the letter offers a teachable moment, a chance to explain why claims that we can’t limit emissions without destroying economic growth are nonsenseI am neither a climate scientist not an economist, but none the less I will offer my opinion on the debate because I think it offers a "teachable moment" of the perils of dogmatism in policy formulation by relating this discussion to my reflections on a meeting I had attended, hosted by the University of Edinburgh's Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities, as the debate was going on.
Pielke based his argument on the "Kaya identity". What is interesting as a mathematician is Pielke is talking about an "identity" not a "model". For example E=mc^2 is a model (or definition), and identity is a stronger statement, basically what is on the left hand side of the equation is identical to what is on the rhs. The Kaya Identity is a straightforward tautology, the lhs is "CO2" (carbon dioxide emissions) the rhs is
P * GDP/P * E/GDP * CO2/ENoting that "P" (population) "GDP" and "E" (energy consumption) are all in the numerator and denominator the rhs can be re-written
1*1*1*CO2.The analytic value of the Kaya Identity is that it decomposes the human impact on the environment into three factors: population, affluence (GDP/P) and technology (CO2/GDP) which is divided into "Energy Intensity" (E/GDP) and "Carbon Intensity" (CO2/E). Pielke's argument is that by fixing "CO2" (the rhs) implies that for GDP/P (affluence) to go up there needs to be reductions caused by technological changes (Carbon and/or Energy Intensity go down). This seems like a sound argument to me, but I am no expert.
Krugman's response to Pielke's letter is
This is actually kind of wonderful, in a bang-your-head-on-the-table sort of way. Pielke isn’t claiming that it’s hard in practice to limit emissions without halting economic growth, he’s arguing that it’s logically impossible. So let’s talk about why this is stupid.The point to note here is that Pielke is not arguing that it is "logically impossible to limit emissions without halting economic growth" he is arguing that it is "logically impossible to limit without halting economic growth or creating new technologies". Perhaps because Krugman is an economist he is overlooks the need to create technology here, physical things that have tangible effects. Krugman goes on to say
Yes, emissions reflect the size of the economy and the available technologies. But they also reflect choices – choices about what to consume and how to produce it, choices about which of a number of energy technologies to use. These choices are, in turn, strongly affected by incentives: change the incentives and you can greatly change the quantity of emissions associated with a given amount of real GDP.and at the end of the piece
Let me add, by the way, that Pielke’s fallacy here – the notion that there’s a rigid link between growth and pollution – is shared by some people on the left, who believe that saving the planet means that economic growth must end. What we actually need is a change in the form of growth – and that’s exactly the kind of thing markets are good at, if you get the prices right.What strikes me is that Krugman seems to believe that by sprinkling the fairy dust of incentives over society the emission busting new technologies will emerge. This is a bit too deterministic for me. Furthermore there is a blind faith in the power of markets. This is problematic for a number of reasons, firstly European Cap and Trade policies are widely regarded as a failure, though market advocates would point to a problem of design (Fac me bonum, deus meus, sed noli modo-Give me chastity and self-control, but not just yet).
There is a more problematic criticisms of market mechanisms; their morality. Cap and trade enables a polluter to pollute by paying a penalty - they are in effect the indulgences that the Medieval church was criticised for. The problem is that CO2 emissions in Europe, China or America have the potential to impact on the well being of future generations in Africa or Indian or Pacific Islands. It is not clear how the payment of the penalty by the polluter will mitigate the suffering of the people affected by the pollution. The operators of Heathrow airport benefit from the operation of the airport, the people living around the airport do not benefit from it. The question is: are we entitled to buy and sell permits to pollute? in the same sense as are we entitled to buy and sell humans?
Krugman might baulk at the comparison, but Michael Northcott, the Professor of Ethics at Edinburgh, might not. Northcott gave a presentation at the IASH meeting where he made a case against capitalism because capitalism insisted on GDP growth at the lowest cost, which resulted in pollution. Northcott builds his argument, in part at least, on Political Theology.
Since I base my arguments for seeing markets as centre of communicative action on rejections on two key components of Political Theory, Schmitt's views on sovereignty and Adorno's criticism of modernity, it is unlikely that Northcott and I will agree. It is not peculiar for Northcott, as a minister of the church, to be attracted to Schmitt's neo-Hobbesian attitudes that the sovereign's authority has precedence over the (liberal) law, since he will believe in the sovereignty of a god. My work on the nature of the markets rests heavily on Cheryl Misak's Truth, Politics and Morality, which is an explicit rejection of Schmitt in favour of liberal pluralism. Another basis of my work is Habermas' rejection of the negativity towards modernity in the Dialetic of the Enligthenment.
