Monday, October 18, 2010

Comments on Climate Change adaptation

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/18/matthew-kahn-answers-your-climatopolis-questions/

A couple of comments:
1. "Most people live in cities". This may be True but there are alot of people who live on the coastline.

2. "If the world had 1 bald guy there would be no Rogaine." I don't think that one follows logically from the other. rather, there was a need to invent Rogaine because 1 guy didn't like being bald or figured out bald people don't like being bald. This is capitalism. Not adaptation. Adaptation would have been the bald guy figuring out that some chicks dig dudes with no hair or wearing a nice hat. After all Rogaine was a solution to a problem, whereas adaptation is learning to live with the problem or (more my way of thinking) not treating your lack of hair as a problem.

3. "Free market  capitalism will protect us from climate change." The free market built up our coastlines while hurricanes went slightly dormant for a 20 year spell. And when they raged back alot of people lost their homes on the coastline ... see point 1.

4. "People update their probabilities as new information arises." And Monkeys fly out of my ass... People are generally good at assessing their risk. People are generally bad about acting timely on that risk because they misjudge based on imperfect information. Its why people in New Orleans and East decided to stay put. They had good intel. BIG storm surge, powerful hurricane, strong winds. They had heard this and the evacuation orders. Some still stayed citing previous experience with hurricanes. Some 1700 people died. They updated their probabilities but we will never know how much weight they assigned to those probabilities.

5. I like the eternal optimist: "Educate the citizens about heat waves." Perhaps you are more likely to survive if you can afford, and consequently purchase an air conditioner. But first, after I update my probabilities, I realize that a heat wave just happened and wont return for at least a while so i will wait. I will wait because my first priority will be to put food on the table instead of waiting 1,2,5,10 years before the next heat wave hits.

6. "In Climatopolis, I assume that such a dramatic event would occur gradually." Rarely has drought been gradual. It is sudden and lasts for a while. The impacts are slow because first you realize you are in a drought after the drought has started (reminds me of a recession, or a post-recession). Then you realize you have find some method of rationing which is gradual and increases as the length of the drought increases. Afterall predicting how, where, when, and why a drought is relieved is no easy business.

But this is the point. These opinions make certain assumptions about the rapidity of discrete events. They also make assumptions about the rapidity of innovation to discrete events. Maybe you can take Einstein as an example: from mathematics failure to patent guy teaching himself mathematics. That took time and experience and a whole host of other factors. With climate there may not be sudden achievable advances with which to adapt. rather we will have to know not just our next set of circumstances but the ones after that. We will have adapted in some ways, over time, but we are not built to continually adapt (henceforth accelerated adaptation).

Certainly the community (academic, industrial, manufacturing) we have built is adapting and it shows. Bio-diesel from corn, algae or whatever. But that is one maybe two steps forward but no less realizable on a global scale. The ideas will come out, with this I agree. But, will the time it takes to realize these ideas come faster and faster as the need, not just arises, but indeed accelerates?

This is why climate change science needs to be done. We need to understand the possible outcomes, or impacts of regional climate change. People will have to be making decisions in advance, with limited information. Only this will apply to those who have the means to afford those decisions in advance. Some of us live month to month, day to day and simply cannot afford to make decisions without some sense of certainty (picking up and moving to a new area without the means to support oneself with a job all based on uncertain information with no timetable of when "climate change" will occur.