Nov 4, 2009

SuperFreakonomics and Climate Change

This article points to 2 important points in the book SuperFreakonomics(follow up to the book Freakonomics) by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner that climate change gurus should consider although the majority of the book, "manage(s) to downplay the global warming threat, compare climate change believers to religious fanatics, and accept at face value the assertion by some pointy-headed geeks that they can save the world on the cheap."

OK, enough. The real point here is get beyond the bad in SuperFreakonomics and focus on two messages that deserve greater discussion in the world of climate wonkery.

First, Levitt and Dubner do what economists do best, and that’s note that emissions from burning fossil fuels are a negative externality—fancy economist speak for the fact that we don’t really pay the full cost of relying on coal, oil, and gas. Power plants and their customers around the world generally don’t pay anything now to deal with the environmental impact of CO2 emissions and other bad stuff—heavy metals in the emissions and ash, health effects of particulate pollution, etc.

And it’s an open question whether an international carbon-cap system based on trading credits and buying offsets can genuinely cut carbon emissions enough to reduce global warming that’s already predicted to happen. At the end of the day, no matter what is decided at Copenhagen, it’s still in too many people’s economic interests to keep burning fossil fuels. It’s also right for Levitt and Dubner to note that cutting carbon emissions won’t address methane from livestock or nitrous oxide from fertilizer.

Second, and just as significant, Levitt and Dubner are doing a real service by talking about geoengineering and stressing that technology and innovation are going to be a part of saving our asses—it won’t be done through complex cap-and-trade schemes alone. As fancical and unproven as the ideas proffered by Myrhvold and company are, eggheads everywhere should be encouraged to think about them and figure out ways to execute them. We might just need some wacky tech solutions to fend off the worst effects of global warming while we transition the global economy toward clean, renewable energy.

So, read the book. Take the Steves’ dismissive tone with a grain of salt, but think hard about how we insert geoengineering into the climate discussion, and heed their warning about the limits of public policy to steer people away from the old ways of doing things.

from 11-3-09
article by Russ Walker

We've always felt one of the largest untabulated "negative externalities" of sourcing the majority of our petrol from the middle east is the cost for the USA and NATO troops forced to police the governments and shipping lanes to keep the oil flowing. Should not some of the cost of both Iraq wars be figured into what the price at the pump is. Fraid your elected officials of either party will not touch that one and as long as you can go to your neighborhood pump and fill up you probably do not think of it either?

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