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Loss of Coral Reefs Could Cost $1T (climatecentral.org)
315 points by uptown 69 days ago | hide | past | web | 131 comments | favorite



This is a perfect example of how the economics of climate change and energy are totally messed up.

These kinds of problems are not factored into the economics of energy so coal and oil will remain economically viable without getting any kind of penalty.

Governments will attempt to tackle these issues (too late most likely) and it will be largely public funds that go towards restoration but oil and gas and coal companies will pocket all the profits and contribute little to the repercussions.

If we factored in the total costs of our energy sources renewable would be even more attractive. Given the fact that the energy companies have known about climate change for decades [1], at what point is it expected that they use some of the incredible profits made at the planets expense to mitigate those costs? It is adding insult to injury that these companies are able to avoid a lot of taxes [2] that would at least contribute to public funds being used to combat climate change. That isn't even counting the millions (billions?) that have been spent on misinformation.

[1] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/exxon-knew-about-... [2] https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/markets/2016/03/07/27-g...


Classic tragedy of the commons. Prices for fossil fuels don't account for the negative externalities, the costs of which are borne by all life on Earth and heavily biased to weigh on future generations. The people in the future that don't consume any fossil fuels will pay the heaviest price for their ancestors' carelessness. One could fix this quite easily just by taxing fossil fuels enough to factor into the negative externalities - except you'd have to legislate that, equally, in every country on Earth (or at least the G20.) But the temptation is for nation-states to cheat and advantage their own economies over the others by not passing that kind of legislation, Trump-style. I don't think it will ever happen, it's all quite sad and future generations will rightfully curse our short-sightedness.


If you leave it to just the G20 then you will end up moving energy production to the non-member states and sell energy at a higher cost to boot. That's rather a non-starter.


We could tax use of fossil fuels. That means direct consumption, if you drive a car, or indirect if you buy products shipped on fuel hungry ships, or strawberries flown in from half way around the world, and not least electricity from a gas fired power station wherever it is situated. Since we in the G20 consume most of the energy and goods, then we would be paying the most penalty for this.

We would have to trust that our governments actually did something with the money though, not just put it in with general revenue and let the future deal with the problems it was supposed to be paying for.


A border adjustment tax accounting for the CO2 used in production abroad would balance out this problem.


then the state you buy from will a have great incentive to cheat in their co2 report, and states out of g20 are renowed for their ethics.


The enormous profits made at the expense of our biosphere's stability is the very height of injustice. Unfortunately that will never be remedied; the misinformation campaign has been incredibly effective.

I read the National Review from time to time for a conservative perspective on the news. Most of the time I enjoy it even when I disagree because it's usually thoughtful and well written, but their climate change pieces are abysmal and infuriating. We will do nothing substantial about climate change until it is far too late to actually prevent disaster.


> Unfortunately that will never be remedied

Not with that attitude :-P

Actually, climate change action does have support on the Right, e.g., in the Republican Climate Resolution. I don't believe we're at the political tipping point, but getting there is possible, the same way we did with tobacco and chemical pollutants. Who can say what is needed to get there: unfortunately misinformation campaigns are better funded than pro climate action campaigns.


Yeah, if Republicans lead by Trump passed some plan where carbon was taxed, and some of the money was used to offset the increased fuel cost for the poor/middle classes, whereas rich folks were thrown a bone with tax cuts, that would be phenomenal. I would be very, very happy with that decision, enough so to feel happy with the Trump administration in spite of everything else.

Chance of this happening, IMO: 0%

As I said in another comment a long time ago and thus sparking an argument with a conservative commentator: this has become a political issue where the majority of people do not understand it. Laypersons are arguing with scientists. There is a tribal sense of which side is correct that is totally unrelated to the facts, and until that is pierced it doesn't matter how urgent the warnings or how win-win the proposals. In the mainstream conservative view, this is firmly in the realm of hysterical, liberal bullshit and does not merit further negotiation. I mean, people actually argue that "the climate is always changing" as though that in any way counters what scientists are saying - fucking asinine.

It breaks my heart that we're going to play chicken with the habitability of our planet just as I'm preparing to bring children into the world.


> There is a tribal sense of which side is correct that is totally unrelated to the facts

I think it's important to acknowledge some role of the Left in alienating the Right in their framing of climate change: Greedy, evil corporations are polluting the environment, and the solution is massive public spending or restructuring of society. Of course I'm exaggerating.

To me the most important questions are: How has science communication failed to convince the public of the danger, and what can be done memetically to counter corporate misinformation campaigns?


>"unfortunately misinformation campaigns are better funded than pro climate action campaigns."

I can't attest as to who is better funded. But the "pro-climate" camp has cornered the market on childhood indoctrination. You know, the whole "green" movement, "save the planet", "extinct species", "pollution", "recycling", etc. It's all neatly packaged and pawned off in classrooms and children's cartoons. You would think then that as adults we'd stick with that; yet there are people out there that have had to go back on everything they've been taught in order to get into the anti-climate-change camp.


I whole-heartedly disagree with your conclusion and tone, but am up voting because it is an interesting question I've wondered about. At what point did these people say "screw everything I was taught, I'm going to spread disinformation and promote harmful policies to make some $$$"? While we've made lots of progress on the hard science aspects of preservation, I think the social science aspect is woefully behind


What's your position on the the ocean, like coral reefs, acidification and so on? Do you think it is all leftist propoaganda?


