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Why Levitt and Dubner like geo-engineering and why they are wrong

Filed under: — gavin @ 18 October 2009

Many commentators have already pointed out dozens of misquotes, misrepresentations and mistakes in the ‘Global Cooling’ chapter of the new book SuperFreakonomics by Ste[ph|v]ens Levitt and Dubner (see Joe Romm (parts I, II, III, IV, Stoat, Deltoid, UCS and Paul Krugman for details. Michael Tobis has a good piece on the difference between adaptation and geo-engineering). Unfortunately, Amazon has now turned off the ‘search inside’ function for this book, but you can read the relevant chapter for yourself here (via Brad DeLong). However, instead of simply listing errors already found by others, I’ll focus on why this chapter was possibly written in the first place. (For some background on geo-engineering, read our previous pieces: Climate Change methadone? and Geo-engineering in vogue, Also the Atlantic Monthly “Re-Engineering the Earth” article had a lot of quotes from our own Raypierre).

Paul Krugman probably has the main issue right:

…it looks like is that Levitt and Dubner have fallen into the trap of counterintuitiveness. For a long time, there’s been an accepted way for commentators on politics and to some extent economics to distinguish themselves: by shocking the bourgeoisie, in ways that of course aren’t really dangerous.

and

Clever snark like this can get you a long way in career terms — but the trick is knowing when to stop. It’s one thing to do this on relatively inconsequential media or cultural issues. But if you’re going to get into issues that are both important and the subject of serious study, like the fate of the planet, you’d better be very careful not to stray over the line between being counter-intuitive and being just plain, unforgivably wrong.

Levitt was on NPR at the weekend discussing this chapter (though not defending himself against any of the criticisms leveled above). He made the following two points which I think go to the heart of his thinking on this issue: “Why would anyone be against a cheap fix?” and “No problem has ever been solved by changing human behaviour” (possibly not exact quotes, but close enough). He also alluded to the switch over from horse-driven transport to internal combustion engines a hundred years ago as an example of a ‘cheap technological fix’ to the horse manure problem. I deal with each of these points in turn.

Is geo-engineering cheap?

The geo-engineering option that is being talked about here is the addition of SO2 to the stratosphere where it oxidises to SO4 (sulphate) aerosols which, since they are reflective, reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the ground. The zeroth order demonstration of this possibility is shown by the response of the climate to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 which caused a maximum 0.5ºC cooling a year or so later. Under business-as-usual scenarios, the radiative forcing we can expect from increasing CO2 by the end of the century are on the order of 4 to 8 W/m2 – requiring the equivalent to one to two Pinatubo’s every year if this kind of geo-engineering was the only response. And of course, you couldn’t stop until CO2 levels came back down (hundreds, if not thousands of years later) without hugely disruptive and rapid temperature rises. As Deltoid neatly puts it: “What could possibly go wrong?”.

The answer is plenty. Alan Robock discussed some of the issues here the last time this came up (umm… weeks ago). The basic issues over and above the costs of delivering the SO2 to the stratosphere are that a) once started you can’t stop without much more serious consequences so you are setting up a multi-centennial commitment to continually increasing spending (of course, if you want to stop because of huge disruption that geo-engineering might be causing, then you are pretty much toast), b) there would be a huge need for increased monitoring from the ground and space, c) who would be responsible for any unanticipated or anticipated side effects and how much would that cost?, and d) who decides when, where and how much this is used. For point ‘d’, consider how difficult it is now to come up with an international agreement on reducing emissions and then ponder the additional issues involved if India or China are concerned that geo-engineering will cause a persistent failure of the monsoon? None of these issues are trivial or cheap to deal with, and yet few are being accounted for in most popular discussions of the issue (including the chapter we are discussing here).

Is geo-engineering a fix?

In a word, no. To be fair, if the planet was a single column with completely homogeneous properties from the surface to the top of the atmosphere and the only free variable was the surface temperature, it would be fine. Unfortunately, the real world (still) has an ozone layer, winds that depend on temperature gradients that cause European winters to warm after volcanic eruptions, rainfall that depends on the solar heating at the surface of the ocean and decreases dramatically after eruptions, clouds that depend on the presence of condensation nuclei, plants that have specific preferences for direct or diffuse light, and marine life that relies on the fact that the ocean doesn’t dissolve calcium carbonate near the surface.

The point is that a planet with increased CO2 and ever-increasing levels of sulphates in the stratosphere is not going to be the same as one without either. The problem is that we don’t know more than roughly what such a planet would be like. The issues I listed above are the ‘known unknowns’ – things we know that we don’t know (to quote a recent US defense secretary). These are issues that have been raised in existing (very preliminary) simulations. There would almost certainly be ‘unknown unknowns’ – things we don’t yet know that we don’t know. A great example of that was the creation of the Antarctic polar ozone hole as a function of the increased amount of CFCs which was not predicted by any model beforehand because the chemistry involved (heterogeneous reactions on the surface of polar stratospheric cloud particles) hadn’t been thought about. There will very likely be ‘unknown unknowns’ to come under a standard business as usual scenario as well – another reason to avoid that too.

There is one further contradiction in the idea that geo-engineering is a fix. In order to proceed with such an intervention one would clearly need to rely absolutely on climate model simulations and have enormous confidence that they were correct (otherwise the danger of over-compensation is very real even if you decided to start off small). As with early attempts to steer hurricanes, the moment the planet did something unexpected, it is very likely the whole thing would be called off. It is precisely because climate modellers understand that climate models do not provide precise predictions that they have argued for a reduction in the forces driving climate change. The existence of a near-perfect climate model is therefore a sine qua non for responsible geo-engineering, but should such a model exist, it would likely alleviate the need for geo-engineering in the first place since we would know exactly what to prepare for and how to prevent it.

Does reducing global warming imply changing human behaviour and is that possible?

This is a more subtle question and it is sensible to break it down into questions of human nature and human actions. Human nature – the desire to strive for a better life, our inability to think rationally when trying to impress the objects of our desire, our natural selfishness and occasionally altruism, etc – is very unlikely to change anytime soon. But none of those attributes require the emission of fossil fuel-derived CO2 into the atmosphere, just as they don’t require us to pollute waterways, have lead in gasoline, use ozone-depleting chemicals in spray cans and fridges or let dogs foul the sidewalk. Nonetheless, societies in the developed world (with the possible exception of Paris) have succeeded in greatly reducing those unfortunate actions and it’s instructive to see how that happened.

The first thing to note is that these issues have not been dealt with by forcing people to think about the consequences every time they make a decision. Lead in fuel was reduced because of taxation measures that aligned peoples preferences for cheaper fuel with the societal interest in reducing lead pollution. While some early adopters of unleaded-fuel cars might have done it for environmental reasons, the vast majority of people did it first because it was cheaper, and second, because after a while there was no longer an option. The human action of releasing lead into the atmosphere while driving was very clearly changed.

In the 1980s, there were campaigns to raise awareness of the ozone-depletion problem that encouraged people to switch from CFC-propelled spray cans to cans with other propellants or roll-ons etc. While this may have made some difference to CFC levels, production levels were cut to zero by government mandates embedded in the Montreal Protocols and subsequent amendments. No-one needs to think about their spray can destroying the ozone layer any more.

I could go on, but the fundamental issue is that people’s actions can and do change all the time as a function of multiple pressures. Some of these are economic, some are ethical, some are societal (think about our changing attitudes towards smoking, domestic violence and drunk driving). Blanket declarations that human behaviour can’t possibly change to fix a problem are therefore just nonsense.

To be a little more charitable, it is possible that what was meant was that you can’t expect humans to consciously modify their behaviour all the time based on a desire to limit carbon emissions. This is very likely to be true. However, I am unaware of anyone who has proposed such a plan. Instead, almost all existing mitigation ideas rely on aligning individual self-interest with societal goals to reduce emissions – usually by installing some kind of carbon price or through mandates (such as the CAFE standards).

To give a clear example of the difference, let’s tackle the problem of leaving lights on in rooms where there is no-one around. This is a clear waste of energy and would be economically beneficial to reduce regardless of the implications for carbon emissions. We can take a direct moralistic approach – strong exhortations to people to always turn the lights off when they leave a room – but this is annoying, possibly only temporary and has only marginal success (in my experience). Alternatively, we can install motion-detectors that turn the lights out if there is no-one around. The cost of these detectors is much lower than cost of the electricity saved and no-one has to consciously worry about the issue any more. No-brainer, right? (As as aside, working out why this isn’t done more would be a much better use of Levitt and Dubner’s talents). The point is changing outcomes doesn’t necessarily mean forcing people to think about the right thing all the time, and that cheap fixes for some problems do indeed exist.

To recap, there is no direct link between what humans actually want to do and the emissions of CO2 or any other pollutant. If given appropriate incentives, people will make decisions that are collectively ‘the right thing’, while they themselves are often unconscious of that fact. The role of the economist should be to find ways to make that alignment of individual and collective interest easier, not to erroneously declare it can’t possibly be done.

What is the real lesson from the horse-to-automobile transition?

Around 1900, horse-drawn transport was the dominant mode of public and private, personal and commercial traffic in most cities. As economic activity was growing, the side-effects of horses’ dominance became ever more pressing. People often mention the issue of horse manure – picking it up and disposing of it, it’s role in spreading disease, the “intolerable stench” – but as McShane and Tarr explain that the noise and the impact of dead horses in the street were just as troublesome. Add to that the need for so many stables downtown taking up valuable city space, the provisioning of hay etc. it was clear that the benefits of the horse’s strength for moving things around came at a great cost.

But in the space of about 20 years all this vanished, to be replaced with electrified trolleys and subways, and internal combustion engine-driven buses and trucks, and cars such as the Model-T Ford. Almost overnight (in societal terms), something that had been at the heart of economic activity had been been relegated to a minority leisure pursuit.

This demonstrates very clearly that assumptions that society must always function the same economic way are false, and that in fact we can change the way we do business and live pretty quickly. This is good news. Of course, this transition was brought about by technological innovations and the switch was decided based on very clear cost-benefit calculations – while cars were initially more expensive than horses, their maintenance costs were less and the side effects (as they were understood at the time) were much less burdensome. Since the city had to tax the productive citizens in order to clear up the consequences of their own economic activity, the costs were being paid by the same people who benefited.

Levitt took this example to imply that technological fixes are therefore the solution to global warming (and the fix he apparently favours is geo-engineering mentioned above), but this is a misreading of the lesson here in at least two ways. Firstly, the switch to cars was not based on a covering up of the manure problem – a fix like that might have involved raised sidewalks, across city perfuming and fly-spraying – but from finding equivalent ways to get the same desired outcome (transport of goods and people) while avoiding undesired side-effects. That is much more analogous to switching to renewable energy sources than implementing geo-engineering.

