Global Warming Quiz

by Russ Roberts on April 8, 2007

in Environment

It’s a one question quiz:

Suppose we discovered that the earth was cooling rather than warming due to a natural cycle. Would you encourage people to drive more and use more carbon-based energy as a way of warming the earth?

I suspect that some people’s ideal policy towards the earth’s climate is that it should be whatever it would be if people didn’t exist. Or whatever it would be if people lived in loincloths without fire. That is, the ideal climate is the natural one, because our species is unnatural. In this world view, humans are a poison on the earth and the reason we should put on a carbon tax or discourage fossil fuels is that our use of the earth’s resources is somehow immoral. Obviously, not all people who worry about global warming feel this way. That’s the point of the quiz.

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{ 49 comments }

Chris Meisenzahl April 8, 2007 at 5:54 pm

Very interesting and provocative question! It really exposes people's true views and understandings (or lack thereof).

jn April 8, 2007 at 6:33 pm

What goes around, comes around.

You posit in the question that the cooling is part of a natural cycle, which means that at some point the earth will naturally warm back up. If, in order to the climate warm, everyone goes around torching open pits of coal to release as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as possible, would not those same greenhouse gases cause the planet to become even warmer on its next warm cycle? Or are we assuming that away?

Think of it as Keynsian fiscal (counter-cyclical) policy for the climate?

If you assume away future damage caused by current pollution, I think most people would rather see the earth's climate remain stable, and would therefore not go out of their way to avoid emissions.

If you include the above assumption in your economic calculus, I think more people would be wary about dumping CO2 into the atmosphere, but perhaps not as many as who are concerned now about global warming in the Real World(tm).

Forbes April 8, 2007 at 7:05 pm

During the last climate change uproar–1970s cooling–I recall a suggestion was made that the arctic should be showered with carbon black so as to "reverse" the cooling.

I wonder if in 30 years time we'll be able to look back, thankfully, at our ability to resist the urge to do something similarly draconian.

HarmoniousJosh April 8, 2007 at 7:32 pm

When it was abnormally hot a while ago, there were constant news stories about how GW was making it worse (hotter) than it would have been. Sooo…

Now that we're in a cold snap, can we say that without GW it would actually be much colder?

RN April 8, 2007 at 10:33 pm

Remarkable stupidity 'round these parts.

It's not the warming per se we want to stop. It's the effects. I guess you all want the migration of hundreds of millions of people from the coasts, and dwindling water supplies, and 25% of species extinction?

Is that what you nice people want?

If not, if we can do something about it, should we?

The Dirty Mac April 8, 2007 at 10:35 pm

"Now that we're in a cold snap, can we say that without GW it would actually be much colder?"

No. Global warming makes weather colder as well as warmer.

AN April 9, 2007 at 12:13 am

Your "quiz" seems to be entirely devoid of logic. It's not just the basic premise that the world is warming up that's the problem here; it's the fact we have the scientific capabilities to clearly show that due to warming (yes, especially the anthropogenic portion) there WILL be massive negative consequences.

If we saw that the world was cooling on its own, and could scientifically determine that there would be consequences of the same magnitude as global warming will cause, then YES the same people who are advocating reduced carbon emissions today would be advocating the most appropriate form of public action (and no, of course it probably wouldn't be increasing CO2 emissions).

It's not the "natural" climate that is the issue here, its being able to maintain a climate that will allow for sustained life on earth. And briefly (I could go on for countless pages on this absurd article),it's not inherently immoral that we are using natural resources. Yet when we are using them at a rate that will leave a significantly damaged planet for future generations, and we have alternative options that could avoid that damage, does that not seem immoral to you?

Tim April 9, 2007 at 1:06 am

I've toyed with this idea for some time on and off. A retelling of it would be thus…

Let's assume that Global Warming is happening mainly for natural reasons, but that limiting human generated CO2 inputs could limit or, at least, slow the impact. Should we do it?

In my case I suspect the answer is "does not compute". If CO2 hadn't caused the warming to begin with there'd probably be little benefit from braking it.

In Russ's example there are just too many unknowns. So I think the answer is again "does not compute".

How do we know cooling or warming is on net "good" or "bad"? We can all dream up a list of bad things climate change either way could generate. But the opportunities are a lot less obvious than than the costs.

