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Bad math is steering us toward climate catastrophe

C C Offline

INTRO: The dangers of climate change have been examined so thoroughly, for so long, that they should be obvious to all. Thirty-four years ago, NASA’s James Hansen prominently warned Congress that the greenhouse effect was “changing our climate now.” Since then, climate models have steadily improved and their details have grown only more alarming. Our current trajectory of carbon emissions already guarantees more flooding, droughts, and intense heat waves along with increased risk of food supply disruptions and novel infectious diseases. The situation is so dire that 11,258 scientists from 153 countries signed a “declaration of a climate emergency.”

Yet global leaders mostly continue to treat climate change as just another policy issue, akin to the latest spike in inflation or debate over the deficit. There are many obvious political motivations for this head-in-the-sand attitude. What is not so obvious is that one of the most pernicious enablers comes from within academia.

Even as climate researchers sound the alarm, leading economists have issued their own forecasts that make our situation look far less dire than it is. These economic projections are built on flawed mathematical models and a deeply misleading approach to data analysis, but they have proved devastatingly influential. Faced with two types of predictions, physics versus economics, policymakers have unsurprisingly chosen the one that justifies an easier, urgency-denying path. The challenge for us all—citizens, leaders, and academics alike—is to call out the mathematical, logical, and moral errors built into the economic forecasts before it’s too late.
It may seem hard to believe that such simplistic modeling guides decisions that could determine the fate of the world.

To see how high up these problems go, consider the work of Yale economist William Nordhaus, who shared a 2018 Nobel economics prize for his analyses of the economic effects of climate change. And what does his award-winning analysis show? Nordhaus’s lecture presentation indicated that a 4-degree Celsius average temperature rise would be optimal, in the sense that the financial costs of holding climate change below that level would exceed the economic losses caused by a hotter world. Richard Tol of the University of Sussex summarized the economic consensus: “Climate change will likely have a limited impact on the economy and human welfare in the twenty-first century.”

For a reality check, climate researchers project that even a 2-degree rise runs a serious risk of unleashing a “hothouse Earth” with vast uninhabitable regions and drastically higher sea levels. Does that sound optimal?

The problems with the economic forecasts begin with analysts’ attitude toward the data they use... (MORE - details)

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