The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Global Warming Is Heating Up

It seems that global warming may soon replace immigration as the hot topic of the day. I've been hearing ads for Al Gore's movie, and they are actually trying to make it sound scary. I don't object to anyone trying to raise global warning awareness, but I still object to environmental scare tactics which also seem to have reentered the mainstream.

First we got this op-ed from the erstwhile TMQ, Gregg Easterbrook in the NYT. I've read more of Gregg Easterbrook's work than almost anyone, (including A Moment On The Earth) and while Gregg may think that this op-ed constitutes some big change in his position, it really doesn't. He simply advocates what he usually advocates for environmental problems: Creating tradeable credits for the pollutant in question. Gregg says that he now accepts that global warming is real (about time) but he's always left the option open in his previous writings. I actually paraphrase one of his arguments fairly frequently when I argue with conservatives:

We don't know what kind of a world will result from global warming, but we do know that the world in its current form is well suited to our existence, and as we have that information at our disposal we should make reasonable steps to ensure that the earth stays that way.


This was, in my opinion, a very strange editorial. Its main feature seems to be timing. In just the last few days, in addition to the Easterbrook story, the NYT has featured this article about two studies linking global warming to an increase n storm and hurricane ferocity, and this laughable story on a potential increase in poison ivy ferocity. Global warming is all the rage.

However, this strikes me as being quite similar to the immigration issue. Global warming is a problem, that much is true, but it's not a significantly larger problem than it has been at any time in the recent past, and the methods that we should use to go about fixing the problem are still up for debate.

I still think that our best bet is an x-prize style incentive for the development of environmentally friendly energy-generating technologies, as well as an expansion of our nuclear capacity. Conservation, especially US conservation, will simply be too costly and extremely ineffective. We will not be the dominant producers of greenhouse gas over the next 25 years. That honor will fall on China and India (not too mention the African nations that are fortunate enough to escape the third world). These nations are unlikely to forego helpful technology in the name of environmentalism, and it is hard to blame them.

That is why it is essential that we invent our way out of this problem. It may not be a perfect solution, and it may not even work, but I believe that it is the only palatable solution, especially for the developing world.

(Clarification: Conservation should be a part of the solution, and this post is not meant to argue that you should run out and buy an SUV. The problem is that conservation alone will not be enough to solve this problem, and the costs associated with massive conservation efforts will be quite large. However, voluntary conservation is good for the environment, there is no doubt about that.)

Also, read this post by Tyler Cowen.

6 Comments:

  • The problem with nuclear is waste disposal. The stuff lasts forever and nobody wants it anywhere near them or even transported past them (the latter of which is fairly silly considering the precautions). I don't know why conservatives always ignore the nuclear waste issue.

    Also, we get uranium from fewer countries than we get oil (but we seem to be able to keep them stable) so it wouldn't be energy independence.

    Also, developing new energy technology would benefit not only the environment, but the economy. US workers are not cost competitive at simple manufacturing. Developing new technology that China, India, and other developing countries will be demanding as they continue to develop their infrastructure and energy grids would give us a product to produce and sell, or at least have the profits come back to U.S. companies.

    Don't oversell the cost of conservation, too many people I know waste so much energy for mere minor convenience because it costs them so little. It is also ironic when they drive the 4-5 blocks to school and then go use an electronic treadmill at home.

    By Blogger Scott H, at 3:57 PM  

  • "Global warming is a problem, that much is true"

    >>while i'm 99% in agreement with what you say, i'm yet to be convinced taht global warming is definitely a problem. i think it almost certainly exists, but that it remains to be seen whether or not it will necessarilly be a negative thing... (my intuition is that it will, but too often the positive aspects of global warming are ignored completely.

    nuclear waste is an issue, but it's a great issue to have. for the first time in our history we are in total control of the hazardous waste from our fuel. i see the nuclear waste "problem" as being similar to those cliche sports "problems" like having "too many quarterbacks" or "too many left-handed power hitters" -- they're conflicts, but the kind that you want to have.

    By Blogger ahren, at 6:23 PM  

  • Ahren, I agree 100% on the nuclear waste issue. Isn't the whole point of creating clean energy production to localize the waste so that we can do what we want with it? And it goes without saying that "waste" will be undesirable. People are still overly scared of radioactive stuff.

    I also agree that global warming would almost certainly have some positive effects. I guess my main point is that if we can maintain our current climate at a reasonable cost, it would be prudent to do so, because it is a bit of a gamble to do otherwise.

    But you're right. No one knows what the effects of global warming will be, so the alarmist rhetoric that surrounds it is largely unwarranted.

    Scott, conservation is fine, and people do carelessly waste a great deal, I just think that all of the conservation possible in the US would still be just a drop in the bucket.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 6:44 PM  

  • Paul, with the conservation you said "too expensive and extremely ineffective". I thought that wording went too far considering how widespread unnecessary some waste is. I don’t think it is the solution, but it can certainly put a dent help in certain types of usage.

    The underlying point that we have better control over nuclear waste than over other wastes is a good point, but the stated argument that too much waste is a problem you want to have is an idiotic statement. It simply provides a catchy way to dismiss the problem by ignoring the reality of the matter. Nuclear plants are having very real problems finding places to dispose of their waste. There simply aren’t that many good places for it (geologically suited and in an area relatively unused by humans) and they require lengthy and expensive construction. (The problem with nuclear waste is that it takes forever to break down and thus risks environmental contamination for a very long time to come, which can affect groundwater and other resources people use.) Even if people are overly scared, their fear still makes disposal difficult.

    As for arguing that global warming might be a good thing, that seems a very insincere argument used as hollow, unsupported rhetoric (not that you’re insincere, but those who devised it are). Human development and settlements are based upon current world conditions and changing things will conflict with that and it will be very costly, especially to those of us who are well situated in our current climate (such as the U.S., China, Europe). To migrate farming further north, move population centers, resist changes through irrigation & dykes, etc. will have a very large cost in the future (as Paul said). Especially if the climate continues to change at an ever increasing rate because then these changes will have to occur more often. Basically, environmental stability is favorable over a changing environment, thus change would be a negative thing.

    By Blogger Scott H, at 1:42 PM  

  • in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, it's clear that global warming might be a good thing or it might be a bad thing.

    since nobody has clearly agreed upon the criteria for what would make global warming a good thing a bad thing, let alone studied the issue nearly enough to determine that global warming is definitely a bad thing or definitely a good thing, it's still possible that it's a good thing.

    the only rhetoric that is hollow and unsupported here is the dismissal of something that's obviously true as "hollow, unsupported rhetoric."

    By Blogger ahren, at 11:53 PM  

  • Spring Break 2050-Milwaukee, Wisconsin!

    That could be a good thing, no?

    By Blogger JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe, at 11:06 AM  

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