On global warming

  1. The Earth is getting warmer
  2. The warming is being substantively driven by the actions of man
  3. CO2 emissions specifically are the driving factor in the warming caused by man
  4. Warming will have substantial negative effects on human life
  5. The negative effects on human life will outweigh a) the costs of preventing those effects by restricting CO2 emissions and b) the benefits of global warming to human life

Those 5 statements, taken together, roughly sum up the argument for action on global climate change. They run roughly from least to most controversial. What consistently surprises me is the constant attacks on Statements 1-3 and not Statement 5 (a) or (b). This Jan 27 Washington Post Op-ed and the Feb 21 followup cosigned by scientists make at least a run at addressing the entire proposition, from Statement 1 to Statement 5.

The science behind man-made global warming may be good, but the economics are practically never talked about – there’s costs AND benefits to everything.

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. This would be especially beneficial to the less-developed parts of the world that would like to share some of the same advantages of material well-being, health and life expectancy that the fully developed parts of the world enjoy now. Many other policy responses would have a negative return on investment. And it is likely that more CO2 and the modest warming that may come with it will be an overall benefit to the planet.

The second OP-ED has an interesting graph showing the difference between OBSERVED climate change for the last 20-years and the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) PREDICTIONS for the same period. Prediction in science is a pretty good proxy for reliability – if a theory can’t predict something accurately, that generally mean it’s time to go back to the drawing board. I’ve copied the graph below, and would be curious to hear the pro-global warming response to it.

Thinking Like a Fox means recongizing the limitations of your knowledge, and I don’t personally, know enough about climate science to contradict the current scientific community’s consensus that CO2 is driving a global increase in temperature (Statements #1-3). I do enough about science generally to know that the consensus means relatively little when it comes to the prediction of complex systems – just one overlooked factor could throw our models off completely.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I am forced also to accept the consensus statements regarding #4 and #5 – those are much more complex, human questions of economics and politics.

I’m skeptical that we need to reinvent our economy overnight to offset a change that will have both costs and benefits for the world. I’m skeptical of the arrogance behind a model that purports to predict with such great accuracy the long-term outlook for a massive and complex system like the Earth, and then demand massive social and political change as a result. I think that most of the proposals to change climate change will have immense human costs in the present at the expense of very little overall effect on climate change (and even less overall effect on net human welfare).

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About thinklikeafox

I'm a Naval Officer living in Southern California. I hope to be attending law school in the next year or two, and I started writing this blog out of a desire to improve my writing and critical thinking skills after a couple years outside of academia.
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2 Responses to On global warming

  1. Pingback: Think Like a Fox

  2. Pingback: Cost-Benefit | Think Like a Fox

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