Julian Morris Outlines Problems With The Social Cost Of Carbon

Earlier this month, Reason Foundation’s Julian Morris released a great policy study evaluating climate change, rules, and the cultural cost of carbon (SCC). In the scholarly study, Morris highlights six issues with calculating the social cost of carbon. In this blog, I’ll provide an outline of these six problems, as well as some additional information on the task IER’s staff have done on the cultural cost of carbon.

I highly encourage one to read the entire policy study, as it provides a great overview of the nagging problems many have identified with calculating the social cost of carbon. 1. The first problem Morris identifies with determining the interpersonal cost of carbon is the fact that future emissions of global greenhouse gases (GHGs) are unknowable. Policymakers have consistently failed in their ability to forecast future technical change in the power industry-the most recent example being their incapability to foresee the remarkable changes as a result of the shale trend. These technical changes have triggered an increase in the utilization of more energy-dense fuels like natural gas. Consequently, greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. Source: Energy Information Administration.

2. The partnership between emissions and the focus of greenhouse gases is based on lots of variables including the amount of emissions as well as the amount of time GHGs will stay in the atmosphere. The speed at which GHGs such as methane and dinitrogen monoxide breakdown depends on specific things like the temperature and the amount of water vapor and other chemicals in the atmosphere with that they might react. The rate at which CO2 is taken up by plants, garden soil and oceans differs significantly depending on factors such as heat range and the availability of nutrition. The interactive and dynamic nature of these effects complicates the picture further.

3. It’s likely the level of sensitivity of weather to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases is a lot less than many of the earlier models expected. 4. It’s possible the benefits of climate change outweigh the expenses, at least for likely runs of change. A number of the benefits of weather change can include better agricultural result caused by increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a lower number of fatalities caused by winter. Furthermore, Morris highlights that many financial models assume not a lot of adaptation, meaning chances are they may be overestimating negative influences of the environment change.

Rising prosperity and the adoption of new systems have reduced mortality from extreme weather events by 98% before the centuries (see Figure ES4). 5. The expenses of future emissions reductions are unknown and are influenced by the timeframe of any decrease. 6. The Interagency Working Group (IWG) used inappropriately low discount rates when evaluating costs and benefits. When discount rates that accurately reveal the opportunity cost of capital are used, the costs of taking action to lessen future GHG emissions now is likely greater than the advantages of taking such action.

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Unfortunately, when discounting the costs and benefits associated with global warming, many experts have used special discounts that do not reveal the chance cost of capital. For example, the IWG provided an estimate of the SCC at a 5% discount rate, but it’s the highest rate given. In its guidance, the IWG emphasized the SCC determined at a 3% discount rate.

Its rationale for using the lower rate is that future benefits from avoiding climate change costs relate to future consumption, rather than investment. It’s not only that Morris thinks a 7 percent discount rate is more appropriate. In 2014, IER’s Robert Murphy remarked that the Obama administration’s IWG overlooked OMB suggestions to provide a SCC estimate predicated on both a 3 and 7 percent discount rate.