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IPCC report shows Stern inflated climate change costs

How much does climate change cost? What will be the impact on our wallets? The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Working Group II has concluded that global warming…

How much green will it cost to go green? epsos.de, CC BY

How much does climate change cost? What will be the impact on our wallets?

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Working Group II has concluded that global warming of 2.5˚C would cost the equivalent to losing between 0.2-2.0% of annual income.

This seems in sharp contrast to the Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change, which found it would cost 5-20%. How can that be?

The Stern Review was prepared by a team of civil servants and never reviewed (before publication) by independent experts. Some argue that the Stern Review served to bolster Gordon Brown’s credentials with the environmental wing of the Labour Party in preparation for his transition to party leader and prime minister. And in fact next week IPCC Working Group III will conclude that the Stern Review grossly underestimated the costs of bringing down greenhouse gas emissions.

While interested parties can self-publish whatever they want, such informally published grey literature has no place in the IPCC’s work. Although the Stern Review’s findings were not included in the IPCC’s current, Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the Stern Review draws heavily on the climate change impact estimates of Chris Hope of Cambridge University, whose numbers are peer-reviewed, and were included in the IPCC’s work. Hope calculated a economic loss of 0.9%, slightly lower than the IPCC’s central estimate of 1.1%. So the Stern Review and IPCC AR5 do not contradict one another. If anything, the Stern Review is slightly more optimistic.

Playing with numbers

So how did the Stern Review reach its figure of 5%-20% of income, when in fact its calculations started with an estimate of less than 1%? The reason is an arcane bit of welfare economics. Dr Hope’s 0.9% is a conventional impact estimate. If the world warmed by 2.5˚C, the average person would feel as if they had lost 0.9% of her income. If the world warmed by more, the impact would be higher; if warming is less, the impact is lower.

The Stern Review’s 5% is generated like an annuity, taking a stream of payments that vary over time (in this case the predicted impact of climate change) and converting it into fixed annual payments. The Stern Review thus replaces the impact of more than 200 years of climate change – effects that start low and end high – with a number that is the same for each year. Most people find it confusing to replace numbers that vary over time with a single fixed number.

In order to calculate an annuity economists apply a discount rate, effectively representing the change in value of money over time. The Stern Review (as it was originally published in 2006) uses a discount rate of about 1.4% – far below what most people use, and indeed far lower than the official discount rate of Her Majesty’s Treasury of 3.5% (and falling further to 1% for those effects more than three centuries into the future). Using such a low discount rate inflates the annuity, and so the reported costs of climate change.

Stern’s argument for a low discount rate is a paternalistic one. People’s value judgements are wrong, according to the Stern Review, and the government has the right to overrule them. Stern puts himself in the position of a colonial ruler, governing the savages against their will – but in their own interest, of course.

The costs of uncertainty

Stern’s 5% figure also reflects the uncertainties about future climate change and its impact on our welfare. Combined with the low discount rate, this means that the headline number of the Stern Review is dominated by unlikely events in 200 years’ time. It does not reflect climate changes' impact in the near term, or even the best estimate over a century. It is, by and large, a prediction based on the worst case scenario of two centuries from now.

Unfortunately, this worst case is internally inconsistent. It assumes both high greenhouse gas emissions and high vulnerability to the effects of climate change. That does not make sense. Essentially, it assumes that, for example, Africans will be rich enough to drive highly emitting SUVs, but too poor to buy mosquito nets to protect their children against malaria spread by increased numbers of insects that the warmer, wetter climate global warming would bring.

So while Stern reports a range of 5-20%, those figures do not truly represent upper and lower bounds. The 5% is their best estimate, reflecting all uncertainties. The 20% is an arbitrary number – it is based on assumptions on greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and climate impacts that the authors themselves find less credible.

Both studies agree that the economic impact of climate change is small – half a century of climate change at this rate would do perhaps as much damage as losing one year of economic growth. Unfortunately, the Stern Review hides this reasonably optimistic conclusion behind accounting tricks and dubious assumptions, creating a sense of disagreement that is not there.

Updated 03/4/2014, 1:30pm to clarify version of Stern Review under discussion, and to add further affiliations in author’s disclosure statement

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84 Comments sorted by

  1. Thomas Goodey

    Researcher

    Come on, that's not fair. You are not supposed to criticize the lies of 2014 by comparing them to the lies of 2008! You are supposed to forget the details of each consecutive set of alarmist lies, after having been duly frightened by them.

