Climate Change in the United States
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.
June 22, 2009; 11:02 AM ET
Categories: Climate Change
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