Patrick asked me to do a write-up on Global Warming and what we could do to address it. I have done various posts on global warming before, but here is an overview of what I think about this issue and what our best course of action is.
I don’t claim to be a climate scientist, or any sort of scientist for that matter, but the opinions below are formed from a variety of sources. I have read a fair amount on global warming, from a variety of sources and I think I have a fairly good grasp of the issue from a layman’s perspective at least. Everything below is probably somewhat controversial, I will welcome arguments on anything and additional data to refute what I say, but these opinions are based on a synthesis of multiple sources, so one additional bit of evidence is unlikely to change my views. As this is a synthesis, I won’t present any specific references for any point. I am aware that every item below will have some studies or articles that contradict it, as well as some that support it.
First, the things I believe followed by what, in light of these beliefs, I think we should do about it.
1) The global climate is experiencing a warming trend. This is fairly certain. At the same time, as is always the case, specific geological areas are also experiences shifts in local climate. Separating the two is difficult, and often an extreme case may be as much a result of the later as the former. Nevertheless, some warming is occurring.
2) The most likely hypothesis is that the majority of this warming is human caused. We don’t know all the causes of the observed warming, whether human induced or not, and we have a very poor understanding of the feedback loops that warming will cause.
3) Warming over the next century is likely to be relatively mild. 2-3 degrees is probably the best guess. This may cause some flooding of low-lying areas, but will not present a catastrophic threat to life on earth. Life has survived far more dramatic climate swings. That said, the economic impact of these changes may be significant.
4) Our ability to accurately model is very low. We know that the earth’s climate is a complex system and we know that there are a variety of feedback loops. Change one variable (C02 in the atmosphere) and all of the other variables (CO2 absorption by plants for example) change as well. That doesn’t mean that modeling is a useless tool, but it does mean that we should not count on it too much.
5) Global warming is a political debate with a lot of differing motives involved, many of which are not always obvious. This politics involved have bled over, and sometimes corrupted, the science. Too much of the science on global warming is science by press release, designed to achieve a specific political end rather than a dispassionate rational analysis of the problem at hand. This is true on both sides.
6) There are two possible ways to deal with a changing climate. One is to act to prevent the change, the other is to prepare to adapt to the change. Both of these have differing costs. Sometimes, they can be mutually exclusive. For any preventative to be effective, it must be based upon an accurate and detailed understanding of the problem. Adaptation on the other hand can often be more generalized (as an example, I keep a rainy day fund that will help me adapt to any unknown future problem.)
7) Some proposed preventative measures, the Kyoto Protocol in specific, are already known to be insufficient to prevent the majority of the expected changes, even assuming all that all the variables are correctly understood by those pushing for such measures. If they are wrong, it won’t work and if they are right it won’t have much effect at all. If the cost was trivial this might not matter but that is not the case.
8) The overall best adaptive strategy is a growing economy. A large economy is more adaptable than a small economy. Wealth is a cushion against change.
9) A growing economy requires increasing energy supplies.
10) Nature does not love us. It is not good, kind, gentle or caring. Humanity success is based upon overcoming nature. Intelligence, reason, and technology are helpful and necessary for humanity.
11) Although nature does not love us, being good steward of nature is mandatory, both for aesthetic and logical reasons. Don’t foul your nest.
So that is pretty much the ‘facts’ as I see them. I think it unlikely that anyone will change my opinion on any of the above any time soon. Based upon those facts, there are a number of things we can and should do. I am a lot more open to additional suggestions.
1) Remove artificial barriers toward the development of nuclear power. While we need to ensure that nuclear plants are safe, the regulations and red tape involved in building on, and the uncertainty that these hoops will be negotiable and effectively ended nuclear power plant production in this country. That is foolish and shortsighted.
2) Research and development of energy storage methods such as batteries and fuel cells etc. Governments and Private foundations can both play a role here. If we can improve these technologies, carbon based fuels will become less completive on their own. Increasing funding to universities for this type of research and also x-prize style competitions might be able to yield dramatic results.
3) Get serious on worldwide anti-poverty strategies. Reducing poverty allow more people to be more adaptable to human change and increase the pool of creative individuals we can draw upon to solve our problems. Serious anti-poverty means addressing the primary cause of poverty, failure of governments to protect private property rights. It also means not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Developing nations may not have the luxury of all the environmental and labor regulations that a rich nation can afford. Get them rich and they will get clean on their own.
4) Learn a lot more about the climate with the eventual goal being human regulation of the global climate. So we can terraform the Earth when needed. This is certainly a long-term goal, but we should begin with the end in mind. Regardless of the particulars on the Global Warming debate, we can know for a certainty that the earth’s climate will change in ways that are not pleasant in the future. Learning about the climate requires that good science be practiced. The most effective break on bad science is a more scientifically literate populace. Science and logic need to receive much greater focus in our schools, starting at the elementary level. How science is done, rather than rote learning of ‘what we know’ should be the primary focus.
5) Any legislation should support the results we actually want, rather than predetermined methods of achieving those results. For example, if we want less gas used we should not mandate mgp rating on vehicles or provide tax breaks for specific vehicles, we should enact a gas tax. We should never subsidize the implementation of specific technologies (wind, bio-fuels, etc.) but only subsidize the development of those technologies and perhaps alter the playing field (a carbon tax for example) to account for the real costs of carbon emissions. The yield the most beneficial results, such leveling does need to be based upon ‘real’ costs, not simply putative measures.
So basically that is what I think. Feel free to tell me how wrong I am!