Rabbets and carrots without the stick

Eli Rabbet is a guy who (probably) accurately claims is a professor of gas physics at an American university and a strong proponent of AGW and mitigation. Nothing wrong with that as you could pick them up with a rake at any university around the world. I like reading his stuff though because he  has a very dry wit and his put downs are to die for. He referred to Viscount Monckton and the Discount Viscount which is one of the best put downs I’ve read in a while. He is also one of the few guys who is a climate scientist and doesn’t do climate science blogging by bibliography or links to himself. If I were half as good as he was in the put-down stakes I would feel 3 times better about myself when it’s time to count the winnings and see who won the game of life. Anyway sometime ago he came up with what first appeared to be a very cute well-reasoned counter to the adaption argument vs mitigation for AGW .
Let professor Rabbet tell it best:

Eli would once again remind everyone about J. Willard Rabett’s four laws

J. Willard sent Eli a set of laws to guide climate change policy makers

1. Adaptation responds to current losses.
2. Mitigation responds to future losses
3. Adaptation plus future costs is more expensive than mitigation,
4. Adaptation without mitigation drives procrastination penalties to infinity.

J. Willard thinks adaptation has an important role to play, but by itself adaptation is worse than useless, it actually can make things worse by delaying mitigation. While John McCormick thinks no serious person would suggest adaptation without mitigation, there are a lot of clowns out there with megaphones and pockets full of cash

Anyone see a weakness in Rabbets mitigation/adapation laws? Not a trick question by the way

If Professor Rabbet has a weakness it’s that he thinks Professor Krugman is brimming with novel economics ideas that international trade will fall 17% (exact science noted here) because of rising energy prices. He is of course forgiven for relying on Krugman seeing the NYTimes may be freely distributed in campus salons and possibly spends most of his time in a lab trying to prevent the kids from blowing themselves up rather than reading a few books on the dismal science

Let me put up my argument first seeing I was good enough to post the subject so that you can all pick holes in it.

Points 1&2 appear correct.
Point 3 is bullshit, as we don’t know the 100 -year (baseline) cost of AGW in order to compare.
Point 4 makes a startling error of omission as it shows zero allowance for new technology uptake.

(My) Example : the US would have a much larger nuclear reactor energy mix if it wasn’t for the phobias created by our fury little friends hiding in the green shadows so “mitigation” would have been a naturally occurring valuable economic activity in the US by now. Some estimates suggest the US would be 70% nuke if it wasn’t for the short upper cut from the reaction the Three Mile Island.

Technology (although uneven in the short term) has an obvious steady compound rate of improvement over an ocean of time such as 100 years.

If we use a productivity rate of 2.5% over 100 years on a base of 100 the compound growth rate would look like 1181 over the period which is a 12 fold increase  (and could be used as a marker for technological improvement over that time).

In other words creating faster accelerated deprecation allowances for capital machinery, allowing nuclear energy that isn’t choked regulations wise and going for mitigation on the cheap such as introducing massive re-forestation programs through voluntary contributions could allow us to have our cake and eat too, without Sterns very stern mitigation costs.

*re-forestation idea lifted from Mark Hill’s comments at various blogs.

34 thoughts on “Rabbets and carrots without the stick

  1. To clarify what I’ve been saying about simply planting trees:

    Planting trees was once a big focus of environmental groups, community groups and Government policy. Now with AGW and high costs looming, it has disappeared off the agenda and policy tool mix.

    This simply seems like a big mistake.

    The total cost of a tree planted, watered and with the right to the land it is on is around $0.45-$0.50 per tree*. Australia emits around 21 gigatons of CO2 per year and an average tree sequesters 0.7 tonnes of CO2 per year during it’s lifetime.

    On this conservative cost schedule, planting trees would cost 1.5 billion per year, or approximately 1.5% of GDP. This could be raised voluntarily or through a tax cut and increased revenue as there are increases in growth if we cut the least efficient taxes such as tariffs or simply from costs savings such as eliminating subsidies.

    We can have tax cuts either way and voluntary funding or Government spending which costs one third of alternative mitigation schemes.

    We can have lower overall taxes, lower spending and mitigate carbon for a third of the cost of a tax or trading system. This assumes CO2 only costs $20 per tonne. This is a highly optimistic estimate as estimates can approach $100 per tonne. The more the estimates of carbon pricing increase, the more attractive planting trees becomes.

    *Note that I have seen costs per seedling as low as $0.05 but rising up to $0.16 per seedling to include planting, watering, land rights and average mortality rates.

  2. Okay.

    I agree with your analysis of 1.-4. but I’ll say 4. falls into a fallacy that many market sceptics often fall into:

    Demanding “correction” of externalities through market processes they only seem to believe work when a tax is applied. This of course makes a mockery of the Pigouvian analysis of externalities invented by A.C Pigou in the 1920s.

  3. Demanding “correction” of externalities through market processes they only seem to believe work when a tax is applied.

    It totally escapes these people (such as Eli) that the US would be on it’s way to being 70%+ nuke energy by now if the phobia pushed after 3 Mile Island hadn’t happened and everyone kept a cool head. In fact nuke energy could be far more technologically developed than it is now.

