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Skeptical Science New Research for Week #40, 2019

Posted on 8 October 2019 by Doug Bostrom

44 articles, 12 open access

Long levers

Economists and macroeconomics must necessarily deal with a grand experiment wherein none of the variables feeding the show can be adjusted or fixed; economists face worse problems than do researchers pursuing cutting-edge experimental physics. Our experience with and expectations of economic phenomena as factors of predictable results are necessarily shaped by history and cultural memory. Operational, empirical economics— investment choices— heavily depend on expert opinion in shaping decisions having a massive impact on human commercial activity; abstract hypothesis on future behavior of the economy is not only inevitable but also critical in terms of its plausibility and validity— as a day-to-day practical matter. 

Given the urgency we face with slewing certain parts of our economy so as to improve our trajectory, "getting it right" with regard to the discount rate is arguably of paramount importance. In a nutshell and in the language of an ignorant layperson (the author), the discount rate is a number expressing the time value of money, so it follows that— In the simplest terms— the communally acceptable, conventionally-derived discount rate in a given economic context significantly determines the viability of any proposed investment in that context. Given our culture, the money required for scaled climate mitigation work will not be forthcoming without the seemingly tiny number of the discount rate being "right," with "right"judged in 1/100ths.

In The role of the discount rate for emission pathways and negative emissions Emmerling et al plow directly into the discount rate, their paper serving nicely to illustrate exactly how important is an accurate target rate: 

The importance of the discount rate in cost-benefit analysis of long term problems— such as climate change— has been widely acknowledged. However, the choice of the discount rate is hardly discussed when translating policy targets—such as 1.5 °C and 2 °C–into emission reduction strategies with the possibility of overshoot. Integrated assessment models (IAMs) have quantified the sensitivity of low carbon pathways to a series of factors, including economic and population growth, national and international climate policies, and the availability of low carbon technologies, including negative emissions. In this paper we show how and to what extent emission pathways are also influenced by the discount rate. Using both an analytical and a numerical IAM, we demonstrate how discounting affects key mitigation indicators, such as the time when net global emissions reach zero, the amount of carbon budget overshoot, and the carbon price profile. To ensure inter-generational equity and be coherent with cost-benefit analysis normative choices, we suggest that IAMs should use lower discount rates than the ones currently adopted. For a 1000 GtCO2 carbon budget, reducing the discount rate from 5% to 2% would more than double today's carbon price (from 21 to 55 $/tCO2) and more than halve the carbon budget overshoot (from 46% to 16%), corresponding to a reduction of about 300 GtCO2 of net negative emissions over the century.

The discount rate is widely acknowledged as a key factor in our success with fixing our climate problem, even as it is famously controversial in this application. To an untrained eye the variances we still see— decades into discussion--  in proposed acceptable discount rates as they apply to investment in a functional climate capable of sustaining our culture are not an inspiration to confidence in our outcome. To a person making an investment decision determining how many centimeters of sea level rise we see in 200 years, it's paralytic.

Extreme teleconnections

It's not directly climate-related in the sense we usually think of here at SkS, but Yang & Wen's Investigating the Role of the Tibetan Plateau in the Formation of Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation is still thought-provoking. 6 years ago Francis and Vavrus published findings suggestive of a connection between Arctic warming and extreme weather in midlatitudes. Despite "teleconnections" being an accepted concept in meteorological and climate research, this publication experienced surprising resistance— including from some seemingly unlikely quarters. But Francis & Vavarus' finding shrinks in comparison to other teleconnections investigations. Here in a peer-reviewed AMS journal we read Yang & Wen laying out their reasoning behind a bold claim: without the Tibetan Plateau and its unique geography, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) would not exist. As they bluntly express it, "We illustrate that there would be no AMOC without the presence of the TP."   This assertion may be launched thanks to a previous chain of accepted research helping us to understand how exquisitely interconnected Earth systems are.


Physical science of anthropogenic global warming

Contrasting effects of CO2 fertilization, land-use change and warming on seasonal amplitude of Northern Hemisphere CO2 exchange (open access)

Observation of global warming and global warming effects

Rapid environmental responses to climate-induced hydrographic changes in the Baltic Sea entrance (open access)

The surface albedo of the Greenland Ice Sheet between 1982 and 2015 from the CLARA-A2 dataset and its relationship to the ice sheet's surface mass balance (open access)

The climatology of cold and heat waves in Brazil from 1961 to 2016

Random trend errors in climate station data due to in homogeneities

Examining Multidecadal Trends in the Surface Heat Balance over the Tropical and Subtropical Oceans in Atmospheric Reanalyses

More extreme marine heatwaves in the China Seas during the global warming hiatus (open access)

Coupling of El Niño events and long-term warming leads to pervasive climate extremes in the terrestrial tropics (open access)

Modeling global warming and global warming effects

The Response of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean to Climate Change

Eddy activity response to global warming-like temperature changes

Nonlinear Climate Responses to Increasing CO2 and Anthropogenic Aerosols Simulated by CESM1

Mechanisms of future changes in equatorial upwelling: CMIP5 inter-model analysis

Projecting Circum-Arctic Excess Ground Ice Melt with a sub-grid representation in the Community Land Model (open access)

Projected changes in extreme precipitation events over various subdivisions of India using RegCM4

Temperature domination of AMOC weakening due to freshwater hosing in two GCMs (open access)

Climate change impacts under RCP scenarios on streamflow and droughts of basins in the Brazilian Cerrado Biome

Flow?dependent stochastic coupling for climate models with high ocean?to?atmosphere resolution ratio

Evaluation of Summer Precipitation over Far East Asia and South Korea Simulated by Multiple Regional Climate Models

Role of Arabian Sea Warming on the Indian Summer Monsoon Rainfall in a Regional Climate Model

Climate Futures for Western Nepal based on Regional Climate Models in the CORDEX?SA

Humans dealing with our global warming 

Impact of Uncertainty Parameter Distribution on Robust Decision Making Outcomes for Climate Change Adaptation under Deep Uncertainty

Resilience Dynamics of Urban Water Supply Security and Potential of Tipping Points (open access)

Global response patterns of major rainfed crops to adaptation by maintaining current growing periods and irrigation (open access)

Smallholder farmers’ awareness and perceptions of climate change in Adama district, central rift valley of Ethiopia

How to measure, report and verify soil carbon change to realize the potential of soil carbon sequestration for atmospheric greenhouse gas removal

Assessment of carbon footprint in the construction phase of high-rise constructions in Tehran

The role of the discount rate for emission pathways and negative emissions (open access)

Implementing land-based mitigation to achieve the Paris Agreement in Europe requires food system transformation (open access)

Climate Policy Must Favour Mitigation Over Adaptation

The impact of ambitious fuel economy standards on the market uptake of electric vehicles and specific CO2 emissions

Engendering an inclusive low-carbon energy transition in Japan: Considering the perspectives and awareness of the energy poor

Biology and global warming

Climate change causes functionally colder winters for snow cover-dependent organisms

Climate impacts on deglaciation and vegetation dynamics since the Last Glacial Maximum at Moossee (Switzerland) (open access)

Understanding ecosystems of the future will require more than realistic climate change experiments – A response to Korell et al

When to start and when to stop: Effects of climate on breeding in a multi?brooded songbird

Elevated seawater pCO2 affects reproduction and embryonic development in the pygmy squid, Idiosepius pygmaeus


Investigating the Role of the Tibetan Plateau in the Formation of Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation


Please let us know if you're aware of an article you think may be of interest for Skeptical Science research news, or if we've missed something that may be important. Send your input to Skeptical Science via our contact form.

The previous edition of Skeptical Science new research may be found here. 


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Comments 1 to 44:

  1. Ecomomists obviousy do useful work, but how do they come up with a 5% discount rate related to the climate issue? How can anyone confidently predict such a high and optimistic rate so far ahead in time? Reliable long term prediction has not been the economist's greatest strength.

    Interest rates are very low currently with little sign this is going to change. High returns have been in speculative assets, a thing that cannot be guaranteed longer term. The physical realities suggest it's going to be very difficult maintaining an ever expanding economy that would support high returns.

    While I'm no economist, some things start to scream out as being dubious even to laypeople. Perhaps some expert can put me right. Perhaps I'm naive, or missinterpreting the discount rate, or haven't seen the light.

    Of course as the article suggests there is also merit in deliberately choosing a lower discount rate. Heavens above are we allowed to do that?! Will it offend some economist?

