Economics

Does Nature Have Economic Value?

Ecological economists know the price of everything--and the value of nothing.

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Each year, nature provides ecosystem services to humanity worth about $33 trillion. Or so a group of distinguished ecological economists concluded in a 1997 article from the journal Nature. Were they correct? "I think on the contrary that nature has no economic value," boldly asserts University of Maryland philosopher Mark Sagoff in a recent article in the journal Environmental Values.

Sagoff begins with philosopher John Locke's observation about the comparative value of an acre of land in Great Britain and one in America. Both could produce twenty bushels of wheat with the same effort and so "are, without doubt, of the natural intrinsic value." However, the one in Britain was cultivated, yielding 5 pounds in value, whereas the one in America was left uncultivated and, as a consequence, was "possibly not worth a penny." Sagoff's point is that "many ecologically minded economists today describe as 'ecosystem services' or as 'natural capital' what Locke called the 'natural, intrinsic value' of land." Locke, a proponent of the labor theory of value, argued that the value that land produced was largely the result of people mixing their labor with it.

Similarly, Sagoff argues that while modern ecological economists would certainly not endorse the labor theory of value, they do "generally accept the idea that economic value represents or refers to an intrinsic or inherent essence to which they attach normative significance." Such environmental economists take one of two tacks in their quest to establish objective intrinsic values. Some try to estimate the value of ecosystem services based on people's claimed willingness to pay (WTP) for those services. Others argue that value in nature arises from certain factors thought to limit production, such as energy, net primary production, or low entropy resource flows. These positions mirror Locke's labor theory of value, Sagoff asserts, because they encompass "a commitment to the idea that economic value is a measurable quantity—whether physiological (labor), psychological (WTP), or material (low entropy resource flows)." Sagoff agrees with Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek that tying to calculate allegedly objective values using some non-monetary measure is beyond the scope of human knowledge.

For example, while willingness to pay surveys may tell us what individuals say they want, they don't, as Sagoff notes, tell us whether what individuals want is a "value society has reasons to satisfy." In addition, economist Roger Bate makes a salient point with regard to such surveys: There is "a fundamental difference between an actual choice and a potential preference. People may state a preference for many things, but, in actuality, choose something entirely different." If you ask me how much I would be willing to pay for world peace, for instance, I would readily come up with a number. But the fact remains that I contributed no money to organizations such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In any case, prices are always low when supply exceeds demand. Air is cheap (free) because we have more than enough of it. (Yet we cannot live for more than a few minutes without it.) To put it another way, prices result from scarcity. In general, the greater the supply, the more demand will be satisfied at lower prices. When total demand is satisfied with available supplies, there is no price. As examples, Sagoff argues that markets correctly place negligible prices on natural capital and ecosystem services for water, timber, pollination, and biodiversity.

Along those lines, consider that nature's hydrological cycle provides vastly more freshwater than humanity needs. We annually use about one-fiftieth of the amount that precipitates over land. In this case, Sagoff is certainly right that, in the aggregate, the hydrological cycle drops vast quantities of what is essentially distilled water on the land for free. While he does note that it takes some expensive infrastructure to move water around, he fails to acknowledge that such local scarcities mean that water has a price. On the other hand, he does debunk the urban legend often peddled by environmental economists that New York City spent more than $1 billion on ecosystem services by buying land in the Catskills to preserve its watershed rather than build a water filtration plant.

With regard to timber and forests, Sagoff points out that agricultural and silvicultural productivity has increased so much that vast amounts of land has actually reverted to nature. In other words, human ingenuity continues to outpace and replace the relatively low productivity of natural capital. Temperate and boreal forests are expanding worldwide. In January, the real price of lumber was the lowest in history.

Sagoff also acknowledges that insects provide vital ecological services including pollination—although most cereal crops are pollinated by the wind. Sagoff entertainingly points out that no one would hire someone with a bellows to blow pollen around in a Kansas wheat field since wheat farmers get all of the wind they need for free. Sagoff's argument is that insect pollinators are essentially as ubiquitous as the wind. Markets, however, tell us that bees provide services for which orchard owners and farmers pay beekeepers an estimated $150 million per year. Sagoff also cites a 2006 study which found that dung beetles provided $380 million in services to ranchers by burying cow manure in pastures. This value was calculated assuming that dung beetles disappeared. But there is no scarcity of dung beetles. In fact, by populating their pastures with cattle, ranchers have created "dung beetle Heaven." These creatures are "paid" copious quantities of cow manure for their work, just as pollinating insects are "paid" for their efforts with nectar from the flowers of fruits, vegetables, and nuts planted by farmers. On the other hand, some species of dung beetles can become scarce when they are eaten by people. In those cases, it pays farmers to learn how to raise them as delicacies.

Finally, Sagoff looks into the economic value of biodiversity. "No one has suggested an economic application…for any of the thousand species in the USA listed as threatened," writes Sagoff. Actually, the number of species listed as endangered or threatened with extinction at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is 1319 species. But what is the economic use for the Peck's cave amphipod? Or the Delhi Sands fly? The rock gnome lichen? The admittedly much cuter Delmarva Fox squirrel? Again, Sagoff points out that biodiversity is ubiquitous. He cites biologist David Ehrenfeld who wrote, "We do not know how many [plant] species are needed to keep the planet green and healthy, but it seems very unlikely to be anywhere near the more than a quarter of a million we have now." It should also be noted, however, that Ehrenfeld declares, "For biological diversity, value is. Nothing more and nothing less." In other words, according to Ehrenfeld, biodiversity has moral value, not monetary or biophysical value. Sagoff agrees with this stance.

But what about climate change? By adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, humanity may be dangerously destabilizing the planet's climate. Surely the market places value on protecting the climate? Sagoff disagrees, arguing that the climate is a "lumpy" good which cannot be easily divided into pieces and sold in units. But is that right? Greenhouse gases are no more "lumpy" than trees or fish. It is notionally possible for governments to set a cap on the amount of such gases that may be emitted and then sell permits for the right to emit (greenhouse gas lump could be divided into lumps the size of one ton and traded among firms and individuals). Sagoff acknowledges that such a scheme might work but claims that it "does not represent free and willing exchange but a way to make centralized command-and-control regulation more cost-effective." Would he make the same argument when governments privatize fisheries using tradable quotas? Limiting greenhouse gas emissions could be reconceived as closing a previously wide open climate commons by distributing property rights among possible users.

In the end, Sagoff does not heartlessly advocate condemning species to oblivion, cutting down all the trees, poisoning pollinators, or sullying lakes, rivers, and aquifers. His point is that ecological economics are misconceived, that ecological conservation and protection cannot be justified on strictly economic grounds. Claiming that nature provides $33 trillion in ecosystem services is unpersuasive, given that most of nature's services greatly exceed demand and are thus provided for free. "We recognize that the preservation of the beauty, complexity, and integrity of the natural world represents an aesthetic opportunity, a spiritual duty, and a moral obligation," asserts Sagoff. While he is surely right, making the protection of nature a moral issue will make it that much harder for people of different ethical and aesthetic views to compromise. Nevertheless, appealing to ersatz economic calculation is, as Sagoff declares, "the most self-defeating path environmentalists can take." Instead, ecological economists should devote more time to bringing more of the natural world within the ambit of the market system. As Sagoff concludes, "The solution is to structure property rights to turn liberty into prosperity, not to put scientists in charge."

Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  1. Apparently the link to the story has no economic value either, since it doesn’t work.

  2. Not working for me either.

  3. Ronald Bailey thinks that anybody who doesn’t challenge his assumptions is on to something.

  4. Each year, nature provides ecosystem services to humanity worth about $33 trillion.

    Where are the invoices?

    Similarly, Sagoff argues that while modern ecological economists would certainly not endorse the labor theory of value, [Wanna bet???] they do “generally accept the idea that economic value represents or refers to an intrinsic or inherent essence to which they attach normative significance.

    And, with that, ecological economists part from reality into the realm of make-believe.

    Quick, what’s the “intrinsic” value of the tree outside my window? Too late!

  5. Roger Bate makes a salient point with regard to such surveys: There is “a fundamental difference between an actual choice and a potential preference. People may state a preference for many things, but, in actuality, choose something entirely different.”

    This is because economic choice is done AT THE MARGIN, based on the value scale of the person. What value is that? Only the person making the choice knows, but he chose the best option FOR HIM or HER at the moment of decision, facing different options. A person chooses only one thing from many, at a single time, because he’s facing scarcity (of goods and his time), so he chooses exactly what he finds more valuable AT THE VERY TIME he chose. That cannot be obtained by doing surveys – that’s what market prices are for.

  6. A more pressing question: what is a Lefiti worth? I’m guessing around $6 Zimbabwean, plus a handful of pocket lint.

  7. I just came a little in my mouth.

  8. the idea that economic value represents or refers to an intrinsic or inherent essence to which they attach normative significance.

    Ah. Metaphysics. Untestable, ergo unfalsifiable. Can be safely disregarded.

  9. The $33 trillion figure is no doubt b.s, but the idea that natural “services” have economic value makes a lot of sense. There’s no fundamental reason to limit Economics to studying things that have monetary valuation; there were economies before money was invented. I’d go so far as to say that Economics, properly understood, is one of the biological sciences.

    Note that Locke said, “Locke, a proponent of the labor theory of value, argued that the value that land produced was largely the result of people mixing their labor with it. (Emphasis mine.)

  10. Lefiti,
    Ronald Bailey thinks that anybody who doesn’t challenge his assumptions is on to something.

    If that were so, he would not have bothered to write Sagoff’s long argumentation against ecological economists’ assumptions. He clearly found the argument cogent – now, you may TRY to find a problem, fallacy or error in his argument or refutation; that would be the honest thing to do.

  11. FTFA: Nevertheless, appealing to ersatz economic calculation is, as Sagoff declares, “the most self-defeating path environmentalists can take.”

    I tend to think of it rather as “speaking a language you fuckers understand.” Not that that makes Sagoff wrong. To the contrary, I think economic analysis of natural product is self-defeating. But it is driven by the tendency for us to not value what we can’t quantify; that is our (cultural? intrinsic?) defect, to which the environmentalists are vainly responding.

  12. claiming that nature provides $33 trillion in ecosystem services is unpersuasive, given that most of nature’s services greatly exceed demand and are thus provided for free.

