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The case for being careful with the climate

climateearthprotest.JPGTo make one more point on the Manzi/Plumer debate, I really think the concept of "the planet" should be more central in the debate over global warming. It's stating the obvious to say that we really don't know how to work this orb we're on, but it's true: Part of the uncertainty in the climate models stems from the fact that climate isn't something we understand terribly well, and the main thing we know about it is that it's incredibly complex and we're not very good at manipulating it in a purposeful and precise fashion.

The simple way of explaining global warming, the way that most people hear it explained, is that the planet gets hotter and that changes the climate. But the chain of events is considerably more intricate than that: Ice melts, water vapor rises, precipitation patterns change, oceans rise, surface reflectivity changes, and so on. The climate turns out to be an incredibly intricate system, and not one we understand very well.

Meanwhile, we're a pretty advanced society, but we're quite bad at dealing with disasters involving the planet itself. As Scott Montgomery argues in his book "The Powers That Be," a lot of column inches have been expended arguing whether the 2003 heat wave that killed tens of thousands in Europe; Hurricane Katrina; the tropical cyclone Nargis that killed 145,000;and other extreme weather events were really "caused" by global warming. The answer is that, in any given case, we can't know. What we do know is that global warming is predicted to cause many more of these types of events, and "neither developed nor developing nations are yet ready for a future where such events are more common or extreme."

There's a range of likely outcomes from a tax on carbon, and we can handle most of them. There's also a range of outcomes from radical changes in the planet's climate, and we've really no idea which we can handle, and which we can't. We don't even really know what that range looks like. And although a tax can be undone or reformed, there's no guarantee that we can reverse hundreds of years of rapid greenhouse gas buildup in the atmosphere. If you want proof, look at our inability to deal with an underwater oil spill, and consider how much more experience we have repairing oil rigs than reversing concentrations of gases in the atmosphere.

One of the oddities of the global warming debate, in fact, is that the side that's usually skeptical of government intervention is potentially setting up a future in which the government is intervening on a planetary scale. I don't think of myself as particularly skeptical of the feds, but I'm a lot more comfortable with their ability to levy a tax than their capacity to reform the atmosphere. That's why, when faced with the choice between being risk averse about a tax or about the planet, I tend to choose the planet.

Photo credit: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 6, 2010; 12:26 PM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Comments

But the denialists (1) don't think any of this is going to happen; (2) think that if it does, they will be dead (if they are over 60) or safe in a gated community (if they are over 45) or safe up in the mountains with a gun and lots of canned food (if they are under 45); and (3) think that even something bad does happen technology from the magical private sector will save us (or God will, or won't, depending on his whim, if they are Biblical literalists).

So no government intervention is needed except beefed up police forces and a military capable of taking over if needed.

Posted by: Mimikatz | July 6, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, you have it. The answer to your previous question "Is it cheaper to just let the planet heat?" is: almost certainly not. No environmental effects have been costed-in by the optimists. The economists suppose that we will adjust without net losses. But the last time Earth possibly was just 1 degree Celsius warmer was in the twelfth century A.D. -- and paleo-ecology has found plenty of evidence that the western four-fifths of the United States was a sand-dune desert, with dust storms that beggared the 1930's dust bowl. It is a leading contender among theories for why the Anasazi disappeared. And it would be an enormous economic dislocation for us to attempt to fight it or to move away from it. (Our water resources are already maxxed-out.) In contrast, purely economic efforts to reduce oil burning and to introduce new technologies is a win-win. By the way, the Arctic just lost more summer ice than ever recorded, and is now heading to an all-time low.

Posted by: Lee_A_Arnold | July 6, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I actually have a great deal of confidence in our collective ability, as a society, to respond to massive, grave threats. I just wish we could come together and respond to those threats before they become massive and grave. It unfortunately takes a cataclysm that directly affects most people to get us off our couches.

Posted by: spekny | July 6, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

The other problem with global warming is because there is about a 50 year lag between CO2 and temperature, by the time we understand exactly what the consequences of global warming are, it will be, definitionally, too late to deal with them.

Posted by: akent07 | July 6, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

I've been searching for a good shorthand for the parties in this debate without relying on "deniers" because I think it paints with too broad a brush. For now I'm going to settle on Anthros (for Antrhopogenic climate change) and Anti-Anthros (for people who are not convinced by the evidence for anthropogenic climate change).

