Adaptation and Mitigation

There’s an exchange over at Prometheus that nicely illustrates the fundamentally linear face of the public climate debate, as so eloquently characterized by Andrew Revkin’s “pushmi-pullyu” metaphor.

The example at hand is the Prins and Rayner paper in Nature last month laying out, in part, the argument for a fuller integration of adapation to climate change into the debate. At the risk of putting words into his mouth, Prins and Rayner are, I think, what David Roberts might characterize as part of the “extraordinarily complex” and multi-faceted face of the actual climate debate, in which people come down in different places on different questions. Here you have people who clearly think climate change is a serious problem, that greenhouse gas reductions are necessary, but that the present approach to achieving them is a failure and that, in the process, an ossified political debate has arisen that excludes the importance of adaptation to that portion of climate change which is inevitable.

Some people, at one end of the traditional linear structure of the debate, use adaptation as an argument against greenhouse gas reductions. People should adapt to climate change, the argument goes, rather than undertaking the economic expense of curbing greenhouse gas emissions. That is most explicitly not what Prins and Rayner are doing here.

Here’s what happens, then, when people like Prins and Rayner attempt to jump off the line, expressing a view that does not fit along the linear dichotomy. People try to push them back on the line!

In the comments to the Prometheus blog post above, John Quiggin immediately assumes that, by arguing for adaptation, they must be arguing against greenhouse gas reductions (“mitigation,” in the increasingly tortured argot of the debate): The adaptation argument is a problem, Quiggin argues, “when used to oppose action by rich countries to reduce their own emissions, and thereby the risk of even worse disasters like this in the future.” In fact, Prins and Rayner are making no such argument: “Mitigation and adaptation must go hand in hand,” they wrote.

But so ingrained is the linear nature of this debate that people like Quiggin seem bound and determined to push anyone who diverges back onto the path.

It’s worth noting that David Roberts has a nice counter-example to this dynamic in his discussion of Prins and Rayner. His piece recognizes the multi-dimensional nature of the issues being raised by Prins and Rayner rather than trying to shove them back into the linear model. Credit where credit is due, even if the guy does annoy the hell out of me sometimes.


  1. It’s you (following Pielke) who’s sticking things in a linear framework here. The section of my comment that Pielke attacks begins by agreeing with Prins and Rayner that mitigation and adaption are equally important. Rather than respond to my argument that, even so, mitigation is a global problem and adapation primarily a national problem, you insist on sticking me in the linear frame you criticise.

    To compound this, you misrepresent my comment in response, presenting it as if it’s a statement about adaptation in general, rather than a response to Pielke’s cheap shot against me (justified, in my view by Pielke’s track record on this issue).

  2. John –

    With all due respect, you said what you said. You’re the one who brought up the use of the adaptation argument “to oppose action by rich countries to reduce their own emissions, and thereby the risk of even worse disasters like this in the future,” when neither Prins and Rayner, nor Pielke, had done that.

  3. I said what I said, which didn’t include the paraphrased remarks about adaption that you’ve now imputed to me twice. My comment in response to Pielke did not begin with “The adaptation argument is a problem …” Or “Use of the adaption argument” but with “A cheap shot, especially …”

  4. (a) What, then, did you mean to suggest was being “used -to oppose action by rich countries to reduce their own emissions,” Obviously, Pielke’s cheap misrepresentation of my position, which you’ve endorsed

    (b)by whom?, again, obviously, by Pielke

  5. John –

    Thanks for the clarification. I think my point stands, though it was inappropriate for me to draw the inference that you were referring to Prins and Rayner, for which I apologize.

    My complaint remains intact, however. Roger was clearly arguing in favor of adaptation, and you now explicitly acknowledge that you were accusing him of arguing against emissions reductions by wealthy nations. He did no such thing. It’s an example of the pernicious discourse that has relegated discussion of adaptation to the shadows – the accusation that support for adaptation is tantamount to ignoring the emissions problem.

