An opportunity for Richard Tol

One of the complaints often directed at climate scientists is that they’re quick to criticise media reports that claim that alarmist projections are wrong, but don’t criticise the media when they incorrectly make alarmist claims. A recent Spectator article by Matt Ridley claims that climate change is good for the world. It is very explicitly based on a review paper by Richard Tol about The economic effects of climate change.

I discussed an earlier version of this paper in a post a while ago, and I certainly don’t think that one can use it to conclude that climate change will be good for us. A NewStatesman article called no, climate change will not be good for the world appears to suggest the same.

So, we appear to have two different articles, both based on the same piece of peer-reviewed work, that reach – what appear to be – completely different conclusions. Surely they both can’t be right? If Richard Tol does think that academics have an obligation to correct the media when they mis-interpret their work, surely he should now do so? Of course, he could argue that he simply presents the research and that journalists have the right to interpret it as they see fit. If so, then that would seem to apply to all peer-reviewed work, and maybe people should stop criticising climate scientists for apparently not doing this sufficiently often (to be fair, I don’t know if Richard has actually done this). If Richard does believe that academics should engage with the media in a way that ensures that their work is correctly represented, then I look forward to Richard clarifying which article is correct and which is wrong. Of course, maybe there’s a reason why somehow both have represented his work correctly, but – at this stage – I fail to see how that is possible.

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104 Responses to An opportunity for Richard Tol

  1. johnrussell40 says:

    Richard Tol just tweeted…
    “No, climate change will not be good for the world …” Of course he could just be being sarcastic, as he says he might, in his profile…

  2. I think he’s simply tweeted the article and the text is simply the title. I’m not sure that this tweet clarifies which article he supports.

  3. It can be hard to get an answer from Tol on this. So far he has been quite evasive towards me when I ask him why he tweeted an article that as far as I could tell was not accurate.

    But I hope he does in this case, would be interesting to read his take on this.

  4. Yes, it would be very interesting to know what Richard’s thoughts are with regards to these two articles. One would like to think that he would (and should) be willing to express a view as they seem to be based very heavily on his paper. I’m not that confident that he will do so though.

  5. BBD says:

    I look forward to Richard clarifying which article is correct and which is wrong.

    Given that both Matt Ridley and Richard Tol are members of the GWPF academic council perhaps there is a potential conflict of interest?

  6. Indeed, there may well be some kind of conflict of interest but one would hope that Richard, being an academic and researcher, would be able to remain objective.

  7. BBD says:

    It’s not clear from reading the Spectator article that it takes into account impacts on the oceans, eg see the recent IPSO report.

    I would be interested to know more about this if Richard Tol comments later.

  8. Tom Curtis says:

    A small point. The Tol paper is “The economic effects of climate change”, not “The economic benefits of climate change”.

    I Ridley’s defence (a position I do not enjoy), Tol’s paper implies that climate change will be net beneficial if global temperatures do not increase above 2.2 degrees C “relative to today”, with a maximum benefit at 1.1 C increase. If you accept a low climate sensitivity (as Ridley does), that would imply a net benefit from climate change this century. However, Ridley does not even invoke a low climate sensitivity. Rather, he restricts his claim to “Climate change has done more good than harm so far and is likely to continue doing so for most of this century.” He further clarifies:

    “To be precise, Prof Tol calculated that climate change would be beneficial up to 2.2˚C of warming from 2009 (when he wrote his paper). This means approximately 3˚C from pre-industrial levels, since about 0.8˚C of warming has happened in the last 150 years. The latest estimates of climate sensitivity suggest that such temperatures may not be reached till the end of the century — if at all. “

    That is a correct reading of AR5. Even with RCP 8.5, the central estimate of temperature increase does not exceed 3 C until about 2070. Therefore Ridley’s article is at least superficially accurate as based on Tol’s paper.

    I say superficially in that Tol’s paper includes some very significant caveats that Ridley passes over in silence. Nor does he (or Tol, except superficially in those caveats) address the massive disconnect between the impacts of global warming as assessed by physical scientists and that addressed by the economists. Even more bizarrely, he claims economic models such as Tol’s are better validated than climate models, even though Tol himself has written a paper on the lack of validation of economic models of the impacts of climate change.

    So, while I think there are many problems with Ridley’s article, misrepresenting Tol is not one of them.

  9. Hmmm, I did wonder if there would be a subtlety that would allow Richard to claim that neither article actually misrepresents his paper. As much as I agree with what you say, let me play devil’s advocate a bit. The claim that there is a net benefit up until 2.2 degrees (since 2009) is based on the mean curve in Richard’s paper (if I understand it correctly). This, unless I’ve missed something, is very strongly influenced by Richard’s own 2002 study. So, technically, Ridley’s claim might be correct (based on the mean curve in Richard’s review paper) but one would hope that Richard would be willing to acknowledge that claiming that there is strong evidence for a benefit up until 2.2 degrees of warming is rather over-interpreting his paper. Of course, as you say, he largely ignores the caveats especially the one at the bottom of page 35 of the paper

    Third, although greenhouse gas emissions per person are higher in high-income countries, relative impacts of climate change are greater in low-income countries (see also Yohe and Schlesinger, 2002). Indeed, impact estimates for sub-Saharan Africa go up to a welfare loss equivalent to a quarter of income (as shown in Table 1). The estimates for low-income countries are higher for several reasons. Low-income countries tend to be in tropical zones closer to the equator. They are already hotter, and their output already suffers to some extent from their higher temperatures in sectors like agriculture. Moreover, low-income countries are typically less able to adapt to climate change both because of a lack of resources and less capable institutions.

