04 September 2009

Lomborg's Economists Strike Out

On Wednesday I presented on geoengineering to Bjorn Lomborg's panel of five preeminent economists. In my presentation I argued that geoengineering (in the form of solar radiation management or SRM) was a bad idea, though there would be no problem with continued research on the subject. Specifically, I argued that cost-benefit analyses of the real-world effects of geoengineering had to be critically examined becausae they were a function of assumptions, and the analysis that Lomborg commissioned chose only the rosiest assumptions. I also argued that the integrated assessment model used in the CBA was structured so as not to allow any negative effects from geoengineering because it simply assumed that its effects would reverse the radiative effects of carbon dioxide. this of course is not what happens in the real world.

Lomborg's economists apparently were not so swayed with my arguments as they have ranked geoengineering (SRM) as two of the top three priorities for climate policy, which you can see listed below.

Although the priorities do have "research" included in their titles, Lomborg presents geoengineering as a real policy option:
“There is good reason to believe this works — and it’s 1,000 times better than what we’re proposing to do now.”
Lomborg's policy views on geoengineering make things a bit complicated for the scientific community, many of whom salivate over the possible research funding implications, but with others who would like the funding but don't like geoengineering as a policy option. The problem of course is that large research funding only comes if there is hope that geoengineering might be deployed. For instance, Peter Cox and Hazel Jeffery write that geoengineering is the most promising practical option that might come from research:
For scientists who want to save the planet, there should be no more attractive research field than geoengineering.
But Ken Caldeira is far less optimistic:
"Geoengineering is not an alternative to carbon emissions reductions. If emissions keep going up and up, and you use geoengineering as a way to deal with it, it's pretty clear the endgame of that process is pretty ugly."
The bottom line is that Lomborg's economists have struck out. They have conflated research with action, confusing the issue of geoengineering. More importantly, they have based their judgments on some pretty poor economics, which is a surprise coming from such a credentialed panel.

2 comments:

Sharon F. said...

There are a variety of possibile technologies for geoengineering, some of which are so broad and impactful they are likely to fail the "would you be willing to write an environmental impact statement for this technology?" test. Like biofuels, they should not be painted with a broad brush at this point.. we should use some common sense and investigate the practicality, usefulness and social and environmental acceptability of a broad range of potential technologies.

markbahner said...

"The bottom line is that Lomborg's economists have struck out. They have conflated research with action, confusing the issue of geoengineering."

I agree that they "struck out." But a single strike out isn't the end of the ballgame.

The whole premise of the exercised seemed to be, "what should the world do about climate if it has up to $2.5 trillion to spend (i.e., up to $250 billion a year for ten years).

It's very difficult for me to believe that non-fossil-carbon energy sources sufficient to power the the entire planet can't be developed for $2.5 trillion.

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