  6. John Q.-

    You apparently have either absolutely no idea what I actually think on the subject of mitigation, or are willfully misrepresenting my views. To set the record straight, here are a few examples of what I have said about mitigation (these examples are from statements to the US Congress in prepared testimony):

    “Mitigation is good policy, and many decision makers are now coming to understand that it is good politics, as well.”


    “The IPCC has concluded that greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity are an important driver of changes in climate. And on this basis alone I am personally convinced that it makes sense to take action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.”

    You’ll find me arguing vigorously that mitigation and adaptation are complements since at least 1998 (see my paper in GEC).

    To suggest that I am opposed to action by rich countries reflects either your failure to do your homework, or an effort to change the subject from your unsupportable statements about adaptation.

    Care to clarify your statements on adaptation, as you have said you would?

  7. Still being banned at the other place AFAIK, let me add my take here, which is pretty much what JQ is saying. Adaptation will, willy nilly, take place since we are committed to considerable dislocation by the past and the immediate future One of the characteristics of the current anthropically driven climate change is that there is a significant delay between the forcing and the consequence. That being said to emphasize adaptation only worsens the problem since it delays any mitigation. And, as my current mantra puts it, adaptation without mitigation has infinite procrastination penalties.

    Or to put it in terms that the money guys understand, what do you lose when your house in the Hamptons goes underwater?

  8. JFleck, as regards “pernicious discourse”, I suggest you reread the Pielke post you are endorsing. If you start off this way, you’re unlikely to encourage civil debate, a search for the middle ground and so on.

    Roger Pielke, I’ll take your word for it that you support mitigation. Perhaps you’ll take mine that I support adaptation. I’ll write something more complete when I get time, but I’ll leave with this question: if adaptation should get equal time with mitigation in global negotations, and Bangladesh is a prime example of a country with big problems in this area, why do Prins and Rayner favour excluding Bangladesh and confining the talks to the top emitters?

  9. Prins/Rayner on beginning with the top emitters:

    “The evidence suggests that the assumption that an inclusive global treaty is required to curb the growth in greenhouse gas emissions is questionable. Relying on an international agreement that requires the consent of all national governments inevitably results in the very lowest of common denominators. Since fewer than twenty countries account for 80% of the world’s emissions and therefore have the potential to make any serious contribution to their mitigation, it would be better for diplomacy to focus upon them. In these early stages, the other 150 countries only get in the way.

    The British presidency of the G8 in 2005 saw some movement in this direction with the launch of the Gleneagles Dialogue on Climate Change, Clean Energy and Sustainable Development at the Gleneagles Summit. The core of The Gleneagles Dialogue is the G8 countries plus China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, constituting the so-called G8+5. The additional participants are Indonesia, Australia, Spain, Poland, Nigeria, South Korea, the European Commission and key international organisations including the World Bank and the International Energy Agency.

    The Dialogue provides a vehicle for participants to discuss innovative ideas and new measures to tackle climate change, outside the formal negotiations of the FCCC. It is due to report back to the G8 during the Japanese Presidency in 2008. However, the Dialogue has yet to emerge as a leading alternative to the universalism of Kyoto. Although President Bush’s support may not be the most helpful of assets internationally in the declining months of his presidency, the conference of the main emitting nations that his administration held in September 2007 is a move in the same direction as G8+5, and is therefore also to be welcomed. It was therefore diplomatically unfortunate that John Ashton, the British diplomat overseeing climate policy, appeared to take satisfaction in his public remarks in describing the “isolation” of the USA at the September 2007 Washington discussions. Mr Ashton’s assumption that this is eccentric to the main line of advance is, on the evidence of this essay, misguided. America will be, as it always has been, of indispensable centrality to taking real action on climate change.”

