A managebale risk, not a crisis

Time-Climate-CoversIf you believe AGW is happening, and that man’s contribution is large enough to be more than noise when compared with the Sun or other climatological effects, then you also need to believe it’s worth the cost now (versus later, when it’ll be less expensive to address) and that it’s possible to achieve a global solution when global institutions are notoriously and hopelessly corrupt and ineffective.

In other words, how much should we spend on climate change to have no effect on climate change?  It’s not about the US (anymore).  The west’s emissions are not so bad, and the BRICs and LDCs are not going to stay in the dark ages so that rich western liberals can feel good about emissions.  Many people aren’t rejecting science; they are rejecting green claims of policy competence.

Here’s Ramesh Ponnuru in Emissions – a cool assessment of a hot-button issue:

[Start] from the consensus represented by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Its most recent report — another one is due this year — says that, by 2100, rising temperatures will impose costs amounting to 3 percent of the global economy. That is a huge amount of money.

Preventing those costs from arising would, unfortunately, also be expensive. William Nordhaus, a professor of economics at Yale University and an advocate of a carbon tax, has estimated that reducing emissions could yield a net benefit of about $3.4 trillion over the next several centuries — which amounts to 0.17 percent of the present value of global economic output over that period.

As Manzi points out, though, that estimate assumes that a carbon-reduction program would be optimally designed, carried out and enforced. And that is inconceivable.

Consider the horse trading that had to take place in 2009 to get a cap-and-trade bill through the House of Representatives. Then add more deal making to get it through the Senate. Then multiply that by some very large number to get India, China and Brazil on board — not that anyone has any real strategy to do that. Each of these side deals would add some new economic distortion and reduce the net benefits of action. You’d eat through that 0.17 percent pretty quickly. And that’s before we actually started enforcing the caps worldwide, which would surely require more compromises.

That doesn’t mean do nothing, in case the IPCC is too optimisitic.  but…  “governments should promote limited efforts to develop technologies to better predict climate change, mitigate it and its costs, and adapt to it.”  Not the green boondoggles for campaign contributors.

Instead, he argues, we should “place a strong emphasis on large prizes for accomplishing measurable and audacious goals.” The federal government could, for example, offer a $1 billion prize to anyone who invents a device to remove carbon from the atmosphere. We should, in short, approach global warming as “a manageable risk” rather than “an existential crisis.”

Raising the cost of carbon through a tax or a cap would also spur some of this technological development. Indeed, that’s arguably the main payoff from such strategies, because it is implausible that they would steer us toward a low-energy economy. Direct inducements for technological breakthroughs, in contrast, would have a much lower cost, because they would not raise the price of energy.

Just so.  All that should be done now is (a) public investment in esoteric concepts with no commercial viability in the near future:  mostly DoD, NASA, Universities, et.al. and (b) a carbon tax, provided it’s paired with an equivalent reduction/elimination of taxes elsewhere.

By inhibiting economic growth, aggressive attempts to reduce carbon emissions would make us less resilient and adaptable. “In the face of massive uncertainty, hedging your bets and keeping your options open is almost always the right strategy,” Manzi writes.

Even conservatives who do not believe that global warming is real ought to support this strategy — at least, those who are willing to concede that there is a nonzero risk that they have gotten this question wrong.

Arguments over global warming often have a moralistic or even religious cast. But a cold assessment of risks and how to ensure against them would doom the anti-carbon campaign. No wonder that’s a debate John Kerry doesn’t want to have.

The issue brings to mind a great H.L. Mencken quote:  “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.”  A persistent threat to liberty resides in the human heart – the collectivist impulse that recurs again and again and again, and takes many forms.  It’s about money, not science.  It’s about control, not science.

The choice is between (a) more fossil fuels or (b) lower standard of living.  Alternative energies have their niches but are not going to be economically viable and widely available any time soon.  Someday, but until then…  Conserve, yes.  Recycle, sure.  But produce, produce, produce -preferably here at home for both national security and environmental reasons (we’re a much cleaner producer than Russia, Venezuela, Iran, etc.).  There are opportunity costs when you choose to believe we can feed the masses with unicorn ribs.

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