It Tol’s for thee

Post-mortems of other blog threads are not something I would favor, but this recent episode generated such a series of quotes from a ‘name’ economists that I could not resist the opportunity to preserve them while the memory is fresh…
otherwise I will be unable to find or remember them later and would find it hard to believe he actually SAID that!

Just after Christmas I found myself involved in a discussion at the ‘And Then There’s Physics’ Blog with Noted Economist (at least in his own opinion) Richard S J Tol.

I will start after I had questioned his assertion that nothing in climate change was a major concern. –

Richard S.J. Tol says:
December 30, 2014 at 10:14 am
Please be a bit more specific. Why are ocean acidification, agriculture, or sea level rise major concerns? Why is greenhouse gas emission reduction the best way to lessen these concerns?

I replied with examples and links, and many others chimed in with examples…the discussion wandered about a bit, but eventually the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on coral reefs and the Australian Great Barrier reef having more than just a food production/monetary value was raised again…

Tol replied
ad 1. Only a fraction of our food comes from the sea, and only a fraction of that is affected by the alkalinity of the ocean which, to a first approximation, affects composition rather than abundance. Besides aquaculture is rapidly replacing fishing, and is under no threat as alkalinity can be controlled.

ad 2. If we believe Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, projected pH by the end of the century is unprecedented only in some 400,000 years, which suggests that most current species have experienced more acidic conditions in their recent evolution. Indeed, the biological literature on ocean acidification is worried about growth rates, composition, competition but only rarely about local extinction, let alone global extinction.

ad 3. Snorkeling and diving are only a fraction of tourism and recreation, and the vast majority of participants cannot tell a healthy from a dead reef. This is a niche concern.

This was immediately followed by a post quoting the actual Ove Hoegh-Gulberg paper pointing out that it directly contradicts his claim –
“…values that significantly exceed those of at least the past 420,000 years during which most extant marine organisms evolved. ….This review presents future scenarios for coral reefs that predict increasingly serious consequences for reef-associated fisheries, tourism, coastal protection, and people. As the International Year of the Reef 2008 begins, scaled-up management intervention and decisive action on global emissions are required if the loss of coral-dominated ecosystems is to be avoided.”

As well as pictures of living and dead reefs to show that people probably would notice the difference.

Tol replied-
Do you recall the world tour of the Terracotta Army? Recent replicas, each and every one of them. Big crowds nonetheless. You don’t need the real thing to make money.
Valuing natural resources is something that many environmental economists do for a living. A common finding is that the vast majority of people cares a little about these matters, and a small minority cares a lot.

The totaly wrong claim from the OHG paper on coral was again raised, instead of conceding he doubled down –

The (unprecedented in) 400 kyr is from OHG et al. in Science (as you know since you found the paper without me referring you to it). It is the highest-cited (according to Google Scholar) paper with keywords ocean, acidification and extinction.
Reefs go back hundreds of millions of years, so it is immaterial whether OHG is off by an order of magnitude or two.

He still missed that he had misquoted the line –
“values that significantly exceed those of at least the past 420,000 years…”
and ignored the final seven words of the sentence –
” …during which most extant marine organisms evolved.”
which contradicts his claim about reefs going back hundreds of millions of years and can therefore be regarded as evolutionarily resilient.This was pointed out.

Tol replied-
Not sure what you’re getting at. I paraphrased “exceed those of at least the past 420,000 years” as “unprecedented in 400 kyr”. That doesn’t change the meaning, or does it?

I guess we’re talking at cross-purposes. That reefs are old (Very Old) was something I added — assuming that (a) this is well known and (b) uncontroversial (unless you’re a creationist like He Who Should Not Be Named).

Several further posts put him right about the evolutionary history of coral reefs and their fossil record of boom and bust, often in response to small chemical and temperature changes. Others emphasized the value that something like the Great Barrier Reef has even if it cannot be priced.

With 2 million visitors a year, the Great Barrier Reef isn’t even Australia’s top attraction; the Sydney Opera House has 8 million.

Note that I’m not saying that people don’t care. Rather, the empirical evidence has that the average person cares a little.

