read articles like this and wonder: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-33551569

Dave Nickum writes:

I second the idea of having a true Metadata skeptic - Dr. Steven Novella, on EconTalk. He is a true skeptic and he would be a good interview on the current state of climate change. He is not a cherry picker.

Arnold Ahyuen writes:

Michael Pettengill wrote:

If we look at the economy the same way you look at climate change, using just one metric, then the Obama economy has been fantastic! Just look at the trillions in wealth created in the stock market since Obama took office! Can you name any president with more trillions in wealth created than Obama? Don't offer other data on the economy unless you also back up your climate claims with lots of different data types.


Michael pat yourself on the back for creating trillions in wealth not Obama. Three rounds of quantitative easing is more then likely, like CO2, the cause of "unprecedented" wealth creation.

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