Real Climate and Cost Effectiveness

Update 9/1/2017: My responses showed up on Real Climate.  Not sure why I could not see them but the timing on the posts indicates they were there but I could not see them?!?

On August 28 I read a post called Sensible Questions on Climate Sensitivity on the Real Climate blog. In the comment section there was a comment that, in my opinion, mis-characterized the position of the luke-warmers I know so I responded. I have heard that comments are censored sat this site o that those who do not comply with the positions of the web masters are not shown but have never had personal experience with it. Although my first comment was posted my responses to the follow up comments were not. Because my original post included the link to this blog I am posting the comments and my responses. If you wanted a response to your comments and checked my blog here you go. If the comments show up then I will delete this post.

The relevant comments are shown below. The particular comment (#25) that engendered my response claimed that luke-warmers insist “that published ECS confidence limits can only mean the most cost-effective public policy is to do nothing.” First an explanation then the comments and finally a conclusion.

I consider myself a luke-warmer. Luke-warmers are not a well-defined party in the global warming debate. My definition is that we simply believe that the ECS or equilibrium climate sensitivity (the amount of warming caused by greenhouse gases) is at the lower end of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change range. As soon as you get to policy responses luke-warmers diverge but those who also claim to be luke warmers (e.g., Tom Fuller, Blair King and Judith Curry) all don’t think public policy should be to do nothing.

I don’t want to speak for their particular public policy opinions so I will give my preference for public policy. I don’t think the climate is so sensitive to GHG that we have to use current renewable technology in order to stave off catastrophe. I don’t think we can ever be so sure of future climate to say it is not a problem or it will be a catastrophe. Therefore I am convinced that we have to develop cheaper low carbon technology because as long as fossil fuels are cheaper they will be used. Fossil fuels are the best thing that ever happened to mankind because without them our lives would be brutal and short. Until we have a replacement that can provide the benefits of abundant and affordable power then it is immoral to not use fossil fuel. In the meantime because society is not resilient to current extreme weather I think that in addition to funding research for cheaper fossil fuel alternatives we should be spending money on adapting to extreme weather rather than subsidizing any current technology renewable energy.


Here are the blog comments. I responded to comment 25 in comment 29. Comments 30, 31, 32, and 33 were posted in response to my comment. I submitted two responses that went to moderation. I copied the text and pasted it into a document for archival. Several hours later they disappeared and were not posted.

25   Mal Adapted says:

22 Aug 2017 at 9:35 AM


Interpretation: There is enough uncertainty that a little humility need apply.

Scientists, like all genuine skeptics, are required to be humble before Nature. It’s necessary, though not sufficient, to not fooling themselves. Pseudo-skeptical AGW deniers, OTOH, who keep saying “it’s not happening”, “it’s not our fault”, “it won’t be bad” or “We’ll be lucky” are letting hubris fool them.

That last AGW-denier meme has been labeled ‘luck-warmerism’. Luckwarmers selectively mask the upper half of the ECS PDF, while falsely accusing climate realists of masking the lower half. The luckwarmer insists that published ECS confidence limits can only mean the most cost-effective public policy is to do nothing.

How about you, Dan? Are there limits to your confidence?

29   Roger Caiazza says:

28 Aug 2017 at 11:20 PM

Mal Adapted, Two questions relative to “The luckwarmer insists that published ECS confidence limits can only mean the most cost-effective public policy is to do nothing.”

This Luke warmer thinks that the trend in ECS confidence limits is shrinking the fat tail. Is that what you mean by masking the upper half?

However the science ends up, this Luke warmer thinks that adaptation is a more cost-effective public policy than mitigation. Do you think that today’s technology is capable of mitigating our way out of GHG forcing climate change?

30   zebra says:

29 Aug 2017 at 9:36 AM

Roger Caiazza #29,

What exactly does “cost effective” mean in this context?

I’m always hearing this sky-is-falling claim about the “economic disaster” that is supposed to result from doing things like installing solar panels or building wind farms or driving EV or reducing energy consumption, and so on.

But, I never see any numbers! And, I never see any cause and effect!

If you want to deal with fat tails, let’s do it on both sides of the discussion. Why should anyone give any credibility to your alarmist position, given that you don’t have any basis for it other than your opinion?

31   MartinJB says:

29 Aug 2017 at 12:59 PM

Roger (@19): SO, “however the science ends up” you think that adaptation is cost effective. Interesting… that suggests that you have a preconceived notion of what you’re willing to do that is not dependent on the reality of the situation. I will freely admit that at a low enough level of ECS, adaptation is more cost effective. But surely, the higher the ECS the more relatively cost-effective mitigation becomes. What’s more, mitigation is more likely to cut off some of the tail risk than adaptation.

One other thing to consider: In general, efforts at mitigation do a better job of assigning more of the costs of dealing with global warming to the the people who have contributed more to in-the-pipeline global warming. Admittedly, that is not a strictly economic metric and likely puts more cost on me and mine, but I am happy to give up a little for the purpose of justice and equity…

32   Mal Adapted says:

29 Aug 2017 at 6:16 PM

Roger Caiazza:

However the science ends up, this Luke warmer thinks that adaptation is a more cost-effective public policy than mitigation.

Uh…if you don’t care about the science, what makes you think adaptation is a more cost-effective public policy than mitigation? Stipulating, of course, that adaptation might be a more cost-effective private policy for you, even if climate sensitivity ends up to be above the modal estimate. If you’re lucky, that is.

33   Phil Scadden says:

29 Aug 2017 at 7:50 PM

Roger – your opinion based on hope, preference – or some actual peer-reviewed analysis of numbers that you would like to share with us? Link please.