    So, claiming that Climate change is good for the world would seem to imply that you believe that it’s good for the world if those who live in the wealthier countries, and contributed most to climate change, get wealthier, while those who live in the less wealthy countries, and contributed least to climate change, suffer.

  10. The economics of climate change is a rather complex field. Lay people tend to highlight particular aspects that support their political views. Ridley’s piece was some time in preparation, and is thus coherent. Geere’s piece is a gut reaction, and thus largely incoherent.

    Many seem to have overlooked that Ridley simultaneously argues for a low climate sensitivity, which would indeed imply that the initial benefits of climate change will stretch much further into the 21st century.

    Geere (and Hope) correctly point out that decisions about climate policy should be driven by incremental impacts (rather than total impacts); but then there are many things omitted from Ridley’s, as they must from a short article in the popular press.

    Geere uses my work to support one of his points, and then rejects the research altogether. He also argues that a benefit-cost ratio of 0.03 justifies action. It doesn’t.

    Hope’s piece is little more than self-promotion.

  11. So, Ridley is right (some time in preparation and coherent) and Geere is wrong? Ridley’s does seem to rely on an assumption of a low climate sensitivity. A possibility, but that would appear to fall into the same category as Lay people tend to highlight particular aspects that support their political views. Furthermore, your paper seems to suggest that benefits will start to reduce beyond 1 degree of warming. We’ve almost locked in that much already. So, based on Ridley’s argument we have nothing much to worry about this century, but basic climate science would suggest that by the middle of this century we will almost certainly have locked in enough warming to ensure damage (according to your paper) in the following decades (or beyond 2100). How is that sensible?

    What’s your view on the latter part of the comment I make here? Your own paper seems to suggest that the benefits will likely be to those in already wealthy countries while those in the tropics will likely see negative effects. Is it morally okay? And do you agree that your result relies quite heavily on your 2002 paper? I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with that paper but simply surprised that you’re comfortable with someone stating everything will be good when that claim appears to strongly rely on one piece of work.

  12. verytallguy says:

    Yes, but is this an effective way to change behaviour. For instance,

    Would telling people to “stop being dicks” be more effective in tackling climate change then trying to give them a better business case for action?

    [OK, I know that doesn’t sound civil, but there is actually a well written piece behind it here, and I think it’s relevant… ]

  13. Interesting article. I didn’t quite understand what you were referring to be “is this an effective way to change behaviour” though.

  14. verytallguy says:

    I guess I was questioning whether the difference in analysis between the Spectator and New Statesman really mattered that much in terms of influence on the wider population, and by extension whether any of the debate on apparently scientific points will ever really have much influence.

    Whilst the facts are interesting, they are probably much less influential than we think. For influence, perhaps it’s better to point out the consensus: “Don’t be a dick – 97% of scientists agree on the basics.” Factual debates with ideologues don’t get anywhere.

    Perhaps I was also considering the likely attitude of protaganists on the specific articles and “don’t be a dick” seemed quite good advice to them. But probably unhelpful. Particularly when trying to keep the discourse civil.

  15. I see. Yes, I’m not sure that it does matter. There is, however, a typical criticism that climate scientists quickly rebut claims – in the media – that climate change is not a problem while not – often enough – doing so when overly alarmist claims are made. Given that there appear to be two articles drawing almost opposite conclusions from the same study, it would seem that the author of the paper should (if one believes academics have an obligation to do so) correct whichever article has incorrectly interpreted the work.

    Having said that, I don’t actually ascribe to the view that academics have some kind of obligation to correct the media. Journalist are perfectly entitled to interpret research themselves and entitled to get it wrong. I think academics trying to correct the media when they’re wrong is worth doing, but I’m not convinced that we should criticise them if they don’t always do so. Hence I wouldn’t actually argue that Richard is obliged to clarify which of these two articles is most “correct”, but it would be nice if he did so (he essentially has in the comment above, but it is a little bit of a vague attempt).

    As far as being more direct is concerned, I think it would be more honest but I’m not convinced it would achieve much until we get to the point that it’s clear that the science is essentially correct and a vast majority agree that those who still oppose acting to mitigate against climate change are “being dicks”.

  16. Rachel says:

    I’ve finally gotten around to reading the Spectator article and I have lots of complaints. I hope you don’t mind me airing them on your blog.

    Arguing that co2 is good for plants without pointing out the downsides is a little biased. Sure, some plants grow faster under higher concentrations of co2 but this is at a cost. The concentration of protein in the tissues of these plants decreases and so do minerals of nutritional importance like calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. So while crop yields might increase, the animals and humans feeding on these crops will need to eat more of them to compensate for loss of nutrients. (See:

    Not all plants benefit either. Plants like maize, sugar cane, sorghum and millet don’t get see any benefit with rising CO2 so I’m not sure why Ridley specifically mentions a field of corn. The field of corn is not going to grow any faster or produce higher yields with global warming.