I think a sticking point in the debate is that the Anthros, or a subset of them at least, sometimes talk about climate change as if the world ends. Now, there may be massive shifts in climate and whole species of plants and animals may go extinct, but I'm very confident that humanity would survive and adapt. Maybe we end up in Jetson-style houses above ground level or maybe we end up with a Road Warrior apocalyptic wasteland, but somehow humanity will continue on. What *will* end is the particular way of life that we've established over the last few hundred years. Maybe people like Manzi are right and the real world changes from climate change won't be as drastic as Mad Max World, but instead will be just the reapportionment of agriculture and some other climate sensitive industries northward along with other adjustments.

Still, as I've pointed out in previous posts, economic changes, even relatively small ones, can have dramatic impacts on the lives and livelihoods of lots of people. It's not necessarily the world or even humanity that we're trying to save by addressing climate change, though extinction is certainly a possible, if unlikely outcome.

Posted by: MosBen | July 6, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

@MosBen: "Maybe we end up in Jetson-style houses above ground level "

This, plus a briefcase that turns into a hover car, should happen, anyway.

BTW, there is another issue, assuming the "anti-Anthros" (that sounds very Greek to me, for some reason) are right and that there is no man-made global warming, per se: how do we approach the possibility of future warming periods or cooling periods and the changes they may cause.

Obviously, if natural cycles raise the temperature of the earth by an average of 4 degrees (rather than human carbon dioxide output), the issues relative to that increase in temperature don't change. Additionally, attempts at limiting carbon output have had no practical effect, and the temperature has still changed. And the problems with that temperature increase still happen.

So how do we address, at least in terms of planning, natural, rather than man-made, global warming?

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 6, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Here's a condensed version of Mr Klein's essay:

We don't know how the environment works. But we do know how taxes work.

so let's do taxes and hope that helps the environment.

yeah, right.

the underlying premise of all of this is that there is a real problem. Nonsense, the only real problem then environmentalists have is that they are being lead by a group of charlatan.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | July 6, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Kevin Willis is right here--it doesn't matter what the cause of warming is. If warming is real, we had better try to cope with it. We don't ignore earthquakes because "God" creates them, or hurricanes or tornadoes. We analyze the precursors, we build with them in mind, and we train people what to do in the event of emergency. We ought to treat climate change the same way regardless of the cause. Unless you really believe that one ought to be passive in the face of God's wrath, and it would be a strange God indeed who wanted that.

Posted by: Mimikatz | July 6, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

The skeptics' position does indeed strike me as majorly hypocritical—certainly in regards to those who call the evidence dubious or questionable or even incredibly unlikely. (Those who think they've "disproven" climate change are a different matter, as they don't seem to even understand how the process of scientific theory works.) Like Ezra points out, the need for Bruce Willis-style intervention in the future should terrify anyone who's afraid of hearing, "I'm from the government and I'm here to save your planet."

But more egregiously, those who argue against applying the Precautionary Principle to "questionable" climate evidence seem eager to apply it in other areas where the nation is threatened with much less evidence. Dick Cheney argued that the we're justified in preemptively addressing nations with as much as a one percent possibility of plotting against the U.S. ("If there's a 1% chance…we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.") And yet they refuse to apply the same Precautionary Principle to a problem that was concluded to be 90% likely occurring due to human actions. Even if that probability is vastly off due to uncertainty or error or scandal, shouldn't the Cheney Doctrine still apply?

Posted by: skeeJay | July 6, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

"So how do we address, at least in terms of planning, natural, rather than man-made, global warming?"

Kevin_Willis, meet Ken Caldeira:


http://www.wired.com/science/planetearth/magazine/16-07/ff_geoengineering?currentPage=all

In a nutshell, the idea is to cool the atmosphere the same way major volcanic eruptions have done so throughout history: by sending up sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere that scatters sunlight, but instead of waiting for a volcano we instead use what is essentially a "garden hose" held aloft by numerous weather balloons.

As someone who accepts that carbon emissions do cause GW, I'd prefer to reduce carbon rather than add some other gas to offset it's effect.

But the appeal of this strategy is that if you belive warming is real but don't think carbon is responsible, or if you think it is already too late to make the needed reduction in carbon emissions to offset disaster, something like this might be worth further study and development.

Posted by: Patrick_M | July 6, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

The two comments above are about the best I've seen on the topic.

Why not plan for climate change? I have absolutely no reason to believe that a tax (or other government action) will somehow mitigate any climate problem we might have; therefore, devising ways to deal with the potential disaster is prudent. In addition to being an advocate for climate-change planning, I'm an advocate both for magnetic pole shift planning and for asteroid impact planning.

Finally, if climate change is anthropogenic, why avoid talking about the direct solution: to lessen anthropogenic effects, create and maintain fewer anthros. While unpalatable to some, both an individual mandate for sterilization and simple slaughter (in the form of war or inflicted fatal disease) are both efficient at reducing anthropogenic effects. I prefer planning.

