Watt about the 50 to 1?

The lead post on Watts Up With That (WUWT) is one called help launch climate skeptic film project: 50 to 1. The post is asking for financial support for an Australian film project that aims to show that trying to stop climate change is 50 times more expensive that simply adapting to it. Okay, so I think these kind of claims are extremely dangerous, but let’s simply look at the calculation that is being used to make this claim.

The calculation was done by one Lord Christopher Monckton. Many would regard this alone as sufficient evidence to suggest that it is nonsense, but let’s carry on regardless. To be fair, I can’t see any particular error in his arithmetic. What does he do? Well the calculation is based on the proposed Australian CO2 tax. The claim is that, at best, it will reduce emissions by 5%. Australia only contributes 1.2% of world emissions and hence the reduction will be tiny. Given this reduction one can use an estimate of climate sensitivity to determine how much it will reduce the possible temperature rise. This again is tiny according to Christopher. One can then determine, based on this, the cost per oC abated. If we wish to use this to prevent a 0.17oC rise over the next decade we can then estimate the cost which turns out to be $420 trillion. Given that world GDP is about $80 trillion, this is 80% of world GDP over 10 years.

The next step is a claim that simply adapting to climate change would cost about 1.5% of world GDP and hence is 50 times cheaper than trying to stop it from happening in the first place. There should be some obvious problems with this. Even if this carbon tax is initially ineffective, the effect is likely to be non-linear. It might be expensive in the beginning, as most new technologies are, but would presumably become cheaper with time. The other problem is that we can’t really know the cost of adapting. I’m sure someone has suggested that 1.5% of GDP would be enough, but we can’t know if this is a good estimate or not.

There is, however, a much more fundamental issue with this calculation. It’s based on an Australian carbon tax which will raise $13 billion per year. Australian GDP is about $1.3 trillion, so the tax will raise 1% of Australian GDP. If extended to the rest of the world, surely it would simply be 1% of world GDP. It might not be effective (as claimed) but it can’t ever get to the stage of being 80% of world GDP. Furthermore, if it does turn out to be ineffective, wouldn’t we simply spend it on adapting. Given that adapting to climate change is projected to cost 1.5% of GDP, this might be slightly too little, but it’s close. At worst, the ratio would be 1:1, not 50:1. We wouldn’t continue to try and use a carbon tax to reduce temperatures if it’s not working. We’d use this to adapt as suggested here. There may well be valid issues with this carbon tax idea, but suggesting that it’s 50 times less effective than the poorly understood cost of adapting seems absurd. Furthermore, doesn’t it seem better to try and prevent climate change rather than simply do nothing and hoping that those who claim that we can simply adapt in the future are correct.

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16 Responses to Watt about the 50 to 1?

  1. roymustard says:

    Don’t make light of Monckton’s mathematical abilities. Remember we’re dealing with a guy who also calculated the odds against Obama’s birth certificate being genuine.

  2. Taking the cost of the carbon tax is an extremely bad example. The idea of a carbon tax is not to raise more revenue, but to change the tax burden from labour to carbon. Thus there is no net tax increase and if you follow Monckton’s reasoning this means that reducing climate change can be done for free. Which unfortunately only shows his thinking error.

  3. Very good point. I hadn’t noticed that.

  4. Yes, I think I’d heard about this. I’ve done some searches and found articles and videos of Monckton explaining his analysis. Can’t actually bring myself to read or watch any of this as life is just a little too short.

  5. indigo says:

    I love this series of comments:
    They are practically Leninist in their double-backflipping with a twist attempts to claim victory and the mobilize the paranoia of the marginalized at the same time.

  6. Indeed. Some of the comments are beyond satire.

  7. indigo says:

    And I just got accused of being a murderer on this thread. These people are really crazy.

  8. I just noticed that accusation made by jc. Almost prompted me to write a post about these type of outrageous accusations and whether or not they help the debate (they don’t in my opinion). If it makes you feel any better, I tried commenting on WUWT and was fairly roundly attacked for saying something that was pretty benign.

    I was reading your comments on the WUWT post and they seemed perfectly balanced. It is a real pity that some aren’t willing to at least agree that there might be some merit in the idea that maybe we should consider altering how we behave so as not to damage the planet. It’s not a particularly outrageous claim and it would seem to make sense to start developing new technologies now in a financially manageable way, rather than having to spend immense amounts of money in the future when (or I guess if – given that there’s no absolute certainty in anything) the AGW concerns become much more obvious and it becomes clear that we need to do something and do it quickly.

  9. I see richardscourtney has now also commented on your post and compared your suggestion of alternatives to fossil fuel as “certain death for 2 billion people – mostly children” and compared that to the actions of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. Of course he had to spell Hitler as H1tler or I think his post would have been automatically moderated. One could argue that by invoking Godwin’s law his comment should be regarded as lacking in credibility. Being richardscourtney, however, you don’t need to invoke Godwin’s law to determine if his comment lacks credibility. You just need to read the comment to realise it lacks credibility.

    I really wish someone would explain the concept of irony to such people. They criticise, as alarmist, those who feel that there is merit to the suggestion that AGW may lead to damaging climate change, and then claim that using anything other than fossil fuels will “certainly kill billions”. It’s completely absurd and is one of the reasons I started writing this blog. It was clear that one couldn’t engage on WUWT.

  10. indigo says:

    Read jc. These people are quite insane.

  11. Yes, some quite incredible comments there. It’s just amazing that a site can claim to be one of the best science sites on the web. The commentators (including some of those involved in the discussion with you) pat themselves on the back for discussing the science and being open to dissent (which they clearly aren’t) but them quite happily say “oh, by the way, if you think we should be trying to use anything other than fossil fuels, you’re effectively a mass murderer.”

  12. WUWT is best endured by seeing it as a comedy blog.

  13. Yes, but a comedy blog that appears to have a remarkable amount of influence.

  14. Reblogged this on Wotts Up With That Blog and commented:

    Been a little busy today, so to “celebrate” what seems to be the completion of the 50-to-1 video – announced by Anthony Watts in a recent WUWT post – I thought I would reblog something I wrote a few months ago about the 50-to-1 calculation. If the calculation is anything to go by, the video is presumably complete nonsense. To be fair, I haven’t watched it, so can’t say for sure.

  15. Fragmeister says:

    But if you take Monckton’s magical cure all elixir you will live forever, then you’ll have the time. Or not, depending on its efficacy.

  16. Pingback: 50 times more expensive! Don’t make me laugh! | Wotts Up With That Blog

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