His second error is in not appreciating the nature of the cost-benefit calculations. Imagine for instance that all of the horse manure and dead carcasses could have been easily swept into the rivers and were only a problem for people significantly downstream who lived in a different state or country. Much of the costs, public health issues, etc. would now be borne by the citizens of the downstream area who would not be benefiting from the economic prosperity of the city. Would the switch to automobiles have been as fast? Of course not. The higher initial cost of cars would only have made sense if the same people who were shelling out for the car would be able to cash in on the benefits of the reduced side effects. This is of course the basic issue we have with CO2. The people benefiting from fossil fuel based energy are not those likely to suffer from the consequences of CO2 emissions.

The correct lesson is in fact the same as the one mentioned above: if costs and benefits can be properly aligned (the ‘internalising of the externalities’ in economist-speak), societies and individuals can and will make the ‘right’ decisions, and this can lead to radical changes in very short periods of time. Thus far from being an argument for geo-engineering, this example is an object lesson in how economics might shape future decisions and society.

Finally

To conclude, the reasons why Levitt and Dubner like geo-engineering so much are based on a misreading of the science, a misrepresentation of proposed solutions, and truly bizarre interpretations of how environmental problems have been dealt with in the past. These are, in the end, much worse errors than their careless misquotes and over-eagerness to shock highlighted by the other critiques. Geo-engineering is neither cheap, nor a fix, and the reasons why it is very likely to be a bad idea are ethical and legal, much more than its still-uncertain scientific merits.


406 Responses to “Why Levitt and Dubner like geo-engineering and why they are wrong”

  1. 301

    Mark (298),
    Not burning fossil fuels sounds cheap. Until you go look for alternatives to provide the energy.
    Not saying we shouldn’t do it, but your reasoning misses this important point.

  2. 302
    tharanga says:

    Mark 298
    “surely the cheapest way of doing this is to not do something.”

    Agreed with Bart 301 on this one. Here, simply not doing something either means ceasing some economic activity altogether (a cost) or to do it using some other more expensive fuel (also a cost).

    The issue with comparing the cost of mitigation with the cost of doing nothing is that people discount future costs, especially uncertain ones. So even if you tell people there will be high costs due to climate change in the future, they’ll be reluctant to spend much to avoid it now. Human nature, but I think we’re approaching the level of political will needed to overcome that.

  3. 303

    My # 296 and re Chris #299 and lead article,

    After reading the article at (in spite of the slime, especially at the end, we need to be aware of how things go in the campaign for public opinion):
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704335904574495643459234318.html

    After reading this I feel Levitt’s pleasant manner with John Stewart sort of took me in. His appeal to good economic sense resonates with me, and maybe with you Chris of #299, so it is easy to overlook that he goes well past his domain of economics and believes a “smart guy” named Myhrvold, impressively an ex CTO of Microsoft, who might be smart in software, but it really seems not to be a general qualification for engineering or science. On this I agree with Al Gore that SO2 in the atmosphere is nuts, at least until someone explains why we have been kicking the electric power folks for many years for emitting such stuff. Isn’t that what they turn into gypsum? That was an amazing breakthrough, or so it seemed. And with its half the heat content, one of the big advantages of otherwise second rate Powder River Basin coal is that it is very low in sulphur compared with Eastern coal.

    Living as I do almost in the shadow of the Google complex, I continue to chafe at the misguided actions of these otherwise “bright” folks, or so they seem. The actions I speak of seem due to inappropriate presumption of knowledge of things mechanical, especially of the thermodynamic. I can only explain this by surmising that when students choose to go into electrical engineering today they usually do not choose the “power option” if that is even available today. Even power subjects in EE do not say much about heat engines, leaving that to mechanical engineering folks. It seems most of the hard sciences have not had to face realities of thermodynamics as far as heat engines go at least. I am particularly referring to the fact that Google is leading in the Smart meter idea as well as the plug-in hybrid fad. At least the Smart meter kind of relates to information which they clearly understand. The fact that it is of minimal potential benefit might be attributed to the fact that they think power will be produced from solar cells in a sufficient amount to displace coal fired generation and that it is appropriate to base decisions on California assumptions. But that goes on and I meant to talk about how Levitt and now the right wing press is twisting the public sense of global warming.

    So back to Myhrvold from Microsoft, we should think about how his apparent silliness is playing into the anti-action crowd. Since Levitt ties this to his otherwise reasonable sounding economic concerns about the mainstream plans to cut CO2 he effectively leads us down the path that no action is all we need to do. This is serious to me since I think that bad action is worse than wrong action and this leads to the same “no action” position. Maybe I need to clearly state that aggressive search for the right answers is the right thing to do now. Unfortunately, much of my time is spent trying to prevent implementation of what seem to be bad ideas.

  4. 304
    Chris says:

    Gavin-
    If you overlook the practical constraints facing you it is very hard to come up with a workable solution. I do not think it is really an overreach for economists to discuss the economics of climate change as the solution really serves as a proxy for the scarcity (i.e. limited amount) of condensed energy sources. Dubner and Levitt are dealing with those constraints by proposing “global cooling”. Whatever the costs of maintaining this system are they are surely less than the economic inefficiencies of carbon taxes that result in lower wages and higher prices for the average person. It is also not economically realistic to limit the combustion needed for the production of goods and services because it is human nature to act in one’s self interest. The optimum usage is dictated by the global price of coal and oil, which is based on the supply and not the demand as the middle east withholds production. You will have noticed that China and India refuse to sign a pact to reduce their emissions for our benefit because doing so will add costs to their products and make them less competitive. I also doubt that people will want to “do the right” thing if it means paying extra for goods and services from their artificially low salaries. It is also of note that most new office buildings have motion sensors because the owners want to save money (i.e. be efficient).
    Therefore, in order to combat global warming you have to eliminate the demand for combustion on a global scale by providing a cheaper or near optimal alternative such as alcohol or other propellants for CFCs (which are probably still used in refrigerators). That said, since most combustion is done for the production of electricity you would have to begin moving the world toward nuclear power. I know you are probably asking yourself about biofuels right now, but as of now, they are inefficient as it takes more energy to make them than they release and even solar panels and windmills kind of defeat the purpose if we have to pave the Earth with them in order to get a reasonable supply of energy especially as they can lead to massive power shortages if the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow etc.
    You can find all of the ways to halt climate change you want but they have to be economic (i.e. efficient) and not based on artificial limits on demand. Otherwise, the only thing it will do is to make people in developed countries feel less guilty about their modern existence while shifting consumption of fossil fuels to less developed nations and do nothing for the problem itself.

    [Response: I have no illusions about the scale of the task ahead of us here and I’m obviously very keen to have economists come up with ways to help – in my opinion the obvious first step is to put some kind of price on carbon emissions which will motivate all sorts of innovation in reducing emissions, increasing renewables, increasing the incentive to efficiency, removing CO2 from the air etc. etc. Some of these will scale up, some won’t. But ignoring that in favour of Rube Goldberg schemes that are not rooted in anything more than the most naive view of how the climate system works is (to quote someone else) “nuts”. – gavin]

  5. 305
    David B. Benson says:

    Patrick 027 (252) — In situ weatherization will cause the ground to noticably swell; some microseisms will result but never anything major due to the rock formations used. In addition, nobody lives above the various proposed sites (in part because the soils are poor or non-existent).

  6. 306
    Patrick 027 says:

    Jim Bullis –

    It’s true that in all my writing on possible policies I never really specified that increasing the use of plug-in electric cars should be tied to increasing the renewable electricity supply.

    But if you take, in the U.S., for example, the annual energy expenditure, and compare that to what even some more expensive renewable options cost, over the long term, the renewable option looks good (although I haven’t accounted for the profit margin that today’s energy suppliers have). Of all the fossil fuels, coal is, so far as I can see, the least likely to increase much in price in the absence of government policies. But coal must be replaced. It makes it easier on the economy as a whole if, depending on technology costs, petroleum and natural gas can also be replaced – especially in the future. And it is hard to run a non-plug in car on solar power.

    And none of this need preclude making transportation of any sort, industry, etc, more efficient.

    I am for plug-in vehicles, but not in isolation – that is not my intent.

    Do we know that the government won’t advance plug-in car usage without doing the complementary changes in electricity supply? I guess not. But do we know the government will do what is necessary to cut CO2, etc, emissions in any case? If not being able to count on the government to do the right thing is reason not to support a plan, then we might as well quit trying to solve the problem altogether. That just doesn’t make sense to me.

  7. 307
    Patrick 027 says:

    … (continued from 293 http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/10/why-levitt-and-dubner-like-geo-engineering-and-why-they-are-wrong/comment-page-6/#comment-139784 )…

    *** Note on calculation of property value changes for purpose of compensation (or anything else) – when similar properties are not being exchanged in sufficient volume, the market cannot necessarily be depended upon to provide information on property value. Thus calculations are in order.

    —-

    So the spending categories (besides the costs of designing and enforcing the policy) are now:

    1. Sequestration or neutralization of the emission/etc. (paid at the rate proportional to the tax on the externality, qualified by completeness of neutralization and lack of side-effect externalities)

    2. Adaptation, including adaptation to the effects, neutralization or amelioration of the effects, and compensation for losses (this includes compensation for losses by individual parties or groups and also investments in infrastructure and organization to reduce adaptation costs realized in the future or realized by the people in general – this can include investments in efforts to save ecosystems and biodiversity and ecosystem services, and changes in buildings (some R&D could be there) for changes in climate, and physical infrastructure to reduce vulnerability to flash flooding, etc, with planning taking into account shifting and changing climate zones), and advances in efficiently dealing with tropical pests and diseases or pests and diseases in general).

    3. Adaptation and compensation for adapting to the policy (not including neutralization or amelioration of the effects of the policy, because that would just degrade the price signals. For example, the poor shouldn’t be helped by given them a break on their emissions taxes – they should be helped in some more general way, preserving their exposure to the price signal.)

    4. Mitigation (funding to initiate and support alternative economic pathways – efficiency and clean energy) – wherein a portion of this spending is justified by more general economic arguments and can be considered to be outside the externality-justified price signal (some public investment is justified by overcoming the gap between a small or nonexistent alternative and a mass market or mass-accepted behavior* …

    (*this, and public planning for the sake of compatability, is also a role for mandates such as product standards and building codes, and regulation of the energy grid, coordination of changes in car technology and other things, possible changes in dress standards to reduce air conditioning or heating needs in the office, etc. …and this also applies for adaptation etc.)

    … and accelerating the scale up time, and also as an economic investment that can later help pay for adaptation costs, and various other complexities.

    AND NOW:

    Where
    5a. cuts in other taxes (or internationally, equal per G(D/N)P allocation to nations),
    and
    5b. equal per capita payback,
    and
    5c. some other possibilities (General improvements in the global economy and efficiency, general technological advances not necessarily specific to the externalities, so long as the economic progress is in a direction that does not increase vulnerabilities)

    can be considered investments that will help pay for adaptation/compensation later.