Posted by: rmgregory | July 6, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

I really don't see the downside of using carbon taxes.

We collect taxes anyway. Let's assume the probability of AGW being correct is only 10%. Why not levy carbon taxes as a hedge against the 10% risk of a bad outcome in exchange for an income tax cut? Is there any good reason why we should discourage income creation rather than fossil fuel consumption?

Posted by: justin84 | July 6, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

It's nice to read a few comments from people whom seem convinced about something.

It is so rare to run across someone who actually commits to a particular side.

Unfortunately I moved on 35 years ago, the time to act was then.

It's funny the Scots are now believing less in warming because of their bad winter.

Of course, a bad winter is what all of Europe should expect if climate shifts are related to a shifting Gulf current.

A frozen Europe with no summer at all is completely acceptable in 20 years or less.

I mean it wouldn't surprise many climatologists but those pesky taxpayers will surely claim blindsiding from Mother Nature.

Yes it will be all natural freezing, and yes humans will survive.

Survive at drastically reduced population levels, but survive. But what survives of our industrial society will be the true loss.

A self-inflicted radical technological brain surgery leaving humanity in a Cold Ages from which none of today's technology will survive because the infrastucture will be covered in Ice.

Watch for migrating and disappearing large mammal colonies, human and otherwise.

At one time in Earth's long history the surface only supported microbial life. How could man fare in similar heat and poisons?

I hope to not find out.

Posted by: ender3rd | July 6, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

in response to:
============
I really don't see the downside of using carbon taxes.

We collect taxes anyway. Let's assume the probability of AGW being correct is only 10%. Why not levy carbon taxes as a hedge against the 10% risk of a bad outcome in exchange for an income tax cut? Is there any good reason why we should discourage income creation rather than fossil fuel consumption?

=================

Why should Americans be taxed for a hoax? When do the rights of the citizens matter in this?

Taxing carbon is not only silly, it will destroy our economy, which is based on the use of hydrocarbons for its very life.

when will the wild eyed zealots grow up?

Posted by: skipsailing28 | July 6, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I don't object to carbon taxes, per se (I prefer less taxes generally, but I'll set that aside for the sake of argument): carbon taxes are no more pernicious than any other kind of sin tax.

What I do object to is cap-and-trade and carbon markets, which I expect will prove completely ineffectual, and perhaps even allow more pollution--i.e., I get to pollute, I bought my offsets!--are potentially fraught with opportunities for financial bubbles (what are carbon credits trading for this morning?) and, in any case, put the emphasis in the wrong place. The goal should not be to figure out how the most people can pollute the most, for longest, with highest revenues to the government therefrom. The goal should be to increase efficiencies, nurture green technologies, and reduce pollution. While there is no guarantee a carbon tax will do this, it's much more likely to help in those areas than cap-and-trading.

And, as I have mentioned before, carbon taxes can be structured so that they are highest on those who pollute a lot _and_ can afford to mitigate that pollution. Thus, they can end up profiting under a carbon tax scenario that still has the desired result of them decreasing carbon output.

I think you sabotage that potential success if you allow those companies to sell off their carbon credits so that others may pollute freely. In all honesty, that's not a bad market structure, in that in encourages those who can to conserve, but allows those who can't to remain profitable, but still . . . if the goal is to decrease carbon output and to increase productive-ouput per energy-input, cap-and-trade or carbon-offsets or anything that allows for special exemptions isn't the way to go.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 6, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

@ender3rd: "Of course, a bad winter is what all of Europe should expect if climate shifts are related to a shifting Gulf current. A frozen Europe with no summer at all is completely acceptable in 20 years or less."

Then, indirectly, the Day After Tomorrow scenario our planet suffers from will be fault of those who made the decision to jump on average temperature warming trends and call it "Global Warming". Climate Change would have been a much better way to characterize it.

Popular doomsayers have (in the past) portrayed Global Warming to much of the general public as Waterworld, with what little surface land that remains scorched to a desert. Kevin Costner was going to evolve gills, it was going to be so hot!

Live by theoretical anecdotal examples, die by anecdotal examples.


Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 6, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

skipsailing28,

"Why should Americans be taxed for a hoax? When do the rights of the citizens matter in this?"

Americans are going to have to pay taxes one way or another.

You can't be sure AGW is a hoax - the evidence strongly suggests that it isn't a hoax, the CRU issue notwithstanding.