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  2. A Lamb

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    The IPCC report said that for 1-2 degrees of global warming there would be a loss of 0.2-2.0% of GDP to the global economy. This is the low forecast for global warming . We've almost reached 1 degree already and we're projected to warm by 4-6 degrees on average by 2100. In any case, it's the poorest and most vulnerable people who will suffer the most, regardless of GDP.

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  3. Jasper Kenter

    logged in via LinkedIn

    The author does not properly represent the debates there have been about discount rates and the motivations for Stern to choose the rate they used. Discounting means that things in the future are assumed to be worth less than they are now. A zero rate means we assume things happening to people living in the future are just as important as they would be too people living now. A high discount rate means we value things in the short term and care less about the long term. There are two ways of defending…

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    1. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Jasper Kenter

      There is a third way of defending discounting, much the most important. It is to take notice of the obvious fact that the prediction may be simply wrong right now, or may be invalidated as the situation changes, which it obviously will since situations always change. For example, in 1880 it was predicted (I have heard) that at the rate of increase in wheeled traffic, the streets of London would be three foot deep in horse manure by 1920. Actually that didn't happen; the problem went away.

      For…

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    2. Jasper Kenter

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Your point has to do with scenarios, it is not a defence for discounting. The appropriate approach for the horse manure would have been to evaluate a number of scenarios (and discount each of them at one or the other rate), not a single one - i.e. one where horse based transport would continue, and then evaluate that, and one where horses would be taken out of the equation, and evaluate that. You would then look at the likelihood and impact of each scenario, and consider that there might be scenarios…

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    3. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Jasper Kenter

      Yes, but predictions are very difficult to make, especially about the future. In 1880 it was patently obvious that, while steam cars might make a limited impact, they couldn't possibly displace horse-drawn transport. What about the scenario of horses becoming trained only to drop in specific places? What about the scenario of London becoming depopulated due to decentralization? The historical track record of people posing scenarios about the future and arguing on the basis of those scenarios is very poor.

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    4. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      "Yes, but predictions are very difficult to make, especially about the future. "

      The only reason predictions are difficult is because of genuinely novel occurrences, such as 1880 predictions not anticipating self-propelled motorised vehicles.

      The thing about climate is, it's in a different category: how the NATURAL world responds to a given atmospheric greenhouse gas content.

      What's limiting predictions is only incomplete prior knowledge of earth systems: based in your comments, I see negligible appreciation of how earth system understanding is coming along.

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    5. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to David Arthur

      Actually in 1880 self-propelled motorized vehicles had been around for quite a time, both on rails and on roads. So it was not a question of a genuinely novel occurrence. Extrapolation of trends, and prediction of the interaction of several extrapolated trends, is also very difficult. For example, when automobiles started to become popular, nobody predicted the virtual extinction of buggy-whip manufacturers. Nobody predicted the great change in the sexual habits of American youth brought about by the automobile.

      As far as the dubious predictions of future planetary climate go, I tend to give credence to the obviously intelligent opinion of Freeman Dyson: "The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world we live in ."

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    6. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      On the other hand, there's some actual knowledge that leads inexorably to certain conclusions.

      Observation 1. Sun irradiates earth with short-wave energy.

      Observation 2. Earth re-radiates long-wave energy.

      Observation 3. Greenhouse gases retard transmission of long-wave energy, not short-wave energy.

      Observation 4. Satellite observations show decreasing emission to space of this long-wave energy, at EXACTLY THE SAME WAVELENGTHS as CO2 absorbs long-wave energy.
      Observation 5. Arctic…

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  4. Peter Lang

    Retired geologist and engineer

    Richard Tol should be taken very seriously. He's been just about the leading rational authority on climate impacts and the economic consequences since IPCC got started.

    I find this paper interesting: http://www.copenhagenconsensus.com/sites/default/files/climate_change.pdf
    In short it suggest global warming is probably net positive to about 2080. Furthermore. the main negative late in the century is energy costs. So, if we allow cheap energy (e.g with nuclear power), increasing CO2 concentrations and any global warming it causes may be net beneficial to well beyond 3 C warming.