Coral reefs, specifically? I personally don't care about them or have any feelings for their well-being. It would be unfortunate if my children don't get to see them, yes. Then again, that assumes they would want to, and pictures wouldn't suffice.

I think the problem being created/presented is state-promoting and reinforcing propaganda, rather than a left/right one. I.e. a problem that conveniently has only one easy & short-term solution: more state intervention/legislation.

Now, if it comes to the general well-being and usefulness of an immense natural resource such as the ocean? I think humanity deserves what they're causing & not-preventing. They put it simultaneously in the hands of everyone and no-one in the form of "public property", then complain when the problem of pollution is unfixable because of state-governments not implementing enough legislation and enforcement.


You seem to throw everything associated with the green movement into the same lump of bad things (judging from the tone of your comment). What could be so bad about recycling that you dislike the idea? Is there a logical explanation or maybe it's based on religious beliefs? I'm genuinely curious.


I wasn't trying to portray those items as bad. The thing that is bad is when those things are pushed on children. They're the least likely to question things told to them by authority figures such as teachers.

Then again, I probably have a very narrow view of what should be taught to children by educators. Simple facts and techniques, that's all. Otherwise, the classroom is just another battle front that opinionated teachers can use to push their version of politicized topics that haven't been agreed upon completely by the scientific community. E.g. religion, evolution, climate-change, etc.


In the context of what is being taught in schools and how our education currently exists, there should be no issue with teaching ecological principles, which as noted elsewhere, are as firmly rooted in science as evolution.

This is not a matter of pushing politics.

> the classroom is just another battle front that opinionated teachers can use to push their version of politicized topics that haven't been agreed upon completely by the scientific community. E.g. religion, evolution, climate-change, etc.

One of these things is not like the other. It does however explain your bizarre mindset that teaching basic facts of ecology is some kind of politicization of children. I would think of all populations, children have the most stake in the future of the planet.


>"there should be no issue with teaching ecological principles, which as noted elsewhere, are as firmly rooted in science as evolution. This is not a matter of pushing politics."

Sure, teaching ecological principles as facts and history, yes. I would agree with your wholeheartedly there. But that is not how it's presented in the classrooms of younger-grades. It is loaded with guilt and fear, along with suggestions/instructions about what must be done. At least in the case of global-warming, desertification, deforestation, pollution, ozone-layer depletion, etc. It's the ever-present boogey-man of society's bad choices. That's not teaching. Perhaps young children are simply not ready to hear some of these things, and know of the possibly impending disasters that humanity as a whole is causing. Almost entirely out of the child's control.

>"I would think of all populations, children have the most stake in the future of the planet."

Just as much as the parents, I would argue. They want what's best for their children. Still, doesn't mean you need to burden the children with thoughts/worries of such things.


You include several things in the list of questionable, politicized content that are cold, hard facts. The amount of pollution produced, the effects of this pollution and the rate of extinction of species are not liberal propaganda. The scientific community is in agreement that we are in the anthropocene, or in other words that humans are having such a massive effect on the environment that this geological era is dominated by our influence over that of any other single factor.


But the companies when they make those incredible profits, aren't thinking about the planet. They are thinking about their great business skill and acumen and patting themselves on the back for it. The last thing they would think of is some reason that their success isn't due solely to that.

Additionally, each one person in these companies probably optimizes for their role in particular. A tragedy of the commons affect takes place and the company as a while is misguided and immoral even if the people themselves are not.

How can you avoid problems like this? legislation?


> immoral

They're playing the game to the best of their abilities by the rules set by the government. It's most convenient to think about this game-theoretically: assume companies will always optimize their profit, and then adjust public policy until unilateral economic self-interest aligns with the public / environmental good.


"rules set by the government" - you mean rules lobbied/bought by the companies?


Many energy companies (e.g. Exxon Mobil) have already invested in green technology, so industry push-back on climate regulation is not universal. Also representatives are democratically elected, so industry doesn't have total control over the political process.

That said it's true that corporations have political clout through lobbying and media campaigns. Some of this is necessary to negotiate regulations with governments. In my opinion a more efficient system / more pure democracy would come by having democratically elected leaders evaluate the positive and negative externalities of various activities independently of industry, and then taxing to internalize these costs.


You must recall that a normal player aims to win. The truly unstoppable player cheats.


Illegal != Immoral

Not that you said otherwise.


This is how economic arguments are messed up in general. The economic argument is messed up because cash is not fungible with everything. $1 Trillion won't replace all the coral reefs and Apple can't replace a quarter of them with its cash on hand.

The economic argument is messed up because $1 Trillion is not that much money. It's one years GDP for Australia or Mexico (or less if purchase power parity is considered). It's a quarter of the annual Federal budget of the United States. It's the annual revenue of Exxon-Mobile.

In other words, some people will look at $1 trillion and be grossly unimpressed in an Austin Powers/Dr. Evil sort of way. And they'll miss the point of non-fungibility between money and ecological systems...there's no undeading the coral reefs with cash.


i agree. but you're also letting the other side of the deal - consumers of energy produced by polluting energy sources - off the hook. the consumers benefit from this state of affairs too.


That assumes that consumers have an active purchasing power in how their energy is produced. How as a consumer do you switch the source of your energy? You could maybe move to a cleaner energy state, but even then the grid is highly intertwined and the differences may not be worth the expense and carbon output of the move itself.

