One of the problems with the global-warming conversation is that it is a political and economic debate masquerading as a scientific debate. Even when one takes as given the consensus view of how and why global warming operates, the policies do not flow inevitably and plainly from the science. The main obstacle to adopting an effective global-warming policy in the United States is not, contra Neil deGrasse Tyson et al., skepticism about scientific claims. Rather, the main obstacle to our adopting an effective global-warming policy is that the warming globe has upon it China, India, etc. Global warming is a global issue, and even radical cuts in the U.S. emissions would have little practical effect in the absence of similarly serious commitments in the rest of the world. And it is here that Tyson and his acolytes refuse to deal with reality. Forget about getting China to agree to artificially lower its future standard of living; here in the real world, even progressives in rich countries are backing away from modest global-warming policies.
Elsewhere (today’s WSJ) we learn that When you’re already rich you can afford self-defeating moral gestures.
The heirs to John D. Rockefeller ’s oil fortune are getting out of the fossil fuels business, as you may have heard from their many media admirers. That was the news last month after the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, with close to $860 million in assets, announced that it would divest the roughly 7% of its funds currently in fossil fuels.
“The action we’re taking is symbolism, but it is important symbolism,” said fund president Stephen Heintz. “We’re making a moral case, but also, increasingly, an economic case.” Mr. Heintz and the family he represents can reach their own moral conclusions about disavowing the energy industry that made them rich. But allow us to report a few of the economic—and environmental—facts.
But not everyone is on board:
“Logic and experience indicate that barring investments in a major, integral sector of the global economy would—especially for a large endowment reliant on sophisticated economic techniques, pooled funds, and broad diversification—come at a substantial cost,” wrote Harvard President Drew Faust last year, explaining the University’s refusal to join the divestment brigades.
“I also find a troubling inconsistency,” she added, “in the notion that, as an investor, we should boycott a whole class of companies at the same time that, as individuals and as a community, we are extensively relying on those companies products and services for so much of what we do every day.”
And in conclusion… the answer is capitalism and private investment in new tech (funded by today’s – and yesterday’s – profits).
Meantime, those tempted to join the Rockefellers ’ “moral” crusade might consider that the U.S. has decreased its carbon output tonnage more than any country, mostly thanks to the innovations of fracking and horizontal drilling, which have led to the natural gas shale revolution. These carbon reductions would never have happened if previous generations of Rockefellers had refused to invest in fossil fuels.
All of which makes the divestment campaign less about economic logic than a self-defeating act of moral posturing.