Some hot air can be useful

In the latest issue of CEDA’s Australian Chief Executive magazine, Warwick McKibbin has a very accessible outline of the McKibbin-Wilcoxen model, his alternative to the Kyoto Protocol. At he summarises it:

My colleague Peter Wilcoxen and I have a system that deals with each one of these positives. We call it the blueprint. It’s aimed at achieving emissions reductions at least cost over time. It’s like a target and timetables approach, but without the timetables. The blueprint has two components. One is that we impose a long-term goal for the economy. The second is that we regularly line up the short-term costs with what we think the science is telling us about the expected environment benefits as we value them at the time.

For more on the McKibbin-Wilcoxen model, see McKibbin’s website.

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13 Responses to Some hot air can be useful

  1. Ben says:


    It is very hard to get past this sentence early on the piece you refer to:

    –“But there are some winners as well. Parts of Northern Europe and parts of North America probably would like to have some climate change.”

    McKibbin talks again and again about the uncertainty of climate change just as George Bush has done for many years now. He appears to follow in the techno-optimist tradition which has so often let us down. We may not have the luxury of his century long time frames for turning things around. Disturbing stuff. I’m sure the readership of “Australian Chief Executive” will lap it up.

  2. Mork says:

    It’s an interesting idea, but I’m inclined to agree with Ben about the lack of confidence that the commentary inspires. There’s not much evidence here that he really understands the range of scenarios that could unfold: if all there was to global warming was a uniform increase in average temperatures, then the consequences would be a lot easier to adjust to than what I understand to be the more likely result of sudden, unpredictable effects as the various systems and subsystems that contribute to climate interact. For example, one of the widely circulated predictions is that Norther Europe, far from becoming more congenial, will actually get colder as the result of the breakdown of the Atlantic Conveyor ocean current. One of the scenarios modelled by that famous study commissioned by the Pentagon and leaked to the press a few years ago was cold in Northern Europe leading to mass migration to the Mediterranean countries.

  3. Patrick says:

    the techno-optimist tradition which has so often let us down. ‘ – but of course! I’m thinking as I write of the great penicillin let-down, never did cure cancer that rot,…

    What on earth are you talking about? What is ‘techno-optimism‘ apart from historical literacy and when has it let us down? And are you proposing we place our faith in doomsday hysteria, which has clearly never failed us been right?

  4. Russell Hamilton says:

    What about electricity so cheap it wouldn’t have to be metered ? Bit of a let down.

  5. Mork says:

    I’m not sure I completely agree about the infallibility of the “techno-optomist” tradition … I’m still waiting for my flying car and my household robots, and a bunch of other things I was promised. We also don’t seem to have eradicated war and hunger or extended our dominion to the planets.

    I do think it’s worth considering climate change predicitions in the light of the various other Doomsday scenarios that have bubbled up through the years, but only a fool or a liar (of which there are still plenty) would make a serious comparison between the state of the science on climate change and things link the Paul Erlich/Club of Rome thought-experiments from the 1970s. Doomsday theorists are always wrong, until they are right, and they only have to be right once for humanity to have a very bad day.

  6. Patrick says:

    flying car – you have it if you don’t want to live in the city; otherwise remember that this is techno-optimist, not pure fantasy, whatever your car might seem like to someone from 150 years ago and whatever an airplane might seem like to someone from 100 years ago.

    household robots you’ve already got them too, if you open your eyes a bit. You can get robot vacuums, most espresso machines today are robots, pools are cleaned by robots, lawns mowed, etc.

    We are getting to the planets faster now than ever – mainly because for 40 years the dead hand stifled us in that regard (and still does, just less!). As for hunger, we long ago put the means in our hands – have you heard a the one about golden rice in India?

    As for electricity so cheap it wouldn’t need to be metered, I don’t think you were talking to a techno-optimist – I think you were talking to a ‘socialist-loony‘ 🙂

    The rest is beyond, fortunately, technology. Humans will be humans, as a better-humoured HAL might have said!

