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Bridging the divides

Filed under: — gavin @ 2 August 2008

We often discuss the issues that arise in doing interdisciplinary work in climate science, and Liz Moyer and I have a commentary on that just out in Nature Reports Climate Change. Normally I don’t mention these kinds of pieces on the blog, but in this case the editors commissioned a nice cartoon (from Mark Roberts) illustrating our point. I liked the cartoon a lot, and so it deserves as wide an audience as possible.

A bit of context is probably useful. The three main protagonists are representative of the somewhat different foci of paleo-climatologists, climate modellers and economists. Very broadly speaking, paleo-climate science is built around the analysis of single location time series (often from holes that are drilled). Climate modellers spend a lot of time trying to see what is coming up in all its complexity, while economists tend to eschew complexity and look for insight in highly idealised situations. But in order to increase the credibility of models, they have to do well at simulating past climates and what might happen in the future is certainly informed by what has happened in the past. And in order to better understand the impacts of climate change and various proposed policies, economists will need to embrace the complexity of human-climate interactions while modellers need to better understand what aspects of climate really do make a difference. None of these things will happen if we continue to all look in different directions, and more problematically, fail to support and reward those scientists who want to bridge the divides. Sea monsters notwithstanding.

270 Responses to “Bridging the divides”

  1. 51
    Rod B says:

    Lynn (43) said, “…humans are not nearly as rational (maximizing gain, minimizing loss) as economists make them out to be…”

    A recent article said this is exactly why the high-powered market/trading economic computer models usually/always miss the occasional big quick swings in the market. I think the “rational people” assumption works pretty well most of the time, when all is relatively smooth. When something like the herd mentality sets in with rumors or even accurate information spreads to fast through the landscape, people start looking more at what other people are doing and less at what price, earnings, development, etc. are doing. The models can’t handle it.

    btw, if I recall, the author was in the financial industry but was trained as a physicist and in computer science — scientific modeling.

  2. 52
    CL says:

    John Reisman, re your systems schema, am I correct in thinking that the totality of the global system achieved the relative stability and equilibrium of the Holocene as a product of all the sub-systems, and their sub-systems, presumably right down to the small scale of local microclimates ?

    Ecology doesn’t seem to get mentioned very often. But, as I understand it, highly complex ecosystems with maximum species diversity, have been demonstrated to have greater resilience to environmental perturbations. The maximum diversity includes all those organisms which humans generally regard as ‘bad’, pests, diseases, fungi, viruses, and so forth.

    Almost all agriculture and artificial plantation forestry replaces complex natural systems with monoculture (not to mention tarmac and concrete). I’m curious to know whether this change to the surface of the planet is significant re climate change ?

    Does it follow, (purely theoretically, disregarding the contemporary reality), that if we wished to design a planet which maintained a stable climate, we’d want to keep all natural ecosystems intact and in their natural condition ? Or, could we replace, say, 50%, without any noticeable effect upon albedo, the passage of sun’s energy through the systems, balance of atmospheric gases, etc ?

  3. 53
    Hank Roberts says:

    The good news: you only need to convince one percent of the people to change what they’re doing to greatly change how the economy behaves:

    The bad news is the same:
    [I]n 2006, the shares of the nation’s income flowing to the top 1 percent and top 0.1 percent of households were higher than in any year since 1928…”

  4. 54
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Jevons Paradox

    The current whaling ships are 1000 percent more efficient than Captain Ahab’s sailing ship, but they’re sure not taking 1000 percent as many whales these days.

    And the current logging operations are easily a thousand percent more efficient than Paul Bunyan and ox Babe, but the trees coming out of the forest are puny little toothpicks, nowhere near the quality of wood as before, and you hardly ever see nice big cherry, or chestnut, or elm logs come to the sawmills.

    Is there something else going on?

    reCaptcha: “bounded stand”

  5. 55

    #52 CL

    Re. equilibrium of the holocene I would add supra (parent) influences as well to avoid gross oversimplification. We mustn’t neglect the Milankovitch cycles.

    As I had written in the original paper “What happens at the macro-level effects the micro-level and vice versa, with resonance’s equivalent to the relevance of the individual event.”

    It also depends on which equilibrium one is speaking of? The bio systems? Or the climate systems? Or the combined economy of the systems in relation to the influences (parent, sub).

    So the general premise is that all sub-systems contribute to the dynamic equilibrium (i.e. relative stability) along with co and parent influences.

    As to our having played with the natural systems and their inherent relative stability, we really have no idea how good or bad the effects will be; but I think it is generally well understood that the impacts seem to be weighted to the negative in their impact on biological subsystems and the parents climate system. As is well known now, the genesis system (modern humankind) has turned out to be the origins of the major perturbation(s) of this and coming centuries.

    This is not indifferent to what occurs after a psycho genesis event pertaining to an individual human. Ramifications are attached to the complexities of multiple system influences such as perspective, bias, in (parent, co, sub) and relative health. I use the Bowen scale of differentiation to parse the basic and functional coping mechanisms to determine the relative health of the individual in relation to the immediate societal system. In the aggregate human system, you would then weigh the close society to co-societal systems to then weigh relative health on a larger scale.

    Example: It may be acceptable to murder or rape in certain cultural perspectives but the degree of un-health imposed on the sub system (victim) is obvious. So health in a system needs to examine resonance in parent, co and sub systems and match the anxiety stress reduction rules in relation to parent, co. sub.

    So, same rules apply in ecology. The ramifications resonate upward and downward from the genesis point. This is why the answers we seek are difficult to achieve unless we consider the entire economy of inter-dynamic system interactions.

    It may not follow that we need to keep all existing systems intact to maintain survivability, but interference certainly is playing with fire because we know not what evil this way comes. The overall system seems to be very resilient and capable of recovery as is evidenced in the paleo record of mass extinctions and recovery. Each iteration of course producing new species manifestations, though all fall into general categories of type.

    We just don’t know how many systems we can mess with before the human system begins to be severely affected. We also don’t know if we have already gone too far. It’s a matter of perspective. The system did well without humans. The system will do well in the future again if we manage to wipe ourselves out. That stands to reason based on what we know from observations.

    If we want to weigh that with albedo or similar system dynamic perturbations, one of the best examples of poor land use management was the dust bowl days. So if we desire to continue living here with fewer dangerous perturbations, it stands to reason that we should not push the system to far.

