I try not to comment on global warming stories, but The Washington Post put a story on today’s front page that is so monumentally bad that I can’t pull myself away from the keyboard.
The premise of the story by Juliet Eilperin is well-expressed by its headline: “Carbon Output Must Near Zero To Avert Danger, New Studies Say”. Eilperin prominently quotes Carnegie Institution senior scientist Ken Caldeira, co-author of one of the studies promoted by the article, who says: “The question is, what if we don’t want the Earth to warm anymore?” Well, that’s a question, but it’s certainly not the question, and is not even a very good question. I think a much better question might be something like “What are the costs versus benefits of reducing emissions to avoid warming?”
The article never addresses this question, and instead elides between a battery of technical experts asserting that carbon emissions create problems, and interested political actors saying “common sense is that we would not let the planet be destroyed”.
What’s so funny is that Eilperin never seems to be willing do the work to pick up the trail of breadcrumbs that all her interviewees leave behind them. She writes that “Most scientists warn that a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) could have serious consequences.” Really – how serious? Well, according to the UN IPCC a 4C increase – twice this amount – would reduce global economic output by 1% – 5%. Oh yeah, that’s in the world of the 22nd century which is expected to have per capita consumption of something like $40,000 per year versus our current consumption of about $6,600 per year. So we are condemning future generations to be only 5.7 times richer than us, rather than 6 times richer. She quotes a scientist’s “tremendous” finding that under a business-as-usual scenario Earth will warm by 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, without mentioning that this is 4C, or well within the forecast range of the current business-as-usual projections for warming by 2100 of the most recent UN IPCC report. Also note that this is the amount of warming that is projected to cost a much richer world about 3% of its consumption.
Naturally, Eilperin has a “narrative” for why the world seems to resist the manifestly correct course of action so stubbornly. She says that “some climate researchers who back major greenhouse gas reductions said it is unrealistic to expect policymakers to think in terms of such vast time scales.” She then quotes two climate researchers who say nothing about this subject. Finally, we get to a philosophy professor who gives her what she wants, when he says that global warming “is a classic inter-generational debate, where the short-term benefits of emitting carbon accrue mainly to us and where the dangers of them are largely put off until future generations.”
How can we be so selfish? I guess American democracy just can’t handle the complexity of the issue. We need a Leader who can get us past this petty squabbling and Take Action.