Climate and Bias

Megan McArdle points to this post by Matthew Yglesias:

It’s worth going back to first principles on markets, property rights, and air pollution. To have a functioning market, you need to have property rights. And property rights need to be defined in some way or other.


A third way is a find a middle ground. You’re allowed to emit some sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere so that industrial production can continue, but an unlimited amount so as to prevent the acid rain situation from getting out of control. The “green” proposal for carbon dioxide is essentially similar to this. It’s important, economically, that we allow there to be some carbon emissions. But it’s also important that we not have unlimited levels of greenhouse gases making the world hotter and hotter and hotter and hotter with all sorts of deleterious consequences for people’s lives.

I think that for most thoughtful people on both sides, this basic principle is not in dispute. No one worth taking seriously thinks that people should be free to pollute the environmental commons with impunity, or, at the other extreme, that it should be prohibited altogether. The disagreement is largely over empirical and speculative questions about marginal costs and benefits. That is, stuff like:

1. What are the environmental consequences of various levels of atmospheric CO2, and how will they affect our future standard of living?

2. What are the economic consequences of reducing CO2 emissions to various levels by various means?

3. What are the costs and benefits of other mitigation strategies?

4. How are 1-3 likely to change in the future due to technological and economic progress?

5. How will the policies actually produced by the political process differ from the policies we come up with from our armchairs and ivory towers?

Unfortunately, beliefs with respect to these questions are highly correlated with ideology, and that really only makes sense for #5. There's no logical reason why there should be a strong correlation between one's position on the expansion of the welfare state and one's beliefs regarding catastrophic anthropogenic global warning, and the fact that there is suggests that there's some cognitive bias at work (or, less charitably, outright dishonesty).

I strongly suspect that there's some bias on both sides, though not necessarily an equal amount. Which side is more biased, and where exactly the truth lies, I honestly don't know, but ultimately I think the debate over global warming and mitigation strategies stems from cognitive bias with respect to empirical questions, rather than to any serious dispute over basic principles.

Share this


Human caused global warming, true or false?

We won't take into consideration the "if true" then "how much" yet.


Is there no god but God?

Were you asking for individual participants to answer yes or no? That would be like asking for a profession of faith.

Or, alternatively, are you asking a question of the world, such as, is there dark matter? In that case, you are not expecting anyone here to answer that question, but simply claiming that it is key.


[made into a blog entry]

Without a compass, we walk in circles

[made into a blog entry]

pb > c

[made into a blog entry]

Simplify the problem. Assume global warming ONLY warms the globe

Say the only effect is human caused and only effects human health. Not plants or animals. Say a 5 degree increase will raise corporation profits 20% but will increase the death rate of babies and old people without air conditioning by 10% and the trend is linear. How high will the temp be allowed to rise?