Looking to a statistician or economist for expert guidance on complex scientific matters makes about as much sense as consulting a neurosurgeon or a hairdresser for advice on investing in some arcane corner of the derivatives market.
However, when it comes to climate science, this is exactly what has been happening. A small band of people operating in fields entirely beyond their training or competence have, largely thanks to their skill in gaming the media, emerged as de facto international experts, advising politicians and shaping policy, with a patina of science jargon glossing over a hard core of ideology.
The best known of these is Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish academic who has cleverly pitched himself as the hip “alternative voice” to the stuffy scientists and environmental doomsayers. Since the publication in 2001 of his superbly disingenuous book, ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist’, Lomborg is widely perceived as the most plausible, articulate voice telling us to ignore the ever more urgent warnings from the scientific community on the need to stabilise our climate system.
Lomborg reportedly spent 18 months producing a book, which, taken at face value, overturns almost everything we know about earth sciences, from biodiversity to soil erosion, atmospheric physics, hydrology, ice dynamics, ocean circulation and dozens of other scientific fields besides.
Quite an achievement for someone without even an undergraduate degree in a physical science and not a single published paper in any of the fields he purports to debunk. That Lomborg has developed such a comically inflated view of his own expertise would, in normal circumstances, make him a harmless figure of fun.
Lomborg’s actual genius lies not in science, but in theatre. He realised that if he could look and sound science-y, almost no one would know the difference, since few people in the media or politics have any idea how science actually works in the first place. It was a bold, brilliant ploy, and it worked. ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist’ was denounced as shoddy by professional scientists and academies, but his inclusion of hundreds of references and 3,000 endnotes made it look, to the untrained eye, like a tremendous work of scholarship.
Like its author, the book was an unqualified success. This, according to Dr Peter Raven, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “demonstrates the vulnerability of the scientific process, which is deliberative and hypothesis-driven, to outright misrepresentation and distortion”.
But who cares? The media had their new star, a breezy antidote to the increasingly gloomy ecological “consensus”. The telegenic bike-riding vegetarian with the salesman’s smile masquerading as an environmentalist fitted the bill as the “rational voice” speaking out against alarmism.
This extraordinary re-framing of the entire climate change debate pushed actual climate science to the fringes and allowed Lomborg and fellow denialists to successfully pass themselves off as representing a mirage called the “middle ground”. It was an audacious coup d’état, in which spin trumped science.
The now widespread fallacy that global warming has been hyped up by scientists owes much to the skill and persistence of Bjorn Lomborg and the credulity of our media in uncritically repeating and amplifying his assertions. Without Lomborg’s meticulous preparatory work, the ‘Climategate’ red herring – since debunked – might have not been so eagerly swallowed by the media, including here in Ireland.
Lomborg’s lucrative nine-year free ride may however be finally at an end. Investigative author Howard Friel recently published ‘The Lomborg Deception’ (Yale University Press), a volume that forensically peels away the dense carapace of pseudo-scholarship that has for years shielded Lomborg from proper scrutiny. This book reveals the Dane as “a performance artist disguised as an academic”, says Friel.
The scale of the deception is breathtaking. Distortion of references to back up bogus assertions is routine. For instance, he opens ‘Cool It’ (2007) with an attack on the “vastly exaggerated and emotional claims” he says are being made about polar bears and global warming. His argument is itself constructed on the thinnest of ice, since Lomborg systematically engages in the very practices of deception and concealment he ascribes to actual scientists.
His standard modus operandi involves ruthlessly excluding all evidence that doesn’t match his sweeping assertions while smearing the personal integrity of scientists. A critical reason why Lomborg has escaped more intensive media scrutiny is that he gives the impression of accepting that global warming is occurring.
However, his “smart solutions” (arrived at using classic voodoo economics models) involve continuing to burn fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow, while instead throwing a token few dollars at facile exercises like buying mosquito nets. Ironically, Lomborg actually claims to accept the scientific bona fides of the IPCC, yet his business-as-usual injunction would lock us into calamitous global average temperature increases in the range of 2.4–6.4 C this century. Chill out, says the smiling saboteur, this is “no catastrophe”.
In the real world, the climatic chaos triggered by such severe heating would most likely sweep away much of human civilisation, render the oceans lifeless and leave vast tracts of the planet uninhabitable for millennia. Alarming? Yes. Alarmist? No.
(A shorter version of this article, edited for reasons of space, appears in today’s Irish Times.)
Pingback: ChangeBlog.ie » Exposed: climate change doubter with PhD only in spin
Meanwhile, the Trogs (or should that be Tols) are revolting at the cruel lampooning of the Great Dane:
Richard Tol, economist-cum-denialist is leading the charge, of course. Lots of huffing and lots of puffing, but no one prepared to address the central thesis, ie. Lomborg tells porkies for breakfast, lies for lunch and tortures statistics beyond breaking point for tea.
Seeing Ireland’s finest economics, ahem, brains rush to his defence is I guess about right. Hmmm, given that this lot clearly knew NOTHING about economics, finance or the markets (having failed utterly to detect the biggest bubble since October 1929), small wonder they may be struggling to comprehend environmental and ecological issues. Especially when it’s crystal clear that our finite environmental ‘resources’ are in freefall from pollution, human encroachment and overexploitation.
Oh, sorry, I meant increased economic activity, more and more growth, profitability, ever-expanding globalised trade, ever more cheap stuff from China, ad absurdum.
Nice one, John. Read the Cynical Environmentalist several years ago and was honestly baffled at most of his conclusions, since they flew in the face of pretty much everything else that was being written. He says everything’s fine, there’s plenty of fresh water, even more (!) with global warming, soil to spare and everyone in the third world is going to be so rich by the end of the 21st century that everything will be hunky dory (without the rugby chicks).
Everyone else says this is pollyanna bull*hit, and yet, and yet. It was still hard to shake off the feeling that Lomberg really knew his stuff with his rat-a-tat-tat of references, notes, more notes and footnotes. Surely he couldn’t be a bull*hitter on that scale? And if he were, shurely someone would have rumbled him years ago. Guess not.
Anyhow, Howard Friel: Respect! No longer will I have to listen to this guy and wonder if maybe, just maybe, everyone ELSE is lying.
