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In class I asked students to compare the annual number of deaths around the world from TB (in the 1 to 2 million range, a real tragedy) to what he worst case estimates of deaths due to Global Warming as estimated by the IPCC. At the time of this writing, of the 18 responses I have received, only 1 student bothered to google/read/search the IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report. The rest of the answers I can only guess where they came from.

I suppose that’s depressing, for even our very best students won’t even read the actual science that they claim to be expert proponents of. But what is more depressing, I think, are two related problems.

(1) Folks have a hard time distinguishing exposure to risk with actual incidence of damages. For example, just because I may live in an area that has higher exposure to extreme weather events than you do, that in no way implies that I am going to be hurt. For example, some folks like to argue that extreme weather events are increasing (they are NOT, in fact). But suppose they are. The reality is that global deaths due to extreme weather events have fallen by something closer to 95% over the past century, even as the planet has heated and even as extreme weather events (it is said) have increased. I’ve posted this data before, and no, I am not posting now on the implications of this, just merely wanted to point out that this is among the most common misunderstandings I see in my daily life. I’ve seen students suggest that one billion people in the world are exposed to water problems due to global warming, which may be true. But that tells us nothing about how that trend has been alleviated over time, and also what might be the underlying (most important) reason for this problem. After all, Phoenix, AZ and Las Vegas, NV are in totally inhospitable areas, far less nice than many parts of the world with serious water problems. And yes, these places have water problems too, but they are self-inflicted, policy-driven wounds (mispriced water) and not due to changing environmental conditions there.

(2) Here is a quote from a student of mine, “Last time you said that people should not really worry about global warming, since to economists it is not a problem.” And here is what I actually lectured on in class:

I said it is NOT USEFUL to think of the problem into its entirety but rather to break it into its constituent parts. I.E what problems does a WARMER planet bring to us? The heat into itself is NOT a problem. We have no idea a prior whether it’s good or bad.  The expansion of disease, water stresses, flooding, etc ARE the expected problems, and thinking about each of those problems is the only way to have a useful conversation and thought on the “problem” of global warming.
What I did NOT say anything about is whether any or all of these particular things are serious challenges, and it is with this question in mind that I wanted you to compare TB deaths to the expectations (worst case) of what a warmer planet may do.

The second an economist says the words “global warming” and tries to help folks think about it, almost every person who has been indoctrinated into not knowing how to think about ANY problem simply throws up the “don’t listen! don’t listen! I might be corrupted! blinders” … or simply fills in the blank with whatever it is they want to hear.

We are doomed. And I’m heading for the hills.

Here is the last episode in the series.

4 Responses to “The Jig is Up, A Continuing Series”

  1. J Storrs Hall says:


    What proportion of your colleagues, would you guess, try to teach their students to suppress emotion and analyze, and what proportion the opposite?

  2. Steve says:

    I’ve smacked into this wall pretty hard when trying to have a scholarly discussion on this subject. Many a credulous person I know thinks they have the science down on this subject, when most of the time they are as ignorant as your average stump. Very difficult to get them to think, as they often get too emotional, and think you like to eat kittens. Hope you find the energy to continue on this subject.

  3. Harry says:

    The default charge by the carbon people is to call the skeptics Global Warming Deniers, changing the subject with an ad hominem lies.

    As a fan of theunbrokenwindow for a few years, I can say that Wintercow has been consitently fair in his treatment of all questions environmental, often granting questionable assumptions for the sake of argument.

  4. Brent says:

    I just so much enjoy this site. I will be ever greatful to Eric Smith for turning me on to this site. “Thinking,” if we ever get the masses to do it, we could be in for some real trouble…

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