    Also remember that the holocene is merely the result of a standard interglacial period. It will likely become known as one of the two shortest periods of history, The anthropocene will hopefully be much shorter. The question remains as to whether we will be here after it is over.

    If we don’t make it, it remains to be seen (or even known by other sentient beings) whether or not there will be another humankind (type) to try to figure out what happened 65 million years in the past, in ‘our current’ time period? I remain hopeful that the human race will survive the anthropocene and return to a healthier equilibrium with humans as one of the subsystems, but that is also just guessing. We are far from batting a 1000 on getting a handle on this one.

  6. 56
    pete best says:

    Re #38. Well I am not sure exactly but there was a few articles about it on the New Scientist website recently, about how politics are born and not made so much.

    Last post about it anyway.

  7. 57
    JohnLopresti says:

    There is something similar between your drawing and the Dardanelles. I am glad to see the economist at work, precisely the sort of person to whom practical politicians listen. For less abstruse cartoons with similar intent, see the current unionOfConcernedScientists finalists at

  8. 58
    CL says:

    Thank you for the stimulating reply, John Reisman. I will have to read more on your site again to try and grasp what you are saying.

    I have an image in my mind, of a vast forest, as an example of a system. A small population of slash and burn farmers can easily be accommodated without noticeable impact, but as numbers increase, the tipping point is reached where there is no more forest, just a few scattered trees, and burned land which doesn’t regain fertility. In effect, the system collapses because carrying capacity is exceeded.
    That’s easy enough to understand (Tragedy of the commons, etc.)

    There’s also the rivet popping theory, that we can lose species, like rivets on a plane, until suddenly the tipping point is reached and the plane falls apart. That’s also easy enough to understand.

    These are rather mechanistic metaphors applied to something loosely called nature, perhaps what you would call bio-systems and climate-systems and geo-logical systems all combined. There are so many different ways of conceiving of our planet and life. Like Aldo Leopold said ‘First rule of tinkering, don’t throw anything away’. We’re throwing away what we had, before we have time to understand what we had.

    When you talk about the dust bowl, and recovery, I believe that one of the curious aspects of ecological regeneration (colonisation) is that it is impossible to predict what the succession will be and how it will turn out. You could colonise a barren rocky island, wipe it clean, repeat, and every time get a different outcome. If that’s correct, two thoughts come to my mind. Firstly, it makes a nonsense of ‘stewardship’, and secondly, if the total system has, as it were, homeostatic feedback systems which strive toward equilibrium of the whole, then, the natural reconstitution of, say, a dust bowl, might have it’s own wisdom, so to speak, and human intervention by conservationists, such as tree planting, might actually make matters worse ? Just speculation, of course..but thanks again for post. I find it most interesting.

  9. 59
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, invited 2 months ago in the IPCC thread, never answered except by someone who claimed to know of many examples but they were all too horrible to describe:

    Name me one* instance where society, forewarned of a developing problem, made an effort that was premature, let alone “ruinous” to the generation that spent the money and time protecting subsequent generations.

    How do you feel about chlorofluorocarbons?
    *Besides the steam-powered horse-poop street-cleaner, which was hypothetical at best.)

    reCaptcha: “at Lafontaine”

    (Aesop’s Fables – Fables of Jean De La Fontaine?!)

  10. 60
    Jess says:

    @Rod B: I am not so sure that you can’t have political freedom without economic freedom — I could almost draw an inverse relation between the two, as I could name a bunch of societies in Europe, perhaps, that are far less economically “free” than the US but that are by most measures more democratic, certainly. Obviously that would be sort of silly, given the exigencies of different countries’ histories.

    Also, I am thinking of a couple of things. Demand is created — there’s no “natural” desire to drive an SUV. If demand wasn’t ever created than there would be no advertising.

    That says to me that the whole trap we fall into is thinking that capitalism is anything but a cultural construct. That is, there really isn’t any reason for me to want to buy SUVs, or to value money as a medium of exchange. There are lots of societies that existed which were “gift economies” so that shows there are other ways to value things. And there probably isn’t any intrinsic reason you couldn’t set up a modern society that way– it would just require major rethinking of the way we look at things. Not in the cards in the near future, I know.

    This relates to climate science because economists too often seem to discount externalized costs. Like, if I live on an island with a limited number of trees, it actually makes perfect economic sense for me to cut them all down. It destroys the local ecology, however, and with it the local civilization. Economists seem to have a touching faith that technology will save you. It won’t, not always. Usually the cases of technology seeming to save us are just cases where we’ve managed to externalize the costs further.

    Let me give an example: when metal tools were invented it seems like that’s a huge advantage, and it is. But the inputs required to make them are far greater than for stone tools — you have to mine the metal and smelt it, and the number of steps to make them increases by a factor of two at least. The metal tools allowed for more efficient cultivation, but then you ended up having a bigger population that needed more land and the feedback loop goes on, until you run out of arable land. One reason Iraq is a desert is because the place was farmed intensively for 10,000 years. The capacity of the soil isn’t infinite.

    Or take oil. That allowed for cheap transportation and when we ran out of oil in the US we were able to find it further afield, but all you did was put off the problem of supply until later.

    Market systems are self-reinforcing in this respect. In market systems there just isn’t any incentive, and in fact a strong disincentive, to think ahead very far.

    Also, economists tend not to realize that the “market” a lot of the time is operating in a whole framework that can reinforce patterns of behavior even if it might be irrational. That’s why discriminating against a certain class of people is actually a fantastic idea if I want to cut labor costs — if I can pay women less, then I can keep my costs down across the board by threatening anyone else with the prospect I will hire a woman (and the great thing is that it further depresses wages for women). That’s why employers have fought anti-discrimination laws tooth and nail.

    The same applies to the environment and global warming. We have a whole edifice built on cheap fuel and we will have to rethink it some. This doesn’t mean living in a cave but it might mean giving up the SUV.

    We’ve radically rethought things before. We don’t have slaves in the US anymore, and we are able to recognize that poisoning the whole water and air supply is probably not the best idea.

    It will require, however, a huge cultural shift. Those can happen quickly if we all sort of decide we want it.

    I mean, after all, would it really kill anyone to pay $0.75 for an apple grown in New York state as opposed to the same one shipped from Chile or New Zealand for almost the same price? That’s what I am talking about.

