It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Nicholas Stern Admits to Error

Sir Nicholas Stern, lead author of the Stern report has reconsidered his position and has concluded that his previous report, indicating a modest net benefit to sustained modest cuts in greenhouse gas emissions was wrong!

So is it time to tell Inhofe to add another name to the list? no...

The [original Stern] report argued that emissions would need to be cut to at least 25 per cent below current levels if a dangerous temperature rise of over two degrees is to be avoided – a scenario the report argued would trigger an economic crisis on the scale of the Great Depression. Such a reduction would require a cut in emissions from developed economies in the region of 60 per cent, a target the government subsequently adopted as part of its climate change bill.

But speaking in an interview with Reuters yesterday, Lord Stern admitted the report underestimated the scale and pace of climate change and urged politicians to step up action to curb emissions.

He said that the latest climate science showed that not only were emissions rising faster than thought, the ability of the earth to absorb carbon dioxide in so-called carbon sinks was deteriorating faster than expected.

"Emissions are growing much faster than we'd thought, the absorptive capacity of the planet is less than we'd thought, the risks of greenhouse gases are potentially bigger than more cautious estimates, and the speed of climate change seems to be faster," he said.

Stern added that to minimise the risks of dangerous climate change, the original target for global emissions would have to be doubled to a 50 per cent cut by 2050. He said that such a target would require the US to cut its emissions by up to 90 per cent by then.





The US needs to cut its net emissions by 90 per cent by 2050!
eep!



I still don't buy into Stern's methodology, but at least he seems to be getting the idea that this isn't just a minor annoyance we are talking about.

CCS had better work and we had better get on with deploying it.


4 comments:

David Duff said...

But he has yet to own up to another of his mistakes in the '80s when he was one of 365 economists who signed a letter to the London Times warning that Mrs. T's monetary policy would result in utter disaster - just before we entered a period of munificence.

With supporters like him, who needs deniers?

Michael Tobis said...

I'll take your word for it.

Of course, he is, along with the other 364, an economist. You can't expect them to know very much about the economy.

At least he's starting to understand the scale of the problem, though.

tidal said...

...w.r.t. economists and earth sciences types: Paul Krugman is commenting on Limits to Growth, energy supply and technology struggles, and the divide between economists and other scientists. Limits to growth and related stuff

H/t to Env-Econ.net, who note: "For all the physical and life scientists who think they know more economics than economists ... and all the economists who think they know more [X] than [X]-ologists:

[[The general rule to remember is that if some discipline seems less developed than your own, it’s probably not because the researchers aren’t as smart as you are, it’s because the subject is harder. - Paul Krugman]]"

I don't know... Personally, I certainly realize how much my study of economics was influenced by my prior study of physics... Most of my economics classmates had no such training... While it seems obvious that many disciplines have a tendency to talk past each other, I find it is far more often the economists who are talking with a less than firm grasp on physics than vice versa... I mean, how can a Nobel Economist like Robert Solow say "If it is very easy to substitute other factors for natural resources, then there is, in principle, no problem. The world can, in effect, get along without natural resources." and still expect earth sciences to take economics seriously? That kind of bizarre abstraction works on a blackboard, but how can it even be considered in real life?

I am vaguely reminded of Herman Daly's 5 questions of neoclassical economics in 1997...
1. Do you believe that economic activities must satisfy mass balance?
2. Why is it that neoclassical production functions do not satisfy the condition of mass balance?
3. Do you believe that Georgescu-Roegen’s interpretation of production as physical transformation is correct?
4. Do you agree that the economic system is embedded in the larger environmental system, and totally dependent on it as both source and sink for the matter/energy transformed by economic activity?
5. Do you believe that the matter/energy transformations required by economic activity are constrained by the entropy law?

Steven said...

Let me say first I'm enjoying the tone on this blog and comments. Sanity and civility is a nice change.