    You’re missing the point, I think. The question is, how much would it cost humans to provide these services were they not provided for free? Say, if they were destroyed by climate change? Shouldn’t that cost be taken into account when discussing the cost of doing something vs. nothing, e.g.?

  13. Subjective value is measured in price, and you cannot have a price on something that is not property. It doesn’t have to be strictly private property, but if it can’t be bought or sold it cannot have a value. No price tag, no value.

    So in a way, Ron is correct. Unowned nature does not have value.

    However, it does have indirect value. People do consider their view those unowned trees on the hillsides to be their property, and will quickly sue if you put up a billboard blocking that view. People value nature for its beauty (a fairly modern concept), as a reserve for potential resources, as something whose preservation makes them feel good, etc.

    Some things cannot be measured with strict a propertarian analysis.

  14. Mike,
    The $33 trillion figure is no doubt b.s, but the idea that natural “services” have economic value makes a lot of sense.

    Only in exchange can we know the value of a service, Mike. I can say that it has value for me, but just to say it makes no difference until I put my money where my mouth is. In this case, saying that something that has not been exchanged has “value” is the same as guessing.

    There’s no fundamental reason to limit Economics to studying things that have monetary valuation;

    Makes it much easier, though. The other valuation is through barter trade, which is difficult to track.

  15. Ah. Metaphysics. Untestable, ergo unfalsifiable.

    Yup.

    Can be safely disregarded.

    Nope. The metaphysical assumptions that people make underlay pretty much everything we do and how we derive value(s). To ignore that is a bit like doing science without examining one’s assumptions.

  16. sagoff has written some excellent papers on the difference between market-based environmentalism and libertarian environmentalism…

  17. Tony,
    The question is, how much would it cost humans to provide these services were they not provided for free?

    Tony, you still have the same problem – how can you figure out the cost of something that has not been part of an exchange? If a good is non scarce, then it makes NO sense to imagine how much it would cost Humans if it WAS scarce.

    The other issue is one of definition – what GOODS are we discussing? Again, if they are free, then they are NOT economic goods. And even if we find ONE that becomes an economic good, it does not mean it would be the same thing – to explain: Air is a non-scarce good because we are surrounded by it. But high pressure air is a different thing, since energy was put into it. It is a totally DIFFERENT good (compressed air) even if it is composed of the same thing. So what would these services look like if they became Scarce? What presentation? Units of measure? Scope? Capability? Duration? Who can tell you that?

    Say, if they were destroyed by climate change? Shouldn’t that cost be taken into account when discussing the cost of doing something vs. nothing, e.g.?

    You cannot know the cost of something if there is no exchange for that good.

  18. That the economic value of X is unknowable because there are no market transactions to reveal preferences about X is not to say that the economic value of X is zero. Ecosystems are generally commons and are therefore not priced in the market. They nevertheless have economic value.

  19. FTG, I’ll clarify my point.

    We don’t know how to place a value on these ecological “services”. That doesn’t mean they don’t have value.

    We’re not finished up with the science of Economics. Hopefully, there are future ideas that haven’t been thought of yet. Someday some smart person might figure out a way to put a number on that value that isn’t based on money. Maybe somebody will invent something that is as non-obvious to us as money would be to pre-money humans.

    These ecological economists may be making the first fumbling steps. Perhaps their only value is that they are exploring an intellectual dead end, someday leading to their ideas being discredited, helping somebody else go down the right intellectual track.


  20. However, it does have indirect value. People do consider their view those unowned trees on the hillsides to be their property, and will quickly sue if you put up a billboard blocking that view. People value nature for its beauty (a fairly modern concept), as a reserve for potential resources, as something whose preservation makes them feel good, etc.

    Some things cannot be measured with strict a propertarian analysis.

    Yes, it can be measured within a strict private property analysis. Take your example: If some people value the image of the trees in a hillside so much as to object to a billboard, how much would they be willing to pay the billboard owner to set up his billboard somewhere else? At one point, you CAN know how much people value that view by how much the billboard owner is willing to accept from them.

    What makes the difference is that the view of the trees itself is a NON scarce good when the billboard was not set up, so people simply take it for granted (otherwise they would have purchased the land around the trees to avoid billboards!). So you CANNOT KNOW how much people value the view of the trees at that point, the same way you cannot know the cost of environmental “services” (whatever these happen to be). Once the billboard is raised, the view may become a scarce good in the VIEW of the homeowners, but you can ONLY KNOW THIS by how much they would be willing to pay the billboard owner, and NOT BEFORE (people still cannot read minds.)

    Obviously, you can argue that people did not know the view was a scarce good, but that’s the whole POINT – people make decisions AT THE MARGIN.

  21. That the economic value of X is unknowable because there are no market transactions to reveal preferences about X is not to say that the economic value of X is zero.

    Yes, it IS to say that the economic value of X is zero.

    A simple example to illustrate: You see an empty can of SODA in the ground. If you are in California, you KNOW that the aluminum can is taxed $0.05 which can be recouped if brought to a “recycling” center. What would be then the economic value of the can?

    If you say, $0.05, you’re WRONG! That’s only the market price for a RETURNED aluminum can. The can in the ground has a value of ZERO because nobody has bothered to PICK IT UP! It is the SAME principle with non scarce goods like these so-called environmental services.

    (So, what’s the economic value of the can if picked up? Well, if I DO pick it up, I can get $0.05 for it, which means I would have valued the $0.05 more than the time I used by picking it up, storing it, going to the “recycling” center and waiting in line to have it weighted and paid. So the value to ME has to be the same as my opportunity cost of doing something ELSE with my time.)

  22. FTG:

    What about Tony’s point about replacement value? Marginal analysis is useless in dealing with things that are not currently valuated, because we cannot get a sense of something is worth for which we not receive for free (due to abundance). But it is almost certain that many of the ecological services, if replicated (if they are even *replicable*!) would be traded at a relatively high marginal value, no? People tend to value being able to breathe and eat rather highly in the scheme of things, yes?

  23. FTG,

    You can’t arrive at an estimation of cost by applying a hypothetical exchange scenario?

    There is a certain cost associated with pollination if humans have to do it. It requires a certain amount of labor and resources. That shouldn’t be hard to calculate.

    Should climate change or some other force eliminate pollinators, say, we’d have to pick up the slack ourselves with that certain amount of required manpower and tools.

    I think one takeaway from this idea is that humans are provided for both by the marketplace and by nature, but the distinction between the two is arbitrary. Nature provides us with pollinators, but it doesn’t provide us with combines and backhoes.

    We have a free ride, arbitrarily, on some services. Any estimation of the true value of something should include the services that are provided for free, but which would cost us if these natural processes were to be eliminated.

  24. I really need to read the original article, but what Ron describes seems really sloppy. For example, he says that fresh water is without value because it rains all the time — but most of that rain is not captured in ways that are useful for people to drink. You might as well say that gold is valueless because there are millions of tons of it still underground somewhere. But in the real world, fresh water is highly valuable in some places and people fight wars and sue each other over access to it.

    If it’s that easy to find counterexamples (like Ron did with the pollination example), how robust can Sagoff’s argument really be?

  25. My problem with attempting the value the replacement costs of the nature is that for the foreseeable future we *cannot* replace nature. Thus, the apparent value of this irreplaceable resource would swamp pretty much all other considerations. That doesn’t seem like a good way to go, just gut-wise.

  26. From What’s Really Reactionary:

    Intrinsically linked to freedom and reason is the last element of the triad of values repudiated by the Left: liberal humanism — i.e., man. The subverted vehicle this time was environmentalism, which had begun with a genuinely benevolent concern: pollution as a threat to man. But lifted by the Rousseauian Left, the term was reapplied to an almost inconceivably malevolent concept: man as a pollutant threat to “the environment” — that is, to all that is not human. When this “environment” became the summum bonum, man became the measure of all things evil. Accordingly, the advance of human civilization is condemned as a diminution — as the destruction — of the “natural” world, of the “wildlife, jungles, and rock formations that the environmentalists hold to be intrinsically valuable” (George Reisman). The “new” environmentalism’s slogans speak volumes. “Back to the Pleistocene” evinces reaction against not only the Industrial Revolution but even the Agricultural Revolution (e.g., self-described neo-Luddite John Zerzan: “Agriculture has been and remains a ‘catastrophe’ at all levels, the one which underpins the entire material and spiritual culture of alienation now destroying us. Liberation is impossible without its dissolution.”). And “Earth First!” aptly sums its priorities: the pre-human environment, including all lower life forms (“We Were Here First”), over the emergent Homo sapiens and their impact as such on that environment.

  27. Shorter Barry Loberfeld:

    “OMFG envirnomentalists!!! They is gonna rape my babiez!”

  28. Or to be slightly fairer, the conflation of a movement with its extremists is the cheapest and most popular way to discredit them. It is always done in bad faith, as a way of avoiding engagement with the reasonable concerns of the broader movement.

  29. Barry,

    That seems to me to be a straw man, the straw man applied to environmentalists. They’re all about saving the spotted owl!

    If they take it to that extreme, I would condemn the movement too. But I do think most environmentalists are concerned about the long-term survival and comfort of humanity.

  30. Can be safely disregarded.

    Nope. The metaphysical assumptions that people make underlay pretty much everything we do and how we derive value(s). To ignore that is a bit like doing science without examining one’s assumptions.

    True enough, El. I should have said “Can be safely disregarded for purposes of economics.”

    What about Tony’s point about replacement value?

    The fundamental point that most “natural” goods and services are without market value because they are superabundant pretty much craters the analysis. If you reduce the supply of anything for which there is a demand, its value will increase.

    If you assume, arguendo, that the supply of natural goods and services will be reduced to the point that we have to replace them, then of course you are going to come up with a high value for them: you have just posited a shortage. Imagining counterfactual situations where something has a high value doesn’t really cast much light on what its value currently is.

  31. Nature has value, but for some reason people believe that value should be “free” to them. If environmentalists raised enough money to go around buying oil leases to prevent the drilling on those sites, they’ve attached a value to the surface naturalness of the site as opposed to the underground resources. Unfortnuately, greenies believe other people should pay to preserve nature, a highly untenable position.

    I continue to say, “Bring Global Warming On, winter blows anyway.”

    If you want to preserve the rainforest, buy it and guard it. Good fucking luck.