Roger Caiazza says:

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

29 Aug 2017 at 8:43 PM

Zebra, Here is a cost estimate for New York State to meet part of Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order reaffirming the state policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by forty percent by 2030, and eighty percent by 2050 from 1990 levels, across all emitting activities of the New York economy. The Manhattan Institute recently published “New York’s Clean Energy Programs, The High Cost of Symbolic Environmentalism” ( by economist Jonathan Lesser that provides cost estimates for some of the programs referenced in the Executive Order.

Here are the key findings: Given existing technology, the CES’s 80 by 50 mandate is unrealistic, unobtainable, and unaffordable. Attempting to meet the mandate could easily cost New York consumers and businesses more than $1 trillion by 2050.

The CES mandate will require electrifying most of New York’s transportation, commercial, and industrial sectors. (In 2014, for example, fossil-fuel energy used for transportation was twice as large as all end-use electricity consumption combined.) Even with enormous gains in energy efficiency, the mandate would require installing at least 100,000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind generation, or 150,000 MW of onshore wind generation, or 300,000 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity by 2050. By comparison, in 2015, about 11,300 MW of new solar PV capacity was installed in the entire U.S. Moreover, meeting the CES mandate likely would require installing at least 200,000 MW of battery storage to compensate for wind and solar’s inherent intermittency.

Meeting the CES interim goals—building 2,400 MW of offshore wind capacity and 7,300 MW of solar PV capacity by 2030—could result in New Yorkers paying more than $18 billion in above-market costs for their electricity between now and then. By 2050, the above-market costs associated with meeting those interim goals could increase to $93 billion. It will also require building at least 1,000 miles of new high-voltage transmission facilities to move electricity from upstate wind and solar projects to downstate consumers. No state agency has estimated the environmental and economic costs of this new infrastructure.

For what it is worth I think his estimates don’t include all the costs.

Roger Caiazza says:

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

29 Aug 2017 at 9:03 PM

For the cost effective commenters,

Using your science for the ECS and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority numbers referenced in the Manhattan Institute report referenced above what do you think the change in global warming temperature would be? For New York the reduction would be 76.2 MMtCO2e from 2014 levels for the 2030 goal and 170.6 MMtCO2e from 2014 for the 2050 goal. For costs use just the $18 billion in above market electricity costs. My question to you is the money spent on the mitigation reduction that you predict going to have tangible results? However I do that calculation I don’t see a measurable impact on temperature. If you have a different approach suitably referenced in the peer reviewed literature please show me.

On the other hand spending that money on adapting New York would provide tangible benefits by making the state more resilient to extreme weather. Remember global warming is going to increase the probability of extreme weather and make it more severe. It is not going to prevent the extreme weather we have observed in the past and, in my opinion at least, we are not nearly as resilient to historical weather as we need to be. So my cost effective argument against mitigation is a lot of money spent for little effect might better be spent adapting to the past.


I really am not sure why my comments were censored other than they reveal some inconvenient points. If the moderators do not think that adaptation is a better alternative or can show that the costs for the 80% goal are reasonable then why not let the commenters provide those numbers or better yet disprove them with their own post. New York State has never shown their numbers so surely someone somewhere can prove their case for them.

How Much for the Paris Climate Agreement

For those of you who are worried that Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement is a bad thing I would ask you to consider two pragmatic questions: How much was US participation going to change future temperature and how much would it have cost?

Bjorn Lomborg used the standard MAGICC climate model to determine how much the future temperature would change due to the United States “Nationally Determined Contribution”. He found that the full US promise for the COP21 climate conference in Paris will reduce temperature rise by 0.031°C.  Mike Hulme posted an estimate for the difference of 0.3°C. For the record, my opinion of the MAGICC model is that it is too sensitive to CO2 so I think the impact would be even less the lower bound. In any event, atmospheric temperature is reported to the nearest whole degree Fahrenheit in the US which is 0.55°C. In other words the temperature change range expected from our Paris commitment is lower than the reporting limit so the change is nothing that could be observed.

So how much was it going to cost? If you bothered to listen to the Trump speech on his decision he talked about the Green Climate Fund. If you have any doubts about the decision look up the briefing note by Climate Focus. I found this quote particularly interesting:

“The Paris Decision, serving as guidance for the implementation of the Paris Agreement and pre-2020 action, ‘strongly urges developed country Parties to scale up their level of financial support, with a concrete roadmap to achieve the goal of jointly providing USD 100 billion annually by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation’ (para 115). The Decision furthermore mentions that prior to 2025 the COP shall set a new ‘collective quantified goal from a floor of USD 100 billion per year’ (para 54). The reason both quantitative targets are missing from the actual Agreement is a pragmatic one – in doing so the COP has enabled the US President to adopt the Agreement as ‘sole-executive agreement’ under US law, without the requirement for the US Senate to approve.”

Think about this paragraph. The Paris agreement wanted to start financial support for mitigation and adaptation at $100 billion per year with plans for going even higher in the future. Clearly all the countries on the receiving end of this largesse are in favor of this agreement and clearly the United States was expected to provide the largest chunk of that money. It is particularly telling that the agreement was crafted without quantitative targets so it could be adopted as a ‘sole-executive agreement’ under US law, without the requirement for the US Senate to approve. If it had included quantitative arguments then US voters would have found out how much money the United States was supposed to dole out when the treaty was debated in the Senate.

In summary we were supposed to pay out billions and billions for an agreement that would not have measurably changed global warming. How is getting out of that a bad thing?