    So there are some different flow patterns that different portions of the tax revenue can take:

    tax revenue –> 1. sequestration, etc, to reduce need for spending in 2.

    tax revenue –> 2,3 adaptation, etc. costs, which can include investments in infrastructure and the environment to reduce adaptation costs and losses in the future

    tax revenue –> 4. mitigation (support of alternative economic pathways (clean energy and efficiency and related infrastructure))

    tax revenue –> 4. investment in mitigation –> regeneration of revenue at later time –> 1,2 adaptation/compensation/sequestration, etc.

    tax revenue –> 1,2,3,5 investments –> regeneration of revenue at later time –> 1,2,etc.

    tax revenue –> 3,4,5 –> increase ability to adapt

    In some cases/scenarios/revenue flows (?), some of the compensation given to specific parties would be for the portion of adaptation costs and losses they face that is above average (would there be a symmetrical charge on below-average costs/losses?). This makes sense if other funds go to helping society as a whole, such as large scale water resource projects and protection of ecosystem services, and use of mitigation as an economic stimulus or for future savings, etc.

    ———–

    There are some spending actions and categories that can fill multiple categories:

    1,2,3,4,5, and 2 again – public spending in land use (increased efficiency of land use and food/feed production, R&D on crop varieties and rotations and care, including potential perrenial replacements for annuals, for compatibility with ‘organic’ processes, for drought resistance and reduced water needs, for soil carbon storage, for better nutrition (PS was it really necessary to make ‘gold rice’ to supply vitamin A to the third world? Aren’t there any tropical crops that naturally contain vitamin A?), for decreased fertilizer usage, etc, R&D on reducing livestock and land-use emissions, more efficient irrigation, desalination and water transport investments, preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity (where most likely to survive as climate zones shift) to maintain a genetic library that might yield discoveries for crops, medicine, etc, reducing other stresses on ecosystems to help them survive global warming and thus protecting access to ecosystem services from pollination to natural flood (and disease/pest?) control and ecotourism and general science and aesthetics, natural heritage, social and psychological value, and nature video production, etc, development of biofuels that can use waste from the production and use of food, and from other organic waste (paper napkins, etc.), and cures for food allergies and metabolic disorders, etc, or smarter processing of nuts (reduce the roasting?) to (aside from the obvious benefit to quality of life) allow for greater efficiency in food supply such as making vegetable proteins and calcium more widely available to decrease reliance on meat and milk, and so on…)

    2,3,4,5 – reducing population growth (social security, access to family planning resources, education for girls/women (and boys/men, too), medicine (this may seem counterintuitive, but…), economic development, and … challenging some cultural issues (but that last one is probably best left to ____).

    Note that 2. could includes any increases in efficiency of medicine and health care, energy, food, water, or any other economic thing, or anything that aids in quality of life (which could concievably include re-education efforts to reduce female circumcision).

    1,2,3,4,5 – something like what was known in the Kyoto Protocol as CDM (clean development mechanism). There have been problems with CDM with perverse incentives. These must be fixed or avoided. However, one issue that has come up is that using CDM as an offset to emissions doesn’t necessarily reduce emissions by the same amount. However, as I see it, the important thing is that there is a price signal on the emissions because of the money spent on CDM. If the CDM is subject to the same taxes, there will be an incentive to make it more emission/externality-efficient.

    ———–

    The attractiveness of CDM is undeveloped and developing countries don’t have the same legacy costs as more fully developed nations do. Developed nations have durable infrastructure and entrenched practices that were designed and/or evolved without either the externality or the effects of climate change in mind. Developing nations have an opportunity to get on the right track on the outset (or closer to the outset), and help and incentive to do so should be given if/where necessary or helpful.

    To be clear, the legacy costs are somewhat limited by finite longevity or timing and amount of repairs and maintenance. It makes the most sense to switch light-bulb technology when the old bulb wears out, provided the old bulb is not expected to last very long. On the other hand, when CFLS are replaced by LEDs (or photonic crystal devices, etc.), then there might (?) be a need to consider the costs and benifits of wasting the later months of a CFL and the energy saved in that time (and reduced stress of thinking about what to do in case of breakage) by early replacement by an LED (or even if this is relatively inconsequential, it serves to illustrate a general concept). When it comes to durable goods (appliances, cars, buildings, factories), it becomes more important to get things right sooner rather than later.

    For example, if a building is not designed to be CFL or LED compatable (if that is an issue for LEDs?), or doesn’t use passive solar lighting and heating or near optimally-sloped solar roofs (with water heating, PV, PV+heating hybrid panels, luminescent concentrator PV and heating hybrids, etc.)…

    —–
    (thermally-insulating windows and skylights and light pipes, preferably reflecting solar UV and IR or using them for other purposes as in a luminescent concentrator, especially in warm climates, or with adjustable spectral blocking (mechanically adjustable shade or temperature dependent optical properties or some other mechanism) for the annual cycle, or having skylights that reflect or convert to useful energy the solar UV and IR, and equatorward facing windows that admit solar IR and with all side wall windows reflecting terrestrial IR, etc., depending on the building’s surroundings, etc., and also, in warm climates or warm seasons, use of light-colored interiors to make the most use of light and reduce the heating effect of absorption of visible radiation, roofs sloping equatorward for best use of solar power, and in general, for small homes, the elongated dimension could be aligned east-west (that’s a general recommendation for avoiding too much summer heating and winter cooling – it has to do with how much solar radiation is intercepted by windows on different sides of the building))
    —–

    … or using a setup whereby an air conditioner can use either AC or DC electricity so that it can use electricity from onsite solar power that bypasses the inverter,

    or thermal heat storage, and/or heat exchangers to judiciously use waste heat and waste cold …

    —–
    (for example:
    use of hybrid solar panels to preheat water or another fluid with lower melting point, before the water or other fluid is heated to higher temperature from solar heat only panels (and then the other fluid passes through a heat exchanger to heat water and be cooled by the water before going back to the hybrid panels), and then the water is stored in the hot water tank, not necessarily at final temperature, passing through an ‘on-demand’/’flow-through’ water heater (I’m not sure what the name actually is, but it’s a tankless water heater that reduces heat loss during storage) to heat to final temperature – this setup might require fuel or electric heat pump or waste heat from a electricity-generating furnace (possibly using thermoelectric or thermophotovoltaic conversion)…

    (after preheating by solar PV waste heat, solar heat, and then/or other waste heat such as from a fuel cell (how hot do fuel cells operate?) or clothes dryer or kitchen oven … or compost pile … or fresh air intake on a hot day or waste heat from an air conditioner or refrigerator (boosting efficiency of those devices) … or waste water (that last option has been built (heat exchanger) and marketed!) …)

    … but that final amount of energy will be smaller because of the preheating using waste heat and solar heat. The cold fluid/water flows through the solar PV hybrid panels first because it is advantageous to keep those devices cool)
    (Another use of heat exchangers would be to use the portion of cold water that is to be heated for air conditioning or precooling a fluid that is then cooled further by an air conditioner and then used to cool the air)
    (heat exchangers can generally be used in ventilation)

    (a heat exchanger in simplest form can be visualized as too parallel pipes, with fluids flowing through each, with good thermal conduction between them – not necessarily along their lengths – if a hot and cold fluid flow in the same direction, they will only approach an intermediate temperature, with the flow with lowest heat capacity per unit time changing temperature the most. However, if they flow in opposite directions, the two fluids can, depending on the effectiveness of the device relative to the flow rates, approach each other’s intake temperatures at the points of exit, or at least the flow with the lower heat capacity per unit time can approach the intake temperature of the other fluid. Waste heat sources at different temperatures can be used from lowest to highest temperature, and so on for waste heat sinks (waste cold).)
    —–

    … or various other items, then it may cost more to remodel and retrofit the building later than it would have to design the building with such features at the beginning – and that also includes a psychological resistance to going to the trouble of remodeling and retrofitting.

    Because of the benifits of getting things right sooner rather than later, and because of engrained habits that may be hard to change when consumers are used to doing something one way and suppliers are used to doing something one way, etc, and people are reluctant to start something new, and compatibility issues may arise if different parts of the whole system don’t shift in an organized manner, it can make sense for governments to use targeted incentives for specific goals and also mandate some things, as in building codes and product standards. In the case of the later (if not the former), care should be taken to make requirements a function of relevant variables. For example, a building code shouldn’t require PV panels if the expense is too great for the on site insolation and it’s quality – the later being affected by shadows from trees, which themselves are not worthless and can be an energy efficiency feature (deciduous trees on the equatorward side) as well as well as having other value – the benifits and costs (which involve personal preferences, the statistics of which being reflected in property value) must be weighed against each other in that case. However, if solar PV doesn’t make sense for that location and the cost of solar PV at the time, it might still make sense to have skylights, solar heating panels, and some other features.

    Once the old habits have been sufficiently shaken, the market might be able to actually search for and identify solutions on its own and scale them up in reasonable time.

    (An example of mutual reinforcement of status quo is professional attire. People dress in a certain way to communicate that they are professional. People make judgements based on clothing because of the way people dress. Etc. Individuals behave rationally within a system and the system itself just is the way it is – or may resist a rational change (although to be fair, there might have been some reason for the system getting to where it is, and, if there were some reason to change, then there are optimal and less optimal paths from point A to point B; perhaps change may be easier when there is variety of conditions so that the change can be initiated at some point, get a foothold, and then spread ???). A similar concept applies to language – we use words as we do because of what they mean; they continue to mean what they mean because of the way we use them. It might be analogous to sexual selection in biological evolution.)

    —–

    … to be continued, but almost done (FINALLY! My hands are getting tired.) …

  8. 308
    Mark says:

    “Here, simply not doing something either means ceasing some economic activity altogether (a cost) or to do it using some other more expensive fuel (also a cost).”

    Port Talbot Steelworks changed their procedures so as to use less coal for melting steel.

    Reduced CO2 output.

    Reduced coal required (and therefore the coal bill).

    Increased productivity (direct processes didn’t require a wait while steel was reheated).

    Please.

    Your points are only valid if you are not an innovative thinker.

    Your points are equivalent to me saying “geoengineering a giant beer-swilling bending unit robot will not help the CO2 levels and cost massive amounts”.

    You cannot say that this is false.

    Can you.

  9. 309
    Mark says:

    “Until you go look for alternatives to provide the energy.”

    Or don’t use it.

    If I hypermile instead of boy-racer, the VERY SAME CAR will use half or less the petrol to go the same distance.

    I used less energy.

    I didn’t need to find an alternative.

    I thought you wanted innovative thinkers? You’re not thinking innovatively.

