University of Chicago economist Steve Cicala: Free dumping of carbon dioxide into atmosphere is nothing less than “theft”

A conservative economic policy model for taxing carbon is making progress! There’s an article about it in Forbes, along with predictable blowback.

Free dumping of CO2 pollution into the atmosphere is nothing less than “theft” from future generations who stand to suffer from unabated global warming, declared University of Chicago economist Steve Cicala at a symposium last week in honor of the conservative icon Milton Friedman. “It is theft,” said Cicala. “That’s a loaded term, but if someone else has a better term for taking something from someone without their consent and without compensating them, I’d be happy to hear it.”

By the way, David Friedman, economist Milton Friedman’s son, claims the evidence is his father would have resisted “being conscripted” to the carbon taxing cause. However, Professor D. Friedman, despite his other credentials, doesn’t know the science of climate change. He says there, in part

Current estimates of climate sensitivity, the effect on temperature of an increase in CO2, vary by more than a factor of two. One would expect the size of the externality due to an additional ton of CO2 to increase with the temperature increase. A further uncertainty, reflected in the various scenarios of the IPCC report, is the amount of CO2 that will be emitted over the next century. Lockheed Martin has recently claimed that it will have a working fusion reactor in the near future. I have my doubts that it is true, but if it is, the result should be to reduce CO2 emissions over the course of the next few decades to between half and a quarter of what they would otherwise be. That would sharply reduce warming and thus the cost of additional CO2.

This suggests the professor has learned about carbon dioxide impacts from certain popular articles and debates rather than the science itself. Emission rates and intensities have essentially nothing to do with degree of planetary warming or eventual climate change. Because of the longevity of carbon dioxide in atmosphere, all that matters is total emissions, not the path gotten there. Moreover, the marginal increase in such change is a function of the baseline of the carbon dioxide concentration: The incremental increase of an additional gigatonne of carbon dioxide is more at 400 ppm than it would be at 300 ppm, and much more at 600 ppm.

Professor David Friedman may well claim, on his blog, “I’m an academic economist, teach in a law school, have never taken a course for credit in either field”, but he would do well to take a course on the science of climate change, perhaps from Professor David Archer of the University of Chicago, where Milton Friedman taught, or by studying Professor Ray Pierrehumbert’s textbook, another University of Chicago climate scientist.

Update, 2016-02-06

On the day after President Obama proposed a limited tax on Carbon, conservatives Art Laffer and Bob Inglis explain why it would be better to tax that way than to get the same amount of income by an income tax. See below. Art Laffer was a member of President Ronald Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board. Bob Inglis was a Republican representative from the state of South Carolina, and a founding member of Republicen.

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