    Read the whole thing, it is quite good, and even has some smart things to say about adaptation as a complement to mitigation:

  10. So Eli went and read the whole thing. A more pernicious and silly proposal he has not discovered since the suggestion that invading Iraq would loose a wave of democratization in the Arab world. A sure suggestion about how to spend even more time doing nothing

    Let’s see, first and foremost you ain’t ever gonna get China and India and Eastern Europe into signing on to losing any competitive advantage, and even if such a miracle were to come to pass the western firms would simply move their plants to any elsewhere that was not under the carbon emissions umbrella. SE Asia comes first to mind but there are places in Latin America that could work.

    Then again, you could ask yourself where the world would have been if the US (and Australia) had signed on to Kyoto and that became the starting point rather than the ending one. That of course, would be a policy issue, and no one here does any of that nonsense. Competently at least.

  11. Eli –

    Slightly more civil than “pernicious”, “silly” and “no one here does any policy competently” would be appreciated. A simple “I don’t agree with them” would be more useful. These guys are serious and they’re making a substantive critique which, even if they’re wrong, is worth discussing. Please don’t send it off the rails.

    I’d like it if you could tease apart your critique a bit. Prins and Rayner are both descriptive of problems with the current approach and prescriptive of a new family approach. You’ve explicitly critiqued the latter, which I appreciate, but I’d like it if you would offer up your thoughts on their characterization of the problem with the current Kyoto-style approach – their suggestion that top-down creation of a global market is intrinsically flawed and doomed to failure.

  12. I’m pleased to say that, thanks to last night’s election results, Australian ratification of Kyoto is now imminent. Conversely, the Howard government’s failure to ratify Kyoto was a major factor in its defeat. I hope the same will be true for US Republicans next year. Then at least we can get started on a good faith response.

  13. Well, I suppose it depends on whether you think that the calls for adaptation first are either calls for delay in a situation that urgently calls for restraint of emissions or merely will have that effect. In either case pernicious fits. Let me remind you of some definitions of pernicious:

    “causing insidious harm or ruin; ruinous; injurious; hurtful”

    “exceedingly harmful

    And some other synonyms:”harmful, detrimental, deleterious, destructive, damaging, baneful, noxious, malicious. 2. lethal”

    We could talk about lethal but baneful ain’t bad. True Eli was sharp, but pernicious is not out of bounds given science and history and the dictionary.

    As to silly, something that obviously cannot work, such as answering Nigerian scam letters in the hope of getting rich is silly. So is the prescription offered by Prins and Raynor, and it is obviously silly on the face of it.

    Kyoto, as Montreal before it, set up a mechanism which could and would have been improved as time moved forward if the US had joined it (Sorry JohnQ, in this the US was the only elephant, and Australia joining is symbolically important but not determinative) Today China has joined the US as the two indispensable nations. So yes, Kyoto would have been useful as a policy initiative, although its effect on emissions would only have been symbolic. Of course, almost everyone else wanted a stronger Kyoto and it was weakened at the insistence of the US, came into force very late because of US politics and is now described as useless while ignoring these things, which makes you wonder about the balance of those who object to it. But they are so civil.

    An important point about Montreal that is always missed is that the US had taken action to restrict CFC emissions well before the Protocols were signed (propellants in aerosol cans and certain other uses were forbidden very early on in the US). This established a level of trust with other nations that smoothed the path to everyone joining. Of course, the same people who are now complaining about Kyoto were going on very civilly about Dupont’s patents, but they were civil.

    Finally, I think that carbon trading proposals are aimed in the wrong direction. My preference would be for nations to require carbon credits for anything sold in their markets to cover the emissions generated in their manufacture. The cost for transport could be built into the licensing fees for autos/trucks/etc. In this way, if the EU and Japan imposed such a regime given the nature of world trade, everyone would have to follow. Since it would effect both internal and external manufacturing equally, there would be no possible complaint to the WTO. The tax code could be made revenue neutral (for example, offsetting the VAT in the EU or payroll taxes in the US). And yes, as in all things there would be some gaming of the system. It’s the price you pay for lawyers and economists.