Krugman and Northcott agree on the policy: that carbon emissions should be capped, but they do so from very different ideological positions. Northcott from the theological dogma of "thou shalt not because I speak with the authority of a transcendental god", Krugman from the economic dogma "thou shalt not because the market will deliver us from evil", but both dogmas are in opposition to each other. This dissonance, I believe, enables those who oppose climate change mitigation policies to focus on the ideology underpinning the justification for carbon caps rather than the factuality of the dangers of carbon emissions.
Another speaker at the IASH conference, and the person who invited me to attend, was Paolo Quattrone. Paolo shares, from the perspective of accounting, my view (ideology, if you like) that
financial markets are, and should be treated as, centres of communicative action with the purpose of achieving a consensus on the ‘just’ price of assets in an uncertain world. In this framework, markets should operate on the basis of norms of discourse, such as reciprocity, sincerity and charity. My argument focuses on a discussion of how the norm of reciprocity is deeply embedded in the Fundamental Theorem of Asset Pricing, the foundational theory of mathematicians working in finance. A key conclusion is that, in this framework, mathematics provides the discursive language, rather than being a truth-bearer.Paolo has researched Jesuit accounting practices where the financial accounts were a tool for reflection, rather than a statement of fact. This approach was a feature of Italian accounting practices (GAAP) until there was global standardisation of GAAP and meant that in the 1960s Italian accounts involved facts, based on market prices, and less certain valuations based on judgement. The emphasis of the accountant was to reflect on the less certain aspects of the accounts. Today there is an emphasis on "objective" market prices, and where these are unavailable "model" prices.
Paolo also highlighted a feature of Jesuitical practice; that the Jesuit must be "indifferent". The immediate interpretation of this is that the Jesuit does not care, but Paolo explained it meant that the Jesuit had to be "rational" "in difference". That is, the Jesuit had to be concious of the different ideologies around them and come to a judgement on the basis of this conciousness.
I think this "in-difference" concept is important for scientists in the climate debate. It is not the same as "apolitical", since arguing for climate change mitigation actions is arguing for policy, which is political. The role of the scientist should be that of the "indifferent" questioner who challenges the claim, irrespective of its ideological basis. In this respect Pielke, in challenging the assumption that a carbon cap would work, is playing the correct role of a scientist.
This is important because in a liberal democracy policy decisions need to be justified. This is not the same as a majority needs to accept a policy, my understanding is that around 60% of the population of western democracies accept the need for climate mitigation policies, but a small minority challenge them. For the policies to be "democratically valid" they need to be justified to the minority not accepted by the majority. The opening quote to Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies is from Pericles
Although only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it.It is against the Open Society to condemn challenges to policy.
Cheryl Misak's justification for liberal democracy is because it is through deliberation that the best decisions are arrived at. Pielke is challenging the claim that carbon caps will lead to a better society because it demands the policy is justified (deliberatively). In challenging it, those who advocate the cap must respond to the criticism, not reject the criticism on the basis of divine or economic authority. If they do not respond the public cannot be sure that the policy is the "best" policy and doubt will prevail.
I note that Krugman appears to have stepped back from his position last week. Interestingly, he, like me, identifies the issue as being "ideological", but I suspect he sees himself as being a "scientist" and above ideology.
What makes rational action on climate so hard is something else – a toxic mix of ideology and anti-intellectualism.and then at the end of the piece
The fact that climate concerns rest on scientific consensus makes things even worse, because it plays into the anti-intellectualism that has always been a powerful force in American life, mainly on the right. It’s not really surprising that so many right-wing politicians and pundits quickly turned to conspiracy theories, to accusations that thousands of researchers around the world were colluding in a gigantic hoax whose real purpose was to justify a big-government power grab. After all, right-wingers never liked or trusted scientists in the first place.
So the real obstacle, as we try to confront global warming, is economic ideology [I take this to be market libertarianism] reinforced by hostility to science. In some ways this makes the task easier: we do not, in fact, have to force people to accept large monetary losses. But we do have to overcome pride and willful ignorance, which is hard indeed.On the one hand Krugman be-moans the anti-intellectualism of America, but I see America's scepticism towards academic (and theocratic, plutocratic, aristocratic) authority as part of the bed-rock upon which its democracy is built. The vast majority of the public respect and admire science and scientists, but there is also a legitimate concern that cloistered and wealthy academics are imposing un-justified policies on the public.
The evangelical right might ask "What would Jesus do?", maybe the academic left could similarly ask "What would Pierce/James/Dewey do?" when faced with a doubtful public minority.