Sunday, December 16, 2007

Is Global Warming the New Y2K Bug Without a Deadline?

PLANETARY EMERGENCY Since CNN has been showing large chunks of the polar ice caps slipping noiselessly but ominously into the sea, many are quite convinced that the world will end not in fire or ice, but in another Flood. In fact some think we are already in the midst of a planetary emergency because of catastrophic man-made Global Warming, even if more polar bears die from hunters than drowning. But is the price of further human progress the end of the world? Have we made war on the Earth itself, as Al Gore suggests and are locked in a relationship of Mutually Assured Destruction? Can a tax save the earth from the laws of economics and thermodynamics, as well as close the Gap between the Rich and the Poor? Do the rich nations of the world owe pollution reparations to the poor nations, and do poor nations have an equal right to pollute the atmosphere, at least for a while until they have both sinned the same amount against Gaia? Is green the new yellow journalism? Is global warming the new Y2K Bug without a deadline?

Update: Contrarians at Bali More than 100 scientists led by physicist Freeman Dyson and veterans of the IPCC itself have signed an open letter (full text) to UN's Ban Kie Moon urging adaptation instead of futile attempts to "fight" climate change with sin taxes.

Upon hearing he had won the Nobel Peace Prize last October, former US Vice President Al Gore said that, "We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level."

A TAX TO SAVE THE POLLUTION SINNERS OF THE WORLD Gore repeated this basic theme in his 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture in Oslo and Bali this past week. He proposes a grand and sweeping solution to global warming in clarion call speeches that have energized a global environmental movement to "fight" climate change...with taxation that will also by the way, close the Gap between the Rich and Poor. Gore is way beyond just the US Presidency.
AL GORE (Nobel Lecture): "This week, I will urge the delegates in Bali to adopt a bold mandate for a treaty that establishes a universal global cap on emissions and uses the market in emissions trading to efficiently allocate resources to the most effective opportunities for speedy reductions...

We also need a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store carbon dioxide.

And most important of all, we need to put a price on carbon -- with a CO2 tax that is then rebated back to the people, progressively, according to the laws of each nation, in ways that shift the burden of taxation from employment to pollution. This is by far the most effective and simplest way to accelerate solutions to this crisis."

Here also is the Nobel Lecture of R.K. Pachauri of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this year's co-winner with Gore for work on global warming, summing up the scientific data and the general consensus that it is "anthropogenic" or man made--but not necessarily how to deal with it.

According to Al Gore, the way out of this Global Warming problem is by imposing a new global sin tax based on the amount of carbon dioxide pollution a given activity represents, shifting the tax burden "from employment to pollution." For example, if I take a vacation that involves jet travel, I ought to be taxed according to my share of the damage done to the environment as a result of my flights, with the tax proceeds being used for environmental remediation. Of course, the assumption is that the governments or institutions that end up with my sin tax can effectively undertake remedial efforts or channel the taxes in such a way as to offset at least the amount of damage I've caused, and not just fund bureaucracy and regulators' polluting vacations!

It's not a new idea. Taxation is the economic mainspring of Gore's "organizing principle for human civilization". Yale University Professor of Economics, William Nordhaus (pdf) has analyzed Gore's proposals and concludes that they would result in $12 trillion of climate mitigation -- at cost of $34 trillion in taxes.

BEFORE BALI WAS KYOTO Writing in the Wall Street Journal University of Buckingham's Prof. Julian Morris points out some interesting facts about the Kyoto Protocol:
Even if the Kyoto Protocol were fully implemented — not just by the EU, but by all of the more than 160 signatories — and its restrictions kept in place until 2100, its effect on the climate would barely be discernible. It would merely delay the projected warming by less than a decade over the course of the next century. Meanwhile, the economic cost has been estimated at between 0.1% and 3% of gross world product. Even at the lower end, that is an enormous price to pay for essentially no benefit.
Ron Bailey of ReasonOnline in a dispatch from Bali :
RON BAILEY: "In his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, Gore argued, "We must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization." Man-made global warming is an economic and technical problem of the sort that humanity has solved many times. For example, forests are expanding in rich countries because they have well-developed private property rights. Also in rich countries, regulations have helped once polluted rivers and lakes to become clean and have drastically cut air pollution. One of the keys to solving environmental problems is economic growth and wealth. Economists have identified various income thresholds at which various air and water pollutants begin to decline, with many indicators improving once GDP per capita in a country reaches around $8,000 per year. So keep in mind that anything that unduly retards economic growth also retards ultimate environmental clean-up, including global warming.

