The Corner

Hot & Cold Cont’d

Lots of global warming email came in over night in response this post (responding to this post which responded to this post). A few points worth responding to. From a reader:

Jonah, I have to say this strikes me as a weak argument.

I’m glad you acknowledge the probability that GW is a fact. One of the irritating aspects of this debate is the choice of those arguing against GW to pit a political argument against an argument based on the work product of an entire class of professionals.

But I think you’re ignoring an important structural aspect of the problem. If GW is a fact, then the cost of mitigating it is increasing – I would guess exponentially. Any “hiatus” prior to seriously attempting to deal with it comes with a cost – one which seems to increase exponentially. I understand your distrust of the type of solutions proposed – though I don’t see what other viable alternatives would have the scope to have sufficient effect. But the economic damage threatened – not by marginally improving growing seasons, I think, but by the threat of agricultural patterns changing in vast and unpredictable ways, by increased atmospheric volatility, by coastal flooding – is orders of magnitude worse than the threats posed by enacting the rules necessary to do what’s required.

The longer the “hiatus,” it seems to follow, the more intrusive and restrictive the rules have to become in order to have an eqivalent effect.

Me: 1) I should clarify. I think global warming is real, in that the answer to the question “has the world been getting warmer?” is yes. My “probably” refers more to the idea that man is the main author of that warming.

2) I am very skeptical about a lot of the cost-benefit analysis that is passed-off as a given in the discussion about global warming. In order to get the costs up, it is flatly asserted that global warming causes more and/or worse hurricanes. As far as I can tell that’s an open question at best and most of the increased costs associated with global warming are actually attributable to the fact that more people live (in expensive houses) in hurricane zones.

3) I don’t think this reader’s argument is necessarily true. Sometimes an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But sometimes a pound of cure costs much less if you wait longer. What discount rate we should place on the costs of climate change remedies is a controversial subject (there’s a nice primer in the June issue of Scientific American of discount rates and climate change). If the feds wanted to mandate that every American home have an HDTV in 2000, it would have cost trillions. If we mandated it today, it would merely cost billions. Why? Because the technology has gotten cheaper, which is another way of saying we’ve gotten richer. The costs of limiting, ameliorating or reversing global warming seem astronomical now. They may be child’s play 50 or 100 years from now. That doesn’t mean that global warming wouldn’t have real costs in the interim, but if you look at how expensive the remedies are now and how little they buy (a fully implemented Kyoto would delay effects of global warming by something like 6 years by the end of the century. Wa-frickn’-hoo), it seems to me that the emphasis should be on getting richer and studying the issue more.

4) I know that “study it more” is an annoying response for people who want action right now. It may shock these people that their annoyance doesn’t trouble my sleep. Moreover, I think the idea that we know everything we need to know about climate change is just plain nonsense. It seems like every week I see a fascinating story about how solar activity may dwarf all of the other man-made variables in importance. I don’t know if that’s true, but before we spend untold trillions fixing the problem, I’d like some better intelligence on who the real enemy is (and if it’s the sun, we shall unleash unholy Hell upon her).

While Ramesh may be right that recent cooling doesn’t disprove global warming, and others may be correct that the nearly 20-year hiatus in global warming we’re in the middle of doesn’t disprove it either, it does seem to directly undermine the credibility of those who said their computer models were right from the beginning. That is, unless I missed Al Gore’s assurances that — even though there’s no time to lose, the planet has a fever, the time for discussion is over — global warming is in remission.

Update: Yes, this should have been another objection of mine. It’s just that I hear people claim “all scientists” — never mind this abstract thing called “Science” — unequivocally supports the Gore position so often, I don’t even hear it anymore I consider it such boilerplate. But I shouldn’t have let it stand. Anyway, from a reader:

Jonah:  I also think you need to take your correspondent to task for this statement:

“One of the irritating aspects of this debate is the choice of those arguing against GW to pit a political argument against an argument based on the work product of an entire class of professionals.”

By letting it stand, you acquiesce in an argument that asserts:

1) ALL scientists agree on AGW (‘entire class’)

2) Scientists are untainted by political considerations (‘politics’ against ‘professionals’) [and therefore right!]

As you probably know from glancing at Planet Gore occasionally, there are huge numbers of scientists who are skeptics.  There are also serious, documented concerns regarding bias among AGW scientists arising from the research grant process (as well as peer pressure).

Finally, as the author of Liberal Fascism, you probably recognise the implied argument here: ‘ordinary people can’t challenge the voice of the elite’.

Don’t go wobbly just to seem reasonable.

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