  14. True no one here does policy, at least competently was pretty snarky but the pool is pretty shallow as far as I can see. However, this is pretty much the case for most political and policy studies I have read. The depth gets deep when you talk informally with those who have a lot of experience, and many times it becomes clear that the actual goals and the written ones were not precisely the same. Caveat emptor.

  15. Eli –

    Thanks. This is helpful.

    P and R are quite explicit in their argument that the success or failure of the Kyoto approach can and should be examined by looking at the success or failure in emissions reductions in those places (Europe and Japan) that have enthusiastically embraced carbon reduction efforts – but have failed to achieve them. P and R argue that is because of the underlying structure of the Kyoto approach. Are you arguing that if the United States had signed on, or taken pre-Montreal-like early efforts to reduce carbon emissions, the outcomes in Europe and Japan (or the United States, for that matter) would have been different? There’s obviously no way to rerun the experiment, adjusting those variables, so how might we test these two competing views?

    The concern here is that if P and R are right in their characterization of the problem and you are wrong, and we get a KyotoPlus and a U.S. government willing to sign on, and the system still fails, then we’ve lost that much more time.

    As for the rhetorical flourishes, one might, with equal reasonableness, argue that the failures of Europe and Japan render the Kyoto approach “silly”, and the failure to simultaneously help the less advantaged adapt to climate change (P and R clearly aren’t calling for “adaptation first”, they’re calling for adaptation simultaneously, which makes your defense of the word wrong) is “pernicious”, but such name calling seems less than helpful in an area where genuinely reasonable people who genuinely care about the seriousness of the problem have genuine disagreements.

    I appreciate that you’re the smartest guy in the room, and can tell who’s pernicious and who’s silly and who’s deep and who’s shallow among the many thoughtful people grappling with this issue. I’m just a poor dumb journalist. But I have found in my two-plus decades of experience trying to understand and explain a wide range of policy debates that the sort of rhetorical flourishes you employ by way of dismissing your adversaries are frequently a sign of shallowness in the underlying analysis, a sleight of hand that makes me suspicious. And even if it is not sleight of hand, it leads to distracting arguments about whether so-and-so is or is not pernicious and silly, instead of a discussion of the substance of the underlying issues. I’ve wasted years of my professional life on such useless sideshows, and seen them time and again distract the political and policy process from dealing with hard issues. And, as I’ve said before, hiding behind that cloak of anonymity doesn’t help. If you weren’t so obviously the smartest guy in the room, that would be cause enough to ignore you completely.

  16. Yes, that is exactly what I am arguing. Although retro crystal balling has its limits. Based on the history of Montreal, if the US had not consistently weakened the draft Kyoto treaty in negotiations, and signed onto a document which was less flaccid, Europe, Japan and the US would have made a great deal more progress and brought China and India with them.

    Right now I don’t see anything like Kyoto plus on the horizon, what I see is local carbon taxes imposed on everything at the point of sale which will pull the market with it. What I also see is people who sabotaged Kyoto arguing that it failed. It never happened is the truth. However, if you look at emissions, they certainly have not grown as fast in Europe and Japan as they might have in a total BAU scenario.

    Still, obviously I am a dumb Rabett and RP is the smartest guy in the room. Don’t let him fool you and pay some attention to what John Quiggin has been saying. Having observed the course of politics in the US over the past two decades I’m not quite sure that being civil is sure to succeed. Down and dirty appears to have worked a fair bit. Of course the key to down and dirty is when someone hits back to whine. Kind of the kid brother tactic.

    More seriously, there are places and uses for both sorts of argumentation. Part of the problem with civil is that when one side is purposely offering strained and silly arguments, treating them civilly allows them to distort the debate. Civil would be good if there were no hidden agendas and I think you are a bit oblivious on that count. As for me, I have very specific and limited goals some of which have been met, others not.