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  2. There seems to have emerged a near-consensus among economists that a declining discount rate should be used--going toward zero over time, that is.

    Helpfully, with a declining discount rate, the results are not quite as sensitive to the initial rate chosen. 

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  3. @nigelj. Discount rates enable us to compare costs and benefits that occur at different points in time. It doesn't make sense to have one discount rate for bond payments, another for investments in education, another for investments in health care, and another for investments in clean energy. They are all really the same future that we are discounting, and so should be the same (risk-adjusted) discount rate.  And thus, different investments and different returns over different periods of time can all be compared. The market (not economists) set these rates.

    The most recent economist to win the Nobel Prize (William Nordhaus) won it for his work on climate change. He rejects the low interest rate (used for example in the Stern report.)  He also thinks the target should be 3.0 to 3.5C of warming; not 1.5C.  I don't see how we can start now rejecting the views of the experts.

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  4. I have an MBA as well as being a Professional Engineer. However, my experience with the Sustainable Development Goals and Fair Trade have given me a perspective that I believe few share, but everyone should seriously consider. (These thoughts are still works in progress, but I am retired now and I am investigating University level engagement on this issue - but admittedly more focused on the need to limit and correct misleading representations regarding all of the Sustainable Development Goals - not just the Climate Action Goal).

    Discount rates are valid when comparing "alternative opportunities". The key concept is "opportunity". It is misleading to apply them to evaluations of corrections of developed activity. They should apply to improvement opportunities, not correction requirements.

    Engineering is full of this type of evaluation. The consideration of future maintenance costs vs. up front costs of different ways of building "a new opportunity" is one of those applications.

    But the climate science identified issues are mainly "Corrections of what has already developed" as well as some "New Opportunities to consider and compare".

    In the engineering world, something already built that has been discovered to be incorrect "gets corrected rapidly". And only the options that achieve the required correction rapidly (with items being kept from being used until the correction is completed) get compared. A less expensive fix that does not achieve the correction objective does not get considered and no discount rate gets applied. And the cost of the correction is whatever it is. There certainly is no expectation that the correction will be obtained "at no cost". And any attempt to compromise the required correction to 'save costs' gets justifiably laughed out of the room.

    Another way to say that is that all of these climate impact option evaluations that are "correction scenarios" incorrectly apply the discount rate by claiming it is an attempt to be fair. It is actually an attempt to compromise the required correction in order to reduce the cost today". In engineering, when something is harmfully incorrect there is no balancing of the Owner's costs with the future impacts of a less than required correction. That same rationale would be the only rational way to evaluate the required corrections of what has currently developed.

    The discount rate has a role, maybe applied to the evaluation of alternative ways of achieving less than 2.0 C impacts. However, I believe the science says that the required objective is 1.5 C impact limit. That would limit the use of discount rates to evaluating the merit of alternative actions that would result in impacts being less than 1.5 C.

    The result of the above understanding is Powerful Political Resistance to acceptance of any information that indicates a Correction is required. That is what has now developed. Powerful misleading marketing to resist the improvement of awareness and understanding of the harmful unacceptability of the developed Status Quo. Applying discount rates is part of that misleading marketing game, getting popular support for the idea that the actually required correction can and should be compromised - to be fair.

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  5. markpittsusa @3, thank's for the comment. Now you mentioned the market sets the discount rate, yet a simple search on this issue shows economists 'choosing' a discount rate related to the climate issue, so I'm not sure what to make of your statement, other than to say it sounds like you are wrong. The following is most interesting. Its from WUWT which is not my preferred source of information, but is worth listening to in this instance. In summary its clear the discount rate can be chosen, and Nordhaus discount rate is too high according to numerous economists.. Make sure you read all the excerpt I have copied and pasted.

    (excerpt) "In reference to the co-winner of the 2018 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, the earlier WUWT article states that “Dr. Nordhaus’ model suggests a ridiculously low discount rate of about 2.5%”. This critique is motivated by comparison with the rates of return offered by fixed income securities (“The minimum discount rate is currently usually 3%, about what you can get in US 30-yr Treasuries”) and other corporate rates (“In the oil & gas industry, we use a 10% discount rate when valuing proved reserves”). Using a higher discount rate would lead to a lower Social Cost of Carbon, meaning that fewer mitigation initiatives would receive policy support.

    "My co-authors and I have recently published (Drupp et al., 2018) the results of a survey of almost 200 economists who have expertise in intergenerational social discount rates (discount rates to be used by governments when, for example, determining climate change policy). From this we can conclude that, as far as most economists in the field are concerned, Nordhaus’ rate is too high and not too low."

    "First, it is important to note that the 2.5% rate that is attributed to Nordhaus in the earlier WUWT article is a growth-corrected discount rate, which “equals the discount rate on goods minus the growth rate of consumption” as given in the caption to the figure in that article. For a non-growth-corrected rate, Nordhaus recommends a much higher value. In a related article he states that “I assume that the rate of return relevant for discounting the costs and benefits of climate-sensitive investments and damages is 5% per year in the near term and 4.5% per year over the period to 2100” (Nordhaus 2014, p.280). Yet in our survey, the median response from our participants for the appropriate very long-term social discount rate is just 2%."

    The following are also higly relevant and discuss problems with Nordhaus's approach in general, and rather high discount rate. The third article is by Thomas Picketty:

    Clearly Nordhaus is but one economist and it would be unwise to rely on the views of but one economist regardless of what prizes he has won.

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  6. The way I presented my thoughts @4 is what I am working on. The ethical unacceptability of applying discount rates to evaluations of the acceptability of future negative consequences to Others has been written about by many people through the past several decades.

    One of the clearest ways to present the thought is the risk of nuclear waste containment failure. Nuclear waste remains very harmful for thousands of years. The failure of such a feature resulting in future deaths is equally bad no matter how far into the future the failure occurs. But many people believe that the failure happening during their life-time would be worse, and it happening near them even worse.

    In addition to that flawed short-term geographically limited, but to be expected, way of thinking, a 'discount rate' evaluation would say that as long as the containment holds together long enough to reduce the discounted future cost to something near zero, the point in time when the evaluation essentially determines that future deaths are irrelevant (almost certain to be beyond the end of life of grandchildren), there is no requirement for the containment to last longer than that, which is obviously absurd.

    The same goes for discounting the future costs of a failure of the current generation to act in a way that is "almost certain to achieve" the understood required correction (1.5 C maximum impact). The future costs of failing to achieve the required limit of impact is unacceptable, no matter what a discounted evaluation indicates "Is Fair".

    Of course the real challenge is that it is the combined actions of the current people that make the future. The future people have no say. Getting people to sacrifice a developed perception of status can be hard work. It is easier to be Popular and more profitable by making-up appealing excuses, even though that is undeniably a highly unethical thing to do.

    The global resurgence of Nationalist Populism and its reliance on misleading marketing appeals to passionate self-interest (greed and intolerance of Others) can be seen to be a reaction to the development of the understanding of the required corrections and changes of direction of development that have been so robustly established and presented in the Sustainable Development Goals.

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  7. @nigelj 5 . Thank you for your thoughtful comments. You are absolutely right in that I should have said “the discount rate is chosen by economists among market-determined rates.” There are several market-determined rates, and economists choose among them. My point was that discount rates do come from market sources; they are not the result of somebody’s economic research (as many people seem to believe).

    As for the right rate, the median opinion of the experts you cite is 2.0%. The Stern report uses an average rate of about 1.4%. So, the economists you cite are closer to Nordhaus than Stern.

    Finally, it is useful to note that many of the economists strenuously arguing against Nordhaus (e.g. Piketty) have an openly stated political agenda that goes far beyond climate control.

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  8. Timh, thanks for that great reference:

    Should Governments Use a Declining Discount Rate in Project Analysis?

    And it's open access. :-)

    Mark, I think it's arguably the case that economists set boundaries on acceptable notions of discount rates; too far from conventional wisdom raises eyebrows. With the sensitivity we're speaking of (measured down to 1/100ths) their hypotheszing (as in the case of Nordhaus and Stern with alternative offerings based on conjecture) may well affect the "real" world. 

