Posted by: bmeverett | April 15, 2014

Response to Greg, Part 3


Here’s part 3 of my open letter to Greg Craven regarding his book “What’s the Worst That Could Happen? A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate.”

Dear Greg:
In my last two posts, I offered my arguments on climate science and economics. Based on these arguments, I have attached my proposed decision matrix using your methodology.

It will come as no surprise that I see the size of the rows very differently than you do. As discussed, the warmists have not made their case for catastrophic climate change, which seems to me likely to occur only under a rather contorted and implausible set of assumptions. If anything, the bottom row in my matrix is larger than I would have like to portray it, but it needs to be wide enough to include the captions.

BME CC matrix

I have opted for three columns, rather than two. As I discussed previously, “take action” versus “take no action” is a false dichotomy. I would challenge you to present a program of climate action that would actually reduce atmospheric carbon concentrations materially. Putting up a few wind mills, tightening building codes and impeding new coal-fired power plants aren’t going to cut it. (Here’s an interesting exercise. At the end Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth”, he scrolls through a series of climate actions he wants us to take. See how many of these suggestions would actually reduce carbon by any significant amount.) Also, bear in mind that the US is now too small a share of global carbon emissions to solve the problem on our own.

The April 15 New York Times had yet another front page article about climate change (“Political Rifts Slow U.S. Effort on Climate Laws” by Coral Davenport) rehashes the same old argument that climate action is being impeded by Republicans motivated by their political need to protest fossil fuel industries. Ms. Davenport cites the IPCC’s call for massive carbon cuts and notes approvingly the efforts that president Obama is trying to make. Nowhere in the article does she attempt to compare the two and evaluate whether the President’s program would actually reduce atmospheric carbon by any meaningful amount.

Running around the US trying to convince people to “do something” is hardly a meaningful plan. You have to tell them what you want them to do to actually solve the problem and to do so at an acceptable cost.

I therefore have six boxes, instead of your three, and here’s what they look like. Box #1 is the upper left (warmists are wrong on the science, and we take no action). The result is that everything is fine. As I noted in my last post, you do not get to claim that this box is a disaster because other problems will make the future horrible anyway.

Box #2 is the upper middle box (warmists are wrong on the science, but we adopt the warmist agenda of expensive but ineffective climate actions). The results are not catastrophic, but useless, expensive government programs divert capital, labor and brainpower from more production uses. As a result, we suffer wasted resources, unnecessarily higher energy costs, lower economic growth, higher unemployment, limitations on mobility and higher global poverty levels. How bad the problem is depends on how much money you can convince people to throw away.

Box #3 (warmists are wrong on the science, and we adopt radical de-carbonization) is a real nightmare. Remember that this box is beyond the control of the US, and of necessity involves decarbonization by all major countries – a very unlikely development. For generations to come, we will face a loss not only of our living standard, which can never be sustained with massive government planning powers, but also of our personal freedom. Since Americans are less than 5% of the global population, we can defend ourselves against external threats only if we have a strong, nimble and innovative economy. The US economy in Box #3 is a wreck.

The lower left Box #4 (the warmists are right on the science, but we take no action) is, I grant you, bad. The real problem we have with climate change policy, however, is that Box #5 (the warmists are right on the science but we adopt the warmist agenda) is just as bad. Only Box #6 (the warmists are right on the science and we adopt radical decarbonization) saves the world from climate catastrophe.

You are welcome to make your case to the people of the world. If you are honest about what you are asking, however, your chances are pretty slim. You’ll get a receptive audience in San Francisco, but I doubt you’ll get much support from people in China who still live on $2-3 per day. If you can’t achieve Box #6, do you really want Box #5 instead?

Greg, as I noted before, I’m happy to print any reply you might wish to make.

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