Climate change and the individual

28/08/2012 § 6 Comments

Due to the initiative and effort of Eric Crampton, there is now an economics blog on Sciblogs. It’s called The Dismal Science and will pull posts from several excellent New Zealand economics blogs. Thanks, Eric, and yay us.

Front and centre is methodological individualism. This doctrine/position/approach wasn’t particularly emphasised in my early tertiary education, but I hear more and more reference to it.

It has interesting and Darwinian implications for climate change. For example, the Kapiti Coast has just informed residents of low-lying areas that their properties will be under water if the sea level rises.

I’ve seen similar maps for several areas in the lower North Island — Kapiti, Wellington, the Hutt Valley. They are informative, but they are also just a question of physics and maths. If your house is 1 metre above sea level and the sea rises 2 metres, given that 1 < 2, it should be pretty easy to work out the consequences. It gets complicated, of course, with more precise measurements and predictions, and accounting, too, for storm surges and so on. But the essence is that water seeks its own level and some numbers are smaller than bigger numbers.

For that reason, the reaction of one affected resident was curious:

The sea-risk report is ‘just another thing to bamboozle residents’, say Elizabeth and Terence O’Brien, from Raumati.

These individuals have decided that the report isn’t about preparing and planning and informing, it is about ‘bamboozling’. The nice thing about methodological individualism is that we can work with that. There is no need to argue, cajole, or convince. I can look at low-lying beachfront property and wonder how long it will last; they can see it as a great investment opportunity. We can both be pleased in the present with our accurate foresight. Then, in the future, we will individually bear the consequences of our beliefs and choices.

Obviously, the whole topic of climate change is more complex. But, in the end, individuals need to make decisions about their own circumstances, using the information and theories they think are most germane. And that’s pretty interesting to study.

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§ 6 Responses to Climate change and the individual

  • Horace the Grump says:

    Well yes… but lets first assume that sea levels will rise anything like that – latest evidence suggests a far more gradual process – maybe in 10,000 years?

    I’m taking the Keynes defense on that one!

    • Bill says:

      Of course, my crystal ball is a little hazy on the subject. But still, I’d expect active trading between ‘believers’ and ‘sceptics’ in line with long-run expectations. Can I buy a put option on Kapiti properties?

  • Horace the Grump says:

    Surely iPredict could come up with something?

    The core problem with all of this is that the ‘models’ used to predict climate X or climate Y tend to be linear with very limited abilities to deal with feedback loops and non-linearlity – I expect the maths hasn’t been invented.

    When they can can start to get to grips with modeling cloud cover then I’ll start paying more attention to the ‘human’s are wot dun it’ global warming crowd.

    Until then I stick by my core assumption that it is a terrible conceit to presume that humans can inflict that much change everywhere… Still we can’t function as a species unless we have some doomsday scenario to worry about.

    Oh and one more thing… why is this ‘climate’ the best of all possible worlds?

    • detmackey says:

      Horace proves Bill’s earlier post:
      ‘Instead, the popular media seems stuck in a loop. Is climate change happening? Are humans to blame? When will we run out of time?

      It’s climate change as soap opera. Which suggests we’ll be seeing the same storylines in another 50 years, just with a new cast of characters.’

  • Bigger problem is that government can’t pre-commit not to bail people out when the time comes; seaside property then is a one-way bet.

    (Says the guy living by the beach, who insured with AMI pre-quake, reckoning that there was no way an insurance company that concentrated and that represented in the local community scene (rugby to CSO) would ever be allowed to go under.)

    • Bill says:

      That’s a really good point. I look at the beaches in North Carolina that get rebuilt after hurricanes, and wonder where I find a sugar daddy to build me a new beach. There is some discussion of ‘managed retreat’ in NZ, which sends clear public signals that may be better pre-commitments. Maybe.

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