You could also protest/campaign/write-letters to your states public utilities boards and maybe make a small difference... but the states are incentivized to keep energy cheap for its citizens, first and foremost. They also have to listen to the various lobbies of the various energy producers.

You might, if you own your own home and have enough income and the right sort of roof and a home-owners association that allows (because some consider them ugly or anti-historic preservation and ban them), install solar panels on your home.

As an individual consumer there are many ways to control your personal carbon footprint (drive less/use less gas, eat less meat especially beef), but consumers don't have a choice for which energy they consume.

If you are arguing that consumers use less energy: the average household is more efficient than it has ever been... and any individual household is still a drop in the overall energy bucket compared commercial and industrial usage. (The energy expenditure of the average office building far exceeds the average home. Imagine if we could all work from home...)


In the UK at least, you can buy electricity from different suppliers though it all comes through the national grid and there is no difference between the electrons of course. The supplier you buy from is responsible for generating enough capacity to offset the needs of their customers (I presume there is some kind of acceptable fudge factor to take up the slack on occasion)


This is true in the US sometimes, but it varies wildly by state (and sometimes even city).

In places where you do have the option there are companies that very aggressively market w/ door-to-door salespeople to attempt to get consumers to lock in a static rate over X sum of years. Which, as far as I can tell... generally confuses/scares consumers so they don't even consider switching suppliers at all.


In New York State we can choose our power supplier. The green providers are a bit more expensive. They remain niche players [1]. Consumers certainly express a preference for cheap energy.

[1] http://world.350.org/nyc/350-nyc-wind-power/


consumers still benefit from the status quo (in the short term, at least) -- this is separate from the question of if they have the option or ability to change the status quo.


The status quo is to advertise to consumers in PSAs that they have some sort of power to greatly control their own impact on the environment, despite statistically no actual power on that front.

While my liberal guilt has me constantly evaluating my own carbon footprint and side-eyeing my neighbors and their SUVs, I also know that as much as I want to be a part of the solution as a consumer, at the end of the day it is corporations, industries, and maybe even the entire system of capitalism that needs to be help culpable for climate change.

Blaming consumers for climate change, statistically, is about like blaming the shape of a hill on the ants and the distribution of their ant hills. It's a bit backwards, and it very much avoids any interest in dealing with real solutions.


What are consumers supposed to do? In many places there is no choice; you get the power the single utility company around provides you. It comes from wherever it comes from. Generating your own is not economically feasible for most.


Here's the solution for two states. I have no information on the other 48 states but presumably some mixture of legislation and taxes and letter writing will take care of it. Generally speaking the heartland is culturally, socially, and technologically ahead of the flyover coasts (which is why they scream so loud about anecdotes to the contrary, LOL) but someday things like this will come to even the backwards coastie states...

https://www.we-energies.com/residential/acctoptions/eft.htm

The marketing "Other" is not unicorn droppings or whatever, its nuclear. I think nuclear is cool but their marketing firm thinks otherwise so its called "other".

Because the only thing better than one standard, is two standards, in addition to signing up for renewables at your power company, there is a new option which I haven't tried where you sign up at arcadiapower and I think they pay your bill for you and you pay them a bit more and they sell 100% wind power to your local power co along with paying your bill. I would imagine this is greased with some tax credits but this is pure speculation. The extra cost or surcharge of 100% wind provided power in Wisconsin at this time is an extra 1.5 cents per KWh (a bit more than 10% extra).

My parents did energy for tomorrow since honestly I donno when, probably the 90s. I have no personal experience with the Arcadia power alternative. I know E4T does commercial power accounts because every vaguely progressive signally retailer or office has their poster up proudly celebrating 100% powered by renewables, its not unusual.

I do have a lot of money invested in energy stocks, I'm honest about that. I believe everything about to be factually correct and unimpacted by my investments, however.


if consumers live in a democratic country they need to demand policy change to regulate this.

some people frame climate change as an "emergency". politically, it is only an emergency if enough people think it is an emergency and are prepared to vote along these lines. i'd agree it is an emergency. but i don't think a majority of people do - so politically, it isn't an emergency.


It's politically not an emergency because companies with vested interests in maintaining the status quo have invested heavily in disinformation campaigns, basically dominating less-educated citizens through information manipulation via "trusted" news sources, defeating the ideals of the democratic process.

Saying people benefit from the status quo of energy is like saying mammals benefit from the status quo of needing oxygen. You don't blame individual mammals for needing oxygen and having no other choice. Especially when other extremely wealthy, organized, and networked mammals are actively working to make sure that that's always the way it's going to be, that status quo being their bread and butter for dominance.

You seem to be pointing out what you perceive to be a solution, the political process. Others are saying that that's not a path because it's too much to expect dumb humans (humans in groups of disparate communities, professions, race, religion, etc etc) to be that smart and organized, especially with the adversarial human forces involved.

In other words, what point are you trying to make by pointing out that the consumers are benefiting from the arrangement. It's very clear that they are not benefiting, they are only barely getting by, while these companies are drowning in wealth.


That's fair, and a good point.


Some utilities have started to offer programs where you can pay extra to purchase 100% renewable energy instead of whatever mix you would otherwise be getting. In areas where that isn't offered, you can still buy carbon offset credits.


I don't understand how they get to $1t in costs. And won't tourists find other places to visit and workers find other places to work?


I think this is their source [1]. Well, sure. If you burn your house down, you can of course find someplace else to live. But, you know, it's kind of a hassle. Easier to not burn it down in the first place.

