Sunday, July 10, 2011

Problems that are more pressing than the deficit

From Kevin Drum:
[I]n the new paper, the authors modeled glacial and non-glacial eras separately. And the best fit with the data suggests that climate sensitivity does indeed change depending on glaciation. In fact, during an ice age, the most probable climate sensitivity is six to eight degrees Celsius for a doubling of CO2, more than twice the previous estimate. Why do we care? As the authors drily put it, "Because the human species lives in a glacial interval of Earth history, this modeling result has more than academic interest."
How much is "six to eight degrees"?
Six degrees isn't just a bit warmer here and there; it's a global catastrophe that would likely produce mass extinctions, dead oceans, large-scale desertification, coastal cities underwater, and billions dead. And unless something changes, we're well on pace for a doubling of CO2 before the end of the century.

16 comments:

  1. No need to worry, my friend! Human ingenuity and innovation has solved every problem our race has faced to date - i'm certain that with a little scientific know-how (not to mention the right market incentives) we'll lick this climate issue thing in no time.

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  2. Your sarcasm would make more sense if all the major plans to address global warming didn't rely on market incentives.

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  3. That wasn't my point at all! (Besides, doesn't that presuppose that there ARE major plans to address global warming?)

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  4. What's your prescription, then? I'm confused.

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  5. I was parodying the prevailing attitude (among those that even bother to acknowledge the existence of global climate change) that, like the problem of rural broadband access, addressing climate change will simply be a problem of combining the right technology with the right market incentives. As it happens, it is far and away the greatest challenge our species has ever faced, which Kevin helps to illustrate in his blog posting. It's going to take quite a bit more applied effort and rethinking of business-as-usual than what we're used to to address the problem.

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  6. Okay, but still, pretty much all the first-best options for addressing climate change are market-based.

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  7. Our society is market-based, so that's no surprise. Any solution is going to involve the market. However, there are those that think a few solar, electric battery, mass-transit, green home, and fuel-efficiency standards are all that's going to be needed to fix the problem. In fact, the causes of climate change are rooted so deeply in the way society works that it's going to take significant change if we are going to avoid killing millions of poor people and ruining millions of acres of land through in(sufficient)-action.

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  8. Anyway, just occured to me that when you say "market-based," you might be talking about cap-and-trade. To that I say, there's a reason big industrial groups support cap-and-trade over a carbon tax - it's far less likely to be successful. But that debate's academic, and at least the debate (again) presupposes that some steps are being taken to address the problem. If that's the case, I'd be happy to have that discussion.

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  9. Cap-and-trade is no more market-based than a carbon tax. Both rely on market incentives to function -- they just utilize slightly different mechanisms to achieve that goal. If anything, cap-and-trade is slightly less market-based.

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  10. Cap-and-trade creates a new market that has secondary effects on the current market, carbon tax works within the current market - saying that one is more or less market based is probably more a semantics argument than anything else.

    In any case, what I was saying was that both have common and unique problems, for sure. I happen to think that cap-and-trade has bigger potential for abuse/ineffectiveness (regulatory capture, problems like russian hot air and other inventory/credit problems, etc.), and that a carbon tax is a simpler, cleaner, faster-to-implement solution less subject to gaming. That being said, both would be better than nothing, and neither would form the whole picture of a full solution, even if you include the investments that the carbon tax or credit-auction fees would create. We need radical action and commitment for a radical problem.

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  11. @naight st. what kind of radical action do you propose?

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  12. Haha, if I were any good at writing manifestos, I'd be writing the blog, not hanging out in the comments.

    That being said, roughly, I think there are two primary causes of global climate change: fossil fuel dependency and capitalism (specifically, the growth-oriented strain of capitalism we've cultivated in the world to date). We can fix one (maybe maybe maybe) through technology and more intelligent design practices. The other, well - there's plenty of literature out there about that. Personally, I'd say recognizing that capitalism is part of the root problem would be step 1 - after enough recognition of that, who knows what kind of solutions would come up? The marketplace (!) of ideas is a pretty incredible thing. I'd get more into this, but like I said, not so good on the articulation, and I'm sure every reader of this comment just stopped caring what I had to say anyway haha.

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  13. I agree that fossil fuel dependency is a main cause of global climate change, I also agree that the technology and more intelligent design practices is the best way to address fossil fuel dependency. I would argue that the best way to address fossil fuel dependency is through market based incentives towards innovation like cap and trade or carbon taxes. (I dont know enough about either but your comment about carbon taxes being less open to systematic abuse seems pretty plausible)

    What im not sure im understanding is what you mean by recognizing that capitalism is part of the problem? Furthermore, im having a hard to envisioning what a "solution" to capitalism would look like or how we would go about instituting it on a global scale.

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  14. Yeah, it is interesting to think about, what an alternative to the sort of capitalism we're running now on a global scale would look like. Here's an idea that might answer your question:

    The way I (and I can't take full or even most of the credit for this) see it, the problem is that capitalism, as an economic system in the real world (not on paper), is fundamentally opposed to substantive democracy. Capital tends to accumulate, and capital = power, especially political power. Having capital, on an individual level as well as the national level, also makes it relatively much easier to get more power, as compared to somebody that is comparatively without. Money makes money, power breeds power - this is all very simple, but I don't think any of this is particularly controversial.

    When you extend this to the environmental consequences of running an economic system in a world of limited resources and limited ability to absorb the consequences of production, you can start to see the problem. Those without capital (particularly the people that form the majority of the global south), who are unable to take part in the decision-making processes or, because of their economic, cultural, or etc. status, reap the benefits of the larger economic system, will tend to be on the receiving end of the all of the negative "externalities" of that economic system. You can see this play itself out in the maldives, nigeria, bolivia, tanzania, mexico, north carolina, california - and this is just the limited subset that I personally know about.

    Contrary to what some might say, this isn't because those with capital and power are making decisions to purposefully screw over other people (although, certainly, sometimes they do) - the ideological backbone of modern industrial capitalism is the paramount importance of market competition, the maximization of profit, and the pursuit of self-interest. All of these things are seen to be both means and end - the optimal outcome will occur if everyone competes on behalf of themselves. I don't think this is true, however, in a world where people don't have equal abilities to compete, or equal access to markets, or in a world where for most people, the barriers to entry are insurmountable (often times, these barriers are actually in the form of physical walls, as in the us-mexico border, or the israeli apartheid state).

    So, in any case, my radical approach would be to increase democratization at all levels - more worker-owned coops; fewer structural adjustment programs; less interference in foreign governments by other, more powerful governments; increased corporate accountability; increased ability on the part of victimized peoples to demand accountability on the part of corporations and governments that have inflicted ecological damage on them (this is the idea of "climate justice") - and so on. I don't have the ability to fully articulate a complete alternative and type it up in this comment box, but honestly, I don't think that anyone really does. The world is such a complex place, and there are so many different factors at work in each situation. However, there are lots of ways to start a movement in that general direction, however. Instead of the idea of "TINA," I'd say "TATA" (There Are Thousands of Alternatives), and empower people to make decisions for themselves.

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