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back to article Hitch climate tax to the ACTUAL CLIMATE, says top economist

A Canadian economist has an idea to tackle global warming so simple, it’s stunning no one has thought of it before. Ross McKitrick, Professor of Economics at the University of Guelph in Ontario, an IPCC expert reviewer and one of its leading critics, proposes a carbon tax with the rate tied to climate response. He explained the …

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Anonymous Coward

“Companies managing factories and power plants will have to figure out who is more likely to be right, because billions of dollars of potential tax liabilities will depend on what is going to happen.”

That is just so wrong. If the power company is wrong, they have $0 tax liability as 100% of that will be shifted to the consumer. To a certain extent, that is true of factories as well. At some point demand falters but if it is a good or service you cannot live without, you are going to pay for it.

"Proposes a carbon tax with the rate tied to climate response"

What happens if an area has cooler than normal temps, does that mean that tax rate becomes a negative number and the government pays money out? Of course not. Tax laws will change so that it will say a minimum of the current rate or the carbon climate rate, whichever is greater of the two. So the government will get at least what they get now with the possibility of more.

Some governments are more keen on environmental issues than others but all governments like money. Is it a good idea to tie taxes to policies controlled by a government?

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Holmes

If temps go negative...

Then yes, the government SHOULD have to pay out - what better incentive to crush climate taxes and misinformation - an evidence based, risk:reward approach which if they prove to be wrong, end up costing the government money. If it happens then they'll do a U turn on AGW so big it will cause the milky way to spin in the opposite direction.

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Re: If temps go negative...

But the issue shouldn't be about "global warming" - it should be about "climate change". Which means that localized temperatures can drop, or, more importantly, the local climate changes such that the flora and fauna (and hence the food supply) gets adversely affected.

And by the time that has happened increasing taxes isn't going to help - you want to reduce the likelihood of it happening, not put in place post facto penalties.

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tradeable emissions certifications

Carbon trading? A way for middle men to make money, while giving the rich a way to shift the problem onto poor people.

All while doing nothing about reducing emissions.

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fix

No Chance.

Not a chance of that happening!

It's far too sensible, and can't be swayed / abused, since it would be linked to a measurable, verifiable quantity.

No-one in government or the climate business is going to want something that transparent.

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Re: No Chance.

Not sure I agree that it can't be abused. I didn't think counting jobless people could be abused when I first looked at it but it has been, same for inflation and money supply. It's a typical government response, say you're going to act on a problem and then change the way it's counted to show you're succeeding.

Plus, to be fair the temperature above me doesn't necessarily relate to my activity so I could be taxed for Dutch inefficiency (just as an example). The Swedes claim we caused their acid rain and they're probably right, so I imagine troposphere temperature works in a similar fashion.

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Re: No Chance.

"can't be swayed / abused, since it would be linked to a measurable, verifiable quantity."

It can be abused before the measurement is taken though - you can imagine the impact one doom-laden prediction from a respected previously sceptical source would have on the trading in this market if people can;t afford to wait and find out if their initial assumption was wrong.

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Nice idea but...

“Sceptics who do not believe in global warming will not expect the tax to go up, and might even expect it to go down. Those convinced we are in for rapid warming will expect the tax to rise quickly in the years ahead,” McKitrick explains in a paper outlining the idea.

Sceptics don't say that temperatures are not rising. They are sceptical about it being man-made. Taxing people based on the assumption that suddenly stopping carbon emissions will miraculously halt the rising temperatures could be seen to be a folly if it doesn't make any impact. Also, good luck getting the entire world to agree to a single tax based on evidence which WILL then be disputed (as it suddenly becomes economically viable to challenge it).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Nice idea but...

"Sceptics don't say that temperatures are not rising"

Quite a few of them do, Nigel Lawson being top of the list, so it's not just the ones who shout on the Internet, people who actually get pulled in by the BBC as talking heads spout this drivel as well. I've heard it said a few times on BBC Radio 4 by Lawson alone.

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FAIL

Re: Nice idea but...

Sceptics say the temps haven't risen for the last 16 years, but that over the long term they have risen since the end of the Little Ice Age in the 1850s. The significance is, a hiatus in the rise of temps is to be expected if natural variables determine the climate, but is not possible if, according to the climate models, the climate is being driven by manmade CO2 emissions. Clearly the madels have been proven wrong by the reality of the pause in warming.

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This post has been deleted by its author

It'd work fine...

until it started to go in the wrong direction and no taxes were coming in. Then it'd be time to find a "more accurate" measure of climate change - i.e. one going in the "right" direction.

