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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Geo-Engineering Solution

I think people are unfairly dismissing the "geo-engineering" solution to climate change. On Aguanomics I am arguing with--can you guess?--Silas, as well as the site's founder, on this issue. My latest salvo:


==============

David [Zetland],

You said:

I *will* say that geo-engineering is stupid.

Wow, you guys are really confident in what the world will be like in 30 years. Are you really that sure?

I wasn't there myself, but I've read that people in 1900 were really concerned about the problem of horse manure in growing cities. People conducted exptrapolations and showed that with the rate of growth thus far established, Manhattan would be buried in horse dung by the year 19xx.

If someone had said, "I'm not going to worry about it, I think someone will mass produce oil-burning automobiles within 40 years," what would the cautious scientists have told him?

We don't have a clue what the technological situation, and the understanding of climate change, will be like in 30 years.

If you want to say, "geoengineering is a very risky strategy and I can't support it," OK fine. But to casually dismiss it as "stupid"?

It would be pretty tragic if the world "spent" $10 trillion on mitigation efforts, and then in 2027 somebody perfected a way of cheaply using microbes to condense immense quantities of atmospheric CO2 back into a storable liquid fuel, such that individual companies in this new industry could reduce CO2 by 1ppm each year starting in 2028. (Sorry for the long sentence.)

Incidentally Silas, this kind of thing shows how you are mishandling the geo-engineering suggstion. You are assuming it would cost the same as mitigation efforts, but no, that's the whole point: It might cost $2 billion to put enough solar panels into space to both (a) generate power for space stations and (b) reduce sunlight hitting the earth. And it's self-financing. So private industry might do that, even though the market couldn't coordinate $2000 payments from 6 billion people on the planet in order to pay trillions emitters to switch to low-carbon techniques.

23 comments:

  1. Well done? It's "well done" to attribute a position to me that I didn't even take?

    Hey Bob: David Zetland trivialized geo-engineering, not me. You just assumed I would agree, even though, having actually responded to the same point, I didn't make anything like the argument that David made.

    My objection is not that it's technologically unfeasible, but that it simply rearranges the problem: instead of getting everyone to pitch in to pay for the damages of their emissions, you have to get everyone to pitch in to pay for the solution (and another point, discussed below).

    I do not assume that geo-engineering would cost the same; rather, I "assume" that either:

    a) It would cost *enough* to be out of the range of people who could voluntarily band together to pay for it

    OR

    b) you would have "dodged a bullet" ("gotten a knife-edge result" as you put in a discussion with S. Landsburg) in that hey, by pure chance, technology made it cheap for someone to undo the public costs polluters threw off that (inefficiently) never showed up as a private cost.

    (And of course, all the research into geo-engineering is privately-funded, right?)

    But in making this defense, you've hinged your defense of libertarianism on perpetually getting lucky that the victimizing carelessness of aggressors will always have a cheap way to undo. Why not take it all the way?

    "Yeah, yeah, I hear your whining about how your kids got asthma because of my factory's pollution, blah, blah, blah. But look at it this way -- if you let people like me have our way, we'll get such massive economic growth that you will, in just a few years, be able to afford a local air purifier and some inhalers for your kids! YOU will afford it, of course. I'm not buying it for you, don't be ridiculous."

    (Incidentally, I've made that reductio a few times by now and you haven't responded.)

    This point -- about defending your position because you got lucky one time -- is basically what I said in response to you on the aguanomics thread about your claims of uncertainty (and which you therefore probably should have known I was going to say in response and anticipated accordingly): your position must at least be robust against the possibility that we don't all luck out on real problems that arise.

    Finally, we don't even have to wait thirty years for the technology to cheaply yank CO2 out of the air and store it as (carbon-neutral) fuel. Any time you have an effectively unbounded carbon neutral fuel source and a well-capitalized facility, you can reverse the combustion reaction and thereby store (atmospheric) CO2 in octane.

    Hm, what's an effectively unbounded carbon neutral fuel source? ... Oh, right -- nuclear. And what's this? A federal lab has already worked out the details and the fuel can be sold for not much more than gasoline costs now. (You'd still need some Pigouvian tax or subsidy though to get it off the ground, if they couldn't make it cheaper.)