[1] http://assets.worldwildlife.org/publications/789/files/origi...


The WWF is the NRA of environmental groups...


> at what point is it expected that they use some of those profits made at the planet'*s expense

Expected? None at all. People will argue that that's not the place of companies nor the regulations imposed upon them, and they'll win that argument because they are fundamentally correct.

The lesson to be learned here is that relying on a corporatocracy to save you and "patching it" with regulations (or etc) every time something comes up will not work.

In such a system, companies will separate themselves one way or another from regulations that try and bring 'the bottom line' in line with some non-capitaist ideal. There's always some way to do so to increase "the bottom line." (And no, private companies won't save you either, because it's basically relying on a benevolent dictatorship or parliament you have no way of knowing will remain with the same ideals long-term.)


> These kinds of problems are not factored into the economics of energy

Do you believe internalizing these costs into the price of energy is sufficient to reach a sustainable equilibrium between the environment and the economy?


I'm not exactly sure what you mean but if our existence has to be economically viable (ie, we have to work within the construct of our artificial economy and if survival isn't profitable enough then too bad) then we need to do whatever we can to make the system work.

If the cost of fossil-fuel based energy are artificially low because they don't take environmental damage into account, we have to adjust it and that adjustment might make fossil-fuel based energy more costly than renewable sources.

Alternatively if we tax fossil fuel energy highly, we can use those revenues to combat the problems as well.


Agreed, I'm asking out of curiosity as I'm unfamiliar with the economics. Let's say a board of scientists creates a environmental cost curve for various levels of CO2: C(T) represents the marginal cost of emitting one ton/day of CO2 when T tons/day of CO2 are currently emitted. If we apply a CO2 tax of amount C(T), then CO2 emissions will decrease to account for the higher marginal cost of production. The question is: Will this new production level be environmentally sustainable?


I can't answer that for sure and I'm not sure anyone can which is what makes this problem difficult. We have projections about what CO2 levels need to be by a given year to hopefully avoid a 2 degree increase, but when you are dealing with potential global catastrophe it seems crazy to debate minute details and if we try to just do the bare minimum we might still have catastrophe because our estimates were not on the money.

The earlier we start the less drastic our measures have to be. Unfortunately aside from pure market forces you can just about write off the USA for the next 4 years (in fact, maybe assume that we are a hostile actor as far as climate change is concerned) which means in 4 years we may not even have as many options and measures will get increasingly drastic (ie, potential energy limits on actual consumers).


> so coal and oil will remain economically viable without getting any kind of penalty

I think oil in Norway is taxed at something like 80%. Not for environmental reasons, though.


I was snorkeling in Indonesia a couple years ago, and they didn't sell reef-safe sunscreen anywhere in the country, even in the national parks. It's insane to me that these sorts of locations that derive so much of their GDP from tourism don't even make it possible to protect the resources driving their economy, let alone encouraging or mandating that people do so. Like you would think that if you were a hotel near Kommodo National Park, and the only reason anyone ever stays at your hotel is to go snorkeling and see the Kommodo dragons, then you would stock reef-safe products in your gift shop. But sadly that's not the case.


Are you from this planet? People consistently burn down all the things that sustains them in pursuit of short term gains. Like that's not even a philosophical point about greed and shortsightedness. It's an empirical fact you can bet on.


Sadly this is true, but it still seems illogical every time it happens.

Edit: Illogical because while you may be making money now, your actions will cause you to loose your assets in the long term.


Is it even illogical?

If you can compete better right now by doing X, at the cost of your business 30 years down the road, the incentives, long and short, probably line up with doing X. As an individual, you do it, and hope that in 30 years, you've earned enough to retire or transition to another revenue form. If you go the sustainable route, as someone else pointed out, you likely get out-competed by someone who didn't, and have to find an alternative livelihood even sooner. It's a snowballing issue, where even modest benefits in the short term actually result in massive benefits in the long term, despite a long term penalty.

So, the only way to align incentives with long-term, is for penalties to be applied short-term for behaviors that will impact an industry long-term. Otherwise every individual decision-maker has to weigh whether they are better off making their money and moving on versus trying to compete with a handicap long enough for the long haul.


Humans are just a lot better conditioned to respond to short-term stimuli than long-term goals. Maybe it's a product of our evolutionary history (avoiding predators, making sure we are fed) but it sure doesn't work well at global, collective scales.


Agreed. This is why I believe that we should have regulations and rules to make certain short-term gains painful. That self-regulation is at best wishful thinking.

Let's say that you have 'sustainability', fill in that word however you want, in mind when building your business. But a company who's primary concern is growth will most likely surge ahead of you, possibly squeezing them out of the market. That company can't just retrofit those 'sustainability' practices as by this time they are expected to continue their revenue and company culture is extremely difficult to change.


Are you aware of any studies or successful real-world implementations of systems to promote and incentivize long-term thinking, planning & action?


Dan Ariely and folks in behavioral economics in general have written a book or two on the matter. Basically it comes down to tricking your brain into long term thinking by hijacking short term thinking habits.

Like if you want to develop a running habit then eat a cake after every run and then after a while stop eating the cake. Then you start looking forward to the run because you anticipate eating cake which after a while becomes a running habit. Substitute whatever you like for the cake. It's all hacks though.

Humanity is basically doomed. At some point the thinking that we can innovate ourselves out of every dilemma we got ourselves into will stop working because the complexity of the dilemma keeps growing and technology will stop being the panacea it is at a certain level of complexity.


