Saturday, August 05, 2017

The Stupidest Part of that Stupid WSJ Op-ed

On July 30th the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by David R. Henderson and John H. Cochrane, whoever they are, two economists at the conservative Hoover Institute, titled "Climate Change Isn’t the End of the World: Even if world temperatures rise, the appropriate policy response is still an open question."

So apparently now deniers are nearing the endgame: climate change is real, but we shouldn't do anything about it.

The article is paywalled, but you can find the first half or so here.

It contains a lot of shallow thinking, but this I found the most incoherent of all:
"But spread over a century, the costs of moving and adapting are not as imposing as they seem. Rotterdam’s dikes are expensive, but not prohibitively so. Most buildings are rebuilt about every 50 years. If we simply stopped building in flood-prone areas and started building on higher ground, even the costs of moving cities would be bearable. Migration is costly. But much of the world’s population moved from farms to cities in the 20th century. Allowing people to move to better climates in the 21st will be equally possible."
This is just dumb, because people aren't going to "moving" to escape climate change in, say, Florida, as it's inundated by sea level rise, they're going to be abandoning Florida.

No one will buy the house anyone abandons due to sea level rise -- home and business owners will simply lose the amount they've paid for their property and buildings, in a reverse game of musical chairs. No insurance companies will bail them out -- insurance companies are already pulling out of Florida.

  • "If sea levels rise as much as climate scientists predict by the year 2100, almost 300 U.S. cities would lose at least half their homes, and 36 U.S. cities would be completely lost.
  • "One in eight Florida homes would be under water, accounting for nearly half of the lost housing value nationwide.
  • "The median value of a home at risk of being underwater is $296,296. The value of the average U.S. home is $187,000." [Source]

If they're made whole at all, it will be by the federal government, which I expect will happen. Too many affluent people will complain to their representatives, saying it's not their fault that sea level rose, and it will be U.S. taxpayers who bail them out, who make them whole. And the same in most OECD countries.

How much will this cost? Trillions of dollars, at least, in the U.S. That will likely be paid by US taxpayers.


David in Cal said...

The phrase, "If sea levels rise as much as climate scientists predict by the year 2100" seems to imply that there is a certain rate of sea level rise on which all climate scientists agree. This is not the case. A NASA publication says:
"Projections of global sea level rise by 2100, the year upon which climate modelers typically focus, vary widely depending on modeling methods and on assumptions—the rate of increase in greenhouse gas emissions, for example, and especially how ice sheets will respond to warming air and ocean water. Recent projections range from 0.2 meters to 2.0 meters..."

Perhaps David meant something like, "If sea levels rise as much as some pessimistic climate scientists predict by the year 2100"


Anonymous said...

How about this in that Op-ed:
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s “scientific” recommendations, for example, include “reduced gender inequality & marginalization in other forms,” “provisioning of adequate housing,” “cash transfers” and “awareness raising & integrating into education.” Even if some of these are worthy goals, they are not scientifically valid, cost-benefit-tested policies to cool the planet.”

Guess what, those recommendations are “Approaches for managing the risks of climate change through adaptation.”
They are not *meant to be* policies to "cool the planet", but are risk management strategies for *adaptation*.

Can we assign such misrepresentation to stupidity, or is it malice?

David in Cal said...

marcoclimate - I agree that the original article was wrong to call these steps "policies to cool the planet." But, they're not really adaptation strategies IMHO. Adaptation involves better dikes, better infrastructure, changes in architecture as areas become warmer, steps to change land use as areas become warmer and precipitation patterns change, etc., not equal rights for women and more generous welfare. The above list is a set of political aims that are generally supported by liberals. They have little or nothing to do with climate change, but they're being justified by the threat of global warming.

There are skeptics who claim that the fuss over global warming was always a trick to justify certain political policies. I don't agree with them, but the inclusion of political policies in the IPCC Report lends some credence to their belief.

Anonymous said...


It's a complex topic (see, but you are seriously underestimating the required multifaceted approach to adaptation. I do find it quite interesting you apparently consider unequal rights for women a conservative view (the two authors seem to disagree with you, and AFAIK, they are considered conservatives).

You might want to consider that the world is quite a bit bigger than the Western world (although some of this also plays in our part of the world). You might also want to see the much larger table from which Henderson and Cochrane picked a few loose options:

Let's go through the four examples:
"reduced gender inequality & marginalization in other forms"
Consider this carefully, DiC: what happens to people that are already marginalized in a society that is under stress (from, oh, say, climate change and the changes required to cope with that)? Yup, they become even more marginalized. Sadly, in a significant part of the world women are overrepresented in the marginalized section of society.

"provisioning of adequate housing"
This actually is mirrorred in your own suggestion of "better infrastructure" and "changes in architecture" - although you probably react mostly to the "provisioning", perhaps not knowing this is already done in most Western countries (including the US) for decades. You may want to go to, say, the slums of Johannesburg to see what might happen if you don't do this (sufficiently).

"awareness raising & integrating into education"
This should be a non-brainer - integrating awareness of what climate change means and how you can handle its impacts is rather important to survive. It also helps gain support for *your* proposed adaptive measures. Just imagine you tell a Bangladeshi farmer, who depends on the flooding of his land, that this is now a thing of the past, you've built a dyke!

This leaves "cash transfers", which you apparently see as "more generous welfare", but in practice is one of many financial instruments to channel money to where it is needed. Guess what, if you propose better infrastructure, money is transferred from elsewhere. It's not a direct cash transfer, but the 'goal' is the same.

David in Cal said...

John H. Cochrane, co-author of the WSJ article, has a blog. You can read there his commentary on his own article.


Anonymous said...

Thanks DiC, I now commented there. Let's see if he responds. He seems to think it is an important element of his Op-Ed, so he should be willing to defend himself.

Anonymous said...

As I expected, so far no response from Cochrane. Indeed, how do you respond when someone shows you are arguing a strawman?