Friday, January 07, 2011

TolGate

Richard Tol, the climate change denier's favorite economist (and a guy with hair that, lets face it, is world-class in its sheer freakiness), gets smacked down for both his role in the Irish economic collapse and some dubious science:

No less disturbing than the drift into boosterism in the ESRI’s forecasts are the political activities of Richard Tol in the climate field, activities that blur uncomfortably and insidiously into his research work.

Tol has engaged in a long-term collaboration with Bjørn Lomborg, himself the subject of a detailed critique by Howard Friel titled ‘The Lomborg Deception’ and categorised by its publisher, Yale University Press, under the subject-heading of “Fraud in Science”.

Lomborg operates the Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) which, in spite of its title, has served solely as a vehicle for the political views of its leader. The Copenhagen Consensus projects involve Lomborg hand-picking researchers, with Tol a favourite, to engage in rigged research projects which Lomborg further distorts beyond the point of fraud to oppose any reduction in fossil fuel use.

For the 2008 project, Tol co-wrote a paper along with Gary Yohe of Wesleyan University and two researchers from the Electric Power Research Institute, a US trade association. The two climate change proposals were ranked against numerous development and human welfare issues and came in 29th and 30th out of 30.

Long-term Lomborg critic Kåre Fog took Tol, whose FUND computer-model was the basis for the simulation, to task about the study. Tol admitted that the study used a discount rate that fell gradually from 5% whereas all the competing proposals used a 3% rate. Tol excused himself by saying that re-writing the model to use the 3% discount rate was too difficult and that the other proposals should have used his rate, even though the project specifications dictated 3% and he has at other times successfully employed FUND with other rates. This inherent bias caused the bottom ranking.

Fog’s criticisms did not end there. Tol claims his research showed a net benefit from global warming until mid-century, after which the effects turn sharply negative. For this purpose, welfare effects were calculated in local economy terms, with deaths for example being costed at a certain multiple of local per-capita GDP. Thus a single European saved from winter influenza, probable – in actuarial terms – to be elderly and infirm, outweighed not one but many Africans dying – likely in the prime of life – due to global warming.

Subsequently, Lomborg and Yohe had a spectacular falling out. In a bruising exchange in the pages of the Guardian, Yohe accused Lomborg of “misrepresenting our findings thanks to a highly selective memory”. The exchange was temporarily concluded by a joint article where Lomborg and Yohe agreed that the reason CCC climate proposals “failed the cost-benefit test … could be traced to faulty design”. Given that the designs were Lomborg’s own, this was a humiliating admission.

17 comments:

crf said...

I wouldn't say "dubious", I'd say "less relevent".

He asks questions, often contrived, not well motivated by prior research, and hard to critique or build upon. Tol may find these questions interesting, and perhaps if he works long enough he'll refine his thinking into something interesting. If he makes mistakes in his academic endeavours, he deserves criticism. That's his lot as an academic.

Sometimes Pielke Jr does the same thing (like his study of non-existent carbon eating mechanical trees). And Lomborg is the master of the contrived, irrelevent question.

What ought to eat people is not that Tol and Lomborg exist, it is that some policy makers, bloggers and press use their own baffling and deluded thinking to trumpet Tol and Pielke (and McIntyre, and so on ...). When that happens its hard to eat your own ego. When your academic work says things comforting to the rich and powerful, it's unsurprising that they'll pay you to say more. If Tol, Lomberg and others quit their think tanks, others would take their place.

So I think a lot of the scrutiny (but not all) placed on Tol, Lomborg (Lindzen, Pielke, etc) is more properly placed on policy makers.

Paul S said...

Warning: AGW fundamentalist's lame attempt at character assassination above.

Richard Tol said...

@crf
Rest assured: My papers are submitted for peer-review. Some even make it through! See http://www.ae-info.org/ae/User/Tol_Richard/Publications

Omar said...

Speaking of hair..

for a Conservative, MP Mike Lake has an awesome head of. Gives freakishly high fore-headed Gerard Kennedy a run for his money fo sho.

bigcitylib said...

Omar, last I looked he seemed pretty non-descript, hairwise, but I was more interested at the time in his connection to the Save Bigfoot movement (google Mike Lake Sasquatch/Bigfoot).

I will investigate further, though. Thanks.

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

Paul S, it might help if you don't consistently act like a troll with zero content.

-- frank

EliRabett said...

Richard, totally irrelevant. If you used a higher discount rate than the other studies, that was dishonest. If you valued the life of a European such as yourself more than an African, that was elitist.

Doing both makes your and Yohe's estimates garbage.

Richard Tol said...

@Eli
Mr Kelleher’s discussion of the discount rate is incorrect. The FUND model is routinely run with every discount rate imaginable (Anthoff et al. 2009b;Guo et al. 2006;Tol 1999). Valuation of mortality risks is according to best practice (Aldy and Viscusi 2007;Viscusi and Aldy 2003), while the implicit inequities are routinely corrected (Anthoff et al. 2009a;Anthoff and Tol 2010;Azar and Sterner 1996;Fankhauser et al. 1997;Fankhauser et al. 1998).

