Science writer Ron Bailey, whose work is frequently and admiringly cited by GM advocates takes a look at anthropogenic global warming and throws up his hands. Bailey is noted by many including me as a former AGW skeptic who was persuaded by evidence and consensus that the problem was real, and he wrote honestly about it.
He has now reached a new, and remarkably hopeless conclusion.
Clearly, econometric models tell us that implementing smart policies could avoid some damage from climate change. But whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs depends entirely on the policies being optimally adopted. But will governments and international agencies be able to sustain smart policies over the next century? The tribulations of the European Union's cap-and-trade scheme and the current political jockeying over the 1,468-page Waxman-Markey climate change bill in the U.S. Congress are not promising. On the international level, rapidly developing countries like China, India, and Brazil are refusing to accept limits on their greenhouse gas emissions.His logic is sound, and is echoed by other serious observers such as Jim Manzi. His objections have moved on to the fact that addressing AGW would pose a serious political problem, diverting us inefficiently from an optimal form of government.
Along similar lines, numerous econometric models project that while climate change will have relatively minor effects on developed countries it will significantly harm poor countries. One proposed policy soluton is to have rich countries that emit a disproportionate share compensate poor countries. While this idea might seem appealing to some, one must also consider the sorry 50-year record of wealth transfers in the form of foreign development aid. As development economist William Easterly has argued, most of the $2.3 trillion in aid that rich countries have poured into developing countries over the past half century has been wasted. Is there any reason to think that trillions in climate change aid would be any more effectively managed?
Man-made global warming may simply be a negative externality for which the transaction costs are too high. In other words, any benefits achieved from trying to mitigate global warming will most likely be swamped by the costs of distributing the corporate welfare used to buy the political acquiescence of various industries. As much as one might hope to implement good public policy to deal with the problem, policy nihilism might be the only rational response to global warming. [More]
We are left, then, wandering in exactly the wilderness of mirrors that I described earlier. There is no analytical basis on which we can really “put a price on carbon”. It becomes pure power politics. This isn’t just theory. Consider seriously the evidence of what really happened in the Waxman-Markey debate. That wasn’t random. Even more, consider how such taxes have really been set in theBoth posts seem remarkably bleak, even as the authors cogently lay out their reasoning. They marshal more intellectual horsepower than I, of course, but even cursory reading is depressing as heck.
. Matthew Sinclair has a recent paper in the journal Energy & Environment in which he compares the total green taxes paid by Britons to the estimates of external AGW costs created by them according to various well-known and authoritative sources such as the IPCC, Nordhaus, Tol and DEFRA. Take the example of driving. According to this paper, Britons currently pay motoring taxes (net of road construction and maintenance) that are somewhere between 5 and 50 times the AGW externalities that they impose. The paper argues that massively excess green taxes are paid economy-wide. UK
I yield to few men in my admiration for Hayek and his ideas. His prediction that the welfare state would lead to serfdom, however, has (thus far) not been correct. I don’t think that a carbon tax will be the one event that will push the free world into socialist slavery. But it does seem clear that the same dynamics he described decades ago have re-emerged, simply with a different theoretical justification. The same problems with planning that he highlighted will also be present now.
Taxing carbon to reflect its social costs seems like a common sense idea. Unfortunately, it simply provides another excuse to politicians to raise taxes and exert more power over us. [More]
Both points of view rightly deal with conditions and facts as we know them today. We don't have a cheap technological fix for AGW. Of course, there is no way to factor future technological or cultural changes (lower energy use by simple choice, for example) right now. But wouldn't it be curious if this was the first problem humankind simply labeled "too hard" and dropped entirely? Is there no evidence in history of scientific effort to tackle seemingly intractable problems only to find at least partial and evolving answers?
I would argue that both these points of view would have been just as valid when we began discussion over the Clean Air Act, or the Clean Water Act. And yet, we have admittedly imperfect solutions in place that at the least have decreased the number of news stories about smog alerts and rivers on fire. Have the environmental benefits outweighed the costs of those actions? I believe they demonstrate we can at least mitigate such problems without totally shackling the national or global economy.
The "political nihilism" of Bailey is not the enabling mindset to build a healthy culture around, IMHO. It certainly hasn't been how agriculture has faced its challenges. It seems to me a short step from all-out despair at the human condition and prospects.
Both positions are not simply downers, but seem to match up with the pattern someone once noted in AGW skepticism.
- It's a hoax
- It's real, but not caused by humans
- It's real and humans contribute to it
- It's anthropogenic but too hard/expensive to fix.
For agriculture, the most noteworthy aspect of the above arguments is how both readily agree to the idea of external costs of AGW. It would seem the agricultural community is blithely unaware of this widely accepted economic concept. The intense pushback from Farm Bureau and most farmers is based on the naive discovery, "Hey -this won't increase my profits tomorrow!"
At some point somebody needs to 'splain to them the solution to AGW is not supposed to be a profit center for farmers, it's the arrival of a long-overdue bill. Our profession is acting like some unnamed friends of mine who conveniently slip out to the restroom when the bar tab arrives.On September 1st, Energy Citizens, the combined efforts of 23 Illinois farm, industrial, retail and energy associations will host a rally in opposition to proposed Cap & Trade legislation at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Illinois' capital city, Springfield.The rally is designed to bring public awareness to cap and trade legislation that will cost an estimated 2 million high paying American jobs, raise gasoline and diesel prices, raise electric rates and reduce global competitiveness of American companies. The groups intent is to point out the widespread opposition to cap and trade legislation that will damage the agricultural, manufacturing, retail, energy and transportation industries of Illinois which provide the foundation of Illinois' economy. [More]