Your piece on Lomborg is highly selective; careful reading of his book reveals that he is more interested in cost-effective ways of saving human lives than you give him credit for. Hence the mosquito nets and the emphasis on old people dying of the cold rather than the heat. As for climategate and the IPCC gaffes these are not down to Lomborg; sweeping assertions by the IPCC did not have scientific validity and clearly they have to be more careful in future.
There is room for scientific debate about the precise numerical connection between global warming (clear cut physical mechanism between the concentration of CO2 & other gases and mean temperature) and climate change (global warming plus solar variability plus volcanic activity plus ?). At least Lomborg challenges the cosy consensus … science is robust and thrives on dis-agreement but is placed in danger by over-hyping.
Lomborg is neither an economist nor a statistician, rather a political scientist. Any reasonable amount of background research could have told you that.
Also, since you brought it up, Tol does not defend Lomborg, rather point out the error of your automatic dismissal of your social scientists in playing a part in the challenge of climate change. De-carbonising society requires a multi-faceted approach, full stop.
With your disdain for Tol, and use of “voodoo” as a description of a field of economics I might guess you have spent a bit too much time reading Joe Romm’s blog, and too little time on doing your background research.
for ‘careful reading of his book’, can I respectfully refer you to Howard Friel’s painstaking deconstruction of the tissue of fabrication, and dishonest scholarship at the heart of Lomborg’s methodology. Riddle me this: if Friel was even 10 per cent wrong in what he said about this guy, Lomborg would have been able to block its publication by injunction. Instead, he’s reduced to re-picking his own nits over on his website.
So, we can reasonably confidently accept Friel’s central contention, ie. that Lomborg is a phoney who fraudulently misrepresents climate science, underplays known risks and hilariously overstates (ably assisted by Tol et al) the costs associated with reducing carbon emissions, while ignoring the many other benefits and completely and utterly ignoring humanity’s worsening impacts on the broader ecosystems upon which our collective well-being depends.
Given all of the above, frankly, who cares about his faux “Solutions”, since they are entirely grounded in sand to start with? The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report is a vast document, running to over 3,000 pages, involving collaboration (most of it pro bono) between scientists in scores of institutions. Yes, a handful of technical errors were made, and corrected promptly when identified. And your point is?
Similarly, Lomborg said a number of things that are both accurate and true, but that equally in no way negates the central fact that his output is fundamentally dishonest.
The “cosy consensus” you decry is the same scientific consensus, painstakingly arrived at over years and decades, that brought us Evolutionary Theory, Plate Tectonics, the link between smoking and lung cancer, the need for seatbelts and the identification of the link between CFCs and ozone depletion.
I suspect you know well how the scientific method works, and why, despite its flaws (scientists being human, for example) it’s far and away the most reliable means ever developed for humanity to move beyond sorcery, religions, magic and astrology to discern physical realities and produce an understanding of reality less tainted by human conceits and ideologies – of whatever hue.
If/when you’ve completed Friel’s book, and pointed out where he is fundamentally wrong, I hope you’ll post again and share your findings.
Perhaps you should carry out some “reasonable background research” of your own regarding the links between Tol and Lomborg’s propaganda shop, the so-called Copenhagen Consensus?
While you’re at it, you’ll want to ask yourself why Tol is listed as being on the ‘Academic Advisory Council’ of a climate denialist organisation (The Global Warming Policy Foundation, no less) set up by a superannuated Thatcher-era Tory to spin misinformation into the public arena, starting with its own phoney-baloney logo that misleadingly purports to show that global temperatures are either falling or not rising by cherry-picking data from 2001-2009. Beware the organisation that is brazenly prepared to even rig its own logo!
Your point re. political scientist vs statistician: I considered the former, but took the view that attaching the very term “scientist” to Lomborg could mislead readers into thinking he had some physical science expertise or training. Social science and physical sciences are utterly different fields. I’ve heard him described as numerous things (he even calls himself a “bit of an environmentalist”), so clearly Lomborg isn’t too hung up on titles that may mislead.
There clearly is a role for economists, social scientists, even us poor know-nothing journalists, in the climate debate, but not in attempting half-assed amateur reinterpretations of data, or offering, as Tol does, his own views about how climate change is not that bad, really, and certainly not worth bothering to fix. This view is utterly at variance with everything the hard evidence is telling us, but when someone like Tol is described in public as a “Climate change expert”, his (entirely personal, scientifically dodgy) views end up being repeated in the media as “expert opinion”.
Tol is no more qualified than this writer to challenge the powerful scientific consensus, as articulated via the IPCC Assessment Reports, that climate change is real, it’s happening right now, we are driving it, and it has the very real potential, if left unchecked, to destroy civilisation in the coming decades. (if you find that “alarmist”, try reading up on the IPCC’s AR4 Summary for Policymakers, bearing in mind as you read that the IPCC report is already being overtaken by the pace of accelerating climate impacts).
Haven’t yet had the pleasure of viewing Joe Romm’s blog, but thanks for the pointer.
You may want to take a look at my CV: http://staff.feweb.vu.nl/rtol/
(apologies for delay in responding, have been out of circulation for a few days).
Thanks for the above link. When researching the above article I read an interesting piece on Desmogblog by author Jim Hoggan, headlined: ‘Reynolds, Tol, Lomborg: the case for ignoring climate change’. He deals with your version of expertise in this field far more competently than I could, so it’s reproduced below. Sadly, the very limited space permitted to me in the Irish Times did not permit a closer examination of the points Hoggan makes below.
Your continuing involvement in the denialist ‘Global Warming Policy Foundation’ (a position you have never, at least on this forum, given a plausible rationale for) does not, frankly, inspire confidence either. Still, the smart-alecs on Irisheconomy.ie are lapping this stuff up, and shure isn’t that what matters? Physical limits? Sustainability? System failure? Black swan ecological events? Climatic tipping points? Yada yada. This is all just a game, right?
“The most successful Libertarian politician in Canadian history, Globe and Mail columnist Neil Reynolds, has joined the campaign to do nothing about climate change, basing his argument (A Net-Benefit Greenhouse Gas Plan – Less is Really More) not on the work of anyone who actually studies climate science, but rather on two economists with a track record of trying to discourage action.
Most famous of these is Bjorn Lomborg, the Disingenuous Environmentalist and director of a Danish think tank that specialilzes in understating the costs of climate change and overestimating the costs of taking preventative action.