Looks like higher taxes either way to me. So no change, really.

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Fine in theory. Crap in practice

The complicated argument against this is that if global warming is sensitive enough to human activity to make this kind of policy worthwhile then there's a high chance that the damage will already have been done by the time any tax is due. If complex non-linear systems were easy enough to model to make this anything more than gambling then we wouldn't need it because we'd have a much clearer idea what's going to happen. That brings simple practical argument number two.

Markets work pretty well in valuing things that operate within a defined regulatory system with regular reporting of progress (equities markets, for instance). The complex deriviatives fiasco has shown that they become worse than useless in valuing items with long-term, poorly understood or immeasurable risks. If this kind of cap and trade system comes to pass, expect dozens of specialist firms set up with a 4 stage process as follows:

1) Set up a limited liability shell corporaation

2) Sell enough emissions certifications to buy yourself an island in the Caymans. Pay off any important regulators or politicians to overlook any weaknesses in your risk management model

3) Declare the company bankrupt before any liabilities are due

4) Work on your sun-tan

Markets are analogous to computer programmes in this respect. Both serve in their own way to automate processes and perform them much faster than individual people can but with results that are ultimately as good as the data going in and the process logic it goes through. Neither have magic powers that help us to solve problems that we don't understand well enough to model yet.

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Holmes

Re: Fine in theory. Crap in practice

I like the broad idea but looking at the detail, how would it work? If one country doesn't sign up and keep on with their emissions, that raises the tax for everyone else who has signed up.

Also since the temperature isn't linked to what an individual country or company is doing, there is no direct incentive for them to produce less CO2.

To be fair, all proposed solutions will have the same problems since tax is set at country level while climate change is global and cross-border

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Re: Fine in theory. Crap in practice

5) Not globally enforceable

Cause and effect of man-made climate change are separated not only by time but also by place which is one of the reasons why there has been so little agreement of substance so far and this looks set to continue with polluting countries not feeling the full force of their activities, which are, of course, not directly measurable in any case. Carbon trading is so far the only economic approach to try and address this.

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Re: Fine in theory. Crap in practice

We're already paying climate-change taxes in the UK.

With this idea you could at least be sure that the taxes you're asked to pay are directly linked to the outcome of the activity, rather than the current arbitrary government-decided number.

That's why they won't change to this system.

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@Charlie Clark

You were doing so well. And then you blew all that hard work in the very last sentence.

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A better formula that makes more sense to me....

one that has temperature and includes number of acres of forest land and population. Forests absorb greenhouse gas! Compare Canada to US, they produce more greenhouse gas and have far less forest, they should pay far more taxes. Same holds true Canada to UK. More population, less forest, means more greenhouse gas from that country. Canada 34Mil vs UK 63Mil, yet UK has a fraction of the forest of Canada. You want to reduce your tax, plant trees!

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FAIL

Re: A better formula that makes more sense to me....

"Forests absorb greenhouse gas! "

No they don't.

Growning forests that you then bury for millions of years absorb greenhouse gas.

As for Canada it may have a smaller population than the UK but it has higher CO2 emissions.

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Re: A better formula that makes more sense to me....

"Forests absorb greenhouse gas! "

No they don't.

I'm confused. Either you don't believe trees are made of carbon, or you don't believe CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Can't tell which though. Do think setting tax levels based on the number of trees has a Golgafrinchan ring to it.

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Re: I'm confused.

I'm not.

The green case rests on the claim that by mining (including oil and gas well) carbon from out of the mantle we increase the carbon content in the troposphere which drives AWG. While you get secondary effects from cutting down too many trees it's the fossil fuels that drive it. So if you want to re-balance the carbon content you have to bury it back in the ground. Hence some of the proposals we've seen to inject the CO2 into the mantle in a sort of reverse, non-fracking drilling process (mind you, we still don't have the supply of unicorn farts to power this drilling operation, but I'll leave that aside for the moment and assume we do).

On the secondary front, trees may absorb carbon on net over lengthy periods of time, but they also produce CO2 as part of the respiration process. There seems to be a bit of debate about whether young or old trees capture more carbon for AGW braking processes. In any event it may be more of a wash than is generally admitted during the growing cycle. There is however no debate that once said tree is dead, it decays and pumps any temporarily captured carbon back into the troposphere.

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Re: A better formula that makes more sense to me....

If you increase the amount of forested land, you absorb more greenhouse gas until the forest is mature and no longer has a net growth. At that point it maintains the additional amount of greenhouse gases absorbed

but does not increase it.