At best, the models might overestimate the amount of warming we should expect from the continued accumulation of greehouse gases. Maybe forests are better carbon sinks than we had thought. Perhaps greater cloud formation reflects more sunlight back to space. But it is almost certain that a) humans are adding more CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and b) greenhouse gases, trap infrared radiation and raise the planet's surface temperature above what it otherwise would have been. The question is how those two facts interact with our very complex climate.

"Taxing carbon is not only silly, it will destroy our economy, which is based on the use of hydrocarbons for its very life."

How will a carbon tax damage the economy more than an equal proportion of dollars being appropriated by the government by taxing income? I'm not sure how that math works out.

"when will the wild eyed zealots grow up?"

I should just change my posting name to zealot...

Posted by: justin84 | July 6, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

in reply to:
=============
skipsailing28,

"Why should Americans be taxed for a hoax? When do the rights of the citizens matter in this?"

Americans are going to have to pay taxes one way or another.

You can't be sure AGW is a hoax - the evidence strongly suggests that it isn't a hoax, the CRU issue notwithstanding.

At best, the models might overestimate the amount of warming we should expect from the continued accumulation of greehouse gases. Maybe forests are better carbon sinks than we had thought. Perhaps greater cloud formation reflects more sunlight back to space. But it is almost certain that a) humans are adding more CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and b) greenhouse gases, trap infrared radiation and raise the planet's surface temperature above what it otherwise would have been. The question is how those two facts interact with our very complex climate.

"Taxing carbon is not only silly, it will destroy our economy, which is based on the use of hydrocarbons for its very life."

How will a carbon tax damage the economy more than an equal proportion of dollars being appropriated by the government by taxing income? I'm not sure how that math works out.

"when will the wild eyed zealots grow up?"

I should just change my posting name to zealot
============

First, the philosophy of it all: Should the government of a democracy use the tax code to modify the behavior of the citizens? I don't think so. Yet that is what this is really all about. Since the environmentalists can't convince enough people that they are right, the alternative is to, once again, hammer the American taxpayers into submission. I object to this strenuously. Not that Obama cares.

next, if as you say Americans must pay taxes anyway, what taxes will be LOWERED to offset the new taxes engendered by these schemes? Right now I cannot think of any. No politician has stood up and said "We'll tax the snot out of carbon, but give you an equal break elsewhere. It isn't about raising more money, or agrandizing the government, it is about saving the planet." Nope, haven't heard it and I doubt we will.

In answer to your question about damage, think of it this way. The government seeks to penalize us for using something vital to our economy. As the real cost of "carbon" rises, what alternatives exist to replace it? I drive two hours every day for a job I love. Under the Obama scheme I'm screwed and so is every one else on the turnpike. The cost of everything will rise dramatically. What plans exist to confront that?

Why will the cost of everything rise? Because our economy floats on a sea of oil. No one that I consider credible can explain how all this fooling around with massive economic forces will work out. Given the track record of the liberals thus far, I see no reason to trust their judgement now.

Finally, it is a hoax. Too many people stand to make too much for it to be something else.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | July 6, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

The science behind climate change is pretty simple and has been around for a long time.

Decade after decade is becoming warmer- 2010 will likely be the warmest year on record.

Extreme weather like flooding, droughts wild fires are increasing.

CO2 levels have not been this high in human civilized history (12,000 years)

The last time CO2 was this elevated was 3 million years ago- CO2 then was around 400ppm- about the same as today.

In that Pliocene era- there was no arctic ice, no Greenland ice- and sea levels where 50 feet higher.

We are in trouble- its simply going to become warmer- an alarmist I am not- but from what I have read from the NOAA, NASA and other mainstream organizations- we have to reduce CO2 emissions very quickly-if not this planet in as little as 50 years will be a far different place then today.

Posted by: vercingetorex | July 6, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Patrick_M, there are positives and negatives to the sulfer dioxide font that you mentioned. On the one hand, sulfer dioxide will stay up in the atmosphere for a few years, but will fall back out after a while, which means that if we don't need it after a while it's something we can get rid of. On the other hand, we don't have any idea what having millions of tons of sulfer dioxide falling out of the atmosphere over a period of potentially decades would do. Also, because this solution keeps the planet colder without requiring any change in behavior, it's possible, and I'd suggest probable, that we'd put up the SO2 shield but not change our behavior. That'd mean that if we ever stopped throwing SO2 up into the atmosphere, or had a shortage and *couldn't* put more up, the problem could potentially be orders of magnitudes worse than before we started the program.

As others have said, the simplest, cheapest, and likely most effective solution is to address the root cause of the problem before it becomes a disaster.