  7. Patrick says:

    Er, sorry: Golden Rice

  8. Ben says:


    Hysteria is when a government starts tapping the phone calls and internet traffic of people who are not suspects to any crime. Hysteria is clamping down on free speech with absurd sedition laws. Hysteria is when politicians triple gaol sentences for a crime because of the screaming headlines of the tabloid press, so as to appear to be doing something.

    However, taking heed of the very best peer-reviewed scientific journals with respect to global warming is hardly hysteria. Global warming in not a future possibility. It is upon us right now and it is our fault.

    Patrick technological optimism is an act of faith whereby some believe that all of our current problems no matter how dire will be solved by the inevitable march of technology. It is a negligent view which dumps responsibility for our failings on future generations. I think penicillin is a wonderful drug and prescribe it quite often. I also love gadgets and gizmos. However I am aware that many major technologies have brought with them both good and bad – often in equal measure. I am thinking of nuclear fission, the use of fossil fuels, development of pesticides/insecticides etc.

    Unfortunately nanotechnology and modifying GM food aren’t about to feed the starving millions any time real soon. Social changes not technological changes hold the key to our biggest challenges.

    Keep a look out for that hysterical lunatic Al Gore in the upcoming doco “An Inconvenient Truth” when it hits theatres later this year.

  9. Patrick says:

    My comment just vanished into the ether – do you have some kind of anti-links comment filter, Andrew?

    It was written before Ben’s popped up, but incidentally I do think of Al Gore in pretty much those terms.

  10. Patrick says:

    Well, fwiw, we do already have most of what you guys are complaining we don’t. Robots are everywhere – look at vacuums, pool cleaners, coffee machines, inside your car, etc. Planets are coming, much faster now than ever before thanks to the recent loosening of the dead hand that prevailed in that area. As for flying cars, consider how many people actually do have personal planes now – compare that to cars 100 years ago, it looks good.

    But the electricity idea came not from a techno-optimist but a socialist-loony. Never trust that species, ever. Literally on pain of death 🙂

    Technological optimism is not a act of faith anymore than ‘the sun rose tomorrow and it will rise today’ is. The corollary is that the idea that technology has commensurate costs is imbecilic – I don’t like such strong language normally but think about that idea. Do you really think the ‘costs’ of fossil fuels is in equal measure? Pesticides? Do you eat? Do you live in a house? In fact, do you think before you write?

    But you oughtn’t blame techno-optimism or anything else for what is essentially the failure of those who believed in such evils as the socialist state – feeding the starving millions would be achieved in no time if those countries were market democracies.

    Technology hasn’t changed humans, fortunately in my opinion – that is left to us to achieve ourselves, with the same tools we’ve had for nearly 100,000 years now: language, thought, and memory.

  11. Ben says:


    I understand your disgust at the “evils of the socialist state”. You’ll be interested to know then that Karl Marx was an archetypal technological optimist.

  12. Patrick says:

    No, he was a technological utopian. Technological optimism is a much more modest doctrine – but if you had confused the two, which is partly suggested by your line about feeding the world, I understand better your position.

    I note and endorse the following introduction: ‘19th century socialists, feminists and republicans were generally advocates of reason and science. Techno-utopianism, atheism, and rationalism have been associated with the democratic, revolutionary and utopian Left for most of the last two hundred years‘ – a less desirable bunch would be hard to imagine! (ok, I should except some 19th century feminists).

    If you look to technology to cure social or political ills, you will rarely be satisfied. An example is contraception – they solved the technological problem of how to have sex without responsibility, but did very little for most of the social problems that sex creates, although they did go a long way with respect of some of them, such sa inherent female dependance.

    Same applies to your feeding the world – technology gives us the means, but not the political will.

    To make perfectly clear that I eschew any form of utopianism, I’ll just repeat what I already said: Technology hasn’t changed humans, fortunately in my opinion – that is left to us to achieve ourselves, with the same tools we’ve had for nearly 100,000 years now: language, thought, and memory.

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