Skepticism in all the Wrong Places
Eduardo Moisés Peñalver January 29, 2007 - 8:44am
It's funny to me how some conservatives, who are normally so prone to doubt the competence of human beings to meddle with complex systems, like the economy, are -- shall we say -- somewhat less skeptical about our ability to solve complicated environmental problems through technology.
With even the Bush administration finally admitting in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that human beings are causing global climate change, mostly through CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, you would think the obvious policy repsonse would be to get on board with efforts to limit those emissions. Instead, the administration continues to oppose mandatory emissions reductions in favor of voluntary efforts. And, now, we have news (HT Talkingpointsmemo) that the administration is pushing the solution of literally dimming the sunlight reaching the earth in order to combat global warming without having to cut back on our oil-burning ways. According to the Sydney Morning Herald:
The US has also attempted to steer the UN report, prepared by theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), away from conclusionsthat would support a new worldwide climate treaty based on bindingtargets to reduce emissions. . . . The US response says the idea of interfering with sunlight should beincluded in the summary for policymakers, the prominent chapter at thefront of each panel report. It says: "Modifying solar radiance may bean important strategy if mitigation of emissions fails. Doing theR&D to estimate the consequences of applying such a strategy isimportant insurance that should be taken out. This is a very importantpossibility that should be considered." Scientists havepreviously estimated that reflecting less than 1 per cent of sunlightback into space could compensate for the warming generated by allgreenhouse gases emitted since the industrial revolution. Possibletechniques include putting a giant screen into orbit, thousands oftiny, shiny balloons, or microscopic sulfate droplets pumped into thehigh atmosphere to mimic the cooling effects of a volcanic eruption.The IPCC draft said such ideas were "speculative, uncosted and withpotential unknown side-effects".
Let me get this straight: we need to have faith in the hidden hand of the market because (per Hayek and others) human beings simply don't have the ability to gather and process the data necessary to manage the economy efficiently, but, when it comes to climate change, somehow we're supposed to believe that human beings will be able to manage the data that would permit us to "regulate" the sun? To quote Sesame Street, "one of these things is not like the other."
UPDATE: Jack Balkin has some nice snark at Balkinization about the possible biblical precedents that might make dimming the sun appealing to the Bushies.
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.