Global warming is real; at least partly man-caused; and will be disruptive.
Some talk as though our putting carbon into the atmosphere, for all those years, and continuing to do it, has been stupid, even crazy, and we’ve got to stop. But if we hadn’t been doing it, the average human today would live in squalid poverty.
Amid all the chest-thumping about global warming, here’s what’s rarely said: 1) we can’t stop it. Even if we cut carbon emissions to zero today, temperatures would still rise; just a tiny bit more slowly. And, 2) Any such cutback would dramatically increase human poverty and suffering.
Bjorn Lomborg has calculated that the cost of cutting carbon emissions (in terms of human quality of life) would be FIFTY TIMES the costs (in terms of global warming effects) thereby averted.
Now that’s really stupid and crazy.
Global warming is not the biggest problem confronting humanity; not even close. Under a worst-case scenario the number of humans that would perish due to climate change would be dwarfed by the number who will die due to our familiar and boring old problems of poverty and disease. A dollar spent on those problems will produce greatly more human benefit than a dollar spent to hold down global temperature.
So why is the latter still being advocated? One cannot escape the feeling that many of these advocates want to scale back modern industrial society not so much because they fear global warming as because they just, well, hate modern industrial society. This is akin to a religion: seeing humanity as tainted by primordial sin (supposed environmental profligacy) which requires redemptive punishment.
So, what should we do instead?
Stop all this foolishness about direct reductions in carbon emissions. Our resources can be much more effectively spent on 1) ramping up research on alternative technologies that, ultimately, economically, and naturally, will supplant existing ones; and, 2) preparing to adapt to and cope with the effects of inevitable global warming. Both approaches would cost a small fraction of trying to moderate temperature rises by scaling back carbon emissions directly.
Meantime, there are actually some approaches that would cool the planet with vastly more economic efficiency than would carbon cutbacks. Levitt and Dubner’s recent book, Superfreakonomics discusses a few. One is Nathan Myhrvold’s well thought-out plan for diverting existing sulfur dioxide emissions from the lower to the upper atmosphere, thereby mimicking the global cooling effects of major volcanic eruptions (such as 1816’s “year without a summer”). This would be almost laughably cheap to implement.
Of course, it would lack the satisfying thwack of redemptive punishment for mankind’s “sins.” Maybe that’s why the global warming industry seems so uninterested.