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Climate Change in the United States

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The Congressional Budget Office's analysis of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill is making headlines for showing that the legislation wouldn't cost much. But that's only half the question. Their analysis looked at only costs. It did not examine "potential benefits associated with any changes in the climate that would be avoided as a result of the legislation."

For a bit more on that subject, it's worth checking out the CBO's analysis of "Potential Impacts of Climate Change in the United States." It's basically a survey of the many, many, academic papers published on the topic, and it has the virtue of being both quite careful and quite comprehensive. For instance, the consensus estimate appears to be that if current warming trends continue, America will become between six and 13 degrees Fahrenheit warmer over the 21st century. To put that in context, the change in temperature between the coldest period of the Ice Age -- which was 21,000 years ago -- and the current climate is estimated at between 7 and 13 degrees Fahrenheit. We're planning on making the same jump in a single century.

But as the paper makes clear, a lot of the global warming debate comes down to how much we care about people who aren't us. The actual economic drag projected for the United States in the 21st century is relatively modest: 3 percent or so. The worst of climate change comes in other countries and long into the future. I'm young, but I'll be long dead by the time the time climate change transitions into climate chaos.

That's why people call climate change in a moral issue. Health reform can be justified in terms of economic self-interest. It's a strain to do the same thing with climate change. But the consequences for the developing world are tremendous in the short-term, and the consequences for our descendants are potentially vast. This is not, in other words, about whether we wish to be a richer nation. it's about whether we mean to be a good one.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 22, 2009; 11:02 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Comments

North South polarization and concentration of wealth as well as in our own country. A depressing outlook for the 90% that are on the losing end either nationally or internationally.

Posted by: srw3 | June 22, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

About
"The Congressional Budget Office's analysis of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill is making headlines for showing that the legislation wouldn't cost much."

The assumption is that all energy efficiency legislation is good for consumers.

Wrong.
Inefficient products need to have special advantages or noone would want them.
The fact is that efficiency regulation on a product sacrifices performance, construction and price features, and does not necessarily give the savings suggested anyway.

See
http://ceolas.net/#cc2x
onwards regarding efficiency regulation effect on buildings, lightbulbs, cars, dishwashers and other products

Posted by: Lighthouse99 | June 22, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Lighthouse99: "Inefficient products need to have special advantages or noone would want them.

"The fact is that efficiency regulation on a product sacrifices performance, construction and price features, and does not necessarily give the savings suggested anyway."

The problem with that line of reasoning is that few products price in the externalities of their use or production. Cars don't price in the costs of their emissions, not just for global warming but for very real pollutants that harm public health. When someone uses inefficient appliances, it's not just their energy rates that go up, but mine too because of increased demand on the system--but that wasteful user doesn't pay for raising everyone else's rates. If the costs of inefficiency on others were really priced in for the users, then you might see people moving towards far more efficient products.

And look at Europe. They tax the hell out of gasoline. They drive much more efficient cars because of it. And I don't think they're any unhappier than we are because for it.

Posted by: dasimon | June 22, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

I'm confused as to why Mr. Klein doesn't support a carbon-based fuels tax, instead of Waxman-Markey.

Posted by: Dellis2 | June 22, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

"And look at Europe. They tax the hell out of gasoline. They drive much more efficient cars because of it. And I don't think they're any unhappier than we are because for it."

The tree-huggers here tell us that taxing the heck out of gasoline will lead to innovation. Well I just got back from a week in Italy. They've been taxing gas to death for decades and it hasn't lead to much in the way of innovation. Instead it has led to matchbox size cars with 1.2 liter engines that you wouldn't put your family in on a bet. Of course I can't leave out all the scooters that are everywhere. Those are so dangerous they make the matchbox cars look safe.

Posted by: tlbriley | June 23, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Anyone who publishes a fantastically distorted graph like the one at the head of this article is either joking or insane. And notice there is no attribution.

There is zero evidence for such a freak increase in temps. Even the loony UN IPCC doesn't support this level of idiocy.

Posted by: JohnMap | June 23, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

@Johnmap: The blue, underlined text in Ezra's post is what's known as a "hyperlink," and if you perform a "click" with your mouse, it will take you to the CBO report from which the graphic was taken. This was pretty clear from the text of the post, as well. You may not like what the science tells you, but the CBO is no whackaloon outfit that thrives on making stuff up. I'm afraid that calling people who disagree with you "loony" does not qualify your opinion to stand alongside 30 years of research on climate science; neither is a sneer sufficient to counter a report meticulously prepared over several months by a rather large group of experts.

Posted by: jaredk | June 24, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

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