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Monday, November 16, 2015

Will the real Richard Tol please stand up?

Sou | 8:40 PM Go to the first of 29 comments. Add a comment

At the Carbon Brief, there's a full transcript of an interview of Richard Tol by Roger Harrabin of the BBC. Readers of HotWhopper won't recognise him. The Richard Tol who was interviewed by Roger Harrabin is a completely different man to the person who has behaved in an unhinged obsessive manner when he has visited HotWhopper in the past (see below). He is quite a different person to the man who for more than two years has been obsessed with fatigued abstracts, date stamps and 97 per cents, trying to find flaws in the research study by Cook et al, and failing.

Adverse effects of climate change are about to outweigh any benefits

The newly emerged Richard Tol says things like adverse affects of climate change will very soon outweigh any benefits of warming (within months, not years):
  • According to my latest calculations, it’s sort of around 1.1 degrees of warming relative to pre-industrial, so that’s … referring to the boundary between net positive benefits from warming, and negatives, which means we are at the boundary.
  • We should be looking towards three, four, five degrees. - telling Roger Harrabin, who mentioned a 2 °C rise, that the world is heading for much hotter than that
  • ...we should be trying to decarbonise the economy as fast as we can but I think we will need a century to do so.
  • I’m probably a bit of an outlier in the general population that I care more about marine animals than most people do, yeah

A carbon tax is the best option

Richard Tol advocates a carbon tax:
  • A simple carbon price. From the perspective of the atmosphere, it doesn’t matter where the CO2 comes from and therefore it also doesn’t matter where the CO2 reduction comes from. If you impose a carbon price then you give everybody who emits CO2 an incentive to emit less and you let the market and the households and companies sort out what is the best way to do it, or pay the price if it can’t be done.
  • Yes, a simple carbon tax. A carbon tax can be managed by perhaps ten civil servants in the Treasury, that’s all you need. Instead we have a large department of climate change that employs many, many civil servants, all of whom are making up silly rules. And I would simply abolish that whole department and replace them with a working group of ten civil servants or so in the Treasury and that’s all we need.
  • The advantage of a carbon tax is that you have government revenue and you can use that revenue to actually counter the regressive effects.

Good governance is important

Richard Tol argues for good governance to better manage climate change:
  • ...many of the more dramatic impacts of climate change are really symptoms of mismanagement and poverty and can be controlled if we had better governance 

Compare and contrast

Go ahead and read it for yourself. Contrast the Richard Tol who spoke with Roger Harrabin with the Richard Tol who has visited here in the past:

ATTP has written an article touching on this, though it's more about some silly and wrong comments made by Matt Ridley. See this, also (h/t ATTP)


In case anyone comes across a suggestion that Richard Tol didn't mean what he said about the 1.1 °C boundary, below is the transcribed interview of the relevant section:

RT [Richard Tol]: ...of course when you have positives and negatives and you start adding them up, you may end up with a net positive or a net negative. And the literature is divided on that one: if you add up all these things, is it positive or negative? Most people would argue that slight warming is probably beneficial for human welfare on net, if you measure it in dollars, but more pronounced warming is probably a net negative.

RH [Roger Harrabin]: And where do you put the boundary line between those two?

RT: According to my latest calculations, it’s sort of around 1.1 degrees of warming relative to pre-industrial, so that’s …

RH: OK so we’re almost there already.

RT: We’re <chuckles> almost there, yes.

RH: We’re almost at the point where the benefits start to get outweighed by the consequences.

RT: Yes. So in academic circles, this is actually an uncontroversial finding. The …

As for what "pre-industrial" means, the average temperature of 1850 seems to be a reasonable benchmark. According to Berkeley Earth analysis, the global mean land surface temperature from 1750 to 1850 was mostly at or below that of 1850 (land only). As of this year, the global mean surface temperature (land and ocean) is just over 1 °C above the average from 1851 to 1880.