Illogical, yes, but common enough that we have parables about it. See: The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg.


It's perfectly logical I would say. You could argue that these individuals have seen the bigger picture, and realize that them doing the "logical" thing would disadvantage them over others. Not only that, but it's also perfectly logical to think that by the time these envionmental things become issues, we'd have come up with technology to combat/mitigate them.

We're not all automatons that think alike and share the environmental ideas that you do.


"When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money."


The last tree will be cut not because of cutting trees but because of not able to provide sustainable (growth??) to farmers. It is because products of steel and plastic from multinationals. In the name of safety etc. -- From a farming who use to sow and grow pine tree in about 8 acres for 60 years now we stopped completely and planted eucalyptus knowing that our land may not be cultivatable anymore for next 20 years


You'd also think someone would realize that having better sunscreen does probably not nearly offset the 19000 miles round trip of fuel burnt for a trip from NYC to Indonesia.

Sorry, didn't mean to pick on you. I just get frustrated when people saw anything remotely "save the planet" and then tell me about their massively polutting air travel to distance lands.


The sunscreen may actually be more damaging than the air travel.

> It turns out that oxybenzone can be toxic to baby coral at levels as low as 62 parts per trillion. In plain English, that's equivalent to one drop in 6.5 Olympic swimming pools. Dr C. Downs surveyed reefs in Hawaii and the US Virgin Islands. His team measured levels as high as 1,400,000 parts per trillion. That's more that 20,000 times higher than the toxic levels.

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/greatmomentsins...


Completely separate issue. Ensuring that air pollution doesn't cause unacceptable levels of harm is what cap & trade is for.

In the case of cosmetics there are many ingredients that should just be illegal, whereas in the case of air pollution it's an issue of goods and services that should be legal, but where the total levels of various pollutants aren't currently capped and then priced accordingly.

In my case this was our honeymoon, so we would have gladly (or at least begrudgingly) paid an extra couple hundred bucks or whatever. Whereas someone else just wanting to go to some conference might instead choose to participate remotely.


They don't sell sunscreen based on titanium dioxide or zinc oxide anywhere in Indonesia? Hard to believe.


I mean they probably do somewhere, but not in any of the hotel gift shops, convenience stores, pharmacies, or dive shops where I looked.


Well, you did say "anywhere in the country".


Shouldn't it be the only sunscreen they sell there? It's in their best interest


Have you compared the amazon reviews between "normal" and "reef safe" sunscreens? "reef safe" stuff has poor reviews almost across the board, where as "normal" sunscreens often have excellent reviews.


Are you sure nanoparticles are reef safe? These particles break down too.


They do? Into what?

In any case, the issue is with other types of biologically active sunscreen ingredients.

https://cdhc.noaa.gov/_docs/Site%20Bulletin_Sunscreen_final....


One paper I read ages ago suggested these nanoparticles had similar behaviors subdermal as asbestos but drew no conclusions if they're carcinogenic. Then there's a few references floating about that I can't verify the veracity of that zinc oxide nanoparticles exposed to UV breakdown into free radicals.

Google search: zinc oxide nanoparticles free radical

The larger particle, and thus opaque versions of these sunblocks seem to behave as you'd expect, they stay on the surface of the skin pretty much entirely wash off and don't interact with the environment. But they're visible light opaque so you look like you've been painted.


Tragedy of the commons.


I always dislike estimates of this sort, because they give the impression of a scaling argument O(trillion $) when they are never validated and they are seldom more than 'this could cause a huge impact'!

I'm speaking as someone who is horrified at the loss of coral reefs, both because of the ecological implications as well as the loss of a truly stunning natural beauty (I'm PADI certified and love Scuba).


Radiolab had a pretty good podcast explaining where these economic estimates come from and why they are important to have around. It's part 3 at the following link:

http://www.radiolab.org/story/worth/

Basically, if you do not make a monetary estimate of the worth of some feature of nature, it's assumed worth is $0 when governments are making decisions about policy and land use.


Well the sort of rhetoric comes from the fact that economic considerations in our world are dealt with very quickly compared to environmental considerations.


Well I guess my only real problem is the group assessing the value is not government backed and as such may not have strict enough guidance when determining impact.

However the need for assessment if there is a reasonable means to correct the issue or prevent future occurrence. I doubt we can correct it and do we know if this has ever occurred without possibility of man's activities? I would be curious as to the evolution of coral reefs, what is their historic variability?


You must really hate the evening weather report and financial news media then. Hoo boy, and you thought those "scientists" were hand-wavy. Wait until you see what they do with stock picks!

(Edit: I can see by the downvotes that no one appreciates the sarcasm. The serious way to express this point is that by demanding rigor and precision of this kind of analysis, you are applying a standard that you very much DO NOT apply to the other important issues in your life. Squishy, hard-to-quantify risk management is pervasive in retirement planning, insurance purchases, education decisions, career choice, marriage... So why are you insisting that climate and ecological decisions be held to a higher standard?)


Ok, so now we care about the environment and the planet if we can set a price. If we estimate an animal race is worth a $10k we can extinct it.

I dislike very much to put a price on things just to be aware we need to protect them. Coral reefs have more value, it is not just about money.


The overwhelming majority of people in the world, even those living in coastal areas, have never seen a coral reef in real life. Some may have seen it on TV or in print media, but most people are aware of them only by name.

