Saturday, November 26, 2011

Some Like it Hot. So What?

In the world of climate economics, Richard Tol is a major name.  If his most recent post on the topic is any indication, he should pick another line of work.  Tol points to the desire of many people, including some of his economist colleagues, to move to warmer locations as “revealed preferences for climate”.  His final paragraph hedges a bit, but leaves the impression that the sunbirds are telling us something about policy:
Obviously, one cannot compare the individual impact of moving to a warmer climate with the impact of global warming, but at the same time it is clear that both Dublin economists specifically and intra-European migrants generally do not object to a warmer environment.
Yes, people move to warmer climates.  They lie under sun lamps and bake in saunas.  Thermo- and phototropism have nothing to do with the risks of climate change, of course.  The major risks are:

sea level rise that inundates, or ravages with storm surges, coastal areas that are home to much of the world’s population

the extinction of species that cannot adapt at the rate at which their environment is changing

an increase in the frequency and severity of severe weather events

the loss of water storage in glacial formations

shifts in rainfall patterns that could subject more regions to drought, fire and other hazards

loss of agricultural productivity in tropical and many temperate regions

and above all, the potential for positive feedback mechanisms (release of methane from peat bogs, permafrost and clathrates) that could trigger runaway, catastrophic increases in atmospheric carbon concentrations.

Personal preferences for a few degrees of temperature more or less have nothing to do with it.  Tol seems to be another poster child for the tendency of economic expertise to coexist with appalling ignorance about just about everything else.  Is economics worse this way than other fields, or am I just more sensitive to it because it rubs off on my reputation as well?


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