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    1. Sean Douglas

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Peter Lang

      regarding this ( Richard Tol should be taken very seriously. He's been just about the leading rational authority on climate impacts and the economic consequences since IPCC got started. )

      Well that's a personal opinion. And given he was only 20 years old when the IPCC got started, it is more than merely an over-stated opinion, it is somewhat incorrect to say the least. .

      Wiki and do check the refs there:
      "Tol obtained an MSc in Econometrics and Operations Research and a PhD in economics…

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    2. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Sean Douglas

      Obviously this is part of the greensmearing campaign against Tol.

      Note that his track record is at least more impressive than that of Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, the railway engineer.

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    3. Sean Douglas

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Thomas, you mention a "greensmearing campaign against Tol"

      and what would that be exactly? Given you have nothing to say about the content of my personal comments. Never heard of 'greensmearing' before. Is it a new word you made up that is supposed to mean something of significant value .. or just a throw away line? (such as a used fish and chips wrapper)

      ( smile )

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    4. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Sean Douglas

      Sean Douglas,

      What a joke that you would go to Wikileaks for your info instead of to Tol's web site http://www.sussex.ac.uk/economics/people/peoplelists/person/289812 . You could also have read, elsewhere, how he as a PhD student was left by the far more senior and experienced authors of IPCC to carry the IPCC's defence of the methods used for estimating damage costs at the TAR or FAR (I don't remember which).

      He's recognised as one of the top 100 economists in the world:

      Biography
      Richard…

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    5. In reply to Peter Lang

      Comment removed by moderator.

    6. In reply to Peter Lang

      Comment removed by moderator.

  5. Eli Rabett

    logged in via Facebook

    Richard Tol is in the soundbite generating business at this point, marked by his pilgrimage to the BBC studios at the recent Yokohaoma IPCC meeting. None of them make any sense in the light of day.

    His comment to the BBC "But if you ask people in Syria whether they are more concerned with chemical weapons or climate change, I think they would pick chemical weapons - that is just silliness." just neglects the fact that a major cause of the civil war was a brutal drought that chased millions off…

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    1. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Eli Rabett

      The Syrian civil war would not be happening without (A) the various brands of Muslims in Syria (and elsewhere) hating one another's guts; (B) the West egging them on with that idiotic "Arab Spring"; (C) Saudi Arabia and other Sunni powers sending in massive amounts of finance, and considerable numbers of fighters, in order to get the civil war going. You are effectively trying to say that global warming was a major contributor to the civil war in Syria. That's one of the most grotesque assertions I have ever heard!

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    2. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Eli Rabett

      Let me see.. when there's a drought in the American Midwest, do the Protestants and the Catholics start car-bombing one another? And I must have missed the civil war caused by the drought a couple of years ago in England... Come to that, Australia has been experiencing a multi-year drought, hasn't it? Oh, yes, now I understand everything!

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    3. Sean Douglas

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Eli Rabett

      Eli regarding "... just neglects the fact that a major cause of the civil war was a brutal drought that chased millions off the land and into penury."

      That's a fair comment imo. a 'major' cause is historically correct. I note you did not say the 'only' cause. Comparisons to droughts in the US or here not causing a civil war are ridiculous because the starting point for the people in Syria and the lack of response by the (essentially bankrupt) Government at the time was completely different. Add…

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    4. Sean Douglas

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Synchronicity or coincidence?
      "The opening episode even manages to re-write the history of the current Syrian war by pointing to the drought and famine “threat multiplier” that preceded the war, leading to the civil unrest and political conflict seen today."
      "The incredibly well-funded climate denier industry in the US will be dealt a severe blow this weekend with the release of a well-produced 16-episode series on climate change by the Hollywood elite: Years of Living Dangerously. The first full episode, Climate Wars, airs tonight (Sunday) on Showtime. It is also being made available for free."
      https://theconversation.com/ill-be-back-hollywood-takes-on-the-climate-crisis-25544

      http://yearsoflivingdangerously.com/where-to-watch/ ( smile )

