As the bunnies know, Eli is not a fan of the Breakthrough Institute, and it ain't because of some of the senior fellows and wanna be senior fellows, it is because there are no guarantees in life and technology. One can hope for miracles and ponies, but expecting them because of a wistful reading of history is not recommended.
There is, of course, one case where such a bad strategy is worth following, and that is if things are so bad, or soon going to be so bad that one has abandoned all other hope, somewhat like the question of your driving up a narrow road on a mountain with rock on one side and a fall off on the other only to see an eighteen wheeler coming at you at 100 mph. What do you do? You drive over the edge and hope the fall is not to steep. Otherwise you are dead anyway.
Eli thought of this proposition when reading William Nordhaus' reply to Roger Cohen, William Happer and Richard Lindzen in the New York Review of Books.
The thrust of CHL’s argument is that the uncertainties are likely to resolve in favor of inaction rather than strong action to slow climate change policies, and in any case, they argue, policies are unimportant given the size of the uncertainties.
Are the uncertainties likely to be resolved in favor of inaction? Of course, if we knew the answer, we would not be uncertain.Nordhaus likens CHL to gamblers in the Climate Casino
However, the major problem with the conclusions of CHL is that they ignore the perils of the climate-change uncertainties. To illustrate, think of the issues as if we are playing roulette in a Climate Casino. Each time the roulette wheel stops, we resolve one of the uncertainties. Our best guess is that CO2 doubling will increase temperatures by 3°C, but if the ball lands on black it will be 2°C while a ball on red will produce 4°C. Similarly, a ball in a black pocket will lead to minimal damages from a certain amount of warming, while a ball in a red pocket will lead to much larger warming than we anticipate. On the next spin, a ball in the black will produce low growth and slow growth in emissions, while a ball in the red will produce rapid growth in CO2 emissions. And so forth.
But, in the Climate Casino, the ball also might land on zero or double-zero. If it lands on zero, we find significant loss of species, ecosystems, and cultural landmarks like Venice. If it lands on double-zero, we find an unanticipated shift in the earth’s climate system, such as a rapid disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.and like a gambler they never think they will lose because they have not done the math and don't understand the economic issues
The point is that CHL have the impact of uncertainty exactly backward. A sensible policy would pay a premium to avoid the roulette wheel in a Climate Casino. This means that the economic model estimates of the cost of doing nothing for fifty years are understated because they cannot incorporate all the uncertainties—not just the obvious ones such as climate sensitivity but also the zero and double-zero uncertainties such as tipping points, including ones that are yet undiscovered.William Nordhaus' penultimate paragraph explains succinctly the Breakthrough Bankruptcy Principle
It is possible that the world will not warm over the coming years. It is possible that the impacts will be small. It is possible that a miraculous technology will be invented that can suck CO2 out of the atmosphere at low cost. But in view of the evidence we now have, it would be foolish to bet on these outcomes just because they are possible.He is being kind. These things are improbable. Basing policy on finding ponies is not recommended.