That's why the economic argument is a good way to communicate the importance of these resources. Someone who has never left Kentucky in their entire life may not care about The Grand Barrier Reef in Australia, but they may care about the global economic impact of losing it.


Dead wrong. Putting a price tag on something will allow to value that thing against others. Then you loose all the intangible values such as : beauty, the fact that corals are vital to some species, etc. So, if you estimate the value of coral, then you can say that it's less valuable than something else. I can follow you if you compute the price in terms "price to build" instead of "value", that is : how much euros do you need to rebuild the coral reef.

Same argument with fresh water : some people think that if you put a price on it, then people will be more careful when using it. That value price. Now, let's compute how much it takes to clean water (in a way it doesn't taste the chemicals used to clean it).

Nevertheless, teaching people to appreciate the value of things by reducing these to an amount of money is absolutely destroying the so-many-axis-of-values one may envision for one simple thing... It's blinding people to the richness of what they may encounter.

How much dollars are you worth ?


And what is to stop anybody from extending the economic argument to that very person in Kentucky. "This fella has an economic value of X... We could get on just fine without him/her". This is already being done to an extent with companies buying "dead peasant" life insurance on their employees [1].

The point is that is that people along with the environment and the species we share it with have value that is outside of their economic contributions.

[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/is-there-a-dead-peasant-life-...


What's wrong with putting an economic "value" on a human life? It is something we all implicitly and explicitly do every do. Implicitly, by deciding how much money to spend on increasing our own safety (e.g., how much extra to pay for a safer car). Explicitly, by things like insurance as you mentioned.

Burying your head in the sand and refusing to understand that the world is full of trade-offs, which can most easily be expressed via economics, doesn't help at all.


It's because they are most easily expressed via economics, but a far cry from most accurately expressed that way.


Because most of us already have a value system that wants to protect human life. But many people's values around money is more weighty than around protecting other things in our environment. So it is easier to piggy-back on existing values when possible than convince people to adopt new ones.


Isn't it the problem? They may care because of the $$$. We should care about our planet because is where we live! Harming any part of the ecosystem has more impact that only the money, and there are some problems that we cannot predict in advance.


I've been saying it for years, but: The only political issue that matters is education. Everything else is tactical.

A nation's education system should be responsible for raising the next generation of citizens, propagating our national identity and cultural values to the next generation while imbuing them with the ability to think critically to ward off corrupting ideas. Successful nations, especially empires like the US, needs a common world view to glue citizens together... social cohesion, progress, and economic success go hand in hand.

In contrast, our dismal K-12 system is built to churn out 20th century factory employees rather than educated 21st century citizens. We treat school like a glorified day care rather than a vital cultural institution, leading to a tremendously wasteful and inefficient K-college system. It's ludicrous that most Americans would fail our citizenship test... which requires getting 6 out of 10 multiple-choice questions right. Ludicrous.


Whose cultural values would be taught? I'd guess that the majority of the US doesn't share your particular social values, not to mention how much those values have changed over the last 20 years (e.g. on things like gay marriage as an obvious example).


Regarding values: An emphasis would be placed on Constitutional values, with an intentional focus on ambiguity and how the Constitution has/has not changed over time. Slavery and civil rights would be a fascinating topic to cover through this lens.

The goal should be training new citizens to be unbiased critical thinkers by exposing them to a flood of new ideas while teachers emphasize socratic questioning, debate, communication skills, research, and related skills (eg statistics). Disagreement is absolutely fine, that's the American way... as long as students have the tools and mindset to effectively research and debate new ideas, with the humbleness to change positions.

Ideally, education also would involve a mandatory exchange program to expose students to other lifestyles and subcultures while continuing to work through their school program.


Really? The current US education system seems to "churn out" fewer people with useful vocational skills ("20th century factory employees") than ever before.


Yep, we've seen years of cut-backs on the vocational side because parents believe their kids must go to college... so we're left with a system designed for the era of straight-out-of-highschool vocational workers, operating in a parental environment that sees college as an absolute necessity, and labor market where most of those degrees equate to expensive GEDs.

Terribly inefficient. The whole system warrants refactoring.

K-12, tradeschools, internships/apprenticeships, college, med/law schools, adult retraining, enlistment, officer training... it's a ball of spaghetti. We need to review each component and the overall system through the lens of modern societal and economic needs.


I'm going to guess that someone who has never left Kentucky has enough local environmental concerns -- fracking, flooding, tornadoes, for starters -- to not care one bit about a coral reef somewhere, no matter what some economist values it at.


If you estimate the value of everything at "priceless," then it's impossible to make decisions which necessarily involve tradeoffs. Quantification lends specificity to complex systems.


Ok, them if someone probes your value is negative, because for example you have an average job but also you are sick and the cost to keep you alive are high. Them we should get rid of you. Because economically you are not viable.

You cannot make decision based on your economic value. Should we destroy an animal race just because we think their economic value is low? What about the side effects we don't know? what about everybody has the same rights? what about fucking up the environment in some countries because they are poor? What about the poor child that wont have access to proper education? We just don't care because their economic value is low?


Right, things/animals/people have value beyond their economic value. And to make decisions, we need to quantify in some way what this value is. To see this, consider a risk/cost curve for an environmental cleanup:

$100k : 1000 micromorts

$300k : 100 micromorts

$500k : 10 micromorts

$1m : 8 micromorts

$2m : 6 micromorts

$10m : 4 micromorts

$1b : 2 micromorts

$100b : 0.5 micromorts

Practically speaking, there is a need to make decisions which involve tradeoffs between money and other forms of value. Making these kinds of decisions rationally means quantifying non-economic forms of value.