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  6. Alex Rogers

    Professor of Conservation Biology at University of Oxford

    I would like to point out that it appears to be Richard Toll who is playing with numbers and, indeed, words here. The IPCC report states: "the incomplete estimates of global annual economic losses for additional temperature increases of ~2°C are between 0.2 and 2.0% of income." That is "incomplete" and "2°C" NOT "2.5°C". Further it states that such losses will more likely as not be greater than the stated range AND that losses accelerate for warming of 3°C and above, thus a mere 0.5°C difference…

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    1. Jasper Kenter

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Alex Rogers

      This is the full paragraph:

      Economic impact estimates completed over the past 20 years vary in their coverage of subsets of economic sectors and depend on a large number of assumptions, many of which are disputable, and many estimates do not account for catastrophic changes, tipping points, and many other factors.59 With these recognized limitations, the incomplete estimates of global annual economic losses for additional temperature increases of ~2°C are between 0.2 and 2.0% of income (±1 standard…

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    2. Eli Rabett

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jasper Kenter

      Essentially you are agreeing with Rosen and Guenther's new publication in Technological Forecasting and Social Change, that economic models including Stern and the ARs are essentially frauds (ok that's a bit strong, but not much).

      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040162514000468

      ----------------------------------
      However, the various kinds of uncertainties that affect these economic results raise serious questions about whether or not the net costs and benefits of mitigating…

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  7. Georg Antony

    analyst

    It's really intriguing how this article does not show up on The Conversation's summary pages. Much older articles are still shown, but this one-day-old one is nowhere to be seen. Could it be because it does not follow the consensus argument about the impact of global warming?

    The Conversation's managers leave themselves wide open to accusations of bias.

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    1. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Georg Antony

      Perhaps; but there could be a fairer explanation. Let's see if they put it on the summary list now.

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    2. Stephen Ferguson

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Georg Antony

      The following affiliations tell us all we need to know about Tol:

      - Academic Advisory Council Global Warming Policy Foundation
      - Copenhagen Consensus Center 2009 panel

      http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Richard_Tol

      He has no credibility whatsoever.

      No wonder The Conversation excised him from summary pages. They are probably thoroughly embarrassed for even gave him the time of day.

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    3. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Stephen Ferguson

      This posting is obviously part of the greensmearing of Richard Tol that has been orchestrated by Bob Ward, director of policy at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, due to his refusal to back the IPCC report:

      http://tinyurl.com/smear-tol

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    4. Georg Antony

      analyst

      In reply to Georg Antony

      Having conversed with the editor, I now know the reason for the no-show: the Tol article only appears in the UK edition, not the Australian one.

      Am I the only one who was confused by the uniform branding of The Conversation that implies much greater overlap between the UK and Australian segments than what there is?

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  8. Sean Douglas

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    Hi Richard Tol. I find the headline "IPCC report shows Stern inflated climate change costs" misleading. It places the focus onto Stern personally 'as if' he intentionally 'inflated' costs. It would be more accurate to say something like *The Stern Review's climate change costs are significantly higher than those about to be announced in the next IPCC Report.*

    Explainign the differecens and why they show up would be of service to many. To instead present this as some kind of psychological failing…

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  9. David Arthur

    resistance gnome

    You know how we're told that "CO2 is plant food"? That plants will grow bigger and faster, so it'll be good for feeding us all? Turns out even that claim's a load of oversimplistic codswallop.

    Just out on Nature Scientific Reports (Open Access, you all can read it yourselves) is "Reduced plant nutrition under elevated CO2 depresses the immunocompetence of cotton bollworm against its endoparasite" (http://www.nature.com/srep/2014/140401/srep04538/full/srep04538.html).

    What happens is, plants grow faster because they are getting more CO2 in so they're making more sugars and hance more cellulose and lignin. What they're not doing is getting more other nutrients in, they're not making anymore vitamins or proteins or flavonoids or any of the other compounds that make them nutritious.

    Ultimately, this means that even celery will be junk food. So thanks a lot, all you proponents of global warming - you're your own grandchildrens' worst enemy.

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    1. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to David Arthur

      So all those greenhouse owners who buy carbon dioxide in cylinders and release it in their greenhouses to boost the production of vegetables or fruit are viciously sabotaging the quality of their products, are they? In the end they wind up with tasteless woody strawberries or whatever that have little nutritive value, do they?

