When the subject of global warming came up at last week’s Republican presidential debate, the responses were slightly different than I had expected. Apparently, no Republican wants to be seen as a global warming denier. They are more than willing to admit that something is happening. They didn’t get into it (because the CNN moderators sucked), but they would probably even agree that humans are having some effect. But now it is just a matter that doing anything would destroy our economy. We also heard that we can’t do anything on our own, even though we emit a fifth of the carbon pollution, and other countries are doing things their their own. What ever happened to American leadership?
Of course, this is nonsense anyway. Do you know when would have been a great time to tackle the problem of climate change? Ever since the bursting of the housing bubble and the crashing of the economy. Ever since then, there has been an enormous amount of slack in the economy and the government has been able to borrow for basically nothing. We could have done massive infrastructure projects that would have made our country more green. We could have invested even more in green technologies. We could have trained all those coal miners to do something less damaging (and dangerous).
But we couldn’t do that because, as they always do when a Democrat is in the White House, the Republicans discovered “fiscal responsibility.” So we couldn’t spend any money on anything. Meanwhile, even apart from global warming, our infrastructure is crumbling and lives are wasted due to unnecessary unemployment. And it is all so that they can make a point: they ought to be in power and they are going to do everything they can to destroy the economy until they are.
But on Friday, Mark Thoma wrote a very interesting article at CBS Money Water about another side of this issue, Candidates Shouldn’t Wait to Address Climate Change. The Republicans were specifically asked if it mightn’t be a good idea to hedge our bets — to do something about global warming just in case. But they really didn’t engage with the question. Instead, their answers all implied that if there was some cost to it, it would be minor. There was no reason to do anything that might hurt our economy in any way at all right now.
Thomas quoted the Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change (pdf). I wasn’t aware of it, but it was a study commissioned by the UK government to determine the economic effect of climate change. And it concluded “if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever.” Thoma sums up the state of knowledge this way, “My reading of the evidence — and the totality of the work on this question comprises far more than just this report — is that the consequences will be large, and the longer we wait to begin serious abatement, the larger the impacts will be.”
He contrasts this with the most optimistic analysis by Richard Tol, who still thinks the costs will be large, but will fall mostly on developing countries. Thoma noted that we in the developed world would still have to help them out. But I think it is far worse than a moral obligation. If the effects are dire on developed regions, there is going to be a great increase in war. And I think it is outrageous to think that we are not going to be touched by that in a big way.
Regardless, the Republicans have shown themselves to be the polar opposite of what is traditionally considered “conservative.” They behave like teenagers who don’t have a care in the world. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” That’s no way to run a family, much less a country, much less a global empire. But of course I would think that way. As I’ve noted many times, I am a deeply conservative person when it comes to personal conduct. That’s one of the reasons I vote for the Democrats.