Superfreakonomics

The emphasis on carbon dioxide? “Misplaced,” says Wood.

Why?

“Because carbon dioxide is not the major greenhouse gas. The major greenhouse gas is water vapor.” But current climate models “do not know how to handle water vapor and various types of clouds. That is the elephant in the corner of this room. I hope we’ll have good numbers on water vapor by 2020 or thereabouts.”

Superfreakonomics, p182

“On balance, the role of clouds is to produce a cooling,” says Latham. “If clouds didn’t exist in the atmosphere, the earth would be a lot hotter than it is now.” Even man-made clouds—the contrails from a jet plane, for example—have a cooling effect. […]

His solution: use the ocean itself to make more clouds.

Superfreakonomics, pp201-2

I wasn’t looking forward to Superfreakonomics but it’s surprisingly fun. Even more surprisingly, some of the fun was not at the authors’ expense. The chapters on modelling altruism and cheap fixes were very interesting.

And the way authors bang on about how economists are the most rational guys (and they are all guys in this book) on the planet is almost charming in its daftness. It’s as if they come to us from an alternate reality when economists hadn’t been alternately crowing and hectoring about free markets and the evils of state intervention for, oh, the last forty years. A strange world indeed, where infrastructure is somehow constructed and the US banks still work.

The chapter on climate change seems to have been strapped on in order to raise the book’s profile with some controversy. There’s no evidence that Levitt or Dubner actually comprehend the physical basis of the greenhouse effect—they seem to think that it has something to do with soot. And whatever the word “rational” means when used by economists, it doesn’t include ensuring that page 182 doesn’t contradict page 200, or that the “Law of Unintended Consequences” would apply not only to the US Endangered Species Act but also to some Professor-Branestawmish scheme to cure global warming by pumping sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere.

I could go on, but I’ll stop with this delightfully bizarre sentence from p193:

Leverage is the secret ingredient that separates physics from, say, chemistry.

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