In this guest post, Frank Convery responds to the various comments made on this blog over the past few days and the initial post by Richard Tol:
Holbrooke Shields and others re Censorship
‘Is Comhar SDC practicing a form of censorship by not publishing Richard Tol’s comment
Tol’s comment was received on Friday 20th at 11:47, and it was posted Monday 23 at 09:59, as were the comments by Holbrooke and Lucey which were submitted on Saturday 21st . The delay was a product of the fact all comments have to go through an administrator because a huge amount of spam comes through, and the office is not staffed over the week end.
Discussion is appreciated and welcome. Keep paranoia at bay if there is a delay in posting. We’ll check out the management of Irisheconomy.ie to see if turnaround can be improved.
1. He takes issue with “much [of Palo Alto] will be submerged if sea levels rise significantly” On the basis that:
‘A quick check of the elevation of Palo Alto (e.g. http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?lon=-122.1875&lat=37.4375, or even http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palo_Alto) would reveal that this is just not true’.
My information comes from the presentation of Patrick Burt, a man of substantial entrepreneurial endeavour and (with his wife Sally) business achievement, who lives in Palo Alto and now serves as its very successful mayor. He comes across as careful, serious, measured and modest in his analysis of data. Both the slides he used and a podcast of his talk in the Science Gallery TCD are available here, in which he presents the implications of sea level rise in terms of submerged area and (especially) estimates of infrastructural damage.
It is possible that Tol is right and Burt is wrong, but I doubt it. I leave it to the reader to read both analyses and make up their own minds.
2. Even if sea level threatens submersion, Tol argues that ‘people there know how to build dikes and can pay for it too.’
People will of course adapt, by some combination of moving and (individual and collective) protection measures. Notwithstanding the Dutch successes as regards keeping the North Sea at bay with dikes, there is a significant literature – typified by Pilkey and Young’s The Rising Sea, Island Press, 2009 – that mobilizes considerable evidence to demonstrate that letting nature take its course is nearly always the cost effective and environmentally responsible thing to do.
It is possible that dikes are the answer to rising sea levels, but – with the possible exception of the Netherlands – I seriously doubt it
3. ‘Projected Sea level rise by 2100 is less than one tenth of that (9 metres).’
The most characteristic challenge of modern climate science, and modern climate economics , is how to handle extreme uncertainty, and specifically how to capture theoretically and empirically the implications of potentially catastrophic change. The economic perspective is addressed by Marty Weitzman of Harvard (See for example: Weitzman, Martin L. ‘Modeling and Interpreting the Economics of Catastrophic Climate Change’..Review of Economics and Statistics, 91 (1) 1-19 February 2009, and his working paper ‘GHG Targets as Insurance Against Catastrophic Climate Damages’, June 2010 and is the best thinking and writing in this area, for which work he is a credible candidate for the Nobel Prize in economic sciences. Projections of sea level rise by 2100 will be made, but the outcome could be dramatically high or low; we simply don’t know, and it is a conceit to imply otherwise.
I wish I was as certain of anything as Tol is of everything.
4. ‘Rigour and scrutiny, however, are not part of Convery’s vision’.
If this is true, I’m in good company.
‘The evidence on top down innovation fostering is v much that it doesn’t work so I’m not sure what use such would be’.
The evidence tells us a few things – a top down system where government decides what innovation is, and invests accordingly, will not work, or at least not indefinitely (there were some early successes in France and Japan, but most were not sustained).
But we do have a good sense as to the prerequisites that need to be in place if progress is to be made. As outlined in my Commentary, they include: finance provided by angel investors (often relatives), and by venture capitalists; a profusion of new ideas that could increase productivity in existing businesses and create new markets (these often come from universities and their graduates); legal expertise that helps compliance with the law and protects the new ideas (intellectual property); and entrepreneurs who are willing to take on the risk and commit themselves body and soul to making it happen. The role of the public sector is to provide low taxes on enterprise, correct for market failure in R&D and innovation (tax breaks for R&D and innovation) and venture capital funds, provide protection for intellectual property and support for relevant infrastructure (without Department of Defence funding of internet, Silicon Valley would be a pale shadow of what we see today). To which we should add attention to the market and what consumers want and area willing to pay for, and the expertise to convince them of same.