Some climate deniers go beyond arguing that climate change isn’t real; rather, they argue that adapting to climate change is cheaper than preventing it, and it’s a fool’s errand to spend money on a Green New Deal, when we could continue to burn fossil fuels and simply relocate everyone who gets flooded out, figure out how to grow crops in new places, come up with medicines to treat new epidemics, etc.
In a wonderful short essay (the first in a series), Synapse Energy Economics economist Frank Ackerman describes the problems with this line of argument.
Ackerman starts with the calculus of insurance: we buy insurance for risks like housefires or accidental death not because they are likely, but because their consequences are more than we can bear without insurance. When the habitability of the only known planet that can sustain our species is at stake, the case for insurance is easy, even if you think the likelihood is low.
But planets aren’t like houses: there isn’t another planet we can relocate to if ours fails, so no insurer is going to write us a policy. Instead, we have to self-insure (just as someone who can’t get fire insurance has to put in extra fire-suppression technology, clear brush, etc): we have to take every credible step to reduce the risk of losing our planetary home.
But then Ackerman takes on the whole idea of cost-benefit when it comes to environmental risks: because these cost-benefit calculations involve literally making up a value for human lives and then calculating whether the “costs” (including other people dying) are less than the “benefits” (that is, profits to the companies whose environmental misdeeds cost other people their lives), these calculations always act as a kind of empirical facewash on an otherwise untenable proposition: that you should be allowed to kill other people if you get rich in the process.
For climate risks, worst cases are much too dreadful to ignore. What we know is that climate change could be very bad for us; but no one knows exactly how bad it will be or exactly when it will arrive. How likely are we to reach tipping points into an irreversibly worse climate, and when will these tipping points occur? As the careful qualifications in the IPCC and other reports remind us, climate change could be very bad, surprisingly soon, but almost no one is willing to put a precise number or date on the expected losses.
One group does rush in where scientists fear to tread, guessing about the precise magnitude and timing of future climate damages: economists engaged in cost-benefit analysis (CBA). Rarely used before the 1990s, CBA has become the default, “common-sense” approach to policy evaluation, particularly in environmental policy. In CBA-world you begin by measuring and monetizing the benefits, and the costs, of a policy – and then “buy” the policy if, and only if, the monetary value of the benefits exceeds the costs.
There are numerous problems with CBA, such as the need to (literally) make up monetary prices for priceless values of human life, health and the natural environment. In practice, CBA often trivializes the value of life and nature. Climate policy raises yet another problem: CBA requires a single number, such as a most likely outcome, best guess, or weighted average, for every element of costs (e.g. future costs of clean energy) and benefits (e.g. monetary value of future damages avoided by clean energy expenditures). There is no simple way to incorporate a wide range of uncertainty about such values into CBA. The second post in this series will look more deeply at economists’ misplaced precision about climate damages.
On Buying Insurance, and Ignoring Cost-Benefit Analysis [Frank Ackerman/Triple Crisis]
(via Naked Capitalism)
Iowa State Representative Gary Carlson [Rfirstname.lastname@example.org] introduced House Study Bill 185, co-drafted by lobbyists for Midamerican Energy, one of Iowa’s regional energy monopolists, with a long history of trying to subvert the “net metering” rules that allow Iowans to put solar panels on their roofs and sell power back into the grid when they are […]
Public records requests reveal the elaborate shell-company secrecy that Google uses when seeking subsidies for data-centers
It’s not just Amazon and Apple that expect massive taxpayer subsidies in exchange for locating physical plant in your town: when Google builds a new data-center, it does so on condition of multimillion-dollar “incentives” from local governments — but Google also demands extraordinary secrecy from local officials regarding these deals, secrecy so complete that city […]
Millions of tons of e-waste — much of it from rich countries like Australia — are recycled in India, in “markets” with terrible, dangerous working conditions and equally awful environmental controls.
Big systems need tight security – and the experts who can implement it. Cisco Networking Systems are the go-to providers for network infrastructure, but maintaining it takes a lot of up-to-date knowledge. If you want that knowledge right from the source, there’s an online course that can get you certified painlessly: The Foundational Cisco CCNA […]
Computer slowing down? There are a ton of reasons why that might be, especially if your unit has a few years on it. Junk files and programs can accumulate over time, some even left over from otherwise uninstalled software. This virtual debris can slow your PC down dramatically, but there’s a surprisingly quick fix. Lauded […]
Puzzle fanatics, take note. If you’re bored with 3D gimmick constructions or complex panorama puzzles, take a gander at this new, minimalist offering that might change your game. A simple concept executed with fiendish complexity, Clemens Habicht’s Colour Puzzles reduce the challenge of puzzle construction to its most abstract. Do not adjust your monitor – […]