  17. Eli –

    It’s also worth noting that your misstatement of Prins and Rayner (“calls for adaptation *first*”) is a clear example of the very thing I was complaining about in my original post – taking arguments that lie outside linear dichotomy and shoving them back onto the line. Prins and Rayner are explicitly *not* pernicious in the way you describe above. They are, in fact, arguing for near-term emissions reduction while simultaneously increasing emphasis on adaptation. You misstate their views in order to defend your use of the term. More evidence, I think, that Revkin’s crude shorthand for the nature of the debate is correct.

  18. Eli –

    Thanks. Could you elaborate on your local point-of-sale carbon tax idea? Without more details, it’s hard to see how it avoids the very failures you’ve described above. It’s also, without more detail, not obvious how it’s inconsistent with Prins and Rayner, frankly. It’s hard for me to imagine how one might navigate the details of implementation to come up with a useful global framework, which frankly makes it look kind of silly. But no doubt you or someone you respect has laid out these details in a way that I can add it to my list of interesting ideas with potential to try to understand.

  19. “I appreciate that you’re the smartest guy in the room, and can tell who’s pernicious and who’s silly ”

    I don’t think you have to be too smart to tell that, on climate change, the Bush Administration is thoroughly pernicious. In fact, you have to be pretty silly, not to see that. I don’t think RP is that silly, but he defends them nonetheless, or claims that they are no worse than anyone else.

    As regards Prins and Rayner, I can’t tell for sure. Their argument that the problem with Kyoto is the need to deal with 170 countries rather than just the big 20 seems pretty silly to me. Can you point to any climate-related issue where the US, EU, China and Russia have agreed (or been close to agreement) only to have the deal scuppered by small country nitpicking?

  20. John Q –

    Again with the Bush ad hominem! You keep demonstrating the merit of the argument in my original post. Pielke’s arguments are orthogonal to the traditional linear structure of the climate debate, but you seem insistent in pushing him back into the Bush camp and therefore back onto an easily identifiable location on the good-evil line. This is yet another piece of evidence for the accuracy of Revkin’s original formulation of the problem.

  21. John F,

    You and Andrew Revkin are two of the best earth science reporters in the business today, and I find both Eli and JohnQ to be interesting and informative bloggers. That said, a few observations:

    [1] I’d like to suggest an alternative interpretation of how you, Roger, and Andrew Revkin (and, of course, others) have approached the climate change policy debate, and ask for your reaction. You suggest that Roger (and you and Andy) understand the climate debate in a different way then the polar, us-vs.-them manner that it has been commonly been portrayed, because you either believe you have identified or espouse (in Roger’s case) a ‘middle way’. I’d suggest the opposite, however. That is, attempting to either identify the center (as you and Andy have done in your writing) or claim one’s own position is that very center (as Roger has done for him and others, perhaps most succinctly in his so-called ‘climate heretics’ post) amounts to drawing lines between two opposite poles of a debate and staking out the midpoint of this line — which is just the linear model, right?. It is quite analogous, I think, to the problem of “false balance” that has permeated press coverage of scientific issues in the past. As Dave Roberts, Michael Tobis, and other have suggested, the question of how to address the consequences of anthropogenic climate change is multidimensional — a cloud of policy options in a multidimensional space of economics, energy, politics, culture, science and technology. In fact, I would argue that staking out or attempting to pinpoint “the” middle position of a multidimensional policy space is, in fact, trying to force all positions in the debate over policy responses into a linear model (i.e. that all positions fall on a ‘line’ between two extremes, and that one is the center).

    [2] The exchange you link to at Prometheus contains the following statement from Roger:

    “such an argument is not only wrong but wrongheaded, and perhaps even morally bereft. The two private parties in the photo to the left are obviously practicing ‘optimal adaptation’ in the ‘absence of policy intervention.'”