In any case, global warming is not the result of environmental sin; it is the result of human progress creating another commons problem. We do not need to "lift global consciousness"; we need to find a cheap, low-carbon source of energy. I have no doubt that man-made global warming is an economic and technical problem that an inventive humanity will solve over the course of the 21st century."
Regular readers of Philippine Commentary may recall my previous postings on
Garrett Hardin's famous article in the peer-reviewed journal Science (1968) on The Tragedy of the Commons which is particularly relevant to Global Warming--a problem that involves the global commons. Here the sense of the word "tragedy" is that of Alfred North Whitehead: "The essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things."

An important conclusion about problems involving public commons is that there is no "technical solution" to the basic problem. It's like the game of tic-tac-toe. There is no way to win once all players become familiar with the game. Keeping the "commons" publicly accessible inexorably leads to the destruction of the commons. The only solution is to turn such commons into private property. I don't know how we do that to the global commons.

I am also not sure yet how Gore's ideas fit into this framework. If the new CO2 tax he is proposing is likened to a sin tax, we only have to look at the continued prevalence of gambling, drinking and smoking to wonder if this is the right way to go. On the other hand, if it spurs the development of new technologies that don't have the problem of discharging CO2 into the atmosphere, could a case not be made for such taxes being beneficial?

Not if they degrade human living standards or retard economic development, since the more immediate needs of food, shelter and clothing cannot easily be sacrificed for the dubious benefit of seeing a graph move in the right direction at the IPCC headquarters in the UN.

BEING LIKE THE COCONUT TREE...There is an entirely Filipino way of looking at this, which may be more universal than the parable referred to implies. Perhaps the right way to deal with global warming is to accept the fact that it may be the inevitable product of the Laws of Thermodynamics, that it is unavoidable unless we want to shun the elementary and tangible benefits of industrializaon and modernizing human societies and communities. In which case, we would want to put more of our efforts into ADAPTATION to a warmer, wetter world. Maybe it means giving up large coastal areas over the course of the next few centuries. Maybe it means living in and conquering the undersea territories of the earth--about two thirds of it waiting to be recovered. Maybe it means bending to the weather and rising to the technological challenge, instead of flagellating ourselves for inventing refrigerators and jet airplanes and lengthening the human life span and building air conditioned cities.

I'm with those who say science and technology ought to lead the way on this one, not the politicians or the prophets of doom of the environmental religion.

Something to keep an eye on too is the possibility that all the planets are warming and that something happening with the sun is responsible for global warming on earth and not human activities. The polar ice caps on MARS have reportedly been shrinking too, over the century since we've been imagining water channels built by Martians there have drained them to supply vast civilizations of err, Rednecks.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/10/global-warming-on-mars/

More contrarian points enumerated and debunked at Gristmill, New Scientist, and others.

DJB Rizalist said...

We must be neither contrarian nor doctrinaire. The reason for the observed warming will drive any solution, which will be hard enough to find if don't understand the problem fully. We can afford to be skeptical. We can't afford not to be.

Cocoy said...

there is also the argument that why do we have to worry about some guy 50-75 years into the future, in a possible "flood/drought" scenario when right here, right now we've got a whole lot of people dying from poverty and hunger. then again, as a race, we could all adapt or maybe we'll be extinct. who really knows?

that said, i was a huge skeptic about the whole global warming thing and if you'd ask me about it 10 years ago, i would have said that it wasn't economically viable to be environmentally conscious.

Whether you sit with the tree-huggers or not, i think as it stands today, developing towards renewable resources is a practical and economically viable endeavor. the shift by major semiconductor firms like intel and amd towards more efficient computers and yet still uses less energy is good. just think of the cost savings for businesses in power fees. think of the space saved to cool down the huge servers of our internet era. we get more bang for the buck.

in the long run, weeding out dependence on fossil fuels will be better politically, for example. Just think by leveling out the Energy playing field whereby everyone isn't dependent on oil, where everyone produces their own source of energy. wouldn't that change the spectrum of global politics? IMHO, that alone is worth all the effort to "go green".

At the turn of 20th century, physicists speculated that we had already discovered everything there is to know about the universe, then came Einstein who changed the ball game. Fast forward to the turn of the 21st, and physicists were saying the same thing.

i forget if it was a zen thing that when you think you've mastered a thing, you quickly discover that there is much to learn still.

almost ten years into 21st century, and still there is much to know. if there's one thing i've learned in my short life is that we humans know so little about medicine, science, our universe in general. we're worst than idiots. What we think we know for a fact today, could change tomorrow.

bottom line is for me--- if newer technologies give more efficient cars/computers thereby more "bang for the buck", if it lets me do more and still pay the same amount (or less) for my gasoline/electric bill, then i'm all for it. does it hurt to go green? today, i don't think it is--- in fact IMHO, i think it is economically practical to go green.