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    2. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      "In the end they wind up with tasteless woody strawberries or whatever that have little nutritive value, do they?" They will, unless they keep actively enhancing the nutrient and mineral content of their substrate (soil/potting mix) or water (hydroponics).

      Such enhancement is not, however, possible on a planet-wide scale.

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    3. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to David Arthur

      Well obviously, whatever you grow wherever, you have to replace the nutrient content of the soil, because it gets exhausted. That has nothing to do with carbon dioxide, however, except inasmuch as the carbon dioxide has made the plants grow faster and more luxuriantly, so you will have to put back more nutrients and minerals per year per are.

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    4. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Yeah right - apply your greenhouse thinking to the entire planet, including all its subsistence farmers.

      I really suggest you go oi the Nature Scientific Reports reference I provide, and have a little read and a think.

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    5. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to David Arthur

      The solution to the non-problem you are touting is called "manure". That's what subsistence farmers have put on their soils since the dawn of history in order to replace the nutrients and minerals, and they will continue to do so. Carbon dioxide has nothing to do with it, except that more carbon dioxide in the air will speed up plant growth and enable more food production per hectare per year (and require more manure per hectare per year, obviously).

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    6. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Err, that's the subsistence farmers, and they're only feeding their crops. They're not feeding the surrounding forests, and non-subsistence farmers are buying, often enough, buying in chemical fertilisers.

      Even there, there may be supply constraints: "Peak phosphorus will be a shortage we can’t stomach" (https://theconversation.com/peak-phosphorus-will-be-a-shortage-we-cant-stomach-25065), "Securing phosphorus: food for thought, and food for the future" (https://theconversation.com/securing-phosphorus-food-for-thought-and-food-for-the-future-756).

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    7. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to David Arthur

      We are scarcely bothered about the nutritive value of the surrounding forests, are we? And I would have thought you would be celebrating more luxuriant forest growth, not deploring it.

      As for peak phosphorus, now you are shifting the focus of the discussion in the typical weasel way of environmentalists. We were discussing increase in the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, you may remember.

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    8. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      While you may not be concerned with the nutritive value of forests, Mr Goodey, there is a world of animals - entire biota, in fact - that do rely on it. In turn we rely on at least some of them.

      We need also remember that those same more rapidly growing forests will tend to be structurally weaker (more prone to storm damage) and more flammable.

      The relevance of peak phosphorus pertains to agricultural productivity, introduced by yourself with spades of manure.

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    9. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to David Arthur

      Oh right - so your argument proving that more carbon in the atmosphere is a BAD THING is that it will cause the forests to grow more luxuriantly, so the leaves will have less nutritional value and the chipmunks will starve.

      And this is why I shouldn't drive my car?

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    10. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      "luxuriantly"? No. "too fast for their own good"? Yes.

      Remember those kids who grow into giants due to over-active pituitary glands? They are stooped for bone and muscular weakness, often die young. The situation of excessively growing plants is analogous.

      You really don't understand much, do you.

      More carbon in the atmosphere is not a good idea for many more reasons than low-nutrition, structurally weak trees; that's just one consequence. There's also loss of coastal cities and lands…

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    11. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Here's a 'The Conversation' article on which you might want to comment: Jules Pretty's "Defence, adaptation and retreat needed to fight coastal erosion", https://theconversation.com/defence-adaptation-and-retreat-needed-to-fight-coastal-erosion-25522.

      Here's a couple of reports of what happens to plant growth in a high CO2 world:
      1) "Climate change helps, then quickly stunts plant growth, decade-long study shows", http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120409103253.htm
      2) "Climate Change Surprise: High Carbon Dioxide Levels Can Retard Plant Growth, Study Reveals", http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/12/021206075233.htm
      This one's from 2002, back when at least some scientists shared your misconception that elevated CO2 would be unequivocally good for plant growth.

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    12. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to David Arthur

      Right, so all those trees in the forest are going to fall over and die due to higher carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I think I have summarized your argument fairly.

      No laughing there at the back!

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    13. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to David Arthur

      Actually greenhouse owners routinely inject CO2 into their greenhouses to boost plant production:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse#Greenhouse_carbon_dioxide_enrichment

      I'll copy it for you to make it easier:

      The possibility of using carbon dioxide enrichment in greenhouse cultivation to enhance plant growth has been known for nearly 100 years.[13][14][15] After the development of equipment for the controlled serial enrichment of carbon dioxide, the technique was established on a…

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    14. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      You've previously discussed CO2 enhancement in the artificial environments that are greenhouses.