Geologists like Ian Plimer… (see his excellent article PDF format here, maybe a suitable econtalk guest?) ..regularly point out that, for agrarian societies anyway, are warmer globe may be a superior option than a cooler globe, even if no change is the best of all.

But as the world is becoming all told less agrarian and more urban, I'm not sure cooling might not actually be better. After all industrialism seems more predominate in temperate to cold regions than warm to tropical zones. And the ski industry would benefit! :)

Adaptation to climate change imposes costs, which economists normally consider a bad thing, but that isn't always so. Sometimes "a change will do you good". It can force a re-engineering of practices and customs and sometimes can yield surprise benefits. Take for example, the destruction wrought by WW2 on Japanese and German industry destroyed (relatively speaking) lots more capital than climate change would to modern societies. Yet the adapted re-engineered postwar Japanese and German economies probably outperformed, not only the victors, …but what Japanese and Germans civilians could have hoped for had they been the actual victors.

Now no one would advocate an amoral or immoral strategy of fire bombing your own cities to improve the economic performance of subsequent generations, but if history is to be believed, it does seem to work.

Whats going on? Nations with heavy investments in human capital and the "institutional capital" of relatively market friendly legal regimes and cultures seem to cope very well with whatever is thrown at them.

Flash Gordon April 9, 2007 at 1:22 am

Two of the seven comments above made any attempt at all to address the question posed by the quiz. I guess the other five know, but won't admit even to themselves, that driving more and using more carbon based energy would not have the slightest effect on global temperature or climate. They know, but won't admit even to themselves, that the whole global warming hysteria is a hoax to justify more government, more taxes, more regulation, more control over peoples lives by liberals, more sanctimonious posturing, and more general stupidity and political correctness.

Now that 5 lawless justices on the Supreme Court have made the moronic pronouncement that CO2 is a pollutant it surely won't be long before we are told that we are destroying the planet by breathing.

Maybe the global warming kooks have finally jumped the shark.

Brad Hutchings April 9, 2007 at 3:04 am

I think this question was asked a decade ago and it got a resounding "we're not going there". Check out Gregory Benford in Reason from November, 1997.

http://www.reason.com/news/show/30433.html

Benford was talking about ways to engineer the CO2 out of the atmosphere. Seems we could have tried it on a small scale in the ensuing decade before declaring the end of polar bears and penguins everywhere.

David White April 9, 2007 at 8:09 am

Here's my answer:

The War on CO2 stands to be every bit as evil as the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, and Big Business/Government will be the only ones to benefit from this swindle — http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4340135300469846467 — never mind that atmospheric increases in CO2 are "a wonderful and unexpected gift from the Industrial Revolution" — http://www.oism.org/pproject/s33p36.htm

Ray April 9, 2007 at 8:12 am

Another 'straw man' – what's with you? Maybe you should stay with your expertise which I presume is economics. Most of the comments indicate that their authors don't understand the difference between weather and climate just as most climatologists probably don't know the difference between microeconomics and macroeconomics.

I think I keep seeing economists making recommendations for economic policies to prevent negative results which they think will occur if changes aren't employed – or why the emphasis on free trade? Perhaps you should acknowledge that the climatologists are justified in a similar proposition.

rh April 9, 2007 at 8:15 am

A different argument is that the climate is a tremendously complex system that is not adequately understood. It has a demonstrated ability to exterminate thousands of species and destroy civilizations. (Think Ice Ages.) We should not significantly modify its operation until we understand what the results of that interference will be.

Your question is based on the premise that we understand the climate system well enough to intelligently modify it. I've seen no evidence of such a level of understanding. The available scientific evidence is that we have only slight skill in forecasting climate changes.

(Skill means confirmed forecast accuracy. For climate this means that the models can successfully be initialized for X thousand years ago, and successfully forecast the next Y thousand years.)

Bruce Hall April 9, 2007 at 9:14 am

Two points I have written about recently:
***********
I'll admit that one person's "obvious truth" is "bias" to another who doesn't agree. The "proof in the pudding" is the degree of certainty one can provide to back up one's position.

