Global Warming Questions Nobody Dares Ask Al Gore
While everybody on the face of the planet seems most interested in whether or not Nobel Laureate Al Gore is going to run for president in 2008, an article was published by Slate Monday asking questions of the Global Warmingist-in-Chief far more crucial than his future political aspirations.
Though Steven Landsburg is likely not a household name, his article deliciously entitled "Save the Earth in Six Hard Questions: What Al Gore doesn't understand about climate change," should be must-reading for all Americans - including elected officials - that are seriously pondering radical changes to energy and economic policies in order to address the most recent environmental bogeyman.
Unlike most articles on this subject, Landsburg, a PhD-wielding economics professor at the University of Rochester, took a purely pragmatic and arithmetic approach (emphasis added throughout):
At his most pugnacious, Gore has depicted the fundamental trade-off as one between environmental responsibility and personal greed. Of course, as everyone over the age of 12 is perfectly aware, the real trade-off is between the quality of our own lives and the quality of our descendants'.
In other words, climate policy is almost entirely about you and me making sacrifices for the benefit of future generations. To contribute usefully to the debate, you've got to think hard about the appropriate level of sacrifice. That in turn requires you to think hard about roughly half a dozen underlying issues.
The questions, without Landsburg's detailed explanations, (hint - read the entire article!) are:
1. How much does human activity affect the climate?
2. How much harm (or good!) is likely to come from that climate change?
3. How much do we-or should we-care about future generations?
4. How likely are those future generations to be around, anyway?
5. Just how rich are those future generations likely to be?
6. How risk-averse are we?
With that in mind, two of Landburg's question elaborations were critical to this discussion. First, as it pertained to how much we should care about future generations, Landsburg commented:
Edmund Phelps, the 2006 Nobel laureate for economics, argued long ago that you (and I) should care exactly as much about a stranger born 1,000 years hence as we do about a stranger who's alive today. Phelps' view has been highly influential among economists, who now take it as more or less the default position. But even economists are sometimes wrong, and there are powerful arguments for "discounting" the welfare of future generations. First, many people (myself excluded, however) believe we should care more about our countrymen than about a bunch of foreigners-hence the sentiment for a border fence. If we are allowed to care less about people who happen to be born in the wrong country, why can't we care less about people who happen to be born in the wrong century? And second: Few of us feel morally bound to churn out as many children as we possibly can, which means we think nothing of denying future generations the gift of life. If it's OK to deny them their very lives, shouldn't it be OK to deny them a temperate climate?
There is a ton more to be said in response and counter-response, but in the end, you've got to take a stand. Does the next generation count 100 percent as much as our own, as Edmund Phelps demands? Or 99 percent? 95 percent? 90 percent? I'll show you later how much the answer matters.
Fascinating, wouldn't you agree? Another marvelous concept was proffered concerning the question of how rich future generations will be:
If you expect economic growth to continue at the average annual rate of 2.3 percent, to which we've grown accustomed, then in 400 years, the average American will have an income of more than $1 million per day-and that's in the equivalent of today's dollars (i.e., after correcting for inflation). Does it really make sense for you and me to sacrifice for the benefit of those future gazillionaires?
Not something you hear the warm-mongers worrying about, is it? Of course, the flipside is how today's decisions might actually impact future generations:
I'll make the extreme assumption that our environmental recklessness threatens to shave 1 percentage point off economic growth forever. Because of compounding, our disposable incomes will be reduced by 9.5 percent a decade from now and by 63 percent a century from now-perhaps because we'll spend 63 percent of our incomes relocating coastal cities. Now toss in some standard (but arguable) assumptions about risk aversion and discounting. (Note to econogeeks: I assumed a risk-aversion coefficient of 1, and I discounted future generations' welfare at an annual rate of 5 percent, partly because we might care less about them and partly because we're not sure they'll exist.) Run this through your calculator, and you'll find we should spend up to about 17 percent of our incomes on climate control-provided that our investment is effective. That's an expenditure level that I expect would satisfy Al Gore.
Now, just imagine if such equations were being considered at the early part of the Industrial Revolution. What would our world look like if environmentalists had as large an impact on economic and energy policies at the beginning of the 20th century as they do today?
The extreme possibility is that there'd be no cars or airplanes, we'd still be burning wood and or coal in our fireplaces to heat our homes, and using oil lamps or candles to read by.
Certainly, this doesn't mean environmental concerns should be totally ignored from the equation. However, as the recent No Nukes alarmism and resulting damage to both the economy and the atmosphere points out, it is a grave error to exclusively use unscientific and unproven theories about present and future ecological risks to establish policy.
This is akin to thinking that just raising taxes without cutting spending will actually balance the federal budget.
In the end, just as there are scientists that are skeptical about anthropogenic global warming, there are also experts in other fields such as economics whose views on this controversial issue need to be added to the discussion so that policymakers can arrive at better conclusions than those which halted the construction of nuclear power plants during the '70s.
As the warm-mongers only want one side of this multifaceted issue on the table, it is the media's responsibility to continually offer not just the skeptical view of the science involved, but maybe more importantly, what experts in other areas intricately connected to this matter have to say as well.
Anything less, and media are once again abdicating their responsibility to the public in order to act as environmental advocates.