  32. “Environmentalists,
    I wish you had believed in me.”
    -Locke

    Hey, what’s that light? Dude, where’d Hurley go?

  33. Lost_In_Translation:

    How does one go about buying the atmosphere or the oceans? Climate change, a result of the activities of industrialized people, will kill many people in poor countries who didn’t contribute to it. Justify that with your “everything is a commodity” shtick.

  34. Elemenope, Tony,

    Gentlemen, please read again: “The subverted vehicle this time was environmentalism, which had begun with a genuinely benevolent concern: pollution as a threat to man. But lifted by the Rousseauian Left, the term was reapplied to an almost inconceivably malevolent concept: man as a pollutant threat to “the environment” — that is, to all that is not human.

  35. Tony,
    You can’t arrive at an estimation of cost by applying a hypothetical exchange scenario?

    Based on what? Because in order to set up an exchange scenario, you would have to know a priori how such an exchange would look like. I can set up an exchange scenario between me and my car mechanic, because I already went to several mechanics in my life, but how many exchanges of environmental services like those purportedly supplied by Nature exist, as a benchmark?

    There is a certain cost associated with pollination if humans have to do it. It requires a certain amount of labor and resources. That shouldn’t be hard to calculate.

    You just made my point – you KNOW a priori how much labor costs, because of a pre-existing market for labor; you KNOW the cost of resources (like getting the pollen, tools, you name it) because they all have been valued in a market. How do you value these “environmental services” provided for free if nobody has exchanged them, ever?

    I think one takeaway from this idea is that humans are provided for both by the marketplace and by nature, but the distinction between the two is arbitrary. Nature provides us with pollinators, but it doesn’t provide us with combines and backhoes.

    Nature provides you with pollinators, but man already PROVIDES pollinators in the form or Pollination Services. So the problem of natural pollination has been solved, by the market – just look for pollination services in the Yellow Pages.

    We have a free ride, arbitrarily, on some services.

    Not arbitrarily.

    Any estimation of the true value of something should include the services that are provided for free, but which would cost us if these natural processes were to be eliminated.

    No, because if they ARE provided for free, you cannot know their cost, until SOMEONE values it. You cannot assume a cost that does not exist yet.

    For instance, calculate the cost for 18 Century people for not having oil…

    … with 18 Century knowledge.

  36. Tony,
    Climate change, a result of the activities of industrialized people, will kill many people in poor countries who didn’t contribute to it.

    “Climate Change” is a red herring, Tony – the climate changes, ALWAYS. Also, you cannot KNOW that this supposed “climate change” will kill people in poor countries. So far, what kills people in poor countries are diseases and government.

  37. Barry,

    The idea that environmentalists care about everything but people is a straw man created by anti-environmentalist interests. I’m sure there are a few misanthropic nuts trying to preserve Gaia or whatever, but environmentalism, even post-Rousseau, is about securing a livable habitat for people.

  38. how many exchanges of environmental services like those purportedly supplied by Nature exist, as a benchmark? … How do you value these “environmental services” provided for free if nobody has exchanged them, ever?

    Who really cares? It’s such an academic point. You don’t need a specific dollar figure when it becomes clear that the cost of not protecting one natural service far exceeds the cost of protecting it.

    Nature provides you with pollinators, but man already PROVIDES pollinators in the form or Pollination Services. So the problem of natural pollination has been solved, by the market – just look for pollination services in the Yellow Pages.

    So because humans can supplement natural pollination, it’s okay if all natural pollination goes away? I don’t get your point here.

  39. Elemenope,
    What about Tony’s point about replacement value? Marginal analysis is useless in dealing with things that are not currently valuated,

    Any other analysis would be pretty useless as well, since “value” is not intrinsic.

    [B]ecause we cannot get a sense of something is worth for which we not receive for free (due to abundance). But it is almost certain that many of the ecological services, if replicated (if they are even *replicable*!) would be traded at a relatively high marginal value, no?

    Maybe, but it would depend on how people value them THEN, not how one values them NOW, because they are NOT valued in an economic sense! How can one then calculate the value of something sans its abundance if you do not have an idea of how much less abundant it will be with time, or how much people will make due with or without it? What would happen if people found substitutes in the future?

    People tend to value being able to breathe and eat rather highly in the scheme of things, yes?

    Yes, people value breathing so much that they go to the trouble of compressing air in order to go scuba diving. But that is because under water, breathable air is SCARCE. Instead, one does not need to compress air in the surface of the Earth because we are already inside a big pool of air.

    With food, however, you KNOW and CAN calculate just how much is food valuable because you have human activities and actions to produce and trade food; you have market prices and even food FUTURES.

  40. “Climate Change” is a red herring, Tony – the climate changes, ALWAYS. Also, you cannot KNOW that this supposed “climate change” will kill people in poor countries. So far, what kills people in poor countries are diseases and government.

    Okay assume for the sake of argument that the majority of the world’s climate scientists are correct… you don’t get to leap out of the economic argument by dismissing the premise.

  41. I think many people miss the point of trying to provide a value for nature and her services. The idea is not to get an exact figure, but instead just to illustrate the trade offs involved with further destruction of nature and the goods thus produced.

    As our “economy” continues to grow, it crowds out natures economy. Up to a point this really didn’t matter because our numbers were small, and the amount of crowding out was minimal. However, I believe we are past that point, and we should be examing our future growth patters to make sure that our growth is really generating benefits.

    IE. as our growth starts reducing the basic natural services that we need to survive at some point it becomes uneconomic.

    Probably the best analysis I’ve read of this idea is Beyond Growth by Herman Daly.
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0807047090/reasonmagazinea-20/

    I don’t agree with everything he lays out, but his central tenets about our economy being depednent on the larger economy of nature our I believe correct.

  42. Who really cares? It’s such an academic point. You don’t need a specific dollar figure when it becomes clear that the cost of not protecting one natural service far exceeds the cost of protecting it.

    You cannot say you don’t care about the cost of something and then argue about costs. if you don’t really know the costs, then you cannot argue ABOUT costs.

    So because humans can supplement natural pollination, it’s okay if all natural pollination goes away? I don’t get your point here.

    The point here is that people can perfectly cope with services that seem to be not available from Nature, not that their scarcity is a good thing or a bad thing – what more would I want than to live in Paradise, and by the reach of my hand, be clothed and fed, but working for a living is the current reality, so I just do it.

  43. “The idea that environmentalists care about everything but people is a straw man created by anti-environmentalist interests. I’m sure there are a few misanthropic nuts trying to preserve Gaia or whatever, but environmentalism, even post-Rousseau, is about securing a livable habitat for people.”

    Tony, I clearly distinguish between environmentalism and what it became in the hands of the Left.

  44. Public property can’t properly be valued because no one owns it. Ie, there’s no “market” to bear the price.

    I’m not even going so far as suggesting that public property should be abolished. I’m merely pointing out that saying that “nature” provides man wish such-and-such value, it’s merely based on speculation.

    Often times, government charging for something like carbon dioxide emissions is the ‘pricing of externalities’. The problem is, is the government charging too much or possibly even too little?

    No one really knows. Because price, it’s not what you say it is, it’s what the market will bear.

  45. Tony, I clearly distinguish between environmentalism and what it became in the hands of the Left.

    And I’m clearly distinguishing reality from fantasy.

  46. Nature has value, but for some reason people believe that value should be “free” to them. If environmentalists raised enough money to go around buying oil leases to prevent the drilling on those sites, they’ve attached a value to the surface naturalness of the site as opposed to the underground resources.

    Lost in Translation FTW.

    I’ve been making this argument for years. You want to preserve wilderness? Buy it up. Property rights rule.

    But the environmental movement largely remains wedded to the collectivist meme that nature should be communal property. Generally guarded by happy smiling rainbow people holding hands and singing “This land is my land, this land is your land.” Or if possible native americans, who lived in a state of pure ecological harmony. Or so the fiction goes.

    Bring up land ownership and most greenies will look at you like you’ve contaminated their pure blissfully ignorant vision. Evil, evil, property. Bah. Fie, satan.

  47. Because price, it’s not what you say it is, it’s what the market will bear.

    So what’s wrong with government setting a price on carbon dioxide with the end goal of pricing it out of existence? I mean who cares about the actual cost of the commodity in the market? The market doesn’t adequately account for environmental destruction. It’s doing enough damage that we can rationally say we need to eliminate it.

  48. Hazel,

    How does one own a part of the atmosphere or the ocean?

  49. “Nature has value, but for some reason people believe that value should be “free” to them. If environmentalists raised enough money to go around buying oil leases to prevent the drilling on those sites, they’ve attached a value to the surface naturalness of the site as opposed to the underground resources. Unfortnuately, greenies believe other people should pay to preserve nature, a highly untenable position.”

    Indeed.

    To put it another way, they want to unilaterally prioritize everyone’s outcomes and socialize the costs of doing so.

  50. So what’s wrong with government setting a price on carbon dioxide with the end goal of pricing it out of existence?

    You quoted me, but apparently it didn’t sink in. Price it’s not what *you* say it is, it’s what the market will bear.

    The word “you” in this case is a place holder for “the person setting the price”. I want to sell my home. I “set” the price at $450,000. But strangely, three years later I haven’t sold it. So I “set” the price again at $375,000. A year and a half later, it hasn’t sold. So I “set” the price again at $345,000 and I start to get some lowball offers at around $310,000. Finally, I “set” the price at $312,000 and whammo it sold. the price was $312,000. I may convince myself that I “set” the price, but I didn’t. The market did.

    The government is (with noble intent) trying to “set” the price of externalities. But we’ll never know what the real price is. Because the market for these externalities doesn’t really exist. It’s a government-made construct with spot prices set by bureaucrats on five-year plans.

  51. “How does one go about buying the atmosphere or the oceans? Climate change, a result of the activities of industrialized people, will kill many people in poor countries who didn’t contribute to it. Justify that with your “everything is a commodity” shtick.”

    Tony,

    If environmentalists were really keen on preventing climate change, they’d find a way to make everything a commodity. As it is, they merely want to remove things from the free market to “save” them. Deer populations are most stable in areas that raise them for others to kill them at a profit. Forests raised for making paper will survive long after the poor farmers in Brazil have clear cut the Amazon for farming. Finding ways to impose costs rather than institute bans is far more effective to the environmental cause than running around screaming “we’re all going to die unless you stop…”.