    Beginning a serious academic argument by calling the other party’s position ‘morally bereft’ seems to me unnecessarily provocative and counterproductive. Whether or not I agree with JohnQ’s position (I don’t), I would see that statement as he did — a cheap shot. I believe this would be an example of ‘poisoning the well’? Do you believe this is really a good way to begin or sustain an productive debate?


  22. It differs in that the process can be effective without across the board agreement which means the ability of countries such as the US to bargain the process down is decreased. Further, early adopters will control the carbon market. Imagine a world wide carbon market denominated in yen or euro. The effect will advantage their currencies in the same was as the oil market being denominated in $ has benefitted the dollar.

    As I pointed out, if large enough chunks of the world economy, for example, the EU and Japan adopt this, manufacturers world wide have to follow across the board no matter where they are. There are not going to be separate lines to produce whatever for North America and Europe in China. The principal advantage is that it is not necessary to have global agreement to achieve a global result.

    BTW, I am not arguing that Prins and Raynor are personally pernicious, I am arguing that their proposal is pernicious in that it will predictably result in further delay in implementing necessary mitigation. In the same way, JQ is not arguing that Bush is personally pernicious, but that the policies of his administration have been pernicious. Care to defend the policies??

  23. ka –

    Thanks for the question. I think maybe you’ve misunderstood my point. In fact, I think that the “polar, us-vs.-them manner that it has been commonly been portrayed” is, in fact, an accurate representation of the bulk of the public debate on this issue. Michael Tobis has argued this must be a creation of the news media, and I’ve no idea how to test his hypothesis. Cause and effect is difficult to tease out. But for whatever reason, public discourse on this issue is, I think, dominated by the poles that Revkin describes. I argue here from my own experience covering the policy debates here in New Mexico, listening to the policy and political actors, and more importantly reading the flow of letters to the editor and other reader contacts that we get at the newspaper. It is rare in any of those environments to hear public voices outside the linear-polar dichotomy Revkin describes, either from political/policy actors or from the interested public.

    What Revkin has done in this and his other much-maligned “science center” piece is to try to offer New York Times readers an opportunity to see that there are views that do not lie at the poles of the traditional line. In fact, I’m persuaded that Revkin’s piece that “center” might not be the best way of characterizing those who do not lie at either pole. Lomborg, Nordhaus etc. are essentially orthogonal to the line. But the irony here is that many of the same people who are critical of Revkin and are creating all manner of maps of multi-dimensional space – Rabett and Roberts come to mind here in particular – have been vehement in the past in slapping labels on orthogonal thinkers in an attempt to push them back into the opposite camp from them on the linear dichotomy. The linear dynamic exists because it has great utility to political warriors on both sides. The irony here is that, while one might argue that Revkin’s label is wrong, the piece is very much trying to do exactly what those howling about it say needs to be done – show it as a multi-dimensional debate.

    I claim no views for myself here. I’m serious when I call myself a dumb journalist.

    Eli –

    Enough already with the Bush stuff! Why should I be the one asked to defend Bush’s policies? (Trust me, it’s not something I could handle with much skill.) I repeat – this is exactly why I think Revkin’s pushmi-pullyu metaphor is so apt. People who don’t agree with the Rabett-Quiggin orthodoxy must be Bush partisans, it seems. You yourself complained about Revkin “project(ing) the multidimensional problem onto a line,” yet you keep doing the exact same thing yourself.

    As for your policy proposal, can you offer some meat, or point me to someone in the policy community who has laid out in more detail how it might work? Sounds interesting, but without more detail than a couple of blog paragraphs I really have very little idea of what you’re talking about. I could imagine, for example, how exactly the same argument you used to describe the Prins-Rayner approach could easily be applied to what you are saying – that it could “predictably result in further delay in implementing necessary mitigation”. And if there’s not some white paper or journal article about it, why not spend some time fleshing out the details on your blog?