    For what it's worth, reading Pikkety suggests that he's political only inasmuch as he's got a policy agenda, or that is to say his arguments are not politically motivated. Operational policy is determined largely in the political arena, so it's possibly easy to confuse a disagreement over effective policy as being political disagreement. We probably all agree that everybody should be fed, clothed, housed, given a fair go, these ideas transcending politics. Piketty illustrates a path of reasoning leading to different policies in support of those goals. Changing policy means changing arenas from research to practicum, hence politics. With "politics" seemingly being overly equated to "partisan" in the public mind, it's too often the case that policy proposals are evaluated based on who is speaking rather than what is being said. We must be careful to listen. When we do, we often obtain useful synthesis of ideas, aka "bipartisan agreement."

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  9. OPOF, please dont take my comments on the discount rate as meaning I'm comfortable with it in principle because I'm not. I share your concerns. The use of a discount rate to put a price on carbon looks crude to me.

    I think your dangerously faulty bridge structure analogy makes some sense. Using your analogy you shouldn't discount the cost of fixing a bridge and do a rough patch up job, on the belief advances in medicine will reduce the impacts of an accident. There is a difference in applying discount rates to encourage the best use of funds and assuming the economy will grow etcetera, and life safety issues especially when long future predictions are needed.

    As far as I can see, a discount rate assumes the wealth generated by future generations will allow them to both adapt and mitigate climate change by some future enhanced technological process, and a high discount rate assumes a lot of wealth. We cannot assume either of those things, so any discount rate should be zero or very low. I admit I'm a little out of my depth because I haven't formally studied economics so stand to be corrected.

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  10. markpittsusa@7,

    I take issue with being dismissive of presentations of information by the likes of Piketty because they have a "...political agenda that goes far beyond climate control."

    The issue is limiting the harm done to the future generations and developing sustainable improvements, not climate control. And it is actually part of the collective of requirements that have been globally accepted as the current best understanding, open to improvement (not compromise), of what is required for the future of humanity - The Sustainable Development Goals.

    The identified acceptable climate impact limit appears to be pretty well established at 1.5 C (including that level being understood to be the required impact limit by global leadership though the lack of corrective action through the past 30 years has made a 2.0 C impact limit appear to be 'more pragmatic - Political speak for compromising what is understood to be required'. Beyond that value, 1.5 C, the science is entering the realm of significant potential for feedback leading to unexpected higher levels of warming impact and less certainty regarding the nature of the consequences.

    The likes of Nordhaus doing an evaluation 'to determine that the Fair amount of warming is higher than 1.5 C' is ethically flawed because it compromises the required correction.

    In addition to being ethically compromising, those evaluations claiming acceptability of warming above 1.5 C are done without acknowledging the uncertainty of potential for higher warming and more significant consequences (which become less relevant as they happen further into the future because that is what discounting does - they are very real in the future, but incorrectly less relevant in the minds of people today).

    Without rigorous science establishing a solid understanding of it being acceptable to have warming impacts that would be projected to create a 2.0 C warming (or warmer) it is very questionable to state that the discount rate evaluation 'done rigorously - whatever that can possibly mean' has determined the proper/fair level of acceptable warming.

    To make the case another way, if the evaluation was done with the same discount rate 30 years ago, it would have established a lower level of acceptable warming because of the different starting point. And if it is done 10 years from now with a less than sufficient level of corrective action between now and then the 'acceptable level of warming impact' would be deemed to have "increased - magically - wonderfully - absurdly".

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  11. markpittsusa @7 , I don't know enough about that group of 100 economists to know whether they are truly representative. Anyway my response to OPOF shows some of my concerns about the use of discount rates. And as others point out, let's stick with what Picketty says and not his political leanings. Most economists will have political leanings and strong ones.

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  12. nigelj@9,

    No worries. I appreciate how challenging it can be to swim through the stories being told, especially with the powerful biases that the developed socioeconomic-political systems promote. My guiding principle through, and safely getting back out of, that murky endeavour is attention to actions that help to achieve and improve on the Sustainable Development Goals (like the great work done by SkS, a sincere statement, not looking for likes).

    My objective is improving awareness and understanding. Though my MBA gives me a reasonable starting point for issues like the discount rate, as I mention, it is actually my interest in Fair Trade and the establishment of understanding like the Sustainable Development Goals that most significantly improved my awareness and understanding. And my thoughts and concerns regarding the future of humanity are open to improvement, but not compromise, by anyone's input (no MBA required to share helpful understanding regarding discount rates).

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  13. Let’s be realists. The real climate issue is cost. Everything else (including the discount rate) is just talk.

    Take the cost estimates for going carbon neutral by 2050 coming out of the UK and the US. To decarbonize the UK (emitting about 1% of world carbon) the estimates are £0.8 to £1.0 trillion. For the US, (emitting about 15% of world carbon), Sander’s price tag is $16 trillion. Scaling these up to the world level, gives at least $100 trillion in costs. That’s more than one full year’s world income (at about $88 trillion).

    But, the third world really can’t afford to forego a year’s income. So the first world (meaning roughly North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia) must pay a lot more - 2 to 2-1/2 times their proportionate share relative to GDP and carbon emissions.

    So, now we’re talking about the first world spending about two to two and one-half years income. For the median American family, that’s $100,000 to $125,000 .

    For the median family, that means home foreclosures, kids not going to college, medical care foregone, no vacations, and night jobs to supplement family income.

    This is why most people are not clamoring to solve the climate problem.

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  14. nigelj@9,

    Further to your observation that the use of a discount rate is partially based on the unjustified belief that the future will be better with increased wealth (unjustified because the current global economy is clearly unsustainable, and unsustainable things have no future). That is correct. But there are other considerations in the building of a discount rate. It can also be unethically based on evaluations of people's willingness to wait for personal benefit or sacrifice personal potential benefit to help others.

    And your observation that the expectation is that the future will always be better by some means including new technological development is also correct. But it is essential to be aware that Technological Development has produced a lot of harmful unsustainable activity. And that was starting to be very clearly understood by global leadership in the 1960s, triggering the global collaborative pursuit of improved awareness and understanding that developed into the 1972 Stockholm Conference and everything that has followed.

    The fact that much of the current global economic activity has developed through the past several decades to be reliant on undeniably harmful and unsustainable activity, in spite of global leadership understanding that it is harmful and unsustainable, has to give any serious ethical person reason to doubt their developed methods of evaluating the future of things.

    The people still trying to hold onto unsustainable beliefs about the future, and their related unsustainable perceptions of deserving their way of living and status relative to others, are destined to not have much of a future for their beliefs. But, tragically, the stories made-up by people under the disguise of being Helpful Ethical Authorities and believed by easily impressed people can compromise and delay the understood to be required corrections (it has for more than 30 years).

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  15. Further to Mark's remarks, I'll just point out that $112,500.00 divided by 30 years is about $4,166 per year.

    Due to the bulging inequality problem described by Piketty and others, for many in the developed world that's quite a bit of money and the problem bodes to become worse failing some changes in policy. But for a lot of others it means no more than repairing rather than purchasing a bit more often, thinking hard about whether $600 every two years for a phone upgrade is more important than making the world safer and more habitable,  whether it's truly necessary to change televisions to the latest model etc.  It's not an existentially threatening amount of money.

    Meanwhile, comparisons with what underdeveloped nations can and should pay are problematic, considering that (for instance) there's a single coal plant in Europe that emits as much CO2 in a year as does the entire country of New Zealand in a year. Responsibility for this problem varies widely. Portraying the burden of paying for the mess we in the developed world have made (and have very much enjoyed making) as somehow unfair because bystanders can't afford to participate in the cleanup job is maybe not a useful approach. Analogies abound.

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  16. markpittsusa @13

    "Take the cost estimates for going carbon neutral by 2050 coming out of the UK and the US. For the US, (emitting about 15% of world carbon), Sander’s price tag is $16 trillion. "

    I tracked down your numbers to this article:

    (Excerpt)"Mr. Sanders said in an interview that his proposal would “pay for itself” over 15 years and create 20 million jobs in the process.

    This cost estimate of $16 trillion is the cost for the GND in total. Spread over 30 years to meet the Paris Accord 2050 deadline you mentioned this is approximately $500 billion per year and this is 2.5% of Americas gdp per year (not far off the numbers I quoted elsewhere from The McKinsey report). You say we have to pay for the third worlds mitigation so this would be double this so make it 5% of gdp per year which is still quite a small number.