    As it is, the western way of life would easily be sustainable on a less populous planet. The problem is we’re going to fuck ourselves to starvation in the end. Being fruitful and multiplying was the worst advice ever given…and to think, someone thought the creater of the human race said that. Ludicrous.

  52. Kronebore,
    I think many people miss the point of trying to provide a value for nature and her services. The idea is not to get an exact figure, but instead just to illustrate the trade offs involved with further destruction of nature and the goods thus produced.

    The authors of the study set a figure, which is in dispute.

    Second, saying that there is a trade off between goods produced and destruction of nature is a false dichotomy – I can argue that Nature is not being destroyed, since “Nature” is simply the name given to the Laws of the Universe. And, by transforming materials into goods, you are actually providing an added value to people.


    As our “economy” continues to grow, it crowds out natures economy.

    Nature does not act, so there cannot be a Nature’s economy.

    Up to a point this really didn’t matter because our numbers were small, and the amount of crowding out was minimal. However, I believe we are past that point, and we should be examining our future growth patters to make sure that our growth is really generating benefits.

    Who would you want to castrate first, or sterilize first? Because examining “our” growth patterns sounds too much like eugenics for my comfort.

    IE. as our growth starts reducing the basic natural services that we need to survive at some point it becomes uneconomic.

    Why would it become “uneconomic”? Before, hunters gatherers received their food almost for free, but now, people use much less expanse and more technology to produce food to feed almost all. So a “natural” service was replaced by an artificial one – how is that supposed to be “uneconomical”?

  53. The $33 trillion figure is no doubt b.s, but the idea that natural “services” have economic value makes a lot of sense. There’s no fundamental reason to limit Economics to studying things that have monetary valuation; there were economies before money was invented. I’d go so far as to say that Economics, properly understood, is one of the biological sciences.

    In lieu of money you’d measure things in terms of their value in barter. Money just makes that easier and more transferable.

    There’s of course no “intrinsic” value to nature because “value” is a human effect. I suppose you could say that in lieu of humans nature would have value to animals, or to plants, but that’s playing with definitions. You may as well say nature has value to nature, which just becomes recursive.

    I’d simply say nature has the value humans get from it. The value of the tree outside your window is how much less your property would be worth without it. There’s a virtually infinite number of implications of this, but they all fall back on the value that humans get from whatever is chosen to be called nature. But before we could determine that, we’d have to first decide universally what we’re calling nature, which wouldn’t be easy. And then we’d have to tally it all up by estimating the effect of every item of nature’s destruction on property values… Man, that hurts my brain, why bother? Could be 33 trillion, but what would that tell us? Just what aspect of world wide property we attribute to “nature”!


  54. Okay assume for the sake of argument that the majority of the world’s climate scientists are correct… you don’t get to leap out of the economic argument by dismissing the premise.

    Ok, let’s assume the climate changes and things happen – WHAT things, I can only speculate, and you know what? I won’t speculate, because I don’t need to – all I have to do is look at history, see what people did during a MAYOR climate change episode (the Little Ice Age) and see that nothing really happened except that people coped. We’re still here, so they did cope.

  55. Give it up FTG.

    You’re using logic to dispute what is essentially a defacto religion for the radical environmentalists.

    They worhsip GAIA and will not be deterred.

  56. FTG,

    You’re still dismissing the premise accepted by mainstream science in order to get around the argument.

    What we’re facing is so much more dire than the little ice age.

  57. The fact that cities have parks inidicates that people value nature. People give up property taxes and pay money to maintain a “natural” setting.

    You can get some idea of the value of natural land by looking at which park bond measures pass or not. If people are willing purchase undeveloped land and leave it in a natural state, they value that particular parcel of nature at least at the price of tax increase. And in my experience, parks are very popular.

  58. “To put it another way, prices result from scarcity. In general, the greater the supply, the more demand will be satisfied at lower prices.”

    I made this exact argument on a comment thread on one of Ron’s previous articles on this topic, and one of the geniuses here (I don’t remember who) stated that I didn’t understand the law of supply and demand.

    Whoever it was: suck it, bitch.

  59. @FTG

    Nature in essence is an economic system like a market. It has many different aspects which most work in harmony to generate the services we need to carry on our lives like they are.
    IE, breathable air, drinkable water, farmable soil etc.

    Now while it is true that we can at great cost replicate these servies through technology we certainly can’t do so in a cost effective manner.

    When our economy expands and say consumes more lumber, that reduces the amount of trees that are able to produce oxygen etc.

    As I mentioned ealier this isn’t a problem to a point, there are a lot of trees, and we can use quite a few of them for other purposes without noticing the difference, but eventually there comes a point where we start to see the effects.

    As for population control, I would much rather provide education and family planning services instead so that people can make appropriate family planning sizes. Of course this is tough because you need to change social norms to encourge small families.

    I’m still very doubtfull that this will happen, but the math of population growth is very simple. Eventually we must have zero population growth. Infiite growth on a finite sized planet is not sustainable.

    Reasonable people can aruge about where the limit should be, but somewhere it’s out there. Even at 1% population growth rates, population doubles every 70 years, do you really think our planet can sustain 14 billiion people? What about 28 billion, or 56 billion?

    Of course if people arent’ smart enough to manage their own population eventually it will get managed for us, either through coercion, or war, faimine etc.

  60. @ Hazel – That’s a pretty gross generalization. The Nature Conservancy has been pretty good about buying land, keeping it private, and preserving all or a portion of it, including financing it with sales of natural resources.

    @ FTG – Are you implying that value cannot be assigned to something for which there is no market and, since that is the case, what’s the point of even trying to assign value to nature?

    What about valuing of human life? There is no true market anymore for humans, yet insurance companies literally place a value of humans in order to set insurance rates. Assigning something a value, even when there is no market for that good, is a handy way to analyze costs and benefits. Same goes for environmental goods.

  61. Guys, you are wasting a great deal of time arguing with FTG. That guy is bat-shit crazy.

  62. FTG,

    In other words there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Econ 101.

  63. “but you can ONLY KNOW THIS by how much they would be willing to pay the billboard owner, and NOT BEFORE”

    This so insane. What sane person thinks that until or unless the people pay the billboard owner that they do not value the view of the trees from their window, or that we can’t possibly assume such?

    Is this what too much Austrian economics does to the brain?

  64. “Also, you cannot KNOW that this supposed “climate change” will kill people in poor countries.”

    You mean we can’t know that if the climate changes by a certain amount then certain things are likely to happen with bad results for many human beings?

    I mean, what is magical and unnatural about that? By studying how water flows near my basement door and certain things about that door, I can “know” that if it rains x amount tonight a certain amount of water will be in my basement.

  65. “You’re using logic to dispute what is essentially a defacto religion for the radical environmentalists.”

    Ah, Gilber Martin. Yeah, the side that has the support of most of the relevant expert scientists in the world is the one that is akin to a faith.

  66. You can get some idea of the value of natural land by looking at which park bond measures pass or not. If people are willing purchase undeveloped land and leave it in a natural state, they value that particular parcel of nature at least at the price of tax increase. And in my experience, parks are very popular.

    This is a rather bad example. People love bond measures because it’s nearly a free lunch for the current body politic. And cities (and states and nations) love building new stuff because politicians can take pretty pictures with gold painted shovels.

    The rubber meets the road in how the average park (or other public facility) is maintained. Which is on average pretty poorly. Sure Yellowstone is nice, Central Park is nice, but the typical national forest and central city playground is maintained for shit.

  67. “When our economy expands and say consumes more lumber, that reduces the amount of trees that are able to produce oxygen etc.”

    Did you not bother to read the article?

    There are more trees in the continental US than there have ever been, right now, today, 2009.

    Furthermore, I might also point out that having spent a good deal of time in the midwest growing up, most of the trees you’ll find between Omaha & Denver were also planted by humans.

    This whole nonsense of humans overtaking nature to a point where we can’t breathe is ridiculous. People are only getting better and better at efficiently using resources.

    That’s part of what FTG was saying before too – the Oto (american indian) tribe for example consisted of about 1100 people at their peak, and yet roamed as nomads in between the area that is now all of Eastern Nebraska, half of Iowa, Missouri and much of Northeastern Kansas.

    Their lifestyle (similar to other plains indians tribes) required that they spent most of their lives chasing their food as it migrated or withered away during winter. Somehow, in spite of Kroneborge’s postulate to the contrary, now we can take that same area of land and feed most of the United States. How’s that possible I wonder…

    By the Malthusian population limit logic, we should not be able to sustain ourselves… and worse, we should have destroyed the environment in Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, etc. But there are more trees, more lakes (we made a few…) and more food… Amaaazing!

  68. You’re still dismissing the premise accepted by mainstream science in order to get around the argument.

    Uh . . . no. Let me be more clear:

    1) One cannot place value on something that is NOT scarce today, because you need to have it traded in order to know its value.

    2) Saying that we need to value these so called environmental services because of so-called “climate change” is a red herring, because the climate changes ALWAYS.

    3) The science behind “climate change” (for some reason, somebody changed the name from Anthropogenic Global Warming to “climate change”) is suspect to say the least, and just because some scientists subscribe to the notion does not mean it is true. The problem is that the validation for the AGW hypothesis depends on future events, so it cannot be verified right now nor through evidence – and the available evidence (global temperatures which have been descending in this decade) is NOT really helping the case. So, taking this issue without some critical analysis is the same as believing in it religiously.

  69. “see what people did during a MAYOR climate change episode (the Little Ice Age) and see that nothing really happened except that people coped.”

    I think it would suck to live in an Ice Age. I bet you do too. I’d be willing to pay a little money to stave one off. I bet you’d be willing too.

    Ooops, we’re starting to establish a value, even an economic one at that, to staving off climate change.

    “You can get some idea of the value of natural land by looking at which park bond measures pass or not.”

    Exactly. When people vote for a politician or a policy meant to preserve nature or fight climate change, knowing that such would bring costs and restraints on them personally, they are establishing that they value that thing.

    “The point here is that people can perfectly cope with services that seem to be not available from Nature”

    Yeah, they could cope by a loss of natural pollination by turning to the folks who do pollination services. Those people would of course charge for their services…Ooops, we’re figuring out a value again for the loss of that natural service…

  70. Are you implying that value cannot be assigned to something for which there is no market and, since that is the case, what’s the point of even trying to assign value to nature?

