Scientists Fighting Back on Global Warming

Environmental Defense FundThere is a very good article in Bloomberg Businessweek by Paul M. Barrett with the shocking title, It’s Global Warming, Stupid. It talks about a number of issues other than global warming, but the main point of the article is that storms like Sandy do tell us something about climate change.

Barrett quotes the Environmental Defense Fund VP Eric Pooley who offers up a near perfect analogy, “We can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids.”

This is so good, I think it might work on ol’ Uncle Fox News Addict. (Isn’t there a 12-step program for that?) He’s the guy who insists that global warming is a conspiracy that Al Gore created to get rich, and that the oil companies, who make billions of dollars from carbon pollution, are just countering with the straight dope. You might be able to get him to think for a moment with that analogy.

What I’m really happy to hear is that scientists are starting to abandon the usual caveats. You know: all the stuff about uncertainty that nerds like me just love. But they are waking up to the fact that the opposition is just using this uncertainty to dismiss the whole science. Here’s what it comes down to: what is your best guess regarding climate change? Of those in the field, 98% will say it is real and it is happening right now. And most of those will go further: it is happening much faster than we had predicted. And it is terrifying.

Most of the article is about the election and Obama and Romney. In particular, it talks about market incentives and how conservatives like them. Indeed, there is real economics under all of this. Environmental degradation is a market externality. This means it is a cost that is not born by the market itself. An example is if your next door neighbor started a garbage dump. He and his customers would get the benefit of the dump, but you would get nothing for having to smell it. The cost of having the dump would not include an external cost: your degraded lifestyle.

Libertarians claim the answer to this is the courts. “Just sue your neighbor,” they claim. Just on its face, this is a stupid idea. Because of his dumping business, your neighbor will likely have many more resources in court than you do. But even if that weren’t the case, the courts would be a mess with all of the lawsuits. This is why we create things like zoning laws. In the case of global warming, a carbon tax really does make sense. And conservatives used to be for that—until they realized they could just deny the problem and all the mainstream media would play along.

At least now the scientists are wading into the fight with more determination.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *