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« Another rebuttal | Main | Cuttings from Planet Under Pressure »

Nordhaus and the sixteen

The war of words between economist William Nordhaus and the sixteen scientists continues in the New York Review of Books. Cohen, Happer and Lindzen (CHL) seem to have been delegated to speak for the sixteen.

It's all interesting stuff. I was struck by this bit from Nordhaus's response.

The final part of the response of CHL comes back to the economics of climate change and public policy. They make two major points: that the difference between acting now and doing nothing for fifty years is “insignificant economically or climatologically,” and that the policy questions are dominated by major uncertainties.

Is the difference between acting now and waiting fifty years indeed “insignificant economically”? Given the importance attached to this question, I recalculated this figure using the latest published model. When put in 2012 prices, the loss is calculated as $3.5 trillion, and the spreadsheet is available on the Web for those who would like to check the calculations themselves. If, indeed, the climate skeptics think this is an insignificant number, they should not object to spending much smaller sums for slowing climate change starting now.

If your climate models cannot hindcast regional climate and they have not been shown to be able to predict either global or regional climate, what is the point of discussing a cost-benefit analysis based on their output? You might just as well have used a ouija board.

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Reader Comments (19)

The. "loss" numbers probably don't even qualify as a "WAG" ("wild assed guess")

Apr 4, 2012 at 8:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterSkiphil

Ouija board, I like that, how about I throw in a bit of Alchemy too.

It's like arguing over the length of a piece of string.

The point Lindzen et al make - "we just don't know - but we are pretty certain - all your palliative measures are of such utter futility - we'd best not bother at all", especially as the earth enters into a cooling period.

In the end, Nordhaus like so many of the 'economist warmist claque' of which Nicholas Stern is the most notable [loon], falls into a trap which ensnares all the alarmists. That is; modelling any future economic situation, or, second guessing future climate global temperature scenarios is beyond our capabilities - take a look at the current mess the IPCC models are in - we're in a cooling phase all over the planet - which has spiked the thermo-armageddonist's guns ask Jim Hansen. Even making a best guess is futile nonsense - our computer skills just ain't up to the job despite what IT techies might tell you.

Sophistry and BS arguments, he [Nordhaus] should leave that to Mike Hulme.

Apr 4, 2012 at 8:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

May I add that Nordhaus sneering about alleged "barroom brawl" rhetoric from Lindzen, et al is contemptible distraction and smear rhetoric by Nordhaus. All that Lindzen, et al try to do (with enormous restraint considering the vicious attacks they endure) is to point out a variety of ways in which prominent people (both in and out of science) try to demolish any public or scientific standing for dissent. Nordhaus engages in a dubious form of "blame the victim" because they dare to defend themselves.

P.s. I'm not really trying to amass "first posts" on threads, but I may indeed be spending too much time online this week!

Apr 4, 2012 at 8:40 AM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

This is another one of those moments when a lack of expertise in science or economics and lack of time forces you to use a basic heuristic of examining the relative terms, precision and emphasis used and Norhaus comes across as surprisingly flaky to me. Almost like the believers you get here who seem a bit overwrought and not making sense.

Nordhaus comes across as more touchy too when he complains that he sees a barroom brawl tactic from CHL. I rather see Nordhaus more lashing out against invisible words - he claims Paul Ehrlich was included in a list of the attacked but I don't see him there or in the original WSJ piece (though he would clearly deserve it!), maybe he morphed him with the other alarmist economist Paul Krugman?

He claims the original WSJ piece mentioned " temperatures have declined over the last decade" when it actually said:

"The lack of warming for more than a decade—indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections"

Clearly different. Especially so when you can see above CHL mention this fact again in reference to showing the lack of the predictive ability of models rather than any other claim of proof. It's this kind of "misinterpretation" that makes you give up on a person when the best interpretation you can use is that alarmism seems to help you become professionally,smug, self-seringly obtuse, and stupid.