  4. That phobia was not helped by that movie about 3 mile island. Yes, the technology is very much advanced, there are even thorium reactors. I can’t understand why these type of reactors were not advocated, excepting one reason I heard was that you can’t generate weapons grade material from the same.

    Ridiculous situation, widespread nuke power would have had a stalling effect on this whole GW stuff.

    The radiation released from 3 mile pales in comparison to the environmental damage from coal fired plants.

  5. Good points john and it more or less falls in line with what I was suggesting although I expect you may not agree with. The market was actually progressing towards mitigation without cost.

    Maggie Thatcher was advocating nuclear energy to mitigate. These are things that ought to be kept in mind when people like Eli Rabbet and his cohort think voluntary mitigation is impossible.

    Now I know he got that from someone else. However he is a self described college professor whom one would normally think has thought about these things with more than a cursory glance prior to adding pixels to with his keyboard.

  6. I agree John, from what I’ve read about thorium reactors they are very safe, avoid weapons reprocessing and are very efficient and expand the resource base ensuring energy security.

  7. Energy Security Mark? I just can’t understand what governments are thinking. We cannot know the future but we do know that energy is always useful thing, even if it just lying around with no ready use. Call it emergency contingency planning.

    For example, let’s say we had some nuke plants with plenty of spare capacity. We could then build some desal plants and start pumping water into the Murray Darling lower reaches, at least offer some hope of preventing that catastrophe. Such a scheme probably would not provide enough water but it would probably buy us time.

  8. I’m not a big fan of the term “energy security”. Far from it.

    However Australia has more than enough fissile material mined every year for cheap and abundant power. There wouldn’t be any fearmongering about running out and we could do as we pleased to the Murray Darling.

    If a proper property rights scheme existed, it might already be happening.

  9. The beauty of Nuke plants Mark is that the energy could be diverted during off peak to such desal plants. Assuming of course that it costs nothing extra to keep the plants chugging all night long, as opposed to having keep shoveling coal into the furnace. My belief is that eventually, and probably sooner than later, we are going to need to find ways to generate lots of fresh water.

  10. I don’t see anything wrong with that. There are a few private firms who got on this a few years back.

    On water: I am sure the Garnaut report has missed how much sustainable shallow and deep groundwater Australia actually has on latest estimates.

    Old estimates of deep water: 6 times available surface water in normal years

    New estimates of deep water: 12 times available surface water in normal years

  11. Maybe some rewording of 1 and 2 might help, and adding in two new items 2b) and 2c) because risk is a combination of liklihood, probability, and the sublimely unpredictable timing.

    1) Adaptation – reaction to minimise consequences of current actual losses and/or reaction to maximise consequences of current actual gains.
    2a) Mitigation – proactive plan to reduce/maximise the consequences of a probable future loss/gain if and when it occurs.
    2b) Avoidance – proactive plan to reduce/maximise the liklihood of a probable future loss/gain.
    2c) Prescience – predicting exactly when the trigger point is reached, and when the future loss/gain will occur

    Everyone seems to be assuming pessimistically that neither 2b) nor 2c) are required. This is a pessimistic outlook that AGW has a probability of 1.0, that it is already past the tipping/trigger point, that it that all current and future losses are attributable to AGW, but no future or current gains are attributable to AGW.

    That then draws to the surface quite a large set of assumptions that can be chipped away at to critique points 3) and 4) from earlier.

  12. Eh, Robbie, what you call “avoidance” is precisely what’s commonly called “mitigation”, and it’s disingenious to use a different term to describe cap-and-trade proposals while pretending that “mitigation” means something else.

    And your “prescience” argument is just saying that anything less than 100% risk should be treated as 0%.

    — bi, International Journal of Inactivism

  13. If the COMMON application is to term as “mitigation” (“moderating intensity” according to Macquarie dictionary) strategies that are directed towards “avoidance”, then we have too many out there who do not know the distinction between the probability of an event and the consequences of the event.

    The introduction of “prescience” was done for precisely the reason that you do not need to enact “mitigation” strategies until the event occurs (preparation aside). “Avoidance” strategies on the other hand depend on being able to shift probabilities lower.

    They may seem semantic subtelties, but unfortunately this AGW debate, in chasing populism, has lost a lot of important subtleties. If you permit relativistic redefinition of the subtleties in the meaning of words, then you are not attempting to communicate, you are attempting obfuscation. Reintroduce the subtleties, and the obfuscations fall away.

  14. Well, reducing CO2 emissions and practically all other methods aimed at reducing global warming probably fall to both Mitigation and Avoidance, hence what’s the difference?

    If you shift a probability distribution to the left, then you both reduce the likelihood of large values and the size of the average.

    I’m not sure where any new subtlety was discovered.

  15. I guess if you want you can do a more subtle analysis for example to look at what it costs to reduce the probability of catastrophic things, even if they are somewhat unlikely etc…

    But looking at magnitude and probability out of touch of each other is not meaningful in my opinion.