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Anonymous Coward

The debate

So this caters for the cult of the we all doomed and the cult of nothing is changing ever. What about the people in the middle? The people with varying levels of confidence in the science combined with political bull?

The only certainty so far is we have no certainty what is going on. Obviously there are the cults but there are cults thinking a UFO will pick them up at the end of the world. Catering to them really is provoking the nutter. Back in the real world we need facts and truth which are then unsullied by political destruction.

Excluding the cults-

people accept that the climate is not static.

people accept that pollution is bad in general.

people accept scientists are trying to figure out what is happening with climate

So at what point do those people ever win from this? Natural warming increases tax. Lack of understanding blames the wrong pollution and increases tax.

It sounds like another clever way to tax people because nobody knows what will happen. And if we suddenly cool will it be acceptable that it is global cooling or adjusted because of X event and we are still on for doomsday? Or maybe something natural temporarily offsets warming and an actual problem is missed until it is too late?

Surely common sense says we should get facts and truth before trying to fix something? Obviously that includes removing the clueless tax's and market manipulations in the name of this (theoretical) impending doom.

Why are there so few voices of reason in climate debate?

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Re: The debate

Re: "Why are there so few voices of reason in climate debate?"

Because it is a stupid debate whose opposite sides are stacked with people who think that attempting to predict and control climate makes sense. Most of the dedicated proponents are still, on both sides, people who prosper as long as this is an issue and funding flows into 'climate science'. It is like Democrats and Republicans arguing over how to spend the new taxes they create and ignoring the voices of people objecting to the taxes.

Consider this:

http://climateaudit.org/2013/06/28/cru-abandons-yamal-superstick/#more-18040

The 'trust us, we are climate scientists' crowd has, after seven years, produced the same graph as one of the original skeptics did years ago already. They do this with nary a peep about the fact that they completely wrong and the skeptics were right.

The climate is largely a non-issue. We are adapted, as is the rest of the living world to both large long term changes in climate and large short term changes in weather. If we are getting hotter, it is *good* for living things, not bad. Hysteria about species extinction is coming from people with a shallow understanding of evolution. Extinction is a logical outcome of evolution. As environment changes more rapidly, for whatever reason, species extinction is *expected* to increase as the living world responds to the changing selective pressure via the mechanism of evolution through natural selection.

The fact the living world *has* such radical adaptations to wide variations in climate means that this must have happened often. If wide swings were not the norm, you would not see the adaptations. They exist because of *past* conditions that varied. They did and do not anticipate change in the future. If you don't 'get' that last sentence you don't 'get' evolution. If you don't get evolution, you are not likely to have a nuanced view of the effect or lack thereof on living things.

To the extent that anything of real value to the living world is involved, a single species extinction has a vanishingly small chance of having any significant impact. Important genes are preserved across phyla and the most important mechanisms such as encoding proteins in DNA and RNA are nigh indestructible. It is the trunk and the branches and the totality of the leaves that keep the tree of life alive, not individual leaves.

Broadly speaking as far as species extinction goes: If it is important, it is not in danger. If it is in danger, it is not important.

I cite biology here because it is one of the things I know off the top of my head. I was trained in it. To the extent I know any other subject, the climate change industry is also ridiculously at odds with empirical fact.

As an aside, the mealy mouthed words used in alarmist documents such as 'may', 'might', 'could', etc are not how I was trained to express scientific results. You say what your stuff indicates forthrightly. If you can't make some sort of statement you have some or all of a crappy experiment or crappy data or crappy analysis or crappy education. Given the horrendously bad stats involved, I would say the latter is a distinct possibility.

Don't take their word for it. Go back and look at their data, if you can find it and wrest it out of their hands, and attempt to follow their arguments. Strike out the maybes and the coulds and beliefs in consensus and Pascal's Wager and see what you have left. There is not much there. Any alarmist climate change nonsense I have seen completely unravels under any kind of inspection. I do not know a single technical person who has looked at this nonsense and believed it.

Why do *I* bother? Climate change is fake, but the damage climate change alarm does is real. That tax money and those research funds belong elsewhere.

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Re: The debate

> Why are there so few voices of reason in climate debate?

Because AGW has become a religion and reason has nothing to do with religion.

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Re: not how I was trained to express scientific results

In fact, scientific papers often contain words like "may', 'might', 'could', etc Notably in the abstract, introduction or conclusion, when trying to explain the motivation of the study, or to communicate why they think the results are or might be important. Typically the phrases using these words are rather distinct from the specific scientific conclusions reached or methodology used.

