Dyson on Economics by Russ Roberts

I’m interviewing Freeman Dyson tomorrow for EconTalk. Here is what he says about climate change.

When I listen to the public debates about climate change, I am impressed by the enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations and the superficiality of our theories. Many of the basic processes of planetary ecology are poorly understood. They must be better understood before we can reach an accurate diagnosis of the present condition of our planet. When we are trying to take care of a planet, just as when we are taking care of a human patient, diseases must be diagnosed before they can be cured. We need to observe and measure what is going on in the biosphere, rather than relying on computer models.

Replace “climate change” with “macroeconomics.” Same problem.

Context is all by Matt Ridley and Indur Goklany

Context is all by Matt Ridley and Indur Goklany

How lethal are downpours compared with, say, cold winters? We all agree that global warming will create fewer cold winters, right? And since more people die in cold weather than in hot weather, global warming will reduce deaths. Is that effect bigger or smaller than the extra deaths from downpours? Answer: much, much bigger.

Here are some numbers. The annual excess mortality in winter is over 100,000 in the US, 50,000 in Japan, 25,000 in Britain and even 23,000 in Spain. Just a 10% drop in those numbers and you are saving tens of thousands of lives, far more than die in floods.


Was this because we controlled the weather? No. It was because we adapted to it. So even if extreme downpours do increase, death rates as a result of them will continue to decline so long as we continue to get more people access to roads, telephones, houses and information. It’s like malaria: it retreated rapidly in the twentieth century despite rising temperatures, and it will retreat rapidly in the twenty-first century despite rising temperatures.