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« Debunk alarm - Josh 336 | Main | Gray lady »

Integrity and scholarship at the LSE

Bob Ward and the Grantham Institute are jumping up and down this morning about a new paper the Institute has published. It's fair to say the conclusions of author Fergus Green, as reported in the Grantham Institute press release are striking:

Countries will benefit economically from almost all of the actions needed to limit global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, according to a paper published today (PDF) (13 July 2015) by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at London School of Economics and Political Science.

The paper suggests that individual countries have large incentives to make ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and to agree to strong collective action at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris in December.

Remarkable stuff, I'm sure you will agree, overturning much of what we thought we knew about the economics of global warming mitigation. It's even more surprising when you learn that Mr Green is not an economist at all, but a post-graduate student who was until recently a lawyer at a firm in Australia.

But even that is as nothing when set against the revelation that he has reached these conclusions without actually crunching any numbers! Here's an extract from the abstract:

This paper [develops] a unified conceptual framework for advancing and evaluating claims about the extent of mitigation action that could be done in states’ self-interest, defined (for the sake of facilitating debate) in terms of economic efficiency. The paper concludes that there is a strong prima facie case that the majority of the emissions reductions needed to decarbonise the global economy can be achieved in ways that are nationally net-beneficial to countries, even leaving aside the climate benefits. Accordingly, the default assumption in social science scholarship should be that actions to reduce emissions are nationally net-beneficial. The barriers to mitigation action lie, primarily, not in the macro-incentive structures of states (i.e. climate action is, mostly, not a tragedy of the commons / prisoner’s dilemma) but rather within the domestic sphere, at the intersection of domestic interests, institutions and ideas formed in the fossil fuel age.

Yes folks, what Mr Green has done is to develop a conceptual framework, with which he overturns decades of scholarship. On examining the paper, he seems to have split the alleged benefits of mitigation actions into direct benefits and a series of indirect and co-benefits, which he discusses considerable length, describing examples of each in qualitative terms. Then he considers the costs of mitigation actions in similar qualitative fashion, but brushing them aside in a page's worth of poo-poohing. Finally, he concludes:

The potential for nationally net-beneficial mitigation action across the individual categories...looks, from the theory and partial evidence adduced there, very large indeed. But even this category-by-category, summative approach belies the true scale of the potential for net-beneficial mitigation action that comes from considering the categories of actions together — particularly when the static co-benefits of individual actions are considered alongside the dynamic and systemic potential for reductions in direct costs associated with those actions, and alongside the potential benefits from even modest levels of coordination among a few key states...

All things considered, I conclude that there is a very strong prima facie case that most of the mitigation action needed to stay within the internationally-agreed 2°C limit is likely to be nationally net-beneficial.

Since there is a strong prima facie case that most of the global mitigation task is likely to be nationally net beneficial, this should become the default assumption concerning the nationally-specific net present value of mitigation actions; those who claim otherwise should bear the burden of proving otherwise.

This apparently is what passes for scholarship at the London School of Economics and we can all have a good laugh about it. It wouldn't be the first time an academic paper has failed to rise above primary school level. But now consider this excerpt from the press release:

The paper states: “All things considered, I conclude that there is a very strong case that most of the mitigation action needed to stay within the internationally-agreed 2°C limit is likely to be nationally net-beneficial."

This of course is not true because, as we have seen, the paper actually says that there is a strong "prima facie" case, and while this is not actually true either (or at least the paper doesn't make a serious attempt to demonstrate it), the important thing is that "a strong prima facie case" is a very different beast to "a strong case".

But hey, let's be charitable. Perhaps it was an accident. Maybe it got lost in translation. So let's consider the next quote from the press release:

The paper states that “the majority of the global emissions reductions needed to decarbonise the global economy can be achieved in ways that are nationally net-beneficial to countries, even leaving aside the ‘climate benefits’.”

...and here's the relevant excerpt from the paper:

It is on the basis of this theory and partial evidence that the paper concludes that there is at least a prima facie case that the majority of the global climate mitigation task — decarbonising the global economy within the present century — can be done through actions that are nationally net-beneficial for states.

"At least a prima facie case" based on "theory and partial evidence" eh? Different again.

So as you can see, the Grantham Institute is doctoring quotes from its own papers so as to hype the findings. What a surprise. What sort of a charlatan do they have in charge?

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Reader Comments (73)

PS: They're training their useful idiots from a younger age these days, are they not?

Jul 13, 2015 at 7:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

"Can anybody tell me what 'social science scholarship' is?" --Phillip Bratby

Certainly. It's an oxymoron.

"The only box missing is one marked 'Totally contrived, activist-driven BS'." --cheshirered


"Since there is a prima facile case, therefore the defendant is guilty until proven innocent. Sounds about right." --DEEBEE

My attorney friend calls such allegations, "a primo feces case."

'Using "very" in a technical paper...means the author hasn't made his/her case and is using bluster to hide behind." --alan bates

Many prefer "robust."

Jul 13, 2015 at 7:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

The Guardian writes: ' “Those who think there is an incentive for countries to ‘free-ride’ on the climate protection provided by others are very much mistaken,” says Green.'