  10. 310
    Chris says:

    Gavin- You can’t put a price on emissions more effectively than the market. This is to say, to get back to Dubner’s point, that taxing carbon usage will just shift emissions from nations that adopt such a tax to those that do not. This is why when economists like Krugman point to CO2 emissions and see an externality and want to tax it it doesn’t make sense because taxes on externalities are implemented to represent the true costs of an activity. While it is acceptable in theory the reality is the costs are not easily estimated and the scope of the externality too large. In order to make the system efficient you would have to target the emissions by one country and tie them to the costs of another. And, the more global the tax the higher the incentive to “cheat” i.e. refuse to pay. Even the coercion necessary to implement such a regime would require an inordinate amount of solidarity and effort. The world can’t even enforce the Kyoto protocols (I believe the only country reducing emissions to the appropriate levels is France, and that is because they are almost 100% nuclear power) or the Geneva Convention.
    What you say about renewable energy is also naive because it assumes that if you tax carbon (i.e. make energy more expensive) that this will increase the desire to find or implement alternatives. This assumes that: a) the government who controls the proceeds from the tax has an incentive to fund research based on the likelihood of success and not for the benefit of its members (I think that the experience with biofuels makes this assumption invalid), b) capital cannot move from jurisdictions with carbon taxes to taxes without them (it can and it does) and c) that the scarcity of carbon would not force investigations into alternative energy without a tax.
    The SO2 solution may be a Rube Goldberg contraption (it probably won’t work) but that is not the point. What is important is that it has the characteristics needed for a solution to the emissions problem in that it does not cause distortions in demand (i.e. require a tax), will not have the unintended consequence of distorting the food supply, requires no significant change in land use, is scalable to the problem, has low and more or less measurable costs and does not require global co-operation (the most Rube Goldberg contraption of all). I think that the authors were not so much positing a solution as highlighting the need for a change in our thinking about what a real solution might look like. They present us with a challenge to the conventional wisdom so that we might avoid the temptation to cleanse ourselves through unneeded hardship without actually confronting the problem like so many monks flagellating themselves during the plague.

    [Response: I’m not quite sure what you are saying here. There is currently no market in CO2 emissions other than those instituted by governments. Where did I say I could be more efficient than that? And you are way overestimating the effect on ‘exporting’ emissions. There can be no export of emissions for the power sector or transportation or the main bulk of the agricultural sectors. And even for those things that are more mobile, this is exactly why these things are being discussed at the international level. Even with some level of leakage, you still get reduced emissions overall, and there are ways to reduce leakage being discussed already. Pricing in the externalities associated with carbon fossil fuels clearly switches cost-benefit calculations being made with respect to investment in renewables – regardless of what the governments do with the revenue from whatever pricing mechanism they choose. It shortens payback times for efficiency improvements and allows new technology such as air capture to become viable (if they can reduce their costs sufficiently to compete with emission-reducing strategies). Exactly how elastic demand for fossil fuels is to the price of carbon remains unclear (but the reduction in driving miles as a function of the oil price rise and coal use over the last few years as a function of discussions about carbon pricing (over and above the reduction due to the economic downturn) are quite hopeful in that regard). I don’t know how successful this strategy will be, but it is clearly a necessary first step that of course needs to be monitored and updated as new information comes in. Self-flagellation is completely pointless (unless you like that sort of thing). – gavin]

  11. 311

    Chris, you’re off about Kyoto compliance. Here is an interesting (though imperfect) blog post. Read down into the post for the key to these pretty but less-than-self-explanatory graphics.

    http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2009/kyoto-whos-on-target/

  12. 312
    johonny says:

    [i]”I again point out that Cheap Access To Space (and building Mirrors there) does not have the same set of negatives as making still more changes to our Atmospheric Chemistry. I agree fully that it would not solve the problem of CO2 completely. The oceans would still be absorbing it, but it could keep us under the level at which tipping points take things out of our control.” [/i]

    Actually this is totally wrong. Our cheapest access to space with current technology also is the method that destroys the most ozone per launch. The amount of launches and construction needed for building space mirrors would almost certainly have a real atmospheric chemistry affect. That affect would be the destruction of part of the ozone layer. Rocket exhaust has a real and experimentally observed and modeled affect on our atmosphere.

  13. 313
    Chris says:

    Gavin-
    The price of fossil fuels is the cost of emissions. So the market for them is the market for emissions. Any cap and trade regime is just a tax on carbon. Whatever the costs of fossil fuels these costs are paid by power companies and any other companies who depend on fossil fuels who pass those costs on to their consumers (unless you are under the assumption that there is no “hurdle rate” i.e. minimum rate of return on corporate investment). This means the average person pays for the power they use personally as well as that part of the cost of the goods and services they consume that can be traced to the cost of electricity, transportation, air freight etc. times any extra sales tax (VAT). If you believe that no new factories are constructed and businesses do not move between countries then emissions will be lowered overall. The problem is that they do not remain so static.
    Example: California has the strictest emission standards in the US meaning that no new coal-fired and very few oil burning plants, if any, have been built in the last few decades as its demand for electricity has increased with expanding electricity usage and population. California’s policy on emissions would translate into a very low supply and high price for electricity, which would be paid by its population. However, much of California’s power comes from out of state where there are no such laws. This is in direct agreement with what classical economic theory would predict with what essentially is a price control. Maybe given this scenario there was some reduction in overall emissions over time due to the increase in price. However, to assume any significant global decrease occurred would require the further assumptions that the States from which California now gets its power are not increasing their emissions by increasing output or building new plants. (Given the power shortages experienced in CA in the beginning of this decade that may have been the case.) It also assumes that companies will not be sensitive to the cost of electricity in CA and move their operations to other states.
    If you take the very real example of California and apply it to the world, there is no long-run shift in demand (irrespective of price elasticities which are irrelevant in the long term as they do not affect global demand) except those created, as you point out, by an economic downturn. Right now, the reality of what you are suggesting is the sabotage the world economy (hence the “self-flagellation” in my earlier post) by artificially increasing the costs of the factors of production (i.e. fossil fuels) until such time as we can come up with an alternative. Even with vastly improved renewables technology such systems can hardly be expected to replace oil and coal (and the electricity for “electric cars” has to come from somewhere). This is especially true when you consider that biofuels will lead to deforestation and thus more CO2 in the atmosphere, we cannot use the earth as a sink for the CO2 because it already has absorbed as much as it can hold and photovoltaics, windmills, geothermal, and hydro are all limited by physics in their efficiency.
    The only technology I can see that will cause a shift in the demand curve and not be like cutting our hands off so we don’t bite our nails is to shift our generation of electricity from coal and oil to nuclear power. In the US we already have a suboptimal number of nuclear power plants because their economic viability is lost in a sea of paperwork and red tape.

  14. 314
    Chris says:

    Kevin-
    I maybe off about Kyoto compliance, but I believe the numbers on those graphs do back up my general point that countries are being willfully non-compliant in the face of economic pressures in order to make themselves more competitive (see Italy, Spain, Switzerland etc.) or they are just slumping (most of the countries that have almost hit their targets in Eastern Europe).

  15. 315
    Patrick 027 says:

    I have no idea how effective this would be and am more hopeful for emissions reductions, but what about crashing a rocket into Mercury and spreading out a dust cloud around the sun (the disk of the sun would appear dimmer but there would be a diffuse glow around it; provided the dust albedo is not 100 %, there would be some net reduction)? Well if not for climate change, we could at least discover water! :)

  16. 316
    tharanga says:

    Mark, 308: Yes, there are some emissions cuts to be had for free, so to speak, in that they also save money while maintaining the same level of economic output – plenty of more mundane examples, too, like CFLs and installing more insulation. Higher energy prices lower the payback periods, so industries have been scrambling to find such savings – the oil industry very much included.

    But I wouldn’t go around talking as if those free cuts are going to be enough. McKinsey figures such efficiency gains can get us maybe halfway to typical stabilisation targets*. So there’s potentially huge scope, sure, but don’t count on it getting you all the way.

    Some of these efficiency gains also just aren’t realised unless energy prices are high. If the electric bill is low, the savings for any one improvement may be also low, and the payback period long. So people don’t bother. Also, incentives aren’t always lined up well: if you’ve ever rented an apartment, you’ll have seen that the landlord might not care to invest much in efficiency improvements, as it’s the renter who pays the
    utility bills.

    * source here, possibly behind paywall
    http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=E1_TTPNGVQJ

  17. 317
    Patrick 027 says:

    …(continued from 307
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/10/why-levitt-and-dubner-like-geo-engineering-and-why-they-are-wrong/comment-page-7/#comment-139904

    Note – that comment will for referencing purposes be indentified as MC3;

    MC1 will be:
    261
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/10/why-levitt-and-dubner-like-geo-engineering-and-why-they-are-wrong/comment-page-6/#comment-139621

    MC2 will be:
    293 http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/10/why-levitt-and-dubner-like-geo-engineering-and-why-they-are-wrong/comment-page-6/#comment-139784

    )…
    __________________

    Corrections/clarifications:

    (MC1, point 12) “Emissions that are a climate feedback should not be taxed according to the managers/owners of the component of the system (various ecosystems, etc.) because they are not at fault “…

    Replace “according to” with “as the responsibility of”

    ———–
    There will probably be some uncertainty regarding how to assess land-use and livestock emissions. One way to address these issues would be to estimate the emissions and assign a tax based on the combination of known assessable aspects of the land, it’s climate (but don’t punish for climate feedback emissions – but do incentivise practices that affect the feedback, but not to the point of negatively affecting natural ecosystems with a net bad total effect, etc.), crops, livestock and feed, and the way the system is managed. Also consider the portion of C that remains within wood and wood products over time, as a function of what is done.

    But of course, by all means, allow those who work the land and manage the livestock, etc, to try things (as public money funds similar work), and if they find something that works (“Beano” for cows?), verify it and adjust the policies to encourage it in the conditions that it would work.

    Some methane emissions from cows come from cow waste, I think; that methane (unlike that which comes directly from the cow) could be taken and used for energy.

    Be aware of the risks of genetic modification as a solution. You can’t take you-know-what out of a pool (without processing the water).

    Don’t forget those who work the water and seafood and marine ecosystems. There have been political tensions recently between land-based food production and seafood interests – for some reason Sean Hannity has taken sides (is seafood un-American?) (as pointed out in an episode of “The Daily Show”, right wing libertarians who don’t want the government to spend money want the government to change something about water management that wouldn’t even be an issue if the government hadn’t spent money years ago on water resource management). Runoff from farms affects seafood production downstream (freshwater fish could be affected too, I’d assume).

    ———–

    (MC3) “However, as I see it, the important thing is that there is a price signal on the emissions because of the money spent on CDM.”

    The price signal should be preserved – the same tax rate should apply to the emissions, whatever portion of that revenue goes to CDMs. This is a bit different than using CDMs as an emissions offset to reduce the amount of tax owed.

