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12/23/2004

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Eshan Shah-Jahan

Focusing on net emissions is a step in the right direction, but a cap-and-trade system of emissions credits would be better. In this system, devices that sequester carbon dioxide could sell the credits to emitters.

Think of them as carbon cleaning services. The "Polluter Pays" principle dictates that if you make a mess, you pay to clean it up. So if you emit carbon dioxide into the sky, you should pay to have it taken out. Whether you pay the owner of a rainforest, a floating pool of algae or a machine, you should remove an amount equal to what you added.

Of course, we can't jump to zero net emissions immediately, so we would need some diminishing amout of transition credits. As these disappear, pressure (in the form of economic incentives) will mount to find solutions.

GMB

I don't think a runaway green-house effect is worth worrying about. Because from an analysis of the changing orbit of the earth around the sun we find that we are heading into a serious ice age in the medium term (that is to say over the next 1000-4000 years I think).

I think the right policy is the same regardless. I think we should be substituting towards non-renewable resources tax. Perhaps with a short-term focus on oil. Since we want to blow Jihadia our of the financial air, win this war, and get used to other energy sources.

I think its the same policy prescription either way. Since if the climate is due to overheat before the ice age closes in than tax substitution might mitigate this a little. Whereas if the Ice-Age does close without such interim overheating problems then our descendants might be grateful for some fossil fuels to be left readily to hand.

I think these trading systems are a bridge too far. Because particularly as proposed by Kyoto the money is supposed to wind up not in the consuming country. And it amounts to rewarding failure since in the medium term GDP growth and energy consumption are quite closely linked.

A much more doable international agreement is simply a diplomatic roll-out to try and get countries to substitute toward non-renewable resources taxes. But most particularly oil tax at first. Because we are not then handing cash over to socialists for their hopeless economic performance.

James

While it is true that human-created carbon dioxide could be augmenting a natural increase, it is also true that it could be preventing a natural cooling trend that might lead to worse outcomes than a warming trend. This is why I believe we need to spend more research on what a warmer or colder climate really means for the world.

I also don't see much danger of the "multiplier effect" simply because previous experience has demonstrated that the climate will fluctuate regardless of occasional spikes in the climate. History has featured numerous times when carbon dioxide levels have increased markedly over our current levels (through volcanic eruptions, for example), the temperature warmed, and yet eventually the trend reversed itself. Most likely this is because a warmer climate leads to longer growing seasons, allowing plants to flourish and eat up more carbon dioxide. Why we should assume that NOW is when the trend might be irreversible does not seem obvious to me.

Palooka

It seems both support and opposition to measures to limit global warmly is largely (and correctly) driven by how much faith one puts in the scientific "consensus" on this issue.

Several things give me great pause in taking this consensus seriously. Academic environmentalism has a history of crying wolf. First with the
looming "population explosion" and junk science on pesticides. I agree to a large extent with Michael Crichton, who in this speech (http://www.perc.org/publications/articles/Crichtonspeech.php), likened the environmental movement to a misguided and dangerous religion.

I also have trouble believing their modeling is of much utility in evaluating the dangers of CO2 emissions. In chaotic and exceedingly complex systems, where scientists can't even predict tomorrow's weather, I have serious reservations about putting hundreds of billions down a global warming toilet based off of their ever-changing modeling.

But, alas, I admittedly lack the necessary scientific knowledge to come to my own "expert" opinion.

Still, despite all my reservations, the building scientific consensus deserves attention. Let us assume the climate is in punctuated warming period, and that a significant portion of this is caused by human activity. Even if we are to have confidence in our answers on these exceedingly difficult questions, it does not follow that our resources should be spent on prevention rather than preparation for what may be an inevitable result.

The old addage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is often used in situations such as these. I am not so sure it's true in this case. Reducing our CO2 emissions enough to hault or substantially slow global warming will probably cost more than any country (not to mention the world as a whole) is willing to bear. Then we are left with half measures that cost hundreds of billions of dollars and effectively do nothing. Maybe those dollars would be better spent on preparing and planning for the results of a warming climate. Maybe, in this case, where we can do little to effect the ultimate direction of warming, we are better putting our resources in to adjusting and handling any ill-effect of global warming than in naively trying to influence its direction or pace.

Jim S

It's interesting that some obvious things haven't been mentioned here in terms of results of global warming. No realistic model says that we will have a nice even rise in temperatures everywhere. It's a system of energy balances after all. Energy comes in, energy goes out with the important question being how much of each. Even as things warm up there will still be temperature contrasts due to axial tilt and planetary orbit. Hurricanes will be likely to increase in number and severity. The same goes for tornadoes. Storms in general will have more punch to them because warmth is energy. Even blizzards in those areas still cold enough will get worse since the warm air meeting cold air can hold more moisture until it hits the colder air. If you think that insurance companies aren't worried about the long term possibilities...

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