    Value cannot be assigned to something that ah not entered into trade or exchange, simply because value is not an intrinsic feature of a thing, but the subjective appreciation of a human. I may value my tree outside my window, but how much VALUE it has is only known by me, not by anybody else.

    What about valuing of human life? There is no true market anymore for humans, yet insurance companies literally place a value of humans in order to set insurance rates.

    That’s incorrect – what sets the value of the insurance rates is the very people that BUY the insurance, and they are NOT valuing their lives by buying insurance – they are HEDGING the uncertainty of their absence.

    Assigning something a value,

    You don’t assign something a value.

    […] even when there is no market for that good, is a handy way to analyze costs and benefits. Same goes for environmental goods.

    That’s what the Ecological Economists tried to do. Your quarrel is with them.

  71. Your mistaken if you think capital (technology) can always be a subsitute for natual resources. For example, powered machinery like skill saws, and nail guns allow us to build a house much more effiently, but no matter how many saws you have, you never reach the point where you don’t need lumber (or some other material).

    So yes efficient use of resources is good, and something to be sought after, but there are limits to what can be achieved.

    No matter how much technology we develop, or how much capital we accumulate, our economy will still need the natural factors of production to function.

  72. “Ah, Gilber Martin. Yeah, the side that has the support of most of the relevant expert scientists in the world is the one that is akin to a faith.”

    Relevant expert scientists, using *models* to predict things that they have been almost unfailingly wrong about over the course of recorded history – which, in their field, amounts to about 40 millionths of actual climate history, and about a thousandth of human history.

    It’s no secret there’s a long-term warming trend (it’s been going on hundreds of years now…) so that’s really not the issue, but to pretend these people are empiricists is about the height of hubris – and that’s not even getting into a real discussion of the debate.

    Plus, perhaps you haven’t noticed, but even their short term predictions have been wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong… For example, a recent University of Miami research team being rather shocked to discover that hurricanes have been getting weaker, not stronger as they’d previously predicted…

    From the Miami Herald:

    The study found that the planet’s oceans have been warming for more than a century. No surprise there, but this may be: Those warmer oceans are producing stronger crosswinds that tend to suppress the development and growth of hurricanes, the scientists said.

    Care to revise?

  73. “Saying that we need to value these so called environmental services because of so-called “climate change” is a red herring, because the climate changes ALWAYS”

    Oh, don’t be so stupid. Does it make you feel better if people said “climate-change that-is-likely-to-induce-hazards-and-cause-mankind-costs-in-part-through-its-effect-on-environmental-services-we-all-benefit-from?”

    “just because some scientists subscribe to the notion does not mean it is true”

    You mean most rather than some, right? Like every relevant scientific professional association?

    “the validation for the AGW hypothesis depends on future events, so it cannot be verified right now nor through evidence”

    That is crazy in so many ways…First of all, the idea of AGW is that a process, which started in the past through human actions, is currently still occurring and, without change in those actions, will continue to occur. It’s no different than when, say, a geologist estimates how much erosion of a rock will occur 20 or 200 years from now given what we know about the rock and how erosion occurs.

  74. Sean
    You don’t think the thousands and thousands of scientists from varied nations and organizations around the globe who are convinced that AGW is occurring and that the results could be bad for mankind are aware of findings like the one you mention and don’t have a convincing argument or a deeper understanding of the relevant data than you or I do?

    I mean, do you think they have all gone collectively mad or something?

  75. “No matter how much technology we develop, or how much capital we accumulate, our economy will still need the natural factors of production to function.”

    You sure will… But again, you’re missing the point… It’s not just about efficiency – we’re regrowing trees faster than we’re using them up (at least in the US).

    This means that far from spiraling downward, we’re improving our lives AND increasing our supply of resources.

    Granted, at some point, we will not be able to extract any more iron-ore from the ground, but perhaps by that point we’ll have managed to synthesize even better materials out of resources (like trees) which we can grow ourselves….

    So I mean… While you’re right that we can’t make a nail without extracting the metal from the ground, you’re kinda way wrong that technology can’t solve that problem in addition to the pollution and other environmental concerns.

    The problem all around the world however is the tragedy of the commons. Privatize baby!

  76. Guys, you are wasting a great deal of time arguing with FTG. That guy is bat-shit crazy.

    That’s MNG-speak for “I am unable to debate this guy effectively due to my lack of understanding, so I prefer to just fling insults willy-nilly.”

  77. Sean
    Are you going to tell me that you don’t check what the weatherman says before deciding how to dress in the morning or whether to take the umbrella? I don’t believe you don’t.

    Everyone checks that out. Because they are obviously on to something and know a great deal about predicting the climate and weather, a great deal more than what everyone knows.

    If they were wildy wrong the way AGW deniers often seem to say then no one would be stupid enough to check out what they say.

  78. “I am unable to debate this guy effectively due to his lack of grasp of reason and logic, but insults are fun anytime.”

    Fixed that for ya FTG!

  79. Kroneborge,
    So yes efficient use of resources is good, and something to be sought after, but there are limits to what can be achieved.

    Not really – that’s what the price system is for. Through prices, you CAN know what’s become more scarce, and which is available at lower costs. You CAN determine what resources can be used for a project as alternative to something else. To give you an example, as hardwoods are become more difficult to find in big sizes, you can now obtain veneers and other engineered products that can give you the same feel and look as wide boards.

    No matter how much technology we develop, or how much capital we accumulate, our economy will still need the natural factors of production to function.

    Our economy will ALWAYS need natural factors for production. However, it does not mean we will always have to use the VERY SAME factors (e.g. raw materials) all the time – people HAVE changed to alternatives when other materials became too scarce or more convenient alternatives were found. There is not a tin shortage, for example, that could place us in jeopardy, because it’s been a long time since we switched to iron for most of our goods. There is not a shortage of cotton, because we’re using now other fibers and synthetic products. When something becomes more costly than alternatives, people WILL switch to alternatives.

  80. There’s a pretty easy way to deal with global warming:

    Build lots of nuclear power plants.

    Or get out of the way, impose a small tax on carbon, and let nuclear power compete against coal and natural gas without undue harassment from anti-nuke fanatics.

    Problem solved. Next question?

  81. Hazel
    I agree that nuclear should be part of the solution. I’m afraid too many on the left have a stupid hang up about it.

    Hell, if only for political reasons they should concede this (many Senators, those with nuclear power constituents, say their opposition to global warming stuff is that it does not include enough nuclear power).

    I think we should take steps to address global warming, but we should take whatever step gives us the most amount of progress with the absolute least amount of restrictions on liberty and restraints on our economic engine.

  82. MNG,
    Glad you could make it.
    Oh, don’t be so stupid. Does it make you feel better if people said “climate-change that-is-likely-to-induce-hazards-and-cause-mankind-costs-in-part-through-its-effect-on-environmental-services-we-all-benefit-from?”

    Not really, MNG, because that expression would be nothing more than an unproven assertion . . . not unlike like your comments.

    You mean most rather than some, right? Like every relevant scientific professional association?

    No, I mean SOME – I am not going to say “MOST” just because Al Gore said.

    I can say that MOST scientists agree that Evolution is a fact, because indeed, MOST DO. But AGW? I have seen enough dissent to know it cannot be MOST scientists.

    That is crazy in so many ways…First of all, the idea of AGW is that a process, which started in the past through human actions, is currently still occurring and, without change in those actions, will continue to occur.

    That’s not the premise – the premise is that the CO2 humans are spewing through industrial processes will heat the planet towards certain temperatures that will make life intolerable (e.g. will bring in droughts, bad hurricane seasons, cats and dogs sleeping together and all other sorts of disasters). So far, the scientific evidence for this has been lacking, the models introduced as benchmarks (that is, something to look for) have been updated enough times to suspect they are not correct, and the science of CO2 has not been well researched so as to have an understanding of the process. In the end, it is nothing more than supposition.

    It’s no different than when, say, a geologist estimates how much erosion of a rock will occur 20 or 200 years from now given what we know about the rock and how erosion occurs.

    This is a red herring, MNG – a geologist will not even dare to advise a POLICY based on his speculations.

  83. MNG,
    I think we should take steps to address global warming, but we should take whatever step gives us the most amount of progress with the absolute least amount of restrictions on liberty and restraints on our economic engine.

    I agree with what you said here, which is actually confusing, since all that you have written can lead anybody to believe you are no friend of liberty.

    Are you just paying lip service?

  84. “You don’t think the thousands and thousands of scientists from varied nations and organizations around the globe who are convinced that AGW is occurring”

    First off, you’re conflating two separate things MNG. Yes, thousands of (climate)scientists agree that the earth is warming.

    No, thousands upon thousands do not agree that it was man-made, entirely caused by CO2, or catastrophic.

    And oh look, I have an article from *today* to back myself up… whaddaya know!

    Report:

    The 84% of climate scientists surveyed agree that humans are contributing to global warming – ok, I wouldn’t disagree with that… we contribute to every aspect of this planet. Big surprise there…

    But here’s where it gets tricky my friend. A few additional quotes and the picture shifts some:

    “A slight majority (54%) believe the warming measured over the last 100 years is not “within the range of natural temperature fluctuation.”

    “40% see it [climatology] as still an “emerging” science.” (compared with 5% who believe it’s fully mature)

    “Based on current trends, 41% of scientists believe global climate change will pose a very great danger to the earth in the next 50 to 100 years, compared to 13% who see relatively little danger. Another 44% rate climate change as moderately dangerous.”

    So sure, some think it’s really dangerous, some not so much (all still have incentive to keep their grants flowing of course), and only 5% think it’s no big deal. I didn’t say it was “no big deal” either though, did I?

    Further… Only 3% of those polled trusted the news or politician-provided information on global warming.

    Oh, and the survey was specifically of members of either the American Meteorological Society or the American Geophysical Union with a statistical margin of error +/- 4%

    Besides that though, I’m saying, much like Keynesian “economic models” the climate models are largely hypothetical and from what I’ve read from a wide array of sources, based on rather unreliable input data. So do I think they could be wrong? Sure do.

    Do I think they might have enormous political incentives to make a big fuss about it? Yep.

    Do I think that politicians, activists and many minimally scrupulous business-people stand to profit immensely from scare mongering? Again… yah.