Kevin Willis and Mimikatz are right that planning for the effects of GW is smart no matter what, but that doesn't mean we *shouldn't* address the causes if they are indeed anthropogenic. Building houses to absorb less heat is just a good idea for efficiency, and finding better ways to farm in harsh hot or cold climates is also good whether we're talking about the Middle East or Souther California after GW sets in in a big way. And finding new methods of renewable power generation is something we'll need no matter what. Still, if instituting cap & trade or a carbon tax can significantly reduce the effects of GW, then it's something we should try.

Posted by: MosBen | July 6, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

The science of climate change must not be as simple as vercingetorex says. If it were, more people would be convinced and there would be far fewer charlatans in the environmental fear mongering field.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | July 6, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Kevin, I don't think there's a clearly better policy between the carbon tax or cap & trade. At the same time, other cap & trade systems haven't led to the speculation and continued polluting that you discuss. Some of the companies that sell their carbon credits will do so because they don't pollute much anyway or because they've found small ways to increase their efficiency. At least some of them, however, are likely to research and develop new technologies that rely on polution less, and these eventually propogate to the rest of their industry. At least, that's what has happened in the past. Carbon is, of course, unique, but still, that's all we have to go on, and if it didn't work we could always switch to a straight carbon tax.

Frankly, I think cap & trade became the goal because people thought it would be easier to sell people on it. Rather than a blunt instrument like a tax it tries to achieve its goals through a market-based mechanism. No, of course a tax creates market incentives too, but I'm still honestly surprised that creating a market where businesses can pay to continue their dirty ways while others out compete them through efficiency and new technology isn't more popular with conservatives.

Posted by: MosBen | July 6, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

@skipsailing28:
The science of climate change must not be as simple as vercingetorex says. If it were, more people would be convinced and there would be far fewer charlatans in the environmental fear mongering field.

What? How about this: the what vercingetorex said sounds convincing to you, but you are committed to your position, so you are not convinced. It doesn't matter *what* arguments climate scientists and those convinced by them adduce, complicated or simple. You and those like you will not believe. Your position is not based on evidence but wishful thinking and your trust in partisan allies.

The flip side of this is that you don't need to explain the existence of "charlatans in the environmental fear mongering field". These are a species like the tooth fairy. You believe in them because you find this comforting. But this is of your choosing! Their existence need not be an impediment to your believing in global warming! How convenient!

The people you smear as charlatans are actually people of good will working earnestly and assiduously, for little profit, and for everyone's benefit. You are like a large minority in the U.S. and elsewhere who abuse and hinder these people working for your benefit as much as their own. Do you honestly want to understand the CRU emails? Understand that 1) the scientists who wrote them care about the world they study and 2) have to deal with the likes of you on a daily basis.

Posted by: dfhoughton | July 6, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Remember people, there's absolutely no financial incentive for people to be against climate change legislation.

Just like there was absolutely no financial incentive for people to lie about the risks of smoking.

Posted by: lol-lol | July 6, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

MosBen,

Per your comment to me: "On the other hand, we don't have any idea what having millions of tons of sulfer dioxide falling out of the atmosphere over a period of potentially decades would do."

I completely agree with you, which is why I said: "I'd prefer to reduce carbon rather than add some other gas to offset it's effect."

However, I do think the sulphur diioxide idea, and possibly other "geo-engineering" strategies, at least merit further study and development.

It might be a last resort "Plan B" in the event that humanity can't put the brakes on carbon emissions fast enough, or (as Kevin_Willis worries) a Plan A in the highly improbable event that we learn that warming is real but that the broad scientific consensus has wrong about the cause, and it is not the result of carbon pollution.

Posted by: Patrick_M | July 6, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

"First, the philosophy of it all: Should the government of a democracy use the tax code to modify the behavior of the citizens? I don't think so. Yet that is what this is really all about. Since the environmentalists can't convince enough people that they are right, the alternative is to, once again, hammer the American taxpayers into submission."

I have a lot of sympathy for this argument. If it wasn't a potentially massive global problem I'd be right with you. This is an intergenerational tragedy of the commons problem - and not only can damages not be precisely calculated, there is no real way to assign property rights.

People in America are too hostile to science to really expect persuasion to work. Take biological evolution. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming and yet something like half of Americans think it something the devil came up with to trick them. No science can ever be considered settled, but evolution is close. Despite this, it is still a struggle to have it taught in science classes. The evidence for AGW isn't as strong as that for evolution, as climate science is more difficult, but it is still fairy strong and some of the uncertainty leans towards a worse-than-expected outcome.

Also, pretty much all taxes distort behavior. I would prefer to distort fossil fuel consumption over distorting the incentive to generate a marginal dollar of income.

"next, if as you say Americans must pay taxes anyway, what taxes will be LOWERED to offset the new taxes engendered by these schemes? ... Nope, haven't heard it and I doubt we will."