    You mention  mitigation costing $100,000 - $125,000 being the median family income, so dividing it by thirty years and splitting the difference equals approximately $4,000 year. The  median income in America is $60,000 year to give some context (and remember this will be increasing year on year). For you to then suggest mitigating climate change would " For the median family, that means home foreclosures, kids not going to college, medical care foregone, no vacations, and night jobs to supplement family income" is  obviously not correct. $4,000 year is what average people routinely spend on discretionary spending on entertainment, alchohol, and flash cars etc. There is no need for the draconian cuts you suggest, although some sacrifices would be needed - but some clever budgetting and wasting less could mean little real impact on people.

    Now it would be tough on low income people, but we could compensate them with some governmnet income support.

    Please note: you have made a huge assumption that all of this cost of mitigation would be paid for by families by cutting their spending. Much of it could be paid for in trimming government spending slightly across the board, or a tax on the corporate sector. Other alternatives include borrowing and programmes like quantitative easing. So it would certainly cost families less than $4000 per year.


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  17. Sorry I have repeated some points by DB. His comments were not there when I pushed submit. But we appear to see it somewhat the same way.

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  18. 'The problem for the various proposed green new deals – in which massive state investment in the deployment of non-renewable renewable energy-harvesting technologies halts global carbon emissions while simultaneously ushering in a forth industrial revolution – is that those same precious metals (and many more rare resources) are an integral part of the technologies that are supposedly going to save us. Indeed, platinum and palladium are not even particularly rare (although they are expensive to extract). At today’s rate of consumption there is more than a century of reserves of these metals. However, deployed at the rate required to electrify transport and decarbonise electricity generation and we will run out of reserves in just twenty years. Not that this will ever happen – although not for the reason mainstream economists believe. Other mineral resources essential to the green new deal would be gone long before the platinum and palladium are gone. For example, reserves of zinc, chromium and gold will be gone in just two months at GND levels of use; with silver, nickel, copper and cobalt reserves being consumed within a year at GND levels of consumption. As a group of scientists at the UK National History Museum warned earlier this year:
    “To replace all UK-based vehicles today with electric vehicles (not including the LGV and HGV fleets), assuming they use the most resource-frugal next-generation NMC 811 batteries, would take 207,900 tonnes cobalt, 264,600 tonnes of lithium carbonate (LCE), at least 7,200 tonnes of neodymium and dysprosium, in addition to 2,362,500 tonnes copper. This represents, just under two times the total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production during 2018. Even ensuring the annual supply of electric vehicles only, from 2035 as pledged, will require the UK to annually import the equivalent of the entire annual cobalt needs of European industry.
    “The worldwide impact: If this analysis is extrapolated to the currently projected estimate of two billion cars worldwide, based on 2018 figures, annual production would have to increase for neodymium and dysprosium by 70%, copper output would need to more than double and cobalt output would need to increase at least three and a half times for the entire period from now until 2050 to satisfy the demand.” '

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  19. Postkey @18, while it's fair comment that mineral reserves are of course limited, the numbers you quote on mineral reserves do not describe the complete picture, and they vastly underestimate reserves. The information you quote is  based on known land based reserves of these materials at current prices and current quantities extracted.

    It's almost 100% certain more discoveries will be made, and there are many more known reserves that are not currently economic to extract, and the data you quote omits billions of tons of each of these metals dissolved in sea water (and several have already been extracted in experimental operations at reasonable cost).

    We are not going to run out of metals this century or next century, even at higher use rates than presently, and of course metals can be recycled almost forever. There are enough minerals for  solar and wind power and electric vehicles etcetera and other applications. List of some of the minerals in sea water and their concentrations.

    "Altogether, there are some 50 quadrillion tons (that is, 50 000 000 000 000 000 t) of minerals and metals dissolved in all the world’s seas and oceans. To take just uranium, it is estimated that the world’s oceans contain 4.5-billion tons of the energy metal."

    Of course we have to be sure not to waste resources and to get population growth rates down, but population growth is falling in many places anyway.

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  20. Nigelj 16

    Thanks for your comments. I think many people agree with you, so let me explain why many people disagree.

    From my perspective, there are a lot of small and medium sized errors in your numbers:

    About 63% of all US families say they would have trouble coming up with $500 in an emergency, but you say spending $4000 would be no problem since they spend that much on entertainment, alcohol, and flash cars. Who’s right?

    An upfront payment ($P) over x years, is Not the same as $P/x per year. It’s much more.

    The Sander’s program was for $16 trillion over 10 years, not 30. So, we’re talking about more than $12,500 per year for 10 years for each family.

    “Government income support” for the poor is not free. Who pays for that? Where have you accounted for those costs?

    Their is no evidence that families can save $4000 a year by “clever budgeting and wasting less.” If they could, why aren’t they doing it already? (I.e., Average people are not stupid.)

    Average families do not have flash cars or spend that much on alcohol. (I.e., Average people are not degenerate.)

    If government spending could be trimmed, then why do they never do so?

    Who pays for those higher corporate taxes? Families will. People own corporations, so people pay those taxes. (Roughly half of the US stock market is held in pension and retirement accounts. About another quarter in individual accounts, and the rest in “other”, like sovereign wealth funds and quasi-government owned institutions - owned by all citizens.)

    You imply that “borrowing programs” do not impose a cost on families. Who pays back those loans? Who pays the interest on that debt? What other programs get crowded out by that debt? If borrowing is free, why not borrow enough to make everyone rich?

    You say “quantitative easing” could be used to pay for the programs. This is more or less a subset of the idea of paying for things with borrowing. It’s like a money printing program, but does not create any goods and services that can be used for green projects.

    These are the questions your “opposition” would like answered.

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  21. @doug

    Very insightful comment.  I think I sometimes over-react because so often people dismiss perfectly good analysis because they don't like the source (e.g. the Koch Brothers, or the DNC, or whoever they disagree with.)


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  22. @One Planet

    I appreciate your comments and approach, but let me explain why “luke warm environmentalists” like myself disagree.

    In no particular order (and with some possible duplication) here are my initial observations:

    Poverty kills. We know this. The poor do not get the medical care they need. The poor do not get adequate nutrition, or have sufficient housing or minimal sanitation. We also know that economic development is what cures poverty. In 1980 about 70% of the world’s population lived at or near subsistence. Today, it’s about 10%, and declining fast. That’s due to industrialization and economic growth.

    So, we have a choice to make: (1) Put the brakes on development and/or divert massive resources to replace one form of energy with another, or (2) Keep moving ahead, limit carbon emissions, plan to adapt to some environmental changes.

    My assessment (which you may not agree with) is that we eliminate more poverty and save more lives with the second approach than the first.

    A zero, or near zero, interest rate makes no sense. Here’s why:

    We all agree that many investments made today will more than pay for themselves in the future.

    Ethically, with a zero interest rate, people in the world today should live at a bare subsistence level. After all, $100 of goods and services consumed today deprives the future of more than $100 (because of all those good investments we could have made with that $100). So how can we ethically consume $100 and deprive the future of more than $100, since the present and the future are more or less “equal.”

    Also, a zero interest rate ignores uncertainty. If you look at expert forecasts of the future over the last 50 years, you’ll have to agree there’s been plenty of errors, and thus uncertainty.

    You say the 1.5C limit is “pretty well established.” That’s not true. It’s not in the 2018 IPCC reports, or the 2018 US government report, or the Lancet report. (Those are the recent scientific reports that I have mostly read.) Please explain why 1.5C is so important.

    The 1.5C limit was a last minute political concession made to the island nations. The original idea was to state the objective at 2C.

    You go on to use expressions like “acceptable” climate impact, and limits being “well established,” and “required.” But those are opinions, not facts. Obviously, most people don’t agree with those opinions. (Look at their actions, not their words.)

    With continued world economic development, today’s poor nations could be as rich in 2100 as Europe or the US is today. That has been the result of economic development in the last 100 years, so that is what we should expect.

    Thus, those nations will have the economic wherewithal to adapt to many of the climate problems coming their way.

    (And if those nations don’t continue to develop, their carbon footprint will be low, so there will be much less climate change.)

    I understand how the engineering approach of “fix the old problem” before starting a new project makes sense in most first world applications. But that’s not applicable to the climate problem.

    The climate problem is more like “fix that old bridge that might hurt people in the year 2100” or “build a new bridge so we can take food to people who are starving on the other side today.”

    It’s a tough decision, and one answer is not necessarily more ethical than the other.

    I’d appreciate your perspective on my comments.

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  23. markpittsusa @20

    "About 63% of all US families say they would have trouble coming up with $500 in an emergency, but you say spending $4000 would be no problem since they spend that much on entertainment, alcohol, and flash cars. Who’s right?"