    The bit about Bangladesh is condescending. From what I gather, Bangladesh *wants* action on climate change. They are not of the view that the problem should be left to citizens living in 2080 who may or may not be richer than people today. Banking on people in the future being richer than people today is a very risky assumption to make and not one that I would bet on.

    I also think it’s sloppy to hand a problem over to future people to solve. When students learn to program at University, they are taught methods of best practice. One of these is to future proof code so that it is modifiable and extendable. I really hate the attitude that we should just do whatever we want today and let future people deal with the problem. This is lazy, unwise, and from what I was taught, sloppy.

    Ridley makes no mention of the health benefits of acting on climate change or did I miss that? How many people currently die from pollution-related illness caused by burning coal? There will be health benefits from shifting society away from coal and oil through cleaner air.

    Lastly and most concerning is the higher risk of conflict that is expected to arise thanks to changing climate and weather patterns. See “Cloudy with a chance of war” –

    I haven’t read Richard Tol’s paper and perhaps he already accounts for the loss of nutrients in plants with higher co2, the negative health effects of coal and the increased likelihood of conflict with changing climate and weather patterns. If this is the case, then I’m sorry.

    On a separate issue, I really like the idea to just “stop being dicks” although the Guardian article doesn’t really point out how this is done other than to call someone a dick. Since it is Friday and there’s such a thing as Friday funnies and someone else has already brought up the word dick, I thought I’d share this New Zealand commercial for “deck sealant”. Australians quite often tease New Zealanders for their inability to pronounce vowels correctly and since I am Australian, I think this commercial is very funny.

  17. BBD says:

    WRT Ridley’s assumption of low climate sensitivity – exactly. Since he is very likely wrong, his analysis is very likely self-serving tripe of the first order. Reference: paleoclimate behaviour.

  18. BBD says:

    Note the deafening silence about the oceans. Despite the issue being raised above.

    As far as I can see, the analysis is incomplete, as well as (in Ridley’s case) reliant on a probably under-estimate of climate sensitivity.

    No confidence.

  19. BBD says:


    “reliant on a probable under-estimate”

  20. BBD says:

    Wotts – just to point out that the “Recent comments” panel at the top of the page is not working.

  21. dana1981 says:

    To be honest it sounds to me like Tol simply doesn’t object to Ridley’s “political biases”, but he does object to Geere’s.

    Assuming low climate sensitivity is a bias. It’s a possible scenario, but high sensitivity is equally possible. Matt Ridley has never been good at considering anything but the best case scenario, and that hasn’t worked out for him (see Northern Rock).

    Second, the failure to consider incremental impacts is a pretty damn major omission. One might suggest that omission is again due to Ridley’s bias (and the fact that Tol doesn’t mind it is due to his).

    Third, Tol’s paper is now 4 years old. Today’s social cost of carbon estimates are often significantly higher (i.e. in Chris Hope’s work).

    Fourth, as somebody else mentioned, focusing on economic impacts results in ignoring physical impacts. Large scale species extinctions? Who cares, right?

  22. Rachel says:

    Oh yes, I forgot to mention the oceans. Anyone who thinks it’s ok to destroy The Great Barrier Reef is a dick.

  23. @Rachel
    CO2 fertilization is included per the assessment of plant biologists.
    Co-benefits of emission reduction are not relevant to this discussion; and the literature is rather confused in the measurement of welfare in the second-best.
    There is no known relationship between climate (change) and violent conflict, so that the best impact estimate is zero.
    Note that future climate change is to a large extent driven by an assumption of economic growth in Asia and Africa. You cannot simultaneously assume that the people of Bangladesh will be poor and confronted by substantial sea level rise.

  24. Fragmeister says:

    In the UK corn is sometimes used as a synonym for wheat so Ridley might mean that. I am not entirely sure I would want to listen to the economic views of Ridley after the mess he made at Northern Rock.

  25. BBD says:

    The oceans feed a billion people. I see no evidence that an already heavily fished ocean subject to rapid warming and rapid pH change will simply continue to provide the same food resource as it has just about managed to to until now. I think the irrational optimism on display here rests on an incomplete and frankly partial analysis.

  26. BBD says:

    It all boils down to whether we think apparently incomplete economic analysis is as informative as ecosystems science when it comes to describing the likely impacts of CC.

  27. Seems to be working again now.

  28. BBD says:

    There is no known relationship between climate (change) and violent conflict, so that the best impact estimate is zero.

    Assuming that this relationship will persist throughout the C21st as CC impacts increase is illogical.

  29. BBD says:

    Thanks for checking, Wotts. I’ve reloaded the blog from scratch but it still says: “there are no public comments to display”. Perhaps it just needs to catch up. Will give it a while and see.

  30. BBD says:

    Well, that didn’t show up either…

  31. I thought I would post a link to Chris Hope’s critique of the Matt Ridley piece which, according to Richard Tol is little more than self-promotion, while according to Chris Hope himself :

    Chris Hope’s piece is here.