    ———–

    (MC3) “advances in efficiently dealing with tropical pests and diseases or pests and diseases in general”

    (MC3) “reducing other stresses on ecosystems to help them survive global warming and thus protecting access to ecosystem services”

    (MC3) “Note that 2. could includes any increases in efficiency of medicine and health care, energy, food, water, or any other economic thing, or anything that aids in quality of life (which could concievably include re-education efforts to reduce female circumcision). ”

    I had intended to edit the last part about an ugly practice because it seems a tangent too far from the main topic (as long as I mentioned it, though, it is an example of a behavior that tends to be self-reinforcing within a society perhaps more so than what the individuals (beyond the victims) involved would actually like).

    But in general, these are some of the things we should be doing anyway, climate change or not (reducing other stresses on ecosystems would still have value). Other such things are trying to prevent war (which, besides the more obvious problems, tends to impair food security), and fight corruption and brutality.

    Use of these things as a compensation for climate change costs should go above and beyond what should otherwise be done (and in some cases, what should be done is 100 %, leaving no additional room for improvement). Climate change provides added incentive and added need to do at least some of these things. (Compensation to climate change refugees and their recieving nations, and to nations that suffer greater than average per capita losses, could help prevent war and keep migration open as an adaptation option.

    (While political pressures to close borders is generally an impediment to efficient/optimal adaptation to various things, it must also be remembered that, whatever the material economic benifits, any migration tends to have a pyschological/social/mental/etc. cost (on the part of the immigrant), so reducing the need to migrate far is helpful.)

    ———–

    (MC3) “tax revenue –> 3,4,5 –> increase ability to adapt”
    This refers to a direct benifit to the private sector, whereas:
    “tax revenue –> 4. investment in mitigation –> regeneration of revenue at later time –> 1,2 adaptation/compensation/sequestration, etc.”
    and
    “tax revenue –> 1,2,3,5 investments –> regeneration of revenue at later time –> 1,2,etc.”
    refer more to reallocation of revenue to adaptation/compensation/sequestration/etc. purposes.

    Add to that list of revenue pathways:

    tax revenue -> 1,2,3,4,5 -> regeneration of public investment as it is made (short term) to fulfill (without necessarily additional public direction) 2,*3*,(4?,5?)

    ————

    Concievably, embedding a metal grid within pavement would allow a thermoelectric device to produce electric power from roads, particularly in winter when the albedo difference between a cleared road and snow-covered fields will be larger.

    In general, except for surfaces devoted to other tasks with other optical requirements, energy efficiency may be enhanced if building exteriors have high LW (terrestrial IR) albedos. In warm climates – or perhaps in cold climates that experience a lot of boundary-layer cloud cover with inversions – this will be of greatest effect on building sides; *perhaps* higher LW emmisivity on rooftops, perhaps (I haven’t gone through the math yet) specifically in the ~ 8 to 12 micron range with higher LW albedo outside of that, could actually aid in cooling. (Solar ovens with concentrating mirrors can be used to enhance cooling of objects (this has been tried by someone) by focussing lines of sight upward, so that the object at the focal point is effectively surrounded by the dimmest (in the LW band) part of the sky (with exceptions, the intensity of downward LW radiation tends to be higher near the horizon and lower near vertical) It would also be helpful if the outer material in general had a temperature dependent albedo to solar radiation – the effect could be greatest in solar IR so as to avoid any undesirable aesthetic effects (if it would be undersirable).

    The relative proportion of solar energy at different wavelengths can vary. Some solar IR wavelengths will be depleted in power by higher specific humidity as tends to be found in warm humid climates/seasons. Any gaseous absorption (including UV) and scattering will have least effect when the sun is closest to overhead. Different solar cell band gaps or energy conversion devices in general or different optical parts of any solar energy collector, and different designs in series-connected multijunctions, will thus experience different diurnal and seasonal variations in energy output. There might be different temperature-dependencies for efficiency. Concievably, different solar cell and other solar energy device types/designs might be better for different latitudes and climates.

    Energy efficiency of specific processes and things and times will not have equal effect. Strategically, the most valuable energy efficiency will be in those cases and at those times when the form of energy used has greater scarcity or cost. Market responses will tend to optimize this. However, this should be kept in mind for public planning and regulation. For example, if solar power is expected to become a major source of energy and increases in wind power in the winter and at night don’t fully compensate, etc (some wind power (besides offshore and warm or dry climate) might be taken offline after some weather events/conditions to prevent dangerous throwing of ice chunks ?), and depending on expenses and resource availability in transmission and storage and compensating dispatchable energy, it will be of more value to increase energy efficiency in fall/winter and at night, and thus generally in colder conditions, then to do so for summer daytime conditions, except where summers are very cloudy, etc.

    ———–

    **********************************************
    IN SUMMARY:

    While real markets are not ideal, an ideal market tends toward economic efficiency when the benificiaries of a process pay the costs of the process. Pollution is one of the things that results in externalities. Externalities can be corrected by public policies; these can include taxes, caps, planning (such as zoning to reduce externalities on property values), and bans, and privatization of the commons. These actions can have costs as well as the benifit of correcting an externality – some policies may be hard to enforce effectively and efficiently and/or might be corruptable, and some commons have a benifit as commons that would be lost if privatized, and privatization in some cases is not economically viable for other reasons. Some positive externalities can even be of some societal value (advantages to utilization of ‘fair use’ in copyright laws). There are also costs and benifits for public policies with regards to other imperfections of the free market.

    Regarding climate change:

    ———-

    ******
    Minimize perverse incentives, don’t get too narrowly focused so as to make another problem worse, allow market responses to price signals to find efficient solutions (there is a role for public planning, but don’t prescribe specific allotments of change to different industries), make the policy a net benifit, make a policy that is principled, efficiently enforceable, and resistant to corruption. Note that there may be nonlinearities in the value of externalities – emissions and other changes can interact with each other to produce a total effect, and the effect may depend on the trajectory of the whole system into the future. Balance minimization of perverse incentives and avoidance of narrow focus with a good sense of priority, allowing approximations (including linearizations, where justified) as the costs of reducing error get large as the error gets small, and tackle the biggest problems with the clearest effects first. Address trade issues. Try to be fair (and know what ‘fair’ means, which is often a problem). Except for practices that change the feedback, realize that emissions that are a feedback are, for the purpose of responsibility, part of the effect of the anthropogenic emissions and add to their externality effect.
    ******

    Addressing the externality can help the market shift from emissions and waste to alternative pathways and efficiency; the market will tend to shift toward the most efficient options (for example, it would encourage buying local to the extent that reduced transportation emissions are not outweighed by other considerations – a simple mandate could more easily miss the mark). A tax could work very well for climate-change and ocean-acidification emissions, especially for emissions of fossil C. A tax with a cap (auctioned caps) would also work. Such measures and some others (such as a moritorium on new coal power plants, etc.) would send a price signal that propagates along a chain of supply and demand, so the regulation can be applied at one point on the chain – the price signal can be distributed among consumers and investors, and to other countries, etc. Directing public funds to clean energy could help but by itself it would not have the strength of a tax in pushing the economy to reduce emissions and increase efficiency, and it also makes sense that if revenue is spent to address the problem or it’s consequences, at least some of it should come from a tax on the source of the problem.

    In designing the policy, it is important to realize that some climate forcing agents have other effects (such as ocean acidification), some climate forcing economic pathways have other effects (mercury emissions, effects of mountaintop removal mining), and some climate forcing agents have some idiosyncratic effects (regional aerosols in particular). Obviously, for CO2 emissions that are balanced by a directly-connected sequestration need not be considered – only fossil C (fossil fuels and some use of limestone) and net losses in biomass and soil C are the only significant net sources of anthropogenic emissions. Methane emissions containing fossil C and methane emissions from animals and soils, etc. due to human activity differ in total effect on atmospheric composition over time. Fossil fuels are the biggest but not the only source of anthropogenic climate forcing. Also, there are other issues. Too much focus on one source of emission, on one type of emission, on one category of externality, etc, could result in some perverse incentives to increase other environmental or other problems (such as deforestation to produce biofuels, etc.). A balanced approach, wherein all externalities, including those not specific to climate change, are treated equally per unit public cost, would tend to have optimal results. However, it is also true that there is a cost to achieving accuracy; overall the optimal policy and enforcement thereof will probably in some cases, such as land use (less so for fossil CO2 emissions), there will have to be some approximation, and some climate forcers and some effects (some aerosols (besides dark aerosols that darken ice and snow?), forced land albedo and evapotranspiration changes, CO2 fertilization ?) might have to be set aside (made a lower priority for the time being – perhaps addressed later if found worthwhile) due to some combination of small effect or low probability of becoming larger and being very complex, so that the effort to design and enforce a good policy may not be payed back, except perhaps for some regional and local concerns wherein the policy would be the responsibility of those nations or localities (?).

    If caps are imposed, externality amounts of equal value should generally be exchangeable – this gets complicated if not all externalities are capped, but the math should be workable. If found to be good, a total cap might be imposed for some externality, but in general, specific proportions of that should not be assigned to particular industries or locations; instead, the market should be allowed to determine the distribution of the externality sources (in the case that there is some dependence of the effect of an emission on where it comes from, then the externality would be measured according to that effect and not in constant proportion to the emission amount).

    The policy should be designed to be effective, efficiently enforceable, and corruption-resistant, or at least corruption resistant for the bulk of the tax revenues and powers involved. I believe that in the case of fossil C emissions and at least some other well-mixed gaseous climate-changing emissions, a tax could work very well. The tax should be applied at points in the flow where the greatest volumes are found in the least number of branches (for example, at points where fuel is extracted or sold to power plants and large distributors, not to residential customers of electricity and natural gas, etc.), and the price signal will then tend to propagate as it should.

    On the international scale, accounting for past emissions could help level the field among nations so that all could more fairly participate in the same overall global policy (see 13. in M1 and M2). Requiring payments of x % of what a nation is responsible for in order to get x % of what that nation is owed would incentivise participation. Absent a more comprehensive agreement, at least an agreement to allow or have tariffs and/or subsidies on trade in proportion to differences in policy (amount and structure) between nations would help.

    ———-

    ******
    Utilize bottom-up principles as well as top-down considerations of an optimal trajectory to guide how much of mitigation spending to consider in determining the price signal (tax + spending on alternatives) that is justified by the public cost of the externality. Note that the public cost of the externality can extend beyond the necessary spending purely to compensate or adapt to climate change. Note that various spending pathways exist, some of which can serve multiple purposes at once, and some of which can serve as investments to regenerate revenue (for public spending or direct private sector benifit) at a later time when it might be needed.

    Try to be fair in compensation of losses suffered by people. But in compensation those who might lose more or gain less from the price signals, do not remove the price signals.