In the run-up to the United Nations meeting scheduled for his hometown in December, Lomborg’s Copenhagen Concensus Center has commissioned 21 reports “to examine the costs and benefits of different solutions to global warming.” The most recent result, a paper by the economist Richard Tol, gives a good indication of how agenda-driven and, in some regards, surprisingly unprofessional, those papers might be.
Tol’s contribution, entitled “An Analysis of Mitigation as a Response to Climate Change,” purports to consider the costs or benefits (!) of climate change, balanced by the costs and benefits of particular actions. Tol builds a narrow case, on an extremely limited number of assumptions, and then cobbles together a financial model to assess five potential policy approaches. Then he lets the model churn through the numbers, delivering a result that he presents as somehow relevant – even as scientific.
The economists of the world might be embarrassed by his machinations, given his obvious effort to set up assumptions that will deliver the result most likely to please his Copenhagen Concensus Center funders. For example, when Tol tackles “Estimates of the welfare loss due to climate change,” he pulls together a series of studies (including one of his own), that are anything but random. Rather, he appears to have gathered up all the lowest estimates, including five from the respected but famously conservative Yale economist William Nordhaus.
Missing from the list, however, is the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, the best-known and probably most ambitious analysis, conducted by the former chief economist of the World Bank, Nicholas Stern. (Although, if you read Tol’s footnotes, you will find that Stern’s work was diluted into one of the other reviews – thereby acknowledged as legitimate but strategically averaged down before being fed into Tol’s calculations).
Tol is sometimes forthright about the fallibility of his work. He says, “The effects of climate change that have been quantified and monetized include the impacts on agriculture and forestry, water resources, coastal zones, energy consumption, air quality, and human health. Obviously, this list is incomplete.”
“Obviously.” How, for instance, can we summarily dismiss the risk that ocean acidification caused by too much CO2 in the atmosphere might trigger a global collapse in both coral and in all ocean creatures that rely on creating their own shells for survival?
But Tol goes on to sniff at his own shortcomings: “Many of the omissions seem likely to be relatively small in the context of those items that have been quantified.”
“Relatively small?” Who is Tol to pass off this comment as if it is reliable and based on a serious reading of the science. The people who have actual expertise in this field are telling us that humans, having pushed the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere over 300 parts per million for the first time in more than 650,000 years, have endangered the steady state that has allowed human life to thrive. The best of those scientists say we should be wrestling CO2 back from its current level of more than 380 ppm to a safer 350. European leaders are aiming to contain the increase below 450 ppm – and Tol is recommending that we do as little as possible as a way of saving money on the journey to a level of between 550 and 650 ppm – a point at which real climate scientists say the world would be subject to catastrophic consequences.
In his Globe and Mail column touting Tol, Reynolds also clings to this unsubstatiated tendency to minimize, saying this: “Noting that one-half of all probable environmental damage has already occurred (and won’t be reversed), Prof. Tol estimates that a further doubling of greenhouse gases would inflict ‘relatively small’ further damage.”
This is a fine, first-year-economist-style bit of logic. An alert firefighter might similarly judge that a house, already 50-per-cent destroyed, is not worth the risk or effort of saving. But said firefighter would have housing options. The human race is less fortunate in this instance.
Bjorn Lomborg keeps trying to present himself as someone with a legitimate concern for the environment. And yet all his arguments – and all those he subsidizes and promotes – seem similarly contrived to say that we should ignore our responsibility to act in the environment’s favor. At some point – and preferably before the Copenhagen negotiators make the mistake of taking him seriously – we must hope that he and his acolytes will be dismissed as climate science frauds.”
I am an advisor to many organizations, include the GWPF. The GWPF aims to restore balance and trust to the climate debate, an aim that I support without reservation.
Jim Hoggan’s expertise is in public relations, so I happily ignore his views on the economics of climate change.
My meta-analysis of the total impact of climate change is not, a Hoggan claims, a selective review. On the contrary, it is a comprehensive assessment in that it includes all previous independent estimates. I excluded the estimates by Hohmeyer, Ayers, Azar, Berz and Stern because they take the empirical estimates from someone else (e.g., Stern takes Hope’s numbers, which are in turn an average of Fankhauser’s estimates and mine) and then reinterpret the results through an ethical lens. These studies are (a) not original and (b) not comparable.
The paper explains this, the explanation was accepted by the referees, and repeated in the blogosphere. Hoggan simply did not do his homework.
Fair enough. If you believe the GWPF, a partisan organisation, is in fact capable of restoring “balance and trust to the climate debate”, then I must conclude that your analysis should be similarly viewed as offering a form of “balance and trust” intellectually commensurate with the GWPF’s version of what the terms ‘balance’ and ‘trust’ actually mean.
OK re Hoggan. I could spend a couple of hours trawling through some of the comments of actual climate scientists on your work, methodology and conclusions (I have also heard first hand of the views of a number of Irish climate specialists on this question) but time does not permit me that luxury today.
This might however be a good time for you to put on the public record your income, if any, since 2005 from Lomborg/Copenhagen Consensus, GWPF and any other anti-climate science think tanks or organisations you have worked with or for, or who you are in any way financially linked, including any funding in the pipeline for climate-related projects/research.
Since you hold a publicly-funded professorship here in Ireland, I’m sure you’ll understand the need for the public to be aware of any interests that may or may not be relevant to your professional output.
Insinuations are for cowards. If you have an issue, just say it. Don’t come with nonsense like “I heard something but I can’t say what”. ESRI finances are audited and ESRI employees voluntarily comply with the rules of disclosure of financial interests for civil servants.
I’m not going to descend into another round of schoolyard slagging. I’ve been called lots of things lately, but coward, in fairness that’s a new one. In short, I take it you’re not planning to answer my question about your sources of income from climate denier organisations (if this information is already in the public domain, I apologise, and perhaps you’d be good enough to provide a link).
In the case of the GWPF, your defence of your involvement (whether paid or voluntary) in such an egregiously partisan anti-science lobby group is beyond lame. Yes, I have an issue with that. If I met a climate scientist who was a Creationist or didn’t accept plate tectonics, I’d probably have an issue with them too (hasn’t happened, yet) since dubious professional affiliations or groundless beliefs cannot simply be firewalled.
