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Economic Damages from Climate Change

When I tell people I study climate change, sooner or later they usually ask me a simple question: “Is it too late?” That is, are we doomed, by our climate inaction? Or, less commonly, they ask, “But what do we really know?”

With our new paper, Estimating Economic Damage from Climate Change in the United States, I finally have an answer to both of these questions; one that is robust and nuanced and shines light on what we know and still need to understand.

The climate change that we have already committed is going to cost us trillions of dollars: at least 1% of GDP every year until we take it back out of the atmosphere. That is equivalent to three times Trump’s proposed cuts across all of the federal programs he cuts.

If we do not act quickly, that number will rise to 3 – 10% by the end of the century. That includes the cost of deaths from climate change, lost labor productivity, increased energy demands, costal property damage. The list of sectors it does not include– because the science still needs to be done– is much greater: migration, water availability, ecosystems, and the continued potential for catastrophic climate tipping points.

But many of you will be insulated from these effects, by having the financial resources to adapt or move, or just by living in cooler areas of the United States which will be impacted less. The worst impacts will fall on the poor, who in the Untied States are more likely to live in hotter regions in the South and are less able to respond.

Economic damages by income deciles

One of the most striking results from our paper is the extreme impact that climate change will have on inequality in the United States. The poorest 10% of the US live in areas that lose 7 – 17% of their income, on average by the end of the century, while the richest 10% live where in areas that will lose only 0 – 4%. Climate change is like a subsidy being paid by the poor to the rich.

That is not to say that more northern states will not feel the impacts of climate change. By the end of the century, all by 9 states will have summers that are more hot and humid than Louisiana. It just so happens that milder winters will save more lives in many states in the far north than heat waves will kill. If you want to dig in deeper, our data is all available, in a variety of forms, on the open-data portal Zenodo. I would particularly point people to the summary tables by state.

Economic damages by county

What excites me is what we can do with these results. First, with this paper we have produced the first empirically grounded damage functions that are driven by causation rather than correlation. Damage functions are the heart of an “Integrated Assessment Model”, the models that are used by the EPA to make cost-and-benefit decisions around climate change. No longer do these models need to use out-dated numbers to inform our decisions, and our numbers are 2-100 times as large as they are currently using.

Second, this is just the beginning of a new collaboration between scientists and policy-makers, as the scientific community continues to improve these estimates. We have built a system, the Distributed Meta-Analysis System, that can assimilate new results as they come out, and with each new result provide a clearer and more complete picture of our future costs.

Finally, there is a lot that we as a society can do to respond to these projected damages. Our analysis suggests that an ounce of protection is better than a pound of treatment: it is far more effective (and cheaper) to pay now to reduce emissions than to try to help people adapt. But we now know who will need that help in the United States: the poor communities, particularly in the South and Southeast.

We also know what needs to be done, because the biggest brunt of these impacts by far comes from pre-mature deaths. By the end of the century, there are likely to be about as many deaths from climate change as there are currently car crashes (about 9 deaths per 100,000 people per year). That can be stemmed by more air-conditioning, more real-time information and awareness, and ways to cool down the temperature like green spaces and white roofs.

Our results cover the United States, but some of the harshest impacts will fall on poorer countries. At the same time, we hope the economies of those countries will continue to grow and evolve, and the challenges of estimating their impacts need to take this into account. That is exactly what we are now doing, as a community of researchers at UC Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and Rutgers University called the Climate Impacts Lab. Look for more exciting news as our science evolves.

Wedding Weekend Memories

A year of planning, and many thousands of dollars later, the wedding is over. I am thoroughly (and happily) married. With 4 days, 18 activities, 133 guests, about 20 speeches (most short), 11 vendors, there is an awful lot to remember. I am putting together a collection of photographs (and see Toh’s more extensive set), but I wanted to also record some memories for perhaps the biggest event of my life to date.

Friday Night:
Friday was set aside for “Bachelor activities” (read: “activities Johanna does not endorse”), which turned into a BBQ-sushi for the wedding party, karaoke, and midnight prophesies. Some of the karaoke highlights for me were Mary F.’s enthusiasm during “We are family”, Amir and my “A whole new world” (I got to be Aladdin this time), and all the Flight of the Conchords lovers getting into “Most beautiful girl in the room”.

Saturday:
The day started slow, but when a dozen people showed up for Flame’s aunt’s yoga class, I knew it was going to be good. Friends and relatives helped us put on a day of “ad hoc” activities, including a bike ride, a hike, a walk around Provincetown, and a dance class. I stayed at the wedding party house, instigating games: I taught people Rythmomachy and orchestrated a new game I call “The Ephemera Game”, for people go guess where I got maps and pamphlets.

