Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Princes of Denmark

I was on the plane this morning. My favorite moment is always the point when the plane shoots through the clouds. Beyond the clouds, you get the divine view of this planet; and it's a beautiful planet.

It amazes me how few people still understand that all climate change models are built on vast uncertainties, but that it doesn't change any of the logic for the mitigation of climate change. If there was a 50-50 chance that a flight you put your children on crashed; would you put them on the plane anyway? Would you be willing to pay perhaps 1 % of your income to ensure that it didn't happen? Most of us think so; especially, when that 1 % is only a wealth transfer from a wealthy group of people (over-emitters) to a poor group (under-emitters); and the net-cost is actually zero. The earth's ecosystem is currently underpriced; and to say that something is underpriced is another way of saying that it's subsidized. In this case, the subsidy is paid by the developing countries that will suffer the most from climate change.

UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) started on Monday in Copenhagen, but it's already been severely undermined by the lack of political commitment. It's now been said that the likely outcome of the summit will be a "politically binding agreement" as opposed to a legally binding agreement. What does that mean in terms of a time frame for a legally binding agreement? Your guess is as good as mine.

I won't be covering the progress of the conference, but I think The Earth Institute at Columbia University will do a fine job. I can't say anything about the desired outcome that hasn't been said already. If you haven't followed the literature; I can give a couple of recommendations. The Global Deal by Nick Stern is a great cursory work on the negotiations. Saving Kyoto by Graciela Chichilnisky is primarily a defense of the Cap and Trade system. It's also a book that Jim Hansen should've read before trashing the system in public last week. We can't afford to lose our second best solution at this point. I also recommend Architectures for Agreeement (edited by Joseph Aldy and Robert Stavins) for those who want to delve deeper into the political economy of the negotiations.

The emails that leaked from the University of East Anglia have done nothing to undemine the scientific consensus. To say that there's a conspiracy among scientists to make us falsely believe there's such a thing as anthropogenic climate change is tantamount to saying that there's a conspiracy among doctors to make us falsely believe that smoking causes cancer. Yes, there's uncertainty about the magnitude of our impact on climate change, but there are also people who have never smoked who get lung cancer. Our current experiment on this planet is not worth the gamble. We can only hope that our leaders in Copenhagen will realize, as Prince Hamlet of Denmark did, that "conscience doth make cowards of us all".

Now, excuse me. I have to go see about a girl.