Your oft-repeated assertion, a la Lomborg, that climate change is “no catastrophe” is a belief you hold, no more. The physical science overwhelmingly says otherwise. I consider it vital that the public understands the difference between evidence and beliefs, the two are constantly conflated and confused by a media. A lot of this has to do with their limited grasp of the basic science and a lack of understanding of the scientific method.
More worryingly, the media frequently confuses the beliefs/opinions of a person who may be an expert in a particular field with “expert opinions”.
Enough already. How about this for a deal: you lay off the snide comments and cheap shots about me on the Irisheconomy blog and I’ll return the compliment over here. That way we can both stop wasting one another’s time and boring everyone else with this petty squabble. Just a thought…
Gents, sorry to interrupt your slug-fest, but how about a time-out and let’s all get back to the substantive issues!
You can inspect the ESRI finances at your leisure at our website. You will not find money from CC or GWPF flowing to the ESRI, because there is none. As an ESRI employee, I declare secondary income and significant shareholdings. I doubt these are on the web for privacy reasons, but my salary from the Vrije U is the only thing there.
I again invite you to look at my CV and see for yourself whether your “Tol is no more qualified than this writer” stands up to scrutiny and whether my views on the impacts of climate change are based on scholarship or, as you claim, belief.
I read the article by Jim Hoggan and Richard Tols’ reply to what was said about him in it. Tol is quoted there as saying “The effects of climate change that have been quantified and monetized include the impacts on agriculture and forestry, water resources, coastal zones, energy consumption, air quality, and human health. Obviously, this list is incomplete.” However in his reply on this blog Tol dismisses Hoggan’s piece on the grounds that he is a PR man. This is not good enough; he ought to answer the genuine critical assertions made. The point about omitting ocean acidification made by Hoggan cannot be airily dismissed. The analysis is seriously defective in that we know very little about the complex feedback mechanisms at work here; likewise what about the chances of releasing methane from the Siberian permafrost? Has any attempt been made to quantify this and to determine its trigger effect on the other factors? The attempt to monetize all these effects seems likewise futile not least because if the IPCC are right and calamitous events occur there will be no money left to argue over.
The current values of bonds, shares in multinational companies etc is subject to huge falls if trust is lost in the global financial system and this cannot be measured. The economist’s obsession with monetary value must give way to more basic considerations.
‘Climate change is the mother of all externalities, larger more complex, and more uncertain than any other environmental problem’
Given that ‘…uncertainties about climate change are vast- indeed so vast the standard tools of decision making under uncertainty and learning may not be applicable…’ is it wise to bet the biosphere on some economic modelling, involving research that requires ‘…making many, often questionable, assumptions’?
‘Many economists would argue that climate change is beyond cost-benefit analysis’. Perhaps they may be right?
On using GDP to do a cost benefit analysis: given that the ‘relative impacts are higher in poorer countries’ and the fact that ‘poorer countries are less able to adapt to climate change’, is there not a serious ethical issue here with analysing the impacts of CC via GDP, particularly global GDP – those in poor countries will automatically be valued as less important than those in developed counties, as they do not produce as much $/GDP?
They will feel the impacts first, and hardest, but they don’t produce enough of Global Domestic Product for those impacts to be relevant to your economic models so tough.
Valuing people, and their way of life, by the amount of $ they produce is not right.
And on that point, my (admittedly, basic) understanding of discounting means that most economic models will value the short term over the long term, (better a dollar now than 2 in 10 years, basically) so future values are discounted.
I’m sure my grandkids (or more likely, the grandkids of those in other countries) will be delighted we we tell them that our sophisticated economic analysis didn’t value their lives that highly when they were done, as they hadn’t been born yet and all future values had been discounted.
So basically in these models poor people, and those who are as yet unborn, are systematically undervalued? Economically correct, maybe, but morally unjustifiable. And I’m sure your response to this will be that’s a value judgement, I am aware of this. Some values are important and treating people equally (whether in real life, or in economic models) is important.
For the record, all quotes above are copyright R Tol, from ‘The Economic Impact of Climate Change’. Interesting paper, available free online.
For someone who is willing to acknowledge the problems and possibilities and uncertainties in your papers, your blog posts here and elsewhere tend to be a bit black and white, and not particularly constructive. How about a link to a paper next time instead of your CV?
as you’ll have spotted by now, R. Tol’s immediate line of defence is to attack the messenger, be it this writer or Jim Hoggan (who has researched and written a very serious book, ‘Climate Cover Up’ on precisely this kind of whitewashing, and so is by any standards a recognised expert in this field).
Being a PR guy is, in Hoggan’s case, a distinct advantage, as he has the insider’s expert understanding on the nasty PR game being played out on climate change. Hoggan describes the systematic misrepresentation of the facts as, “public relations at its sleaziest”. It’s a field he understands well, and he’s effectively a whistle-blower.
Of course Tol will not address Hoggan’s legitimate charges, it’s much easier to just slag him off, as he breezily dismisses journalists who are trying to untangle science from spin as being inexpert. Journalists, politicians and policymakers clearly cannot possibly be expected to assess the raw data and somehow re-interpret tree ring data or re-interpret ocean current models.
We depend on the integrity of the experts and the institutions to which these professionals are attached, and the peer-reviewed journals in which they publish. What this comes down to is: it’s not so much what do we as individuals know, but who do we trust?
Taken as a whole, I choose to trust the climate scientists working on the professional coalface of data collection and analysis, as well as engaging in direct observation and measurement.
I’m profoundly suspicious of people who take scientific analysis that tells us unequivocally that we are in serious trouble, run it through their Pollyanna Machine and out pops an “everything is fine, no problems” scenario that just happens to chime with a concerted international disinformation campaign being waged by the climate denialist camp.
Some people do it for the money, others, for the fame/notoriety, and in Lomborg’s case, both. I imagine being an international star and “expert” pundit playing silly buggers distorting other people’s work is far more interesting and lucrative than beavering away doing actual research. The fact that Lomborg has no shortage of economists prepared to spew out impressive-looking papers in support of his world-view changes nothing.
Finally, here’s a test. Grab your copy of ‘Cool It’, and try to find, among the gushing commentaries on the sleeve, a quote from a single climate scientist in support of his supposedly meticulously researched and argued book. Hint: there aren’t any.
I was responding to John G who claimed that Hoggan is an academic.
