Monday, March 30, 2009

History

ChinaDialogue reports: A top Chinese state think tank – the State Council Development Research Centre -- has proposed a global greenhouse-gas trading plan to reflect the varying historic emissions of rich and poor nations, indicating deepening discussion in Beijing about climate-change policy, Reuters reported. Researchers from the centre presented the plan in the current issue of the Economic Research Journal. The think tank recommends setting emissions rights for each country based on historic accumulation, and then allowing nations to trade portions of those rights in an international market. The plan would draw China and other developing countries into clearer obligations to curtail greenhouse gases in the long term. However, it would give them larger per-capita emissions quotas than rich countries, reflecting the developing world’s historically low emissions and “right to develop”. All countries should develop a “historic account” of past emissions, according to the plan. That account would be used to measure whether current emissions fall above or below appropriate levels calculated from population, accumulated emissions and total global-reduction objectives. How countries keep their own future emissions entitlements within agreed levels would be left for governments to decide. Countries could trade emissions rights, on condition that they eliminate their “emissions rights deficit” by a set date – for example, 2050.
How much history should matter depends on some thorny conceptual issues. First, how should we treat the rate of re-absorption of CO2? Depending on where that figure is set, you need to calculate how much of old CO2 output is still in the atmosphere. But even if CO2 put up in (say) 1800 is largely gone from the atmosphere, its effects on ocean warming are not – that has a much longer life. Then there is the issue of population. Suppose you add up historic use. Do you then allocate shares based on population now, in the future (when) or the actual population at the time of output. The United States may be 5% of the World’s population now, but in 1800 it was much less. Finally, in making such calculations, should you take the was figures for usage, or calculate use age above basic needs? Historically, the (now) Developing World has produced about 50% of total CO2. But nearly all of that was used merely to survive.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What If?

In Climate Shocks and Economic Growth: Evidence from the Last Half Century (www.aeaweb.org/annual_mtg_papers/2009/retrieve.php?pdfid=218), Melissa Dell, Benjamin F. Jones, and Benjamin A. Olken report: “Our main results show large, negative effects of higher temperatures on growth, but only in poor countries. In poorer countries, we estimate that a 1◦C rise in temperature in a given year reduced economic growth in that year by about 1.1 percentage points. In rich countries, changes in temperature had no discernable effect on growth. Changes in precipitation had no substantial effects on growth in either poor or rich countries. We find broadly consistent results across a wide range of alternative specifications.” Suppose that is right and right for more than 1 degree. Then does the West have anything to gain by changing its behavior? Societies that can adapt to the effects of climate change will be favored, and those are largely in the Developed World, which has the advantages, resources and the geographical location. But to reap such benefits such an argument has to be taken to the extreme. Only if the climate crisis eliminated the populations of the Developing World would the Developing World reap those advantages by living in a world with a radically diminished population. I would like to provide an economic argument based on the interdependence of the world economy to undermine this argument. But I am not confident that such an argument can be made. A moral argument can be made, but I am not confident that such an argument has much practical force. Instead I argue that it is implausible to think the Developed World could isolate itself from the turmoil that catastrophic climate change would produce in the Developing World. Short term security considerations will trump any long term analysis.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Lecture on Conflicting Valuation

Here is a webcast of a lecture I gave at Princeton a few weeks ago in which I argued against an "ethics" approach to climate and in favor of an approach based on conflicting valuation: http://web.princeton.edu/sites/pei/ECC/index.htm

Monday, March 9, 2009

My Lead Foot

I drive with a lead foot – I waste gas accelerating too fast from a stop and I also break too hard as well. Reform of driving habits is perhaps the easiest and most effective to improve auto efficiency and reduce CO2 output in this sector. I have tried to unlearn my habits to drive like a little old lady (or geezer). But old habits die hard. Some modern planes are design to over-ride pilot action when the computer deems those actions dangerous. Why not design a car that does something like that? Program the car to drive as if I were an old geezer and just ignore my lead feet. Suppose a car came with a number of different “performance” profiles. Just make the default the most fuel efficient and most people will choose that one by default. But what if I need performance – in an emergency? One could build in overrides that take advantage of our reflexive actions under duress – like squeezing the steering wheel.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Puzzling Polls

In a recent poll we did (funded by PSEG and designed by my colleague Cliff Zukin), we probed attitudes toward individual and government action on climate. The number crunching is not finished, but we seem to have found two puzzling (and perhaps related) results. As I reported a few weeks ago, more people see a need for government action on climate than those that believe is it man made. But here is what I had not thought through when I made that post. If the result shows up, it means that there is not really a need to convince people about the reality of anthropogenic climate change as a precondition for winning their support for government action on it.