However, (media or commentator) reporting of the results tends to focus on those more exciting "may', 'might', & 'could' parts, especially since the technical details are usually way beyond the educational level of their readership.

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Re: may, might, could

Further to the "unscientific" claim regarding the use of these words, I did a quick search on the APS website for journal papers containing all three words: there were 112k hits. As a quick check against mismatches, notably regarding "May" as e.g. a date or part of a name rather than a Word, I checked 10 of those (with a slight bias towards those with May in the dates), and found only 1 without May as a word.

This would suggest either that that the APS (see http://publish.aps.org/) has published many tens of thousands of unscientific articles, or that instead, contrary to your assertion, that "may", "might", "could" indeed do have a perfectly normal place in the scientific literature.

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Paris Hilton

Re: The debate

"Why are there so few voices of reason in climate debate?"

Because it is a mass debate.

Paris, obviously.

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Re: The debate

I agree with the evolution sentiments. Life will continue. Its the individual and collective mankind that is causing all the fuss. I.e. I don't want life to be much harder. I too am sceptical over the science.

The most important thing to discover is what if any impact is our activity having and what do we need to change to minimise negative impact. I.e. Spending money on carbon reduction is pointless if the ecosystem will scrub it out of the atmosphere.

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@btrower

If you are ever so foolish as to run for office, let us know. If I can, I will vote for you. If I can't and it's legal for me to do so, I will send you a donation.

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Re: The debate

Just to add to your excellent pot: during past eras both temps and CO2 have been at much higher levels (when dinosaurs roamed, 5.0% of the atmosphere was CO2; today it's .04%.). What was the climate's impact on life? It thrived and diversity of life increased. What caused mass extinctions in Earth's history? Ice Ages. So why are we agonizing over global warming? It's global cooling that should scare the wits out of us.

There is no place on Earth to hot for a diversity of life. There are many places too cold.

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Anonymous Coward

"Rapley said the rate of sea level rise had been constant for 2,000 years and suddenly shot up"

And now its back down again.

Apparently, the latest GRACE data shows a sea level rise of 1.7mm/year over its 9 year lifetime. This is less than the 2.1mm/year since the end of the LIA in the 19th century

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Actually, latest satellite measurements show the current rate of sea level rise is 3.16mm/year, and total rise has been 56mm in the last 16 years: http://climate.nasa.gov/key_indicators/

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Anonymous Coward

Actually, according to the peer reviewed literature, which is what we are all supposed to blindly accept, it is 1.7mm/year.

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Anonymous Coward

Would have to be instituted globally to make any difference. You can't tax people higher in the UK because of pollution caused by Chinese coal plants. Global warming isn't border specific, like taxes are.

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Re: You can't tax people higher in the UK

Sure you can.

Whether it would affect AWG is another question.

After that, whether it would be wise is yet another one.

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Maybe it would suffer from the problem most economics seems to have trouble with

applying the necessary feedback much too late in the game, where it often exacerbates the problem.

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Not right, but less wrong

I doubt that McKitrick really believes this will be the cure as a mechanism. However, forcing a debate on the notion will be very constructive and even if this mechanism is adopted it is less damaging than current directions.

You can bet that when it comes to risking their own money on it, the alarmist camp will be decidedly less certain of their pseudo-science than they are now. This would at still the more contentious and noisy aspects of debate for a while.

One of things I like about this is that it will force alarmists to show their true colors.

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Re: Not right, but less wrong

The warmist camp isn't eating its own dog food now. I doubt they'd be greatly concerned about the change because they'd make sure the law had sufficient loopholes so they could continue to live in their houses that consume more fossil fuels than 20 normal families, drive their oversized even for an SUV vehicles that consume more gas than the 73 Plymouth Fury sedan I learned to drive in, and fly their private jets to wherever the latest AWG confab is even when it is right next to a commercial airport. Meanwhile they'll expect us rubes to drive electric cars charged by windmills and solar panels they've required us to install on our domiciles.

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Anonymous Coward

interesting quote

'' “Markets are just people, and they’re making use of the information,” he said. “Markets may be more objective than scientists - each scientist is going to have their own bias and their own agenda. But the market will not make correct predictions.” ''

So he's pitched markets (aggregate entities) against each scientist (singular entity) for the purposes of this comparison. Surely it would be better to pitch markets (aggregate) vs "the scientific consensus" (also aggregate).

