Dr. Weitzman - The Extreme Uncertainty of Extreme Climate Change:

by Ginosar  

Those of you who have the technical background and the desire to understand the global warming issue in more depth should study the following analysis by Dr. Martin Weitzman, a senior, highly regarded Harvard economist. He is dealing here with the issue we mostly ignore - the likelihood of catastrophic climatic events. But he is bringing up much more than that. (If you do not understand the economic equations, just skip them and read the rest- you will learn a considerable amount.)

Although it is for environmental economists, I believe it is critical for policy makers and environmentalist to grasp the essence of his thoughts.

I have a few quick comments about his work below.

An Overview and Some Implications
Martin L. Weitzman
October 20, 2009. Preliminary. Comments Appreciated

The Extreme Uncertainty of Extreme Climate Change: An Overview and Some Implications, October 20, 2009.

The possibility of catastrophic climate change is characterized by deep structural uncertainties in the science coupled with an economic inability to evaluate meaningfully the welfare losses from high temperatures. The probability of a disastrous collapse of planetary welfare from global warming seems non-negligible, even if this low probability is very difficult to quantify. Through informal reasoning, elementary examples, and simple numerical exercises, this paper attempts to convey an overview of some of the background uncertainties behind extreme climate change. I argue that the tails of the relevant probability distributions should not be ignored because they are likely to be fat with probability and important. A few implications for climate change analysis and policy are explored."

Some of the key points Dr. Weitzman is making are that we have basic problems in our assessment of global warming. Our system of understanding and predicting GW is flawed. Also, we do not know what we do not know and we do not take this into account. Also, we ignore the low probability of potential catastrophic events because we do not know how to deal with them (and, in my own view, the potential outcome is too overwhelming for us to face, so we ignore them.)

I hope to write about it in later, but it is ludicrous to me that we are "predicting," seemingly with great assurance, a certain global temperature rise associated with a certain GHG level. May be these are the calculations of our various models, but we already know how wrong the IPCC predictions could be. How the deterioration of the glaciers and ice sheets advanced much more rapidly than predicted just two years ago. We also do not take sufficiently into account the limitation of our knowledge and the unpredictability of nature.

Where are the safety factors we should have in this crucial process for human survival?

When engineers design a structure we put a safety factor into it, say double or triple the design requirements associated with bridges, and buildings, because our assumptions and calculations may be wrong and the materials we use are not uniformly strong everywhere.

When it comes to GW we think we know the relationships between GHG and global temperatures and what we have to do to slow down the process. We do not factor any safety factor into it as far as I have read.

And take into account the cheating, the mistakes, the propensity of humans to distort and to lie to further their own personal interest, starting with our own Congress, and we realize how the process of fighting GW with today's tools is deeply inadequate and unrealistic.

Even if we were able to globally agree to cut GHG by 20% to 30% by 2020 (from 1990) we are not out of the woods by any means. We simply are unable to grasp that we have to change much more than just conserve and put green technologies all over the world.

As a minimum we will have to reduce population growth drastically, we will have to reduce the growth of our standard of living. We will have to share our wealth better with the deprived, starving portion of the world population or they will demand to waste energy and emit large amounts of GHG as we have been doing for centuries.


I believe to save humanity from immense amount of suffering due to GW we need to turn upside down the way we approach the fight against GW. Instead of doing the minimum we are able without disturbing the status quo, we need to concentrate our effort and do the maximum that is humanly and economically possible to cut GHG as soon as possible.





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