      Since your memory has failed you, I've already replied by pointing out that in greenhouses it is possible to also artificially enhance nutrient and mineral availability for plants.

      It's not a fantasy of apocalypse I've got, rather it's simple awareness of how environments outside of greenhouses are at risk of being changed. If my summary mention of likely consequences sounds apocalyptic to you…

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    15. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to David Arthur

      On fields as well, it is possible to also artificially enhance nutrient and mineral availability for plants, and this is routinely done. That's one kind of fertilizer; nitrogen fertilizer is another. The land upon which all crops are produced is of course curated for nutrients and minerals - otherwise it would become "exhausted". There is also the concept of crop rotation - perhaps a strange one for you.

      Nice to know that you've changed your mind about all the trees falling down!

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    16. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      "On fields as well, it is possible to also artificially enhance nutrient and mineral availability for plants, and this is routinely done."

      As previously stated, such fertilisation is not done world wide - too many people with insufficient resources, an insufficiently large fertiiser industry.

      Also as previously stated, artificial fertilisation is not carried out on most of the world's land surfaces because they aren't under farms. They'll also be depleted.

      When I find myself rebutting the same fallacious suggestions more than once in a discussion thread, I can only determine that I'm in dialogue with some comment-generating toshbot rather than an entity purportedly capable of thought.

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    17. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to David Arthur

      All intensely used agricultural areas on the planet are given fertilizer, which is often human manure.

      As for areas which are not farmed, if they are all going to become depleted over time, have you ever wondered why they have not become completely and utterly depleted over the four billion years plus of the existence of the planet? According to your logic, nothing could grow anywhere, and all the trees in the world would have broken and fallen down long ago.

      Of course the real situation is that it is only areas from which agricultural production is removed to be eaten elsewhere that can get depleted. (Except for areas subject to erosion.) The typical wilderness area is grazed by animals that eventually die there, returning the nutrients to the soil in a cycle.

      Your silly personal abuse is not worth answering.

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    18. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      "As for areas which are not farmed, if they are all going to become depleted over time, have you ever wondered why they have not become completely and utterly depleted over the four billion years plus of the existence of the planet? According to your logic, nothing could grow anywhere, and all the trees in the world would have broken and fallen down long ago."

      Err, as and when depletion may or may not occur, geological processes may or may not replace them with fresh material. Meanwhile, soil microbes and fungi do a job breaking down rocks (biological enhancement of chemo-physical weathering); you do realise that, don't you?

      Recycling of nutrients and minerals from animals back to soil does, of course, also occur.

      We would have had a much shorter dialogue if you'd just explained what you DO know at the start - that wouldn't have taken long.

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  10. Chris McGrath

    Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

    I find the economic debate by both Nicholas Stern and Richard Tol surreal in arguing it is economically rational to allow temperature rises that will severely damage critical ecosystems like coral reefs.

    The Stern Review recommended as economically rational stabilising global temperature rises between 2°C and 3°C above pre-industrial levels. Professor Tol argues that the Stern Review overstates the costs supporting even these recommendations.

    Yet for Australia’s most iconic ecosystem, the…

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    1. Chris McGrath

      Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Chris McGrath

      Anyone interested in the peer-reviewed literature on the expected climate change impacts on coral reefs should refer to: Frieler K et al (2012) ‘Limiting global warming to 2°C is unlikely to save most coral reefs’ Nature Climate Change DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE16 (subs req)

      The 350 ppm target is, of course, based on James Hansen's work. See, for example, Rockström et al (2009) ‘A safe operating space for humanity’ Nature Vol 461: 472-475 (subs req)

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    2. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Chris McGrath

      How ridiculous. We do not run our entire world in order to keep the coral reefs going, you know! I ask you: "Accepting as economically rational temperature rises that will destroy coral reefs is lunacy. It is like arguing it is economically rational to cut off your arms and legs." What wild over-statement... absolutely typical of extreme global warming alarmists. It's no wonder that they are losing all credibility. Not, of course, that rising temperatures are going to affect coral reefs significantly at all. On that logic, the warmest areas of the oceans wouldn't have any coral reefs now, but actually they do, in profusion. Life has a great capacity for adaptation - unlike some people...