Would you take it if offerred? Suppose Obama offered to maintain the Bush tax cuts in their entirety but also got rid of the 10% tax bracket. Would you accept a carbon tax which filled in the revenue from the lost 10% bracket?

"In answer to your question about damage, think of it this way. The government seeks to penalize us for using something vital to our economy. As the real cost of "carbon" rises, what alternatives exist to replace it? I drive two hours every day for a job I love. Under the Obama scheme I'm screwed and so is every one else on the turnpike. The cost of everything will rise dramatically. What plans exist to confront that? ...No one that I consider credible can explain how all this fooling around with massive economic forces will work out."

I'm not sure how something like a $1 tax on gasoline would screw you. Especially if you did receive an income tax cut in conjunction. But you could move closer to work, or carpool, or buy a more fuel efficient vehicle (the $18k Chevy Cruze gets 40mpg).

Singapore manages a petrol tax of about $1.50/gallon and has a richer and more dynamic economy than the U.S, although admittedly it is very urban.
http://www.aseanaffairs.com/page/singapore_minister_no_petrol_tax_reduction_ahead

Posted by: justin84 | July 6, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

I hope buffoons like George Will (a writer at this publication) and his heirs find a place in the future that will allow them to escape from Water shortages; droughts, torrential rains, severe heat waves, wildfires, and a high enough elevation up to escape sea rise.

Posted by: vercingetorex | July 6, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

As lol-lol said, there is exactly one side of this debate with all the financial incentive.

Posted by: dpurp | July 6, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

I was taught that CO2 was what plants needed to live and flourish and if they do, the by product from plants is oxygen. Civilization needs this to live and flourish. Then why do we want to screw that up? Why experiment with the very thing we need to live?
The CO2 levels for the past 600 million years have only been this low one other time than they are today!
The late Carboniferous to early Permian Period (315 million years ago — 270 million years ago) had much the same climate as today. The CO2 levels were about 380 parts per million  (0.038% of the total atmospheric gases).
About 270 million years ago all the ice disappeared and for the next 200 million years higher plant life and the types of advanced trees we have today came into being. This is also the time of the dinosaurs and the time when mammals came to dominate the earth. During this time CO2 levels were 4.7 times higher than they are today. Now you could say look… the higher CO2 levels caused the ice to disappear and you would be wrong.
During the Late Ordovician Period (about 450 million years ago) the earth was almost covered with ice while at the same time CO2 concentrations were nearly 12 times higher than today– 4400 parts per million. According to greenhouse theory, Earth should have been exceedingly hot but that was not the case. Clearly, other natural factors besides atmospheric carbon influence earth temperatures and global warming are happening. For the past 600 million years there have been only four periods where there was ice on earth and we are in one of them. CO2 levels had no influence in the ice forming or melting…just look at the Earth’s record.
You should be very afraid when climate warming people are asked a simple question…
What should earth’s average CO2 levels be? …THEY HAVE NO ANSWER!
Today they want to micromanage CO2 levels…levels that are already the lowest in earth’s history.
Why are we letting them experiment with our very being? I’m not confident in letting them throw the dice with my life. What is happening has happened before and it’s etched in in the earth’s record for all to see.

Posted by: heenan45 | July 6, 2010 10:58 PM | Report abuse

There is no disagreement on the fact that a tree will absorb CO2 and with pluses: ground water retention, atmospheric dust and pollutants filtration, air cooling by shading, faunal habitat creation, etc. Here there is no debate.

This being so, why hasn't any scientist come up with the number of trees we need to plant to counter the CO2 we need to absorb? With the number of trees we need to plant, we can begin to allocate by country or by individual how many each would need to plant in addition to the existing volume of flora. The number should be that it will be more than sufficient to absorb all the CO2 that is going to exceed 350 ppm.

Will somebody come up with a number so that each of us can begin to do our part to take away whatever worry we have over CO2!

For the people in highly urbanized places, the city governments can certainly find a place for people to plant trees. They can allocate the area by family so it will be fun; it will be just like having a picnic.

Tree planting is the most simple solution to the problem. I am sure many will do their part if they know exactly just how many trees will each human plant to cancel whatever bad effects human living will do to this planet.

Posted by: pinoythinker | July 6, 2010 11:33 PM | Report abuse

I encourage Mr Klein to examine the link between cutting emissions and lowing the level of greenhouse gases in the air:

Here is what Climate Code Red says:

--Human emissions have so far produced a global average temperature increase of 0.8 degree C.

--There is another 0.6 degree C. to come due to "thermal inertia", or lags in the system, taking the total long-term global warming induced by human emissions so far to 1.4 degree C.