    Just for some background, Chris Hope’s work is one of those included in Richard Tol’s review and so, he would seem to be at least qualified to comment on Matt Ridley’s article. I must say that I do find it quite remarkable (I know I shouldn’t by now) that Richard Tol can regard Chris Hope’s critique as largely self-promotion (I’m even surprised that Richard Tol would even comment on someone referring to their own work, to be honest). That aside, if it does indeed illustrate that Matt Ridley has ignored important aspects of Richard Tol’s own work it would be good to know if it is self-promotion that is wrong, or self-promotion that is right (i.e., it either does illustrate that Matt Ridley has ignored important parts of Tol’s results or it doesn’t).

  32. Rachel says:

    Thanks, Richard. On the no known relationship between climate change and violent conflict, what’s this – ?

    Deviations from normal precipitation and mild temperatures systematically increase the risk of conflict, often substantially.

  33. It may be a wordpress problem. I can see the recent comments, but there are other blogs showing the same error that you’re seeing. I’ve had a look at the settings and I can’t see anything obvious wrong.

  34. BBD says:

    Not to worry – doubtless it’ll clear up in due course.

  35. That's MR BALL to you. says:

    BBD: Very good comment. I can’t think of a better analysis of what’s wrong with the public discussion of climate change.

  36. I think BBD nails it. It’s pal review by paid nay-sayers pandering to their audience.

  37. KR says:

    A number of WordPress blogs have had missing “Recent comments” over the last few days, with the problem coming and going…

  38. BBD says:

    Thanks KR – I wasn’t going to give Wotts a hard time about this but it’s nice to know that it is a generalised fault and I can simply revile WordPress when frustrated.


  39. dbostrom says:

    BBD: “Note the deafening silence about the oceans.”

    Poor gullible me; I actually assumed without reading the piece that Ridley would at least wave his hands at the ocean. It’s almost impossible to believe he’s not noticed this problem, leaving us with a variation of the President Reagan conundrum: “Is he senile or is he lying?”

    Don’t people like Ridley have any compunction at all about this kind of disservice to their readers? It’s degenerate mendacity at its worst; Ridley and his friends are poking sticks into the cortex of the world and vigorously stirring. How are we supposed to come together and make useful decisions with destructive, lobotomizing vandals like Ridley in the scene?

    I’m not sure I can even look at this process for much longer.

  40. My stance is probably obvious with what I’ve written recently, but I think scientist do have an obligation to speak out if journalists do this consistently (although working together with science communicators might be an option as this doesn’t ask an as heavy a time investment from scientists). Or if a misrepresentation isn’t corrected it might also a good thing if the scientist points this out so it is corrected.

    Although this also depends on the media/journalist actually wanting to get it right and then working together with experts. Which is hard with ideology often trumping honestly reporting on scientific matters.

  41. > Hope’s piece is little more than self-promotion.

    See for yourself:

    There are of course many higher estimates of the mean social cost of carbon dioxide, such as this one of about $100 per tonne of carbon dioxide. But let’s stay with the source actually used by Matt Ridley and ask if he agrees that the current price on all emissions of carbon dioxide should be at least $55 per tonne, as Richard Tol’s mean results show? If not, why not?

    Our emphasis on the little more.

  42. @Rachel
    That paper is a strong contender for the worst climate paper of 2013.

  43. BBD says:

    But we may rest assured that the future will be peaceful. Our long history of frictionless coexistence supports this. Any misunderstandings about food and water will be avoided.

  44. It would be amusing to hear Richard’s reasoning as to why that is the worst paper.

    In the meantime this year’s worst article in the Spectator will now sink without trace.

  45. BBD says:

    In the meantime this year’s worst article in the Spectator will now sink without trace.

    It’s October. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

  46. Tom Curtis says:

    Tol claims:

    “There is no known relationship between climate (change) and violent conflict, so that the best impact estimate is zero.”

    Rachel points to an interesting synthesis of 60 articles on the subject, 50% of which apply statistical tests to the relationship between some climate index and conflict. Of those 50 articles, 94% find a large effect (>10% effect per 1 s.d. variation in the independent variable), and 74% reject the null hypothesis at the 95% confidence level. Of the 20 studies surveyed using only temperature as the independent variable, 19 find a large impact of temperature on violence. All 19 find the impact on violence to be statistically significant, and reject the null hypothesis (no impact of temperature on violence) at, at least, the 95% confidence level.

    Given this, Tol is not rejecting a single paper but an entire literature. Apparently he can do this despite the paper being outside his field of expertise, and without analysis.

    Do I need to comment further?

  47. toby52 says:

    I am puzzled as to how Ridley is taken seriously at all. If the bankers who made horses arses out of Royal Bank of Scotland or Anglo-Irish Bank began pontificating on climate change and policy, you would think they would get a massive horse-laugh from the media.

    IMHO, it is the influence of Nigel Lawson with editors in London, and also his influence with the BBC. The media is hardly doing enough to highlight his questionable credentials and record.

    At least, Tol may have been offered the role as Official Guru of Denial and turned it down. But he is not a Brit, neither is Lomborg. Maybe there was just nobody else they could shove out front as official spokesman. Lawson after all is a politically divisive figure. Peiser is just not that sort of material and has a poor track record.