I was responding to John G who claimed that he is as qualified as I am.
great job with that background material: “The mother of all externalities”. Amazing how someone can (a) know exactly what that means and (b) not have a clue what that really means – at precisely the same time!
Individuals who hold multiple profoundly conflicting value systems are prone to experience severe stresses as they try to resolve the insoluble and square eternal circles.
One part of me feels sorry for Professor Tol, the other part is angry with him. Guess I’m conflicted too?
You did not answer the substantive points raised by Hoggan, by me or by Paddy Morris. Why not? Are you more qualified than we are to comment (as you would have us believe) or not? You write papers on the economics of climate change yet you have acknowledged
‘Climate change is the mother of all externalities, larger more complex, and more uncertain than any other environmental problem’
What possible use are your papers when they ignore many factors which are extremely relevant but which you cannot assess. You are further quoted by Neil Reynolds as saying
“Noting that one-half of all probable environmental damage has already occurred (and won’t be reversed), Prof. Tol estimates that a further doubling of greenhouse gases would inflict ‘relatively small’ further damage.”
What is your basis for this statement? You are not even a climate scientist in the primary sense of one who tries to understand the complex dynamics of the process. Instead you shrug this off and are quoted again (by Hoggan):
But Tol goes on to sniff at his own shortcomings: “Many of the omissions seem likely to be relatively small in the context of those items that have been quantified.”
Yet you refer to your publications as if conferring some gloss of credibility on your pronouncements. If you have any pretensions to academic merit answer the above arguments or maintain a dignified silence. Do you take us all for fools?
Discussions should be focussed. This discussion is about John Gibbons’ remarks on Bjorn Lomborg. It is not about Richard Tol or Jim Hoggan.
I’d be happy to respond if John writes a post about one of my papers.
In the interests of a focused discussion, Mr Tol’s response to John Gibbons remarks about Lomberg is worth listening to:
“Bjorn Lomborg is a not a scholar. Scholars publish their research in peer-reviewed journals. Lomborg has one such paper.
Lomborg writes books with popular science. In popular science, there is a trade-off between accuracy and sales. Lomborg sells well. In fact, his first book did so well that he can now afford to be more accurate.
Lomborg successfully punches holes in climate hysteria. As panic is a bad adviser, Lomborg plays a useful role in the debate on climate policy. Lomborg provides counterbalance. He is therefore not balanced”
Bearing in mind that Richard has worked to some degree with Lomberg through the ‘Copenhagen Consensus’ he probably has some degree of insight when he says Lomberg is not a scholar, not that accurate in his work and not balanced.
I reckon calling a debate ‘hysterical’ and saying that Lomberg is useful in balancing the ‘panic’ of some parties is whats known as a value judgement. A judgement I happen to disagree with, but thats life, can’t agree on everything.
(To quote Mr Tol:- “‘“Dangerous” is a value judgement, not a scientific fact” – so hysteria and panic are obviously value judgements as well, by that standard….).
And given that – and again, I am quoting Mr Tol here…
““Scientists” (with whom I guess you mean “natural scientists” since you contrast them with “economists” who are “social scientists”) are not wiser than other people and therefore no better judge of what is right or wrong”
…those value judgements I make are by Mr Tol’s own standards as valid as his.
So looks like on the substantive points about Lomberg (Not a scholar, not that accurate, not balanced) we can all agree… As to whether he is necessary to balance a debate that is currently unbalanced due to panic and/or hysteria I would have to respectfully disagree.
So it appears all are agreed on the substantive issues, for once. Fantastic, it appears there is a first time for everything…
(All quotes from comments on irish Economy post by Richard Tol on John’s article, available at http://www.irisheconomy.ie/index.php/2010/04/30/economics-voodoo-and-climate-policy/ )
Hurrah! Tol has yet again fled the scene of battle/crime with nothing but a tangle of contradictions and lashing of gish-gallop, as per usual. Respect to Paddy for nipping at his ankles with some well-timed postings that help the rest of us to de-code Mr Tol’s many contributions.
Our dear moderator excluded me.
‘fraid not. While yes, I’ve been filtering out the nastier would-be postings here for some time, this does not of course extend to yours. We may not agree all/any of the time, but the only grounds I use for zapping contributors is vulgar, ad hominem abuse and hard-core flat-earthism/crypto-Creationism. If you think a comment of yours was unfairly deleted, please send it on again (the WordPress Spam filter automatically cuts off some postings, but not those of regular posters, I would have thought…)
My response to Paddy did not get through.
It sure is a value judgment to call the current debate “hysterical”. The next post on this blog is an example of what I would call “hysteria”, as was John Gibbons’ response to Ian Plimer stating the indisputable fact that human CO2 emissions are a small fraction of gross CO2 emissions (indisputable but irrelevant as human emissions exceed net emissions). The best example is here, though:
Good to see you back on form, i.e. slagging off everyone else for their “hysteria” and playing games about gross versus net CO2 emissions. Reminds me of Simon Carswell’s piece in today’s Irish Times on how the ESRI, among others, failed “…to stop or even spot an inflating asset bubble…right up to the eve of the crisis (they were) speaking of a “soft landing” in the housing market and still anticipating continued economic growth”
So, if this is how much the august ESRI can tell us about economics, you’ll forgive me for being just a tad sceptical (in the true sense of the word) when ESRI professors wander off the reservation to give their Lomborg-esque assurances that everything’s honky dory environmentally, “soft landing ahead”!
BTW, I earnestly wish this Pollyanalysis was credible, I truly do. But I’ll stick with the actual professional climate scientists when it comes to gathering the information on which to base informed comment, if that’s OK.
I am by no means anti-economics. Economists like Nicholas Stern clearly have much to contribute. Neo-liberal economic analysis used to prop up a particular form of bare knuckle capitalist dogma is a different beast entirely (I’m not suggesting that’s your personal slant, of course, merely pointing out that there’s an awful lot of it around, masquerading as ‘expert analysis’).
p.s. Presume your point in linking to the article in a (minor) Canadian publication above was to illustrate ‘hysterical’ eco-doomism? Guess you don’t believe in methane clathrates either then? Or in your experience as an economist, you’ve been able to conclude they are not at risk of destabilising as a result of the deep penetration of ocean warming? And besides, even if they did, what harm would billions of tonnes of methane suddenly ejected into our atmosphere possibly cause? Nothing some of Mr Lomborg’s mosquito nets couldn’t clear up, I dare say! Mocking, Richard, is catching.