Data source: Hadley Centre, UK Met Office

Sou 11:44 pm 16 November 2015

Update 2

Or is this the real Richard Tol?
Sou 3:53 pm 18 November 2015


  1. Not surprised. As the consequnces of global warming become more and more obvious I expect to see the brighter "skeptics" changing their tune to say that they agreed with the science all along, and that they were somehow misinterpreted.

  2. I read it earlier. Tol actually has form for this apparently schizophrenic behaviour. Prior to waging war on Cook's consensus paper, he wrote in a comment at ATTP's blog

    "Published papers that seek to test what caused the climate change over the last century and half, almost unanimously find that humans played a dominant role."

    Let us see if and how quickly he walks this interview back under pressure from his peers in the GWPF.

    I have bookmarked in any event so I can quote at any climate crank who tries to cite his earlier claims. :-)

  3. Is Tol kind of hedging his bets now that we've got to +1C already, near his 1.1C threshold..? At some later phase in history nobody(*) can say he was wrong about impacts of Global Warming.. ;)..

    Really, it seems he is somehow trying to "please" many audiences.. Especially when considering a "minor" backpedaling as nicely documented at ATTP.. Would be interesting to learn how his pals at gwpf commented..

    (*) except wayback machine and Sou.. ;)

  4. Maybe, with his recently changed views, he's hoping that Mr Turnbull will offer him a Chair at a Consensus Centre ...

  5. The Very Reverend Jebediah HypotenuseNovember 17, 2015 at 1:56 AM

    Law of large numbers...

    Every once in a while even Richard Tol will say something that is defensible.

    Tomorrow, however, is another day.

    1. Indeed.

      Monkeys. Typewriters. Shakespeare. T → ∞...

  6. Erm, Tol's calculations?!

    He's been told by hundred of people prior to this Damascene epiphany what the risks are. I hardly think that he has broken any new ground with his "calculations".

    For his next trick Tol will be the first to derive E = mc^2, predating Einstein by -11.1 decades.

    1. You mean, objects have energy even when they're not moving?


      Or, at least Tallbloke would probably think so.

    2. This was lovely..

      RT: The very start of my career was about trying to show that CO2 and other greenhouse gases cause climate change. We were one of the first to establish that on a satisfactory statistical basis.

      RH: You did that as an economist? That would normally be a physical science exercise.

      RT: I did it as a statistician, I would say, rather than an economist.

      RH: So you were one of the people that helped prove that human fingerprint was on climate change?

      RT: We were the first to show that in a statistically sound way.

      RH: Congratulations. I think probably not a lot of people know that

    3. Richard is decades older than he looks :(

    4. "RT: We were the first to show that in a statistically sound way.

      In which alternate reality does Tol reside?! Does he think that just because he imagines it, just because he aserts it, it becomes true?!

      I challenge Tol to present the paper that demonstrates that he was the first to "show that CO2 and other greenhouse gases cause climate change". I also challenge him to demonstrate why a lot of the economic literature with his name on it isn't predicated on minimising the link between CO2 and climate change.

      Seriously, is this guy a fantasist? Or a compulsive liar? I can't fathom why he makes these statements short of psychological pathology.

    5. Palindrom.. Sorry to nitpick / miss the point but I do not think movement is required in having (potential) energy

      "You mean, objects have energy even when they're not moving?


    6. Oh come on. That "c" in the equation is velocity ...

      It must be moving.

    7. 0^0 -- I was referring to Einstein's famous equation E = mc^2, which asserts that objects have huge energy even at rest -- their so-called "rest energy". This has been proven time and time again, indeed every time they turn on the LHC they prove it yet another time.

      Tallbloke is a "relativity skeptic", i.e., a crank.

  7. It seems the gremlins got his tongue

  8. "Congratulations. I think probably not a lot of people know that"

    Hmm. I wonder why that is?

    Could it be because it's not actually true in any universe we know?

    Just askin' questions, here.