  11. 61
    Raven says:

    A recent editorial in the NYT referenced the work of an economist called Weitzman who apparently believes that there is 5% chance that CO2 will cause a rise of 10degC or more. His paper goes on to suggest that there is 1% chance of a 20 degC rise.

    Well, I took a quick look at the paleo-history of the earth and it seems to show that even when CO2 concentrations of 10-20 times what we have today the temperature was no more than 10 degC higher than it is today.

    The paleo-record makes it pretty obvious to me that assigning a 1% chance to a 20 degC rise is a scientific absurdity yet this guy is quoted as an authority by the NYT.

    So my question is: why don’t reasonable people who believe that CO2 requires agressive action speak out against such absurd alarmism? I can’t believe it actually helps your case. If anything it probably hurts it.

  12. 62

    Edward Greisch writes:

    Our CORRECT species name is Pan Troglodites, the upright walking ape.

    Pan troglodytes is the greater chimpanzee of central and west Africa. The genus name comes from the Greek God of nature and the species name from the mistaken 18th-century assumption that chimpanzees lived in caves.

  13. 63
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Raven, Raven, Raven, there you go again oversimplifying a complex system. The paleoclimatic record is a guide, but only a rough one. In the times when CO2 was higher, the Sun was much dimmer. Science means going with what the data allow you to say. It also means looking at the entire picture.

  14. 64
    Rod B says:

    Jess, I appreciate your post (60), agree with some and tangentially disagree with some.

    What is the political freedom of people who have no economic freedom? What specific freedoms can they exercise and what is their practical effect and influence? Vote, e.g? Vote for whom? The gov’t leaders who control the economy, or the guy who has nothing? Who gives the outsider guy the financing to even campaign? My contention remains the same: no political freedom without economic freedom. But if you really mean that gov’t needs to put rules, guidelines and some restrictions on private economic activity, which I contend is easy to do without undue restriction of economic freedom, I agree. (And gov’t can due a lot before getting to “undue”.) There can even be critical situations where heavy restrictions and control is necessary, similar to declaring martial law or suspending habeas corpus. I have no problem with that as long as it is Constitutional and temporary.

    It’s hard to wave away demand just because it’s “unnatural.” The only natural demand is eating, breathing, excreting, and procreating. People develop other demands because there is some inherent desire, and someone else just reminds them of it or brings it into the conscious. If you believe Madison Avenue’s own hubris, go into business producing something nobody wants, and spend a jillion dollars creating the demand. The call your bankruptcy lawyer. Then go to a “gift economy” and show them, with no fancy ads, a very cheap wagon/cart/tractor and what it can do. Then get out of the way or get trampled. (Caveat: I’m not sure I know exactly what “gift economies” are.)

    I agree capitalism is a cultural construct, as is most everything else. Am I missing a point?

    “…metal tools allowed for more efficient cultivation, but then you ended up having a bigger population that needed more land and the feedback loop goes on, until you run out of arable land…”

    Are you saying humans should have stayed with stone?

    Your comments on externalization of economic costs is the gist of concern, and where a lot of the climate-economic discourse congregates. I agree that accounting for the external cultural costs of production is appropriate and would go a long way to accomplishing long-term cultural ends. But this should be (has to be IMO) effected through gov’t regulation and rules described above. In practice, private enterprise and capitalists do, as you say, mostly focus on the short-term. (There are exceptions — enterprises that invest looking for 50-year returns, e.g. — but we can’t rely on that exception for a general process. And recently short-term has been defined as three months, long-term as six months!) They also will not — ever — account for externalized costs until the legal accounting practices and rules, overseen by gov’t, requires them to do that. That’s how it would get done (this applies equally to the also short-sighted economists.) Not by changing the economic framework (which by itself would not change the inclinations of capitalists anyway) or by throwing mud pies at the tycoons and calling them bad names.

    The above is also how society fixes all of the other economic inadequacies you mention.

    As an orthogonal aside you can’t put the cause of historical discriminating against women (and blacks for that matter) solely on cheap costs and economic control. A major portion is bare bones personal prejudice and bias.

  15. 65
    kevin says:

    @ Raven:
    Where did you get that paleo-history graph?

  16. 66
    kevin says:

    @ Raven
    I just took a look through that Martin Weitzman paper, and a quick browse back through the paleoclimate chapter of AR4, and fwiw here’s what I think: Weitzman makes some simplifying assumptions and ballpark estimates that seem suspect to me. Now, he is talking about the impact on temperature of 200 more years of emissions, so it’s not like he’s claiming a 1% chance of 20 degree change for, say, a doubling of CO2 over present levels–it looks more like he’s talking about a quadrupling at minimum. But, my impression is that his 1% number is not mathematically rigorous. That would be, what, less than three standard deviations out if the probability distribution was normal (which it’s not, but just as a point of reference)? Yeah, that seems exaggerated to me.

    As for your argument that what he’s talking about is “a scientific absurdity” from a quick glance at a paleoclimate graph–I don’t trust your graph. In fact I think it is misleading. It has no error bars or other indication of uncertainty. Looking at AR4, there seems to be substantial uncertainty about both temperature and CO2 levels millions of years ago. Also, on your graph there is an apparent ceiling on temperature–I don’t know enough to say that this is wrong, but it doesn’t look right, either. Are there any paleo folks who can comment, or maybe some of our knowledgeable amateurs?

    So, in short, Weitzman’s estimate of doesn’t look great to me, but at least he shows his work. Can you tell us where you get that graph?

  17. 67
    Hank Roberts says:

    Raven, you’re just attacking what you don’t understand by pointing to a picture. One you don’t understand.

    Try analogy. What’s worrisome is rate of change.
    Take the curve at 20 mph, you stay in your lane.
    Take the curve at 40 mph, you’re crossing the paint strip.
    Take the curve at 60 mph, you’re in the weeds.

  18. 68
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Neil Pelkey doesn’t say why the belief that we’re past the “peak” of oil production is part of a larger nuttiness. I know that he doesn’t know how much oil the large producers have, so I’d like to hear why exactly he thinks it nutty, and not simply wrong, that we may have passed the peak. It certainly looks like a wall around 27.5 mbpd. The Saudi promised increase isn’t in high quality stuff. And nobody else is stepping up to the plate.

