Truths Inconvenient And Otherwise

Robert Samuelson has an absolutely brilliant column on the reality of global warming. If one accepts that global warming is real, and caused by mankind’s actions, there’s still not a damn thing we can reasonably do to prevent it:

No government will adopt the draconian restrictions on economic growth and personal freedom (limits on electricity usage, driving and travel) that might curb global warming. Still, politicians want to show they’re “doing something.” The result is grandstanding. Consider the Kyoto Protocol. It allowed countries that joined to castigate those that didn’t. But it hasn’t reduced carbon dioxide emissions (up about 25 percent since 1990), and many signatories didn’t adopt tough enough policies to hit their 2008-2012 targets. By some estimates, Europe may overshoot by 15 percent and Japan by 25 percent.

Samuelson then argues:

The trouble with the global warming debate is that it has become a moral crusade when it’s really an engineering problem. The inconvenient truth is that if we don’t solve the engineering problem, we’re helpless.

The real inconvenient truth about global warming is that all those people who think that being “green” and “sustainable” are full of, well, hot air. Without radically altering our way of life in a way that would be unthinkable to everyone, efforts like the Kyoto Protocol are like trying to irrigate a desert by pissing in it. It just isn’t going to happen.

Ultimately, the whole global warming issue is a chance for moralizers like Al Gore to act all smarmy and having something to do that makes them feel wiser and more in tune with the Earth than the rest of us. Fighting global warming is essentially a giant circle-jerk. It may make its practicioners feel good about themselves, but it doesn’t actually accomplish anything. In fact, efforts like Kyoto are ultimately more self-destructive than they’re worth.

That doesn’t mean being frugal with natural resources is at all a bad thing. However, it isn’t going to save the planet.

What we really need is to look at global warming as an engineering problem, as Samuelson suggests. That means not going off half-cocked and believing whatever silly little prediction of doom and gloom comes our way. It means methodically looking at realistic alternatives (as in nuclear, not solar) and letting the free market decide which approach is best.

The problem with such a rational approach to the problem is that it would take the wind out of the sails of the environmentalist movement. If capitalism is the solution, not the problem, then the whole quasi-Marxist morality play at the center of much of the global warming debate would go away.

I personally don’t believe that global warming is a significant problem for mankind. I don’t think that there is sufficient scientific evidence which presents a strong scientific case that human activity is the cause of global warming. Even if one accepts the principle of anthropic global warming, that doesn’t mean that “solutions” like the Kyoto Protocols are advisable, wise, or even make sense.

One thing is certain. We can’t tell China and India to stop industrializing. Short of a catastrophe which wipes out a good fraction of the human population, our need for energy will only increase. We can, should, and will develop more efficient means of energy production – however, that won’t prevent atmospheric CO2 concentrations from increasing even if everyone follows the Kyoto Protocols. It may be an “inconvenient truth” to the environmentalist movement, but their favored causes may hurt more than help in the effort to create a better, greener future.

9 thoughts on “Truths Inconvenient And Otherwise

  1. Samuelson’s article is the closest thing to a lucid critique by anti-global warming crusaders that I’ve seen, I’ll give it that. While everything he said has the potential to be true, it stifles the initiative to accelerate alternative means of harnessing renewable energy. I would not have favored enactment of the Kyoto protocols unless there was global consensus to abide by them, including by developing countries like China and India, but the alarmism of Al Gore and the vast majority of climate experts are ultimately doing right by the citizens of Earth simply because it provides proper motivation for industry to clean up its act….or else. Listening to the benign assessment of global warming by oil company scientists and Jay Reding reduces the likelihood of the much-hyped market-based solutions to global warming and ruinous energy consumption coming to fruition.

    The fundamentals of Samuelson’s thesis strike me as accurate, but the potential tragedy is that they will reinforce global warming’s robotic and pathological naysayers to continue with business as usual, justifying their deniability every step of the way based on the premise that “there’s nothing anybody can do anyway” rather the stepping up to the challenge of innovating and overcoming.

  2. Samuelson takes great liberty with the study he is basing his column on to the point where he twists what is actually said so that it fits his agenda. Think Progress has a rebuttal to the column you quote including the actual text from the study compared to what he writes. As usual the Bush apologists only accept science when it fits their agenda and when it doesn’t they either ignore it or twist it to fit their needs.

  3. Unless some cares to spot me 80 Euros to read the report, I’ll take Samuelson’s word before I’ll take some leftyblog’s word. From what I can tell, the scenarios that TP claims to show a reduction in CO2 assume a baseline model.

    In fact, TP’s explanation doesn’t seem to make a hell of a lot of sense to me. How could greenhouse emissions be reduced 138%? If you reduce something by 100%, doesn’t that mean that you’ve reduced it to 0? The phrase “reduced by 138%” is meaningless unless one knows what the standard for reduction is. At least with Samuelson’s argument, you know what he’s comparing.