    Consider whether to address only losses that are greater than average, and whether to tax in a symmetric fashion people (or just nations) with benifits greater than average (noting that the average benifit is most likely a negative benifit). Avoid perverse incentives in compensation – don’t encourage maladaptive behavior or discourage optimal or near-optimal adaptation – note also that climate change or none, some changes in FEMA and agricultural aid (and agriculture in general) are in order.
    ******

    The price signal of an externality is justified in principle by the public cost; thus, it makes sense that the tax rate be equal to the public cost per unit, so that the amount of revenue is equal to the amount of spending necessary to compensate/reduce those costs (sequestration, adaptive infrastructure investments to make the system less vulnerable to climate shifts (in general or those predicted – additional spending for climate shifts ‘in general’ would not be the responsibility of the climate emissions tax payers, however), and replace lost ecosystem services and strategic measures to reduce climate impacts on ecosystem services and biodiversity, etc, and compensation to those who suffer specific losses or greater than average losses, etc.).

    However, some forms of spending that may make good sense don’t obviously fit into that equation.

    If there is public spending on mitigation (mitigation = alternatives with (much) less emissions, including efficiency) more than is justified for some other reasons …

    (funding from R&D to the threshold of mass market advantage, safety in R&D to support ‘technodiversity’, perhaps also accelerating the scaling up of alternative pathways beyond the mass market threshold to reduce total public cost from climate change, and also perhaps using such and other public investments to regenerate revenue either within the private sector or for public spending to help compensate or pay for adaptation and losses in the future or in the short term).

    …, then it could be argued that in principle the price signal is the sum of the tax rate and the public investment in alternatives, and thus the tax rate should then be lower than the public cost of the externality. However, if the optimal trajectory includes public spending for mitigation in response to the climate change threat, then that is public spending made necessary by the externalities and thus the tax rate should provide sufficient revenue to include that.

    In general, spending may be for sequestration, adaptation (adaptation/amelioration/neutralization/compensation) to climate change, adaptation to economic changes motivated by the policy, mitigation, and various other categories including equal per capita payback and cuts in other taxes (or paying down the debt, etc.).

    Some specific projects may serve multiple purposes, and some categories (spending on land-use issues, population growth reduction, CDM-type programs) also fall into more than one of the categories in the previous paragraph. Some spending in one category can serve as an economic investment to regenerate funds at a later timer or just help in a more direct way.

    Since the ideal market response to the correct externality tax would be optimization, the ‘correct’ externality tax could be calculated from a study of optimizing overall trajectories.

    ———–

    ******
    Things to consider in evaluting public cost of climate change and the net benifit of policies
    ******

    It can be hard to measure public costs, especially since they include potential losses in aesthetic, scientific, psychological, and social value, as well as the more material losses, themselves being potentially hard to measure because some such losses are in ecosystem services. It is possible at least in theory to find equivalent economic values, however, given that all economic value originates in behavior that is motivated by aesthetics, and equivalent values could be found by considering what it would take to get a person to change a behavior, assuming rational behavior. It must be kept in mind, however, that the value of one item might be partly realized directly to a person and realized indirectly to the same or other people, even possibly through people to other people – such is the nature of ecosystems.

    Since the policy we should have is a morally-optimum policy (by definition of ‘should’ and ‘moral’), moral values come into play, though ultimately there are economics involved there as well – it might be said that aesthetic value is (in combination with the constraints of a (meaningfully-interactive – as in causally-linked as implied by patterns) physical reality) the ultimate source of all economic value and moral value is the the end value of values – the ultimate purpose of any other value, if there is one.

    One way to estimate an optimal trajectory withoug getting into a lot of such complex value relationships (but still requiring physical, ecological, and tangible economic relationships and some basic assumptions about what people will like and not like in the future…

    (safe to assume people will still mostly be carbon-based lifeforms that have a set of nutritional and other needs in order to be healthy and generally want to experience achievement in return for effort, relax, have fun, learn, imagine, be entertained, enjoy beauty, have friends and maybe family, enjoy interesting thoughts, fall in love, have a good story to tell, eat really good dessert every once in a while, … not necessarily in that order)

    … is to measure in some way quality of life/standard of living – perhaps considering the average, median, and lowest _ percentile of people.

    ———–
    ******
    There is a role for public planning and regulation in addition to the taxation and general spending. Public planning and standards and some targeted incentives will help, in both mitigation, adaptation, and other things, in coordinating changes so that different parts of the whole system remain or become compatable with each so they can have greatest effect, and in breaking entrenched and self-reinforcing habits that have or will become maladaptive (especially important where durable goods and infrastructure are involved, because of legacy costs) – once broken, the market might then be able to better explore alternatives and tend toware the efficient pathways.

    Planning may also play a role due to nonlinearities – for example, how the public costs of emissions depend on the future trajectory of emissions and of other things.

    Planning can also affect the discount rate (at least that portion due to uncertainty – if we plan a future then we might put more value in it). Public planning can act over time scales larger than most private sector activity.
    ******
    ————-
    ******
    There are also changes to make in existing policy. For example, there might be tax breaks on fossil fuels. In fairness, it makes sense to tax the land used by solar power as land (and land used by coal mining should also be taxed), but it may make sense to tax solar panels as fuel (?). Tax policies besides taxing and spending as described above should be made fair.
    ******
    ————-

    Some things that would help adaptation and mitigation to climate change should be done anyway. The threat of climate change in some cases will justify greater overall changes or accelerated changes (Some other things are more absolute in nature – they should just be different, climate change or not). Any improvements in the efficiency of food, water, industry, health care, etc, and any improvements in the treatment of people will be good.

    —————–

  18. 318
    Mark says:

    “But I wouldn’t go around talking as if those free cuts are going to be enough.”

    Build renewables.

    The US can quarter their per-capita energy needs, the UK halve and they will then be at the world average. Much of Europe can reduce their usage to 50% or thereabouts and still have our current productivity.

    There’s much of the 75% reduction right there.

    Now make your energy builds renewable rather than fossil fuels and much of the remaining 50-60% of our production will be coming from non-fossil fuels and so not becoming a CO2 problem.

    At that point we’ve had several years of reductions and several years of time to think of innovations to tackle the remaining. We’ve also had several years of seeing whether we would need to remove CO2 without waiting for the natural processes. And then geoengineering comes into view.

    And while geoengineering is being run, if needed, we have adaption (move out of New Orleans, move financial services out of London, etc).

  19. 319

    Chris:

    photovoltaics, windmills, geothermal, and hydro are all limited by physics in their efficiency.

    So is every other physical process. What’s your point?

    We can provide ALL our energy needs with solar alone, or geothermal alone. A mix of all four sources listed above can easily power the entire Earth. Not next year, but as fast as we can get the infrastructure into place would be a good idea.

  20. 320

    Patrick,

    The amount of Mercury that would need to be destroyed, and the difficulty of getting it to Mercury escape velocity, precludes that plan.

  21. 321
    Mark says:

    ” photovoltaics, windmills, geothermal, and hydro are all limited by physics in their efficiency.

    So is every other physical process. What’s your point?”

    In addition, the sunlight is at a high effective temperature (the 6000K of the sun’s visible temperature) and therefore the Carnot cycle efficiency will be high.

    And no losses of digging up sunlight, refining sunlight and transporting the resulting sunlight to where the energy is needed to then be burnt and transported over powerlines to the home.

  22. 322
  23. 323
    Hank Roberts says:

    > crashing a rocket into Mercury and spreading out a dust cloud around the sun

    Look at the actual sizes involved for a sanity check.
    See the craters on Mercury now? http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/
    Far bigger rocks have been hitting Mercury than anything we can throw.

    Rocks come our way bigger than anything we can either throw _or_ catch, and cause just a contrail, not even a blip in climate.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zt2X_P455yk (Indonesia, recently)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M8LQ7_hWtE (Grand Tetons, long ago)

  24. 324
    Mark says:

    Heck, how much mercury would be needed to make a ring dense enough and wide enough to block sunlight?

    And what about light pressure on these bits of dust? What do you think is causing the sun-fleeing cometary tails?

  25. 325
    Foobear says:

    You make three major errors here:

    1) When switching from leaded to unleaded, human behavior *did not change*. You go to the gas station, fill up your car, and drive off. CO2 fixes such as “switch to mass transit” or “only eat locally grown food” would require massive behavior changes. As Levitt and Dubner point out, even when changes are in our best interests and are nearly free (as with seat belts) humans still don’t change their behavior very easily.

    [Response: The issue was not that some ‘fixes’ require behavioural change, but that many don’t (and frankly I think those will be the most successful – so I don’t think we disagree on this). Switching from coal to renewables entails no behaviour change, internal combustion to plug-in hybrids little or no change, capturing methane from land fills no change etc. Similarly, carbon pricing will favour non-carbon emitting sources in ways that will be mostly opaque to most users.]

    2) Your points on the inaccuracies of climate models seem to mirror pretty closely the statements of global warming deniers. Which is it? Do we know the basic causalities of climate change, or don’t we? As Levitt points out in the book, we’ve already run the proof of concept of the idea with Pinatubo (and every other time a volcano goes off).

    [Response: What is your point? Climate models aren’t perfect (but who ever said they were?), but have to used in attribution and projecting. They are clearly going to be more reliable the closer we are to today’s climate. Pinatubo had plenty of adverse affects – rainfall decreases, ozone depletion etc. that are relatively well simulated (rainfall decreases are much less in the models though) – but doing one or two Pinatubo’s a year is probably going to set off different behaviours still. Do you feel lucky?]

    3) Levitt and Dubner actually do address the point of who would get to control the SO2 emitters – it would be a very contentious issue. However, this is philosophically no different than our current efforts to geoengineer the planet with Kyoto and similar protocols (and it is geoengineering – what else do you think it is trying to do?) The same international methods could be used to control the SO2 emitters.

    [Response: But then you might as well use that mechanism to reduce emissions. It’s only because people think we can’t come up with international agreement that people want these schemes to work. – gavin]

    If you agree that we should do something about global warming, it is mind boggling that you would prefer an expensive and immoral approach that would curtail the prosperity and liberty of billions of people over one that is essentially free.

  26. 326
    tharanga says:

    321: Did you just calculate a Carnot efficiency with the surface of the sun as the heat source, and try to apply it to solar cells? That’s, um, innovative. While there are thermodynamic constraints that would keep the maximum possible efficiency of a photovoltaic below 100%, you’d be looking at quantum mechanics for the limit, not the classical heat engine.

    318 Mark: Obviously, you build renewables, but don’t pretend there isn’t a cost associated with that, so long as fossil fuels are cheaper. Which was my original point. Advocate all the policies you want, but be honest that there are some costs involved. Sure, that added cost can be justified by various problems avoided down the road, but in the short term, your electricity still costs more.

  27. 327
    Mark says:

    “321: Did you just calculate a Carnot efficiency with the surface of the sun as the heat source, and try to apply it to solar cells? That’s, um, innovative.”

    The energy spectrum of sunlight IS 6000K.

    There’s not as much *energy* as at the surface of the sun, but that doesn’t effect the efficiency theoretically possible from sunlight (which is the carnot cycle limit).