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    3. Alex Rogers

      Professor of Conservation Biology at University of Oxford

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      A very easy comment to make if you do not rely on coral reefs as a source of protein, or for your livelihood or for protection of your home. These are, in socioeconomic terms, extremely important ecosystems in low latitudes. It is clear that coral reefs have been increasingly severely affected by ocean warming since the 1970s. This is not something in the distant future. A single mass mortality event in 1997/1998, associated with mass bleaching, killed an estimated 16% of all the world's coral reefs. I suggest you read the scientific literature on the subject so that you might be a little more informed on the topic. You might start with Ove Hoegh Guldberg's papers and work on from there.

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    4. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Alex Rogers

      Yes, but we are not going to plan the entire world economy to make sure that tribal fishermen on coral reefs maintain their catch levels; that's just a completely unrealistic scenario. Ridiculous, actually.

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    5. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Hey here's something else for you to try thinking about: last time the world had atmospheric CO2 ~400 ppm was early Pliocene, ~4 million years ago.

      Arctic Ocean was pretty well ice-free, as was Greenland. There was substantially less ice on W Antarctica also, and sea levels were ~7-10 m higher than present.

      Now, that's what the world is heading for, over the next few centuries. So how about you or the good Prof Tol do a loss calculation on the world's low-lying coastal cities?

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    6. Sean Douglas

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Regarding ( we are not going to plan the entire world economy ... ) and ( We do not run our entire world in order to keep .... ).

      Fascinating Thomas. You speak as if you actually have a say and some power over this yourself. And/or that your opinion on TheCon actually counts for something in how the *entire world economy* operates now and into the future. Um. Well if you believe you are making a positive difference to the world, well go hard at it.

      And people have the hide to claim the big issue is that Nicholoas Stern was *inflating* things.

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    7. Sean Douglas

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Chris McGrath

      Thanks Chris.

      Regarding "the consequences of going over 2°C are expected to be catastrophic."

      My personal reading having kept an eye on the GBR science for over a decade is that it will be catastrophic for the GBR long before 2C comes along. In many places it already has been. Tipping points and all. No large La Nina since 1998 and well, it's not looking good when a multi-year period hits.

      Some really good info from ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies suitable for the average citizen here: http://www.youtube.com/user/CoralCoE/videos

      An example is this nice short summary about acidification effects on corals.
      Climate change is messing with coral skeletons - Aurelie Moya
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lg-LQg8aMGc

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    8. Sean Douglas

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Chris McGrath

      Chris the artcile PLOS ONE published Dec 2013 from James Hansen and colleagues, is highly recommended too. One does not need to be a 'scientist' to understand what is being said.

      "Most significant for scientists and non-scientists alike is the paper’s prediction that current carbon emissions targets will prove too high to prevent long-lasting, irreversible damage to the planet.
      As a result, the authors say, cohesive, unified action is required – now — to reduce fossil fuel emissions to pre-Industrial…

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    9. Alex Rogers

      Professor of Conservation Biology at University of Oxford

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Tribal fishermen.......I think you definitely need to do some research and perhaps inform yourself a bit more about the world out there. 100 countries have a coastline that borders coral reefs and it is estimated that half a billion people depend on them for their daily existence (Hoegh-Guldberg, 2011). Of course, it is not just coral reefs we need to think about, there are other coastal ecosystems (kelp forests, mangrove forests etc.), large-scale changes in ocean productivity with large shifts and other changes in the distribution of commercial species (again the devloping world suffers the most) and then no doubt the impacts on terrestrial ecosystems..... I don't see much in the way of planning for this in the world economy.....

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    10. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Alex Rogers

      This paper estimates the damage cost to the world at $200 billion for 0.5 m sea level rise and $1 trillion for a 1 m sea level rise by 2100. Such costs are trivial compared with cumulative GDP to 2100 (about 0.03% from memory but could have that wrong). Whatever the figure, the damage costs of sea level rise are trivial.
      "The economic impact of substantial sea level rise" http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11027-010-9220-7

      And corals grow as sea level rises. I learnt that is high school over 50 years ago. Look up Holmes, "Principles of Physical Geology" pp870-888.