  48. I too am puzzled. I’m amazed how someone who was Chairman of the first British bank in over 100 years to have a run on it’s finances is now claiming to present evidence that climate change will be good for us, rather than keeping a low profile. It’s also remarkable how this isn’t pointed out more often by others in the media. Surely past successes and failures are a reasonable metric as to someone’s credibility.

  49. JabbaTheCat says:

    Craig Idsob has done a new study of the positive unintended economic consequence of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.

  50. Nick says:

    According to Dr Tol, Ridley’s piece is ‘coherent’ but also has, by necessity, omitted ‘many things’. That’s reassuring.

  51. Steve Bloom says:

    Oddly scientists in Iowa are very worried about increasing impacts of climate change on agricultural productivity. This is *Iowa*, folks.

    Similar concerns are being expressed about California’s Central Valley.

    One wonders how up-to-date Tol’s information is on this sort of thing.

  52. dbostrom says:

    It seems as though the “information deficit” affecting some economists’ assessments is steadily increasing, what with the death and dismemberment gap identified above by Tom Curtis and unaccounted matters such as the following, as pointed out by BBD.

    No Safe Havens in Increasingly Acid Oceans

    Oil, gas and coal are contaminating the world’s oceans from top to bottom, threatening the lives of more than 800 million people, a new study warns Tuesday.

    “It took a year to analyse and synthesise all of the studies on the impacts of climate change on ocean species,” Camilo Mora, an ecologist at University of Hawai‘i in Honolulu and lead author, told IPS.

    “We are seeing greater changes, happening faster, and the effects are more imminent than previously anticipated.” — Alex Rogers of the University of Oxford
    Mora is also lead author of ground-breaking climate study published in Nature last week.

    “It was very sad to see all the responses were negative. We were hoping there might be some safe havens,” he said.

    The study found that carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels are overheating the oceans, turning them acidic and reducing the amount of oxygen in seawater. This is happening too fast for most marine species to adapt and ocean ecosystems around the world will collapse.

    By 2100, no corner of the oceans that cover 70 percent of the Earth’s surface will be untouched.”

    More effort needs to be devoted to accentuating the positive. Or maybe it would easier to acknowledge what’s becoming blindingly obvious?

  53. @Tom C
    You’re making assumptions. Turn them into hypotheses and test.

  54. @Richard Tol:

    Or you could just explain why you think it is “a strong contender for the worst climate paper of 2013”. You made this claims so it’s on you to explain why you said this. Without that Tom, or anyone else for that matter, can only speculate as to why you said that. The burden of proof is on you to substantiate your claim and people asked you to do this.

    What you just did was distract from your obligation to clarify and substantiate your own claims and trying to shift the burden of proof to someone else.

  55. @Collin
    Climate and conflict is a side track in the discussion here. I’ve made my views abundantly clear in Der Spiegel and on Miguel’s blog. More later.

  56. Why do I think it is a strong contender? Well, the Cook and Hope papers are very silly too, but fall apart within a minute of probing. The Hsiang paper needs to be read carefully before one realizes just how silly it is.

  57. So Richard says a paper is rubbish. Tom points out, very clearly, that it is actually a review of 60 papers, a number of which find a statistically significant effect (which as far as I can tell is all that Richard normally thinks is needed) and yet Richard now thinks Tom has to produce a hypothesis to prove this paper isn’t rubbish. Do I need to comment further?

  58. Pingback: The Climate Change Debate Thread - Page 3264

  59. Steve Bloom says:

    Craig Idso has done a study. Hmm. Not a syllogism, sorry.

  60. @Wotts
    No need to comment further. Have a think first. Why would I be shy about being more explicit?

  61. Richard, I have no idea. Why don’t you enlighten me?

  62. guthrie says:

    The reason why RIdley is taken seriously is partly that he wrote some well received books on evolutionary biology back in, I think, the ’80’s, so has been perceived for years as having science cred. To journalists and editors, one science is just like another, what matters is the ability to churn out a somewhat readable and controversial article on demand.

  63. Rachel says:

    One of Richard’s papers is in the reference list –

    That reference list is quite fascinating. There’s even a paper which appears to find a link between higher temperatures and horn honking –

    I grew up in a hot climate, no air-conditioning, and it sucks.

  64. @Dana
    The JEP paper is not that old, and most of the things it does are just as valid today. The numbers have shifted a bit, but not significantly so.

    Estimates of the social cost of carbon continue to come down, by the way, Chris Hope notwithstanding.

  65. Richard, maybe you can explain this then. The US EPA has a site showing recent estimates for the social cost of carbon. The table in the link claims to have been updated in 2013. Below the table is a link to the 2010 estimates. These appears to be considerably lower than the 2013 numbers. How is that consistent with the SCC continuing to come down?

  66. dbostrom says:

    Richard has a history of running away from his disparaging remarks, leaving them unsupported yet still hanging in the air and smelling bad. Don’t expect any satisfaction.