    You would be aware of this if you had done any serious research into the debate -- or taken high school chemistry. What was your job again? Oh right -- energy researcher.

    So as far as I'm concerned, there's a cheap, easy solution, and only political barriers to it. But what bothers me more is your "Meh. Deal." attitude when shown massive evidence that fossil fuel users are causing entire nations to be flooded. That is something to be concerned about.

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  2. Silas Barta, so obnoxious he is only allowed to post at Crash Landing!

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  3. I love this part by Zetland:

    "David Zetland said...
    Bob,

    I've never seen geo-engineering work as advertised. Often it doesn't even work at all. Messing with nature (levees, river routing, introduced species, dams, etc.) almost always has negative, unintended consequences."

    I love it...the old Bastiat unintended consequences...Bob's point all along in letting governement run the global warming scheme. I trust engineers over bureaucrats.

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  4. Silas has expressed a sort of regulative principle that a philosophy "must be *capable* of handling the situation if it *were* true".

    I have a different regulative principle which is this: a philosophy must be capable of being practiced by a single human being. That is, I reject and oppose any philosophy that requires coercive implementation by whoever happens to be the most powerful at a given time.

    Furthermore, the worst kind of philosophy is the one that not only requires coercive implementation by whoever happens to be the most powerful at the time but also requires them to do it in a certain "correct" way.

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  5. Silas,

    I'm not arguing with you anymore. This is the point where, at anti-state, I would have quit. But since it's my (our) own blog, and since banning you would be pointless and unnecessarily dramatic, I'm just going to ignore you on this from now on.

    Yes, you can interpret this as proof of my inability to meet your arguments. So be it. I have literally devoted more time to you than to either of my major employers in the last week, which qualifies me as the idiot you think I am.

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  6. @jacob: I have a different regulative principle which is this: a philosophy must be capable of being practiced by a single human being. That is, I reject and oppose any philosophy that requires coercive implementation by whoever happens to be the most powerful at a given time.

    Furthermore, the worst kind of philosophy is the one that not only requires coercive implementation by whoever happens to be the most powerful at the time but also requires them to do it in a certain "correct" way.


    So, you oppose all property rights then, which meet exactly this condition?

    @Bob: You said you're going to stop responding to me on the Aguanomics blog, and then you go ahead and start new posts like this.

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  7. "So, you oppose all property rights then, which meet exactly this condition?"

    I can practice non-aggression and encourage others to do the same without resorting to a demand that a powerful government exist and act upon my philosophy's behalf.

    Your philosophy, on the other hand, seems to require there to be a powerful government to carry it out.

    Maybe you would argue that supporting property rights necessarily means supporting some universal means of judgment, enforcement, and punishment and therefore requires a powerful government to carry it through (and to carry it through in just some particular way). If this is the definition of support or opposition to property rights, then you are correct that I oppose property rights.

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  8. Jacob: Apples to apples, please. If you can suppose that e.g. to "practice non-aggression and encourage others to do the same", I can suppose the same thing but count CO2 emission as aggression. It you want to wave you magic wand and say those things will suffice to a functioning property rights system, I can wave *my* magic wand and say that people will respect property in the atmosphere.

    You're not treating the two cases consistently.

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  9. Gene: Raising cogent points and insisting that they be addressed is "obnoxious"? Perhaps "naive" is a better word.

    Bob: "since banning you would be pointless and unnecessarily dramatic, I'm just going to ignore you on this from now on."

    Good job of not merely not responding to Silas, but also patting yourself on the back for exercising a magnanimous restraint in not undertaking the ridiculous. How you spend your time is up to you; is it really appropriate to fault Silas' persistence for your time priorities?

    Regards,

    TT

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  10. FWIW, I view geo-engineering (including direct atmospheric capture and storage of GHGs) as something obviously worth considering, particularly as the existing stocks pose a risk over centuries and we are unlikely anytime soon to make a serious dent in them simply by trying to slow emissions: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=geo. Heck, we remediate classic pollution, as well as creating institutional measures that head it off.