The wedding rehearsal was were it finally became real. Some 40 people showed up to play their parts or offer moral support, and proceeded to mill around. I don’t know how these things are supposed to go, but someone needed to take charge, so I started directing people. The questions started rolling in: where should we put the chairs, the blessing givers, the grandmas. We had put together a 4-page step-by-step document for the ceremony, and yet there was still so much to decide.

The highlights of the day was definitely “Welcome Event”, organized by my parents. The puttanesca flowed like wine, and the wine gushed like our reconnections with so many people. My step-father began his speech apologizing for not writing one, and then spoke for 20 surprisingly riveting minutes on how Flame and I got together, our travel and take on life, and something about crashing through waves. Then 9 more people came up, with tributes, roasts, and one number for us (the golden ratio, since J^2 = J + 1).

Sunday:
As Sunday began, Flame and I split up for our separate preparations. I drove the groomsmen to the top men’s barbershop in the area for a straight-razor shave: what better way to start my wedding day then a knife at my throat. Flame and I reunited around the bend of a Doane Rock trail, for a clichéd “first look”. Nonetheless, Flame was absolutely beautiful in her wedding gown, and we alternated lovey and silly until I think the photographers had all they could handle.

Our first scare came while doing relatives photos back at the ceremony location. We realized that the ceremony programs, which we had spent hours printing and folding, were nowhere to be found. I was about to derail the photos and send people racing back to the parents’ house, when one of my groomsmen, Amir, said he would take care of it, and then did so.

The other scare for me came as I was waiting at the front of the ceremony and Flame was walking down the aisle. I suddenly remembered Heidi’s admonition that, whatever else happens, I remember to bring my vows; and I remembered that my vows were in my backpack, far out of reach. Then I remembered that Flame had told me to give a copy of my vows to my best man, Toh, the day before, and I wondered if he happened to remember them. I turned and asked him, and he said not to worry, he would hand them to us at the proper time.

The only other ceremony event I only heard about two weeks later. As my sister’s children did their blessing, a commotion of squawks arose in the tree behind us. A hawk had alighted, and dozens of crows and other birds had began mobbing around it. After a couple minutes of this, the hawk picked itself up and flew directly over the assembled people. This must have been some kind of omen (the word auspices actual means to look at birds), with the hawk being a Native American symbol of a guardian, my late father being a zoologist, and my diverse community being all about mobbing. But the interpretation is still unclear to me.

After that came the reception, the hora, the dinner, the speeches, the tosses, the first dance, the dessert, the dancing, and the afterparty. During dinner, we had our special wedding puzzle at everyone’s place (individual pieces and solution), and though no one solved it, two groups made some great progress. Flame threw a bouquet to the tune of Put a Ring on It, and I did a thesis toss to Weird Science. For our first dance, I had taken the choreography from the Ed Sheeran video Thinking Out Loud and adapted it to Flame’s song of choice, Crazy Love by Van Morrison. I had swapped the man and woman parts, and we got plenty of appreciation and laughing. Dessert consisted of the best pies in town and an organic chocolatier, Chequesette Chocolates, which crafted a sea-scape of sugar sand with chocolate turtles and oysters. Even the afterparty was a blast, with 30ish people coming out to hear some live music (we had bribed the band to stay an extra hour) and snacks (including grilled cheeses).

Monday:
After a perfect weather weekend, Monday finally succumbed to the rain, and Linda and Ron’s house became filled with people, love, and brunch. We were saying goodbye until it was time for the hackathon. The Hackathon turned into a brainstorming session, worth its own post.

Finally, here are the acknowledgements for a weekend that was really a labor of love:
Acknowledgements

As Amir said, the whole event went really smoothly: it went off with just one hitch!

Wedding Weekend Memories

A year of planning, and many thousands of dollars later, the wedding is over. I am thoroughly (and happily) married. With 4 days, 18 activities, 133 guests, about 20 speeches (most short), 11 vendors, there is an awful lot to remember. I am putting together a collection of photographs (and see Toh’s more extensive set), but I wanted to also record some memories for perhaps the biggest event of my life to date.

Friday Night:
Friday was set aside for “Bachelor activities” (read: “activities Johanna does not endorse”), which turned into a BBQ-sushi for the wedding party, karaoke, and midnight prophesies. Some of the karaoke highlights for me were Mary F.’s enthusiasm during “We are family”, Amir and my “A whole new world” (I got to be Aladdin this time), and all the Flight of the Conchords lovers getting into “Most beautiful girl in the room”.

Saturday:
The day started slow, but when a dozen people showed up for Flame’s aunt’s yoga class, I knew it was going to be good. Friends and relatives helped us put on a day of “ad hoc” activities, including a bike ride, a hike, a walk around Provincetown, and a dance class. I stayed at the wedding party house, instigating games: I taught people Rythmomachy and orchestrated a new game I call “The Ephemera Game”, for people go guess where I got maps and pamphlets.