I'll do my best to humbly answer these questions (1) to my best understanding, (2) from my school of economics, (3) in the best language I can- which includes trying to shoot for the average joe.
--------------
1. Do you believe that economic activities must satisfy mass balance?
Yes and no. It helps to understand that economics is about value- which isn't easily pinned down to physical items. You can see a car, and the stack of dollars that represents my enjoyment of that car. But neither is it's worth. Software, services, intellectual property, MP3's all make it increasingly difficult to make value something you can pinch, weigh, or carry in a bucket.

There is no magical creation of more pencils if I throw in 20 leads and 20 dowels. We will get 20 pencils of course (or less). But you can't easily grasp the value created by 20 pencils. Human history has shown a total trend of less resource use per unit of value, benefit, appreciation, utitily etc. (We call these "utils" which is of course a silly non-unit. PJ O'Rourke calls them "Benefit to Society" units, or BS.)


2. Why is it that neoclassical production functions do not satisfy the condition of mass balance?

I honestly don't understand what this means.

3. Do you believe that Georgescu-Roegen’s interpretation of production as physical transformation is correct?

I'm not about to go look this guy up and reply. I will say that what comes out of a process as stated above is of course limited (20 leads, 20 dowels=20 pencils or less). What can't easily be accounted for is the human ingenuity that goes into the concept of a pencil. A very simple economic transformation is digging up clay and making a bowl.

Economic production- *Wealth Creation* is moving resources from lower value uses to higher value uses through a transformative process involving innovation or design. That clay had ~0.00 utils of value. The bowl may now have say ~5.00 (I'm using the tilde as a "dollar" unit marker for utils hereafter).

The ~5.00 does not represent the clay, nor does it represent the bowl. It represents the value of the other things Barney is willing to give up because he'd rather have the bowl from Fred. That value is highly subjective, and is marginal. (Meaning the value of a second bowl is not the same as the first. Bowl two is probably worth ~2.00 to Barney).

4. Do you agree that the economic system is embedded in the larger environmental system, and totally dependent on it as both source and sink for the matter/energy transformed by economic activity?

I'm assuming this means does economics describe real, objective, human systems on the planet earth. Not employing magical energy from another source, or whatever. Yes- economics is certainly a description of systems within the fishtank.

5. Do you believe that the matter/energy transformations required by economic activity are constrained by the entropy law?

Mm... I think yes. I interpret this to mean that in all our processes we of course "burn up" some wasted energy. In a very crude sense, say heat is required to make the pencils, I can only get 19 because I have to burn one dowel to get the heat to process the rest. (Not getting into the really detailed scientific meaning).

I think what perhaps these questions may all be missing is that concept of value. Value is only value to human beings. It is a measure of good for a specific purpose to an intelligent being with a goal (Barney). "Value" or utils are meaningless to stars, or springs, or test tubes full of carbon molecules or what have you.

If humans weren't around, the carbon, the trees, the stars, the bodies moving through space would still satisfy all the same measurements- assuming an invisible non-person were there/not-there to add them up. I.e. if a tree falls in the forrest and there are no humans, it still makes sound waves.

Economics primarily talks about "value" or "utility" and such. Money is not value. Money is not wealth. Wealth is not utility. Utility is not luxury. Luxury is not money. "Value" may not fit your definition of scientific conservations because you can't count the atoms before and after a transaction and "equal" a predictable result of leftover atoms plus Utils.

I can throw X number of apple atoms and Y number of crust atoms together and I know I will predictably get Z number of pie molecules, having expended A levels of energy, and with B number of crumb atoms left over. (I don't feel like looking up a compound)

When Fred converts clay (and heat? and manual work?) you cannot possibly know any equation that explains the number of utils created. Because Barney will value the bowl at ~5, Wilma may value it at ~7, and Betty may value it at ~18. Now... today, hardly anyone would value it at any utils, except perhaps for folk artistic value.

So, this may all sound like an elaborate shell game- and making up extradimensional units of measurement. But the net effect of practicing the processes that economics describe as more beneficial is to in fact produce more benefit to more people with fewer resources. There are some burps and hiccups along the way. It's not a steady rate of progress, much like the stock market. But the total trend over time is a positive one.