Kerry Emanuel: An Obligation to Take on ‘Tail Risk’ vs. Alarmism

On the 24 March Econtalk Russ Roberts interviewed John Christy and Kerry Emanuel. Prof. Roberts is very effective at moderating an informal debate like this – he keeps each party focused on reply and rebuttal to the key points. This is far more effective than the usual “debate” where each side essentially repeats prepared talking points, with very little contact with the arguments made by the opposition.

I have been following the writings of MIT prof. Kerry Emanuel for a long time. Besides his climate science expertise, he has been an effective voice for pragmatic carbon policy that includes nuclear power. E.g., on 3 November Dr. Emanuel and three other top climate scientists joined together in an open letter directed to the Baptists in the “Bootleggers and Baptists” coalition that have made it impossible to make any real progress decarbonizing the global economy.

Related posts on Kerry Emanuel’s work are Enviros and climate scientists continue their fight over nuclear power, and Kerry Emanuel: Reddit AMA on climate change and severe weather.

Though I’ve not reviewed the book here, I highly recommend Emanuel’s compact primer What we know about climate change. It is a remarkably short, apolitical and information-dense survey of a complex subject.

In the above-captioned short essay by Emanuel, he takes a similar theme to the Econtalk interview — that to develop effective climate/energy policy we need to focus on the risk management. It won’t be a surprise that I support Kerry Emanuel’s risk framing — because that is how I look at climate policies. I think we need to keep our attention on both mitigation and adaption policy options. Generating more policy options is how we get better results (exactly the opposite of what activists want – which is to limit our options to the activists’ preferred technology/approach).

This is all about risk – and risk appraisal and management are skills that we humans do not manage well at all. 

2 thoughts on “Kerry Emanuel: An Obligation to Take on ‘Tail Risk’ vs. Alarmism

  1. wrhoward

    I have emphasised the framing about the “tail” as well. The point to be gotten is that it does not take a large shift in the modal values of variables like temperature, or sea level, to drive higher risk of events that “live” in the tails of the distributions: heat waves, inundations in storm surges. So although it is difficult to demonstrate that climate change “causes” singular events like cyclones, heat waves, and bush fires, it can “ramp” up underlying risk factors like the incidence of bushfire weather, and mean sea level.

    1. Steve Darden Post author

      …events that “live” in the tails of the distributions: heat waves, inundations in storm surges.

      Thanks for your comments. You have packed a lot of important concepts into 92 words!

Comments are closed.