Proper Analysis

Over the years, several people have pointed me to Willis Eschenbach’s Skating Under The Ice, and it’s very, very  good.  Of late, however, this post has (and should have) become a landmark in the seemingly-endless debate on climate change, in that Willis applies an age-old accounting principle to the issue of carbon dioxide levels, thus:

Now, for me, discussing the “social cost of carbon” is a dereliction of scientific duty because it is only half of an analysis.
A real analysis is where you draw a vertical line down the middle of a sheet of paper. At the top of one side of the paper you write “Costs”, and under that heading, you list the costs of whatever you are analyzing … and at the top of the other side of the paper you write “Benefits” and beneath, you list those benefits. This is what is called a “cost/benefit analysis”, and only considering only the “Costs” column and ignoring the “Benefits” column constitutes scientific malfeasance.

…and then, in brilliant detail, he shows the other half.  It’s a very long read, but if you don’t do it all, you’re doing yourself a disservice.  His conclusion is stunning:

[T]he benefit that we get from emitting that additional tonne of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is an increase in goods and services of $4,380 … which dwarfs the assumed social cost of carbon of $40. When we do an actual cost/benefit analysis, the result is almost all benefit.

I admit that I had only thought in vague terms about this topic, because I always took it for granted that social benefit came from industry, and that the greater the industry, the greater the benefit.  What I had never done was quantify  the benefit;  and now I don’t have to, because now it’s been done, irrefutably.



  1. Bingo!

    “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarely, in your thoughts advanced to the stage of science.”

    ― Lord Kelvin

    1. Also one of John Derbyshire’s favorite quotes.
      Kelvin, though, was too kind. The deliberate omission of a measurement in forming a conclusion is knavery.

      1. Thanks for introducing me to Derbyshire. We had Kelvin’s quote drilled into us in high school science classes, usually shortened to “If you can’t express it in numbers, you don’t know anything”
        Knavery is a good word, but IMHO, too kind in most cases making the news over the past ten years or so. In “*spit*climate change science*spit*, there are government grants involved, and omissions of a certain kind there lead to money, lots of money, and knavery becomes felony fraud.

  2. Straight off it occurred to me that carbon dioxide is plant food. Higher temperatures mean more arable land at points further north, south, not so much.

    Vineyards in Newfoundland, dairy farms in Greenland. Tourist traps in the Greenlandian Riviera. Vacation condos on the shores of Hudson Bay.

    Oh, and the train smash girls could sport bikinis at Ascot without contracting hypothermia and freezing their more than ample fourth points of contact. My Eyes!!!

    And midnight sun cruises through the Northwest Passage. Even better our friends in the middle east bake, to a crackly crunch. I’mna not seeing a problem here.

  3. After my newly elected Congress Critter took office, being from Massachusetts, his first act was to bring forward his income redistribution plan…. I mean… Carbon Tax proposal that he had been touting during his campaign. A Tax aimed at all us who lived in big houses and drove SUV’s. We would be Taxed for the all the excessive CO2 we produced and all the people who lived in the city and took mass transit ( in theory…. producing less CO2 ) would get a credit based on his table of allowed Carbon production. A revenue “neutral” tax plan , ( as if somehow the state was not going to get a cut.) I told him I was all for his plan, using his numbers, assuming I also got a credit for all the CO2 I absorbed and he agreed without question. ( I’m guessing he had no idea how that could be done) That’s when I showed him the other half of my numbers where my 4 acres of trees not only absorbed all of my CO2 production, but they also absorbed 3 to4 city dwellers worth as well. I told him that I would be expecting a check under his plan along with all the other people who lived in the less populated western part of the state plus all their towns that owned trees as well.

    Strangely, I haven’t heard a word about his plan ever since.

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