Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Will Joe Romm Bet Me on Round #2 of the Ehrlich/Simon Bet But This Time on Deaths from Natural Disasters?

In Joe Romm's blog post he has some tough things to say about my book climatopolis.   He doesn't bother linking to it in his post so permit me to make a couple of points and to propose a wager.

1.  Dr. Romm is clearly quite angry about the failure to overcome the free rider problem to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.  I am angry about this as well and say throughout the book that I am a 100% supporter of carbon incentives.

2. Perhaps to increase demand for carbon mitigation efforts today,  Dr. Romm pushes hard that we are doomed and dead meat if we allow atmospheric GHG concentrations to march up to 1000 ppm.  At a linear  increase of 1.9 ppm per year right now -- I believe that we would not reach a target until more than 200 years have past.

But, let's assume he is right that we will soon hit 1000 ppm under business as usual.

3.  He presents a series of color graphs showing how many days over 100 degrees different parts of the USA will be per year when we hit carbon concentration of 1000 ppm.  Commenters on his webpage discuss that cities such as Salt Lake City have suffered from climate events recently.  I deny none of these points.  An economist would ask;  "how much are people in such areas willing to pay to avoid such days?"  When Phoenix had 14 days over 100 degrees in May 2009, how much did people suffer? How much did air conditioning protect them from being exposed to the heat? 

4. I agree with Romm that adaptation will be easier if we curb our CO2 emissions now.  I just don't believe that we will enact such mitigation legislation.   As I discuss in Climatoplis, the mitigation free rider problem is too hard for politicians to solve. Nobody wants to be the "first mover".   He is clearly worried about the lulling hypothesis which I discuss in my conclusion. If we think we can adapt then this diminishes the desire to mitigate.  He is using his blog as a political sledgehammer to achieve climate consensus now.  This may be a wise political strategy but to swing political moderates -- I believe that we need to have an honest discussion of what plays out if we don't make costly decisions now.

I would like to bet Joe Romm in an optimist vs. pessimist bet.  While climate change will cause more natural disasters in the future, I don't believe that the death count will go up.  We will be richer and we will take pre-cautions. Please read my paper  The Death Toll from Natural Disasters  .  Please email me if you can suggest a suitable bet. Given world population growth, I would want to standardize by this ; so the bet could take the form of "the over/under on the count of world deaths from natural disasters in the year 2040".

5. Joe Romm's piece is a pinch condescending to economists.  We understand incentives and human behavior. I understand his incentives but does he understand mine?  I want to explain and predict human behavior and microeconomics is a powerful tool.  As climate change plays out, we need to understand how a self interested forward looking population will respond. I argue that migration and innovation and carbon mitigation will all simultaneously playout and that the combined trio will help us to adapt.  In his "model", we are simply victims , passive vicitims, of bad collective choices (not mitigating carbon) made in the past.  That's pessimistic.  Does my prospective vision of the trio of migration, innovation and carbon mitigation border on wishful thinking?  No, we have a historical track record indicating how we have responded in the past to shocks and we have the right incentives (survival) and big brains to help us solve the new problems that climate change will pose for us.

Again the bet: yes climate change is coming and it will throw more heat waves and natural disasters at us but I claim that there will be less death from such shocks as we are richer, smarter, and on the move to the new cities we will build to protect ourselves against anticipated change.