    I think I'm right on this one. It's a fact people generally have a lot of discretionary spending, and of course its a fact that many have nothing much in the bank for emergencies. Its the way people live today sadly. It's equally a fact they could cut back on some of their discretinary spending if they wanted to. I have economised at various points in my life when I have had to find money for priorities.

    For example, if taxes go up people obviously have to economise. Now would they do this for the sake of the climate? The majority of Americans support a carbon tax according to some polls, (not all I admit) so they might cut some discretionary spending on this basis, and if you accept its going to be less than $4,000 then its not an insurmountable issue. 

    "The Sander’s program was for $16 trillion over 10 years, not 30. So, we’re talking about more than $12,500 per year for 10 years for each family."

    Correct, but you talked about a 30 year commitment therefore I talked about a 30 year commitment. Sanders time frame looks too short to me.

    “Government income support” for the poor is not free. Who pays for that? Where have you accounted for those costs?"

    The tax payer pays for it. It's old fashioned income redistribution from high to low income earners, and you already have this with things like food stamps, the in work tax credit etc. I think such schemes are useful provided rich people are not pilloried. Please excuse me I'm not American, so I'm hazy on some of the details, but I'm certainly right in principle.

    "Their is no evidence that families can save $4000 a year by “clever budgeting and wasting less.” If they could, why aren’t they doing it already? (I.e., Average people are not stupid.)

    I didn't say they could save all of the $4,000. I said clever budgetting and wasting less could make some big savings.There is massive evidence easily googled that better budgetting can solve financial problems because people waste a lot of money (I've been there). I agree people aren't stupid and dont always budget well, but if people really want to they will, and if they have to save a little money by better budgetting, say if there was a carbon tax scheme, they would probably seek budgetting advice.

    Carbon tax and dividend is another option that is gentle on people.

    "Average families do not have flash cars or spend that much on alcohol. (I.e., Average people are not degenerate."

    I think you are missing the point here a little. I picked a couple of random examples. Average families have pretty nice cars in America generally beyond what they really need, a lot of technology that is not essential, large screen televisions, eat out regularly and so on. The list is endless. And theres nothing inherently wrong with that, but some small economies would go a long way to helping the climate problem.

    "If government spending could be trimmed, then why do they never do so?"

    But 'they' do trim government spending when they want. Both Obama and Trump cut numerous programmes and so has congress. ( I do understand your point and your cynacism!)

    "Who pays for those higher corporate taxes? Families will."

    Yes but mostly it will be wealthier familes who end up paying most, so it will help poorer people. It's a similar thing with government borrowing programmes.

    "You say “quantitative easing” could be used to pay for the programs. This is more or less a subset of the idea of paying for things with borrowing. It’s like a money printing program, but does not create any goods and services that can be used for green projects."

    Quantitative easing is not borrowing. They are polar opposites unless specific arrangements have been made that the QA money be paid back. ( I think it does have to be paid back in Americas QE programme). Quantitative easing is money printing as you correctly said yourself, and it  has been used in America and Europe recently, and was used in my country to build housing for poor people in the 1930's. It is appropriate in a low inflationary environment ,and right now we have a low inflationary environment bedded in.

    Money printing can be used to fund anything you like, including green projects. This is self evident in the way the sun rises in the morning.

    Thank's for the polite issues based discourse and reasonable questions, but I probably won't pursue this issue much more. Most of your objections and questions have been made and answered many times before. We all need to listen better.

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  24. Yes, Nigel, I think we should agree to disagree.  In the end, the citizens will decide how much they are willing to sacrifice, not you or I.

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  25. markpittsusa @22,

    I will start my response by presenting a clarification of the frame of reference (the context) for the discussion. It should then be obvious what the responses to your points are, but I will also respond to your points consistent with that frame-of-reference. The wording may be able to be significantly improved, but I am not inclined at this time to put more effort into 'improving the presentation'. The thoughts should be clear enough.

    Getting into debates about discount rates distracts from what needs to be understood. What is being discussed is the Future of Humanity. And the quality of that future depends on there being a robust diversity of humanity that sustainably fits into a robust diversity of other life on this amazing planet. This is not a dollar and cents thing. Dollars and cents fail to make sense of impacts that are outside of the made-up economic games that people play. The Sustainable Development Goals cover all of it rather well, and they are open to improvement based on input from anyone - including you and me.

    Back to the cost evaluations regarding climate impacts and the application of discount rates. The climate impact costing comparative evaluation is incorrectly comparing the 'perceived lost opportunity for benefit by people today' with the 'negative impacts on Others in the future due to the competitions in pursuit of personal benefit by people today'.

    That is a Negative-Negative evaluation. And it is understandably unethical. It is unethical to distract the discussion into an evaluation claimed to Fairly Balance such a Negative-Negative evaluation rather than admitting that one group must stop producing negative consequences that others will have to deal with. And those who are more fortunate can still have decent lives while leading that required correction and helping the less fortunate sustainably improve their lives. That basic understanding was established in Kyoto and has remained, because it is fundamentally ethically defensible.

    Even with a zero-discount rate the climate cost evaluation can be understood to be incorrect. In the past I have presented an example of neighbours to clarify the understanding. The neighbour example is a case where an individual has been doing something on their property that is not essential to their basic existence and that can be understood to have real negative impacts on their neighbour (not a perceived harm to their developed sensibilities, but a real negative impact). To defend continuing to do that undeniably unacceptable thing they evaluate 'their perceived loss of personal benefit if they had to stop doing that thing' and compare it to 'their evaluation of the negative impact on their neighbour' and then declare that they are justified in continuing to do their thing as long as 'their perceived loss' is a match for or greater than 'their evaluated impact on their neighbour'. That is obviously a repugnant argument (they should have no excuse for continuing to negatively impact their neighbour).And that is the result of using a zero-discount rate. Discounting part of the impact on the neighbours to reduce the 'perceived impact on the neighbour' makes it even easier to justify doing the undeniably unacceptable thing (and is more repugnant).

    In case you are wanting to claim that fossil fuel use is 'essential to basic existence' my response is that only the poorest could make such a claim. And since fossil fuels are non-renewable, and their use causes negative consequences to Others, everyone more fortunate should be helping the poorest sustainably improve their lives in ways that are not dependent on fossil fuels.

    Back again to climate change costing done with discount rates. Using a positive discount rate on the climate impact evaluations does the same thing as the neighbour example. It is worse than repugnant. However, politically, lots of opportunity exists for populist regional tribal misleading marketing to be appealing, because the starting point is 'the unacceptable thing that has developed'.

    What is required is the end of causing the negative impacts. The political argument is about not doing the correction, or how slowly can that correction be done, how much more harm 'is acceptable', most important how do the more fortunate get to maintain their status relative to Others. The actual ethical requirement is 'Stop the negative impact activity'. The lack of leadership action by 'all of the supposedly more advanced people' through the past 30 years has made the required correction more urgent while also causing more future harm to have been done, and increasing populist support to resist the corrections (manipulation of the citizens deciding how much they are willing to sacrifice, how much they will like unethical misleading marketing from harmful wanna-be-leaders).

    A related example to address the poverty issue is the example of a family situation evaluation where some members of the family have benefited and currently continue to personally benefit from actions that undeniably result in negative poverty consequences for other members of the family. Like the neighbour example, it is obvious that it is unacceptable for some members of the family to have been doing that. And it is worse if they try to excuse it and continue doing it by doing a similar negative-negative comparison. And it is even worse if they try to discount the negative impacts on the other family members. And the concept extends without any actual change when the frame of reference changes from Family to Community or Business of employment or Nation or Global Population. In spite of the reality that there should be no change of that understanding as a result of the change of the Group it is applied to, there is undeniably political actors appealing to greed and dislike of, or lack of concern for, Others who are different or far away, or in the future.

    Poverty does need to be ended. But perceptions of success on that front that are based on unsustainable and negative actions like the use of fossil fuels are not real. The following is a related understanding I developed through improved Fair Trade understanding. It is unethical to claim that a person has been lifted out of poverty if they have been forced from a subsistence farming/foraging life into new-age slave employment in operations like the Free Trade production zone in the Philippines that operate 'outside of the Philippine labour laws. Earning more than $2.50 a day that way rather than being able to live sustainably on a farm is not 'raising a person out of poverty'. And it is worse if they were forced out of their previous life by fossil fuel operations and if the need to end fossil fuel use would worsen their slave employment.