  24. In the interests of fairness, I’ll withdraw the suggestion that RP defends the Bush Administration. This post in which he calls Bush “one of the worst presidents in U.S. history” can’t be squared with this claim.

    On the other hand, the same post shares the blame for the partisan nature of the climate change debate equally between Bush and Gore (or maybe places more blame on Gore for starting first). This I think pretty much supports my alternative characterization that RP sees Bush and the Republicans as not being substantially more pernicious than anyone else.

    There’s a false equivalence here. Al Gore gets as much blame for telling the truth as Bush does for lying.

    JFleck, you’ve been invited quite a few times to dissociate yourself from RP’s cheap shot against me, which you favorably linked, and haven’t done so. Can I take that you’re not going to?

  25. JQ –

    I’ll be happy to disassociate myself from Roger’s critique of your position. I agree with ka that it was, indeed, “poisoning the well,” an unproductive way to start this discussion, though I take issue with your assumption that I “favorably linked” it. The substance of my post had nothing to do with whether I agreed or disagreed with Roger’s critique of your position, and was based entirely on your response – your lumping of someone clearly orthogonal to the traditional debating camps back into the camp that you oppose.

    I agree with Roger about the mapping of the partisan divide onto climate. Your incorrect assumption that Roger must be a Bush supporter is a clear example of the way partisan instincts have not served this discussion at all well. I deal with other similar issues professionally, especially things nuclear, where the partisan mapping works poorly, but ends up used all the time anyway. Nisbet is right. We’re all cognitive misers.

    I must admit that Roger’s initial post amused me, but on reflection I agree that ka is right, and my amusement at your expense has been singularly unproductive, for which I apologize.

  26. ka-

    I am perfectly comfortable calling some arguments grounded in economic theory to be “morally bereft” (I’m in good company in doing so —;-).

    But to the point, if John Quiggin wants to try to square his claim that “There is no reason to expect too little adaptation” with my assertion that just looking around the world today suggests that there is plenty of good reason to expect too little adaptation, I’m all ears. Whinging about “cheap shots” is a good way to avoid substance and change the subject, but most all economists I know are pretty comfortable with the fact that the ethical and moral dimensions (or lack thereof) of their field have been critiqued from many angles for centuries. Most economics don’t agree with such critiques (but some do).

    John Q.- Thanks (I think) for withdrawing your false claim about me. But on the false claim that then follows — Jeez, can I be more clear? — The Bush Administration is indeed substantially more pernicious than anyone else. Period. See my recent book where I devote a chapter to making this case on the misuse of intelligence in the Iraq war. I’m afraid you’ll have to keep trying to associate me as a fan of the Bush administration (and good luck with that), if that is the strange manner in which you’d like to engage this discussion. However, I’d prefer that we rise above the “argument by association” that you are engaged in.

    By now I assume that you can not or will not choose to defend your assertion that “There is no reason to expect too little adaptation.” If that is the case, I’ll stick with the views that I expressed about economic theory in my original post, as they seem pretty indefensible to me as well;-)

  27. OK, I’ll restate my view. There is no reason to expect too little adaptation in developed countries, assuming that individuals and firms act in their own interests, and that governments follow standard policy procedures aimed at selecting policies that promote the welfare of their constituents. To the extent that these things don’t happen, international negotiations won’t help.

    There is a big reason to expect excessive emissions by all countries (and the excess is much greater for the rich countries) because of the externality problem. Those making the emissions don’t bear more than a tiny fraction of the costs.

    Finally, poor countries won’t have enough adaptation because they don’t have enough of anything. The best solution to this is to increase aid (and access to trade) across the board. Given sufficient resources

    Climate change negotiations provide a chance to put pressure on rich countries to compensate poor countries for the damage caused by climate change, or to pay them to participate in mitigation. In the former context, it may be possible to get finance for adaptation projects as part of the global negotiation process and if so, I welcome it.

    Taking all of that together, this means the primary focus of international negotiations should be on emissions reductions and mitigation. But if aid for adaptation can be included in the package, that would be a good thing.

