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Hardtalking with Stern

Nicholas Stern was on the BBC's Hardtalk show, being grilled by Zeinab Badawi about his recent report.

For a BBC journalist, Badawi did not too bad a job of taking potshots at Stern, with ammunition apparently sourced from Richard Tol. I was amused when she called Stern a "climate lobbyist", before correcting herself.

Stern himself was deeply unimpressive, with the mannerisms and delivery of a minor council official rather than a great academic sage and, as Pielke Jr notes on Twitter, constantly resorting to namedropping rather than rational argument.  I was struck also by his allegation that Tol builds his conclusions into his economic models. This struck me as quite a strong thing to say.

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Reader Comments (26)

What's up with the Bomb Model?

The atomic bomb 14C model for CO2 sequestration gets blown out of the water.

Sep 30, 2014 at 9:05 AM | Registered CommenterEuan Mearns

In my opinion Nicholas Stern knows all about how to build conclusions into a climate cost-benefit model.

Sep 30, 2014 at 9:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrederick Colbourne

I think Stern and Mann have many similarities. Both were rocketed to celebrity status with work that was politically charged. When both pieces of work were critically inpected, each was found to be a house of cards.

So we have two very limited people desparately trying to justify their position of the world stage, but floundering.

Sep 30, 2014 at 9:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

Lord Stern brings the HoL into further disrepute. The politicians put into the house by Bliar were already disreputable. Stern keeps on adding to his disreputation.

Sep 30, 2014 at 10:03 AM | Unregistered Commenterturnedoutnice

CQuark, a big difference between the two men is age: born 22 April 1946 playing born 1965, according to Wikipedia. Mann was very young when MBH98 came out and he rocketed to Lead Author status for IPCC TAR in 2001. By contrast Stern had achieved something useful before Gordon Brown came knocking in July 2005. I appreciated his support for Paul Collier's book The Bottom Billion in 2007 also. I've been surprised by the lack of quality of his Review therefore and his passionate defence of green positions since. But the world is as it is.

Sep 30, 2014 at 10:10 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

"I was struck also by his allegation that Tol builds his conclusions into his economic models...." Typical scientivist projection, and therefore unsurprising in the least.

Sep 30, 2014 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterKevin Lohse

I indeed had a series of exchanges with Ed Prior, Badawi's researcher.

Sep 30, 2014 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

I love the bit where Stern cites Al Gore ...

Sep 30, 2014 at 10:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Richard Tol: It's good to hear HARDtalk hasn't lost it's journalistic edge in seeking out the right kind of critic of Stern.

Sep 30, 2014 at 11:02 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Speaking of Stern's latest opus (and Mann) ...

I've just posted a comment in Unthreaded, following a reading of Fred Pearce's latest in the Graun (fed from his Yale Environment 360 post) - and of Alex's transcript of Mann's latest and greatest pronouncements, as well as an earlier reading of the proceedings at the underwhelming N.Y.C. Climate Summit.

I was particularly amused by the remarkable difference in interpretation (i.e. Mann vs Pearce) of China's declarations.

Here's Mann:

China has now said that "Look, we're ready to come to the table, we are passing cap-and-trade system to price carbon, over the next year and a half".

And here's Pearce:

no firm pledges. Most notably, China’s vice-premier Zhang Gaoli promised his country would peak its carbon dioxide emissions “as soon as possible,”

The representative from China said absolutely nothing about "passing cap-and-trade";-)

Amazing, eh?!

P.S. [Edit]: Here's the link (and h/t Barry Woods, btw) to Pearce's piece:

Sep 30, 2014 at 11:28 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

Stern's main argument seemed to be that things have changed so recently that all the points put to him were now out of date. According to Stern the price of renewables has plummeted so much that they now compete with coal. His report, he claims, is up to the minute and state of the art. He claimed that pollution from coal was killing millions of people, though surely he must realise that most harmful pollutants can be removed from waste gases in a modern plant. He seemed to be blinkered to any argument, except his own. When he cited Al Gore's work, I thought he was clutching at straws. All he could do when contrary arguments were put was to deny their validity. He reminded me of a Jehovah's Witness I once argued with on the doorstep, and it was equally pointless.

Sep 30, 2014 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterDerek

Longer thoughts:

Sep 30, 2014 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

So the cost of renewables is falling? How come then that just a few years ago one of the UK's offshore windmill farms cost ~£1.25m per MW installed, and now we're up at around £3m per MW?

I'll guess Stern factors in (a) negligible transmission costs, (b) high reliability and low maintenance costs, and (c) no study of his would be complete without a stunningly low capital interest charge. We'll just gloss over the costs of intermittancy shall we? Oh, and that guy up in Edinburgh (I forget his name, and he doesn't work for the world bank so he's an idiot) is wrong when he says onshore windmills decline in capacity factor at the rate of 1 % per annum! Then, we'll spice up the fossil fuel costs because, as we all know in the UK, we're all dying like flies because of their pollution.

