Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Transition of a Climate Change Skeptic

Here's an interesting look at the transition of a well known climate change skeptic to climate change believer. Kind of an interesting read:

Bailey has a reason to be apprehensive. He was once one of the leading skeptics of climate change. Yet in recent years he has shifted. He now believes that global warming is real, man-made, and potentially a serious problem. This stance has led him to embrace taxes as a solution.

He must now explain himself to some of the very people whose generosity helps keep the magazine that employs him afloat.

“It is really annoying to have to even remotely agree with Al Gore,” the lanky 6’, 5” science reporter tells the audience. And yet, he says, libertarians need to accept this and do something to respond to it. And he cannot see a free-market way to do that.

“So, the question is, ‘What is the least bad way to regulate?’ And that is why I have come out in favor of a carbon tax,” Bailey explains.

Co-panelist Fred Smith, president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has a long history of opposition to climate and energy regulations, shakes his head. Even if we must “do something,” why must we do that?

“Why must that ‘something’ be the increase of statist power?” he asks. “The costs of energy rationing are not trivial.”

Tyler Cowen (who linked to the above article) follows up with some interesting thoughts and links:

It is important to distinguish two claims. The first is that a revenue-neutral carbon tax is, in expected value terms, a good idea. If nothing else, we cannot emit accelerating rates of carbon forever.

The second and more dubious claim is "a carbon tax is likely to solve the problem." That's not so clear. China and India may not follow suit, the oil may be pumped and used anyway, and the elasticities may be working against us. I give the carbon tax about a thirty percent probability of significantly ameliorating global warming and that is assuming that we engage China in a constructive manner. A pessimistic view, however, does not refute the case for trying.

Addendum: Here is an interesting post on whether more information about global warming causes people to worry about it less.

Update -- here's an excerpt from Cowen's "pessimistic" link -- wow!:
The initiative sits comfortably within the current canon of eco ideas, next to ethical consumption, carbon offsetting, recycling and so on - all of which are premised on the calculation that individual lifestyle adjustments can still save the planet. This is, Lovelock says, a deluded fantasy. Most of the things we have been told to do might make us feel better, but they won't make any difference. Global warming has passed the tipping point, and catastrophe is unstoppable.

"It's just too late for it," he says. "Perhaps if we'd gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don't have time. All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can't say that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do."

He dismisses eco ideas briskly, one by one. "Carbon offsetting? I wouldn't dream of it. It's just a joke. To pay money to plant trees, to think you're offsetting the carbon? You're probably making matters worse. You're far better off giving to the charity Cool Earth, which gives the money to the native peoples to not take down their forests."

Do he and his wife try to limit the number of flights they take? "No we don't. Because we can't." And recycling, he adds, is "almost certainly a waste of time and energy", while having a "green lifestyle" amounts to little more than "ostentatious grand gestures". He distrusts the notion of ethical consumption. "Because always, in the end, it turns out to be a scam ... or if it wasn't one in the beginning, it becomes one."

Somewhat unexpectedly, Lovelock concedes that the Mail's plastic bag campaign seems, "on the face of it, a good thing". But it transpires that this is largely a tactical response; he regards it as merely more rearrangement of Titanic deckchairs, "but I've learnt there's no point in causing a quarrel over everything". He saves his thunder for what he considers the emptiest false promise of all - renewable energy.

"You're never going to get enough energy from wind to run a society such as ours," he says. "Windmills! Oh no. No way of doing it. You can cover the whole country with the blasted things, millions of them. Waste of time."

This is all delivered with an air of benign wonder at the intractable stupidity of people. "I see it with everybody. People just want to go on doing what they're doing. They want business as usual. They say, 'Oh yes, there's going to be a problem up ahead,' but they don't want to change anything."

Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive. To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature; our only chance of survival will come not from less technology, but more.

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