Also, as more food for thought, consider the death penalty, in which a society deems that the true "value" of a person -- distinct from their economic value -- is negative.


Forget about the estimate, the loss of coral reefs is a disaster, period.


Why? The poor who benefit from cheap energy don't give a fuck about tourists loosing their fancy attraction.


Seems weird to be talking about this in terms of Trillions of dollars of impact to the economy. I get it that it can be helpful to show people how bad it could be but I'm not sure it does a great job at that even.

It would be like saying: Lack of breathable air could cost $76 Trillion Globally


Some people only care about money.


How do you fix that?

We need some sort of karma for good deeds. I can up vote comments on hn without spending "votes", I don't run out of them. Using them as a sort of currency would be interesting. Would this solve problems that aren't profit making? Like fixing the climate.


And where would these magical "votes" come from? Would we be born with a finite amount of them, and get to use them periodically? Say, like an election and voting?

In addition, let's say I get lots of these "votes". What good are they to me? What value to they possess/represent? Do we treat them as magical brownie points that are monetarily value-less, in which case, only those that care for the prestige of having many of them would chase them. The rest would ignore it.

Do we punish individuals for having too little? How about punishing those individuals that misuse them? Sell them?

Anywho, playing a bit of devil's advocate there. But sounds like what you're suggesting is money. It's available right now, and yet people don't go around donating ridiculous-enough amounts of it to make an appreciable difference in "karma" regarding the environment. That's why we're having this discussion, even.


I am poor. I would like to fix the environment. How do I affect change? How do I go from helpless to helpful?

I have no money, I have little spare time, limited range of travel.

We see these unfixable problems with climate and no real way of tackling them.

I spent an hour picking up plastic from the beach, could I turn that time and effort into something? Like money or karma or something else.

I can't do it for free as I need money for food. No one wants to pay me to do it. How do we solve this?


> “It would have been virtually impossible for this to have occurred without climate change.”

> “This isn’t just an environmental issue. The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s greatest economic assets. It’s responsible for bringing in more than $7 billion each year to our economy, while also supporting the livelihoods of around 70,000 people.”

The irony is that in order for these tourists to visit, they have to fly overseas in planes creating significant carbon emissions.


On the other hand, flying accounts for less than 5% of global CO2 emissions. Enviro-tourism arguably helps reduce the other 95%.


that'd be great if it were true, but i'm skeptical.

Even ignoring the CO2 produced by flying, what evidence is there that enviro-tourism itself reduces CO2 emissions?


Well, the stats are true and available online.

I admittedly lack evidence on the enviro-tourism aspect, but it seems logical that tourists from heavily industrialized 3rd world countries return with some desire to improve their home environment.


Tourism is a drop in the ocean...

"Coral reefs are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth. Coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment, including about 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals and hundreds of other species. Scientists estimate that there may be another 1 to 8 million undiscovered species of organisms living in and around reefs (Reaka-Kudla, 1997). This biodiversity is considered key to finding new medicines for the 21st century. Many drugs are now being developed from coral reef animals and plants as possible cures for cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, viruses, and other diseases.

Storehouses of immense biological wealth, reefs also provide economic and environmental services to millions of people. Coral reefs may provide goods and services worth $375 billion each year. This is an amazing figure for an environment that covers less than 1 percent of the Earth’s surface (Costanza et al., 1997)."

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral07_i...


These tourists are also exhaling carbon dioxide, which has about as much effect on global warming (negligible) as long-haul flights to Australia.

"The IPCC has estimated that aviation is responsible for around 3.5% of anthropogenic climate change." [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_aviati...]


It's like Al Gore. All this noise about climate change as he circumnavigates the globe in a private jet dozens of times per year. The plebs should take public transit to work though.


As someone who grew up in an area where tourism was the primary "industry" I don't think it's appropriate to count loss of tourism generated commerce as a "loss" here. It might be a local loss but it's a net win for society.


>The loss of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef alone costing that region 1 million visitors a year, imperilling 10,000 jobs and draining $1 billion from the economy

This is terrible for Queensland, but it doesn't support the $1T global cost. Most of these tourism dollars will go to other attractions that are slightly worse on the margin--they won't just disappear.


If you do not want to wait for your government to take action about climate change, you do have an individual option; http://edition.cnn.com/2017/04/08/opinions/go-vegan-save-the...

And heres how: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=vegan+what+I+ea...


This is a perfect example of unwarranted alarmism. It links coral bleaching to global warming without any proof, while making ridiculous economic claims. Locals [1] and local scientists [2] disagree with the claim that the reef is irreparably damaged. Here's the quote:

We’ve also seen reports that 35 per cent, or even 50 per cent, of the entire reef is now gone. However, based on our ­combined results so far, the overall mortality rate is 22 per cent — and about 85 per cent of that die-off has occurred in the far north ­between the tip of Cape York and just north of Lizard Island, 250km north of Cairns. Seventy-five per cent of the reef will come out in a few months time as recovered.

I also urge anyone who is sick of this kind of science scaremongering to follow junkscience.com [3]

[1] http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/reef-tourism-o...

[2] http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/great-barrier-re...