  67. @Richard Tol

    If you have made your position abundantly clear on this matter then it should have been easy for you to include a link to that material. As currently people still have no idea what you exactly meant when you said “That paper is a strong contender for the worst climate paper of 2013.”

  68. @wotts:
    I find that also a bit of an odd claim that Richard made. The current trend is that the more we learn about the effects we’re having the more clear it becomes that we’ve been underestimating the potential damages.

    Just like Wotts I’m curious how you came to this statement.

  69. BBD says:

    Talk is cheap, Richard.

  70. @Collin
    Over the last few years, a large number (relative to the previous publication rate) of estimates of the social cost of carbon have been published — including new ones by Hope and the IAWG. The latter stand out for having gone up. Chris Hope’s relentless self-promotion seem to have convinced you that his work is representative of the literature. It is not.

    You can survey the literature yourself. Or go to my website and download the data to run your favorite test. Or read my latest paper on the subject. Or take my word for it. Or continue to live in ignorance. Whatever you prefer.

  71. @Richard Tol:
    I wasn’t talking about what Hope wrote. What I was talking about are the effects we’ve seen, how often we’ve underestimated it, our delay of action, and what we can subsequently expect. This is what to me makes your statement that the social cost of carbon is going down strange.

    By the way, telling someone to find out what you mean or what you’re basing your claim on is not a valid response. The valid response is to explain it or link to something explaining it. I’ll gladly read what you offer, but like I said previously: It’s your claim, so it’s on you to back it up and provide clarifying statements/materials when needed.

  72. @Collin
    Same answer: You can take my word for it, read my work or others’ (hint: the IPCC WG2 AR5 FOD was leaked), or survey the literature yourself.

  73. @Richard Tol:
    Why is it so hard for you to just name the paper that I should read? I know you publish a lot of papers and you’re asking me to figure out which one I should read. A simple link to what you think I should read would suffice. I’m not asking much here, just a simple question of what are you basing your claim on.

    I’m really starting to develop a distaste for engaging with you because you don’t want to answer questions clearly or provide clear citations/references. It takes just as much effort to do that as the time you’ve now spent on responded to me without doing that.

  74. Rachel says:

    Richard, Can you please point out what is wrong with the paper in Science about conflict and climate. As you say, lay people are quick to highlight research that supports their views. Well, as a lay person, I am also quick to accept when I don’t understand something or have something wrong. So what’s wrong with it? I don’t understand your cryptic comments.

  75. @Collin
    I don’t even know what topic you’re on. It’s not the social cost of carbon, apparently.

  76. @Rachel
    The paper suffers from omitted variable bias, from selection bias, and from idiocy: What’s the average of car honking when it is a hot day and imperial decline when it is a dry century?

  77. @Richard Tol:
    Now I’m getting the impression that you’re deliberately being obtuse.

    This is what you originally said:
    “Estimates of the social cost of carbon continue to come down, by the way, Chris Hope notwithstanding.”

    This is what you later said:
    “Or read my latest paper on the subject. ”

    Might I not be referring to that when I ask you for the paper?

    Also to what you originally said I made the remark that “Just like Wotts I’m curious how you came to this statement.” Since then I’ve been asking for you to give me something that explains why you made your original statement. We never left the topic of the social cost of carbon, the only sidetrack we’ve been on is me trying to get you to understand that you need to explain statements properly when someone doesn’t understand what you mean.

    Basically saying go away and do some research is not a valid response to that. Or you now saying that I’m talking about a different topic, that comes across as just a distraction from giving me a clear explanation or reference.

  78. @Collin
    I thought I read that you are not interested in the social cost of carbon:

    An update will appear in March 2014.

  79. @Richard Tol:
    Finally a clear reference for a claim/statement you made.

    Thank you. I’ll read those as soon as I’m able.

  80. OPatrick says:

    From the editor’s summary on the Hsiang et al paper:
    Knowledge silos can hinder attempts to explore questions of interest across many disciplines.

    Richard, does your question What’s the average of car honking when it is a hot day and imperial decline when it is a dry century? reinforce those knowledge silos?

  81. BBD says:

    Well, at least we know what Tol’s unsupported opinion of a paper that contradicts one of his many assertions is.

    Logical fallacy, Tol. Shows how weak you are.

  82. OPatrick says:

    Incidentally, I’m conscious of contributing to what feels like Tol-bashing but I’m genuinely interested to know what Tol has to say on these issues. Would there be any way of you, ‘wotts’, having a one-to-one converstaion with Richard on a separate thread with others suggesting questions, references, corrections etc. on a different thread, which you could select from?

  83. Joshua says:

    Gotta say –

    Richard’s comments in this thread are a strong contender for the most obtuse and obnoxious blog comments in the blogosphere for 2013.* Why even bother to engage with people that you have no intent to engage with?

    * And no, no need to support my argument. Argument by assertion is sufficient. That should be obvious.

  84. OPatrick, that’s an interesting idea. I too would be quite interested to know what Richard actually thinks. Although I would be quite keen to have a frank and open discussion with Richard (and, ideally, a polite and pleasant one) I can see two problems. I don’t think Richard thinks sufficiently highly of me (and that may be something of an understatement) to regard me as some kind of suitable mediator. The other (and apologies if this seems unfair) is that many have asked Richard to answer direct questions and, often, he manages to avoid this by making some kind of cryptic response. Admittedly, he does sometimes respond well, but it is not always the case. So, I’d be interested but am not sure how well it would work.