    It’s statements like that that make TP’s explanations exceptionally suspect – if they would quote from the original report (which they claim to have read) then they’d have proven something. There’s no “dubunking” there, just a host of unsupported assertions. There’s no reason why they couldn’t quote from the report under academic fair use – if they’re right, then they need to show some proof of it.

    Of course, anyone claiming to be a “moderate” and then using hackneyed left-wing cant like “Bush apologist” is hardly one to lecturing anyone on intellectual honesty.

  4. What’s wrong with moralizing? It’s the political soup du jour. Abortion, flag burning, gay marriage, etc. It’s all about morals these days.

  5. I am forever perplexed by the fear of global warming. We evolved on a warmer planet. We’re designed for warmer temperatures–or has no one noticed that we spend exorbitant amounts of resources on keeping ourselves warm?

    Much of our fossil fuel usage(the scourge of enviromentalists) is devoted to keeping ourselves warm.

    Hell, it can be argued that the quest to keep warm fueled, in some part, the evolution of our intellect.

    What benefits might be derived from having that huge weight lifted from us?

    Picture the amount of energy available to us with that burden removed–in both resources and the need to work to sustain our warmth. Who knows what that effort might be better put towards.

    Instead we spend untold effort in shrieking that we must work to cool the planet. Cool it–as if we NEED the glaciation. Glaciation being, of course a big disadvantage of a cooler world(a disadvantage that the global warming activists once trumpeted as loudly as they now babble about global warming–or, in the current adaptable terminology–‘climate change’, a phrase, I must point out, that allows ANY warming or cooling to be decried with equal vehemence).

    The adoption of the ‘climate change’ meme lets any thinking person in on the fact that the socialistic, anti-capitalist agenda that lurks at the heart of the environmentalist movement IS the real goal. The environmental garbage being spewed by the left is a means to their same old end–the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. Their concern for the Earth is focused more on the fact that they are rapidly being dprived of the control of any of it than on any need to preserve some arbitrary temperature.

    Why is this so hard to see?

  6. “Why is this so hard to see?”

    Because, frankly, it’s a load.

    Yes, we evolved on a warmer planet. But ecosystems had millions of years to adapt- rapid climate change could accelerate desertification and habitat destruction to such a point that many places could become essentially unlivable. Combine that with massive flooding- especially in poor, low-lying areas of Southeast Asia, and the potential consequences of global warming become fairly dire.

    Note, however, that these are POTENTIAL consequences. Nobody really knows for sure what is going to happen.

    Not every environmentalist is a leftist- I’ve known many a moderate, libertarian, and “geo-green” conservative environmentalist as well. There are people who want market-based solutions; engineering solutions; eco-genetic solutions, etc. I’ve never seen any calls for a “dictatorship of the proletariat” (what does that mean, anyway- dictatorship by the people? Isn’t that what we call a democracy?) and I don’t think it has much to do with being deprived of “control”. But once again, I’m seeing the same silly rhetoric from a representative of the “right” as I see too often from the “left”- Bush isn’t Hitler, and Gore ain’t Stalin. Get over it, kids.

  7. I don’t really think that the entirety of human evolution occurred during warm periods. Yes, the first hominids appeared in Africa, but many of them left even before they were fully human. Neanderthals, for example, were evolved for cold climates. Anatomically modern humans emerged during the Pleistocene, which also included periods of heavy glaciation.

    And it’s not that we want to cool the earth to bury Milwaukee under a mile of ice (although that might be an improvement). We want to maintain current temperatures so that we can still vacation at Pacific Island paradises. Anyway, who takes siestas in the afternoon? Not Canadians.

    It’s nice of you to paint all scientists with the pinko-commie hippy brush, but that just isn’t how it is. In fact, you would be delighted with how conservative my department is. I think that many agricultural scientists are relatively conservative. I’m fairly liberal, but even I think that the solutions to things like feeding our growing population is going to come from places like Monsanto. But as conservative as they are, they also realize that shitting where you eat is not a good plan.

  8. I agree with Jay that many environmentalists could use a few more classes in engineering and biology. However, he seems to be conflating sexy-lobby-group environmentalism with serious study. Indeed, his supposedly non-environmentalist plea for nuclear power is advanced frequently by hard-core environmental scientists.

    Also, I don’t see how the free market will result in environmental improvements. Even a half-baked economist can tell you that the variables of the free market are supply and demand, not sustainability.

  9. Also, I don’t see how the free market will result in environmental improvements. Even a half-baked economist can tell you that the variables of the free market are supply and demand, not sustainability.

    Who says there’s a clash of values there? Investors are looking for long term investments, which is why companies that can’t grow in a sustainable fashion tend not to do very well. The laws of supply and demand are much better than centralized planning because they adjust for scarcity. The reason why the markets have priced oil at $75/barrel is because they’re predicting the potential for future disruptions in supply. Prices provide a signaling method that keeps a system in balance – which is why the US has significantly less pollution than a Russia or a China.

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