Comments on: Global Warming (III): The Public Intellectuals Weigh in Blog, news, books Thu, 12 Oct 2017 08:56:00 +0000 hourly 1 By: Alex Pinto Thu, 07 Oct 2004 09:12:51 +0000 Judge Posner

I agree with you when you place the global warming and the demografic explosion as the world’s worst ills. Even without considering the hypothesis stated in your post of a sudden change in global climate equilibrium. In the last 15th days I visited the republique of Maldives which is the first country that will disappear if the oceans level keep raising at the same rhythm. As I read there, the oceans level is raising 10/15 mm/year. Considering that the highest point in Maldives is 2 m, this beautiful and unique country will disappear in 150/200 years!

Alex Pinto (a portuguese follower of your posts)

By: Jeff Licquia Mon, 30 Aug 2004 18:11:26 +0000 Never be surprised when an economist proposes that one spend one’s money on enterprises that have a chance at success.

Combating disease and mitigating hunger are solved problems. We have eradicated some diseases completely from the earth (polio, smallpox), and many countries in the world have reduced the problem of hunger to extremely low levels by historic standards.

By contrast, global warming mediation will be hideously expensive by any stretch, with resulting benefits that are slim to none. Kyoto, as controversial as that is, is thought to be woefully inadequate at stopping global warming. Moreover, plausible theories exist that attribute nearly all global warming to natural causes, such as increases in solar output. Thus, we are spending an enormous amount for little gain that we have some (however small) reason to believe may be illusory.

Also, before one can dismiss the economists, one must prove that one can spend $50 billion on the global warming problem and get a better bang for the buck than for the other things. That’s doable (say, on alternative fuels research), but it’s certainly not enough to slam-dunk the economists for foolishly ignoring the problem.

By: Anonymous Mon, 30 Aug 2004 12:44:17 +0000 There seems to be a ridicule of people giving up their freedoms for federal security against terrorist threats, and I agree.
We should not be scared into giving up our God-given liberties to our national government for protection against terrorism.

However, on the flip side, there seems to be little concern over the idea of scaring people into giving up their freedoms
(and massive amounts of money) for federal security against environmental threats. We have witnessed with our own eyes thousands of people killed
from terrorist attacks; what we have with environmental studies, however, are merely hypothesizing, estimates, and predictions
(that have been going on for decades and have never come true to the extent predicted, by the way).

I strongly support littering fines, energy conservation, and personal stewardship of the environment. Let us not, however,
allow a political figure to cater to hysterical emotions and allow us to cede our freedoms to tyranny to embark on a massive
and vexing Gaia campaign any more than we would allow a political figure to overestimate the threat of terrorism.

By: Darko Hristov Mon, 30 Aug 2004 08:22:12 +0000 “Malnutrition and malaria are serious problems too, but one effect of eliminating them would be to cause a population surge, which would in turn increase global warming”
What a fascistic point, and for a judge.

You are on very thin ice here. An African could then say that you should stop fighting terrorism, because terrorism is reducing world population and so preventing global warming.

God Save America With Such Judges.

By: koreyel Sun, 29 Aug 2004 03:41:59 +0000 In my book HIV should not be Number 1 either.

However in regards to this:

“The AIDS epidemic … is also readily controllable, without medical intervention, by avoidance of promiscuous sex.”

What role has promiscuous sex played in the success of the human species?

How would human behavior differ today if those having a predilection for promiscuous sex been exterminated by a virus millennia ago?

Is it possible for those with a predilection for promiscuous sex to alter their behavior? Or mightn’t one be about as successful at halting this behavior as one would be in urging dolphins to stop screwing each other wantonly?

Which is all to say: that remark was a bit too flip.

By: Hal Sun, 29 Aug 2004 00:06:38 +0000 I don’t understand this snowball earth theory. It sounds crazy to me. How could global warming possible lead to an increase in snow accumulation? If things started to cool off so that snowfall increased, then we wouldn’t have global warming any more, we’d have global cooling. But that would be inconsistent with atmospheric CO2 levels near geological highs.

More plausibly, any increase in cloud cover will serve to moderate the warming trend, acting as a negative feedback effect to stabilize the climate and avoid the most extreme negative predictions. Present climate models have difficulty with this phenomenon and it is an active area of research. It is exactly this sort of uncertainty which makes people hesitant to believe the dire warnings of disaster which you are offering here.

By: Karl Sat, 28 Aug 2004 19:17:19 +0000 Re: the Malthus comment, it was flippant. I was trying to say that the Judge’s comment echoed Malthus, I wasn’t trying to lend any credence to either.