    It would also be quite interesting to direct the same questions at someone like Chris Hope to see how his answers would differ from those given by Richard.

  85. OPatrick says:

    wotts, no – I think that seems quite fair. Richard Tol’s cryptic responses to direct questions have not given me any real understanding of his objections. My feeling is that this can sort of be justified by the volume of comments directed towards him – he can’t be expected to answer all in suitable depth. This seems like an argument for a Tol-only thread.

    I’d like to see Chris Hope doing the same – and I hope we could be equally challenging towards him if we did. This seems a really important area of discussion. I’m not satisfied with the [t]here is no known relationship between climate (change) and violent conflict, so that the best impact estimate is zero response and I’d like to see it explored in more detail.

    Not sure we need another ‘Climate Dialogue’ though!

  86. > Logical fallacy, Tol. Shows how weak you are.

    Please, BBD. Once in a while, perhaps. Why so often? As Kurt would say, you’ve got to be kind, god dammit!

    Try zest and gusto. It tempers and improves prudence.

  87. BBD says:


    Tol writes:

    What’s the average of car honking when it is a hot day and imperial decline when it is a dry century?

    This stuff doesn’t merit either patience or politeness.

  88. BBD says:

    Willard, to bracket this, to contextualise, please remember what I said to RT right at the very top of this subthread. Hence the frustration.

  89. John Russell (Twitter@JohnRussell40) says:

    I’ve read this thread with interest since it was first posted. I didn’t know much about Richard Tol when I started, however it’s been interesting to form an opinion of him based on his enigmatic and/or condescending responses, offered in a rather arrogant tone. Experience tells me that people adopting such behaviour lack confidence in their arguments, so try to wrong-foot opponents rather than providing them with something substantial to come back at.

  90. Richard does not make you do it, BBD, however hard he’d try, and Kurt knows he tries.

    You deserve better. Readers too.

    Style matters.

  91. BBD says:

    Style matters.

    Of course you are right, and there’s no need to provide the excellent link to ideal conduct in an e-salon. But sometimes patience wears thin. Even so, I will endeavour to inject a little flair and snap into the proceedings.


  92. BBD says:

    and Kurt knows he tries.

    Cobain? Gödel?


  93. guys & gals
    If you would read the Hsiang paper, comments like “What’s the average of car honking when it is a hot day and imperial decline when it is a dry century?” would be a lot less cryptic.

    Other than than, there are such things as embargoes. For instance, I cannot reveal what IPCC AR5 will say about the Hsiang paper.

  94. BBD says:

    Richard, the mere idea that CC will not exacerbate conflict in future is absurd. Why are you defending an absurdity?

  95. > Cobain? Gödel?

    That’s better. And neither of them:,1858/

    Cf. #4. #1 is also very good.

  96. BBD says:


    Thank you for the Vonnegut quotes. And I see. I’m afraid my gaps are showing.

    Here’s one for the thread:

    That is my principal objection to life, I think: It’s too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes.

  97. Tom Curtis says:

    For those interested in Tol’s obscure comments on conflict, here is the De Spiegel article which quotes Tol’s criticism. The paragraph containing his criticism reads:

    ‘Their allegedly selective approach to existing data isn’t the only accusation that has been levelled at Hsiang’s team. “The second major error is that they confuse climate and weather,” says Richard Tol, professor of economy at the University of Sussex in the UK. He notes that it does indeed appear that heat waves make people more aggressive, a conclusion reached by earlier studies. That, though, has more to do with specific weather events, he says, while climate change is measured in decades. Tol says that most of the studies considered by Hsiang and his team focused on specific weather events. “Their projections of the impact of future climate change strongly exaggerate the effect,” he says.’

    Marshall Burke (second author of the paper) responded in a blog post, saying:

    “1. You confuse weather and climate.
    (verbatim from Richard Tol, courtesy Google Translate)

    This is an old saw that you always get with these sorts of papers. The implied concern is that most of the historical relationships are estimates using short-run variation in temperature and precip (typically termed “weather”), and then these are used to say something about future, longer-run changes in the same variables (“climate”). So the worry is that people might respond to future changes in climate — and in particular, slower-moving changes in average temperature or precip — differently than they have to past short-run variation.

    This is a very sensible concern. However, there are a couple reasons why we think our paper is okay on this front. First, we document in the paper hat the relationship between climate variables and conflict shows up at a variety of time scales, from hourly changes in temperature to century-scale changes in temperature and rainfall. We use the word “climate” in the paper to refer to this range of fluctuations, and we find similar responses across this range, which provides some evidence that today’s societies are not that much better at dealing with long-run changes than short-run changes. This is consistent with evidence on climate effects in other related domains (e.g. agriculture).