The wedding rehearsal was were it finally became real. Some 40 people showed up to play their parts or offer moral support, and proceeded to mill around. I don’t know how these things are supposed to go, but someone needed to take charge, so I started directing people. The questions started rolling in: where should we put the chairs, the blessing givers, the grandmas. We had put together a 4-page step-by-step document for the ceremony, and yet there was still so much to decide.

The highlights of the day was definitely “Welcome Event”, organized by my parents. The puttanesca flowed like wine, and the wine gushed like our reconnections with so many people. My step-father began his speech apologizing for not writing one, and then spoke for 20 surprisingly riveting minutes on how Flame and I got together, our travel and take on life, and something about crashing through waves. Then 9 more people came up, with tributes, roasts, and one number for us (the golden ratio, since J^2 = J + 1).

Sunday:
As Sunday began, Flame and I split up for our separate preparations. I drove the groomsmen to the top men’s barbershop in the area for a straight-razor shave: what better way to start my wedding day then a knife at my throat. Flame and I reunited around the bend of a Doane Rock trail, for a clichéd “first look”. Nonetheless, Flame was absolutely beautiful in her wedding gown, and we alternated lovey and silly until I think the photographers had all they could handle.

Our first scare came while doing relatives photos back at the ceremony location. We realized that the ceremony programs, which we had spent hours printing and folding, were nowhere to be found. I was about to derail the photos and send people racing back to the parents’ house, when one of my groomsmen, Amir, said he would take care of it, and then did so.

The other scare for me came as I was waiting at the front of the ceremony and Flame was walking down the aisle. I suddenly remembered Heidi’s admonition that, whatever else happens, I remember to bring my vows; and I remembered that my vows were in my backpack, far out of reach. Then I remembered that Flame had told me to give a copy of my vows to my best man, Toh, the day before, and I wondered if he happened to remember them. I turned and asked him, and he said not to worry, he would hand them to us at the proper time.

The only other ceremony event I only heard about two weeks later. As my sister’s children did their blessing, a commotion of squawks arose in the tree behind us. A hawk had alighted, and dozens of crows and other birds had began mobbing around it. After a couple minutes of this, the hawk picked itself up and flew directly over the assembled people. This must have been some kind of omen (the word auspices actual means to look at birds), with the hawk being a Native American symbol of a guardian, my late father being a zoologist, and my diverse community being all about mobbing. But the interpretation is still unclear to me.

After that came the reception, the hora, the dinner, the speeches, the tosses, the first dance, the dessert, the dancing, and the afterparty. During dinner, we had our special wedding puzzle at everyone’s place (individual pieces and solution), and though no one solved it, two groups made some great progress. Flame threw a bouquet to the tune of Put a Ring on It, and I did a thesis toss to Weird Science. For our first dance, I had taken the choreography from the Ed Sheeran video Thinking Out Loud and adapted it to Flame’s song of choice, Crazy Love by Van Morrison. I had swapped the man and woman parts, and we got plenty of appreciation and laughing. Dessert consisted of the best pies in town and an organic chocolatier, Chequesette Chocolates, which crafted a sea-scape of sugar sand with chocolate turtles and oysters. Even the afterparty was a blast, with 30ish people coming out to hear some live music (we had bribed the band to stay an extra hour) and snacks (including grilled cheeses).

Monday:
After a perfect weather weekend, Monday finally succumbed to the rain, and Linda and Ron’s house became filled with people, love, and brunch. We were saying goodbye until it was time for the hackathon. The Hackathon turned into a brainstorming session, worth its own post.

Finally, here are the acknowledgements for a weekend that was really a labor of love:
Acknowledgements

As Amir said, the whole event went really smoothly: it went off with just one hitch!

Laser-cutting Rythmomachy Board

This wedding is going to be the culmination of a dream I have had for almost 2 decades: Finally, I will have a professional-grade set for playing Rythmomachy, the Philosopher’s Game!

I have been having so much fun laser-cutting for the wedding, and putting together activities like a massively distributed crossword puzzle. Last week’s inspiration was to laser cut a board and pieces for Rythmomachy, and I want to share them with all of you.

What is Rythmomachy, you ask? I call it “Chess on steroids”, and one medieval scholar said,

Pythagoras did first invent,
this play as it is thought:
And thereby after studies great,
his recreation sought.

Here I just want to share my design for a board and pieces. You too can have this for your very own:

It took about 1 hour on the Berkeley laser cutter I was using. The design is in two files:

Download the board Download the pieces

I thought to put etchings on the board to tell you how to set it up, since this has always been one of the greatest barriers to starting a new game.