    Understanding the need to end the production of negative consequences cannot be allowed to be compromised by 'incorrect developed beliefs, actions and perceptions being maintained or protected from significant correction'. The related understanding is that the limit of 1.5 C impacts is already a compromise of that requirement that was established decades ago. And the establishment of a 2.0 C limit was a pragmatic political additional compromising of the future due to the lack of responsible leadership through the past few decades. Truly sustainable improvements of life for the least fortunate must be achieved and improved on. That means the already more fortunate must lead the correction. The most fortunate should be required to prove they deserve to be most fortunate by truly being seen as the leaders of the correction, as well as being seen to actually be most helpful to the less fortunate, helping them have lives that are at least considered 'neutral basic decent lives, not negative lives'.

    That understanding becoming 'popular' would compromise the ability of many of the wealthy to maintain their wealth. And it would make it more difficult for future wealthy people to be wealthier than others because it would limit how they can become wealthier than others. That would be a helpful sustainable compromise.

    With that clarification of the context, frame of reference I will respond to your 5 points:

    1. Poverty: Any perceptions of poverty improvement that are only due to fossil fuel use are not sustainable. And much more can be done to end poverty, but the developed socioeconomic-political systems resist making the obvious corrections, because they are harder and require a personal sacrifice of developed perceptions of status and opportunity for personal benefit. The most fortunate have to prove they deserve to be more fortunate by actually being the most helpful to the least fortunate.

    2. A zero, or near zero, interest rate makes no sense: The discussion is the use of a discount rates when determining how much negative impact can continue to be inflicted on Others in the future. See above.

    3. The 1.5C limit: The original established level of warming impact before the results become questionable has always been 1.5 C. The 2.0 C is actually the political number. It was 'pragmatically established'. The 1.5 C value was brought back because it is the real science based recommended limit, not 2.0 C (or 3.5 C that supposedly gets justified by Nordhaus).

    You should review the “Landmark United Science Report Informs Climate Actions Summit” OP 3rd item below this one on the SkS home page which includes the following:

    “The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C states that limiting warming to 1.5ºC is not physically impossible but would require unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society. There are clear benefits to keeping warming to 1.5 ºC compared to 2 ºC or higher. Every bit of warming matters.

    Limiting warming to 1.5ºC can go hand in hand with reaching other world goals such as achieving sustainable development and eradicating poverty.”

    4. Continued world economic development: This is the first time in history that evaluators of economic activity have been forced to figure out what to do about a new developed understanding that a major part of the developed global economy is actually unsustainable and harmful. Their models are of no merit without sustainability as governing criteria. Any perceptions due to fossil fuel use are not sustainable.

    5. Regarding “I understand how the engineering approach of “fix the old problem” before starting a new project makes sense in most first world applications”:

    That is not what I said. It appears that you have been selectively reading what I shared (even attributing other people's comments as if their personal extrapolations of my comments were what I said - at no point in my comment did I use the word “Bridge”.

    The climate problem is more like “fix the developments of the fatally flawed socioeconomic-political system that is hurting people today and will cause more negative consequences the more it is left uncorrected” or “There will not be a sustainable and improving future for humanity”.

    Hopefully improving awareness and understanding will become popular enough to sustainably win everywhere, the sooner the better.

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  26. markpittsusa @22, I hope you don't mind but I will weigh in on some of this. You will see why.

    "1) Poverty kills. ....We also know that economic development is what cures poverty....So, we have a choice to make: (1) Put the brakes on development and/or divert massive resources to replace one form of energy with another, or (2) Keep moving ahead, limit carbon emissions, plan to adapt to some environmental changes....My assessment (which you may not agree with) is that we eliminate more poverty and save more lives with the second approach than the first."

    Let's examine western countries like America. Economic growth alleviated poverty in past centuries but has been ineffective in recent decades at this. The benefits of growth have been captured by certain groups. Poverty has been reduced in recent decades by income redistribution in western countries because they have plenty of wealth to do this. I have a copy of The Economist Journal September 28th, which has a huge article on poverty in America. The Economist finds that things like food stamps and the in work tax credit and entitlement programmess have been effective in reducing poverty but don't go far enough. 

    Let's examine poor countries. They will need more economic growth to lift people out of poverty because in the early stages economic growth does this. However their emissions are quite low and electricity grids are limited, so climate mitigation is not really about a massive and rapid programme of replacing infrastructure. Its about building wind farms rather than building more coal power. Its an additive process. So its hard to see why climate mitigation in poor countries needs to be a huge brake on economic growth. You also mentioned the western world subsidising the climate mitigation of poor countries, so this would mean growth is not compromised.

    Its also a false dichotomy to somehow consider poverty reduction versus climate mitigation. There's clearly more to the issue.

    "2). A zero, or near zero, interest rate makes no sense."

    I dont think anyone suggested zero interest rates for the economy as a whole. It's a question of whether a discount rate at zero or near zero is appropriate to deal with an issue like mitigating climate change and it may well be. I support capitalism and interest rates etc in broad terms.
    This is my take. Discount rates make perfect sense applied to problems that have many possible solutions, and project planning, where one of the solutions may be just to invest money. The world will probably get wealthier ( we would probably argue about how much) and this alone may solve some problems. However some issues are different, for example a faulty bridge really needs to be fixed immediately because its life threatining, and as I said using the excuse that medical advances in the future may mitigate the threat would be pretty weak.

    Climate change is more like the bridge problem in that mitigation needs to be fairly immediate and done whatever it costs (although phased in) and the problem is life threatening and a huge issue. And its worse because we cannot rule out catastrophic climate scenarios. We also need to be cautious because there are signs that economic growth cannot continue forever. So discount rates seem a dubious mechanism to decide on a carbon price, and at least they would need to be set quite low.

    "5) The climate problem is more like “fix that old bridge that might hurt people in the year 2100”

    Climate change is already hurting some communities, an issue easily enough googled.


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  27. I posted my comment @26 before OPOFs was on my screen. Sorry for any repetition.

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  28. @ One Planet & Nigel

    Thanks for your comments; I'm understanding your views better.  (I'd like to ask a few questions when I've had more time to digest your comments better.)

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  29. Reasonable people can disagree on the internet. Who knew (or remembered)? :-)

    What a great discussion.

    One point made here really resonates with me (among others) and that's the other big problem with fossil fuels aside from the CO2 emissions defect: the fossil nature of the fuel. Nobody's making fossil fuel these days. There's a limited supply of this material and substitution by constructing molecules from elements turns out to be a fairly tough technological problem, one of many we already face and one we don't necessarily have to take on.

    It being a fact that petroleum and natural gas  are useful for many things less caveman-like than setting them on fire, in general the faster we get past caveman mode the better. Imagining that there were not a climate change problem attached to fossil fuels and imagining that we have some applications for petroloeum and natural gas as raw materials in the future, we can hypothesize responsible rates of investment for eliminating crude burning of what we now consider primarily  as fuel.

    How fast should we do this? I expect many of us like to think about what civilization will be like in 100, 500,1,000 or 2,000 years. More and ideally most of us need to think this way if we're to collectively exhibit moral and ethical integrity, behave respectably as a group. What years in the future look like for people living in those times depends in large part— short of speculation entirely— on choices we make today. They can be easier years, or harder years. If we've dispersed all the easily obtained copper willy-nilly about the globe in low concentrations, how are people 1,000 years from now to wind electric motors? What gives us the right to take away options for everybody following us?

    Failing to take the future into consideration— negligent behavior with consumables— is arguably a form of theft. It seems to me that we need to act as rapidly as we can afford to so as to minimize our culpable actions. 

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  30. One Planet.  Maybe a productive approach (for me at least) would be if you could explain what you would propose in order to fix the "fatally flawed socioeconomic-political system." I agree with your general philosophy.

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  31. markpittsusa,

    My first thought is a more effective process to more rapidly identify and thoroughly correct misleading marketing (why I stay tuned-in to SkS). The achievement of, and improvement on, the Sustainable Development Goals would be a primary set of guiding principles for doing that (they were globally developed through decades of collaborative pursuit of improved awareness and understanding and continue to be open to improvement, expansion and correction).