    Pelkey’s (and our) ignorance of oil inventories is part of a larger issue here. We don’t know what the Saudi’s know about their inventories. As a result, we’re in the midst of a terrible run-up in oil prices that may simply be a speculative bubble or it may be a reasonable effort to lock in a continuous supply of oil. We don’t know. And because of that ignorance the belief in “rational” decisions that are the core of free-market economics is a fairy tale. At the current price, energy consumes over 5% of the world’s economy. Conceivably it could (and recently has) gone higher. When things were flush, energy costs were less than 1% of the world’s economy. How does anyone construct a rational energy plan in the face of a spread in costs like that?

  19. 69
    a.c. says:

    re: #41, #50, etc.

    Thx for the help. It’s amazing how much truly useful information is available on this “Internet” thing.

  20. 70
    Hank Roberts says:


    Full text of Weitzman’s paper, and references, available (free membership required in Social Science Research Network):

    Krugman on Weitzman:

    “… Martin Weitzman, a Harvard economist who has been driving much of the recent high-level debate, offers some sobering numbers. Surveying a wide range of climate models, he argues that, over all, they suggest about a 5 percent chance that world temperatures will eventually rise by more than 10 degrees Celsius (that is, world temperatures will rise by 18 degrees Fahrenheit). … Now for the bad news: sheer irresponsibility may be a winning political strategy.”

    Annan, on his conversations with Weitzman over a draft Weitzman circulated earlier:
    more recently:



    Eli, on Weitzman’s earlier review of Stern:

  21. 71
    Raven says:

    According to Jim Hansen:
    “The source of nuclear energy at the sun’s core is essentially continuous, in fact increasing at a rate of about 1% in 100 million years” (source)

    That puts the sun at no more than 6% weaker than today which cannot explain why a 20 degC rise would be possible to today if it has never happened in the past.

    The source of the temperature series is here. The AR4 does not seem to provide any estimates of past surface temperature over the 600 my time scale. Even if you put wide error bars on the temperature estimate you cannot reasonably claim that a 20 degC rise is a plausible outcome given the past data.

  22. 72
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rave, try this again.

    Quoting from above:

    “they suggest about a 5 percent chance that world temperatures will eventually rise by more than 10 degrees Celsius (that is, world temperatures will rise by 18 degrees Fahrenheit) …”


    You cannot reasonably claim that anyone suggested a 20degC rise, except you, because you misread the paper.

  23. 73
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Raven, the point is that paleoclimate is only a guide. CO2 levels have not been this high in probably at least a million years. We simply don’t have enough data to absolutely preclude a sensitivity that high–it’s unlikely, but the tail is a lot thicker on the positive side than the negative.

  24. 74
    kevin says:

    Raven, did you read the links Hank provided? (Or my comment, for that matter?)The answer to “why don’t reasonable people…speak out…” is: they do. Your premise is flawed. They do so in a reasonable way, so maybe that’s why you’re not detecting it. What do you want?

    “Fine, then I denounce *and* reject [Weitzman]”

  25. 75
    Raven says:

    #73 Ray Ladbury Says:
    “We simply don’t have enough data to absolutely preclude a sensitivity that high–it’s unlikely, but the tail is a lot thicker on the positive side than the negative.”

    The issue is the 1% probability assigned to the outcome. A probability which Weitzman claims is “roughly ten thousand times larger than the probability of a large asteroid impact”.

    My argument is the true probability of that kind of outcome is vanishingly small when one looks at the temperature/CO2 history of the planet and that there is something obviously wrong with Weitzman methods.

    That said, it appears that at least James Annan has critiqued Weitzman’s probability estimates which is what I was looking for.

    Hank – read Weitzman’s paper – I have not misquoted anything. I also think the 5% probability for 10 degC rise is also a scientific absurdity but that is harder to demonstrate by simply looking a record of historical temps and CO2.

  26. 76
    David B. Benson says:

    Ray Ladbury (73) — In one sense modern climate began about 5.3 million years ago, at the beginning of the Pliocene:

    I pick this date because this was the end of the

    which removed a substantial portion of the ocean’s salts. (This changed the chemistry, but I don’t know enough to further comment on that aspect.) Many suspect it was not fully modern until the closure of the Isthmus of Panama about 3.5 million years ago:

    which might possibly be taken as the beginning of the ‘ice ages’, although the regular 41,000 year rhythm did not begin until about 2.7 million years ago.

    While I didn’t find a reference, I doubt that at any time since the Miocene/Pliocene transition has CO2 been so high as now.

  27. 77
    Hank Roberts says:

    See here (Bryan Lawrence’s recommendation)
    I know that some of my readers fall into the camp of “can’t quite believe this climate stuff” but “don’t believe the nutters either”.

    So for you: two videos and something to provoke some thinking, most of which agrees with my thinking too, but I haven’t the eloquence or the strength to follow through to write things like that myself …

  28. 78
    David B. Benson says:

    Re my previous: It seems nobody is very certain about CO2 in the distant past

    but this paper

    suggests that CO2 concentrations were about 360–400 ppm during the mid-Pliocene while this paper

    states that concentrations are similar to those of the early Pliocene.

    So not this high for ver 3 million years is a more accurate statement.

  29. 79
    Hank Roberts says:

    Does anyone model this kind of thing? It’d be a combination climate/econometric case:

    Last updated July 23, 2008 9:29 p.m. PT
    Group proposes climate-saving strategy
    Washington part of coalition that suggests emissions cap


    Tired of a lack of leadership at the national level, Western leaders are taking charge on curbing climate change by proposing a plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

    The Western Climate Initiative — a coalition of seven states, including Washington and four Canadian provinces — on Wednesday released a draft strategy to “cap and trade” releases of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

    “It’s a proud day. No states have ever done this before,” said Janice Adair, the initiative’s chairwoman and special assistant to the director of the Washington Ecology Department. “It’s a huge, huge deal that we got this done.”

    reCaptcha: cheers Mercy

  30. 80
    Jess says:

    I’m not saying that we should have stayed with stone tools, just that when you have the ability to more efficiently exploit a resource, that doesn’t always mean you use it wisely. I mean, cars are certainly more efficient now than 30 years ago but we are still using more oil. We have technologies that allow us to get more oil, and faster, but all that does is move the problem of supply out a year or two.

    There’s a lot of technology that requires such huge inputs that it is difficult to see how any of it can be sustained long term. Take cell phones. They use a rare element, tantalum, that has properties that no other element has. I suppose you could synthesize something, but that would be even more effort and energy-intensive. There is a very limited amount of tantalum on earth. At the rate we are going through it 100 years from now the most advanced computing device may well be about 50 years old.