By: Peter Sat, 28 Aug 2004 19:07:34 +0000 I am sure Posner has at least heard of and no doubt read Malthus, and also read the numerous scholars who have proven Malthus wrong. Forgive the following sarcasm – Karl, are you saying that as long as you have read Malthus it is alright to withhold treatment of a population so as to induce some sort of unnecessary Malthusian population correction? Who are you to make that judgement? Would you prevent members of this population purchasing life saving drugs and treatment?

By: Palooka Sat, 28 Aug 2004 18:52:10 +0000 Malthus, of course, has been proven wrong. Except with the notable sub-saharan Africa dilemma, where there is so little political and economic stability that the market can’t function to meet the increasing needs of humanity, as it has done across the globe.

Interesting that you’d bring up Malthus, who environmentalists touted for years as the Mesiah. The coming population catastrophe. Yada, yada, yada, yada. Well, it never materialized. The nuts go back to the drawing board, and we’ve got another dime-a-dozen doomsday scenario–the looming global warming catastrophe.

By: Karl Sat, 28 Aug 2004 16:27:31 +0000 Peter,

Posner has read Malthus. If we were to feed/medicate everyone, we wouldn’t be feeding anyone shortly.

By: Gabriel Sat, 28 Aug 2004 15:29:34 +0000 “promiscuous” sex? How blatantly misinformed and prejudiced. People get infected by HIV mainly by having sex (once is all that is needed) and using drugs (once is all that is needed).

Why is AIDS so important a human problem and why should so much money be allocated to minimizing the impact of this disease on humanity? When entire national populations are infected at rates of 10, 20, 30+%, the impact of this disease on the society is more than simple deaths. Even corporations are realizing that this disease needs to be stopped if these nations are going to build themselves out of their poverty. But i guess if we focus our resources on global warming instead, we won’t have to worry that these people have a nice environment in which to die.

By: Fuzzy Sat, 28 Aug 2004 14:57:07 +0000 All I can do is laugh. I can’t figure out whether this points out the inability of top economists to do simple math or the normal way economists spin numbers by assuming deficits are okay or if there was just a typo in the blog, but how can you spend $52 billion (27 + 13 + 12 = 52) when you were only given $50 billion to spend?

By: Peter Rossi Sat, 28 Aug 2004 13:37:32 +0000 1 – You criticise the Copenhagen Consensus on the grounds that none of the economists were experts on climate change – in other words because they are commenting outside their field, their work carries less weight. Isn’t this exactly what you are doing?

2 – In arguing that the conclusions of the Consenus were mistaken, you state: ‘Malnutrition and malaria are serious problems too, but one effect of eliminating them would be to cause a population surge, which would in turn increase global warming.’
Surely you are not suggesting that it would better for malnutrition and malaria to go untreated? Perhaps I have misunderstood your point here or you need to clarify it.

By: seobro Sat, 28 Aug 2004 11:57:03 +0000 Global warming will have a profound impact on human civilization. Consider the Chinese that are now increasing their consumption of coal to unequaled levels. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will continue to increase.

But I believe that the worst problem will be Hypercanes, a hybrid of a tornado and a hurricane. These mosters will completely destroy civilization. All we need is warm water.

By: Lindsay Sat, 28 Aug 2004 11:32:13 +0000 Dear Judge Posner,

It may be instructive to recall Aaron Wildavsky’s argument, in his book ‘Searching for Safety’. Wildavsky argued that, in general, there are two responses to risk – ‘anticipation’ and ‘resilience’. The former involves seeking to identify harms in advance, and take preventative action to avoid them. Although I have not read any specific recommendations from you on this page, I gather that you would propose, in response to threats such as terrorism of various kinds, or global warming – perhaps even (as suggested by another commentator) alien invasion.

The alternative, ‘resilent’ approach favoured by Wildavsky involves increasing ones’ capacity to respond to adverse circumstances as and when they arise. In the context of terrorism, this would presumably involve such measures as strengthening our emergency services to cope with a variety of scenarios and to be able to respond flexibly to surprise events, developing the capacity of our armed forces to retaliate against known terrorists. In the context of global warming, it would presumably involve the ability to evacuate and re-build cities, adapt our agriculture and fishing to a new climate, develop cooler (or warmer, or more waterproof) clothes. More realistically, there may be a time at which the evidence is sufficiently persuasive that we have to devote substantial resources to abrupt carbon reduction strategies–alternative fuels, reforestation, carbon sinks etc. I am not an expert on global warming, but for all I know, that time may be immanent.