    Marketing is great, as long as it is helpfully increasing awareness and understanding. New products and services need to be developed. And helpful promotion of new products and services is essential. Providing consumers with a fuller awareness and understanding of their choices is very helpful, but is very difficult to do when business interests or political interests can keep the reality of their activities 'secret' (people unaware) or 'misunderstood' (people misled by appealing misleading claim making, especially passion-triggering marketing).

    It would be best if everyone wanted to helpfully improve their awareness and understanding and apply that learning to helping others, by helping achieve and improve the Sustainable Development Goals at whatever level they are able to act at. But some aspects of human nature makes that universal dedication to helpfulness a fantasy. It will always be likely that some members of humanity will try to personally benefit in ways that produce negative consequences for Others. Vigilant and sustained global governing is required with the SDGs as the overarching Objectives, governing everything including governing the acceptability of laws, law-makers, judges, lawyers, policing, military, businesses, education (rule of law can be corrupted).

    Specifically for the matter of climate impacts, I believe that people like Stephen Gardener, author of "A Perfect Moral Storm", are leading in a helpful correction direction. He is pushing for international governing rules with teeth, not aspirations that can be Opted-out of without penalty.

    And if you want to better understand the reasoning behind my thinking you could try to read Derek Parfit's 1984 book "Reasons and Persons".

    Before I read Parfit's or Gardener's books I had independently developed a similar understanding by my own efforts to come up with explanations of what can be seen to be going on and reading a lot of other books by other people trying to do the same thing, specifically related to society and the environment and what had developed and why, especially why the resistance to understanding climate science was so persistent and powerful.

    My conclusion is that misleading marketing can be abused by harmful cheaters to unjustifiably prosper without risk of serious personal consequences. That is what I believe needs to fundamentally be corrected.

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  32. doug_bostrom @29, I agree, and I have had these sorts of discussions elsewhere. Humanity is mostly raiding the cupboard of the cheese, and not leaving much cheese for the grandkids . It could be severely problematic, and doesn't feel right to me as a matter of conscience.

    No doubt some people gamble that the gandkids will be smart enough to get the remaining cheese. Good luck with that plan.

    This generation can obviously help the situation by consuming less, wasting less, recycling more, and building products that last longer, and stock piling waste so its easy to recycle, and by having small families. I doubt that there's much governmnets can or should to to force those things on people. It is very much a case of us talking about it and spreading awareness. Governments can do a bit to encourage lower birth rates, and have good environmental laws,  and encourage recycling, but thats about it. There needs to be a mostly voluntary corporate culture change that goes beyond green washing, and its encouraging to see some green shoots of this. But I have no idea how far it might go.

    Of course we have a problem because capitalism in its present form tends to encourage the opposite of these better ways of behaving. Capitalism encourages maximum consumption and throw away products and is hostile to business regulation. But it may be possible to bend capitalism enough to solve the problems, without compromising it's main attributes.

    I also doubt that people would dramatically reduce their level of consumption for a problem thats well into the future and devilishly hard to quantify. Wasting less etc, and getting the size of global population down to reduce demand pressure looks like the least painful mechanism, although it's not without its own problems. If we all adopt a fertility rate of 1.5 kids in the following decade or two,  global population starts to fall in absolute size by 2100. Some countries are already near this level so its a realistic plan. With reduced demand pressure virtually all environmental problems improve, but  such plans are obviously not sufficient in themselves.

    Could all be a train wreck. The best plan is probably harm minimisation. Do what we can.

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  33. I offer the following higher level of thoughts for consideration as a follow-up to my comments in this thread (and almost every comment I have made on SkS). This is my latest developed way of presenting this, and it appears to align with the thoughts being expressed by others.

    “Everyone being sustainably decently self-sufficient, now and into the future” should be the Governing Objective.

    Self Interest can actually be a serious impediment to the achievement of that Objective. Derek Parfit explained the fundamental unacceptability of Self Interest in robust, very hard to reasonably refute, detail in his book “Reasons and Persons”.

    My two ways of presenting that point are:

    • Self Interest leading to Greed can result in people pursuing more personal benefit in ways that limit the ability of others to be sustainably self sufficient by taking a larger than required share of available renewable resources, damaging and reducing the robust diversity of renewable resources, and harmfully wastefully using up non-renewable resources. Those negative results of greed appear in many forms including the pursuits of 'cheaper and easier' ways to personally benefit. It produces popularity of harmful actions. And it can create less compensation for, or no employment of, significant portions of the population. It also results in a lack of decent affordable housing or a lack of access to decent food and water.
    • Self Interest leading to disliking of people who are harmlessly different is another negative aggravating factor, especially when it gets tied to the reduced opportunities for self-sufficiency that Greed produces.

    Requirements of that understanding include the following:

    • Within the whole of global humanity, different ways of achieving The Objective by any sub-set can be acceptable.
    • A diversity of ways of trying to achieve it can be helpful, as long as the actions of any sub-set do not cause negative consequences within the sub-set or for any Others.
    • The results of the sub-set actions must be monitored for negative impacts to achieving the Objective.
    • Collective governing actions will be required to effectively correct any resulting 'activity that has negative impact', including correcting for 'less than decent self sufficient life experiences' created in any of the many 'socioeconomic-political trials/experiments'.
    • Corrections need to be effective and rapid to minimize the negative impacts, ensure that the negative activity does not become popular or produce significant reward for anyone.
    • Corrections need to collectively help those who are unable to be sustainably self-sufficient. A person should only experience a less than decent basic life for a short duration before they are collectively helped.
    • Leaders need to constantly work to improve the understanding of how to govern and change the diversity of systems to better achieve the sustainable self-sufficiency Objective. On the Total Population issue - That would include understanding the importance of global awareness of effective birth control and the potential value of abortions to help develop Sustainable Self-Sufficiency - but the more important population related understanding being the need to reduce (eliminate) the negative impacts of the highest impacting portion of the population to make it easier for all others to be sustainably self-sufficient.
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  34. One Planet,

    I agree with you completely. But then so would the most conservative Republican, and the furthest Left Democrat.  That's because everyone has their own definition and opinion concerning what's "decent," "negative," etc.  Also, everyone disagrees about who is being greedy and controlled by self-interest.

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  35. markpittsusa says "I agree with you completely. But then so would the most conservative Republican, and the furthest Left Democrat. That's because everyone has their own definition and opinion concerning what's "decent," "negative," etc. Also, everyone disagrees about who is being greedy and controlled by self-interest."

    These are real problems that must be resolved. The term self interest shouldn't be demonised, because if we didn't have self interest we would probably die pretty fast. Humans are self interested by our very nature, however we also observably mostly have a counter balancing altruistic side to our character. Helping others has some obvious benefits to our selves that don't need repeating here, and is a moral good, so we should obviously promote altruism but not by suggesting self interest is evil. A good moral and economic case can be made that altruism is a virtue.

    Greed is easier to define and to accept as a moral wrong and also a behaviour that destablises economies. For any group of people to cooperate to improve their circumstances clearly requires rules, and one rule is not taking more than your fair share of the resources by force, as in the basic resources of the land, and stealing from other people. In a free market economy people earn the rights to resources, and thats ok up to a point.

    The problem happens when people earn the rights to a lot of resources and others get left well behind working hard yet still living in poverty, or disabled etcetera. In this case most people agree to some level of income redistribution to help them enforced by government's The problem is those on the right of politics (in the main) that resent income redistribution being forced by governments (taxation is allegedly theft) and they resent other government impositions. Yet their objections create a situation where it become virtually impossible to solve poverty and other problems.

    Those on the left sometimes have artificially high expectations on what governments can achieve, and are very idealistic about human nature.

    Everyone is susceptible to accumulating wealth as a status display almost like a drug, and gaming the system to perpetuate this regardless of cost to other people and the environment. This includes left and right, business and government, although the left at least have the virtue of recognising the problem.

    There is a sensible middle ground. But its being lost in America in a tribal political war thats getting dangerous, and one big casualty is climate change mitigation.

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  36. markpittsusa@34,

    I believe that your claim, that a diversity of political competitors would agree with my point, is incorrect or missing important clarification. Conservatives and Libertarians (if that is what you mean by far-left Liberals) who genuinely want to help any and all Others in ways that ensure that no one suffers a harsh short existence (a clearer example of a non-decent life) might agree, but not the New age of Populist Leaders or the self-professed Good Conservatives or Good Liberals who choose to support and defend them. Admittedly there are different opinions about what is Decent, and Yuval Noah Harari does a decent job of presenting that issue in his book "21 Lessons for the 21st Century". But Decent is not a term that is wide open to any Opinion. And there is far less room to dispute what is 'negative', especially regarding climate change impacts.

