Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Los Angeles Times Reviews Climatopolis

Emily Green has written a review of Climatopolis in this LA Times Review.   Similar to many of the non-economists who have reviewed Climatopolis, she devotes a little bit too much time to the "specificity" of my brief discussion of certain cities.  Climatopolis is an overview of how every city across the planet will adapt in the face of climate change.  The cost of covering so much ground is that some nitty gritty details will be glossed over.  I recognized this tradeoff. This is why the Los Angeles chapter goes into truly nitty gritty detail about the specific challenges that different parts of Los Angeles will face under climate change and how a self interested set of capitalist households and firms will cope and adapt in the face of climate change. 

Contrast her review with the review in Nature, or the Climatopolis Review in the Financial Times and you will see that Ms. Green is a pinch silly. Her review is barely correlated with these other reviews of the same book!  

Yes, I ranked Salt Lake City high on my list of "resilient" cities.  Why?  It won't flood and I take coastal sea level rise seriously.   I do not mean for Climatopolis to engage in geographic determinism. Emily Green calls me "sloppy" for not thinking through the specific water scarcity challenges that Salt Lake City will face.  On one level she is right, but I had hoped that readers would be smart and see that the lessons from the Los Angeles chapter on climate change induced water scarcity apply in this case.  Salt Lake City water prices will rise due to climate change and this will trigger a series of adjustments at the extensive and intensive margins and aggregate water demand will fall and "crisis" will be avoided.  The climate scientists ignore behavioral responses over and over again. Economists are relevant to the climate change discussion!  Yes, climate change will shift supply but there is also demand!  If we anticipate that supply will be affected by climate change, then we have access to other technologies to enhance our supply.

Non-economists are not used to reading what a microeconomist has to say about the world.  She doesn't use the word "incentive" once in her review.  All hail incentives!  My whole book is about incentives and how climate change shifts our incentives and how we will respond under these new "rules of the game".

My hope is that Climatopolis will trigger specific case study work in every city.  Every city's boosters should following New York City's 2030 plan (discussed in my book) to help it anticipate how their city will adapt to climate change.  I acknowledge throughout the book that I do not have a crystal ball but I understand how an evolutionary optimizing capitalist system can change its ways in the face of an unknown but known scary threat of climate change.

UPDATE:  I have now re-read Emily Green's review and I think it is pretty silly.  94% of people in Los Angeles commute by private car.  Yes there are 6% of 8 million people using public transit, but I stick to my point; people do not use public transit. Dumb, dumb , dumb.

She says that I offer policy recommendations that people should use public transit and live at higher density. Again, dumb, dumb dumb.  I don't recommend this.  I predict that this will be a consequence of adaptation to climate change in Los Angeles.  To protect themselves from the heat, people of Los Angeles will seek to live in the temperate part of the city closer to the Ocean.  To afford this, they will need to live in high rise buildings at Hong Kong style density. This will shrink Los Angeles' carbon footprint and this density will make subways feasible.  This is NOT a recommendation.  This is a prediction of how our city will adapt in the face of climate change.  I'm a pinch amazed at how people read a book.   The book makes no recommendations at all. It isn't an urban planning book; it uses basic microeconomic incentive theory to explain how adaptation will take place and to predict how we will rebuild our cities in the future. 

UPDATE:  The reviewer takes me to task for not being able to spell the Mayor's name correctly.  I apologize for this but she hints that this was my attempt to insult the Mayor.  This is false.  I would not engage in such 3rd grade activity.   She also points to the Moscow Heat Waves as "proof" of my inability to see the future.   Permit me to defend myself by recycling some of my recent writing.

Lessons from the Moscow heat wave of August 2010  source

Recently, The Economist published a generally favourable review of Climatopolis but pointed out that I had ranked Moscow as likely to be a climate change resilient city (Economist 2010). In my short list of “resilient cities”, I had focused on cities unlikely to suffer from major sea level rise that are located at northern latitudes. Martin Weitzman’s work on climate change catastrophe and “fat tails” heavily weighted on my thinking and thus my rankings. The Economist was quick to point out that even “safe cities” can and will suffer due to climate shocks caused by climate change.

A major theme of Climatopolis is that as climate scientists continue to make progress with modelling climate change and as we individually learn about the day-to-day challenges climate change poses for different cities, their residents will take pro-active steps to adapt to changing circumstances. Yes, the Moscow heat wave was deadly but the “silver lining” of this shock is that the city learned that it is at risk and I predict that it will make costly investments now to lower the impact of the next heat wave. This basic logic is why I am optimistic about our urban future. We have the right incentives to learn and to adapt to our changing environmental conditions.