I don’t call everybody hysterical. I reserve that term for people like you.
For the record, the ESRI (and many others) predicted that the Irish economy would correct itself. We (nor anybody else) foresaw that the Irish recession would coincide with a global recession. It is impossible to say how the Irish economy would have developed had Lehman Brothers not collapsed.
Wow, searing analysis! if only Lehman hadn’t crashed, Anglo Irish would have continued its lunatic lending spree, along with AIB, BOI, etc. Lehman actually did us a major favour, by puncturing this bubble before if doubled again, wiping out what is left of the Irish economy in the process.
“It is impossible to say how the Irish economy would have progressed had Lehman Brothers not collapsed”. I am stunned, genuinely stunned at the vacuity of that remark. I shudder to think that might be a sentiment widely held in the ESRI today? Still, when in a hole, keep digging! Delighted to provide the shovel, sir.
Being labelled hysterical by an intellectual Titan like yourself is really quite a compliment. Should you ever apply for a job advising our Financial Regulator, climate change’s loss would be the Nation’s gain. Your “Lehmanalysis” can now be filed alongside your climate “Pollyanalysis” in the ever-expanding Tolberg wall of fame!
If John turns out to be unnecessarily worried, and you were right, I’ll buy you a pint.
If you are wrong, you can buy me a biosphere.
PS I guess ‘the fundamentals were sound’ globally before Lehman. That’s actually brought a smile to my face. Thanks.
PPS What is the ‘market solution’ if methane encased in permafrost or deep seas starts to be released in large quantities to the atmosphere?
Looks like I spoke too soon about Mr Tol buzzing off to lick his wounds. Instead, he’s back to make fools of those of us who thought having the phrase ‘ESRI’ on your business actually meant something.
Colm McCarthy has been on the hunt for quangos we could do without, I daresay Mr. Tol is all by himself making a compelling case to put the ESRI back on that list. Well done again Paddy for your ‘market solutions’ question about methane. It won’t be answered because he has no answers to actual science questions. Just expect another deluge of silly jargon they teach in Economics 101.
As for Mr Tol refusing to answer David Walsh on the substantive charges laid out by Hoggan’s article, well it’s gish gallop all the way from our learned Prof. once again.
We wrote about such methane in Ceronsky et al. (2005). It would cause serious problems.
It’s an externality, so the market cannot solve this without regulation.
That said, no one knows how policy would affect the probability, so there is no recommendation.
Thanks for the link to the paper. Will try and digest over next few days.
It’s available here for anyone who is interested:
I’ll take the liberty of skipping to the conclusion, it’s worth a read:
“Uncertainty is fundamental to the study and policy of climate change. Enormous uncertainties in the climate system are compounded by the complexity and uncertainty in social and economic systems. Nevertheless, most economic research on climate change impacts has focussed on “best
guess” scenarios in which the climate warms gradually and fairly benevolently.
Using such scenarios, most estimates of the social cost of carbon are under $50/tC. The implication is that although emission cuts are warranted, most reductions should be delayed while technologies develop.
The problem with employing “best guess” modelling is that it disregards the importance and the nature of the uncertainties involved. The estimated probability distribution functions of many relevant parameters and estimates of climate change impacts themselves are strongly right- skewed, indicating the potential for very large damages. Part of this skew is due to the nature of
the climate system, which contains multiple feedbacks and thresholds that allow the possibility of non-linear responses to anthropogenic greenhouse gas forcings. Our attempt to include selected extreme climate scenarios found estimates of marginal damages as high as $360/tC under Green
Book declining discounting scheme and as high as $2,400/tC with a 0% pure rate of time preference.
Many “catastrophic” scenarios of non-linear climate responses cannot yet be modelled, either because our understanding of the non-linear systems is too limited or because the impact models are unable to run such scenarios. The heavy emphasis on potential thermohaline circulation collapse within the catastrophic impacts literature seems unfortunate given the low
expected damages discussed here, and more importantly, because of the corresponding lack of attention paid to other non-linear climate responses such as hydrologic variability, West-Antarctic ice sheet collapse, methane hydrate destabilization, ecosystem service degradation, and high climate sensitivity.
Climate change impacts will be long-term and potentially irreversible on the timescale of human societies. Yet as models extend both the climate and the economy into the future, uncertainties grow rapidly. Furthermore, interactions between damage sectors (such as agricultural damages leading to emigration), potential social amplification of impacts (such as a series of droughts
leading to political instability), and the degradation of ecosystem services are generally not included in integrated assessment models.
Thus the marginal damage estimates found in the impacts literature may well be underestimates.
Even more importantly, they do not reflect the real possibility of catastrophic and highly expensive outcomes. Governments should take the possibility of highly negative and likely irreversible outcomes into consideration in cost benefit analysis. The question is how best to do so, when the uncertainties are so great that it is impossible to determine precise thresholds of non-
linear economic or climate response. The longer emissions cuts are postponed and the longer the economy develops without strong signals to reduce emissions, the more difficult and costly it will likely become to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at lower levels. The
primary goal of policy must be to find the optimal, efficient path that realistically preserves the option of meeting a low atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration ceiling, while allowing the possibility that this pathway may be relaxed as uncertainties are lessened. The second goal, and of similar importance, should be to reduce the uncertainties involved in both best guess and non- linear climate and impact predictions”
And left for the final footnote, on the final page:
“Although not discussed in reference to the scenarios presented here, with equity weighting the projected damages of climate change increase significantly, including in explorations of severe climate change damages (Tol, 2003). Choices about discount schemes are critical to the final 21
marginal damage projections, and these are partly ethical decisions about how to treat future generations that can only be made by policy-makers”
To quote from another paper ‘Equity weighting and the marginal damage costs of climate change’ (you quite probably guess who one of the authors is…) –
“Climate change would impact different countries differently, and different countries have different levels of development. Equity-weighted estimates of the (marginal) impact of greenhouse gas emissions reflect these differences. Equity-weighted estimates of the marginal damage cost of carbon dioxide emissions are substantially higher than estimates without equity-weights; equity-weights may also change the sign of the social cost estimates. Equity weights need to be normalised. Our estimates differ by two orders of magnitude depending on the region of normalisation. A discounting error of equity weighted social cost of carbon estimates in earlier work (Tol, Energy Journal, 1999), led to an error of a factor two.”