Further, the mention of the bias/agenda of each scientist is just a rhetorical device - surely the bias and agenda of the people making up the market is equally valid as an attack on the Market, as is that of each scientist making up the sci-consensus?

And also since scientists are "just people", and "make use of information", perhaps they may be more objective than individuals in the Market (each of whom, we may note, wilt have their own bias and agenda).

I don't even have to make claims that scientists are (or attempt to be) less subject to bias and/or agendas than "other people" to expose the author of that quote as obviously subject to rather more "bias and agenda" than most.

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Unhappy

Re: interesting quote

He's an economist.

Of course he thinks markets are more likely to be right than scientists.

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Re: I don't even have to make claims

Actually you do.

The fundamental assumption he is making is that the markets act as a truly massive aggregate: millions of people instead of hundreds or possibly even only dozens of scientists. The smaller sample size for scientists means that unless they are pre-disposed and empirically less biased than the three orders of magnitude larger sample size, the larger sample is more likely to eliminate random bias. Either system is equally subject to systemic bias, which is both rather more hard to spot and rather harder to eliminate even though it is the holy grail of scientific experiments.

Where he might have a weak spot in his argument is in assuming the market actually has larger numbers of people independently evaluating the risks. With the advent of mutual funds and various expert lead retirement plans, I've begun to question this assumption. It was true when individuals were directly buying stocks, or at most belonged to an investors club where each member did research and presented his conclusions to the rest of the group before the group decided how to invest their money. Today too much has change to simply accept that belief.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: people independently evaluating the risks

But: "independent" is not the same as competent; a large number of incompetent assessments of risk is unlikely to generate a useful average, however well-defined that average may be. The climate is a complex physical process, whose operation is (arguably) even beyond those scientific specialists who study it for a living.

So if there is no reliable way of making an assessment, on what are these individuals in the market, or the mutual funds, basing their decisions? You can certainly claim that the average of those decisions is a meaningful measure of many things relating to human psychology, culture, or economics. But why would the average of those decisions be a meaningful prediction of what the climate is going to do? The climate is utterly indifferent to the internal belief-states of humanity; it responds only to our gross behaviour.: like e.g. extensive deforestation, particulate pollution, releasing CO2.

You wouldn't take a "market average" as a sane predictor for any other physical process, particularly one which is both subtle and complex. Why on earth would you use it for the physical processes we call climate?

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Flame

Highly Flawed Proposal

The problem with this proposal is there is a time lag (40 years) between the CO2 we put into the atmosphere and the warming we measure. Even if we stopped all CO2 emissions today, we are still committed to warming caused by the past 40 years of emissions. Markets tend to overshoot when there is this kind of time delay --- meaning, we would end up with 40 more years of warming than the market said it wanted. That could be quite costly.

http://www.skepticalscience.com/Climate-Change-The-40-Year-Delay-Between-Cause-and-Effect.html

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Highly Flawed Proposal

You haven't quite got your propaganda correct.

Here is a direct quote from the report:

All climate models in use today predict that, if CO2 drives climate change, the strongest and most rapid response will be an amplified warming trend in the tropical troposphere

I believe the lag time (according to the models) is about 4 months.

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So if we're going to start listing the qualifications of the people...

'Bryony (now Baroness) Worthington (BA, Eng.Lit.)'

The Global Warming Policy Foundation is chaired by Nigel Lawson (graduated in Philosophy, Politics and Economics) and headed by Benny Peiser (a social anthropologist). Their talk was given by an economist.

At least the people who think climate change is a problem bothered to bring a scientist.

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Trollface

Sure, what the actual economy needs

More taxes, on something no one has any control over. Nice. I want to see the government that implements this, they will be voted down faster than the meteorite that will kill life on Earth, to pick another scary story.

Where is the darn warming btw? This summer is wet and cold... Not cold like winter cold, but temps are in the low 20s instead of low 30s. Celsius.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Sure, what the actual economy needs

@RaidOne

"Where is the darn warming btw? This summer is wet and cold... Not cold like winter cold, but temps are in the low 20s instead of low 30s. Celsius."

You havnt been listening, that isnt the way climate change works. If it rains it is climate change. If it is sunny it is climate change. If it is warm it is climate change and if it is cold it is climate change. But you must remember! Weather cannot disprove MMCC co2 theory only prove it.

Just as the discussions of climate change dont actually mean climate change nor the many possible pollutants or natural events that could change climate. What is ment by climate change is MMCC co2 theory. Because its all because of that naughty co2. Bad co2!

However when they have to analyse data instead of weather they say it has just stalled and the warming exists but it is hiding behind the sofa.

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