This is a great column and an honest take on global warming by Samuelson in today’s Washington Post:
It would be healthy — in the sense of promoting honesty — if every report warning of global warming and climate change (the two terms are interchangeable) came with the following disclaimer:
Despite our belief that global warming poses catastrophic threats to many of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants, we acknowledge that we now lack the technologies to stop it. The purpose of our analysis and policy proposals is to create the political and economic conditions that foster the needed technologies. But there is no assurance that this will happen, and much time and money may be invested in futile and wasteful efforts.
I am not optimistic. Our climate-change debates confuse more than they clarify. They follow a ritualistic script that is now playing out again.
First came a downbeat report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international group of scientists set up by the United Nations. It found that global temperatures have warmed for decades, that man-made emissions are the main cause (atmospheric concentrations are said to be the highest in 800,000 years) and that the effects include rising sea levels, melting ice formations and more heat waves.
Next arrived the U.S. National Climate Assessment, a study by 300 U.S. experts that’s more alarming than the IPCC report. It begins: “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.” Americans already suffer from global warming. Floods are more frequent; wildfires are harder to control; rainstorms are more violent.
Naturally, climate skeptics (a.k.a. “deniers”) denounced the reports. The evidence was exaggerated, cherry-picked or both, said Paul Knappenberger and Patrick Michaels of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. Consider, they said, a contrasting study headed by a Harvard researcher. It found that heat-related deaths in 105 U.S. cities had declined since the late 1980s.
The rhetorical ping-pong — claim vs. counterclaim — suggests a struggle for public opinion. Not really. Right or wrong, the public already believes in global warming. A 2013 Pew poll found that 67 percent of Americans see “solid evidence” that the Earth is warming. Though that’s down from 77 percent in 2006, the margin is still large. Democrats are stronger believers than Republicans, but mainly because tea party support is low.
It’s useful for environmental groups to have global warming “deniers” (and, of course, behind them the sinister oil companies) as foils. The subliminal message is that once the views of these Neanderthals are swept away, we can adopt sensible policies to “do something” about global warming.
The reality is otherwise. The central truth for public policy is: We have no solution.
The rest here.