And finally, so far-

I asked you why you worried about ocean acidification.

You answered that you are concerned about its impact on food, recreation and biodiversity.

I replied that the impact of ocean alkalinity on food supply is minimal, and Dana replied that the impact of ocean alkalinity on species abundance is minimal.

You replied that two million people visit the Great Barrier Reef per year, which does not even put it in the top spot in Australia. Even if ocean acidification would completely destroy the Great Barrier Reef, which it will not, then the impact on the global tourism industry is small. Even the Australian tourism industry is unlikely to take a big hit, as capital and labour in tourism are rather mobile. The more likely scenario, however, is that local tourist operators will preserve that bit of the Great Barrier Reef that attracts tourists. After all, that’s what they do with Venice, ski slopes, and sandy beaches.

So, you should either adjust your level of concern about ocean acidification — as the worries you express are not something a rational, well-informed person should worry about — or you should learn to express your worries in a manner that is supported by evidence.

So folk, thats the viewpoint of a rational well-informed economist, advising a fossil fuel funded ‘think-tank’ the GWPF, on economic policy.

A persistent misreading of the key literature reversing its warnings about the fragility of reefs into the assumption that because reefs in some form have been around form hundereds of millions of years any present threat from ocean acidification is not a major concern.
And even if it did do major damage to the Great Barrier Reef, well its not the main attraction for tourists in Australia, and some sort of ‘theme park version could be preserved for those few who care…

Seeing this sort of nonsense from an anonymous (grin) internet troll might not be surprising, but from an economist, active in the field of climate and policy who proudly mentions his status in the top hundred world economist is really quite… chilling.

An Update, for those that want a masterly summation of the mainstream science of ocean acidification there is little that could improve on this –



8 responses to “It Tol’s for thee

  1. Seeing this sort of nonsense from an anonymous (grin) internet troll might not be surprising, but from an economist, active in the field of climate and policy who proudly mentions his status in the top hundred world economist is really quite… chilling.

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. I would have also included the anonymous (grin) 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for visiting!
    I only just posted this and am still editing it..
    blimey how did you find me so fast!


  3. Your post sent a link to mine. That’s why it was so fast.


  4. Ah, the wonders of wordpress.

    Now if I can just figure out how to get posts to have a fold…
    Bit new to this, give me time!


  5. Richard Tol: “Note that I’m not saying that people don’t care. Rather, the empirical evidence has that the average person cares a little.”

    Long ago I did some environmental studies. There the claim was actually that if you ask people how much they value the lake next door, the forest, acid rain, air pollution, global warming, and so on and so on, the answers you get are more than the people actually earn. Thus they seem to value it a whole lot. This unfortunately also shows that it is almost impossible to get good monetary values for environmental good, which cannot be sold on a market. Partially the problem is thus likely also that Tol is a trained economist, important values that do not have a price tag, do not exist, have no value if you think to much like an economist. Most economists are fortunately also humans.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It is the Price/Value distinction that has come up before.

    It is why I restricted my replies about how climate change might be a major concern to aspects that were purely monetary.
    The cost of lost food production from a collapse of the food chain. Rather than the ‘beauty of Nature angle.
    I did not expect that to have any traction with a economist from that Hayekian(?) point of view.

    his response was to minimise any apparent risk, and the scale of the problem.
    Then misread my example of how present ‘crop’ failures in harvesting food from the oceans might indicate just how ‘major’ a concern it might be if further deterioration occurs.
    If the predominant ocean food chain is algae and jellyfish the shift in diversity is not a minor problem.

    The idea that aquaculture, fish farming can be insulated from the larger ecology because ‘conditions can be controlled’ is a particularly revealing statement.
    Optimism through ignorance !?


  7. @Admin, is this a WordPress theme? Can you point me to where you purchased it?


  8. This was trapped in spam…

    The WordPress theme I am using is Coraline, a basic free template. But it does allow you to put in your own header picture.

    Perhaps the fact I edited the header picture rather carefully to integrate with the menu system made you think it was something more?


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