Friday, August 28, 2009

What the credit crisis should tell us about climate change

Given how well excessive financial engineering seems to have buggered the economy, I’m amazed that there are some who advocate “climate engineering” to address the issue of global warming.

I’m all for trying out new technologies, in addition to reducing carbon emissions, as a way to try to mitigate some of the potential damage that climate change could have on the very fabric of humanity.

But thinking that there are some quick and easy gadget-driven fixes such as, and I quote: “one proposal would have boats spray seawater droplets into clouds above the sea to make them reflect more sunlight back into space” seems a little...ahem...pie-in-the-sky.

To further quote:
Some economic models find that target impossible to reach without drastic action, like cutting the world population by a third. Other models show that achieving the target by a high CO2 tax would reduce world GDP a staggering 12.9% in 2100—the equivalent of $40 trillion a year.

Some may claim that global warming will be so terrible that a 12.9% reduction in GDP is a small price to pay. But consider that the majority of economic models show that unconstrained global warming would cost rich nations around 2% of GDP and poor countries around 5% by 2100.

Right, because, as we’ve noticed with a credit crisis, economic models have served us so well.

Again, I’m not trying to be anti-intellectual here. I greatly respect the models economists do as a guide to help us think about the possible consequences of our actions. But that is all they are, models and guides, which do, and should, change as new data becomes available. I greatly respect technology as a fundamental tool for human advancement. But that is all technology is, a tool used by intelligent people, not a deus ex machina, bailing us out at the critical moment of tragedy.

In a time when we worry about how government action will have “unintended consequences” on the global economy, I’m amazed at how readily people accept the notion of climate engineering. The Earth’s climate is an infinitely more complex system than the global economy. The climate is the poster child for Chaos theory and how small perturbations can lead to enormous and unexpected results.

I defer here to Black Swan Nicholas Nassim Taleb who has had some of the most fascinating comments on our current economic crisis. Of climate change he said:

I am hyper-conservative ecologically (meaning super-Green). My position on the climate is to avoid releasing pollutants in the atmosphere, on the basis of ignorance, regardless of current expert opinion (climate experts, like banking risk managers, have failed us in the past in foreseeing long term damages and I cannot accept certainty in a certain class of nonlinear models). This is an extension of my general idea that one does not need rationalization with the use of complicated models (by fallible experts) to the edict: "do not disturb a complex system" since we do not know the consequences of our actions owing to complicated causal webs. (Incidentally, this ideas also makes me anti-war). I explicitly explained the need to “leave the planet the way we got it” .

Bjorn Lomborg: Technology Can Fight Global Warming -

Inversion of Statements Made During My Meeting With David Cameron

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