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Top Economics Textbook Gets Climate Science And Policy Wrong

By Brad Johnson  

"Top Economics Textbook Gets Climate Science And Policy Wrong"


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The most popular economics textbook in the United States gives a misleading picture of climate science and policy. A new analysis by economist Yoram Bauman for the Sightline Institute criticizes Economics: Principles, Problems, and Policies by Campbell McConnell, Stanley Brue, and Sean Flynn, its 18th edition published in 2008, for “multiple errors” and “climate science that is almost 15 years out of date.” Bauman bemoans the fact that Economics has “over 20 percent of the market” for introductory economics textbooks:

Overall, the book is not too bad if you ignore that it’s based on climate science that is almost 15 years out of date and that it has multiple errors that would make Wikipedia blush. The fact that this textbook has over 20 percent of the market shakes my faith in capitalism.

The book’s 16th chapter has an extended discussion of climate change, with misleading, outdated, or false statements throughout:

The earth’s surface has warmed over the last century by about 1 degree Fahrenheit, with an acceleration of warming during the past two decades. Some of this surface warming may simply reflect natural fluctuations of the earth’s warming and cooling, but the balance of scientific evidence suggests that human activity is a contributing factor.

The “balance of evidence” language quoted above is 15 years out of date, coming from the 1995 IPCC second assessment report. The most recent IPCC report, from 2007, says that “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely [greater than 90 percent] due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [man-made] greenhouse gas concentrations.”

Since 1997 all signatory nations except the United States have ratified the Kyoto agreement although few are actually likely to meet the 2012 goals.

This claim is false. In fact, as of 2007, 26 of 30 European Union countries are on track to meet their Kyoto targets, and the EU will meet its collective target. As will Australia, Japan, Russia, and the industrialized countries as a whole.

Because of the greenhouse effect, average temperatures are predicted to rise by 1 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 50 years and 2.2 to 10 degrees by 3000.

“The authors are off by 900 years,” Bauman writes. “If they substituted ’2100′ for ’3000′ they would be more in line with the 2007 IPCC report.” In the three years since the IPCC report, expectations have worsened. Scientists now expect temperatures to rise by another 3.5 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2060 and 5 to 11 degrees by 2100 if dramatic reductions in pollution are not made.

Rainfall will increase, rainfall patterns will change, and ocean levels will gradually rise by as much as 2 feet. Snow accumulations may decline in some regions and rise in others. More violent storms such as tornadoes and hurricanes may occur in some regions.

The projection of sea level rise is wrong. The upper bound on very long-term sea level rise due to global warming is about 80 meters (260 feet) above current levels. The 2007 IPCC report did not place an upper bound on sea level rise by 2100, because ice sheet dynamics were not sufficiently understood to make a projection based on anything over than thermal expansion. Current expectations of sea level rise this century are of a minimum of 1.6 feet to 6 feet increase. Mort importantly, significant and deadly changes in rainfall, sea level rise, snow accumulation, and violent storms have already been observed across the world. These are not just changes that scientists expect to happen — but changes that are already happening.

The authors also get basic climate policy wrong in a misquote of Gilbert Metcalf’s carbon tax paper:

According to a 2007 study, a proposed $15 tax per ton of carbon emitted would add an estimated 14 cents to a gallon of gasoline, $1.63 to a kilowatt hour of electricity, $28.50 to a ton of coal, and $6.48 to a barrel of crude oil.

“They’re off by two full orders of magnitude here,” Bauman explains. “$1.63 should be $0.0163, and that’s not the only mathematical error. The figures they use refer to a tax per ton of carbon dioxide, not a tax per ton of carbon.” A $15 tax on a ton of carbon is a $55 tax on a ton of carbon dioxide.

Bauman charitably gives the textbook a C- grade, classing it with other major economics texts that are “not recommended.”

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