Sunday, January 02, 2011

Itches and forecasts

Forecasting is hard work, but we must do it. Here is an indispensible blog that compiles past forecasts that now look silly (H/T Virginia Postrel). And here is a post that looks at the 100 trends to look for in 2011 (H/T Mark Perry).

The Dec. 2010 Journal of Economic Literature includes "Designing Climate Mitigation Policy" (gated, here is the abstract). The article provides a wonderful survey of what we know and cites several 100-year climate change forecasts. But these come with incredibly wide uncertainties.

Do we embrace expensive policies in light of such uncertainties? I am OK with Bjorn Lomborg's conclusion, that for now it is best to invest in basic research re cleaner fuels.

This brings up an odd pairing of articles in the December Atlantic. "Dirty Coal, Clean Future" makes a couple of good points. (1) It's all about China; if China creates less carbon, then there would be a measurable difference in atmospheric accumulations; if project X or city Y in the U.S. "go green", it means very little without China; (2) "Clean coal" (gassify the stuff while it is still underground) is plausible and China leads in this technology.

But this report is paired with Kenneth Brower's "The Danger of Cosmic Genius" (gated). It's about Freeman Dyson: "How could someone as smart as Dyson be so dumb about the environment? The answer lies in his almost religious faith in the power of man and science to bring nature to heel."

Dumb? Religious? In today's NY Times, David Pogue frets over "Getting Over the Two-Year Itch". We tend to throw out our electronics every two years because they are so quickly dated.