Re Global Warming, Be Reasonable

January 27, 2012

Sixteen scientists in the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal argue, “No Need to Panic About Global Warming: There’s no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to ‘decarbonize’ the world’s economy”.  Selected excerpts (emphasis added):

In spite of a multidecade international campaign to enforce the message that increasing amounts of the “pollutant” carbon dioxide will destroy civilization, large numbers of scientists, many very prominent, share the opinions of Dr. Giaever. And the number of scientific “heretics” is growing with each passing year. The reason is a collection of stubborn scientific facts.

Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now. . . .

The lack of warming for more than a decade—indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections—suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause. . . .

. . . Better plant varieties, chemical fertilizers and agricultural management contributed to the great increase in agricultural yields of the past century, but part of the increase almost certainly came from additional CO2 in the atmosphere.

Although the number of publicly dissenting scientists is growing, many young scientists furtively say that while they also have serious doubts about the global-warming message, they are afraid to speak up for fear of not being promoted—or worse. They have good reason to worry. In 2003, Dr. Chris de Freitas, the editor of the journal Climate Research, dared to publish a peer-reviewed article with the politically incorrect (but factually correct) conclusion that the recent warming is not unusual in the context of climate changes over the past thousand years. The international warming establishment quickly mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas removed from his editorial job and fired from his university position. Fortunately, Dr. de Freitas was able to keep his university job.

. . .

Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet. . . .

. . . Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.

A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls.

Can we really know what costs and benefits any policy will have fifty years down the road?  Maybe not, but then, that’s another argument against restrictive environmentalist laws:  They would certainly restrict liberty now, but only possibly—to some unknowable degree—help the environment in the future.

Every candidate should support rational measures to protect and improve our environment, but it makes no sense at all to back expensive programs that divert resources from real needs and are based on alarming but untenable claims of “incontrovertible” evidence.

I’m no scientist, or economist, but I pass this piece on as one more piece of information, as we sift through everything being said out there and try to figure out what’s true.  It seemed helpful toward that end.

Of course, these sixteen scientists advocate a balanced economic inquiry, weighing the economic costs and benefits of any policy—which I agree would be a big improvement over a lot of the discussion of global warming these days—but in my framework for thinking about this, liberty is a good in itself, and (with qualifications, no doubt) more important than either economic or scientific considerations.

Update (January 30th, 2012): The New York Times quotes economist William Nordhaus saying the WSJ piece misrepresented his work:

The piece completely misrepresented my work. My work has long taken the view that policies to slow global warming would have net economic benefits, in the trillion of dollars of present value. This is true going back to work in the early 1990s (MIT Press, Yale Press, Science, PNAS, among others). I have advocated a carbon tax for many years as the best way to attack the issue. I can only assume they either completely ignorant of the economics on the issue or are willfully misstating my findings.

Related entry: “On Conservatism and Global Warming”

10 Responses to “Re Global Warming, Be Reasonable”

  1. Ha! I beat Rush Limbaugh. He’s reading from the piece right now. (I got the piece from Real Clear Politics.)

  2. Snoodickle Says:

    Quick question: Would you stand behind a car and breath in the exhaust fumes?

    • Tevyeh Says:

      I sure wouldn’t; the amount of carbon monoxide in car exhaust can be lethal. That’s not to mention the unburned hydrocarbon particulates.

      I’m dying of curiosity here…how does your question relate to the issue of CO2 emissions or climate change?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        The point of this post, if I’m not mistaken, is to advocate for a lack of regulations. Regulations that would, in effect, limit the amount of exhaust fumes that we have to breath.

      • Tevyeh Says:

        “The point of this post, if I’m not mistaken, is to advocate for a lack of regulations.”

        I’m not getting that at all. What I’m reading is mostly a specific criticism of a specific policy argument, i.e. we need to drastically reduce CO2 emissions or we’ll cook the planet. Only briefly is this argument abstracted to a general concern about the conflict between liberty and regulation, and the need to carefully weigh costs and benefits when crafting policy. I don’t think Chillingworth is arguing for, say, lifting the ban on leaded gasoline.

        There are plenty of public health/safety issues related to automobile use, hence the large body of more-or-less uncontroversial automobile regulation. If you have a good argument for additional regulations, I’m sure Chillingworth would be all ears—just be prepared to offer some well-thought-out justifications, and don’t get offended when he critiques them.

        Stop assuming that any criticism of heavy-handed regulatory policy is a call for anarchy.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        We must be reading different posts.

      • Tevyeh Says:

        Please cite to the part of the post you’re reading that says “we should have no regulation.”

      • Snoodickle Says:

        I never said he wanted no regulations; I said he wants a lack of regulations. Environmental regulations, specifically.

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