Thanks to everyone participating in our discussion on climate!.
Let me restate: we are leaving the “let’s not worry about it” folks by the side of the road for our discussion right now. We heard you. We are not convinced and are unlikely to be. Speaking for myself, I don’t know for sure. But I also know that you don’t know for sure either. We can still act without knowing for sure. Like wildfire mitigation efforts, we do them without knowing for sure a wildfire will hit our house while we live there. As Mike says, it’s about risks -and includes uncertainties and values.
Anyway, the last topic was exploring the differences between 4’s and 5’s in my original typology.. the difference was between “we need to focus on reducing GHGs” and “if we don’t stop fossil fuels apocalyptic things will happen.”
As it turns out, that was an oversimplification. There are at least three different areas to explore 1) what needs to be done, 2) how quickly and 3) how apocalyptic future consequences might be. Clearly all of these are related. If it was easy to fix, then decarbonization could happen rapidly and perhaps there would be no apocalyptic consequences.
One thing you may have noticed as you read the comments on the last piece is how few relate to atmospheric climate models, or physical science at all.
In fact, the discussion reminded me of the famous Thomas Sowell quote:
“Politics allows people to vote for the impossible, which may be one reason why politicians are often more popular than economists, who keep reminding people that there is no free lunch and that there are no ‘solutions’ but only trade-offs.”
If there are trade-offs, then indeed no particular discipline or expert, or even way of thinking, can claim to know the right answer. Because someone calls themself a “climate expert” does not mean that they know any more about these trade-offs than anyone else.
First, about apocalypticism,
That was fairly vague, I grant you. Carl suggested:
a) “involving or causing sudden great damage or suffering” or more narrowly b) “involving a sudden and large-scale alteration in state.”
But if you believe that climate has been involved in wildfires, then a) has already happened. We won’t know about b, probably until it’s too late. So maybe that’s not a good word to use at all.
The next comment was he ever-helpful Anonymous leaving a link to a paper written by a philosophy professor and fortunately leaving a summary:
“All real-life decisions have the decision-maker face some kind of knowledge gap. Therefore, an idea of precautionary decision-making needs to be able to guide decision-makers with regard to:(1) if the knowledge gap faced is to be tolerated, and a decision made in spite of it, or(2) if the decision should be delayed while attempting to close or narrow the gap,(3) and, if so, how much time, effort and resources should be spent on that endeavor.”
Many of us may remember that there is in fact a social science field called “decision sciences” that has explored these kinds of questions in great depth (Al Lundgren cited an economics paper from 1921) . In fact, my first memories of discussions of uncertainty were Lundgren’s forest economics papers in the 1970’s- even one I recall on uncertainty in planning, though I can’t find it right now.
Jon then mentioned trade-offs as well:
Where action is needed to mitigate climate change, it puts a premium on the tradeoff analysis, including on alternative locations that trade off some energy efficiency/cost for species protection.
And yet, trade-off analysis a project at a time doesn’t really work, so we’d need wider scale planning. Vladimir suggested that we need a plan, something like the Public Lands Commission in the 60’s. It’s conceivable that different alternatives could be looked at at either the national or state level and people familiar with the physical reality of building or changing, and the economic realities of who will pay and who will benefit, plus the availability of labor, capital and mineral and other resources.
Then there are values that haven’t yet been discussed in public fora… like how self-sufficient do we want to be as a country? Do we want to protect any domestic supply chains/jobs?
And Mike looked at it through the risk assessment lens..
Lastly, I try look at ACC through a risk analysis lens. What’s the worst that can happen if we continue down our current path of adding CO2 and other “greenhouse” gases (it’s not just about CO2) to the atmosphere vs what is the worst that can happen if we reduce those outputs and prepare for a warmer and, in some areas, drier future.
Who wins and who loses from any policy is ultimately in the realm of politics. We folks who have spent time nestled in the depths of NEPA documents know that the best we can do is fairly describe the pros and cons and uncertainties insofar as they are known. And present them to the public for feedback and additional info. I can see why maybe we don’t need to do that for national security policy, but decarbonization could be an opportunity to be as rational as we can be.. involving all the research disciplines, and people working on the ground. No one discipline has the key to trade-offs, clearly if you are really an expert in industrial solar cells, then you aren’t an expert in hydro storage, electric cars, or carbon capture technologies. And to circle back, economists also have an important role to play in evaluating trade-offs.
Thanks again to everyone contributing to the discussion, and new people feel free to step in!