My word, just look how well Germany's doing!

And of course, Stern wouldn't be trying to build into his model such factors to support his platform.

At times he came close to a Milliband simper - I was surprised he didn't drop to first-name terms with the interviewer, but perhaps he realised she was somewhat brighter than him?

Sep 30, 2014 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

Mann was very young when MBH98 came out and he rocketed to Lead Author status for IPCC TAR in 2001....
Sep 30, 2014 at 10:10 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

More than that, he was awarded his PhD much later than is usual, at age 33. Zero to hero overnight.

Sep 30, 2014 at 12:07 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Good to see this interview on the BBC, Hardtalk is obviously the exception to the rule. Good also to see Zeinab Badawi ask a variation of the Andrew Bolt question.

Though I think she messed it up - the cost of the EU's CO2 emission targets will be 250 billion Euro pa, but these will only reduce global temperatures in 2100 by 0.1%? Eh? (Bolt's figure is 0.05C by 2100 if the EU goes alone and meets its 20% targets).

Sep 30, 2014 at 12:23 PM | Registered Commenterlapogus

He won't be coming back if they have decided to ask relevant questions.

Sep 30, 2014 at 12:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Only the selection of a time in the distant future (150years) allows the prophets of doom
to speculate to this extraordinary degree. What was once the preserve of the sandwich
board "the end is nye" brigade has been purloined by the purveyors of AGW.
The demonisation of a plant food is not too dissimilar from the demonisation of the most
useful plant on the planet.
Isaac Asimov would be a far better sourse of what it may be like 150 from now.

Sep 30, 2014 at 12:39 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

Martin A: Agreed. Two discussions of the strange way Mann rose to prominence: CA in December 2009 and Steve McIntyre, with correction from Richard Betts, on Judy Curry's in April 2014.

Sep 30, 2014 at 12:52 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Richard Tol (in linked piece):

I am surprised that the "New" Climate Economy relies on outdated methods.

I'm not sure I believe you're surprised :) It's surely been a feature of the climate scene since David Henderson first questioned the IPCC's use of market exchange rates rather than purchasing power parity in assessing economic growth. Whatever works to maximise alarm and downplay costs of mitigation, outdated or novel.

Sep 30, 2014 at 1:12 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

@Richard D
"I'm surprised that you" is of course code for "I knew you're a bollocks"

Sep 30, 2014 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

The English way. Almost as lethal as "With respect ..." :)

Sep 30, 2014 at 1:30 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

But seriously, I was recently at the Annual Conference of the International Economics Conference with Stern, at which he admitted to not having read Koopmans (1966). That is striking in three ways. (1) That paper was published while Stern was working on his PhD in an area close to Koopmans' paper. (2) That paper won Koopmans the Nobel Prize. (3) Koopmans (1966) shows that you cannot use a discount rate as used by Stern (2006).

In Stern2.0 and in the HardTalk interview, Stern admits to not having read Tinbergen (1952) -- another key contribution, by another Nobel laureate, in another area close to Stern's field.

Strangely, Stern takes sides in the bottom-up v top-down debate on how to best model the impact of climate policy. That debate raged in the 1990s, almost tore the IPCC apart, but it was resolved before the turn of the century.

Sep 30, 2014 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

That's all going in the wiki, thanks Richard.

Sep 30, 2014 at 3:04 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Richard Drake and straight out again given who is the 'gatekeeper ' in wiki over articles like this .

As for Stern he has made is fame and fortune on the back of AGW , indeed is current job is very much to promote it has a way of making his rich paymaster richer still. So like Bob 'fast fingers ' Ward he is ironically the very thing AGW sceptics are called all the time , a paid shrill looking out for number one and facts be dammed . So if his claims make no sense and are poor economics it matters not , all that matters is their 'impact'

Sep 30, 2014 at 8:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterKNR

These people are on the anti capitalist (eco fascist) extreme RIGHT, not left.

Keith Farnish of Dark Mountain.

Farnish writes

"The only way to prevent global ecological collapse and thus ensure the
survival of humanity is to rid the world of Industrial Civilization"

Unloading essentially means the removal of an existing burden: for
instance, removing grazing domesticated animals, razing cities to
the ground, blowing up dams and switching off the greenhouse gas
emissions machine. The process of ecological unloading is an
accumulation of many of the things I have already explained in
this chapter, along with an (almost certainly necessary) element
of sabotage.

Keith Farnish has it right: Time has practically run out, and the 'system' is the
problem. Governments are under the thumb of fossil fuel special
interests - they will not look after our and the planet's
well-being until we force them to do so, and that is going to
require enormous effort. --

-Professor James Hansen, GISS, NASA

Oct 1, 2014 at 12:34 AM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Sorry, wrong thread

Oct 1, 2014 at 12:35 AM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

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