Climate Change: A Short Note

Many years ago, interrupting my return from Sydney to Stockholm, I stopped in Brisbane (Australia) to give a half-dozen amateur and half-baked lectures on environmental economics. In my mathematical economics classes in Sydney I usually walked up to the podium or whiteboard with a smile on my face, ready and able to deal with anyone who thought that they had a lesson to give my good self, while in Brisbane I was in unknown territory, because my knowledge of this subject (environment and climate) was probably only marginally superior to that of the less alert members of my audience. 

As I write the above lines, in the charming university town of Uppsala (Sweden), and also Stockholm, hundreds or maybe thousands of person are forming ranks in preparation for a Climate March (or demonstration), while gorgeous Paris (France) is in the process of opening its arms, hearts and restaurants to politicians (and their advisors) from 140-150 countries, who will be in the front line of  perhaps the largest climate/environmental conference in history,

I won’t attend any of these gigs. I wouldn’t have anything to do with them if I received a round-trip, all-expenses paid invitation because I am too smart to waste my valuable time listening to the fractured wisdom launched by distinguished conference attendees with less than a miniscule insight into climate/environmental/energy matters. 

What I will do however is to tell them how I attempt to boost my slender knowledge of climate/environmental issues. First and foremost, on that subject, I am only interested in the writing and thinking of superstars. This practice, incidentally, is not necessary for making the most of your courses in calculus, economics, strength of materials, ballistics, or history, but it is absolutely  necessary for this topic, because otherwise you expose you and yours to the most grotesques varieties of nonsense.

And who are these superstars? Well, John von Neumann was often called the best brain of the 20th century, but  I would not have attended his lectures if he paid me. He may of course have had something to offer in his papers and conversations, but to me lectures provide the measure of a scholar. (Let me note however, that no one who knew von Neumann wasted any time criticizing him, because  as a mathematician that gentleman was strictly in a class by himself.)

 For the purposes of the present discussion, I am going to nominate Freeman Dyson as your Man of the Year, and suggest that if you want to know more about him than the few comments below, you should turn to Google. The thing about Dyson is that you can find his work in virtually every kind of publication, and the respect for this work is impressive. Dyson accepts that anthropogenic (man-made) global warming exists, and even accepts that it is the result of burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal.  

However he does not accept the mathematical models that are supposed to provide precise answers to the development of global warming. It may be the case though that he wants answers from these models that mathematics cannot provide. In addition, he may or may not be on what I consider to be the wrong side of the nuclear discussion, because when discussing clean energy, nuclear should be at the top of the list.

 Dyson is a signatory of a letter to the UN criticizing the IPCC, because of their intolerance of views that are outside the mainstream of scientific opinion on climate change. What he fails to understand here is that as with football (soccer) the issue is not just truth but money and ‘perks’. Some of  most preposterous suggestions ever forwarded have been made by international organizations that are plying their trade at international conferences such as the one about to take place in Paris. (The IPCC investigates scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to the risks that might have to be dealt with as a result of human-induced climate change. I once regarded their work – with which I am no longer fully conversant  –  as mostly useless.) 

Dyson has correctly argued that political efforts to reduce the causes of climate change distract from other global problems that should take priority.  He says that “I'm not saying the warming doesn't cause problems, obviously it does. Obviously we should be trying to understand it. I'm saying that the problems are being grossly exaggerated. They take away money and attention from other problems that are much more urgent and important. Poverty, infectious diseases, public education and public health. Not to mention the preservation of living creatures on land and in the oceans.” Since taking interest in climate studies, Dyson suggests that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could be controlled by planting fast-growing trees. He calculates that it would take a trillion trees to remove all carbon from the atmosphere. 

That may well be so, but as we know, planting trees costs money, and many of the persons making decisions about planting trees (and things like increasing the quality and quantity of primary and secondary education in their countries) are more interested in attending conferences in places like Paris.

Finally, I say a few words about environment and climate in my new book Energy And Economic Theory (2015).  But just a few mind you, because neither I nor anybody else knows what we should (and probably) could know about this INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT topic. Perhaps you can help us some day


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Disclosure: None.

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