    The damage to the ecosystem we do in the process is pretty dire, as well, and there’s a real possibility we could render the planet less habitable, with the worst case of a few people living near the poles while civilization collapses. Economists never seem to consider this stuff — I’d say it isn’t even a remote possibility anymore, but more like a 10-20% probability unless we all do something.

    As to the freedom question, gift economies are usually small-scale and in societies where the accumulation of wealth is measured by how much you give to other people. That’s why many native cultures had such a tough time understanding the Puritans. (Read “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”).

    There’s a case to be made that the concept could be scaled up. But that would require a pretty large cultural shift.

    Also, don’t underestimate Madison Avenue. There was no demand for iPods until Apple ran the ads. You don’t need them, really, and lots of other similar technologies existed already. There’s a ton of stuff we all buy every day that we could well do without because advertising works and works brilliantly. We have an entire culture in the US that is predicated on wanting more and even going into debt to make that happen. (That last is relatively recent). I noticed the difference with my wife, who says “You Americans live to work, we (Filipinos) work to live.”

    As to the freedom question let me put it another way. Imagine if nobody had to worry about their jobs or incomes. Imagine further that those things couldn’t be taken away. Imagine if (as Kim Stanley Robinson did) that you were always entitled to the product of your labor. Political activity is much easier to do when those worries are not present. (It’s one reason that Europeans, I think, vote more often — it’s easier to be engaged when you aren’t worrying every single day about your next paycheck or that you could get fired in the next five minutes for no discernible reason).

    Anyhow, that’s how I try to approach this stuff — to try to imagine how to build a system that is sustainable and also human(e). American capitalism is neither.

  31. 81
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Raven, If you could make that 1% or 5% tail go away, no one would be happier than Weitzman (unless maybe it was me). However, we are talking about the tails of a distribution, and the tails are always more difficult to constrain than the mode. Example: look at a sample of 22 events, none of which is worse than a given level and all you can say with 90% confidence is that fewer than 10% of events will be worse. Annan has made a reasonable attempt to narrow the range by starting with a Bayesian prior of Cauchy form (quite thick tailed), but here you have to select the location, and that risks biasing the result. After all, if he centered his prior on 12 degrees per doubling, you’d be howling.

  32. 82

    “Skeptics” are frequently wheeling out that graph Raven points to, but as far as I know nobody has explained who sketched it on which napkin how many decades ago.

    The current best estimate of the very-long-scale temperature curve is visible here:

    The CO2 record is very noisy. See here:

    but also see here:

    Current evidence is that even in the deep past high CO2 periods and high temperature periods coincided.

  33. 83

    RE #51, and herd mentality (social impact) and relatively sudden changes.

    There is something called revitalization movements in anthropology (social movements, in sociology) that deal with rather sudden efforts to construct a more satisfying culture. Examples would be the historical inception of nearly all the modern, mainstream religions, cults, the 60s movements (civil rights, women’s, environmental, hippie). In small-scale societies these can happen even faster and more completely pervade society, as in cargo cults.

    So there is a chance our world society could change fairly quickly to seriously address and mitigate global warming. It’s like some critical mass needs to be reached, or like an ice shelf collapse. And as in climate science, these are really hard to quantify and predict, but we know they’ve happened in the past under certain conditions.

    I think this post is more about the outcomes of global warming — the economic effects, which need to be included. And I would argue these should not only include monetary accounting of GW effects, but other standards more closely aligned with adaptability and whether we can avoid serious environmental degradation and a lot of people dying from GW effects (which is not the best foci for economic theory).

    However, it’s good also to keep in mind the human causes of GHG emissions, and that these could change in negative feedback fashion, at least in part due to conscientious appraisal of GW and its effects or projected effects.

  34. 84
    Green says:

    Leadership? What needs to happen is a dramatic change on an individual level. The bad part is people can’t do that with the snap of their fingers. Here is a site that allows people to get their feet wet, and become educated at the same time.

    Conduct a phased withdrawal on catastrophic climate change. NOW!

    You can read more about it at

  35. 85
    pete best says:

    Re #78, I believe that James Hansen covers this in his paper when he discusses the Charney limit of climate sensitivity which is based on some changing factors and boundary conditions which has been revised from 3C from a pre industrial doubling of CO2 to around 6C due to changing conditions such as Ice Albedo and temporal forest growth in the northern latitudes.

    It is primarily interested in the O-18 record of ocean SST and the start of the Antarctic ice sheets and which allows him to determine the warming that is caused by ice albedo feedback which seemingly caused additional cooling at the time of the formation of the ice sheets of Antarctica.

  36. 86
    Jess says:

    Rod B–

    Let me put the economic freedom question another way. Let’s say you had no worries about your job — nobody could take it away from you, and you were making an OK living. I submit that when people are not worried about job loss or making their next paycheck (and with it their meals) they tend to be more engaged.

    This is one reason corporations hate minimum wages, anti-discrimination laws, and the like. It’s a matter of power. People who aren’t living hand-to-mouth are in a position to engage the political system. This is, one reason I think, that Europeans vote in much larger numbers than Americans do. In the US you can basically be fored for political activity and it takes so long to bring suit that the rules against it are effectively toothless.

    You seem to be looking at economic freedom in terms of individuals — I am looking at it in terms of corporations. To my mind corporations deserve none of the protections citizens get because by definition they diffuse responsibility. I mean, I could have a company policy that said at my plant every worker has to do something insanely dangerous. If I have them sign a waiver it doesn’t matter how many die– not one officer of that corporation would be punished in any way even if they knew they were ordering people to their deaths. That’s crazy. But it happens. And because of the assumption of voluntary transactions it’s assumed that the workers had a choice.

    WHat I was saying about technology is not that people should have stayed with stone tools, but that often the technology that is supposed to solve a problem simply moves it to where we have to deal with a bigger problem later. For instance, way back when the US started running out of domestic oil was the time to move to alternative fuels, but the cheap nature of oil at the time allowed for production in Saudi Arabia and for the oil to be transported. THe fact that oil was cheap (but important) became self-reinforcing even though it was and is clear that the stuff was finite. All the new oil technologies do is let us go along for another year or two without doing a thing.

