Three things happened recently to prompt this plea for clearer thinking on the issue of alleged climate change.
- A fund-raising letter from the Environmental Defense Fund, a once fine environmental policy think tank that has lost its way on “Global Warming”, which was the subject of the letter.
- Paul Jacobs Common Sense column, which focused on disagreement on natural vs. human basis for alleged climate change.
- Several of the comments on Bjorn Lomborg’s Wall Street Journal Op-Ed on Climate Change Alarmism focused on human vs. natural causation.
By the way, as an economist, I don’t have a noteworthy opinion on the physical science of climate change. As an environmental economist (before I jumped into school system reform studies), I can see that there is a lot less agreement among climate scientists on this issue than the mainstream media outlets argue. For example, climatologist Dr. Roy Spencer laments: “Two scientists can examine the same data and come to exactly opposite conclusions about causation.” And the unscientific basis for widely-assumed human causation depresses Dr. Spencer.
What depresses me is the continued failure to focus on the central issue, which is the ability to cost effectively address the issue. Instead, there is a lot of focus on the nearly irrelevant causation issue. Suppose scientists detect a huge meteor on a collision course with earth. Can you imagine someone saying ignore it because it is not human-caused? Suppose another ice age is imminent? We wouldn’t worry about cause. We’d be doing benefit-cost analysis on ways to warm things up. If/when catastrophic warming becomes imminent, we’d better stop the finger-pointing and focus on cooling strategies, or lacking cost-effective cooling strategies, we’d better invest in go-it-alone, no-regrets strategies and adaptation to a warmer planet. In this period of uncertainty and controversy about the scope of the threat and cost-effectiveness of feasible strategies, serious people will give special attention to the many available policies that reduce methane and fossil fuel emissions as a side benefit to already attractive policies from other perspectives (= no regrets). One of those is the challenge to eliminate costly shortages of highway space. The popular term for such “shortages” is traffic jam, which are very costly just for the delay they cause, not to mention vehicle wear and tear, increased air pollution, and over-building of roads to meet the demand at a direct price of zero. The ECO 101 cause of all shortages is setting price too low. At rush hour, “free”-way is too cheap. Economic illiteracy is often very costly.