    My comment means that Opinions need to be judged against the achievement of and improvements on the Sustainable Development Goals, especially being judged on the fullness and accuracy of their presentation (more complete presentations of what is actually going on). I try to evaluate things that way, especially the actions of leaders (business, political, and purveyors of information - storytellers like the media).

    When evaluated based on the need to help improve awareness and understanding and its application to develop sustainable improvements for all of humanity, a variety of Opinionators (and their associates) do worse than score lower than others, they often fail to pass the test, often trying to dismiss or discredit the evaluation rather than be judged on that basis.

    I am quite confident that certain, not all, 'political and business entities (which by default include the less correct information purveyors)' would be more averse than others would be to being required to present the fuller story more accurately, no misleading marketing.

    I will close by adding a point I failed to include in my comment @33. Self Interest can cause a person to want to justify their desires through the Negative-Negative evaluation I commented about @25. And it can motivate them to go further and want that incorrect evaluation to be done with a higher discount rate.

    That leads to a response to nigelj @35. I accept nigelj's point about Self Interest needing to be governed or limited. I disagree that it is should be given a prominent moral standing. Parfit's arguments very powerfully leave no doubt about the understanding that Self Interest needs to be Governed by concern for Others, and that Others does not mean just Other Family members, or just Others that a person is aware of and likes.

    Moving out from under a falling piano is a Good Instinct, but it has nothing to do with ethics and their application to thoughtful processes like determining what to do about the harmful abuse of fossil fuels. Self Interest being allowed to influence that type of evaluation is Not Helpful.

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  37. Nigelj , your post #35 was excellently well stated.

    One extra point (from the American scene) is the proportion of taxation burden.  The standard narrative is that the rich and the upper middle class pay the lion's share of revenue supporting the government (or call it supporting the social contract, if you prefer the term).

    That may not be entirely fair, as a description.  Earlier in 2019, I came across two graphs (but I can't vouch for their accuracy).  The first was the standard "income tax paid as a proportion of income" ~ where the rich in the top decile were paying the bulk of absolute tax dollars . . . reducing down to the poorest deciles paying close to zero income tax. [Disregarding social security benefits paid.]

    However, the second graph showed the effect of the addition of sales taxes, state taxes, local taxes of various kinds.  

    Remarkably: each decile from poorest to richest, paid close to the same percentage of their income, as total tax.

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  38. Eclectic, well thanks, I'm glad someone understands what I'm going on about!

    Yes I can believe poor and rich pay about the same proportion of income as total tax. I checked this issue for New Zealand and I can't find anything much  and don't have the time to dig deeply, but this jumped out:  "As you can see, the richest tenth of New Zealanders pay 47% of all income tax, but that's hardly surprising when they earn 34% of all the income."

    We do have a pretty generous programme of income support for families that probably effectively  does reduce the tax of the very lowest income earners in a proportional sense, and maybe more so than America. But it has reduced serious poverty and we have had nothing like tent cities or trailor parks. Our problem is very high house prices and rents recently, similar to the isssue in California, and thats causing poverty to creep back. But I digress...

    Digressing back to the climate issue, I can't help but wonder if a massive "GND" style of programme would really reduce economic growth as some claim. During WW2 America undertook a rapid conversion of the economy to manufacture armaments, I think a staggering 30% of gdp went into this, yet economic growth was strong and surprisingly standards of living went up. I know the climate issue is a bit different because we are being advised to reduce consumption, but still its worth thinking about.

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  39. nigelj@38,

    Regarding how negative it would be to implement more aggressive action regarding GHG emissions, the Canadian Federal elections are happening and as part of the election policy coverage the CBC just published a comparison of the Party plans regarding GHG reduction: Confronting Carbon: Comparing Party Platforms.

    The analysis shows that the Green Party plans (to do significantly better than Canada's current 2030 targets), will not put the Canadian economy into a recession They will reduce projected economic growth by about 0.5%. The compound annual economic growth rate through to 2030 for the Green Party plan would be 1.25% vs. 1.74% for continuiing with the plans of the current govenment that miss the target.

    Note that the Conservative Plan is to change things in a way that increases how much Canada misses the 2030 target from 110 Megatonnes to 134 Megatonnes but will only increase the GDP growth rate from 1.74% to 1.78%.

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  40. If I have 'worked this out' correctly?

    In the UK, the lowest decile pay 43% percent of their gross income in direct and indirect taxes. The highest pay 34%.

    If 'equivalised income'is considered, then the bottom 10% pay 53%.


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    Moderator Response:

    [DB]  Shortened link breaking page formatting.

  41. Postkey @40,

    I'm not sure the relevance here of UK tax policies, but you are not correct.

    I'm assuming you are dividing household equivalised post-tax income by gross income to reach your 53% figure (when it works out as 55%). The big mistake here is mixing equivalised values and raw non-equivalised values. These two measures should not be combined in this manner within the same calculation. Note, the ratio tax(direct+indirect):gross income remains constant between the two measures.

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  42. nigelj@38,

    As a follow-up to my comment@39 I think a more interesting, but missing, part of the comparison of the impacts of more aggressive correction by 2030 would be what the 'required responsible actions' look like from 2030 to be carbon-neutral by 2050, or more properly to be the 'same total carbon impact' by the time carbon-neutral is achieved.

    The actions that would be 'less negative to the economy' by 2030 likely require significantly more negative actions after 2030. That is an extension of the 'creation of someone else's problem' that was perpetrated by the self interested resistance to correction through the past 30 years. Not only will the challenge be bigger after 2030, the total accumulated impacts will be higher unless the challenge after 2030 keeps the total impact to the same target level rather than just continuing to meet a 'carbon-neutral by 2050' plan.

    And, back to the use of a discount rate, using a discount rate makes actions today that make bigger problems in the future "look better". And the bigger the discount rate the better the evaluation of the future looks.

    As Greta said (paraphrased), the concerned and aware youth today do not want to hear leaders today express admiration and confidence regarding how brilliant the future generations will be at solving the challenges they will face.

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  43. At this point we don't know how much time we have before the climate disrupts the weather system to the point of crop then societal then general collapse. Some of this year’s weather suggests it could happen sooner than later.
    The fastest way to re-organize societies would likely be WWII fashion mobilizations... hopefully done in a democratic (certainly more democratic than WWII were done) way.
    Likely the most important part of such an effort would be to identify what is materially needed (I'd argue food, shelter, healthcare, education, community), and how to ensure everyone gets this using the least number of joules possible.
    Yes this implies, especially in the USA, ceasing useless activities like moving millions of 2 — 6 ton pieces of steel on particle producing synthetic rubber in a circle everyday. If people insist on continuing their materially needless Financisphere activities, at least do them via computer and convert all those offices to housing.
    Even keeping a market system, we could arrange for walking cities, more efficient buildings, cradle to grave products (make planned obsolescence illegal)… of course this would likely require banning corporations (as other societies have done in the past) and/or making a very strong referee.

    Easier, convert to a rational society whose goal (Graeber’s idea) is to make good people. i.e., the sort of people you’d like you and yours to be. That leads to a society that produces food, shelter, healthcare, education and community. Considering our current production capabilities, we’d end up with lots of people staying in school, doing research and having a very short occupation week. Real life examples are Mondragon, Catalonia of the 1930s, Zapatistas, Rojava (not for much longer though) and many worker owned and operated production communities throughout the world.

    Either way, keeping a market system or transitioning to a rational society, discount rates wouldn’t come into it.

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  44. Mark Pitts USA,

    Sorry I am  late to the party.

    Your argument that 100 trillion is too expensive to build out renewable energy completely leaves out the cost of fossil energy.  It has been documented in hundreds of  articles that renewable energy is cheaper than fossil energy.  Why do you think coal plants continue to close?  The choice is not between 100 trillion for renewable energy and free fossil fuels, the choice is 100 trillion for renewable energy and 150 trillion for fossil fuels.  Are you seriously claiming fossil energy is free? (Sorry no references on my phone).  Search articles on renewable energy here at SkS.

    You claim to be cost conscious by choosing the more expensive option.  In addition, fossil fuel energy will destroy a liveable climate.  If we go with the cheaper renewable option we have a chance of preserving a livable climate.  There is no downside to moving to renewable energy except fossil executives will not keep getting those big bonuses.

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