    If you thermalise that radiation (as the earth’s surface under sunlight does) then you have an effective temperature of somewhere under 320K and your efficiency is greatly reduced.

    Don’t get the two scenarios confused, tharanga.

  28. 328
    Mark says:

    “318 Mark: Obviously, you build renewables, but don’t pretend there isn’t a cost associated with that, so long as fossil fuels are cheaper. Which was my original point”

    What does the cost of fossil fuels (used up in operation) have to do with the cost of building the solar power plants (a one-off cost)?

  29. 329
    tharanga says:

    327: This is confused enough that I’ll leave it alone. Let’s just say, whatever you think the maximum possible efficiency of a photovoltaic cell is, actual efficiencies can be from maybe 10 to 30%, defined as electric power generated/incident solar power. But that, in itself, does not tell you what’s important: the actual cost in dollars; a energy source with low efficiency can easily more expensive than one with high efficiency.

    328: One puts together capital and operating costs when discussing the costs of different energy sources. For example, nuclear power has huge capital costs (to build the thing) and low operating costs, and the price one would quote for price/kWh from a new plant would include both. And on that basis, fossil fuels are cheapest. Nobody builds a coal plant out of spite; they build it because it’s cheap.

  30. 330
    Marcus says:

    “Do we know the basic causalities of climate change, or don’t we? ”

    We know the basics. But any modeler will tell you that we might be missing some factors which could either lead climate change to be better (negative feedbacks) or much worse (positive feedbacks, or other impacts) than the general span of the models. To make the decision to reduce emissions, this is “good enough”, since you are moving back towards a “no-impact” scenario. To make the decision to geo-engineer, this isn’t _nearly_ good enough.

    For example, I might be considering jumping off a tall building. I make a quick mental model, decide it is probably a bad idea. I mean, I could get lucky – there might be a passing haycart that I could fall into and it would be a nice, fun experience. On the other hand, maybe there’s a newspaper box that I could crack my head on, which would make it even worse.

    But wait – I’ve seen people use parachutes on TV! Maybe I don’t have a real parachute with me, but I can jury-rig one. Maybe I have vague recollections that parachutes only work if you open them at a certain minimum height, but I’m probably above that height. My mental model was good enough to tell me “don’t jump off that building”, so surely it is good enough to tell me “this parachute will save me”, right?

  31. 331
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re tharanga – “Also, incentives aren’t always lined up well: if you’ve ever rented an apartment, you’ll have seen that the landlord might not care to invest much in efficiency improvements, as it’s the renter who pays the utility bills.”

    Good issue to address.

  32. 332
    Mark says:

    One way to solve the problem of landlords not caring would be to require that rental agreements state normal monthly costs for power.

    A fully informed consumer can then make an informed decision about where they rent from.

    A place that is expensive to heat will be ignored for one that may be expensive to rent but cheap to heat, if the total is still lower.

    Having to be second-best to a cheaper heating rental means that the landlord makes less money or gets the less secure tennant who cannot get accepted to another place.

    It would be nice to tax the landlords for archaic power systems, though this would best be done under the same rules as health and safety laws currently ensure that the landlord keeps the rats out and the walls painted on their rented apartments.

  33. 333
    Steve Fish says:

    Foobear (#325, 30 October 2009 @ 8:14 AM):

    Two responses to “…you would prefer an expensive and immoral approach that would curtail the prosperity and liberty of billions of people over one that is essentially free.”-

    Your “free” doesn’t include the effects of ignoring, and even aggravating, ocean acidification. I believe that this would be immoral.

    Your “free” doesn’t include the loss of “prosperity and liberty of billions of people” that will result from the radical increases in the cost of petroleum and coal in the future if alternative sources of energy are not developed rapidly, and in addition for the US, the cost of maintaining our military for dealing with the worldwide scrabble for energy.

    Steve

  34. 334
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    re: 325
    “If you agree that we should do something about global warming, it is mind boggling that you would prefer an expensive and immoral approach that would curtail the prosperity and liberty of billions of people over one that is essentially free.”

    Odd sense of freedom. Have you consulted the future about what they’d want? Even an odder one of morality.

    I could imagine a scenario in which pumping millions of tons of SO2 into the atmosphere would be a viable band-aid.

    If we woke up one day to discover that we had passed the temperature threshold for tundra to emit as much CO2 as human activity does, I think even the scoffers would have to admit that we had a problem to fix. At that point, every spare shekel we could muster would be spent on carbon capture. (I think at that point, we’d be too late, but what do I know?) To buy us the time to get a global carbon capture/abatement regimen put into place, the SO2 scheme might be defensible. As a permanent fixture of Life on Earth? Not so much.

    But, hey, I’ve got a great idea. Let’s start abating and capturing CO2/CH4 right now!

    But who says it’s needed? Do you think the scoffers and deniers and professional hacks would support a plan to pump 20,000,000 tons of SO2 into the atmosphere to fix a problem they say doesn’t exist? A global problem needs a deeper commitment than we currently have. Can you imagine the carping, foot-dragging, fault-finding, anxiety-fanning, paranoia-milking saturation-bombing from the media such a plan would provoke if you tried it today? I can.

  35. 335
    Mark says:

    “327: This is confused enough that I’ll leave it alone.”

    Except you didn’t.

    “Let’s just say, whatever you think the maximum possible efficiency of a photovoltaic cell is, actual efficiencies can be from maybe 10 to 30%, defined as electric power generated/incident solar power.”

    Absolute best efficiency you get is the spare energy of the released electron less the thermal energy of the lattice the electron is released from.

    Say 0.1eV is lost. Far IR.

    An electron kicked out from a photon of light about 1eV will then have 0.9eV energy available that will then be extracted. 90% efficient.

    An electron kicked out from a photon of IR about 0.2eV will have 0.1eV energy available on escape that will then be extracted. 50% efficient.

    Now if you use thermal sources of 200W at 300K you will have almost all your energy in the 50% efficient or less range. Because the spectrum of photons are at 300K.

    If you have photons from the sun, the spectrum is at 6000K. And most of your 200W is at 90% efficiency.

    Think of this too:

    Incandescent lightbulb: 100W power used

    Flourescent lightbulb: 12W power used

    Both are the same brightness.

    Why?

  36. 336
    Mark says:

    “For example, nuclear power has huge capital costs (to build the thing) and low operating costs, and the price one would quote for price/kWh from a new plant would include both.”

    Incorrect.

    Hank has frequently given the figures and Nuke power is several times more expensive than renewables while PV power is very nearly the same price (and nowhere near as subsidised: Nuclear power subsidies in the US total 7.1Bn a year, Petro ~30Bn.).

    “And on that basis, fossil fuels are cheapest. Nobody builds a coal plant out of spite; they build it because it’s cheap.”

    They build it because they get subsidies. They operate cheaply because the oil extraction is subsidised.

    And they aren’t cheaper than even current wind turbines. They are practically identical. And lower in subsidy by a long shot.

    They aren’t building 240 turbines in Texas because of spite: they’re doing it because it’s cheap.

  37. 337
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re potential efficiency of solar power energy conversion:

    Offhand, I recall (don’t take my word for it) that the upper limits for solar cells are ~ 60 % for flat panel and ~ 80 % for concentrated solar radiation (I don’t know what it would be for luminescent concentrators – higher than either or intermediate value or what?); I think I also recall one website that claimed we could expect to eventually see commercially available efficiencies of 40 % in flat panels and 60 % for CPV. I don’t know enough to explain why the upper limits are lower than the ~ 95 % (roughly) efficiency for a carnot heat engine. However, one contributor is that blue light is scattered more than red light by the atmosphere, so the direct solar radiation will effectively have a lower temperature, and the diffuse blue light of the sky (not usable by geometric concentrators) also has a lower effective temperature. At any one wavelength, the brightness temperature is the temperature that a perfect blackbody would have to have to emit such an intensity of radiation – the intensity is a flux per unit area per unit direction (solid angle) (per unit wavelength in the case of spectral/monochromatic intensity, which is what I was considering). Visually, intensity is the brightness you see in any one direction – hence the same radiant flux per unit area has a lower brightness temperature if it is diffuse. Thermodynamic limits apply to luminescent concentrators by consideration that the entropy per unit energy is greater for photons of lower energy, and so a greater intensity of lower energy photons could be produced from a lower intensity of higher energy photons (however, the same total intensity concentrated into a small interval of the spectrum has a higher brightness temperature and lower energy, so there is a trade off if the lower energy photons are closer to monochromatic); luminescent concentrators work by absorbing light in a layer of optical material, then fluorescence of energy at lower photon energy (monochromatic?), which is concentrated onto the edges of the layer by total internal reflection; solar cells on the edges can work at higher efficiencies because their band-gap energies can be matched (or approximately so, depending on available options) to the photon energies – the waste heat is produced in the process of absorption and fluorescence. Multilayer luminescent concentrators can achieve higher overall efficiencies in the same way (except for the option of parallel connection instead of series) as multijunction cells. Other options to increase efficiency include using nanostructures to produce multiple electron-hole pairs from photons with much more energy than the band-gap, and the collection of ‘hot carriers’.

    Solar thermal power has another limitation to efficiency. In order to get to the ideal carnot efficiency, solar thermal power has to concentrate solar energy to produce a temperature in a material at the brightness temperature of available solar radiation. But if that point were reached, the material would emit as much energy as it absorbed in the direction of incoming radiation (ie not usable to energy conversion devices). Actually using any energy requires keeping the material at a lower temperature. But it doesn’t have to be all that much lower in order to have emission out the solar collector be much lower than insolation on the solar collector, at least for the use of the whole spectrum (as temperature increases, radiant intensity starts to become nearly linearly proportional to temperature at sufficiently long wavelengths – it remains much more sensitive (in terms of proportions) to temperature at shorter wavelengths, hence the shift in the peak toward shorter wavelengths at higher temperatures.

    There’s a pretty good (so far as I can tell) wikipedia entry on solar cells.

  38. 338
    Patrick 027 says:

    CORRECTION:

    (however, the same total intensity concentrated into a small interval of the spectrum has a higher brightness temperature and lower *ENTROPY*, so there is a trade off if the lower energy photons are closer to monochromatic)

  39. 339
    Patrick 027 says:

    CORRECTION:

    “However, one contributor is that blue light is scattered more than red light by the atmosphere, so the direct solar radiation will effectively have a lower temperature,”

    Actually, any scattering from a direct beam lowers the brightness temperature; but the effect will vary depending on which wavelengths are scattered more. There is also absorption by water vapor in solar IR, by ozone in solar UV. The complex spectrum has a different brightness temperature at different wavelengths. Actually, the same is true even in space, as the sun’s radiation doesn’t come entirely from an isothermal photosphere; the source is distributed over a layer that is not isothermal, with contributions and uptakes from outer layers.