    I might add: I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation and assumed the whole earth was covered in a 1km layer of oil. That would last 100 years if we increase use by 1% per year. I also assumed it was magically accessible.

    given the sheer number of things we use petroleum in, like fertilizer and plastic, it seems we need to do some radical rethinking of the way we organize our civilization.

  37. 87
    Ike Solem says:

    Hank Roberts mentioned whales earlier, and that really is a perfect example of how ecology influences and controls economies – and it also leads into how humans became somewhat (and temporarily) less reliant on natural ecosystems.

    Before the 1850s the main source of lighting fuel – clean-burning lamp oil – was produced from whales. Their fat would be boiled in cauldrons on remote islands and shipped back to civilization. This was also the main source of good lubricating oils.

    During the period from 1850 onwards, whale oil was steadily replaced by first kerosene, produced in Appalachia. Benjamin Silliman, Yale professor, distilled some petroleum into different fractions in 1854, and told investors they had a valuable illuminating oil. Soon afterwards, natural gas was introduced as a lighting fuel – enter the Fossil Fuel Age, which won’t last for very much longer. However, the main point is that this development, to some degree, reduced human reliance on nature. Coal had always been around, but the new fossil fuels were far cleaner, more energy-dense, and could be transported by barrel or by pipeline.

    And then came electricty. This was a real nightmare for the fossil fuel business, who had been trying to control the lighting market – but electricity had such obvious advantages (and powerful backers) that it steadily replaced kerosene lamps as a light source, just as kerosene lamps had steadily replaced whale oil.

    At the same time, the motorized transportation business was taking off, around 1900. The first cars were ethanol-fueled, as that was a widely available farm product at that time, and gasoline was unheard of – it was viewed as a waste product of petroleum (they wanted the kerosene fraction) and was typically burned off at the refinery. Edison and Ford also had a plan to introduce electric cars in 1914 (the first ethanol-electric hybrid car was patented in 1903, a little-known fact).

    However, what actually happened is that the big oil companies, desperate for new markets after the loss of the lighting market to Edison & friends, discovered that gasoline could be used in combustion engines if additives (ethanol or tetraethyl lead) were added. The oil companies chose lead, because they didn’t want to have to buy any ethanol from farmers. At that point in U.S. history, Prohibition came on the scene, all ethanol production was halted, and any attempts at electric car manufacture were sidetracked. By 1937, the time Prohibition ended, all cars ran on gasoline and ethanol and electricity were out of the picture (the huge oil discoveries in East Texas in the 1930s had something to do with this as well – gas soon became incredibly cheap).

    In the most simple view, instead of getting our fuels from the yearly cycle of natural productivity, we were able to find new fuels by digging deep in the ground – something that no other creature was capable of. This created the artificial perception that we were no longer dependent on natural systems for our survival. What all this created was the psychological perception that human technology could conquer any problem. Soon after, most infectious diseases were beaten back using antibiotics, which has also resulted in a huge reduction in human suffering. This factor is also the one most responsible for the explosive growth in human population since WWII ended. This also reinforced the notion of technological utopia.

    If the technological model were true, we should have been living in a paradise by now – but instead, we have a whole host of major problems. Many of our new chemical products have been shown to cause cancer, hormone disruption and liver, brain, heart, etc. damage. Our deforestation practices are steadily chewing up the tropical forests, the lungs of the biosphere, and giant factory ships have been stripmining the ocean of fish for decades, past the point of recovery. We can mine water and make dry regions bloom, but the groundwater is like fossil fuel – often millions of years old, and not replaceable. Even the primary energy source that makes all this possible – reserves of fossil fuels from millions of years ago – is steadily being exhausted and converted into atmospheric CO2, which is warming and destablizing the climate.

    What this means is that the Fossil Fuel Age will be the shortest historical age of all – the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age – all lasted for quite a while. The fossil fuel age is coming to a close already – and like the Stone Age, it won’t end due to a lack of fossil fuels.

    The basic connection needed to bridge the gap is ecology. Modern human economies only exist because the ecosystems that have supported humans have been relatively stable for the past 10,000 years – and our recent technological progress has now done significant damage to the ecosystems that have historically sustained humans. What we need to do now is to start distinguishing between technologies – solar panels & wind turbines use non-polluting energy sources (sunlight and wind), so let’s go with them. Coal pollutes the atmosphere and the water in many ways, so let’s phase it out. Similarly, cutting down tropical forests for short-term profit is suicidal in the long run, so let’s stop doing it.

    If we do that, then our energy-generating systems won’t be steadily destroying our food-producing systems as well as natural biodiversity. It’s definitely not a partisan political issue, anymore than breathing is a partisan political issue.

    So, my question is: Is this being alluded to in the cartoon? At first glance, I thought the dragons and the shark-infested waters represented the biosphere.

  38. 88
    Jim Eager says:

    Re Raven @ 75: “I also think the 5% probability for 10 degC rise is also a scientific absurdity”

    Unlikely, perhaps, but not quite an absurdity if you take aerosol-induced global dimming into account.

    Captcha: in babies

  39. 89

    #51, herd mentality and sudden changes.

    Revitalization movement theory in anthropology (social movements in sociology) explains that people will attempt to construct a more adaptive and satifying culture under certain conditions, such war, environmental degradation, human exploitation. At first a leader or a few people will undergo a radical change in their world view and value system, then others will catch on. And this can happen within a year or a few years. History is replete with examples — most religions started that way, the 60s movements (civil rights, womens, environmental, hippie).

    As with sudden changes in nature — ice shelf collapse, THC shutdown — this is difficult to quantify and predict, since it is not the usual slow-moving linear type function. (I’m sort of thinking that perhaps “catastrophe theory” in math might help, but I know nothing about it, except seeing a function that looked like a potato chip in a Newsweek article in the 70s.)

    The world’s people could relatively quickly get up and decide to mitigate global warming, and a substantial reduction in GHGs could be made….leaving governments, economists, and the various sandgrain counters in the dust. I’m hoping that will happen. It seems that negative conditions and enough people’s consciousness about them and desire for something better has to reach some critical mass. But predicting or quantifying that would be difficult.

    However, I think the post here is mainly about how to coordinate climate science with the economic effects of GW, not so much the human inputs to GW, tho in negative feedback fashion the effects or projection of effects should lead to people reducing their GHGs.

