Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Things Break

A letter from the good Dutch Richard in the Economist explains things break, and cannot be put back together.  Adaptation from a disaster is not guaranteed (emphasis added)
SIR – “In the balance” (April 5th) presented a false dichotomy between being dispassionate and being alarmist about the impacts of climate change. There is nothing alarmist about the risk of extreme weather events leading to breakdowns in critical services and food systems. Such breakdowns have already accompanied, for example, the 2011 floods in Thailand and the 2010 drought in Russia. And there is nothing dispassionate about economic damage estimates that, in the words of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are “incomplete” and face “recognised limitations”. 
Rather than suggesting that the risks assessed by the IPCC are scare stories and that the overall economic costs of climate change would be manageable, The Economist could explore the assumptions used by economic models and their developers to arrive at such estimates.

One assumption is that the occurrence of impacts will automatically lead to adaptation to those impacts. The IPCC chapter, “Adaptation opportunities, constraints and limits”, shows that such optimism is not justified. Not every farmer facing crop losses has the ability to choose a different crop variety, and not all urban dwellers can move to an area where they are not exposed to floods or landslides.

The world is facing impacts of climate change precisely because it is difficult to take effective action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. To assume that adaptation to these impacts will take place with little extra effort, at low or no cost and with immediate pay-off, is quite silly, and not a reflection of reality.

IPCC author
Stockholm Environment Institute
As J. Willard Rabett incessantly points out, adaptation pushes procrastination penalties to infinity


Victor Venema said...

One assumption is that the occurrence of impacts will automatically lead to adaptation to those impacts.

Are economists really that dense? I am reasonably confident that The Netherlands will be evacuated after a storm flood, not before.

EliRabett said...

Depends on whether you follow the good Dutch Richard or the bad one.


How is it that some few Richards, good and bad, so enjoy living on land below sea level that they have labored for twenty generations to provide more of it for their posterity, and plan to add more to come?

Too bad they did't shift their attention from New Amsterdam to New Orleans.

jrkrideau said...

@ Victor V.

Are economists really that dense?


It is a little-known fact that Marie Antoinette did not say "Let them each cake" but rather the court economist.

An economist will always tell you that we can always adapt or adjust. :)

They (a fairly large component of orthodox economists, usually Freshwater I think) really believe this sort of thing. Theory tells them so. And the Austrian School is even weirder.

As an example, I once sat listening in amazement as an academic economist assured me that monopolies were the best source of innovation. And he could prove it!

This was at the height of the Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc attack on the mainframe/mini industry and just after the Japanese had decimated the US auto oligopoly.

{Actually it appears that it was Marie-Therese, the wife of Louis XIV who said, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche". Marie Antoinette just had bad press.}

rjtklein said...

Hi Eli, thanks for reposting my letter to the Economist. It might be good to add that it was written and publish about a year and a half ago. It responded to this article in the Economist of 5 April 2014.

In response to Russell Seitz' question: both Richards left the Netherlands a long time ago. Not sure climate adaptation was the prime motivation though.

Bernard J. said...

This is an apposite post, as we recently had a local community meeting to discuss the preparations for and dangers of a catastrophic wildfire. There were a number of local government agencies in attendance, and the mood was defintely different to previous years, which was probably a useful thing in terms of driving home to the sceptical and ignorant semi-suburbanites just what the dangers are of such catastrophic events.

It drives home though the effects of all the statistical upticks that accompany global warming, and just how much change can be wrought by something of which the average person cannot fully conceive. In my own valley, that one wildfire that would not have happened had it not been for climate change will probably be enough to destroy what would otherwise have been salvageable. Multply that by millions across the planet...

Sadly, in 50 years people will be chasing their tails trying to catch up with the genie that long ago escaped its bottle, rather than just talking about it as we are now doing. And in 100 years hence, and in 500, the changes will be that much more profound...


Berard J:

Make that 100 years:

This is the centennial of the Great Siberian Fire

Nature 323, 116 - 117 (11 September 1986); doi:10.1038/323116a0

Rabid Doomsayer said...
The Adaption Myth by Robert Repetto is in linked.

People are stupid, we keep rebuild stick houses in tornado areas, we rebuild in the same spot after floods. We keep assuming that the 1 in 500 year event will not happen again for 500 years and ignore the changing regime.

We refuse to see the writing on the wall. Miami gets flooding on a high tide now. What will the next Hurricane do?

Rabid doomsaying little mouse

Bernard J. said...

I seem to remember that you posted that link a few years back Russell. Then, as now, you rather missed the point, which is not about the existence of tails of a distribution but about the shift in the mean, and how that changes the resultant weight of the tail with respect to particular conditions...

Come on man, you're intelligent: stop pretending that you're not.


Bernard, fattening tails does not make for larger sheep-- outliers do the most harm , and get remembered accordingly.