    And now for the real question – do I think we should bankrupt our future, set up a worldwide environmental gestapo force run by the government, policing everything and sacrifice every bit of sane economics imaginable to forestall the possible risk that our lives might change extremely gradually (.1% a year) over the next 100 years?

    NO.

    Iraq war, economic crisis, global warming – whatever you want to base it on, scaremongering to create government expansion is just bullshit.

  85. “How does one own a part of the atmosphere or the ocean?”

    Get in tight with Obama. He’s seizing those next. Can’t let Chavez get them first.

  86. “Are you going to tell me that you don’t check what the weatherman says before deciding how to dress in the morning or whether to take the umbrella?”

    First off… I live in Los Angeles, so I assume it is sunny, clear and 75o. I’m almost always right.

    Second… WOW that’s an amazingly stupid strawman you’ve just presented. Predicting the weather, by WATCHING IT form a few hundred miles away and “predicting” it by getting advance warning from sensory machines like dopplar radar is just… maybe… MASSIVELY DIFFERENT from predicting the course of ALL weather on the entire planet over the next 100 years.

    I think maybe you oughta re-think who the “bat shit crazy” comment actually applies too buddy.

  87. You have seen enough dissent to know, that is to conclude, that it cannot be most? See, that’s what I’m talking about. That statement is nuts. Concluding from a lot of dissent that the dissenters must be in the majority is truly a goofy grasp of how logic works FTG. Think about what you are going to say before you say it man!

    “That’s not the premise” blah blah
    But that’s not what you were saying. You said: “the validation for the AGW hypothesis depends on future events [only in the same way that the validation for the erosion prediction does], so it cannot be verified right now nor through evidence [what a crazy statement].”

    “a geologist will not even dare to advise a POLICY based on his speculations.”

    HAHAHAHAHAH!

    http://www.usgs.gov/

  88. Sean
    Did I misread your post on the survey? The %’s that basically agree with my ideas on global warming (that humans are contributing, that the recent warming is unnatural, that it poses a great risk to us) are several times larger than those that agree with what you are saying, right?

  89. MNG… why do you not seem to realize that the complexity of predicting all of climate and the complexity of predicting things like erosion (or even plate shifting and earthquakes) are orders of magnitude different?

    A geologist can look at an area, assess the amount of erosion that has happened in the past, and predict based on what is likely to be a slightly modified linear equation – and come out relatively accurately.

    Geology is also an ancient science, which can easily identify the properties of various materials and *TEST* their reactions to various substances. You really can’t do that with world climate.

    But hey, keep pretending you’ve got a reasonable analog there.

  90. they are HEDGING the uncertainty of their absence.

    To be really nitpicky they are hedging the uncertainty of the *timing* of the certainty of it’s absence.

    Which is why I disagree with this:

    One cannot place value on something that is NOT scarce today, because you need to have it traded in order to know its value.

    If something is not scarce today, but is projected to be scarce tomorrow, it is possible to be valued. And traded. Actually, at some level something which scarcity is inevitable is almost by definition not scarce now.

    the tragedy of the commons can have two manifestations. One is based on an information problem – nobody understands that their sheep are depleting the grass. (but the other more common scenario is that everyone does actually understand what’s happening, and try to take as much advantage as much as possible before everything is gone).

  91. To put it another way, they want to unilaterally prioritize everyone’s outcomes and socialize the costs of doing so.

    Try:

    To put it another way, they want to unilaterally prioritize everyone’s access to breathable air, food free of toxins, and an ozone layer and and socialize the costs of doing so because no one agent (no matter how wealthy) in the system is unilaterally powerful enough to guarantee these basic elements of human survival for himself.

    Wow, when it’s put like that, it sounds less like socialism and more like *common fucking sense*. I mean, yes, we can quibble about what is actually necessary for human existence, but I think we can all get behind the air, food, and skin thing.

  92. You consider:

    54% who believe that the warming is outside of any “naturally occurring” range

    Only 41% who believes it will be catastrophic (vs. 44% who think more moderately and another not insignificant 13% who think it’s really not bad at all)

    40% who believe the entire field of climatology itself is young and not particularly established yet

    and…

    A statistically insignificant 3%, who believe that the media is presenting the whole thing well at all

    And… that is overwhelming support for your position that it’s going to be a horrendous catastrophe which we need to use giant government initiatives to prevent?

  93. Damn tag fail.

  94. Sean
    I’m not equating the difficulty of erosion prediction and climate change predictions, but noting, in response to FTG’s goody idea that it is somehow discredited by the fact that it can only “ulimately” be validated by a future event, that they are based on the same logic and principle (making future predictions based on knowledge of past and current phenomena).

    “And… that is overwhelming support for your position ”

    Like I said, MOST of the relevant experts agree with me.

    I am glad that you recognize the AMS and AGU as relevant experts, here’s their official positions on the subject:

    http://www.ametsoc.org/policy/2007climatechange.html
    http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/policy/climate_change_position.html

  95. MNG,
    You have seen enough dissent to know, that is to conclude, that it cannot be most?

    Yes.

    See, that’s what I’m talking about. That statement is nuts.

    Why? `Depending on where you look, either scientists surveyed agree on an X-percent that AGW is real, or they agree Y-percent. That cannot be – science is not done by democratic voting. Either a phenomenon is real, or it is not. The physics of atmospheric CO2 cannot validate the models that SOME climate scientists have forwarded, nor does the current evidence, that shows a slight decrease in mean temperatures in this decade.

    This means that all scientists involved in this CANNOT agree on the facts since the facts contradict each other – by deduction, it cannot be MOST scientists that agree that AGW is real. The models forwarded have been UPDATED many times, indicating to anybody that KNOWS about modeling a phenomenon that the theory CANNOT be proven (we’re talking about inductive science here).

    Concluding from a lot of dissent that the dissenters must be in the majority is truly a goofy grasp of how logic works FTG. Think about what you are going to say before you say it man!

    I did not say they were in the majority, MNG, only that I was not going to say that MOST are in agreement – they certainly CANNOT, if there is NOT a sole, single THEORY that explains AGW – there are MANY models, none in agreement. The ONLY thing many scientists agree on is that there is Global Warming, which has NOT been disputed (same with “Climate Change”). What’s been disputed is if Global Warming is human in origin.

    But that’s not what you were saying. You said: “the validation for the AGW hypothesis depends on future events [only in the same way that the validation for the erosion prediction does], so it cannot be verified right now nor through evidence [what a crazy statement].”

    Do not even attempt to conflate geology with climate science, MNG – don’t go into that road. Geology is a historical science that has ample visual, historical, chemical and laboratory evidence to support predictions. Climate is, instead, a chaotic system, which cannot be predicted, nor can historical facts give information about future events. The same with Evolution – try asking a biologist if he can PREDICT how animals will look in 100,000 years.

  96. What is certain in this issue is this: this is no final answer on the value of nature. When discussing value one must ask a number of questions – Of value to whom? Of value for what purpose? Valuable in what way? When? Where? Whatever value one concludes will always be relative to the answers to these questions. Each of us individually decide what is of value and not of value to ourselves. To a living organism, it is the only way it can be.

    Essentially, both conclusions on the value of nature are correct – it is of no value and it is valued at $30 trillion dollars a year or what have you. It is also valued in over six billion other ways varying over time with changes in individual experiences.

    If you’re going to discuss the “value of nature”, you must do so with clear reference to the point of view from which such conclusions are made and with clear understanding that your conclusions are relative. As a poet, I consider the value of nature to be priceless or unpriceable, certainly not without value at all. If I viewed nature with an eye to some other sort gain besides its ability to inspire poems, certainly the value I assign to it would be quite different.

    That a human being can look at nature – or themselves and other life – and see but one price tag rather than endless price tags is a pity.

  97. “Like I said, MOST of the relevant experts agree with me.”

    If you’re talking about catastrophic danger, MOST, DON’T agree with you.

    Plus, I think their positions need to be somewhat off-set by their additional admissions that the science isn’t particularly well developed, and the myriad political/economic incentives for scientists to toe the party line, so to speak. Certainly I’ve heard more than enough out of the chicken little crowd about how all the “deniers” are funded by “big Oil”, how about acknowledging that the people supporting massive expansions of government, are paid for by… uhh… government.

    But regardless, your geological predictions argument is still incredibly weak as you are associating the ability to predict as sort of a 1:1 equivalent, which it isn’t.

    And of course I recognize various professional societies as relevant experts – but that doesn’t mean they can’t be wrong, AND it most certainly doesn’t mean that 100% of their members all think the same thing.

    Collectivism works no better applied to professional organizations than it does to religion or race.

    And in any case… the level of danger is A. not apparent, B. slow-moving (again .1% a year), and C. mitigated by contradictory evidence over the last 10 years.

    I think you’ll find that people on the whole are much much much more wrong about this one than they are right about it, and I for one am not willing to fuck up entire economies (causing real, immediate, and entirely predictable harm) for it.

  98. I’m not equating the difficulty of erosion prediction and climate change predictions, but noting, in response to FTG’s goody idea that it is somehow discredited by the fact that it can only “ul[t]imately” be validated by a future event, that they are based on the same logic and principle (making future predictions based on knowledge of past and current phenomena).

    There is nothing “goofy” about what I am arguing – that a climate model passes or fails according to what predictions it can generate. Since the climate itself is a chaotic system, it will not be possible for any model to be validated, and yet people like you want POLICY to be imposed based on the “what ifs”?

    In contrast, geology is a historical science – its predictions are based on physical and chemical properties of soils and rocks, and can predict certain phenomena. It does not go as far as to set policy based on its predictions, for it would enter the realm of crank science – even geological predictions cannot be 100% accurate.

    By the way, the link you provided me is only for the US Geological Survey.

  99. You know though, the funny thing is this will be a moot point when hydrocarbon production begins its inevitable decline within the next decade. Sure, we’ll still be worrying about coal plants, but the biggest hydrocarbon users will be already searching for other sources of energy while the debate rages over doing nothing and caps and taxes. The earth may have provided us with the biggest emissions reducer of all time, the lack of carbon.

  100. I can take or leave the other arguments, but on greenhouse gases: they do have an intrinsic cost. The health impact on everyone who inhales pollution is measurable and a known quantity. So is the damage to property values in areas affected by mass polluters, highways, etc. Forget about global warming – the only reason emissions do not already have a cost represented in the market is that there is a legal moratorium on lawsuits against polluters. Instead we allow the EPA to decide what to do about it, and the government to talk about cap and trade and other taxation schemes.