--If human total emissions continue as they are to 2030 (and don't increase 60% as projected) this would likely add more than 0.4 degrees C. to the system in the next two decades, taking the long-term effect by 2030 to at least 1.7 degrees C. (A 0.3 degree C. increase is predicted for the period 2004-2014 alone by Smith, Cusack et al, 2007).

--Then add the 0.3 degree C. albedo flip effect from the now imminent loss of the Arctic sea ice, and the rise in the system by 2030 is at least 2 degree. C, assuming very optimistically that emissions don't increase at all above their present annual rate! When we consider the potential permafrost releases and the effect of carbon sinks losing capacity, we are on the road to a hellish future, not for what we will do, but WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY DONE.

"The alternative (to geoengineering) is the acceptance of a massive natural cull of humanity and a return to an Earth that freely regulates itself but in the hot state." --Dr James Lovelock, August 2008

Posted by: dobermantmacleod | July 7, 2010 12:40 AM | Report abuse

Your arguments about using the prevention principle are absolutely correct. It's the same reason we buy insurance.

However, I think that climate scientists would say that global warming TENDS to make events like this happen more frequently, and TENDS to make them more intense; not CAUSES them — there are many CAUSES. Although the average conditions on the planet are changing, "setting the table" for events like this, there are still cycles, like El Niño/La Niña, and random sloshings going on in the atmosphere and the oceans — these are also CAUSES of extreme events. Don't let climate change deniers attack you for sloppy wording.

Global warming is shown by long-term averages; record high temperatures have become more than twice as common as record lows:

http://www.ucar.edu/news/releases/2009/maxmin.jsp#

Posted by: DaregaleSkylark | July 7, 2010 1:13 AM | Report abuse

No matter what the US, Canada, and Europe decide to do or not do about CO2, the amount of CO2 emitted into the air is likely to increase substantially because China, India, and many other countries are building coal fired power plants and cheap cars as fast as they can.


It is simply a fantasy to believe that our actions really matter on a global scale. Yet you see really not much written about adapting to changes as they occur. Crippling our economy to reduce our own CO2 emissions by an amount that really doesn't matter does not make sense to me.


I recycle aluminum, plastic, metal cans, and plastic because the local government insists. My expectation is that the aluminum, iron cans, and maybe the glass actually produces a net benefit. The rest is probably'feel good' environmentalism and winds up in the landfill or the incinerator.


Much of the CO2 reduction activity falls in the 'feels good' category. Makes no real difference, but doesn't do much harm.


The coal fired power plants are a major exception; presence or absence of electricity makes a HUGE difference in the lives of many people who don't have it now. These same people are the ones the environmentalists claim to be worried about. I find it difficult to tell if they are applying realism to their concerns, and observe that many of them stand to make a lot of money with cap and trade or similar schemes.

Posted by: AGWsceptic99 | July 7, 2010 2:12 AM | Report abuse

No matter what the US, Canada, and Europe decide to do or not do about CO2, the amount of CO2 emitted into the air is likely to increase substantially because China, India, and many other countries are building coal fired power plants and cheap cars as fast as they can.


It is simply a fantasy to believe that our actions really matter on a global scale. Yet you see really not much written about adapting to changes as they occur. Crippling our economy to reduce our own CO2 emissions by an amount that really doesn't matter does not make sense to me.


I recycle aluminum, plastic, metal cans, and plastic because the local government insists. My expectation is that the aluminum, iron cans, and maybe the glass actually produces a net benefit. The rest is probably'feel good' environmentalism and winds up in the landfill or the incinerator.


Much of the CO2 reduction activity falls in the 'feels good' category. Makes no real difference, but doesn't do much harm.


The coal fired power plants are a major exception; presence or absence of electricity makes a HUGE difference in the lives of many people who don't have it now. These same people are the ones the environmentalists claim to be worried about. I find it difficult to tell if they are applying realism to their concerns, and observe that many of them stand to make a lot of money with cap and trade or similar schemes.

Posted by: AGWsceptic99 | July 7, 2010 2:13 AM | Report abuse

Ezra has tried to sound very sober and even-handed about the Manzi-Plumer "debate". Since his positions are generally very well-informed, and he is apparently less informed about climate science, I hope that he will look into the issue more carefully. The first thing to keep in mind on this specific debate is that guys like Lomborg and Manzi make up facts as they need them, so you have to check up on them. Manzi's premise seems to be that the IPCC report quantifies the warming impact at 3% of the global economy by 2100 or whatever. Just where in the IPCC reports does it say that? Looking at the 4th assessment policy summary, I see a lot of talk about species extinction, various impact on food, water availability, disease, land cover, flooding, weather stress affecting billions of people. I see explicit statements that the economic impacts cannot be estimated except within a very broad range. I don't see the yawn-inducing impact number that Manzi claims is there. I suggest checking up on Manzi's facts before engaging his argument based on those facts. The number that makes me yawn is the "cost" of mitigation, which represents a redirection of economic activity rather than a reduction.

