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12/19/2004

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» Global Warming from EconLog
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Comments

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Corey

Well, I agree, we should ratify Kyoto, and
we should do it now. Planetwide climate is not something that can change quickly. The system has a lot of inertia and by the time the problem
becomes obvious, it will already be too late to stop.

But we will need to add a bit where we punish corporations for offshoring their polluting efforts to third world countries which have an "exemption". Becker has a point there.

If clean burning fuels or CO2 inhibiting technology is invented/developed, it seems to me to be an ideal candidate for immediate widespread adoption. Allowing one company to patent such technology will only slow its spread and create lots of familiar monopoly effects. The price of rewarding the inventor the UChicago way could easily be higher than the price of subsidizing the research directly.

But this is all FantasyLand anyway, we re-elected oil money last month, remember? How many billions a year in new product development is spent at American auto companies and fuel efficiency is only dropping. Hundreds of thousands of people are already waiting for the next Hummer version.

I predict the US never ratifies Kyoto. (Or the land-mine treaty for that matter) We are too attached to those 150-1 votes in the UN, it makes us feel special and powerful.

Larry

Corey, don't make me list the hundreds of foolish, indecent resolutions the UN passes as a matter of course. I'm glad the US is around the stand against the UN's moral vanity. Even if you think it's not possible to be right against everyone else, at least consider the obvious point that other countries gain power when they ally together in these votes, while the US loses it; in other words, these countries are voting out of self-interest, not out of a sense of altruism or science.

To get down to particulars, Kyoto is unrealistic. Probably if passed it'll just be another UN rule that everyone flouts. If it is followed, it'll cause, just in the short run, trillions of dollars of inefficiency with very little to show for it--even if it has its long- range predicted value, that'll only mean putting off the worst for a few years.

Rich


The extent of global warming, if it even exists, cannot disguise the fact that Kyoto is dud policy.

In simple terms, Kyoto could delay the a temperature increase until 2100 which would have otherwise occured in 2096. That is a small benefit when weighed against the enormous costs.

Corey

"I'm glad the US is around the stand against the UN's moral vanity."

This is why I can predict that the US will never pass Kyoto. You sound like the german people did in 1938.

So yeah, 150 countries of the world all got together and agreed on something JUST so they can stick it to us proud Americans. But we saw through their trick! Yeehaw!

We are not talking about diplomatic power struggles, we are talking about reducing CO2 so we don't ALL die. It does not help Germany, France, Russia, or Japan to sign Kyoto, it hurts them as much as it would have hurt the US.

If global warming is inevitable, then putting it off, even for 4 years, IS worth trillions of dollars. How much would you pay for 4 more years of life? Now multiply that by the billion people who may die in diseases, floods, storms, and famines... big number eh?

Rick Barton

Corey:

The idea that China is a third world country is outdated. China should not be exempt from Kyoto, as they are an industrial country, producing a wide range of high quality consumer goods.

The Senate rejected the Kyoto agreement during a 1997 test vote by a 95-0 margin. Knowing that the agreement would fall well short of passing in a Senate ratification vote, the Clinton administration never would submit the treaty to a vote. What's changed now to make you think that it would be ratified?

You don't suggest an "extraconstitutional" imposition of the treaty accords through executive orders, and new regulatory rules inspired by the treay, do you?

You comment that we elected "oil money" last month is puzzling. I had thought that most of the President's money came from buying and selling a baseball team. Wouldn't it be more accurate to say we elected "baseball money"?

Matt

I like the reasonable opinion expressed in this blog - along the lines of the precautionary principle espoused by most of the natural scientists studying this maddeningly complex and uncertain phenomenon. One small point, though - if a considerable, uniform carbon tax were applied across the globe, then a private market for carbon dioxide removal could almost certainly arise AS LONG AS WE TAX NET CO2 EMISSIONS. Thus, for example a corporation could pay a license fee for the technology to remove CO2 from the air to offset their own production if that fee is less than the tax.

If the social gains from this technology exceed the private gains of the would-be supplier, then subsidy may still merit consideration, but a smart implementation of a tax/quota regime would produce myriad solutions to the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere.

mark

Some years ago I read a chapter in a book that compared the earth to a 'black ball', a perfect absorber of solar energy. Since about 85% of solar heat is already held in by the natural greenhous, the temperature increase is limited to all the remaining energy. At that time the author suggested 4 degrees was the upper limit of heat gain. At that point all the heat would be retained. Most of the climate model estimates have fallen over time, to about 4 degrees. Increases above that seem to be associated mostly with fund raising letters, not peer reviewed articles.

James

To be precise, carbon dioxide is not the most important greenhouse gas; water vapor is. Water vapor is responsible for the vast majority of the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide only accounts for four percent or so, at most.

I find there to be a number of problems with the "consensus" on global warming, but two aspects particularly trouble me.

First, the Earth's climate has naturally fluctuated over time. The average temperature was quite a bit warmer during a few stretches of human history (corresponding to accelerated advancements in civilization as a result of longer growing seasons and shorter winters), and we happen to be in a bit of a cold snap right now compared to what is "average" over the course of human history. It wouldn't be unusual for the Earth to be natural warming regardless of human action. In fact, it would be expected. To what extent that human action is accelerating this warming is unclear, since the climate models have generally failed to properly account for the roles of water vapor and the Sun's fluctuations -- both of which have a far greater effect on warming than carbon dioxide concentrations -- in the Earth's temperature. In other words, scientists cannot tell us whether removing the effects of human activity will result in a cooling or warming climate. There won't be a natural climate that stays the same for the rest of time, that's for sure. We'll get warming and cooling whether we like it or not. Without knowing what we'll get if we decide to actually "do something" about global warming, we're likely to be wasting our efforts.