    The cost is there, the damage is measurable, there’s no reason besides impracticality to not allow the market to deal with it on it’s own. We’re not apparently interested in gigantic back-and-forth class action lawsuits over air and water quality and the commensurate burden on the public due to the court cost. Matching pollution taxes to the quantifiable costs to public health and property value seems to be a fair alternative, especially if revenues are marked for use in programs meant to compensate for the damage.

  101. I suppose you could say that in lieu of humans nature would have value to animals, or to plants, but that’s playing with definitions. You may as well say nature has value to nature, which just becomes recursive.

    What I’m saying is that the Economic definitions that, say, FTG, is using could stand to be played with. Putting aside all of the value judgements of the environmentalists attach to it, they do have a valid point that Economics and other human philosophy is anthropocentric. Other living creatures cannot value, express, defend, or even conceptualize the value the natural environment has to them, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value.

    (ANd I gotta run, so check back later…)

  102. Hi all: Just want to say that this has been one of the more thoughtful and thought-provoking threads I’ve had the pleasure to read in a while. Thank you all for participating.

  103. Sean W. Malone | March 24, 2009, 9:02pm | #

    “Like I said, MOST of the relevant experts agree with me.”

    If you’re talking about catastrophic danger, MOST, DON’T agree with you.

    It depends on what you mean by “catastrophic danger”.

    Virtually all climate scientists believe that climate change will almost certainly be a major problem. Most of those also believe that a catastrophe is reasonably possible. Indeed, I have never heard of a climate scientist who claims something along the lines of “Climate change is a serious problem, but they risk of catastrophe is essentially nil”. I challenge you to find one.

    I would sum up the scientific opinion on the odds of various outcomes as thus:

    Much ado about nothing: 10%

    A mild annoyance: 20%

    Pretty bad but managable: 35%

    A serious problem that causes major
    disruptions and pressures on our economic and social systems: 30%

    A major catastophy that results massive political, economic, and population shifts, and wars over resources, while destroying a large fraction of our natural world: 4.9%

    Mad Maxx vs the Four Horsemen: .1%

    Why the heck are you willing to gamble the fate of our planet to “save” a few bucks a month on your electric bill? Are you insane or just plain evil?

  104. “The health impact on everyone who inhales pollution is measurable and a known quantity.”

    Not to nitpick too much, but it’s really *not* a “known quantity”.

    That said, I actually fundamentally agree with the idea that pollutants need to have a cost… Not to be redundant, but just to be clear, that is *if* they can be shown to cause demonstrable harm.

    CO2 really doesn’t pass that test, but CO in large quantities might, for example.

    But generally speaking, litigation seems pretty easy in many cases – if I pollute a stream and it runs through your property, I’ve damaged your property and am liable. If I spill oil in an ocean, killing fish – all the fisherman in that region (which could be a very very wide range) were clearly harmed. If I pump toxic fumes into the air and the neighborhood kids get cancer from it… I’ve harmed them.

    The thing I don’t particularly like is the idea that government (and honestly… especially the EPA) would set the price. I’m not sure if there is any way around it in some ways – but the most I’d personally be ok with compromising on that issue is having the government establish some range of a certain “pollutant” that can be in the air/water/ground at any time (measured in PPM or whatever else) and remain safe for the public, and then auction off or freely give away credits to people up to that amount which they are THEN allowed to trade with each other at their discretion.

    That would at least allow a free price structure to develop, and so if a car company needed more “pollution credits” than a grocery store for example, the store could sell their surplus off.

    Conceivably, the maximum allowable level of any pollutant in ppm wouldn’t change in a given geographical distribution. So as time went on, and new companies developed they the price of the credits would increase naturally and provide more incentive to not emit any of the pollutants at all. And all accomplished without draconian legislation! Hooray!

  105. MNG | March 24, 2009, 8:43pm | #

    I am glad that you recognize the AMS and AGU as relevant experts, here’s their official positions on the subject:

    http://www.ametsoc.org/policy/2007climatechange.html
    http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/policy/climate_change_position.html

    Here is my favorite one.

    http://www.nationalacademies.org/onpi/06072005.pdf

    Signed by the presidents of the various National and Royal Acadamies of Science of every major nation on Earth.

    But don’t worry, I am sure Sean has a link to some crackpot internet site that clearly will show them up! I wonder what it is like to live in such cognizant dissonance…

    Also, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society’s position:

    http://www.aaas.org/news/press_room/climate_change/mtg_200702/aaas_climate_statement.pdf

    http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_SUPERARTICLE&node_id=1907&use_sec=false&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=73cbaa11-71d9-42d2-94ee-557c24163024

  106. That the economic value of X is unknowable because there are no market transactions to reveal preferences about X is not to say that the economic value of X is zero.

    FTG: Yes, it IS to say that the economic value of X is zero.

    Sorry, but no. The can example isn’t analogous b/c the reason there are few market transactions to protect commons is a public goods/Prisoner’s Dilemma problem. People would be willing to pay if they could be guaranteed that everyone else would pay & that the environmental protection they pay for would be provided.

  107. Oh look, Chad showed up to grace us with his idiocy.

    On the other hand – he did call me evil, so that’s always a fun start, right?

    However, ironically, according to Chad’s own made up breakdown of scientific opinion (in which he suspiciously omitted the fact that we’re talking about problems that are occurring over a 100 year time scale… which no one seems to remember when talking about this)…

    …65% of the scientists either view AGW as not a problem at all, or if they do think it’s a problem, that it isn’t a catastrophic or unmanageable one.

    I wonder if he meant to break it down that way, or if he just can’t do addition.

    Good, good times. Boy Chad’s an amusing troll sometimes.

  108. Oh for the love of Christ no wonder you people are irrelevant. If you don’t have a mature grasp of the idea of science your opinions on scientific matters aren’t useful.

    If you’re interested in not embarrassing yourselves as you promote your crackpot economic theories you can at least go that far. Otherwise it just seems you’re selectively denying empirical facts because they throw wrenches into your agenda.

  109. Well, they assigned a value. Can taxation be far behind?

  110. …65% of the scientists either view AGW as not a problem at all, or if they do think it’s a problem, that it isn’t a catastrophic or unmanageable one.

    Sean, its so funny how you can call someone an idiot while failing at basic reading comprehension in the same paragraph. Your mental gymnastics might astound a four year old, but they make you look like a fool when playing the adults.

    Scientists don’t know what the consequences of climate change will be. Instead, there are a range of possible consquences, ranging from “not a big deal” to the apocalypse. Saying that scientists believe that our current course will only result in a 35% chance of devastating climate change is NOT the same as saying that 35% of scientists believe the change will be devastating and 65% don’t. Instead, essentially 100% believe there is a chance it will be devastating, and a chance it won’t. Why is that hard for you to grasp? We act based on probabilities all the time, in both public policy and our private lives. There is no reason this situation should not be different.

    And yes, we should clearly ignore problems that lie in the distance future. @#$# our grandkids, I wan’t mine.

    Wow, what greed you betray.

  111. “Ah, Gilber Martin. Yeah, the side that has the support of most of the relevant expert scientists in the world is the one that is akin to a faith.”

    MNG, wrong as usual.

    You are incapable of proving anyone is a “relevant expert” on the subject of man-made global warming regardless of what sceince degree they may have.

    There is no such thing as an expert on any subject where the veracity of the claim being made cannot be unequivocally quantified as being 100% accurate by measurement in the physical world.

    And there’s not a single one of the so-called “experts” claiming that were making the earth hotter who can do that.

  112. Sean
    From the numbers you yourself supply the % of experts who think global warming is 1. occurring 2. man made and 3. likely to pose problems for us are much larger than the % who disagree with those statements.

    FTG
    Look, if you don’t see how one certainly cannot DEDUCE (your choise of word fella) that some group is in the minority solely because there is a lot of dissent from that groups view, then I don’t know how I can help you. Imagine perhaps this: I hear a lot of Republican dissent. That hardly demonstrates that they are in the majority or that the group they are dissenting from, the Democrats, are in the minority, now does it? So the simple fact that you hear a lot of dissent on global warming cannot by itself allow you do “know” or “deduce” that. This is your problem, your strange grasp of logic.

    And you and Sean are making the same error: one need not assume that predicting the climate and predicting soil erosion are similarly difficult to see that they are both based on the same philosophical/scientific principle: applying what we now about how something (the climate, erosion) has worked in the past and present to the future by assuming those processes will act in ways very much like they have and do (uniformitarianism).

    Sean, you link to a survey of the AMS and GPU but then decry as “collectivism” the statements from both groups. Dude, those statements represent the views of the invididual members just like your poll did, they vote on those things.

    “By the way, the link you provided me is only for the US Geological Survey.”

    And those guys would never make policy recommendations…

  113. “There is no such thing as an expert on any subject where the veracity of the claim being made cannot be unequivocally quantified as being 100% accurate by measurement in the physical world.”

    Gilbert, you are a true idiot.

    How in the world are climate change claims not able to be demonstrated “the veracity of the claim being made cannot be unequivocally quantified as being 100% accurate by measurement in the physical world?” You mean they can’t find out what the temperature was in the past through “measurement of the physical world?” They can’t find out what carbon dioxide levels were in the past? They can’t correlate the two while controlling for other factors? They can’t then make predictions assuming the processes they have found in the past to extend under the same conditions into the future?

    I really think someone with a little bit of knowledge is far more stupid than one without. FTG, Gilbert, etc., all have some variant that because climate change proponents make claims about the future they are somehow engaging in nonverifiable wacky non-science. But science involves making future predictions (hypotheses) all the time and then seeing if such predictions are carried out by empirical reality. Making such predictions about the future based on assumptions that the natural processes of the past will act much the same way in teh future is pretty basic.

    In short, you have no idea what you are talking about.

  114. “They can’t correlate the two while controlling for other factors?”

    No they can’t – period.

    “In short, you have no idea what you are talking about.”

    I know exactly what I’m talking about and nothing you have said proves the case is otherwise.

  115. Scientific literacy is all I ask. You’ve got the skepticism part down. What you’re lacking is an appreciation of evidence.