Also note that every piece has a version colored dark and light. These need to be glued back-to-back. Each piece starts out as one color, according to the etchings on the board. If it is captured, it’s flipped over and becomes the other player’s piece.

I put some foot pads on the back and set it up to be flipped closed:

Enjoy!

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Probabilistic Coupling

Environmental Modelling & Software has just published my work on a new technique for coupling models: Probabilistic Coupling. My thoughts on coupled models had been percolating for a couple years, before a session at the International Conference on Conservation Biology in 2013 offered me a chance to try it out.

Probabilistic coupling has three main goals:

  • Allowing models to be coupled without distortionary feedback
  • Allowing multiple models to inform the same variable
  • Allowing models to be coupled with different scales

With these three features, the very nature and approach of coupling models can change. Current model coupling requires carefully connecting models together, plugging inputs into outputs, and then recalibrating to recover realistic behavior again. Instead, this allows for what I call “Agglomerated Modeling”, where models are thrown together into a bucket and almost magically sort themselves out.

The code for the model is available within the OpenWorld framework, as the coupling example.

The end of history

They say that history repeats itself. The strictest form of the claim is like the world view of the aboriginal Yir Yoront, for whom every generation is a repetition of the one before. Even if our Western world view cannot admit such stasis, many people would say that the rise and fall of civilizations is a story that has repeated itself many times, and many future civilizations will walk on the ashes of this one.

However, when it comes to the history of human civilizations, history will never repeat itself again. Our species is on a one-way road, and if our global society collapses, no future Homo sapiens will enjoy the benefits of industrialized society.

Empires may rise and fall, but the modern world is intrinsically interconnected, and as a civilization we rise and fall as a globe. We are interdependent: were it not for international trade, most regions could not feed themselves, much less build and support their own industries. The stories of future history are confined to a single narrative.

So what happens if the global economy collapses and trade ceases, and each region is left to pick up the pieces on its own? These enclaves would not have the benefits of readily available resources that our ancestors enjoyed when they started our journey in industrialization. We have exhausted readily-available high energy sources: new sources of energy, like shale gas and tar sands oil, require immense technology to access. They would be trapped in perpetual pre-industrialization.

Add to this the harsher climate, destabilizated ecosystems, and exhausted ores that we are bequeathing to them, and their lives will be mean indeed. The planet will recover, given 50 million years or so, but far too late for our species.

What if we colonize other stars, with virgin resources and the room to collapse at our leisure? Those planets will have their own stories, and maybe there we can avoid becoming to big to fail, but colonization is a one-way process. Without a way to travel or communicate faster than light, our futures will be disconnected.

By the way, this also limits our use of any Prime Directive on Earth. Non-industrialized cultures cannot achieve development on their own– not that any culture ever did. We are in this story together, taking it forward because there is no way back.

So, let’s celebrate our dependence. Our lives and the lives of all our descendents depend upon it.

A USexit next?

The Brexit is happening. I’m starting to wonder which US state will be the first to leave the union. Oklahoma, maybe when Clinton becomes president, as mounting budget deficits and poor populations make printing money look really good? Or a richer state like New Hampshire, a closer analog to England, citing the decay of the US?

We are in a time of changes. Old institutions will fall. But it all might be happening too late for a further Fourth Turning-style crisis. The Baby Boomers are starting to die, Millennials are insatiably hopeful, and Gen Xers won’t give a fuck so they’ll broker a peace just to be left alone.

Balkan Ballad

I’ve dropped off the net with looming deadlines at the end of this month. But, before the deadlines were scheduled, Flame and I planned a trip to the Balkans, where we are now! Well, we didn’t exactly “plan” it. But we bought tickets, and are figuring it out as we go.

You can follow our journeys as she blogs them at http://ift.tt/1SUn3ZT! There is also a steady stream of Instagram photos (featuring food, scenery, and art, in that order).

Science and language

One of the rolling banners at last year’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union had a scantly-clad woman and the words “This is what most people think of as a ‘model’”. See, scientists have a communications problem. It’s insidious, and you forget how people use words and then feel attacked when you have to change how you speak.

I have a highly-educated editor working with me on the coffee and climate change report, and she got caught up on a word I use daily: “coefficient”. For me, a coefficient is just a kind of model parameter. I replaced all the uses of “coefficient” with “parameter”, but I simultaneously felt like it dumbed out an important distinction and wondered if “parameter” was still not dumbed down enough.

AGU has a small team trying to help scientists communicate better. I think they are still trying to figure out how to help those of us who want their help. I went to their session on bridging the science-policy divide, and they spent a half hour explaining that we have two houses of congress. Nonetheless, it is a start, and they sent us home with communication toolkits on USB. One gem stood out in particular:

So I will try to reduce the ignorance and political distortions of my devious communication plots, until I can flip the zodiac on this good response loop. Wish me luck.