  28. Incomplete sentence. “Given sufficient resources, poor countries can their own decisions on how to allocate them”.

  29. John, this is something that I have been thinking about for quite a while, how to take global action that does not require global agreement, but only agreement among a few important and willing actors, which rewards early adapters and does not allow the unwilling to block action. The mechanism needs to be immune to off shoring, and be neutral between domestic and foreign producers. What I have sketched at least has the potential of meeting these requirements. It differs from any of the other proposals that I have seen in those ways. So no, you will not find anything in print, but I will discuss it further. I’d be interested in John Quiggin’s thoughts.

  30. Having just picked up on something you said about P&R looking at greenhouse gas emissions in Japan and Europe, where the commitment to Kyoto was greatest, I’d like to add a comment. It is well known that one of the functions of regulations is to eliminate the free rider problem. If other countries derive a benefit from not trying to reach Kyoto targets, it becomes a race to the bottom. On the other hand if everyone is striving to reach the goals, one can have a virtuous circle. In Europe, for example, the growth in emissions was at the periphery, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, while the core countries decreases or maintained constant emissions. The net since 1990 for the original 15 has been slightly negative. Eli has constantly been depressed by the level of argument on such things.

  31. This is actually getting interesting. Roger dares JohnQ

    “By now I assume that you can not or will not choose to defend your assertion that “There is no reason to expect too little adaptation.” If that is the case, I’ll stick with the views that I expressed about economic theory in my original post, as they seem pretty indefensible to me as well;-)”

    JohnQ’s reply speaks for itself. OTOH, Eli would like to point out that death, destruction and impoverishment are adaptations frequently seen in as times turn tough, just not very desirable ones.

  32. Eli –

    I would appreciate it if you would not use my blog (and, frankly, me) as a proxy in your arguments with Roger. All you have to do is be willing to use your real name, which I think is little to ask given the importance of the issue, your obvious intelligence and passion for it, and the fact that everyone seems to know your real name anyway.

  33. Hi John,

    Thanks for your reply. I think I largely agree with you when you say that “public discourse on this issue is, I think, dominated by the poles that Revkin describes.” And yes, I would imagine the cause and effect of this would be hard to pinpoint, even if there were some utility in discovering it. To be fair, though, public discourse does not reflect the full range of discourse on the issue.

    I think that it is unfortunate that Lomborg and Gingrich, who are relatively late arrivals to the idea that steps need to be taken to deal with the potential consequences of climatic change, are selected by some of our best science journalists as the representative of some imagined ‘center’. I say unfortunate because there have long been people in the trenches on this issue, dealing with and attempting to balance a host of potential policy and management responses to environmental and climatic change, who work without a book contract or newspaper profile, while Lomborg and Gingrich were busy misrepresenting the scientific literature and disassembling the OTA 🙂

    Roger –

    If you are looking for someone to defend the morality of economic theory, you’re looking at the wrong guy … and, c’mon, comparing yourself to Amartya Sen? 🙂

    And while ‘whinging about cheap shots’ could potentially be a delaying tactic which avoids a substantive debate on the issues, beginning such a debate in such a way has a similarly unproductive outcome, I’d venture. As one oft-quoted STS specialist once said, “I’d hope that we academics can leave that sort of gamesmanship to the political pros, and we can just stick to the wonky meat of substantive policy debate, how about it?”



  34. ka –

    Thanks again for the thoughtful input.

    I’ll point out that my journalistic choice, when writing for the Albuquerque Journal about this, has been Jeff Bingaman, the Democratic Senator from New Mexico who has long been in the trenches trying to find some middle in which to make a deal. Some of those who have criticized the Revkin formulation (*cough*GristRoberts*cough*) for its overly linear formulation have mocked Bingaman’s efforts as “thin gruel” and accused him of being a tool of the oil industry.

Comments are closed.