Apr 4, 2012 at 9:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

"CHL begin by agreeing that global temperatures have in fact risen over the last century. So we have cleared at least one of the hurdles raised by climate-change skeptics."

Was never a hurdle raised by climate sceptics in the first place. Merely a strawman.

"They asserted in their original article that temperatures have declined over the last decade."

No they asserted temperatures showed no statistically significant rise for 15 years. A different claim.

"In my article I pointed out that, because the year-to-year movements in temperature are so volatile, declines over a decade contain little information."

So now an economist is arguing with climatologists who understand climate modelling on how to interpret the temperature record against the models? What is the significance of 15 years of hiatus when forcing for that 15 year period has been at unprecedented levels? Norhaus is being simplistic here.

"As a final comment on their discussion, it has a stale quality of people repeating ancient arguments that do not reflect the current state of climate science."

Toss in some ad hominem at the end and then further misdirection.

Apr 4, 2012 at 9:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterWill Nitschke

...or suggest that there will be net benefits of $3.5 trillion.

Apr 4, 2012 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

It is trivial to show that a warmer world is better than a colder one. It should be as trivial to demonstrate that anything man can do to raise the temperature of the earth leads to a better world.

Easy peasy, right? So why do we get guilt and shame instead of plaudits?

Apr 4, 2012 at 1:34 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Climate change is so much of a postmodern science, most of the scientists touching it behave in amateurish ways, and the amateurs have been left to carry the torch of science.

Up is Down. Sometimes I feel we're all living in Davy Jones' Locker.

Apr 4, 2012 at 5:00 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Apr 4, 2012 at 1:34 PM | kim


And it is also 'trivial' to demonstrate that the "solutions" adopted to the cAGW "problem", at costs running into Trillions, just don't work.

And that all the shroud waving "catastrophes" predicted as a result of a trivial warming (ocean acidification, species extinction, increased vector borne disease, huge sea level rises and a few hundred others) are pseudoscientific bunk.

Apr 4, 2012 at 7:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

Professor Nordhaus has clearly bought into the whole CAGW alarmist scenario, and, sadly, also adopted their nasty ad-hom rhetoric:

"In reading the letter from Roger Cohen, William Happer, and Richard Lindzen (CHL), I have the sense of walking into a barroom brawl. They defend the article by sixteen scientists in The Wall Street Journal by firing a fusillade of complaints at everyone in sight ..."

"A sensible policy would pay a premium to avoid the roulette wheel in a Climate Casino."

"...we must implement policies such as raising the market price of carbon to provide incentives to households to alter their consumption so that they will have a low- carbon diet; we must also raise carbon prices to send a signal to firms like ExxonMobil that their future lies in research, development, and production of low-carbon fuels..."


Apr 4, 2012 at 8:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter D. Tillman

Many years ago I attempted a 100-level economics paper as a part-time student. Along with a majority of my year group I exited the course before the end of the university year due to total frustration and confusion: The course leader and HOD was a free-marketeer who spent much of his year advising entrepreneurial groups of business leaders. His lectures were covered in his absence by three rotating lecturers, the first a convinced and preaching Marxist, the second an avid follower of Max Weber and his Sociological theories, the third a recent arrival from the Indian sub-continent whose English was so heavily accented and whose speaking voice was so quiet that no-one in either lecture theatre or tutorial rooms could understand or hear him. The third also seemed to be the nicest person of the four, but his good qualities could not overcome his utter inability to communicate.
Economists have never regained my regard since that experience; most (to me) appear to believe that their particular academic specialisation equips them to speak authoritatively for all of the arts and sciences, but Nordhaus appears to fail at the first hurdle of actually understanding the statements that he is critical of. Bluster does not cut it at all.

Apr 4, 2012 at 10:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

Professor Nordhaus is certainly an intelligent man. However, he resorts to rhetoric in his attempt at rebuttal. This comes across as being hopelessly outclassed by those who he is trying to debate.