    I only hope that an interdisciplinary project would not limit itself on the human behavioral side to economic or monetary effects of GW, but would also look at the decreasing adaptability and the possible tremendous loss of human and other life from AGW. In fact it was just that concern that led me to get involved, not money issues or “enlightened self-interest”

  40. 90

    #15 Hank Roberts

    I was reading Ravens post #61 and Rays #63 and others and thinking…

    I have to generalize at this point. There are a few probabilities on how economists are examining the climate problem.

    First, the 1% chance of catastrophic change at 20 C temp rise. Catastrophic is being used as a relative term. The pentagon reports

    indicate resources scarcity issues begin a 1.3 C; chaos begins around 2.6 C; and inconceivable challenges kick in around 5.6 C. Since we are already beginning to see this occur at .9 C Weitzmans paper seems to do some justice to at least scoping the issue in the paper though. Keep in mind I have not finished my review of the paper. As I point out below we are still far from relevance, context and holistic understanding between the relevant disciplines.

    Second: The press and denialists might grab onto the 1% thing to make the public all warm and fuzzy. but the meat of the paper is in the relationships one can draw from more likely potentials.

    Third: it is also possible that economists could become a part of the disinformation campaign through creative means of scoping the argument. I’m not say Weitzmann is, but we should be aware that this is the next step where confusion through peer reviewed papers can reign.

    I can not speak to the assertions of the paper as yet, but in fairness, he seems to be aware of the problems in his suppositions. His concentrations on the higher probabilities should be the center of attention though. The economic modeling will improve but I fear it will be a rocky road and thar be dragons there.

    (imo) Lomborg should not even be a part of any discussion on climate. Denmark’s Ministry of Science found him guilty of ‘Scientific Dishonesty’. He is too narrow-minded and does not display holistic intelligence that warrants the importance he is granted by his immature perspectives.

    The DCSD cited The Skeptical Environmentalist for:

    1. Fabrication of data;
    2. Selective discarding of unwanted results (selective citation);
    3. Deliberately misleading use of statistical methods;
    4. Distorted interpretation of conclusions;
    5. Plagiarism;
    6. Deliberate misinterpretation of others’ results.

    Awareness is still the best medicine though and my concerns remain in this area. How fast can we get the fact based word out so people, politicians, and yes, even economists, to understand the potentials in more realistic terms so they can be integrated effectively in the probability models contextually for policy development?

    My current assessment is that economists (in general) are far from understanding the integrated economies and their likely affects on the human monetary economy.

    My apologies in advance for commenting before a more thorough examination of the paper, but I hope what I am saying has some relevance.

  41. 91

    #58 CL

    Rivet popping is a good analog for tipping point. We are certainly popping rivets.

    While mechanistic models are very useful, and there are two camps on general systems theory (mechanistic and not mechanistic leans) I try to incorporate both in my thinking. Chaos, as you have noted has a distinct hand but predictability is scantly feasible other than in general terms.

    I appreciate you understanding of the matters at hand.

    Stewardship has potential to be sensical and nonsensical. On a sub-system scale, look at Switzerland and their forest management methods, compared to ours.

    In Switzerland they carefully glean their forests and manage the system very well. In America we either cut it all down or save it all. Both of which are less wise.

    Again the land use problems of the dust bowl days are relevant to the perspective. Our logging industry in order to be efficient, and maximize short term profit cuts down an entire forest and the reseeds. Our environmental movement reacted by saying we need protected areas where we can’t cut down any trees. That combined with our fear of fire, especially in the early part of the 20th century in America as people spread across the region and built more infrastructure, created a policy of: when a fire starts, put it out.

    Funny note is that it seems a lot of the plains fires were started by coal burning trains, from the hot ash and coals spewed from the smoke stacks of the trains as they crossed the country.

    So, we started putting out fires. that combined with a lack of selective cutting created forests that were more dense. I was at a forestry meeting three years ago and was informed that a natural forest in the American southwest has about 50 tress per acre. We have forest density at 500 trees per acre. Now, combined with lower moisture content and high density, these forests burn bigger and hotter which contributes to desertification through annihilation. The hotter fires actually burn all the carbon off, so there is less black carbon left to act as a microbial nest to reconstitute the land.

    Detailing the small and big picture views is critical to understanding the economic interactions of these systems.

    Tree planting could be good or bad, it depends on how we manage it. The overarching problem is global warming and it will continue as the number one critical issue and subsystem management will be challenged by its contribution to the system.

  42. 92
    Hank Roberts says:

    > tree planting

    Yep. Leave the biggest, healthiest trees standing. That way you get back your canopy cover (shade) and can clear a shaded firebreak between the trees.

    Leave enough big dead trees standing to attract enough woodpeckers and flickers to nest there.

    It’s not the fastest way to make money. It is the fastest way to make topsoil and wildlife.

  43. 93
    Rod B says:

    Jess (80), to grossly paraphrase Churchill, capitalism may not be a very good system, it’s just better than anything else out there. Your’s may work, but it sounds like a pie in the sky nirvana — ain’t never going to happen.

    Your example of no political freedom without economic freedom sounded in fact very much economic freedom They have no economic freedom but still get the product of their labors? Doesn’t fit.

    You are confusing consumer demand with “ought-to-be” demand. Apple advertised the iPods magnitudes less than, say, Coca-Cola did for New Coke, yet sold near infinitely more. I’m just saying that for some unknown reasons people are naturally inclined to really want certain things once they learn about them. But, I agree with you and would say that various demands are not necessarily helpful to advancing society, though that is attributed to consumers far more than deserved. Cell phones, telephones, personal computers have overall been a tremendous benefit to society, though one can find a lot of individual examples that are just opposite.

    However, I agree with your main point, as stated here. That is the lack of cost accounting for the overuse of resources, or the effects on public resources like the environment. This is something that is very (critically) important for any long term viability of society. Some is being done now, regulations and costs associated with environmental dumping e.g., but that’s elementary, and for the most part this process is nearly nonexistent. We do diverge on the fix: I say it is easier to do with rules, regulations, and cost accounting within our economic system; you seem to want to start over from scratch; “a pretty large cultural shift” is quite an understatement. ;-)

  44. 94
    Rod B says:

    Lynn (83), I agree with your revitalization movements, where cultures make massive cultural changes in a relatively very short period, contrary to all analyses and expectations. Boggles the mind, but happens. I don’t think we know what the cause or trigger of this is, so can’t devise a plan to make it happen. Though I agree with your observation. It’s manifested like some solid state electronics, e.g., linear build-up of input but zero output until you reach some threshold, them wham, it avalanches. …’course we understand that process infinitely better.

