The climate-poppycock pandemic looks like this: “The slow but steady ratcheting of ambition put in motion after Paris creates a virtuous cycle where success can breed success.” --Above post and the whole United Nations

How can we explain this pandemic of poppycock? --Steven Pinker

“Poppycock” was deemed “my favorite word” by someone at Pinker’s terrific zoom talk yesterday.

This “ratcheting up of ambition” poppycock was made up at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference to justify not having any real commitments.

That claim has been checked experimentally more times than any other behavioral claim. I would say at least 1,000 experiments — in political science, psychology, and economics.

Every single time it was proved wrong. They ratchet down, not up.

This is why we were sure the Kyoto agreement would fall apart, just as it did.

This is why the Paris agreement will not work.

Here’s how it goes. Typically four people (countries) participate (when you add more, the outcome gets worse). They are all given $10 and told to contribute as much as they want to the common pot. This represents each spending $10 on C02 reductions.

Because the climate benefit to the world is greater than the cost of reductions, the experimenter doubles the money in the pot and divides it evenly among the four players. (Climate benefits are spread over all countries.)

If they all contribute $10, that’s $40 in the pot. Doubled is $80, and they each get $20. That’s smart. Or is it?

What if they all “commit” to that and then three keep their commitment and one doesn’t. Then there’s $30 in the pot. Doubled is $60 and ALL four get $15. So the three honest players end up with the $15, but the cheater keeps his $10 and gets $15 from the pot and ends up with $25. That’s “smarter.” He gets his climate benefit for free.

What actually happens in these experiments? The first time they play, they are somewhat cautious and contribute about $6 or $7 on average. Then they play again. Some may contribute more but on average they RATCHET their contributions DOWN. And after playing 10 times they are down to about $2 each on average.

There have been 1000 variations on this experiment. Almost all players ratchet down.

I’ve read papers on a dozen or so of these experiments. I’ve worked with a top behavioral economist on this at his lab in Cologn, Germany, and I recently conducted the experiment several more times online using Amazon Turk workers.

Why don’t the post’s authors know this? The same reason the UN activists and negotiators don’t. They are not social scientists. They don’t read any of the scientific literature on how people do and don’t cooperate. They just know a little about energy tech and about climate science.

But the real problem is: How to get people to cooperate. And they never, ever read about that. I watched all the videos of the Paris conference. There was not a single mention of the science of cooperation or any results or theory of cooperation. They just make stuff up.

Read our full op-ed here.


Get the book here (free pdf paid for by Energy Economics Institute at the University of Cologne)

A collection of papers including 3 by Nobel economists. Just read my preface.


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The authors seem to be missing the real point here. In distinguishing between "the art of the possible" and the "activist agenda," they accurately enough finger the proverbial rock and hard place of the climate dilemma. Unfortunately, their position reduces to, "Lets get stuck on the rock rather than the hard place." I think this is a dangerous formulation at a very fraught time.

There's no either/or rationale that solves this dilemma. The immediate emission reductions that are loudly insisted on by... less critical-thinkers are totally warranted, and in fact necessary to avert a cascade breakdown of the modern world. They're also impossible to deliver -- no society, democratic or otherwise, will voluntarily subject itself to what's coming for Europe this winter. Let alone year-after-year for the next 20 years. That's an abject lesson in cures not being worse than the disease.

For going on 10 years I've read cheerful headlines about the imminent prospects for the solar revolution and the wind utopia. We're now witnessing how much those belied the complexity of the green energy transition. Anyone with half a brain could tell solar and wind were not ready to make up 30%, let alone 80-100% of grid scale power generation. Yet on the eve of the most head-spinning energy shocks in modern history you still have feckless EU bureaucrats effectively saying, "Wind, baby, wind."

And yet, we're out of time. It turns out linear projections of GDP loss on 80 year time horizons didn't do justice to how messy ecological shocks would be in the near term. Who would have guessed a hurricane making landfall in Louisiana could have a death toll in NYC? The cost of disaster management is going to quickly become the consuming focus of developed societies everywhere. To say nothing of the fact warming is set to -accelerate- for at least the next 10 years, but realistically beyond. It's more or less correct to say, "Climate change is here, and it's here in a big way."

Green activists, having spent a generation denying a role for nuclear energy in this fight, have stripped us of any possible absolution except one, and it's one nobody is talking about -- solar geo-engineering. We don't have the bandwidth to do what we need to do today and we don't have the time to do it tomorrow. The only play we have left is to give ourselves more time. But it is pure fantasy to think anything like that would come out of a UN summit. Maybe that makes it as impractical as shutting down all the coal plants tomorrow and, being similarly unlikely, not a good solution after all.

But someone should take up the cause of distinguishing between tangible obstacles (energy shocks with too much energy transition, mounting ecological catastrophe with too little) and psychological ones ("it feels wrong"). Geoengineering entails significant but manageable risk and carries the baggage of "man was not made to meddle" optics. Anyone who gets hung up on those compared to the real and mounting costs of the alternatives should be lit up by anyone who understands how truly dire this moment is. Not for nothing, either. Geoengineering is the only thing that could pause warming immediately, and spare us a host of impending shocks that will scale disproportionately in cost.

Or maybe we could just watch the forces of entropy take back the billions of lives humanity has managed to nourish into being over the past century.

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The Left are a romantic bunch, grossly unfit to lead. Climate is the latest, tragic example. Nuclear fission is the best energy source as we are ever likely to develop - unless it's nuclear fusion. Their dismissal of it, while wafting on mild breezes through sunbeams, shows once again these are deeply unserious people. Will the coming winter show them the error of their ways, as coal is used to fill the gap natural gas divestment has created? Will the coming decades, when solar panels and turbines fill the landscape while blackouts roll. Not likely. They'll twist it to blame everyone else, while protecting the only thing that really matters to them -- their savior complex.

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They'd be better off focusing on developing adaptation technology and dealing with population migration than trying to change the energy economy in the short term (and by that I mean this century). The developing world will *never* agree to emissions controls that would have any real effect, assuming that reducing carbon emissions would even do anything (which is unlikely).

You want to change the energy economy? Absent a fundamental technological breakthrough, the best shot we have is nuclear power. If the COP would focus on developing that around the world, we could largely ditch petroleum before 2100.

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Thank you for your practical assessment

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