  116. Wow… Chad, re-read your own (again MADE UP!) numbers. The majority of scientists in your little scenario thought the problem was manageable at worst.

    Likewise with MNG…

    You seem to continually miss the point. You’re advocating radical policy changes, policy changes which will put considerable strain on world economies, expand the power of a centralized government… probably require the creation of a world government for that matter (at least to deal with climate issues), and will assuredly harm
    billions of people, who will have to pay more for food, energy, housing, clothing and every other good just to satiate your environmental fears.

    Chad talks like I’m suggesting we fuck over our children and their children because I’m “greedy”??!?

    Well guess what jackass, I’d rather live in a world where real, live human being weren’t STARVING TO DEATH!

    Which is precisely what you’re talking about. And the point is – that the MAJORITY of scientists by either the real numbers, or the fake ones Chad made up don’t view the problem as catastrophic – which is the only situation in which your policy recommendations might make any sense.

    For example, if there was a volcano erupting right now, government quickly mobilizing to get all the people in the area out of their homes and someplace safe would make sense.

    But that’s not the case here. And you both know it, because both of you have provided numbers to suggest it. But somehow you both make the leap to assume that just because most scientists believe that its happening and that humans play a role (which by the way is much more honest than saying humans “caused” it, when our contribution even to the dreaded CO2 is minimal compared to the total emitted per year), that means that the scientists all think we’re going to die.

    “moderate but manageable” risk is not something I’m going to support impoverishing billions of people over.

    But you never consider the consequences do you? It’s fine to look at what might happen in the worst case scenario if the earth warms beyond a point where our current ecosystem can adjust – or where it will cause droughts or hurricanes (which again… it’s not causing), or other natural disasters – but you don’t bother to analyze the results of your own policy positions with the same scrutiny.

    It’s rather simple though. If we mandate that everyone in America, buy solar panels to reduce fossil fuel-based power generation, we’ve imposed a cost on every person here – that cost will get made up for by higher prices of goods, and less money with which to buy them – but not only here, it will result in higher prices abroad too because while people were spending money on the solar panels, they weren’t spending it on production, reducing supply. Maybe you yuppy jerks can afford an extra $20 a month at the grocery store, but people in Ghana can’t.

  117. In brief – you want me to use massive government force, based largely on hysteria of the unknown, to “solve” a problem your experts assume will be moderate and manageable, so that our grandkids don’t live in a world that is on average a couple degrees warmer than it is today…

    …and in the process, ignore that the regulations & economic cost of what you’re suggesting will contribute directly to the starvation of billions of people in countries around the world.

  118. “It’s rather simple though. If we mandate that everyone in America, buy solar panels to reduce fossil fuel-based power generation, we’ve imposed a cost on every person here – that cost will get made up for by higher prices of goods, and less money with which to buy them – but not only here, it will result in higher prices abroad too because while people were spending money on the solar panels, they weren’t spending it on production, reducing supply. Maybe you yuppy jerks can afford an extra $20 a month at the grocery store, but people in Ghana can’t.”

    Dear lord. Reason is attempting to appear intellectual with this rubbish. Why shouldn’t the costs of environmental destruction be included when you buy a polluting product? Sure they will be some bias in the life-cycle assessment of products and services but the problem here is funding levels for science education and research and transparency.

    Maybe people in Ghana can’t afford wind turbines. But can they afford to pay for other countries destroying their country?

    http://annansi.com/blog/2007/08/climate-change-threatens-ghanas-economic-future/

    http://uk.oneworld.net/guides/climatechange/impact#Ghana

    Also, while I’m here:

    http://oceanlink.island.net/ONews/ONews7/top_ten.html

  119. Why with the strawman.

    Who is suggesting that we ignore the economic cost of changing policy. All I am saying is that we include the negative economic impact of climate change IN the overall economic analysis.

  120. “And now for the real question – do I think we should bankrupt our future, set up a worldwide environmental gestapo force run by the government, policing everything and sacrifice every bit of sane economics imaginable to forestall the possible risk that our lives might change extremely gradually (.1% a year) over the next 100 years?”

    Why would we need to bankrupt our future to take reasonable precations to reduce the risks of climate change?

    Simply insitutue a gradually increasing carbon tax, and combine that with a reduction in the income or payroll tax.

    Don’t want to make it to intrustive that’s fine, you can have the tax just focus on the major sources, IE gas tax, power plant emmissions etc.

  121. Which is precisely what you’re talking about. And the point is – that the MAJORITY of scientists by either the real numbers, or the fake ones Chad made up don’t view the problem as catastrophic – which is the only situation in which your policy recommendations might make any sense.

    Maybe you are simply dumber than I thought.

    Why is hard for you to understand that anyone with a brain (which includes virtually all scientists) view climate change as a RANGE OF POTENTIAL POSSIBILITIES.

    We don’t view it as “catastrophic”. We view it as potentially catastophic. We also view as likely to be bad, and almost certainly a problem…ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

    Fighting climate change does not require “impoverishing” anyone. It will cost around 2% of GPD. In other words, we would have to wait until 2101 in order to have the same GDP as we otherwise would in 2100. I think we can slow down by one year in order to ensure that we don’t blow the whole system up.

  122. *sigh*

    Yet another useless “discussion” with Chad.

    Thanks buddy… Why don’t you go back and read what I wrote, it was a tautology… but it seems you struggle miserably to follow chains of logic – I was going to go review it for you, but I’m starting to wonder why I should bother.

    Getting you to set up a simple tautology is impossible.

    You view it as a “range of potential possibilities” – Yes. Umm… Duh.

    The majority of those possibilities AREN’T (by your own statements) that bad.

    And that’s not even addressing the stupidity of your underlying premises.

    You make about 90 assumptions that are COMPLETELY unverifiable Chad! Here are a few of the most ridiculous…

    1. 2% of GDP??? Bullshit.
    2. Government programs to combat climate change will work.
    3. Government programs, will make 0 mistakes, waste no money and not misallocate any resources.
    4. Misallocation of resources doesn’t negatively effect world GDP.
    3. The cost of world government to liberty won’t negatively impact anything.
    4. You know what’s going to happen 100 years from now.
    5. Climate science is robust, fully developed (something very few scientists believe), and wholly accurate.
    6. It is possible to make good predictions of the results of an enormously complex system which is not well understood.
    7. It is possible to reduce climate to two or three relevant chemicals.
    8. Increased costs across the board won’t further impoverish people.

    Your very desire to impose costs on other people is based on the catastrophic position. It wouldn’t be worth it if it were a mild, manageable problem – otherwise the market will adapt to it over time. But that’s the point, you’re (MNG, Chad, etc.) suggesting that the market can’t handle these problems. The market will be able to handle anything short of an immediate catastrophe – which is why it’s important what part of the “danger” spectrum you position yourself.

    If you believe (like most scientists) that there will be damage will be somewhere between mild and moderate, then really heavy-handed solutions make less and less sense. Let me try to put this visually…

    Long-Term Danger:

    0__________________Moderate______________OMG!

    Response:

    BURN OIL!_________Buy Hybrid_________Env. CZAR!

    When Scientists are mostly falling into the moderate category (middle range of first spectrum) and you are calling for solutions that are the very far right end of the second spectrum, and then you claim that *you’re* the one’s being “scientific”, there’s obviously a disconnect somewhere…

    Besides that – I think there are plenty of mitigating reasons not to be as scared as many scientists… So the “real” danger is likely much lower imo.

    At any rate, this board was – as Ron Bailey kindly noted – really cool. Then it turned into this. So… have a great day boys.

  123. Actually the market is very poor at handling externalities. Because the costs are born by others, an inefficient amount of the good is used.

    However, something like a revenue netural carbon tax lets us factor in the externalities into the price of carbon and thus results in a more efficient amount of the good being used.

    A important side benefit is that it will increase the returns to labor (because of the deceased tax on it) and so quite likely would improve overall economic growth.

  124. 1. 2% of GDP??? Bullshit.

    Stern report. Also, just plain math. We spend about 10% of GDP on energy, including that which is embedded in everything we buy. A 2% increase relative to GDP would imply that clean energy would cost, on average, 20% more than fossil energy over the next hundred years. That is completely reasonable given current price trends.

    2. Government programs to combat climate change will work.

    It only has to work better than a the complete market failure we have now. It would be darned close to impossible to be worse.

    3. Government programs, will make 0 mistakes, waste no money and not misallocate any resources.

    Wrong. See above. The government only has to beat a massive textbook market failure. A blind monkey could do it.

    4. Misallocation of resources doesn’t negatively effect world GDP.

    We are already misallocating resources due to a market failure.

    3. The cost of world government to liberty won’t negatively impact anything.

    You have an odd concept of liberty, if includes choking on the particulates and mercury fumes from your local coal plant, while they fry your planet. But hey, you are “free” to not pay a few extra bucks a month.

    4. You know what’s going to happen 100 years from now.

    Neither do you…indeed, you clearly know less than me because you ignore data that you don’t like while I base my projections on the best available data. Therefore, using my predictions may not be perfect, but it is better than using yours.

    5. Climate science is robust, fully developed (something very few scientists believe), and wholly accurate.

    Wrong again. It just needs to be better than random chance, which it certainly is.

    6. It is possible to make good predictions of the results of an enormously complex system which is not well understood.

    Same as above.

    7. It is possible to reduce climate to two or three relevant chemicals.

    It’s obviously related to many “chemicals”. We only happen to be changing a few on a scale large enough to matter.

    8. Increased costs across the board won’t further impoverish people.

    I think climate-change induced droughts, floods, hurricanes, failed crops, wars and disease are just a whee bit more likely to impoverish people than a one year’s delay in gpd growth. Actually, orders of magnitude more likely.

  125. When Scientists are mostly falling into the moderate category (middle range of first spectrum) and you are calling for solutions that are the very far right end of the second spectrum, and then you claim that *you’re* the one’s being “scientific”, there’s obviously a disconnect somewhere…

    On a simple linear spectrum like that, most climate scientists are middle-right to right.
    You are just confused by the 3% that are left of center on your chart and are handed big blowhorns by the right-wing media. You aren’t smart enough to realize you are hearing the same half-dozen blowhards over and over.

    I personally have not met a single scientist who does not believe that we should take major action to head off this problem and that could be classified into the left side of your chart. Not one. And I meet a hell of a lot of scientists every day.

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