Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Rabett's Rules for Climate Change Policy Makers

J. Willard Rabett has sent Eli a set of laws to guide climate change policy makers

1. Adaptation responds to current losses.
2. Mitigation responds to future losses
3. Adaptation plus future costs is more expensive than mitigation,
4. Adaptation without mitigation drives procrastination penalties to infinity.

J. Willard points out the similarity with the laws of thermodynamics, you can't win, you can't break even, things will get worse before they get better and who says they will get better.

Above all we at the Rabett Enterprise Institute want to have a diverse collection of pre-eminent thinkers on this subject, which is why we are keen to include you in the project. Eli is willing to offer honoraria of up to $(Monopoly)10,000 for participating authors, for essays and comments to be completed by March 1, and we are keen to work with you to refine an appropriate topic.


Anonymous said...

To the porcine mind, the analogy is less than precise. In particular, the detailed shapes of the mitigation cost-benefit curve and the adaptation cost-benefit curve contain all the relevant information.

There seems to be no doubt that things will get worse, almost whatever we do. The goal, clearly, should be to maximize the benefit minus cost function. As soon as you climate guys work out the shapes of the respective curves, we can give you an optimal strategy as fast as you can say "Lagrange multiplier."


EliRabett said...

Pig, unfortunately, detailed data from the future remains stubbornly lacking, which, of course, makes the problem well suited to fuzzy logic.

Eli wandered into this in a doodling mood and was quite pleased with the final product, among his finest work, in his humble opinion, of course. Much subtlety. For example the first point. Hidden in there is the idea that you can only efficiently (economically and otherwise) adapt to the current situation. That means you have already absorbed pain. Worse, if the bus is moving anyone playing the adaptation only game ends up in a futile chase.

The second point is dedicated to Richard Tol. All mitigation costs are immediate and all benefits in the future. 3 and 4 follow from 1 and 2 as the third law follows the second and first.

Steve Bloom said...

Hmm, $10K. Pretty tempting. Can I get it in small bills?

Anonymous said...

steve - I believe you should expect 1's, 5's, 10's, 20's, 50's, and 100's - though it's been a long time since I have played.


Anonymous said...


Prediction, as they say, is difficult, especially of the future. Of course that is what evolution (or God, or both) did give us brains for.

Any rational strategy will include adaptation, because there is no scientific, technical, or political way to roll back CO2 concentrations anytime soon. A rational strategy will also consider prevention, especially the question of what can be accomplished at what cost and how much good it is likely to do.

The costs of either an adaptation strategy or a prevention strategy will be distributed in time. If we plan to adapt to rising sea levels, we need to plan for coastal evacuations and dikes right now.

There is a third strategy as well, which might be called the "lilies of the field" strategy, or more confrontationally perhaps, the Czech nutbag strategy, which consists of doing nothing and hoping that everything turns out ok. This last strategy is appealing to those with short time horizons.

Anonymous said...

anoymous = CIP, I mean.

Anonymous said...

Never mind.

EliRabett said...

anonymous, all posters at Rabett Run have honorary statement as anonymice or as the case may be anonypigs or whatever. So don't worry about it

Anonymous said...

Since we're on the subject of climate change policy....It appears that media hound Roger Pielke Jr. is unhappy that people are beginning to note his right-wing contacts on his Wikipedia biography.

Of course, Mr. Honest Broker doens't like that people are tracking his links to right-wing institutes.

Poor Roger.....People are finally starting to figure him out.

Mus musculus

Gareth said...

Your rules are global, but there is a special case for non-global (small scale) statements.

Adaptation is the only credible response because any mitigation we might undertake is meaningless on a global scale (a 90% reduction in two fifths of FA is still two fifths of FA).

It will be interesting to see how FA is defined in post-Kyoto negotiation.

EliRabett said...

Adaptation without mitigation doesn't work (see rule 4). That being said, we are already committed to substantial adaptation and the associated costs. Your point about locality only goes so far. This has always been obvious to us at Bunny Labs

EliRabett said...

Steve, we have consulted with Ethon, and he has some friends who could help with the project. Of course, you might, in the end, prefer large bills.

Rabett Run is not about holding back.

EliRabett said...

Eli will talk to the house mice about this. He will.

Anonymous said...


You must have the counterfeit monopoly presses running 24/7.

Who's on the Monopoly 100 dollar bill, anyway?

It wouldn't be a fat little guy with a vest and floppy ears would it?

Anonymous said...

Gareth said: "any mitigation we might undertake is meaningless on a global scale"

Oh, really?

So, if car companies in the US come up with a car that 1) gets twice the gas mileage as any car currently out there and 2) is equal in all other regards (power, acceleration, safety, etc), that's meaningless because only the people in the US are going to buy it, right?

I think not.

Among other things, this wrongly assumes that all emission reductions cost money, which is clearly not the case.

If they actually save money (which they do in the case of improved efficiency), then everyone is going to get into the act and those who do not will simply be left behind.

If measures to reduce emissions (like efficiency improvements) save money and resources, there is no good reason not to take them.

There are very good reasons other than possible global warming for transitioning away from fossil fuels to a sustainable energy source and measures such as efficiency improvements are going to be important in making that transition. If we take the measures now, we can minimize the shock that will inevitably come.

Anonymous said...

CIP:" As soon as you climate guys work out the shapes of the respective curves, we can give you an optimal strategy as fast as you can say "Lagrange multiplier."

The best we can do is to try to minimize the "expected cost" based on various assumptions about the way things may play out (and the associated probabilities).

But this will not be an actual "optimal strategy". Even if we possessed perfect cost/benefit information for every possible scenario, we would still be left with what is essentially a traveling salesman problem. In theory there is an optimal solution, but in practice, we have no way of determining precisely what that might be (though we might be able to come close).

Anonymous said...

Nobody would argue against mitigation (and primarily for adaptation) when it comes to a disease like polio, so why do they do it in the case of global warming?

Both may be debilitating for millions of people, so I suspect it has to do with the time frame -- ie, with the fact that polio can affect us and our children, as opposed to some future generations.

EliRabett said...

Actually, Anon, people did argue for adaptation with polio. There were lots of people who thought that March of Dimes was wasting money on Salk and Sabin's vaccine research, and they should have been researching how to build lighter and more mobile Iron Lungs (if you don't know what that is, count yourself lucky). Never underestimate stupidity.

You are right about the time frame tho. See the bunny's seminal post on this, which actually refers to the IPCC policy on the issue:

"The time characteristics vary greatly and this may be a crucial issue in integrated analysis. The main climate change benefits of mitigation actions taken in the short term (say within a decade) will emerge over decades. Where mitigation goes hand-in-hand with achieving other policy objectives there may also be short-term benefits. On the other hand actions to enhance adaptation to climate change impacts even in the short term will have consequences both in the short as well as medium and long terms (Kram, T., 2003)."

EliRabett said...

PS: You can see the same argument with AIDs vaccine development. History repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps if we actually got started on mitigation, we might be surprised (or even amazed!) by how well it works, not unlike how people were amazed by how well the polio vaccine worked.

If we ever get started on mitigation, that is.

Some seem to be dead set against it -- either because they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo or because they are oracles who can see that mitigation can (and therefore will) never work.

Never is a word that one should never use to describe what can be done -- unless physical law prevents it from happening, of course and there is no reason to believe that it does in this case.

It seems to me that the foot-dragging in this case is more likely to do harm than good.