    I also concur that the requirements you state in 80’s third paragraph are required for any successful mitigation. (Truth in Lending: I’m assuming your position and beliefs for discussion, but am still a (partial) sceptic of AGW.)

  45. 95
    Rod B says:

    Jess (86), I mostly occur with what you say here, though think you take some details beyond the pale. There’s no worker in the U.S. involuntarily agreeing to hazardous, maybe fatal, work. Mostly (and maybe different from early in history, or sometimes with the military — but that’s a whole different paradigm) because we simply passed laws against it or agreed with unions to abstain. Little fuss, little muss. I think we agree on the gist of the problem, just disagree on the solution.

    I also agree with you (and Lynn, et al) that resourse utilization is way out of control.

  46. 96
    CL says:

    John Reisman, 91 :

    Thanks for the response. My point ( not very well explained ) re ‘stewardship being nonsensical’, was this :

    If nature (the condition of fauna, flora, geology in the absence of human interference) stewarded itself for 45000 million years, and now, suddenly, humans decide they can step in and start to do a better job of managing nature, then they’d have to understand what they were about.

    It’s easy to steward a wheat field. Keep the rabbits and crows away, take out the weeds, etc. The whole idea of stewardship derives from agriculture, an artificial methodology where nature is the enemy.

    If you wanted to steward a dustbowl or a natural forest or fishery, then you’d have to be able to predict the results of your actions and have a fair idea that the results would be benign re the overall system of the biosphere.

    But it seems such prediction is inherently impossible. For one thing, many ecosystems are incredibly complex, and nobody has anything near sufficient understanding to be able to create them artificially from scratch. But it’s even worse than that. Even if you knew the right mix of species, (seeds, fertilizer, insects, fungi, whatever), seems you cannot foretell what you’ll end up with.

    I don’t see how it’s possible to ‘steward’ an inherently chaotic system ( expect perhaps via a buddhist or taoist approach of non-interference or minimal tweaking )where you have no idea what the future outcome will be.

    Richard Leakey explains the problem far better than I can, (p. 157, Stability and chaos in ecology )

    “..evidence of true chaotic behaviour in ecological communities has been discovered, in field experiments and theoretical models. We are now forced to take a very different view of the world of nature and what shapes the patterns that we see and experience. It is deeply counterintuitive, and therefore difficult to accept ” – The Sixth Extinction, R. Leakey & R. Lewin.

    Re clear cutting, reseeding, burning, etc, of forests. Yes, it’s important to understand that there are many, many forest types, and each requires an appropriate approach. The UK had a woodland management approach, harvesting woodland product, which permitted forests to survive from the last Ice Age up until the present (in tiny remnants) because the species involved regrow from cut stumps. This system was largely destroyed and displaced during the 20th.C. More ancient woodland was lost in the few decades after WW2, than over previous thousand years because of ‘modern’ (stupid, IMO) forestry (and agricultural practices).

    The idea of clear cut and re-seed, was introduced from continental Europe, where conifer trees, which don’t regrow after cutting, were more common.( See Oliver Rackham as the authorative guy re this stuff. )

    Incidentally, unlike some US forests, European forests were, as far as I know, not subject to natural fires and have not evolved protective bark, etc. Why that is, I don’t know.

  47. 97
    CL says:

    “Everything now hinges on stopping coal. Whether we prevent runaway climate change largely depends on whether we keep using the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel. Unless we either leave it in the ground or leave the carbon dioxide it produces in the ground, human development will start spiralling backwards. The more coal is burnt, the smaller are our chances of future comfort and prosperity. The industrial revolution has gone into reverse.”

  48. 98
    Hank Roberts says:

    > forest management

    See also:
    (much of the Black Forest dieoff appears due to coal pollution, but note also the habit of picking every bit of brush and litter off the forest floor also seems to have starved the soil of nutrients over centuries)

    Don’t dismiss stewardship entirely. I have ten acres bought thirty years ago for preservation (temperate rainforest, horse-logged in the 1800s, left alone* since) and forty acres of hot dry southwest slope California coast range (bought after a major fire, for restoration).

    Everyone needs a hobby. That’s one of mine.

    Most of what I’m doing in my brief tenure is baseline documentation. Given that, in fifty or a hundred years someone could become interested in figuring out what’s changed and be able to do that. I’ll never know if what I’m doing makes much difference in the many things I can document, because assessing that takes decades to determine (trends!)

    But there are many little things one can do** to discourage the invasives (and human timber thieves) and encourage the native plants and wildlife and local biologists to increase their presence upon the land.
    * “a man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to leave alone.”

    ** Like leave some dead trees standing, and clear around them so the _next_ fire doesn’t take them down, for the woodpeckers and flickers to nest in and work on.

  49. 99
    Raven says:

    Do people here agree with this statement:

    “We have no way to know what the absolute surface temperatures were more than 1 million years ago and our knowledge of historical CO2 levels is limited to order of magnitude estimates.”

    [Response: Do you mean 1 million years ago itself, or 20 or 50 or 100 million years ago? It makes a difference. 1 million years ago, you are going to have very similar cycling of CO2 and temperature as you see in the Dome C records. Further back the estimates of CO2 get much worse, and the temperature estimates just get worse. – gavin]

  50. 100
    Lloyd Romeo says:

    You say:
    while economists tend to eschew complexity and look for insight in highly idealised situations.

    Well yes of course, given the complexity of economics with all of its variables. In science and especially an inexact one as economics one necessarily has to simplify things to gain understanding. (they should spell idealized correctly)

    You say:
    But in order to increase the credibility of models, they have to do well at simulating past climates and what might happen in the future is certainly informed by what has happened in the past. And in order to better understand the impacts of climate change and various proposed policies, economists will need to embrace the complexity of human-climate interactions

    Really economics is the study of the entirety of human interactions. While its great to embrace that, I’m not smart enough to embrace all of that at once. He is very clever if he can grasp an entire system complexity he seems to be talking about.

    The guy seems to need to be reminded that economics has been studied and examined much more and for much longer than climate change. Hence it makes more sense to me that climate change needs to adapt to economics, not the other way around.