  16. Mitigation of consequences:
    1) sea level rises – build sea walls (how big depends upon the magnitude!)
    2) dry rivers – build aqueducts (how big depends on how dry)
    3) species extinctions – build eco-zoos (how big depends on how many)
    4) temperature rises – install more air conditioners (how many depends on how hot!)

    Avoidance (lowering probability…apparently):
    1) removing CO2 – build nuclear power plants
    2) removing CO2 – carbon sequestration
    3) removing CO2 – plant forests and/or food crops
    4) removing CO2 – create new farmable algae
    5) what if CO2 is not a causal factor? If it is not, and temperatures continue to rise…then we have done these 1st 4 for nothing, and we have to implement the mitigation strategies above.
    6) What if it is those pesky sunspots (or the absence thereof) that everyone is discounting? Ask a solar physicist how to reverse the magnetic polarity in the sun more frequently instead of every 11 years. By the way, we might want to check whether we can alter cooling cycles by this method as well, because it hasn’t been warming since 1998.

    The problem is a failure of imagination. Either that or a vested interest in securing government funds to ones own hobby horse, or imposing regulatory restrictions so no one else can do anything independently. Failure of imagination is the central failure of collectivism – everyone has to think the same, talk the same, act the same. There is no room for subtle differences, distinctions, or independent individual action.

  17. That building walls falls into adaptation to higher sea levels bracket in the mitigation vs adaptation analysis.

  18. Jc: This is public domain, and in any event, everything here has already been canvassed in the public domain by others. Maybe I have been slack with attributions…but to my mind, this forum is not one requiring academic rigour. If you find a use for the ideas, go ahead. No attirbution necessary.

    Gravityloss: In a subset of circumstances mitigation strategies (as I have defined them) become adaptation. Those circumstances are 1) the triggering or causal event has occurred, and 2) moderating the consequences has only proceeded so far and can proceed no further. Therefore, we must adapt to the circumstances in which we now find ourselves.

    As it was used earlier by the author we are responding to, there was an element of fatalism in that definition of adaptation – that we have already reached this subset of circumstances where we can neither change the cause, nor the effects.

    Personally, I don’t subscribe to fatalism. For example: the sea level has not risen by 0.2, 0.8, 1.0, 5.0 or 100m (which I believe have all been publicly canvassed numbers). Everyone assumes the cause is CO2, but what if it is not…what if the cause is sinking of tectonic plates, rather than atmospheric CO2? Avoidance is probably really hard (now my imagination is failing!), mitigation doesn’t change (sea wall), but if that fails, adaptation is either sink, swim or move!

  19. mitigation doesn’t change (sea wall), but if that fails, adaptation is either sink, swim or move!.

    Ya! Let’s all move to Mars. Rumour has it that a Big Bird has already worked it all out.

    BTW, in Northern Europe the land is still rising from the lifting of the ice after the last ice age.

  20. Oh no…you mean that CO2 (which only increased after that ice age) causes sea levels to drop too…now we’ll really all be surfers on the ripples of planetary sized ocean waves!

    Those who are concerned about localised sea level rises in the Maldives can move to localised sea level drops in Sweden!

  21. The ground is having an isostatic rebound around Scandinavia. I live around here, I know. The Earth is still rising after the ice age. So that’s why sea levels might seem to drop to someone.

    For the “CO2 rose only after the ice age ended”, yes, CO2 was a feedback back then. When the earth warmed because of orbital forcing, oceans started slowly releasing more CO2 to the air. (Warm water holds less of it.) That increased the warming further, and released even more CO2. The orbital forcing is so small that it can’t alone explain the ice ages, the CO2 positive feedback is needed too.

    At the moment CO2 is a forcing, not a positive feedback, humans are putting it into the atmosphere and the sea is actually slowly absorbing itm not releasing it. After the sea warms enough and also the CO2 concentration increases enough, it won’t absorb anymore and CO2 concentration starts rising even higher. Then it starts acting as a positive feedback as well. But not now. At the moment, if humans stopped burning fossil fuels, the CO2 levels would go down because for one, oceans would still absorb CO2.

    The oceans are pretty slow with all this behaviour though, expect a few centuries. Mind you, still fast compared to geologic stuff.

    You can read about Milankovitch and Arrhenius and all that if you want to know more.

  22. Hmm, someone disagrees with you about Krugman Other than that you miss the point that greenhouse gases, and thus future costs accumulate. But compare the costs if Eli is right and you are wrong or visa versa.

  23. Eli

    Krugman said global trade would fall 17% as a result of high energy prices. He wasn’t just wrong, he was spectacularly wrong on that front.

    Sorry Eli but your assumptions are screwed up.

  24. Isn’t the real problem that future costs are unknown and so the calculation cannot be made? Stern has been subject to enough rubbishing to now be left out of serious discussions.

  25. that’s true of itself Pedro.

    You must gotta love the racket the alarmists have got going.

    Estimate the costs way out of proportion impose a flat cost of capital for 100 years out, don’t assume productivity/technical improvements, then scream chicken little and repeat again with over sized estimates. All the while getting paid to do it.

    It’s fun and a little money earner.

  26. Oil prices are now down by half. Of course the world economy is now down by half, so do not be surprised when the fourth quarter numbers for trade are substantially down.

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