    But for the same reasons that purely voluntary actions have done little on the emissions reduction front (huge transactional costs and an inability to secure the benefits of investments), it is difficult to see that much progress will be made on a voluntary, private basis on geo-enegineering. Geo-engineering proposals are virtually all rather nakedly statist (heck, Reisman was proposing we re-commence atmospheric atom bomb testing for its benefits in throwing dust in the air!), or are premised on markets for "off-sets" arising after governments impose direct or implict GHG pricing.

    TT

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  11. Jacob, what is property without an ability or willingness to use force to defend it? A commons.

    What you are referring to is the hazards of turning efforts to manage a commons into socialized, bureaucratized ownership, with its concommitant rent-seeking, abuse and mismanagement due to informational problems and misincentives. Those are obviously very legitimate concerns.

    But given the global nature of our atmosphere, how can any enforceable managment regime be agreed by users worldwide without involving governments?

    Your choice is obviously simply to kick the can down the road, given the unpalatability of our current choices. If are commons problems best solved by delaying, at what point is the results of the "tragedy" sufficient to justify collective action (other than private adaptation to harms unavoided)?

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  12. 'Gene: Raising cogent points and insisting that they be addressed is "obnoxious"?'

    All depends on how you raise them, doesn't it? I haven't even been following this debate closely, but I know 'You would be aware of this if you had done any serious research into the debate -- or taken high school chemistry. What was your job again? Oh right -- energy researcher' is obnoxious!

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  13. "Good job of not merely not responding to Silas, but also patting yourself on the back for exercising a magnanimous restraint in not undertaking the ridiculous..."

    No, TT, the point is that Bob has responded to Silas repeatedly in a variety of forums and Silas just pays those responses no heed and says the same thing over and over again.

    Here's being deliberately snide: TT, maybe you should actually follow the debate before commenting? But I'm against being deliberately snide, so I merely offer that as an example.

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  14. Gene,

    I mean this with all sincerity: As ludicrous as TT is, for not being able to recognize the truth in your criticism of Silas' tone (since TT agrees with Silas' basic position)--that is how ludicrous I claim you were being in your defense of Weigel and Sanchez.

    Actually, there are some differences. Silas (I assume?) is younger than those guys, and Silas is posting on the comments on a blog that is read by 13 faithful fans.

    And I'm not the only antiwar Republican gaining media attention.

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  15. Gene: No, TT, the point is that Bob has responded to Silas repeatedly in a variety of forums and Silas just pays those responses no heed and says the same thing over and over again.

    Here's being deliberately snide: TT, maybe you should actually follow the debate before commenting?


    Do you have any substantiation for any of this, or are you just lashing out? I have made a very deliberate effort to be informed of the issues before posting. In contrast, I have to keep doing Bob's work for him:

    -Explaining what scarcity means.
    -Explaning what David Zetland's position is.
    -Explaining that the technology to pull carbon from the air and store it as fuel, already exists.
    -Explaining the existence of proposals that avoid charging for breathing, while still charging for CO2 emissions, and maintain logical consistency.
    -Explaining how free market systems can have people trading the right to pollute.

    Normally, this would perhaps be excusable, but then, it's supposed to be Bob's day job to be informed of this stuff. (Okay, except maybe David Zetland's positions...)

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  16. Gene: "Silas Barta, so obnoxious he is only allowed to post at Crash Landing!"

    "Here's being deliberately snide: TT, maybe you should actually follow the debate before commenting?"


    Gene, honestly, I appreciate the welcome. I'm a co-crank. But as to the last point, while I may be relatively uninformed, I am not a complete newbie as to dialogue between Bob and Silas, and have in fact joined it elsewhere. But in any event, on this thread at least Silas' comments to Bob seem perfectly fair. But, being duly chastened by the blogger-in-chief, I shall bug off for now, and endeavor to be more deserving in the future.

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  17. Bob: "As ludicrous as TT is, for not being able to recognize the truth in your criticism of Silas' tone (since TT agrees with Silas' basic position)--that is how ludicrous I claim you were being in your defense of Weigel and Sanchez."

    I'm very glad I could be of SOME service, Bob.

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