First off, thank you for reading. I know there are many climate/energy/economy blogs out there so I am happy you have taken the time to visit mine. With this first post, let me tell you why I chose the title and what I hope this blog accomplishes.
The metaphor of the boiling frog (and yes, I know it has been disproved but, I’ll cite Krugman and say “Real frogs will, in fact, jump out of the pot – but never mind”) is commonly used in the discussion of climate change – that changes are happening around us slowly enough that we are unlikely to notice until it is too late, much like a frog in a slowly boiling pot of water. I think the metaphor extends beyond climate science and into many of the policy discussions in which I regularly participate. Where does Canada fit into the global discussion on climate change policy? Have we missed the boat and been left behind, only to face severe consequences later on? Has the global discourse on oil sands changed much more quickly than the Alberta government realized, and is the province is still swimming slowly around in waters that are getting warmer and warmer, without doing much to turn down the heat? Are we so focused on installed megawatts of green energy, thinking this will help us “win the future”, that we have lost sight of the increasing heat of consumer backlash? The frog needs to be rescued before the temperature rises too high and green policies come to mean half the power at twice the price. Is the same true of cap-and-trade in the US and carbon taxes in Canada? How far did the failure to address head-on the description of the Green Shift as a “tax on everything” set carbon policy back in this country? I would say at least 5 years. Many would argue the same to be true with respect to the failed pitch for cap-and-trade in the US. I hope that my thoughts and your participation might provide a better thermometer to signal to policy makers to turn down the heat before it’s too late.
First and foremost, this blog is directed to my students in the Natural Resources, Energy and Environment (NREE) programs at the Alberta School of Business. I hope to inspire them to be as passionate about energy and environmental issues as I am. Beyond that, this blog is for you, the reader at large, and I hope that I can challenge and engage you to think about issues in different ways or at least get you to argue about my thinking on them. Finally, this blog is for me. I hope it will be a useful way for me to solidify my thinking on policy issues and subject my thinking to a form of peer review from you.
I hope you will enjoy reading this blog and I look forward to your participation.
11 responses to “Why Rescuing the Frog?”
Hi Andrew. I enjoyed your post on the Liberal’s cap and trade program and I hope that your insight can help me form my personal position on this complicated subject. You can thank @ghoberg for the publicity.
Thanks for the comment. It is certainly a complicated subject and I feel one where too much attention is placed on the tool used (carbon tax vs. cap-and-trade) and not on the stringency with which the tool is applied to cut emissions. I will thank George again for sure.
Hi Andrew. Good luck with your blog–you seem to be off to a good start. However, I fear your titular metaphor may not have been wisely chosen. The boiling frog story would seem to have been disproved by science, and watch out for James Fallows who is obsessed with pointing this out whenever somebody prominent invokes it!
Thanks. I am aware that it seems to have been dis-proved (how does one get ethics approval for such a study?) but hopefully that won’t be too much of a worry. It seems that Fallows is off his crusade though I think I will update my post with that link. I expect it will take me a while to reach his radar anyway.
A few year back, I sent Fallows an email on the subject which he posted to his blog, but it no longer seems easily accessible on the Atlantic site. Here’s a cached copy:
I am wondering if you watched this debate? ( http://www.sustainableprosperity.ca/debate and there is a link there to a video webcast with just about 18:30 minutes of silly CBC fol-de-rol up front – the interface does allow you to skip) if not why not? and if so, what did you think?
I found your blog via a link at the Globe and so far I am very pleased to have found it, maybe there is a possibility of civil (& polite 🙂 discussion on these very important issues, though I am afraid you may be exhausted by the effort, I hope not, be well.
David, thanks for reading. I did watch the debate (I am a member of the SP research network) and I enjoyed parts of it, but I think the question was too simplistic. Unfortunately, that’s just not a policy choice that we have, or at least not one that realistically confronts policy makers. I would have asked the question “How green do we want our growth to be and how do we get there?” Of course, what is built in to that is the implication that if we can’t grow in a way that is green enough then we don’t grow at all because our policy environment won’t allow it.
I am glad you found the blog, and thanks again for reading!
simplistic eh? well, I wouldn’t say so, and I’m not clear on the distinction between “not a policy choice” and “not one that realistically confronts policy makers” but ok … if it is up to policy makers as first movers then I would say we are definitely diddled
the way I read the science is that we have until about 2015 to turn carbon & equivalent emissions around or pass tipping points which will decide the issue, is that also too simplistic? I am not a scientist but there are some credible scientists who agree
this paper ( Reframing the climate change challenge in light of post-2000 emission trends – http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/366/1882/3863.long ) puts it in perspective – the authors’ bottom line is about this: “The current framing of climate change cannot be reconciled with the rates of mitigation necessary to stabilize at 550 ppmv CO2e and even an optimistic interpretation suggests stabilization much below 650 ppmv CO2e is improbable.”
2015 is a number which relates to my own mortality as well as the science, since I am getting older and 2015 is towards the end of any useful inputs I am likely to make, but 650 ppmv CO2e, whenever it comes, is well past irretrievable by any human measure
maybe policy makers would like to be the tail that wags the dog? the people I talk to think that it will take dramatic events, some kind of climate armageddon, to activate the necessary political actions – which will then be too late, I am hopeful that economic collapse may save us before that, or at least a remnant
be well, David Wilson.
I think the dichotomy was too simplistic. I was not making a statement about whether no growth would end up being the right solution, I was more asking the question of how a policy-maker can feasibly regulate growth? I would suggest that if you care about carbon emissions, then the policy-makers need to look at regulating carbon. If economic growth can occur in the absence of carbon emissions, then there is nothing wrong with growth. I suppose that’s the green-growth option. My contention was meant to highlight that I think the real questions lie in how green should our growth be, or how green should we have to be before growth is okay. I was not defending the status quo. So, if you do believe in a 400ppm or 350ppm target, most models would tell you that you need something akin to a $50-75/ton carbon price today, growing at about 4.5% per year. That’s a decision that a policy-maker or government can impose. Growth quotas? harder to conceptualize.
Now, I absolutely agree with you that extreme events are likely to be necessary to get governments to move because, like it or not, governments operate on a much shorter political cycle thatn the cycle on which our climate operates. Remember the US after Katrina? You had Time magazine telling US citizens to be afraid, and those citizens telling their representatives to act. Since Katrina, the US has been largely spared the extreme weather events, with the possible exception of this winter’s snow, and so the push has disappeared. As morbid as it is, if you want climate action from governments like the US, they have to come to see it as a national security issue which is coming but not there yet. A couple of extreme events might help push it along.
good, I must say I like your approach to comments, very helpful, thanks
I think it is important to get the notion of growth brought up to date, particularly in the minds of politicians, first, the notion that an economy without growth is entirely feasible has to attain some critical state in the ‘social imaginary’ and then (or simultaneously, since time is short) develop policy tactics to achieve or permit it, Robert Solow and other eminent economists have been putting the notion out there for some time and yet politicians are still effectively saying ‘you can’t stand in the way of progress’
all good, thanks again.
Thanks for the reply. Glad you enjoy the blog and the comments. I certainly enjoy responding to comments as much as writing the blog, so keep the comments coming.
I think the key disconnect is in the textbook concept of growth, be it in the capital stock or the welfare derived from production (i.e. Solow’s balanced growth or the Hartwick rule of sustained growth with finite resources) do not mesh with GDP as a metric. I think that the key barrier to good policy is a focus on GDP as a measure of welfare, which it very clearly is not. Yes, more economic activity is generally good, but not when that economic activity does not create value. I hope that we will see some change in that someday, but I am not optimistic.