17 Aug 2008

The Costs of Change

Yubanet reports on CC:
While some of the benefits from climate change may accrue to individual farms or businesses, the cost of dealing with adverse climate impacts are typically borne by society as a whole. These costs to society will not be uniformly distributed but felt most among small businesses and farms, the elderly and socially marginalized groups.


"If there's a single bottom line in all of this research, it's that delaying action on climate change carries a significant cost," says Ruth. "State, local and national leaders will save money in the long-run by adopting a proactive approach."
Bottom Line: I should hope that these ideas are obvious. If they are not, read the article.


  1. Bottom Line: I should hope that these ideas are obvious. If they are not, read the article.

    Well, those ideas were not obvious to me when you said so, and even after reading that article, they still aren't obvious to me. (I confess I didn't go and click on the actual studies linked from Yubanet.)

    There is not a single argument presented on the Yubanet page for why we should act sooner rather than later on climate change. In fact, there is nothing in there showing we should act at all.

    Don't get me wrong, I know there are plenty of reputable studies that make such an argument very well; Nordhaus is a great example.

    But my point is that--in my opinion--a lot of this ra ra climate change stuff is really sloppy, and because it's "for a good cause" its proponents don't even take the time to consider their non sequiturs.

    In this case, I don't see anything in the article showing what the costs are if we act now, and what the costs are if we start acting in 20 years. So the article can't possibly reach a "bottom line" that we need to act sooner rather than later.

    There is also not even a nod to the fact that mitigation has costs of its own. E.g. all of those gross estimates for the various states, of climate change damage that has already occurred. Surely they are not suggesting that people in 1900 should have "acted sooner rather than later" to cap carbon emissions and keep the US from mass producing gas-burning cars.

    I.e. if you tell me using fossil fuels during the 20th century carries with it some climate harms that run a few billion dollars annually in some states by 2008, that by itself means just about nothing.

    Running Nordhaus' model back in 1900, at that point the optimal carbon tax would have been ridiculously low. So at that point, the harm of inaction would have been pretty minor (albeit increasing over time).

    I realize I sound like a cranky old man, but it concerns me that you are saying things are "obvious" when I don't even see an argument, let alone a good argument, to establish these truisms.

  2. Bob -- I don't know where you live, but CC is happening NOW in California, and they are debating actions to take NOW (e.g., dams or the PC).

    Taking THAT as given, its obvious that some groups will do worse than others from CC -- that's only relative to what they are doing now :)

    BTW -- you're not that old, are you?

  3. I'm 31.

    David, I think what happened here is I misunderstood what you meant by "these ideas," when you said, "Bottom line: These ideas should be obvious by now" (or whatever).

    Since the quoted "bottom line" from the website was "we need to act sooner rather than later, and these numbers show it" I was pointing out to you that no, nothing in that report had any bearing on whether we should act sooner rather than later.

    Was there something else in the page you meant by "these ideas should be obvious by now"?

    For an analogy, I could list all the automobile deaths by state. That by itself doesn't prove that there's anything wrong with government policies.

  4. Bob -- if government policy was "causing" more auto deaths (either by action or inaction), then action now would be justified. For example, we know that government policy on ethanol is causing problems NOW, as we should act to end that policy/

    Since carbon is not taxed, per se, and carbon consumption is producing harm NOW, the government should act now to tax (and reduce) carbon consumption.

  5. Since carbon is not taxed, per se, and carbon consumption is producing harm NOW, the government should act now to tax (and reduce) carbon consumption.

    Oh OK, I guess I see where you are coming from now. What this report shows us, is that costs of climate change are here now--it's not just hypothetical problems that might arise in 50 years.

    Still, strictly speaking that really doesn't tell us much about the tradeoffs between acting now versus later. Even if we slap on a huge carbon tax tomorrow, there will still be damages from climate change (as measured by this study) going forward, because so much CO2 is already in the pipeline.

    Again, the proper way to say how much difference it makes to act now, or to postpone, is to say, "If we enacted the optimal carbon tax this year, what would be the net savings to society?" versus "If we enacted the tax in 2050, what would be the net savings?"

    So telling us the harms being experienced right now in a few states, is like 15% of the information you would need in order to reach the conclusions that that spokeswoman was citing as the "bottom lines" of the studies.

  6. I take it that you are willing to concede that SOME tax could be useful now, even while opposing a HUGE tax.

    Fine, let's start small and then go from there.


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