Apr 4, 2012 at 11:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterWill Nitschke

I liked the idea suggested elsewhere that we could spend trillions flattening our economies implementing mitigation schemes which might not have the desired effect. Then IF the bad things happened, the economic strength to accommodate them would not be there.

One might suppose that the ill effects of warming, if there are any, would be regional, possibly quite local, and the expense of dealing with them far less in total globally than the cost of mitigation.

It seems insane to commit to an extremely expensive program which is signally unlikely to be effective to prevent an array of unknown problems.

It is our governments' assumptions that our scientific establishment understands these problems that allows them to speak so lightly of "risk." How the hell can you appraise a risk if you don't know what could happen?


Apr 5, 2012 at 2:58 AM | Registered Commenterjferguson

I should add that obviously some of the effects can be foreseen.

Apr 5, 2012 at 11:38 AM | Registered Commenterjferguson

Professor Nordhaus may well be an intelligent person but as previously mentioned, he comes across as a flake who has embraced the DAGW style of debate where in factual arguments are countered by rhetorical hand waving.

Apr 5, 2012 at 5:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeff Norman

What's disappointing is that Prof. Nordhaus used to be gouped in a properly defined "skeptic" camp and initially was quite negative in his assessment of Stern's "review". See Science 13July 2007 - where he calls Stern's view of discounting "extreme." Now he seems to have accepted that there is a positive probablity of "catastrophic" climate events happening due to warming and thus has joined in the alarm.

Apr 5, 2012 at 5:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterPBalash

helpful thanks

Apr 10, 2012 at 7:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterCelebrities Encyclopedia

Professor William Nordhaus (hereafter WN) is quoted as saying:

When put in 2012 prices, the loss is calculated as $3.5 trillion, …. If, indeed, the climate skeptics think this is an insignificant number, they should not object to spending much smaller sums for slowing climate change starting now.

I am surprised that WN says the $3.5 trillion is a significant number, given that it is cumulative to 2050 for the whole world. I am also surprised that WN says skeptics “should not object to spending much smaller sums for slowing climate change starting now.” I calculate the costs to achieve the $3.5 trillion reduction in climate damages would be around nine times greater than the estimated $3.5 trillion saving. Here is how I did my calculations.

I converted the estimated $3.5 trillion world damages avoided to the Australian proportion on the basis of Australia’s share of world GDP, i.e. 1.17%. So Australia’s share of damages avoided is 1.17% x $3.5 trillion = $41 billion. That is the cumulative damages avoided by Australia to 2050. It assumes an optimum CO2 price and assumes the whole world implements the CO2 price in unison.

The Australian Treasury estimated the loss of GDP that our legislated CO2 tax and ETS will cause. [However, it seems they may have underestimated because they, apparently, have not estimated the compliance cost, but that is another story]. The cumulative loss of GDP to 2050 is $1,345 billion (undiscounted), or $390 billion discounted at 4.34%, which I believe is the discount rate that is the default in RICE 2012 and gives the value of $3.5 trillion quoted by WN.

If my calculations are correct, the benefit, to Australia, of the optimum CO2 tax rate (if the world implements it in unison) would be $41 billion and the cost in reduced GDP would be $390 billion. Therefore, the benefit to cost ratio is 0.11. [benefit/cost should be greater than 1 for the policy to be justified] .

Therefore, I do not understand WN’s statement that “[skeptics] should not object to spending much smaller sums for slowing climate change starting now.” My calculations suggest we would spend nine times greater sums, not smaller sums, to achieve the benefits estimated by WN.

May 4, 2012 at 8:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Lang

I should add a point of clarification to my comment above:

I expect WN would say most of the damages occur beyond 2050 and I have not included these. However, the damage estimates seem to be exaggerated, and may not make proper allowance for adaption. Projecting damages out to 2590, as WN does, and based on a small number of studies that are likely to over estimate the damages, is not a sound basis for policies that will seriously damage our economy now and forever.

References for previous post:

[1] Treasury (2011): (Chart 5:13)

[2] Nordhaus Yale-RICE Model (2010):

May 4, 2012 at 9:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Lang

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