[3] http://junkscience.com


If you're concerned by this, a group of us tech folks will be marching with the Climate March on April 29th. Join us!

https://techsector.peoplesclimate.org/


This number does not make sense at all. Yes, certain sites lost visitors because of loss of coral reefs, but how come this financial effect is global? Do visitors go to other places? Even if they stay home, don't they spend money on other things? Even if they don't spend those money, can the savings help them in the future? It is just ridiculous to claim losing certain visitors as global financial cost.


Tourism amounts to about 5% of the economic importance of coral reefs. 35% of all fish species spend a part of their life cycle on reefs. Pelagic fish predate on reef and demersals, the system is fundamentally interdependent. reefs protect coastal infrastructure, and so on.

Thinking that the loss of coral reefs only affects a few rich playboys is... naive.


This is a problem tech could solve. I don't see what stops us from monetizing saving the reefs via charging for eco-friendly tourism in pristine ocean.


Ah! the fear mongering. There is science and then there is stamp collecting. This report is more like later.

These reports must be taken with grain of salt. Not only the study is dubious but it essentially talks of all coral reefs across the world doing extinct. There is good chance that coral reefs will reduce in their size over next few decades but they are unlikely to totally disappear. Neither will the jobs and other opportunities disappear with it. A rare coral reef is a bigger tourism destination.

Also $1T is a figure I will totally ignore. If we have to protect coral reefs it is because it is an important part of ecosystem that I would like to conserve for my kids and grand kids (and I would like to pay for the conservation efforts too).

I think the probability that US will go into another recession over either war or some other government scheme gone wrong is much higher over next 30 years. We will likely lose lot more that $1T that time.


At this point anybody not calling for more nuclear power plants is just ignoring reality.


Have the world's coast guards and navies already been deployed to protect natural resources within a country's borders? If not yet, I would be surprised if it didn't happen soon.


If you include food, yes. Multiple nations have shot at unauthorized Chinese fishing vessels trawling within their borders, however China hasn't defended those ships beyond political posturing.

As far as fossil fuels go, I'm not aware of states defending their internationally recognized claims against other states... but there is growing tension behind unrecognized claims.

The South China Sea issue is largely driven by China using their navy to project borders beyond internationally recognized limits. Their official justification is reclaiming historical territory, which suspiciously became a priority when oil was discovered in the area.

Russia may be in a similar position. They've been building up their Arctic military force, presumably with the intent of claiming Arctic oil fields as the Northwestern Passages opens up due to climate change. However, again, they haven't claimed anything officially.


I think the Fermi Paradox's great filter will probably filter us out. I don't regard humans as a very smart species. It's like an ape hacked on with a large computer


Fermi's Paradox looms large, and the Filter seems to as well.

Humans are exceptionally intelligent, that is obvious. At the same time, we still hold most of the evolutionary baggage that has, up to a few thousand years ago, allowed us in no small part to succeed.

For example: given two events, A and B, where A is a bad event and B is a good event, of equal magnitudes, we will almost always far more clearly remember event A, the bad thing, than B.

Bad things making a deeper and longer lasting psychological impression is an excellent and effective evolutionary characteristic, until relatively recently.

Now, I think it's making us crazy.

That's just one example. A more direct example would be how much more important short-term thinking is to us than long-term thinking. Again, historically, a huge evolutionary advantage. Now, well, here we are.


What is a species you would consider smart?


How about one that can engage in plans as a collective that consider long-term consequences over short-term gains? This is something we use when considering how well along a child is in development. It appears humanity as a collective isn't much smarter than a child.


To patch the allemende-bug, you would have to introduce incentives via politics, but incentives are either gambled around or with, or corroded away by cooperate-kapital not beeing busy. So to fix it, you need a law that is gambling waterteight - in all participating countrys- and you need to bind law corroding kapital.

Now its basically impossible to change this democratically - any initiative would be bend, distorted and defused long before it would reach the capital. The only feasible option - is to alter consumer behaviour. For this, the real economic footprint needs to be visible on all products, with the easy scan of a app. All of it. Meaning, you need to pay people all along the supply chain to spy on the origins and processes that produce something. You could then really see what in your life is destroying that reef - and what alternatives there are. And then you could vote with your feet. And to add incentive for those who do not care (we are all dead in the long term), some publicly visible environmental kharma point system, could be the final incentive. Maybe- something aking to jewelery- you only get, if you sacrifice part of your lifestyle for the planet.


Anyone else see massive opportunities here for entrepreneurs?

I like to say "climate change will create the first trillionaire". I can't help but imagine the powerful technologies and systems that will be developed out of this. Eco-friendly tourism, environmental sensors, synthetic biology reef protectants.


If we assume that governments and businesses start giving a shit then many forms of magic are possible.


A "Hacker's Guide to Climate Change" would be cool...equip hackers to make the magic :)


it would be great if people not just upvote it, but change their lifestyle, stop to overconsume, over-eat, over-everything, limit their car usage or at least not drive stupidly, stop having useless pets, stop smoking, etc..

I don't want to give lessons, but I have probably 5% of the average impact people do to environment in my country


[flagged]


Money is replaceable, precious and unique ecosystems are not. The fact that they place a price on it doesn't matter, by many definitions it's priceless.


When a tin of sardines cost $120 people will notice. When chicken is worth $45/pound (because they are fed fish meal) people may notice. And the world will be a changed place. We'll have neural laces, and soylent 19/20 meals.




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