Nordhaus’s Rebuttal of the Wall Street Journal 16

William Nordhaus has published a very well-written and very well-documented rebuttal to the Wall Street Journal 16.

He says:

But one of the difficulties I found in examining the views of climate skeptics is that they are scattered widely in blogs, talks, and pamphlets. Then, I saw an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal of January 27, 2012, by a group of sixteen scientists, entitled “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” This is useful because it contains many of the standard criticisms in a succinct statement. The basic message of the article is that the globe is not warming, that dissident voices are being suppressed, and that delaying policies to slow climate change for fifty years will have no serious economic or environment consequences.

My response is primarily designed to correct their misleading description of my own research; but it also is directed more broadly at their attempt to discredit scientists and scientific research on climate change. 1 I have identified six key issues that are raised in the article, and I provide commentary about their substance and accuracy.

Many of us have stated ourselves astonished at how weak the arguments were. And indeed, Bob Fischer has argued here that the Wall Street Journal is not a relaible arbiter of opinion on any matter. So Nordhaus is, to an extent, shooting fish in a barrel. But he nails every fish, really nicely. Don’t miss it.

The concluding section, especially, has a familiar ring to it.

A final point concerns economic analysis. The sixteen scientists argue, citing my research, that economics does not support policies to slow climate change in the next half-century…

On this point, I do not need to reconstruct how climate scientists made their projections, or review the persecution of Soviet geneticists. I did the research and wrote the book on which they base their statement. The skeptics’ summary is based on poor analysis and on an incorrect reading of the results.

So, “based on poor analysis and on an incorrect reading of the results”. Never seen that one before, have we?


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  2. Has Nordhaus' piece led to anything in the WSJ? I've searched, can't find anything. I presume the WSJ's track on setting the record straight isn't great, even when a cited author tells them an article got their research completely wrong.

  3. Hmm. Nordhaus attacks six points. On the first five, he may well be right, but he's not an expert and neither are they.
    The sixth point is the crux to me. That's his region of expertise. They have misquoted his own book! He said just the opposite! Only problem is, Dyson already wrote a review of Nordhaus's book, liked it, and summarized. And his summary seems to me to be very close to what these scientists said in the article. His summary of the book's results: Massive mitigation is a really bad idea economically, the best thing would be if someone could invent a new technology to take care of the problem ((!) But this is Nordhaus's scenario, not just Dyson's.) And then there's very moderate mitigation or - doing nothing. As Dyson points out, very moderate mitigation does better than doing nothing, but not by so much - a few trillion dollars over the course of decades. I imagine that reasonable people could differ on whether the massive social and political actions needed to effect that mitigation are worth the economic benefits.
    (Obviously, there are those who think that Nordhaus got the wrong answer, vastly underestimating the negative impacts of climate change, but here we're working with his results.) It's probably also worth mentioning that Nordhaus published a response to Dyson's review and didn't disagree on this point, Dyson's summary.

    In short, I'm not sure that Nordhaus didn't miss the biggest fish. I think what the sixteen took from his book may not be far from the truth of what was there, whether he wanted to say it or not.

  4. Just telling you my impression: Nordhaus argued for a certain policy in his book, Dyson reviewed it saying that a different policy (doing nothing) rated nearly as well in the same book, Nordhaus tacitly accepted Dyson's claim in his response, these scientists gave the impression that Nordhaus had said that doing nothing is nearly as good as mitigation, Nordhaus (correctly) pointed out that he had actually argued strongly for doing something, but (seems to me) that the scientists are making pretty much the same claim as Dyson, that regardless of Nordhaus's own preferences that result follows from his work.

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