26 July 2011

Climate Pragmatism

In February, 2010 I participated in a workshop outside of London organized by Gwyn Prins (LSE) and Steve Rayner (Oxford) to discuss post-Copenhagen climate policy.  One important result of that workshop was a white paper, called The Hartwell Paper (named for the location of the meeting).

The Hartwell Paper continues to receive a lot of attention around the world -- particularly in Europe and Asia.  But it has received only minimal attention in the United States.  That is perhaps understandable as only four of the paper's co-authors are based in the US (Shellenberger, Nordhaus, me and Frank Laird) and the arguments did not engage the idiosyncrasies of the contemporary US political landscape.

So a small group of academics and think tankers from across the political spectrum decided that it might be worth trying to explicitly re-interpret the message of The Hartwell Paper in a US context.  So a while back we met in Washington, DC to discuss and debate.  The result is the paper released today -- Climate Pragmatism.

Here is an excerpt:
A new climate strategy should take a page from one of America’s greatest homegrown traditions — pragmatism1— which values pluralism over universalism, flexibility over rigidity, and practical results over utopian ideals. Where the UNFCCC imagined it could motivate nations to cooperatively enforce top-down emissions reductions with mathematical precision, US policymakers should acknowledge that today’s global, social, and ecological systems are too messy, open, and complicated to be governed in this way. Whereas the UNFCCC attempted to create new systems of global governance, a pragmatic approach would build upon established, successful institutions and proven approaches. Where the old climate policy regime tried to discipline a wildly diverse set of policies under a single global treaty, the new era must allow these policies and measures to stand—and evolve— independently and according to their own logic and merits. And where the old regime required that everyone band together around the same core motivation and goals, policymakers today are likely to make the most progress to the degree that they refrain from centrally justifying energy innovation, resilience to extreme weather, and pollution reduction as “climate policy.”
As far as I'm concerned (not sure if my co-authors would all agree), any debate over whether climate policy should move in a more pragmatic direction has been decided -- decisively.  It has and will.  the only real question is how quickly climate activists and policy experts decide to sail; with the prevailing winds, rather than against them.

Please read the paper and come back here and debate, discuss, critique.


  1. Roger,
    I scanned this - it does not parse.
    "...debate over whether/WHITHER/? climate policy should move is/IN? a more pragmatic direction has been decided -- decisively. It has and will."
    Can you help me?

  2. "In February, 2009 I participated in a workshop [...] to discuss post-Copenhagen climate policy."

    2009 ... post-Copenhagen?! Surely you and the other participants were not going "back to the future"? ;-)

  3. -3-hr0001

    Time travel ... How do you think we come up with such good policy analyses? ;-)

    Fixed, thanks!

  4. OK,Roger, I'm back from my virtual journey to your vision of the future;-)

    First some minor quibbles ..

    1. In the interest of setting an example of full disclosure, perhaps the affiliation of McGill economists, Galiano and Green with [Lomborg's] CCC should have been declared. (I haven't checked the secondary affiliations of other authors!)

    Not that I have a problem with this, but I would not be surprised if some unscrupulous others - whose names, in the interest of approximating brevity, I shall not list - might use such a detail in an attempt to discredit the paper.

    2. Speaking of McGill's G&G ... as a Canadian, I am more than a little dissapointed that they failed to moderate the overall tone of the paper so that it reflected a more .... hmmm ... North Americanly Correct perspective.

    Sorry, but I'm inclined to think that the 3 instances of le protocol de Montréal found in this paper just don't cut it for the majority of Canadians who reside in TROC [The Rest of Canada]

    3. As a pre-post-modernist English major, I strenuously object to the use (p. 7 & p.30) of the archaic "irrespective". "Regardless" should suffice in both instances of this "travesty" ;-)

    Second ... if I were writing a review of this paper, I would say that, overall, I like it! Mind you, considerng the timing - and more importantly the historical perspectives contained therein - this paper and that of Judith Curry's fascinating recent post* make me wonder if perhaps the two of you are "conspiring" :-)

    * http://judithcurry.com/2011/07/26/americas-first-global-warming-debate/

    I'm still not convinced that the world needs "decarbonization"; but, as the paper suggests, with the pragmatic emphasis on developing inexpensive sources of energy and infrastructure to reduce the negative impacts of extreme weather events, this probably doesn't matter any more than "climate change" does.

    This paper certainly gives one far more cause for optimism than the recent ludicrous attempts to construe climate change as a global security issue which the UN Security Council needs to address. But I suspect there will be some who will be ... hmmm .... very unhappy with the course you and your co-authors are suggesting!

  5. -5-hr0001

    Thanks, a few replies ...

    1. Neither Green nor Galiana have an affiliation with the Copenhagen Consensus. They did write a paper for the exercise (as did I and dozens of others). With an AEI guy as a co-author, those playing the "evaluate arguments by affiliation" game need not go so far in any case ;-)

    2. Green is American, Galiana Spanish.

    3. Whether the world needs decarbonizing or not it has in any case been doing so for more than 100 years . . .

    Thanks for the comments!

  6. Climate Change Pragmatism is a welcome position on what to do about global warming.

    Have any politicians picked up on the ideas?

    Presuming that they have not, why do you think the program described in the Hartwell Paper and in this paper are not being propogated by politicians somewhere?

  7. Politicians in power in Australia [ ie the Labor Party] have certainly not taken on board this new climate pragmatism.
    Centralizing their justification around the UN, global obligation and “not being left behind ‘the rest of the world’” trumps Australia’s best interests every time, and we’re constantly assailed with the mindless mantras and TV propaganda ads to brainwash us into succumbing to it.
    The Left in this country have really taken to the new paradigm of post-normal science, where the general population are fed a diet of only the facts that suit the predetermined social and global outcomes the Left has lusted after for many decades.
    So ‘energy innovation, resilience to extreme weather, and pollution reduction’ , are very much sold to us not just as climate policy, but as our duty as world citizens---no matter what damage it wreaks on our own country.
    So they’re trying to comprehensively force on us the ‘top-down emissions reductions’, and ‘global governance’, and so they don’t ascribe to this new ‘pragmatism’ at all---and it seems to me the UK and Europe don’t either, although their citizens seem more compliant than us ---as we are always told.
    Our government seems to have all its eggs in the wind power basket for the foreseeable future, as far as renewables are concerned---as does the UK---but they don’t give a fig for the actual environment , and especially for the health of real people here or anywhere else.
    The reason they can even begin to take this authoritarian path with impunity, is that so many in the media and other warmist circles have no compunction in ignoring and in fact suppressing ---or certainly playing down, information like the following:
    And in Australia, almost everything that’s negative for the AGW case is suppressed, as the climategate emails, and in fact the whole climategate story were---all the challenges to the science---everything.
    So instead of getting together to work out the best strategies to sell this climate science story to the world, to get people to do what they think they should do----I think the ‘think-tankers’ et al should think about doing the democratic thing, and using their clout to foster our democratic right to have all the facts on this issue---to hear all the scientists, so we can make up our own minds about which are acting like honest scientists and which are acting as if they have much to hide.
    There could be a massive reckoning down the track, for those who could have spoken up but chose not to.