  40. 340
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re myself: 317http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/10/why-levitt-and-dubner-like-geo-engineering-and-why-they-are-wrong/comment-page-7/#comment-139994

    I can do even better:

    SUMMARY OF SUMMARY (picked out the key paragraphs – I would have put them in bold in the original summary if I knew how to do that):
    *******************
    IN SUMMARY:

    While real markets are not ideal, an ideal market tends toward economic efficiency when the benificiaries of a process pay the costs of the process. Pollution is one of the things that results in externalities. Externalities can be corrected by public policies; these can include taxes, caps, planning (such as zoning to reduce externalities on property values), and bans, and privatization of the commons. These actions can have costs as well as the benifit of correcting an externality – some policies may be hard to enforce effectively and efficiently and/or might be corruptable, and some commons have a benifit as commons that would be lost if privatized, and privatization in some cases is not economically viable for other reasons. Some positive externalities can even be of some societal value (advantages to utilization of ‘fair use’ in copyright laws). There are also costs and benifits for public policies with regards to other imperfections of the free market.

    Regarding climate change:

    I. Regulation of emissions (and some general concepts):

    ******
    Minimize perverse incentives, don’t get too narrowly focused so as to make another problem worse, allow market responses to price signals to find efficient solutions (there is a role for public planning, but don’t prescribe specific allotments of change to different industries), make the policy a net benifit, make a policy that is principled, efficiently enforceable, and resistant to corruption. Note that there may be nonlinearities in the value of externalities – emissions and other changes can interact with each other to produce a total effect, and the effect may depend on the trajectory of the whole system into the future. Balance minimization of perverse incentives and avoidance of narrow focus with a good sense of priority, allowing approximations (including linearizations, where justified) as the costs of reducing error get large as the error gets small, and tackle the biggest problems with the clearest effects first. Address trade issues. Try to be fair (and know what ‘fair’ means, which is often a problem). Except for practices that change the feedback, realize that emissions that are a feedback are, for the purpose of responsibility, part of the effect of the anthropogenic emissions and add to their externality effect.
    ******

    II. Spending options:

    ******
    Utilize bottom-up principles as well as top-down considerations of an optimal trajectory to guide how much of mitigation spending to consider in determining the price signal (tax + spending on alternatives) that is justified by the public cost of the externality. Note that the public cost of the externality can extend beyond the necessary spending purely to compensate or adapt to climate change. Note that various spending pathways exist, some of which can serve multiple purposes at once, and some of which can serve as investments to regenerate revenue (for public spending or direct private sector benifit) at a later time when it might be needed.

    Try to be fair in compensation of losses suffered by people. But in compensation those who might lose more or gain less from the price signals, do not remove the price signals.

    Consider whether to address only losses that are greater than average, and whether to tax in a symmetric fashion people (or just nations) with benifits greater than average (noting that the average benifit is most likely a negative benifit). Avoid perverse incentives in compensation – don’t encourage maladaptive behavior or discourage optimal or near-optimal adaptation – note also that climate change or none, some changes in FEMA and agricultural aid (and agriculture in general) are in order.
    ******

    [AND: not necessarily fair or advisable to compensate losses (or losses above an average level) in full (both from climate change and from policy itself), as in some cases, depending on time and wealth, people could be expected to anticipate these costs in advance and avoid them. However, over long timescales, if we assume people do their best, then the costs/losses they face are those they could not have avoided. Some compromise may be necessary.]

    [AND: note the difference between the net losses by firms or individuals in a sector of the economy and the actual loss to the whole society.]

    [AND: keep in mind the deflationary effect of a tax and the inflationary effect of spending (to a first approximation in a simplified case, they would cancel each other if both occur at the same time; variations from that could occur as different people in different circumstances spend additional money differently, so that any redistribution of money would have net effects, although a weighted average over all price changes, including interest rates, etc, might be near zero?? Maybe more to say about that later…]****

    III: Things to consider in evaluting public cost of climate change and the net benifit of policies

    Don’t forget the intangibles. Ultimately the goal must be moral. But economic principles apply. There are causal linkages – it’s an ecosystem.

    IV: Public planning and targeted incentives:

    ******
    There is a role for public planning and regulation in addition to the taxation and general spending. Public planning and standards and some targeted incentives will help, in both mitigation, adaptation, and other things, in coordinating changes so that different parts of the whole system remain or become compatable with each so they can have greatest effect, and in breaking entrenched and self-reinforcing habits that have or will become maladaptive (especially important where durable goods and infrastructure are involved, because of legacy costs) – once broken, the market might then be able to better explore alternatives and tend toware the efficient pathways.

    Planning may also play a role due to nonlinearities – for example, how the public costs of emissions depend on the future trajectory of emissions and of other things.

    Planning can also affect the discount rate (at least that portion due to uncertainty – if we plan a future then we might put more value in it). Public planning can act over time scales larger than most private sector activity.
    ****

    V. OTHER:

    ******
    There are also changes to make in existing policy. For example, there might be tax breaks on fossil fuels. In fairness, it makes sense to tax the land used by solar power as land (and land used by coal mining should also be taxed), but it may make sense to tax solar panels as fuel (?). Tax policies besides taxing and spending as described above should be made fair.
    ******

    Some things that would help adaptation and mitigation to climate change should be done anyway. The threat of climate change in some cases will justify greater overall changes or accelerated changes (Some other things are more absolute in nature – they should just be different, climate change or not). Any improvements in the efficiency of food, water, industry, health care, etc, and any improvements in the treatment of people will be good.

  41. 341
    Hank Roberts says:

    http://link.aip.org/link/?APPLAB/91/223507/1
    “an upper efficiency limit of 44.5% is achievable due to single photon absorption only. This efficiency is significantly higher than the Shockley-Queisser limit of ~31% for homojunction cells, but remains below that predicted for two photon excitation (>63%) previously predicted for quantum cells.” ©2007 American Institute of Physics

    Levitt and Dubner will appreciate anything that distracts from discussing them.

  42. 342
    Hank Roberts says:

    But let’s talk about Levitt and Dubner.

    Caldeira: … I do see CO2 as the problem. I think to present it as if, “Well, it not’s really CO2, but the effects of CO2,” it’s like if you got shot by a bullet and you said, “Well, it wasn’t really the bullet that was the problem, it was just that I happened to have this hole through my body …”
    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/10/superfreakonomics_levitt_missi.php#more
    quoting from http://www.e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2201

    “Thingsbreak has been documenting the way Levitt and Dubner keeping digging the hole deeper, and Dubner has kept on digging ….”
    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/10/dubner_falsely_claims_that_oce.php
    quoting from http://thingsbreak.wordpress.com/2009/10/29/the-freakonomics-solution-to-finding-yourself-in-a-hole/

    How about it? Let’s talk about Levitt and Dubner.

  43. 343
    Chris says:

    Barton and Mark-

    My point is that hydro, geothermal windmills and photovoltaics working at optimum levels (i.e. if all the energy that could realistically be captured was) would still require a great deal of infrastructure investment and land. It would kind of defeat the purpose of averting an environmental catastrophe if every desert had to become a mirror. Also, such solutions do not scale very well (e.g. you can’t stack solar panels), and would eventually (quickly) be outstripped by demand, which means people would start carbon emissions again. If we look at SEGS VIII and IX in California they take up 1 Km^2 but their output is only .45% (that’s .0045) of the total energy needed for the state. That means you would need around 450 new plants for California alone, in similarly ideal locations, for the demand that California has right now. Solar plants tend to be profitable, especially when compared to other renewables, but can you really say that ALL our power can be solar given the limited amount daylight and space available? And why do we have to depend on new technologies? The Indian Point reactors in New York are over 30 years old and each has a gross capacity of over 1000 MWe. It’s like moving forward to get where were decades ago.

  44. 344
    Mark says:

    Define “a great deal of infrastructure and land”

    Compare it to, say, the surface area we take up with railroads.

    Or “brownfield sites” that are impossible to use for industrial let alone residential use (http://wwwp.dailyclimate.org/tdc-newsroom/2009/10/green-shoots-from-brownfields).

    “It would kind of defeat the purpose of averting an environmental catastrophe if every desert had to become a mirror.”

    Did you check this out?

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/10/an-open-letter-to-steve-levitt

    “Also, such solutions do not scale very well (e.g. you can’t stack solar panels), ”

    You can’t stack nuclear power plants either. And go and have a look at the open letter and check the graphic for how much 100% replacement with purely PV would take.

    “California they take up 1 Km^2 but their output is only .45% (that’s .0045) of the total energy needed for the state. ”

    Except 97.5% of the land is still usable for farming. You can farm ***around*** the bases.

    Try farming around the pipes of a nuke plant..

    “And why do we have to depend on new technologies?”

    Indeed. 50%+ of the change can easily come from just being a bit more sensible about how we abuse energy.

    “The Indian Point reactors in New York are over 30 years old and each has a gross capacity of over 1000 MWe.”

    Except they aren’t in California, are they. Or do they procreate?

  45. 345
    Steve Fish says:

    Hank Roberts (#342, 30 October 2009 @ 1:11 PM):

    Whew! Thank you. My contribution to the refocus is a question. If this scheme will result in acid rain, has anybody tried to estimate how much this might accelerate ocean acidification.

    Steve

  46. 346
    Chris says:

    Also, how will people be able to farm “around the bases” of solar panels if the solar panels are blocking out the sun?

  47. 347
    Chris says:

    I would also show you a picture of how many reactors it would take to provide the world’s energy but it’s not visible from space.

  48. 348
    tharanga says:

    Mark, 335: None of that has any bearing on my points: The actual efficiencies of photovoltaics are well below any thermodynamic limit, so boasting of a high thermodynamic limit is pointless. And energy efficiency does not necessarily tell you much about cost efficiency, which in the end, determines what gets built. If solar cells were only 2% efficient, but somehow the resulting solar energy cost 3 cents per kWh, you’d still happily build solar cells left and right.

    What I’m leaving alone is your attempt to equate a Carnot cycle with a solar cell.

    The implications of the First Law on a solar cell are obvious; I’ll have to give some thought as to what the Second Law tells us about the electrical work we can get out of a photon flux.

  49. 349
    tharanga says:

    Mark, 336: You missed my point. I was making no statement on the merits of nuclear power; I was simply saying that when anybody quotes the cost of an energy source, that quoted cost includes both capital and operating costs, in response to your statement in 328. The one-off cost of construction still has to be paid off over time, so the cost per kWh will reflect it.

    Your statements on subsidies are hard to justify, I think. Everything gets subsidised in different ways, but I’d be amazed if you could show any analysis that showed that coal would not be cheaper than solar/wind/nuclear, per unit energy, in the absence of all subsidies. Yes, I’ll allow that wind is getting close, in the right locations.

  50. 350
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 305 David B. Benson – Thanks!

    Re others (dust cloud around the sun) – Thanks!.


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