Sunday, November 29, 2009

Climategate

Recently, a lot of headlines have been made about hacked emails that involved questionable exchanges between climate scientists. Reading between the lines, the emails imply that there was a conscious effort among climate scientists to massage data (possibly omitting data that would weaken their conclusions) as well as blackball authors of peer reviewed research that came to conclusions questionable of climate change. Taking this a step forward, one might even speculate that human influence on climate change, and evidence for taking strong action to stop it has been largely fabricated. (for a more detailed discussion of this see "Rigging a Climate 'Consensus'" from the Wall Street Journal and here from the Telegraph)

However, as I pointed out before, the 'consensus' itself was already pretty shaky.( See my post 'Defining Consensus' for more info).If we accept the IPCC 4th Assessment Report as consensus,(which is the subject of the climategate emails mentioned above) we get the basic conclusion that 9/10 experts believe that humans have a net warming effect on the climate, but when it comes to conclusions about the impact of this warming, they are only 50-66% certain that this will lead to drastic climatic events, droughts, etc.

It is actually appalling, that even pre-climategate, leaders would be willing to take drastic control of our daily lives to prevent climate change, based on such weak conclusions. Little effort is made by those in the media, or politicians, to point out the distinction between forecasts by scientists and 'scientific' forecasts. The controversial 'consensus' has been based largely on 'forecasts by scientists', not necessarily scientific forecasts. As pointed out by Green and Armstrong, in the journal Energy and Environment, ( regarding the IPCC's WG1 Report on climate change):

"The forecasting procedures that were described violated 72 [out of 140 established scientific forecasting principles] principles. Many of the violations were, by themselves, critical. The forecasts in the Report were not the outcome of scientific procedures. In effect, they were the opinions of scientists transformed by mathematics and obscured by complex writing. Research on forecasting has shown that experts’ predictions are not useful in situations involving uncertainly and complexity. We have been unable to identify any scientific forecasts of global warming. Claims that the Earth will get warmer have no more credence than saying that it will get colder."

But, even if we dismiss the climate gate email, and forget about restoring science to its proper place in public policy deliberations, even if we accept the 'consensus' as it is, we still have very little basis for drastic and timely action regarding climate change. Even taking the science as given, there is no consensus among economists about what the price of carbon should be. Two of the more prominent economists in the field of climate change, have reached drastically different results.

Nordhaus ( Using the DICE-2007 model, and based on the science of the IPCC Fourth Assessment)prices carbon at about $30/ ton, with the average person in the US generating about 5tons/yr, for a total of about $150/year, or .09 /gallon of gas and .01/kwh for electricity. However, the Stern Proposal( proposed by another economist in the U.K) estimates the damage from global warming to be closer to $300/ton carbon for the next two decades. In this case we are looking at increasing gas prices by about $1.20/gallon.

There is just too much uncertainty at all levels of analysis to recommend major changes to combat climate change, especially given the sacrifices that would have to be made in terms of jobs and economic growth. A better approach for dealing with climate change or any environmental problem is to develop resilient market based economies that are able to invest in the technology necessary to adapt to ever changing resource constraints.

Reference:

GLOBAL WARMING: FORECASTS BY SCIENTISTS VERSUS SCIENTIFIC FORECASTS
Kesten C. Green and J. Scott Armstrong
ENERGY &
ENVIRONMENT
VOLUME 18 No. 7+8 2007

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