DJB Rizalist said...

Cocoy,
I think the basic data cannot be denied: every decade of the 20th century has been "warmer" than the last.

The big question is still what's doing it and next, whether we can do anything to stop it.

Maybe we can't, in which case adaptation is the only way out.

Cocoy said...

djb,

*nods in agreement*

Amadeo said...

I'm with those who say science and technology ought to lead the way on this one, not the politicians or the prophets of doom of the environmental religion.

I completely agree. And as an aside, a good number of the same scientific sources also predicted an ice age in the 70's. So again, science works best not on consensus, but on continued experimentation and replication.

A little trivia as an additional aside. It is amazing to note that the personal fortune of Mr. Gore has increased tremendously since he started getting very aggressive in his espousal of his global cause. A larger personal fortune that his erstwhile superior, Mr. Clinton, will envy, all the latter's fevered efforts to accumulate wealth notwithstanding.

blackshama said...

DJB

You say

" In which case, we would want to put more of our efforts into ADAPTATION to a warmer, wetter world. Maybe it means giving up large coastal areas over the course of the next few centuries. Maybe it means living in and conquering the undersea territories of the earth--about two thirds of it waiting to be recovered. Maybe it means bending to the weather and rising to the technological challenge, instead of flagellating ourselves for inventing refrigerators and jet airplanes and lengthening the human life span and building air conditioned cities."

I say

What kind of climate adaptation are you talking about? Darwinian natural selection will still operate in a warmer world and those whose genes can't adapt won't be around to pass on their genes. Being part of the global population of Homo sapiens we will observe that millions won't be around to pass on their genes!

Evolution has allowed Homo sapiens to develop morality that confers some adaptive fitness. Lets see how society deals with the fact that many won't be able to pass on their genes.

Nonetheless giving up coastal areas (climatically the most insulated from extremes) will not be easy. The same is true for living underwater and colonising space is hindered by our physiological constraints.

We should take care not to fantasise that much like building airconditioned cities and the like. The thermodynamic laws we learn in physics actually puts a cap on the amount of resources humans can exploit from planet Earth. Global warming is just a simple consequence of that fact. The solution is really to live within limits provided by the amount of resources available on earth.

The challenge would be how creative can we be in developing appropriate technologies to fit this theory that has caused a major paradigm shift?

Also you wrote

"The polar ice caps on MARS have reportedly been shrinking too, over the century since we've been imagining water channels built by Martians there have drained them to supply vast civilizations of err, Rednecks."

I say

If we accept this as linked to earth warming without some shred of evidence then what you are saying is a logical fallacy that all undergrads learn in their first philo course!

viking said...

Dean, I honored you in a post.
www.norwegianwould.com

Anonymous said...

The fact that this issue involves the climate and that the climate change cannot be predicted absolutely or fully ensures that we will go nowhere with contrarian views.

What is important to note is that many of the solutions offered to combat global warming are, not surprisingly, the same solutions to solve problems caused by peak oil, a global credit crunch, pollution, and depletion of natural resources. Examples include the use of renewable energy, permaculture, and better settlement planning. None of these solutions are expensive and do not require taxation. But taxation is needed if people remain skeptical, in the sense that they will go on wasting resources and polluting needlessly until it is proven conclusively that GW is caused primarily by human activity (which will never happen given what I wrote in my first paragraph).

My point is that whatever one wants to believe in, everyone will end up following the solutions needed to combat GW because they are also solutions to other problems that we face. Given that, we can afford not to be skeptical; we cannot afford to be so.

Finally, about contrarian claims that there's no global warming, that there's global warming but it's caused by the sun, that there's global warming but it's not caused by CO2, that there's global warming but it's caused by CO2 that comes from nature, etc., try these lists of contrarian claims:

http://gristmill.grist.org/skeptics

http://environment.newscientist.com/channel/earth/dn11462

Also,

http://www.realclimate.org

To see which personalities are part of various contrarian groups, visit

http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/denialmachine/

watch

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=522784499045867811

and look up their backgrounds in

http://www.sourcewatch.org

Anonymous said...

I saw this in one forum:

http://www.doonesbury.com/strip/dailydose/index.html?uc_full_date=20070114

DJB Rizalist said...

sounds like a new religion in the making...sorry if i stick to what i know best...which is take the best hypothesis and try to falsify it. Every failure makes it stronger. But we ought not give up skepticism. Too many big mistakes have cost plenty of lives and money doing the wrong thing...like with ddt.