Richard Tol has written a new paper on The Structure of the Climate Debate, and apparently it has ‘sailed through’ the peer review (pal review?) process. Somehow the editors must have found reviewers up whose nose the paper did not get.
The abstract says:
First-best climate policy is a uniform carbon tax which gradually rises over time. Civil servants have complicated climate policy to expand bureaucracies, politicians to create rents. Environmentalists have exaggerated climate change to gain influence, other activists have joined the climate bandwagon. Opponents to climate policy have attacked the weaknesses in climate research. The climate debate is convoluted and polarized as a result, and climate policy complex. Climate policy should become easier and more rational as the Paris Agreement has shifted climate policy back towards national governments. Changing political priorities, austerity, and a maturing bureaucracy should lead to a more constructive climate debate.
As he remarks in his tweet, it is likely to “get up everyone’s nose”, by calling for an increasing carbon tax and at the same time criticising activists for exaggeration.
After the introduction, section 2 is called “The case for climate policy”, but this section does not do exactly what it says on the tin. In fact most of it is a criticism of environmentalists and some climate scientists (he singles out the notorious Potsdam group) for their “construction of all climate change as necessarily bad”. He mentions the various positive aspects — fewer cold-related deaths, less heating needed, carbon dioxide as plant food — and says that even with the negative effects he expects from more pronounced warming, the impacts will be moderate, so there’s little case made for climate policy.
Section 3 presents Tol’s preferred solution of an escalating carbon tax, but the obvious question of how this is to be achieved in a global and fair way isn’t discussed. Higher carbon taxes in the UK would just drive production elsewhere — which has already happened of course — resulting in no decrease in global emissions.
The main content of the paper is three pages on the climate policy debate, in section 4. He lists a number of factors that get in the way of a sensible policy debate:
- The fear narrative, preaching doom in a religious or tribal way.
- Virtue-signalling politicians: “This offers the opportunity for politicians to channel their inner Bruce Willis and make grand promises about saving the world.”
- Deflecting attention: Why is Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, spending so much time pontificating about climate change rather than focusing on financial matters?
- Inflated bureaucracy: “Emissions have hardly budged, but a growing and by now vast number of civil servants have occupied themselves with creating a bureaucratic fiction that something is happening.”
- Promotion of other agendas: World government, gender issues, fair trade… and these obscure the main issue.
Finally there is a discussion of the progress in climate policy and the Paris agreement — which Tol describes as a step forward, not despite but because of the fact that it does not try to set legally binding emissions reduction rules.
It’s all clearly written and quite easy to read, so go and read it. Did it get up your nose?
A few related recent blog posts:
Paul Homewood has a post on James Hansen, who like Tol supports a carbon tax, but “slams” the Paris agreement.
Reiner Grundmann comments on the climate debate, climate policy and “wicked” problems.
Anthony Watts finds a wikileaks email from Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook that describes a carbon tax as “lethal” and says “I don’t want to support one.”