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Costs of Doing Nothing

Over at the Mother Jones environmental blog, Blue Marble, a nice summary of the possible consequences of various global warming scenarios. Here's what's on the menu for a 3 degree increase in global mean temperature (a scenario that looks increasingly likely):

3 DEGREES

* In Southern Europe, serious droughts once every 10 years

* 1 - 4 billion more people suffer water shortages

* Some 150 - 550 additional millions at risk of hunger

* 1 - 3 million more people die from malnutrition

* Onset of Amazon forest collapse (some models only)

* Rising risk of collapse of West Antarctic Ice Sheet

* Rising risk of collapse of Atlantic Conveyor of warm water

* Rising risk of abrupt changes to the monsoon

Luckily, our government is on the case, studying giant space screens to block the sun. Didn't anyone in the administration watch Highlander II? (I suppose no one really watched that movie, so perhaps they have an excuse. Oh, and I know that shield was to make up for the destruction of the ozone layer, but it was the same concept, and it didn't turn out well at all. Everything got really dark, crime was rampant, and the guys who ran the shield became the dictators of the world or something.)

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Still waiting for an explanation of what justifies you in scoffing at potential global warming solutions that at least some real scientists have proposed. Also, the post that you cite relies on the Stern Report. Here are two links showing why other experts think Stern's assumptions were exaggerated: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6295021.stmhttp://www.cato.org/pubs/...

Stuart -- Notwithstanding my Highlander II joke, I'm scoffing only at people who combine the following positions:(1) methodological doubt about human beings' ability to manage complex systems like the economy; (a sympathy I share, by the way, at least within certain limits);(2) faith in human beings' ability to apply a technological fix for global warming that involves limiting sunlight reaching the earth, notwithstanding the unpredictable effects of such a radical action on the earth's complex climatic and ecological systems, upon the stability of which we rely for our survival.

Who are you talking about, then? That is, what evidence is there that the Bush administration has ever, in any way, expressed such a Hayekian methodological doubt about managing the economy? So far as I can tell, most of the Bush administration's domestic policy has consisted of *greater* government involvement in one area after another (prescription drugs, No Child Left Behind, campaign finance reform). The Social Security initiative would have resulted in less government involvement, but not at all for Hayekian reasons. Seems that your purported contradiction relies on a stereotype, i.e., "Bush is a Republican, and stereotypical Republicans don't think the government can manage anything, therefore Bush contradicts himself if he thinks that there might be technological solutions to global warming."

You're right that I'm talking about a stereotype, but it wasn't the most serious post in the world either, Stuart. You need to lighten up a little bit. Looking at your comment to the earlier post, I agree with you that I lack the scientific expertise to assess the merits of these proposals, but I'm nonetheless troubled. (What do you do if it turns out that releasing millions of shiny balloons creates some new catastrophic and unforeseen consequences)? If we were facing runaway global warming that threatened to turn the Earth into Venus, I think I'd be on board with whatever we might possibly do to stop it, but we're not there yet, and this administration opposes even the most modest mandatory limits on CO2, which strikes me as the obvious place to start, if only to buy us more time.I also agree that these solutions should be studied, but, personally, my doubts about our abilities to understand and manage the climate predispose me to prefer the simpler solutions of (1) stopping what we're doing to destabilize the climate (i.e., curbing CO2 emissions and even coercing other countries to comply with similar limits) and (2) adapting to the changes we've already made inevitable.

And today there is news that the House panel charged with oversight of the gov't's research regarding global climate change is pressing the Bush Administration for information about whether the Administration pressured some scientists to alter their findings indicating an increase in global warning. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070130/ap_on_go_co/congress_climate;_ylt=Ak... should be interesting to see how this plays out.

On the Stern report, I appreciate Stuart's link to the critics. Most of the criticism is focused on the report's economics, although there are a few critics of its descriptions of likely consequences. Here are a few links to its defenders:http://n3xus6.blogspot.com/2007/01/stern-reveiw-crushed-hmmmmmaybe-not.h... think the realclimate blog defense is a balanced one. Their bottom line is that the science is sound, although the report errs on the side of more severe consequences (a fair methodology, in light of the uncertainty, I think, although perhaps not so much if we're seriously going to consider putting giant mirrors into space). In their words:"In conclusion: Stern gets the climate science largely right, though he strays on the high side of various estimates and picks the high side to talk about in the summary. This high-end bias lends the Review open to charges of "alarmism". The report does make the fair point that the damages and their cost grows disproportionally with increasing temperature change and so, given that asymmetry, policymakers are correct in taking note of them. However, it looks like the major criticism of his work will be directed (in other fora) at the economics."

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About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.