Second, for all the effort being dedicated to "proving" that the Earth's climate is warming, there is surprisingly little scholarship on what the actual economic effects of a warmer or colder climate would be. We know that, over the course of human history, civilization has made impressive advances during periods where the Earth's climate was warmer. We also know that human civilization suffered during cold periods, such as the Little Ice Age that spawned the Dark Ages. It is not necessarily true that global warming is a bad thing -- people have assumed that it is because change is scary. Some scholars, such as Thomas Gale Moore's efforts in "Climate of Fear," think that we'd be better off getting warmer than getting colder. More study should be done on this before we start throwing money at stopping global warming.

The ultimate solution would be to scientifically determine the Earth's optimal climate for our purposes and then using our technology to keep it there, sort of a "room temperature" for the planet. No warming, no cooling, no changes, just right. Instead, the debate has been largely taken over by those who view global warming as the product of human development -- Nature's pox upon greedy humanity. It's a near-religious come-uppence on those who dared to be successful and productive. This is why you get things like the Kyoto Treaty, where the "answer" to the problem is to curtail human wealth generation, instead of proposals for human action to produce cooling effects. For example, my father has perfected patents for ocean fertilization, where huge blooms of plankton can be created and then allowed to die, sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and sending it to the bottom of the ocean. Environmentalists upset about global warming also oppose this, mostly because it would allow economic growth to continue unabated. Global warming is just a means to the end of punishing capitalism for these folk, and it clouds the real issues involved.

Mike

The emissions trading system sounds wonderful. Where has it been used before?
Oh, yeah - in the Clean Air Act (CAA), Subchapter IV, which provides for emission trading for SO2.
Q: But, what makes it a "success?"
A: CEM: Continuous Emissions Monitoring coupled with crminal penalties for fraud.
Q: Will we have such an international system set up where you, the polluter in the U.S., have confidence in China's reporting?
A: Not in the near or medium term.

Also,
Q: What makes us think that the CAA, Subchapter IV has been a success?
A: Net emissions of SO2 have been reduced.
Q: Ah, but are there any other reasons that SO2 may have been reduced other than the emissions trading system?
A: Certainly - namely the availability of cheap, low-sulfur coal.

We should be cautious of signing ourselves up for a mandatory cap-and-trade program unless it has very stringent control systems.
Even then, to get everyone to buy in, you have to give out the initial credits pretty generously.
In short, a good idea that needs a lot of work.
Thanks for listening.

Dru Stevenson

I really enjoyed this set of posts by Posner and Becker. I am reading Posner's "Catastrophe" book right now, and found the discussion timely and informed.

There are reasons why a relatively infeasible or unenforceable treaty, like the Stockholm Convention or the Kyoto Protocol, may be desirable nonetheless. It draws developing nations into the fold, by creating a membership roster that takes on symbolic significance of having "joined" a club with the wealthy, developed nations. Such treaties also "signal" the dominant partys seriousness and willingness to cooperate, so as to win reciprocal concessions.

Kyoto is costly (perhaps to the point of being impossible to implement fully), but the expenditures purchase more than straightforward reductions in emissions. Sacrificial actions are particularly valuable for signaling coordination in repeat player games. It is in the interest of developed nations to to court the undeveloped nations into more treaties, leading to more cooperation and interdependence. Isolationism among undeveloped countries can lead to outright oppositional defiance and threats to Western interests (see North Korea) or too-late-to-stop genocides and purges internally. Each treaty leads to divulgence or sharing of more useful information about what goes on within the developing countries, which is often otherwise inaccessible (like the locations of large, unused chemical stockpiles in the third world).

A Scott Crawford

This debate is rife with false and/or undemonstrable claims. Before we fall into the trap of trying to reason about hypothetical situations, and especially before we commit ourselves to the adoption of sweeping measures to address what could be a case of excessive fear mongering, shouldn't we try to more clearly evaluate the subject under discussion? It seems to me that there is a heck of a lot of question begging surrounding environmental policy, and this habit should be nipped in the bud.

"Survey on Environmental Indicator Sets, GAO-05-56SP, November 17, 2004

"This document is a companion report to GAO-02-52, and presents the results of GAO's survey of developers and users of environmental indicator sets. The purpose of the survey was to gather information on environmental sets that have been developed and the perceptions of practitioners who develop and use environmental sets...."

http://www.gao.gov/docsearch/abstract.php?rptno=GAO-05-56SP

Jacob

There are four questions that have to be addressed before any Global Warming policy should be implemented:

1) Is global warming occuring?

2) To what extent is this being caused by human action?

3) What is the effect of a change in temperature upon human well being?

4) What is the cost of the policy?

To my knowledge, the first question is the only one which has had a significant quantity of research. The few studies that have been done on the other three all would lead us to exercise caution.

On the subject of the fourth question in particular, I refer the reader to Lomborg's op-ed in the London Telegraph.

Mr. Posner needs to offer a satisfying answer to all four questions before we commit hundreds of billions of dollars a year to policies which may or may not be beneficial.

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