Posted by: chase-truth | July 7, 2010 8:30 AM | Report abuse

I thought that Christopher Hitchens put it quite well:

"We have but one planet on which to conduct this experiment."

Denier's scientific beliefs are shaped by their aversion to taxes. They'd be falling all over themselves demanding action on this proven problem if the science pointed to a giant tax cut and smaller government as the solution.

We're entering an age of hockey-stick charts:

Population
Fishery depletion
Water stress
Peak oil
Peak coal
Peak uranium
CO2

And on and on. Most Americans I see continue to sleepwalk past all of these problems and our politicians are too weak to point out that they have much to do with our current economic mess.

Posted by: sdavis3398 | July 7, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

"No matter what the US, Canada, and Europe decide to do or not do about CO2, the amount of CO2 emitted into the air is likely to increase substantially because China, India, and many other countries are building coal fired power plants and cheap cars as fast as they can."

This is true. You have to get the BRICs on board or else there isn't much we can do except make the problem a little better or worse on the margins. Twenty years from now China is likely to have an economy that is as large as the EU and US combined, and if it is powered by coal then it's game over.

One way we definitely won't get the BRICs on board is to do nothing ourselves. If we put controls into place and the BRICs ignore us, well then maybe we go back to business as usual and go whole hog into geoengineering research, but I think we should try to cut emissions first.

"During the Late Ordovician Period (about 450 million years ago) the earth was almost covered with ice while at the same time CO2 concentrations were nearly 12 times higher than today– 4400 parts per million. According to greenhouse theory, Earth should have been exceedingly hot but that was not the case. Clearly, other natural factors besides atmospheric carbon influence earth temperatures and global warming are happening."

CO2 isn't the only driver of global temperatures. Other greenhouse gases matter. Surface and cloud albedo matter. As you say, clearly other factors matter. And clearly, the biggest factor is the sun.

The standard solar model suggests that stars gradually brighten as they go through main sequence - as a consequence, we received less solar energy in the past and we could enjoy clement temperatures with more greenhouse gases. In the early 1970s there was discussion about 'the faint sun paradox', in which astrophysical models of the sun suggested it would be too cool to support liquid water on Earth several billion years ago. The paradox is resolved, in the view of most scientists, by assuming far higher concentrations of greenhouse gases.

In the case of the snowball Earth you describe, increased greenhouse gases were more than offset by increased albedo (by a very bright Earth) and less solar energy.

Posted by: justin84 | July 7, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

"I find it difficult to tell if they are applying realism to their concerns, and observe that many of them stand to make a lot of money with cap and trade or similar schemes."

There is financial interest on both sides.

Outside of that, the evidence suggests a real risk. As sdavis (quoting Christopher Hitchens) said, we only have one planet on which to run the experiment. We cannot yet travel en masse to other worlds, and today's antarctic is more hospitable in any case than any place on Mars.

Posted by: justin84 | July 7, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

I'll give ya a carbon tax. You've got these corporate cronies making billions sucking up the worlds resources, and they're do damn cheap to invest a dime on cleaner technology when it comes out. Cap & trade is just another scam to rape the middle-class and fill the elites coffers. The Wall Street gang are going bundle smog like mortgages. There are easier ways to cut emissions. And it starts with chucking the auto, oil & coal lobbyists out of our Govt.

Posted by: HemiHead66 | July 7, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

The IPCC is mis-applying the Greenhouse effect science. They say that adding more GHGs means more warming. The Greenhouse effect says you have to add a photon to the added GHG to get more warming. On Earth we have 32C of GHE warming. Because there are more excess GHGs left over not being used by the GHG, then adding more just adds more excess It does not add more warming. The simple proof is that when you add more water vapor GHG, when it goes from 33% humidity to 100%, you do NOT triple the warming. The climate scientists/IPCC science is not correct.
Removing CO2/GHGs will not lower the tmeperature it just removes some of the excess CO2. Spending money to remove something that does nothing is a giant waste of money that could be better used.

The GHE and global warming and cooling exist. It is just that the current IPCC science does not explain it. An alternate explanation is a paper called Gravity Causes Climate Change available at www.scribd.com

Posted by: JDoddsGW | July 8, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

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