    Second, we do not to make explicit projections about future impacts – our focus is on the similarity in historical responses. Nevertheless, the reader is definitely given the tools to do their own back-of-the-envelope projections: e.g. we provide effects in terms of standard deviations of temperature/ rainfall, and then provide a map of the change in temperature by 2050 in terms of standard deviations (which are really really large!). That way, the reader can assume whatever they want about how historical responses map into future responses. If you think people will respond in the future just like they did in the past, it’s easy multiplication. If you think they’ll only be half as sensitive, multiply the effect size by 0.5, etc etc. People can adopt whatever view they like on how future long-run responses might differ from past short-run responses; our paper does not take a stand on that.”

    Being fair to Tol, the paper does not make explicit projections about future impacts, but it certainly invites implicit projections by including a map of projected future temperature increases in standard deviations of regional temperature variation. Of that map (figure 6), they write:

    “Recalling our finding that a 1s change in a location’s temperature is associated with an average 2.3% increase in the rate of interpersonal conflict and a 13.2% increase in the rate of intergroup conflict, and assuming that future populations will respond to climatic shifts similarly to how current populations respond, one can consider the potential effect of anthropogenic warming by rescaling expected temperature changes according to each location’s historical variability. Although not all conflict outcomes have been shown to be responsive to changes in temperature, many have, and the results uniformly indicate that increasing temperatures are harmful in regions that are temperate or warm initially. In Fig. 6, we plot expected warming by 2050, computed as the ensemble mean for 21 climate models running the A1B emissions scenario, in terms of location-specific SDs.”

    It turns out that the assumption that “future populations will respond to climatic shifts similarly to how current populations respond” is a large one, and one the authors (or at least, Burke) are not prepared to make in defense of their paper.

    However, some of Tol’s criticism is just bizarre. An example (here) is his discussion of car honking and empire collapse. Hsiang et al never average across the two, analyzing personal conflict, intergroup conflict and institutional breakdown, showing that all three bear a relationship to climate change but never “average across” the categories. Indeed, the paper does not even include Kenrick (1986), ie, the car honking paper, in their assessment of the risk of interpersonal violence (figure 4 in Hsiang et al). It is included in their list of 60 papers, where car honking is treated as a proxy of aggression. I am unsure whether Tol’s claim is based on the inability to grasp the concept of using car honking as a proxy of aggression, the inability to grasp the potential of an increase in violence following from an increase in aggression, or an insistence that the paper “averages across” Kenrick (1986) and other papers, despite the clear indications in the paper that it does not.

  98. @Tom
    It is well-known that heat makes people irritable and violent. At the same time, people in hot climates are not more irritated or violent than people in cool climates. The difference is acclimatization. It happens in a matter of weeks.

    I referred to Figs 4 and 5 of Hsiang et al., where averages are taken over incommensurate dimensions.

  99. Rachel says:

    I thought the point was more that changing weather patterns and temperatures -> crop failures -> not enough food to eat -> famine -> war

  100. BBD says:

    Let’s not forget water resource conflict and fisheries collapse!

    Funny how, at every turn, RT manages to talk about something else other than the key issue at hand.

  101. John Russell (Twitter@JohnRussell40) says:

    I think you’re misrepresenting how the IPCC tells us climate change is likely to play out, Richard. It’s not just going to lift current temperature patterns by a moderate 2 degress C, or whatever. Climate change will increase extremes, so many places are likely to see more and hotter heat waves; with periods of ‘moderate’ weather in between. Other places will see an increase in flooding events, again with ‘normal’ weather most of the time. ‘Acclimatisation’ as you describe it is therefore not relevant.

  102. Tom Curtis says:

    I beg to differ (partially). While global warming will increase the frequency of extreme warm events, its primary effect will to be to increase the mean temperature. In fact, in that winters will warm faster than summers, and nights faster than days, it is likely that the increase in maximum temperatures will be a minor overall contributor to the increase in annual mean temperatures relative to increases in minimum temperatures.

    Having said that, Richard significantly overstates the ability of people to acclimatize. I speak with some familiarity here, having lived by entire adult life (and all bar five years of my childhood) in the tropics or sub-tropics, I am quite familiar with the fact that people adapt to warmer temperatures – but over a period of months rather than weeks. Further, temperatures already reach levels such that people can feel oppressed by the heat for a period of months, despite years living in the region. In the upper range of temperatures experienced already, that is because physiological limits on cooling are reached so that no further physiological adaption is possible (except on evolutionary time scales).

    Granted cultural and architectural adaption is still possible, but on timescales of years and decades rather than weeks. Therefore the idea that we will simply acclimate to the increased heat of global warming is simplistic, and wrong.

  103. Convincing stuff Tom. I think I need a lie down.

  104. John Russell (Twitter@JohnRussell40) says:

    I don’t think you are differing, Tom. I said, “It’s not just going to lift current temperature patterns…”. Clearly our bodies will acclimatise to a moderate rise in mean temperatures. But we’re highly unlikely to ‘acclimatise’ to extreme heatwaves (or flooding) — especially if wet bulb temperatures rise in a few places to levels which the human body cannot handle.

    On the wider issue of indirect effects, a small increase in mean temperature that reduces, say, meltwater from glaciers in places like the Himalayas and the Andes will play havoc with agriculture in the adjoining lowland plains. If that doesn’t cause civil unrest, mass-migration and other security issues, I don’t know what will.

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