Green thus takes issue with the entire economics profession, include Nobel laureates Arrow, Schelling, Stiglitz and Tirole and Nobel candidates Nordhaus, Pindyck and Weitzman.

Green also takes issue with the Stern Review and the IPCC.

I'm not a fan of arguing from authority or emphasizing a consensus, but I find it hard to disagree with the notion that the atmospheric concentration of well-mixed trace gases such as carbon dioxide is driven by the sum total of all emissions. In other words, greenhouse gas emissions are an externality and emission reduction is a public good.

Jul 13, 2015 at 7:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

"unified conceptual framework"

Ugh. My perpetually underemployed niece decided to go back to school at the age of 30(ish) and wanted to know which subject she should choose for a paper. This very phrase was actually used for one subject, and believe it or, was not the worst example in the "how to suck tens of thousands of dollars from naive people by using educatese to try to impress them and then give them a useless piece of paper after four years" sweepstakes.

Jul 13, 2015 at 8:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterCaligulaJones

If net-beneficial is the rational human's conclusion why the need for governments' guns and prisons to restrict those minds ?

The hallmark of the progressive is the nexus of Arrogance and Ignorance .

Jul 13, 2015 at 8:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterBob Armstrong

Many years ago I used to train scientists in software engineering. One of the tools we used was an IBM "blue box". One of the team wrote a bs generator the output of which was very similar to this paper. Meaningless crap

Jul 13, 2015 at 9:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards


"In other words, greenhouse gas emissions are an externality and emission reduction is a public good."

Relative to what?

If the effects of the emissions are benign or only trivially harmful - say for example a doubling of CO2 leads to no more than a degree and a half of warming - and the costs of reduction are large there is no economic argument for such reduction.

And that position hardens when the opportunity costs of diverting money from other uses are considered.

Jul 13, 2015 at 9:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterJay Currie

You have done a grave disservice to British primary schools.

Jul 13, 2015 at 9:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve


"I don't think he has a driving licence yet."

Nor a typing one...

Jul 13, 2015 at 9:35 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Dam and blast.

Jul 13, 2015 at 9:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartyn

" those who claim otherwise should bear the burden of proving otherwise." I like this.
I can tell you that you are all wrong: MY theory is that the world is spinning a bit faster then it used to before man exploded a few test nuclear devices, the increased spin and therefore the increased friction is heating up the atmosphere,
also the days are shorter then they used to be, that's why it appears that we are living longer!! As for proof: 90% of my mates believe that it's the case 7/% believe that it's a very strong possibility. that's 97% consensus!! Now go and prove that I am Wrong!!
How to we remedy the situation: We explode a number of devices on the opposite side of the earth from were the original ones were blasted, that will slow down the earth and all is back to normal.......
All pigs fed and ready to fly!!

Jul 13, 2015 at 10:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Carabot

Circular reasoning of an author with proven vested interest in the outcome.

Stinks like Bre-X.

Jul 13, 2015 at 10:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterHans Erren

Certainly seems strong to me,

I mean if the government takes a percentage of everyone's income and does nothing with it, that is going to send the economy towards recession, then if the government uses that money to attract experts and labour away from doing productive things into uneconomical energy projects, well that is going to further send the economy into recession.

Then to top it all off, if the government decrees that everyone should use this energy technology, although it is more expensive than the current state of the art, then that is also going to contract the economy.

But worse -if the government decides to subsidize everyone to make the energy "affordable" then that will be even more recessive than simply having the tax payers pay the higher prices.

Obviously with my humble degree in economics, I am not LSE material!



Jul 13, 2015 at 11:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger

Couldn't the Greek Finance Ministry sell the LSE some experts? They have a sale on, of largely unused stock. Everything must go.

Jul 13, 2015 at 11:25 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

In other words, greenhouse gas emissions are an externality and emission reduction is a public good.

Jul 14, 2015 at 4:35 AM | Unregistered Commenterclipe

If it's true, then no compulsion is needed, surely?

Just let people do what seems best to them - in other words, a market.

Did I miss something?

Jul 14, 2015 at 9:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Duffin

The LSE paper has all the hallmarks of a crackpot paper. I'd go as far that it may be a spoof ("Fergus Green", come off it!).
If not then I predict a great future for Mr Green as a post-modernist imposter.

Jul 14, 2015 at 9:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterEd Zuiderwijk

Alan Sokal's not involved, is he..?


Jul 14, 2015 at 11:14 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Good news. If mitigation is profitable we can let the market take care of it and not waste time on legislation and supporting it with government money.


Move on.

Jul 14, 2015 at 11:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterClovis Marcus

The paper shows that the public tends to fall in love with liars who spread a preferred message and detests truth tellers who point out what reality is about. This is as good an example as any against the public funding of 'science.'

Jul 14, 2015 at 2:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterVangel

This is one of the most shockingly juvenile work's I've ever read in print. How the heck does any idiot publish things like that.

Greek economics anyone?

Jul 16, 2015 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered Commenterjeff id

The man is right!

Dozens of nuclear power stations would benefit 6he economy and reduce emissions, and fracked gas would fill in the corners, without affecting the climate, since CO2 almost certainly has very little effect!

Jul 17, 2015 at 9:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterLeo Smith

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