Equity weighting (or the normal lack thereof, when it is relegated to the final footnote…) and the discount rate are how the impacts of climate change can be systemically lowballed in our economic models of climate change. As you say Richard, these are value judgments, and can only be made by policy makers.
I would see it as a citizen’s duty to influence policymakers to value the future, and those who will live in it, along with those in other countries, as equal to those who live in our countries at present.
I hope that this blog helps in some small way in this.
I very much doubt the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and their selective graphs, will help with this.
I wouldn’t question your models per se (in case it isn’t obvious I am not an economist), but would with the assumptions underlying them and economics in general, which is very good at short term and marginal increases or decreases, but seems to fall down on valuing the future in the long term, and with threshold effects (like methane).
I would, however, (respectfully, but emphatically) question your judgement and values when I see your name associated with ‘think tanks’ like the GWPF.
And why do you say in your last comment “no one knows how policy would affect the probability, so there is no recommendation”?
If you have an uncertain probability of a possibly catastrophic threshold effect should you not be recommending that we err on the side of caution?
Caution is not something I would associate with the pronouncements of the GWPF on climate. Do you genuinely think these selective headlines and ‘restoring of balance’ are helpful?
I stand by these quotes (although our more recent papers have found somewhat higher impacts) and by the need for reason, integrity and balance in the climate debate.
I was a bit cryptic on methane. A massive release of methane from the permafrost or the continental shelf would be something to worry about. Unfortunately, we do not know how policy would affect the probability of such a release occurring. It is therefore not an argument for or against anything (but more research).
“Reason, integrity and balance”. I could spend a long time looking and fail to find three words that better describe everything that is missing from the Tol/GWPF/Lomborg School of Spin. Thanks once again to Paddy for his useful spadework in sifting the byzantine Riddle-wrapped-in-an-enigma that passes for ‘expert guidance’ on the economics of climate change by this determined and very persistent group of individuals.
Not sure where I should start will all this. firstly, I spent a good while writing some constructive criticism of the program: “The Burning Question” sent to the the website for the program and it was ignored. Previously, I came across a blog by John Gibbons giving out about Bjorn Lomborg spent a few hours putting together a response because John came across as giving out about a book he hadn’t even read because he straw man the thesis of it. I emailed these comments to John and effectively got the reply: I consider Mr. Lomborg a charlatan you don’t good bye.
So I’ll put forward one very simple argument here and if that’s ignored I will realise there is no point wasting more of my time engaging in debate with environmentalists who don’t want to engage in debate.
In the program John Gibbons made an emotive point that he used to think the economy was more important than the environment but now he realises that the environment was more important than the economy.
Any research into the environment costs a huge amount of money and cannot be done without a good economy. There is a symbiotic or circular relationship between the two rather one coming before the other.
Now, let’s see if this comment gets ignored or is debated before I elaborate into other arguments.
First, who are you? I use my name and stand over what I write; why are you hiding behind a pseudonym while demanding to be taken seriously?
Re. your comments on my not having read Lomborg’s book, that’s not the case, (you may be mixing this up with another denialist book, by Ian Plimer, which I skimmed but did not sit down and wade through its molasses). On Lomborg, have you read ‘The Lomborg Deception’? If not, then I would suggest you yourself are not qualified to judge whether or not he deserves the tag of ‘charlatan’.
Regarding what you call “an emotive point” that you claim I made on the RTE documentary, the point I made is that the economy, and society, is a subset of the environment, not vice versa. The environment can exist (and thrive) without any economy, or without any people, but neither our economy nor our society can survive for long without a functioning environment. What’s “emotive” about that analysis?
You write: “Any research into the environment costs a huge amount of money and cannot be done without a good economy”. What exactly do you define as a ‘good economy’? My definition is that economic activity must be organised on the principles of sustainability, ie. the pursuit of wealth or ‘growth’ does not automatically grant us the right to destroy the environment, pollute at will and wreck the planet, just because we can.
There are many good reasons to want economics to be sustainable, chief among them is that future generations will have to live here too, and surely we don’t have the right to exhaust and destroy the Earth’s resources with no regard to the needs of our children and our grandchildren. Do you agree with this analysis?
Finally, rather than just needing loads of money for research (which no doubt it does) our environment mostly wants to be left sufficiently undamaged as to continue to function as it has done successfully for hundreds of millions of years of sustaining complex life on Earth, without any input or support from economies or societies whatever for 99.999% of this time.
I’ll add while I am on my lunch break that the name of this website is complete sophistry. Think or swim is a false dichotomy. It’s also an appeal to fear. That’s two logical fallacies in a website where authors make accusations of others engaging in spin. How ridiculous. Is this website trying to promote an ideology or scientific thinking?
Thanks for getting back to me John.
Firstly, why do you need to know exactly who I am? Can’t you deal with the substance of my argument and put away the ad hominen?
To achieve a “functioning” enviroment you need to understand it. That costs a considerable amount of research which costs a considerable amount of money for which you need an economy. Ergo there is a circular relationship between the two.
I never said we should “wreck” the environment or exhaust the world resources, why the straw men arguments?
Your last paragraph is sophistry. You paint a “garden of eden” view of the world where everything was fine until we started sinning. The majority of the species that have existed in the last 450 millions of life have gone extinct and it has been nothing to do with current human activities. That’s a fact. Complex life have sustained itself because it adapts through changing environments through a process of natural selection.
You also talk about the environment as if it is a sentinent creature. You say: “our environment mostly wants to be left sufficiently undamaged”. Have you been talking to it or something? This sort of nonsense isn’t scientific argument it’s an ideological spin.
You also say that complex life has been sustained without input from economies. I find that hard to belief. A lot of money goes toward protecting and understanging endagered species for example.
I’d be happy to deal with the substance of your argument, if I could locate it. The Garden of Eden/sinning stuff is yours and yours alone. A shark devouring its prey or a lion eating another lion’s cubs are facts of nature – brutal, but factual. The lions-laying-down-with-lambs rubbish has nothing to do with how nature works.
Re. the need to “understand” the environment in order for it to function, who exactly was around, say, 10 million years ago to “understand” the environment and to invest in keeping it running? By your logic, it can’t have existed without this “intelligent” oversight. Yes, species come and species go over geological time. At the moment, human pressures has triggered what scientists call the Sixth Extinction Event, with extinction rates currently running at upwards of 1,000 times the normal or ‘background’ rates.
