Notes From All Over 23/08/09


An Analysis of Mitigation as a Response to Climate Change
Richard SJ Tol. Copenhagen Consensus Center. 14 August 2009.

Climate change costs: Too much is not enough.
Katie Mackenzie. FT Energy Source. 14 August 2009.

The Copenhagen Consensus Center has published the most important report related to climate change I have seen in a year. The report stakes out some rather contentious claims that will strike the ire of partisans.

The principle purpose of the report was to project the economic effects of a rigorous worldwide carbon mitigation policy. Richard Tol, the economist who wrote the report, projects that the cost of keeping atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 450 parts per million (the number most scientists say is necessary to maintain a stable climate past 2050) is 12.9% of the global GDP.

Proponents of mitigation often state that if we do not accept these costs now, the result will be economic havoc later on. However, if Tol’s projections are correct, we must spend $50 dollars on mitigation policies to save but one dollar from climatic havoc. If the end goal of policy responses to climate change is economic development and security, Tol’s projection suggests that mitigation is a wrongheaded policy response to our changing climate.

I recommend reading the report in full — its summary of the literature and its several projections make it a required read for those following the climate debate.

I also recommend Mackenzie’s piece over at FT Energy Source. It includes both a summary of the report and an outline of several places where Tol’s methodology can be, and has been attacked.

Rape of the Congo.
Adam Hothschild. New York Review of Books. 13 August 2009.

Hothschild provides a rare window into the broken world of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hothschild should be admired for performing the leg work necessary to produce this piece. Only rarely do we see reports on the Congo’s invisible conflict in the mainstream press. Readers should spread this piece far and wide, that the world may start paying attention to the Congo.

China’s Migrant Workers in the Wake of the Economic Crisis: Unemployed, Undeterred.
Robert D. O’Brien. China Beat. 12 August 2009.

O’Brien destroys the myth that a Chinese recession would lead to the kind of discontent that would cause migrant workers to rebel against the CCP in this well argued essay.

USAID Challenges Reflect Greater Problems at the State Department
Matt Armstrong. Small Wars Journal. 23 August 2009.

Diplomacy Under Fire and the USAIDification of the US Foreign Service

Patricia H. Kushlis. Whirled View. 13 August 2009.

Two interesting posts on USAID and the Foreign Service. Armstrong details the multiple institutional and leadership failures of USAID, and draws the connection between these and State’s other problems.

Kushlis notes that the decline of USAID has forced the Foreign Service to become our main instrument of development. In particular, Kushlis decries FSO’s recent focus on “civilian development work, democratization, agronomy, anti-narcotics and counter-terrorism.” For those (such as me) who have advocated for a Foreign Service focused on these very things, Kushlis’ contrarian piece is a must read.

Mexico’s ‘Divine Justice’
Samuel Logan and John P Sullivan. International Relations and Security Network. 17 August 2009.

Drugs ‘Taliban’ declares war on Mexican state

Jo Tuckman and Ed Vulliamy. UTV News. 19 July 2009.

Many have criticized rhetoric that describes the conflict in Mexico as an “insurgency.” The rise of La Familia, a major drug gang that offers social services parallel to the Mexican government, blows holes through such criticism. While many analysts fear the Zetas, it is the pattern used by La Familia to reach power that I find most frightening.

The MV Arctic Sea Conspiracy
Mike Burlson. New Wars. 16 August 2009.

Burlson provides an interesting scenario. What if the Russian-crewed cargo ship that went off the radar two weeks ago was actually an “axillary warship”? Our weakness to a merchant freighters turned missile platforms is manifest.

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The misleading impression you have on mitigation is, that like the Titanic, you have to start turning the ship a long time before the actual iceberg collision.

There are economic delays, how long will it take to rebuild the energy infrastructure to be carbon neutral, social delays, changing behaviors, natural delays, it takes a long time for the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere to equilibrate with the deep oceans, etc.

We can examine the effects of the Montreal Protocols, twenty years after their introduction we are seeing a leveling off of CFC concentrations in the atmosphere and the beginning of a recovery of the ozone layer.

Eli leaves you with J. Willard Rabett's guide for policy makers

1. Adaptation responds to current losses.
2. Mitigation responds to future losses
3. Adaptation plus future costs is more expensive than mitigation,
4. Adaptation without mitigation drives procrastination penalties to infinity.

The points in the guide are absurd, IMO.

"Adaptation responds to current losses."

Only if policy makers are extremely short-sided. Adaptation to things that has happened is necessary, yes. Even more so is adaptation to events we predict shall happen. It is awful hard to build a flood wall to protect an area that is already submerged.

"Mitigation responds to future losses"

This is true. It also means that mitigation is much less efficient than adaptation as a policy choice, which can successfully do both.

This rule also comes with its own corollary: Responding to future losses moves the cost of loss to the present.

Thus instead of writing:

"Adaptation plus future costs is more expensive than mitigation"

You should state:

"Current loss plus mitigation (future loss moved to the present) is more expensive than adaptation."

Or perhaps, "Adaptation removes current loss and reduces the cost of future loss, making it cheaper than mitigation, which only does one."

Also ignored in this discussion are two related factors: 'sunk' effects of climate change, which mitigation can do nothing about, and the diminishing number of resources a region has left to use for adaptation purposes as it spends larger and larger amounts of its wealth (and development) on mitigation.