Aldy, J.E. and W.K.Viscusi (2007), 'Age Differences in the Value of Statistical Life: Revealed Preference Evidence', Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, 1, (2), pp. 241-260.
Anthoff, D., C.J.Hepburn, and R.S.J.Tol (2009a), 'Equity weighting and the marginal damage costs of climate change', Ecological Economics, 68, (3), pp. 836-849.
Anthoff, D. and R.S.J.Tol (2010), 'On international equity weights and national decision making on climate change', Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 60, (1), pp. 14-20.
Anthoff, D., R.S.J.Tol, and G.W.Yohe (2009b), 'Risk Aversion, Time Preference, and the Social Cost of Carbon', Environmental Research Letters, 4, (2-2), 1-7.
Azar, C. and T.Sterner (1996), 'Discounting and Distributional Considerations in the Context of Global Warming', Ecological Economics, 19, 169-184.
Fankhauser, S., R.S.J.Tol, and D.W.Pearce (1997), 'The Aggregation of Climate Change Damages: A Welfare Theoretic Approach', Environmental and Resource Economics, 10, (3), 249-266.
Fankhauser, S., R.S.J.Tol, and D.W.Pearce (1998), 'Extensions and Alternatives to Climate Change Impact Valuation: On the Critique of IPCC Working Group III's Impact Estimates', Environment and Development Economics, 3, 59-81.
Guo, J., C.J.Hepburn, R.S.J.Tol, and D.Anthoff (2006), 'Discounting and the Social Cost of Climate Change: A Closer Look at Uncertainty', Environmental Science & Policy, 9, 205-216.
Tol, R.S.J. (1999), 'Time Discounting and Optimal Control of Climate Change -- An Application of FUND', Climatic Change, 41, (3-4), 351-362.
Viscusi, W.K. and J.E.Aldy (2003), 'The Value of a Statistical Life: A Critical Review of Market Estimates Throughout the World', Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 27, (1), 5-76.

Paul S said...

I have to say I agree with Richard.

bigcitylib said...

Richard,

the question isn't whether the FUND model could be run differently, but whether it was supposed to be for this particular project. And you haven't answered that one.

However, I assume from the answer you DID give that you dispute the claim about that you ran the model at 5% because it would have been to hard to do otherwise.

Richard Tol said...

@BigCityLib
Mr Fog's work as cited by Mr Kelleher is incorrect. As I did not ready Mr Fog's work, I do not know whether Mr Fog misrepresents my work or whether Mr Kelleher misrepresents Mr Fog's work.

bigcitylib said...

Richard, then you should do something about your wiki page, because the accusations all trace to their. And given that you wrote part of your own wiki entry,I would havbe to assume what I am looking at there is accurate.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Tol

Richard Tol said...

@BigCityLib
You should know better than to believe Wikipedia on anything related to climate change.

Richard Tol said...

In this case, you want to have a look at the WP talk page of Ddduff442

EliRabett said...

It remains that your original claim as to why you ran the model with the 5% declining to 4% rate was that it was not possible to modify it to meet the terms that were set for you by Lomborg.

Eli takes it that you are now withdrawing that claim.

However, be that as it may, it now appears that you CAN run the model with the 3% and 6% rate. How surprising. And it would be even more surprising to see how that moves the rating for investing in controlling atmospheric carbon contamination. Wouldn't it Richard? Perhaps you could borrow a friend's Rolladex and call some reporters up with that news.

Adrian Kelleher said...

(Repost from Villagemagazine.ie)

Apologies for the late reply. I wasn't expecting the article's sudden appearance on the web weeks after its print publication.

@bigcitylib

The original exchange occurred IIRC at Roger Pielke Jr's blog; Pielke has moved his blog archives since but has preserved the comments etc.

http://cstpr.colorado.edu/prometheus/?p=4526#comments

Fog: "Concerning discount rates: I got the impression that the organisers of the Copenhagen Consensus conference instructed experts to make calculations with 6 % and with 3 %. Is that correct ? You may then have felt that 6 % would be too much for the climate issue which has a very long time perspective, and chosen instead to use 5 %, declining gradually to 4 %. However, the result of that is that other issues have been treated with other discount rates, which means that the calculated benefit/cost ratios are not comparable. That is certainly a problem for the whole ranking procedure. Furthermore, it is confusing that the other issues were treated with two discount rates, but that, in the end, the ranking was made according to the results obtained with 3 %."

Tol: "Kaare: Agreed on the discount rate. As we used dynamic optimization models fitted to observations, we had to stick to the discount rate we had. As the rest of the Copenhagen Consensus used simpler methods, they should have used our discount rate."

Fog deals with the issue further here:
http://www.lomborg-errors.dk/CopCons2008.htm

Tol's objection to the passage on discount rates is strange given that he has edited his own wikipedia page more recently than I have -- a page that includes substantially the same claim: "Kåre Fog pointed out that the benefits of emissions reduction were discounted at a higher rate than for any of the other proposals,[16] stating "so there is an obvious reason why the climate issue always is ranked last" in Lomborg's environmental studies. Tol accepted that emissions reduction was accounted for differently from the competing proposals it was ranked against.[17] Fog further criticised the study because, by using aggregate GDP to evaluate outcomes across regions of differing prosperity, it accorded people in wealthy countries more weight than those in poor countries purely because they are wealthier."

The version of Tol's wiki bio submitted by Tol himself on Dec 18 last includes this passage.

Tol's selection of the discounting issue as his bone of contention is baffling given these facts.

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