When you wipe out habitats, sequester vast tracts of land and pollute land, water and air, you can expect to exterminate the species who depend upon these habitats and systems for their survival. The rapid rate of human-induced perturbations are overwhelming the ability of natural systems to adapt (climatic changes normally occur over millennia, not decades), and since humans control so much of the surface area of the Earth, there are fewer and fewer intact habitats left for threatened species to relocate to.
Is the environment a sentient creature? Is your liver sentient? Or your kidneys? Or lungs? Each of these are complex organs upon which we depend for survival, yet we have zero conscious control over them. All they require to do their job of filtering our blood, removing contaminants, extracting oxygen from the air, etc. is that we leave them alone to get on with it. (smoking two packs a day or drinking a bottle of whiskey daily and yes, you will eventually overwhelm those organs’ ability to keep you alive). Does that make them ‘sentient’? Probably not. Intelligent? Yes, but not in the way we normally understand intelligence.
“You also say that complex life has been sustained without input from economies. I find that hard to belief (sic)”. The world has had what you call “economies” for between two centuries and 5,000 years, depending on how you calculate. Complex, incredibly diverse life has survived and thrived for upwards of 500 million years (including many setbacks, such as the five great previous Extinction Events). Hmmm, and you still find it difficult to imagine complex life existing “without input from economies”!
Breako, you’ve had your say here in three postings, I’ve had mine. Hope you found the exchange useful; sorry, time does not permit me to bat this back and forward with you indefinitely. Since I know nothing about you personally, all I can say is that I am not “anti-economy”, in fact, in my day job I own and run a business with 30+ staff in well paid employment.
The ‘environment’ is not something just for treehuggers, it affects us all. Why? Because without it, we have nothing, repeat, nothing. If your lungs, heart or liver fail, you as an individual die. If we as a civilisation destroy our environment (as we are currently doing, whether or not this destruction is intentional) we will certainly destroy ourselves in the process.
You may think that is a ‘radical’ statement; I think it is entirely conservative – in the true, literal sense of the word.
The Garden of Eden is a metaphorical reference to you and many other environmentalists who try to argue on ideological grounds that everything was perfect until we started sinning. Your rejection of this has one of two conclusions:
1. You think we are not sinning in which case you are contradicting yourself.
2. You are saying things were just as bad before we started sinning in which case you are also contradicting yourself.
My argument gives you the choice to accept it or deal with the disjunction which I outlined above. If this was a rational conversation you would do either of those. But, instead of dealing with it logically and rationally you have tried to tell me some stupid facts about lions as if I didn’t know them. John this isn’t a logical way of communicating. It is patronising and asinine.
Why do you keep using straw men arguments? I do not find it hard imagining complex life existing without economies, I am stating the fact that we would have very little understanding of the environment or complex life without economies. We would have no understanding of ice ages, tsunamis, hurricanes, energy, complex viruses or a hole host of things that impact the world we live in. Of course complex life can exist without economies. But John, that wasn’t your point on that show. Your point was that enviromnent came first economies came second. This is a fallacy because we wouldn’t know anything about the environment if it was not for the research that was only made possible by healthy economies. You even agree with this in your last paragraph in your post July 22, 2010 at 13:30.
Instead of accepting this you are trying to redivert the argument into an existentialist question about complex life which there is no disagreement on.
The environment, your liver, your kidney are not sentinent and we have a lot concious control over them. Your logic is all over the place. Especially when you call them intelligent. I can’t see my Kidney going on to a do PhD but if you can, fair play.
I am not saying you are anti business. The problem I have with the approach people like yourself and other environmentalilsts have is that it is irrational, it is arrogant and it is turning people off. Your business might be doing well but thinking globally considering the amount of money that has gone into climate change, the progress has been extremly poor. For about 1 / 1000 the amount of money that goes into climate change we could save the million people who die from diarrhea every year. This is inhumane to let this happen and not question it.
That current approach by environmentalists consists of some very sloppy arguments including the proverbial doomsday argument in your last paragraph. There is no science to back this up. None of the IPCC reports suggest a doomsday, end of the world. But you are communicating as if that is what is going to happen and that there is no doubt to this. We are currently letting millions of humans die from preventable diseases and people like yourself act like all we should be caring about nothing else except climate change which must come first.
And anyone who challenges you must be told how important the environment is?
This view isn’t just unscientific, it is pernicious and selfish and one that should be challenged. That’s my motivation.
Sorry that my sloppy arguments are so unconvincing, unscientific, pernicious and selfish. And irrational, arrogant and, of course, ideological. Unlike your logical, reasoned, scientifically sound, thoroughly researched and intellectually honest contributions.
I thank you for your comments but from here on, I’ll spare both of us any further futile exchanges.
The environment is not schrodinger’s cat, we don’t need to observe (or understand it) for it to function – it can and will survive with or without us, and our economy.
And it’s not a question of things being ‘perfect until we started sinning’ – given that sin is a human construct based on an abstract idea of morality and god what relevance has it to a discussion on science? It’s a question of human society having adapted to a goldilocks climate and expanding rapidly as new energy sources became available. Take away the climate and/or energy sources and you will have a very serious problem.
As for doomsday, well the planet will be here for the next few billion years but to quote the IPCC:
“There is medium confidence that approximately 20-30% of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average warming exceed 1.5-2.5°C (relative to 1980-1999). As global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5°C, model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% of species assessed) around the globe.”
Not the ‘end of the world’ as you say, but not something I would like to see happening either.
I could go on but life is too short, have fun on boards.
I had replied to John’s last comment in this thread but it wasn’t published.
You make some good points.
My references to “sinning” were not in reference to Science but to the ideological stance people like John present. Science has no concept of sinning, good, evil, morals, ethics. All it does is try to understand facts about nature.
You make a good point about 30% of species going extint. But you have to understand that science isn’t saying that’s a bad thing – it makes no comment on such matters.
It’s your ideology, believes, philosophies, life stances which determines what is good / bad. One cannot use science to justify an ideology, one has to use something else.
That’s essentially what I am saying.
Touché ‘breako’. Happy now? Hope so, since that’s it for you on this blog. We operate a strict policy on drivel, and sadly, you’ve used up your entire lifetime quota. Adios!