The case for a primarily ‘resilient’ rather than primarily ‘anticpatory’ response is along the following lines. As a previous comment pointed out, there is a long list of remote but high cost risks – we couldn’t possibly respond ex ante to all of them. Better to wait until they have materialised, then decide whether to invest our resources in fighting Al Quaeda or aliens (we now know that the former demands our attention and resources, at least for the time being, and we can fight that ‘war’ intelligently). Our powers of forecasting are such that the chances are that if we try to predict in advance which risks to counter, we are going to get it wrong a large amount of the time. Furthermore, as Wildavsky argues, richer IS safer, as seen by the response by developed versus developing countries to natural disasters etc. So there is an opportunity cost (even measured only in terms of safety, rather than in broader terms) of the reduction of human risk.

Of course, I am open to the argument that the so-called global mega hazards we are talking about are such that ex post responses are impossible. Once the ‘snowball’ scenario has materialised it will be too late. But I feel that this particular case is yet to be made by you (Judge Posner) or by anyone else. I would be very interested to hear your response.

By: Palooka Sat, 28 Aug 2004 06:39:49 +0000 Judge Posner,

Human activity causing global warming to rise, triggering a global, civilization-shattering event is a ridiculous what if scenario. If we’re going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year to possibly reduce the slim-to-none possibility of the events you speak of, then what else shall we spend equal somes preventing? Meteor strikes?
Alien invasion? Does society have to spend enormous sums of money on every possible earth-shattering event? Because that’s a long list, Mr. Posner.

For society to expend the resources which something like Kyoto demands, there should be better than highly improbable what if science fiction. The fact that climate changes occur abruptly without industrialization is troubling, but we have no idea how, exactly, Kyoto would effect this equation. Your response is that anything’s worth a try when the future of the world’s at stake.

You agree there is a possibility of an alien invasion which destroys civiliation, right? Well, then what prevents society from expending vast sums of money preparing for this doomsday event?

What possibility is great enough to justify attention? 1%? .0001%? .000001%?



By: Dylan Sat, 28 Aug 2004 03:58:18 +0000 I was indeed misrembering. The problem was a highly unrealistic discount rate. I’ve briefly summarized the results and provided links (for Economist subscribers) to the Consensus summaries at my blog.

By: James Robertson Sat, 28 Aug 2004 03:03:37 +0000 The fact that temperatures have fallen and risen precipitously many times in the past – clearly without human intervention – doesn’t ring some alarm bells with you? It doesn’t tell you that we understand very little about global climate at this point in time? It doesn’t tell you that temperature variations – even extreme ones – are quite possible with or without people?

By: Fred Blasdel Sat, 28 Aug 2004 02:37:56 +0000

If reduced salinity in the North Atlantic allowed the Gulf Stream to return to its natural northward path, the climate of the entire European continent would become like that of Siberia, and Europe�s agriculture would be destroyed.

Emphasis Mine

If the earth’s natural machinations cause will cause us to go extinct, there’s not much we can do about it. Our influence is but a drop in the bucket.

By: Dylan Sat, 28 Aug 2004 02:30:30 +0000 Anyone who followed the Copenhagen Consensus process throughout would know that each issue considered was the subject of a paper by a supposed expert in that particular field, and that expert did perform cost-benefit analyses. The final panel merely compared, critiqued, and chose among these papers.

AIDS was chosen because the cost/benefit analysis was overwhelmingly in its favor. A few dollars save a lot of lives, which are worth a lot of money. I seem to recall no one took the global warming numbers seriously, partly because the predicted growth in green house gasses was tied to unserious estimates of third world economic growth (although I could be confusing it with remembered criticism of an earlier paper).

In any case, if global warming is a problem, it will require vastly more than $50 billion to do anything about it. A couple of orders of magnitude more is not unthinkable.

By: Karl Sat, 28 Aug 2004 01:39:24 +0000 Judge Posner,

As a skeptic, I’d hardly consider myself ‘sunk’ after reading your piece here. Just because these three bright individuals got it wrong, doesn’t mean the entire anti-Kyoto crowd is up a creek. These three got it wrong, and I’m sad to see it, because I used to work for Professor Fogel, and he is amazingly gifted at creating, testing and analyzing hypotheses. I’d be interested to see some of their thought processes that lead to the conclusions they drew.

I can surmise a guess…why is AIDS the worst crisis? Because, the one thing that must happen for the survival of man…the most basic and essential thing, is procreation. And the act of procreation is where AIDS strikes. To claim that one can avoid AIDS by avoiding ‘promiscuous’ sex is not a legitimate claim when significant portions of the populations of some African countries are HIV positive. Use a condom�sure, great advice, but if we all took it every time it’d be a fast track to extinction.


By: Craig Sat, 28 Aug 2004 00:43:46 +0000 Judge Posner:

Your article in the New York Times is now up. You may want to link to it: