How to think about climate change and "cost-benefit analysis"

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I constantly hear from Conservatives about the “green conspiracy” something something watermelon. I think it should just come standard that as soon as the right wing accuses anyone of anything the first course of action should be “Is this projection?” I’m starting to think they’ve want climate change and are actively looking for ways to profit from it. What part of the planet is worst hit by it? all those “shiathole” countries with brown people. They give zero fucks, won’t be long before they start cheering it on.


Just apply Dick Cheney’s “if there’s even a 1% chance Saddam has nuclear weapons, we must act” logic to climate change. What kinds of catastrophic effects would it have on the entire globe, and compare that to a nuclear bomb.

People who deny or shrug off climate change are just imagining it won’t be that bad-- “nice warm winters”-- they’re not seeing droughts, wild fires, higher prices for all kinds of foods, or the famine that massive ecosystem collapse would bring.

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Isn’t the cost benefit simply to ensure this isn’t the world we live in come 2050?

I guess they figure as long as they have the penthouse in Tenpenny Tower it doesn’t really matter.

Wealth is relative, after all.

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“you should be allowed to kill other people if you get rich in the process.”

That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it?


They’ve been doing both (cause and profit) for years. That’s probably why they buy yachts. They make it much easier to move to places with the climate you prefer, and to escape disaster areas.

Cost/benefit analysis in one form or another has existed for millennia. Monte Testaccio is a good example from Roman times. What’s new is formally including thins like the value of a human life or unspoiled environment. Prior to the the modern version of CBA, those weren’t included. And as callous as it is, putting a price on a human life is done all the time for very good reasons. How thick should that highway barrier be? How many EAD’s to put in a building? And so on.

In consume goods, the value is set in part by you and I. How much more will you pay for increased safety for you kids? Bought a child seat or bike helmet? They all meet a minimum standard, but are not all equally safe. Don’t know about you, but I can’t afford a helmet that would reduce risk to zero. neither can Bezos. You and I are putting a dollar amount on life on nearly everything we buy. Don’t fault companies and governments for listening to us. We’re the dumb-asses that set the rules.

CBA is just a tool. How we use it is up to us. It’s intended to inject at least some objectivity when evaluating things.

Where is blows up is large time scales. It’s not the tool’s fault, it’s how we use it. There’s a time value to money. A dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. That’s as true for capitalism as it is for communism and everything in between. You have finite money, you have to make decisions. Do I spend a dollar today on climate change mitigation or education of kids? They payback on the kids might be faster and higher than climate change, so the temptation might be to spend money on the kids, then use the money generated on climate change. Even with climate change costs going up, a strict accounting might say it’s better to invest public money into all sorts of other public good because we can still come out ahead.

Which is why some things are not entirely appropriate for CBA. Some things are moral, ethical, or political decisions. CBA should be used to understand the choice, but not make the choice.

The example I was given of this was that you could make planes out of stuff that would be less likely to be wrecked, but they would be heavier, and so they’d need more fuel to fly and so plane tickets would cost more and so more people would drive and so more people would die. Knowing how much you are going to spend to save a life can be important when making engineering decisions, the answer shouldn’t be an unlimited amount.

But there is a problem with that thinking. There is an assumption that if you save the value of a human life in one spot you save a human life somewhere else. Saving money on plane tickets prevents traffic deaths. When you save the statistical value of human life to invest in infrastructure or education, or create jobs or make food or medicine or construction supplies cheaper I think that assumption checks out.

When you save the statistical value of human life in order to increase the capital gains of a billionaire the logic stops working. Because that billionaire values their own life in dollars much, much more highly than my choices suggest I value mine. If I need a billion-dollar life saving surgery I can actually understand why society says no. If a billionaire needs it the answer is yes.

So there’s a contradiction: the value of human life we use is an average, but we also live under the assumption that the value should be static and equal for everyone.

If the richest person is only 7 times as rich as the poorest person this built-in contradiction would be a hiccup. When the richest person is as rich as 30% of the population, it’s very hard to reconcile the fact that A = B and A = B / 100,000,000. The problem isn’t cost benefit analysis, it’s billionaires.


I read this, and immediately realised that the takeaway for some psychopaths will be “oh, no problem, we’ll just kill off 10-20% of the world’s population. It’s worked before!”

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It worked for Thanos. Let’s give it a try.

Billionaires are an outlier, so they really don’t factor much into calculations. But you are right, there’s an assumption it should be static and equal. But it’s not. Income, industry, age, perceived risks, etc.

Each industry has different values. You might remember a discussion from Fight Club about car safety. That was a callous version, but makes sense. It’s the courts that set the value in that situation, and they may be the least egalitarian since calculations are based on projected income blah blah. So the industry uses an average. The courts (Judges & juries) are setting the number.

It get’s set all sorts of ways.

I deal with this sort of stuff in my job. We don’t use money directly in the calculations, but we are required to do a CBA of sorts for surgical instruments. There is no such thing as zero risk. But the goal is to demonstrate that there is more good to having the product available than not. The market tends to set a price point and we maximize benefit and minimize risk while staying under the price point. If had to guess, we value life far more than the FDA benchmark.

But get this: I work for a Chinese company that makes products mostly for China. Some of my colleagues in China have no problem cutting corners because the money value on life there is lower. I can usually end that pretty quickly by saying “Is a Chinese life worth less than and American?” Some will flat out say yes, but concede the point that it shouldn’t and fix the problem. Which is why we are the most expensive Chinese supplier of these devices AND considered the best in China AND have more market share than all of the other Chinese companies combined.

And it’s why I never accept the bullshit argument that capitalism is antithetical to doing the right thing.


If human history has taught us anything, it’s that that proposition is quite tenable.

Genocide isn’t particularly funny.

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Trey Parker and Matt Stone : “Hold our beers.”

Edit: Though that probably proves your point.

Costs: a lot, but mitigated by the idea that life would actually be sustainable.

Benefits: we don’t all die.

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But you’ve missed an important part of the analysis. My costs are important. Yours are not.


That’s the anarcho-primitivist solution, except they think things will be perfect when we have 90% of the worlds population die and the rest are living in prehistoric utopia.


There must already be a survey
of exactly who profits from
(so called) “natural” disasters.
Duck Cheney’s Haliburton?
Various and numerous
“Re-building” contractors hired by the
government? (This Means YOU!)

It’s exhausting even attempting to
calculate how many Hands are
grabbing for a piece of the pie.
(while the rest of us “eat cake”)

It’s extremely disheartening to have
consider there could be so much
profit made off of other’s devastating losses.

When a society focusses on and is motivated by increasing massive profits for private corporations (and reelection donations)
it’s so freaking depressing!

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