Climate Change Three-Fer at NYT
Paul Krugman in his NYT column today tells why we are not getting serious energy policy legislation out of Washington, D.C. Krugman lines up with Andrew H., if you’ve been reading this blog regularly. Read his essay here. Krugman’s colleague Ross Douthat takes a different view on the consequences in his related piece today. While acknowledging that conservatives have blocked efforts to pass federal legislation aimed at curbing global warming and that they are wrong to say the scientific evidence is not solid, he downplays the potential impacts of a hotter Earth. (I think he’s too calm about what’s happened and the environmental damage that is looming.) Read him here, and consider subscribing to the NYT if you appreciate this kind of serious thinking and writing. Lee Wasserman of the Rockefeller Family Fund has a third essay in the NYT that scorches the Obama administration in particular on its legislative approach that she says paved the way for failure on any serious climate change-control law. Read Wasserman’s sour comments here.
2 Responses to Climate Change Three-Fer at NYT
Perhaps not surprisingly, I felt that Krugman provided a very concise, yet comprehensive, summary of what the current state of the climate “debate” is. He’s been on a roll in the past couple of months, but this was easily his best op-ed. (I use quotation marks around debate because the debate exists almost entirely in the public sphere; the scientists are almost unanimous on the subject).
I found Ms. Wasserman’s op-ed to be particularly interesting. It speaks to a broad failure of our society to recognize that there is a problem. The public has not been motived and our elected officials have not been serious about solving the problem. She’s right; this was a bad bill. But it did put a price on carbon, which was the greatest hope of the environmental movement.
Douthat’s column was also fascinating. I’ve never quite understood how Republicans have been able to say that there is no scientific data to support climate change with a straight face. However, he makes one argument that I can only describe as jaw-droppingly stupid and another that at best is a failure of imagination.
My mouth literally fell open when I read the following statement: “Their perspective is grounded, in part, on the assumption that a warmer world will also be a richer world — and that economic development is likely to do more for the wretched of the earth than a growth-slowing regulatory regime.”
Let me deal with the second part first. The only slowing in growth would be in the fossil fuel industry; the whole point of this bill was to jump-start the next great industrial revolution in green energy. There is almost nothing else the government could do to create more growth than to provide a kick-start to our alternative energy firms.
But the part of the argument I am still in shock that any thinking person can make is that a warmer world will be better for our economy. I’ve already addressed this, but I feel I have to revisit the ground again. First, the majority of the world’s major financial centers are coastal. These will all eventually be under water. Second, weather patterns are becoming increasingly erratic. We are seeing more incidence of both flooding and drought. This kills crops. And we will be lucky if the Earth’s population levels out at 9 billion, or about 3 billion more people than are alive today. The increased incidence of famine coupled with the increased incidence of drought will inevitably lead to wars over resources. Third, the increasingly volatile weather patterns will lead to mass migrations from regions that have become wastelands to those that are still fertile. Again, resource wars. Fourth, a warmer climate means more incidence of disease; it’s a correlation we learn about in middle school. Think of all of the tropical diseases; they will cover most of the globe by the time warming is done.
And finally, we do have a model of what a warmer Earth would look like. We actually have several models. The one I find the most interesting is the Carboniferous. (The giant insects are pretty fascinating.) But the relevant point is that our entire ecosystem will break down; most of our crops will no longer be able to grow (though genetic engineering may save us) and many of the animals we eat will be wiped out by disease and better-adapted competition. When the climate changes rapidly, natural selection is widespread. Incidentally, it’s called the Carboniferous because of the very high concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. This is part of how we know what our carbon emissions are doing to global temperatures.
But Douthat also has a failure of imagination. Or perhaps, does not have enough faith in our ability to solve problems. I have little faith in congressional action. But part of what makes that so frustrating is the fact that there is no reason why we can’t deal with the climate crisis. Anyone who says it is too hard or too big a problem should be ignored.
One of the Times’ economic bloggers has a post about Douthat’s column. It’s a pretty interesting read: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/26/armageddon-wars-overpopulation-vs-global-warming/