  9. I'm sure Tamino will have something to say on the subject. I note he stopped short of claiming statistical analysis as his invention.

  10. Fourier would be proud of Tol as he could glean The Physics out of stochastic weather and better behaved climate using perturbation theory and statistics. The perturbation being humanity dumping CO2 into the atmosphere.

    He is about as smart as the Parliament of England when considering whether to spend money on the new fangled sewerage to stop the incredible smell from the Thames River. Turds are also plant food and quite natural.

    Fourier postulated the greenhouse effect before the Thames was cleared of raw sewerage. Do you know how much it costs per tonne to get rid of our turds? Bert

    1. People sometimes accuse physicists that they tend to treat most other fields of knowledge as trivialities.. Apparently economists (or at least some (one?) of them) are much further in that behaviour... ;)

    2. 0^0 only when the so called physicists that are so used to being absolutely correct in their own very narrow field stumble into a field they have not thought about make pronouncements without any evidence do they show how stupid they really are.
      Statisticians do not even have a mathematical framework for their models if the models are based purely on some sampling criteria.
      Unless one understands what one is sampling it is just mathturbation.

      Tol is worse than a wanker. At least a wanker has the result in hand. Bert

    3. An apposite moment to remind everyone of Richard Alley's excellent reminder of the extravagant 1% of the economy needed to transform societies to handle waste properly. Can be done. Has been done.

    4. 0^0
      My brother who is a check captain for Quantas told me a long time ago that we do not use the term "right' for correct. It leads to confusion in the cockpit.

      Flying High


  11. Replies
    1. Seriously? That's vile. I notice he's defending it - in the sense of blithely refusing to acknowledge that anyone could possibly imagine there might be a problem - over at ATTP's.

    2. Fits..

  12. 'Your null hypothesis should therefore be that I do not make elementary errors.'

    Priceless! Makes Richard Carrier look humble...

  13. I was too late to comment on the Carbon Brief website but since he seems to have some influence I had written the following:

    So Richard Tol doesn’t understand why governments haven’t imposed a simple carbon tax - it may be surprising for him to hear as an economist but I would suggest that one key reason is that this would be more expensive than the alternative of subsidies (at least until carbon free generation forms the bulk of generation).

    Clearly the carbon tax has to be at a level that encourages change - too low and it is ineffective - people will just pay the tax.

    So as an example lets take nuclear power which, to get a 3.2GW plant going needs a subsidy of twice the market price of electricity for 35 years (approximately £1bn per year of subsidy).

    To have a carbon tax achieve the same goal you would need the tax to be at the same level. However you would need to apply this to all the carbon producing electricity generated otherwise the plant won’t get built. In other words with UK demand being ~40GW you’d need taxes of £17.5bn per year to be imposed on the taxpayer rather than £1bn per year of subsidy to achieve the same end (assuming that all generation was fossil fuel based for the purposes of this comparison).

    At the same time you might be overpaying a technology like onshore wind which requires less subsidy.

    Fine, you might say, onshore wind wins the prize, you’d lower the tax so that the nuclear plant doesn’t get built so as to not overcompensate onshore wind. But then what if you might want *both* to play a part in reducing emissions as quickly as possible?

    Whilst it might not be as ideologically ‘pure’ as a carbon tax the truth is if you want to fight a war you need a range of different tools - ships, tanks, aeroplanes - or different measures for different sectors such as heat, power and transport with specialisms according to a variety of factors such as deliverability, technological maturity etc.

    He also ignores the effect of ‘market pull’ and claims that there is no evidence of this with reference to Germany - apparently technologies just ‘appear’ or fall in cost of their own accord without any external influence of the market. I find this surprising for an 'economist'. I suggest he googles ‘learning by doing’.

    He also seems to be serious in his claim that you could build a wind turbine 'indoors' in Germany and make money even if it wasn’t generating. I’d really like to know how that one works!

    Quite bizarre (but everyone on this blog seems to know that already!!)


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