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    11. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Alex Rogers

      I don't understand how climate science academics can be advising us to spend huge amounts of money on policies that have near zero probability of delivering any net benefits (where benefits means climate damages avoided). It seems to me the academics should stick to their knitting, rather than become advocates for policies when they have next to zero understanding of the economic cost of the policies and haven't done analyses on the probabilty of actually delivering the benefits they claim they will deliver.

      If you know of any authoritative studies that examine the probability that proposed policies will deliver the claimed benefits (climate damages avoided) I'd be very keen to see them. I've asked many times and no one has been able to point to such an analysis.

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    12. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Alex Rogers

      A fourteenth of the population of the planet depend upon coral reefs for their existence? That's ludicrous nonsense. Most productive fishing is pelagic.

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    13. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Peter Lang

      You're obtruding facts and judgment into the argument, Peter Lang. That's a no-no, because it lowers the alarmism level!

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    14. Alex Rogers

      Professor of Conservation Biology at University of Oxford

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Ove is referring to all ecosystem services. As I said, you ended to read the papers.....this is fishing, coastal protection, tourist income etc etc.....

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    15. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Alex Rogers

      Yes, and so am I. A fourteenth of the population of the planet "depending" upon coral reefs is a gross exaggeration; ridiculous.

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    16. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      "A fourteenth of the population of the planet "depending" upon coral reefs is a gross exaggeration; ridiculous."

      Let's see: there's the Great Barrier Reef, of economic importance to a nation of 23 million people, and then there's the Red Sea Coral Reef, of economic importance to at least some of the people of Egypt (80 million) and Djibouti (2 million).

      The New Caledonia Reef is of value to a nation of 0.3 million people, and then there's the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. It's of value to Mexico…

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    17. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to David Arthur

      Well, you started off by counting the entire population of Australia as being "dependent" on the Great Barrier Reef for their existence, so that started me laughing right away. Next you are counting the entire population of Egypt as depending upon the "Red Sea Coral Reef" (which doesn't exist; there are various reefs in the Red Sea), despite the fact that fish is a very minor part of the typical Egyptian diet. Next you count 143.3 million people in Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala as being…

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    18. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      The entire population of Australia isn't 100% dependent on the GBR, of course not. But it's the major source of income for many Queenslanders, who pay their taxes - hence, all Australia is on some way dependent on the GBR. The same holds for the other nations identified, to greater or lesser extent.

      If you have a problem with that, take it up with Ove Hoegh-Guldberg.

      BTW, if you reckon these reefs aren't in danger, then you're doubly clueless. While coral will survive somewhere in the…

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    19. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to David Arthur

      Ah, so now it's the touristic value of coral reefs that we need to protect by shutting down the economic systems of the civilized world, is it?

      The dependence of all Australia upon the GBR is obviously very marginal.

      And no, I don't believe that the reefs are all going to disappear if the CO2 in the atmosphere increases. Life will find a way - within limits obviously, but we are nowhere near those limits yet.

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    20. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      "Ah, so now it's the touristic value of coral reefs that we need to protect by shutting down the economic systems of the civilized world, is it?" Err, no need to shut down economic systems of the world (you personally are too wilfully ignorant to be counted among "civilised" people, by the way); just stop using coal, oil and mineral gas (aka fossil fuel).

      To do this is simple technological substitution, the sort of thing that civilisations are good at.
      To stay abreast of technological progress in developing alternative fuels, peruse http://www.sciencedaily.com/news/matter_energy/alternative_fuels/ frequently; to stay likewise abreast of progress in developing renewable energy technologies, peruse http://www.sciencedaily.com/news/earth_climate/renewable_energy/ frequently.

      The alternative is, of course, to remain an ignorant gadfly.

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  11. Michael Rynn
    Michael Rynn is a Friend of The Conversation.

    unemployed generalist

    This compares economic costs using a single indice, from the earlier Stern report, and the new IPCC report. This reduces a lot of economic loss and climate catastrophe into a small reduction of up to 2.0 % global GDP for a few degrees of global warming, and assumes linearity of its functioning. This hides the extreme inequality in how global climate warming will affect people and nature. A small reduction of GDP is what the very, very rich, around the globe may be likely to suffer, given current…

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