Cure Worse Than The Problem? – Global Warming and California Prop 21 Compared

Warren Meyer seems to have got a little confused on his blog posting on Judith Curry’s ostracism by the alarmist community. He states

I find it just staggering that Judith Curry, whose hypotheses about man-made global warming probably overlap those of the hard core alarmists by 80-90%, can no longer be tolerated by alarmists.  Much as the Catholic Church radicalized Martin Luther when all he initially wanted to do was reform some practices (many of which the Church later reformed), the attacks on Curry seem to be having a similar effect.

The typical response by politicians, of course, is to try to get more money from taxpayers.  California has a ballot initiative this November proposing to raise vehicle licensing fees to all its citizens in order to fund state parks.  Unfortunately, this kind of funds earmarking by ballot initiative is already threatening to bankrupt California.  One problem with this approach is that it demolishes accountability — once an unelected state agency gets dedicated funds the legislature can’t touch, there is nothing that taxpayers can do if these funds are not spent wisely short of another time-consuming ballot initiative to revoke them.

In the case of state parks, the accountability problem is even worse, as the initiatives replace park user fees, which at least enforce accountability in that users can stop visiting if park services are not up to expectations, with a no-strings-attached bureaucratic windfall.  Compounding the problem, in many states the parks organizations report to rubber-stamp boards rather than the governor or any elected official, so taxpayers have absolutely no path to enforce accountability.


The quotation seems to belong to Meyer’s Coyote Blog. I would direct folks to the Reason Video on this issue.

However, maybe, there are just some words missing here, because the funding of state parks and global warming have some common policy issues.

Let me start with Global Warming. The case can be divided into two main areas. There is the science bit (the forecast warming and the catastrophic consequences) and the policy devised as a remedy (divided into the policy itself – the Legislation and actions – along with the expected / actual results). Or more simply Forecast, Consequences, Policy, and Outturn (FCPO).

In the UK, the Stern Review looked at this whole issue as a cost benefit analysis. By assuming fairly alarmist consequences (without the uncertainty) and assumes a relatively cheap (but highly effective) policy fix, gave benefits of the policy are 5 to 15 times the costs. It looks a clear-cut case for action, so anyone who denies this is either ignorant or has ulterior motives. But if you start assessing the uncertainty in the science, you will quickly find unverified hypotheses, implicit assumptions and measurement errors tending in the same direction. Furthermore the climate disruption consequential on this postulated warming is possibly more speculative still.

Even if you accept this worst case scenario with all the damaging consequences as the near certain, there is still the fact that the policies proposed (like Kyoto & Copenhagen) would only be cost-effective if each individual government implemented them like a business plan – maximising revenues and minimising costs. In Britain (with a legislated 80% CO2 reduction by 2050), the levels of costs are often many times the cost boundaries set by Stern, and there are many other costs being incurred that are at best side-shows (targets on recycling, banning incandescent light bulbs, alcohol in gasoline). Yet no Government will implement the policy with the necessary ruthlessness and doggedness required to get the positive results.

Like when Steve McIntyre looked into Mann’s hockey stick, what looks superficially to be robust falls apart when you start looking at it the totality. If absolute minimum for policy is to be an justifiable expectation of improving the likely future state as a result of taking action, then there should be some top-level independent auditing. As no independent review has taken place – like a bank reviewing a business plan to justify a loan – any major gaps or faults in any area potentially undermines the whole case for taking action. But when if the minimum requires accelerating warming, strong positive feedbacks; along with cheap and effective policies and zero issues with policy implementation or cost overruns; then there is a serious problem. So it is only by making a number of extreme and untenable assumptions that the consensus policy be supported. The overall solution is likely to be worse than the actual problem.

How does this relate to California’s state parks? Unlike for global warming, the case for action is clear. The parks need new funding for maintenance. The proposed policy would be ineffective in this, as it is not just funding levels at issue, as part of the cost problem is ineffective management. The solution of separating revenue from paying customers (or the electorate) will exacerbate the management issue. Furthermore, free access to all will increase visitor pressure, potentially hampering conservation efforts, whilst having an element of unfairness towards the inner-city poor. The overall solution is likely to be worse than the actual problem.

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