For example, there is no bias… no "consensus"… about the speed of light in a vacuum. There is only tested, verified, fact. On the other hand, there is no tested, verified fact about the political "consensus" surrounding global warming. There are opionions; there is "empirical information"; there is inconclusive interpretation of data; there are calls to action in the name of "risk management"… in other words, "we can't prove our contention, but we want to be safe rather than sorry."
***********
What is really ironic is the very environmentalists who fought nuclear power are the same ones being alarmists about CO2 and, as a result, are forcing another look at nuclear power. I don't have a problem with idealism… except too many idealists have no clue about the unintended consequences of their positions. In this case, it may be a good thing that rectifies the problem they caused 30 years ago.
***********

Tomorrow, I'll be writing about why CO2 is not the most important environmental, and subsequently, economic issue confronting mankind… and, of course, what really is.

David White April 9, 2007 at 9:19 am

Ray,

I'm an entrepreneur who is commercializing a green building technology that stands to save millions of CO2-devouring trees and precludes the use of CO2-producing cement — http://www.cs.ntu.edu.au/homepages/jmitroy/sid101/uncc/fs030.html — and therefore have every reason in the world, business-wise, to jump on the global warming bandwagon.

I refuse to do so, however, as I believe it is nothing more than "political science" run amok. And besides, in the unlikely event that human-caused global warming is a reality, the exponential growth in advanced technologies stands to solve the problem as a matter of course:

"We are awash in energy (10,000 times more than required to meet all our needs falls on Earth), but we are not very good at capturing it. That will change with the full nanotechnology-based assembly of macro objects at the nano scale, controlled by massively parallel information processes, which will be feasible within twenty years. Even though our energy needs are projected to triple within that time, we'll capture that .0003 of the sunlight needed to meet our energy needs with no use of fossil fuels, using extremely inexpensive, highly efficient, lightweight, nano-engineered solar panels, and we'll store the energy in highly distributed (and therefore safe) nanotechnology-based fuel cells. Solar power is now providing 1 part in 1,000 of our needs, but that percentage is doubling every two years, which means multiplying by 1,000 in twenty years. Almost all the discussions I've seen about energy and its consequences, such as global warming, fail to consider the ability of future nanotechnology-based solutions to solve this problem." — http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0692.html

Geoffrey Brand April 9, 2007 at 9:35 am

The question gets to the very essence of the environmental movement.

If you define "nature" as everything in the universe except "man".

You end up hating man. What nature does doesn't matter.. Somehow it is always right.

jp April 9, 2007 at 9:42 am

Bruce Hall wrote: "What is really ironic is the very environmentalists who fought nuclear power are the same ones being alarmists about CO2 and, as a result, are forcing another look at nuclear power."

When I was in college (in the late '70s), nuclear power was second only to nuclear weapons as the greatest threat facing mankind. Now we're told that nuclear power will *save* us from the greatest threat facing mankind. What will we be told 30 years from now?

David White April 9, 2007 at 9:44 am

Geoffrey,

I think the ancients got it right in this (originally Latin) apothegm:

"There is nothing greater in nature than man, and there is nothing greater in man than mind."

And if you want to see where the human mind is heading, here's a mind-blowing look at it:

http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0134.html?printable=1

George April 9, 2007 at 10:13 am

Most of you miss the point of the question that Russ asked. He didn't ask about science, he asked about your attitude regarding which current fad you are chasing.

I find it humbling and a sorrow that thousands of years on we haven't improved on the wisdom of the ancients, who spoke of the futility of trying to change the natural inevitable by saying to those who thought of themselves and their power as being God like, "Go down to the seashore and command the tides."

I do hope that all of you leftwing fools have noticed that when nature strikes in diaster mode that nature regards mankind on the same level as the cockroach and all other life forms. Man, cockroach, cow, dog, monkey, rose bushes, trees, crops, it makes no difference to something like a tornado. Nature pays no attention to mankind and our puny efforts, hopes, and dreams of controling it. We don't cause the tornado and we can't stop one.

Here we are with those foolish egotistical people who believe that they can shape or reshape the earth, Gore being the most prominent at the moment, but not necessarily the most foolish.

Man has tried everything from prayer to seeding the clouds to tame nature and nothing we have tried has ever caused nature to sutter step in the least.

Tornadoes still rip through sections of the country causing immense damage.

Hurricanes still rip through enormous sections of the country causing even greater devastation.

Massive snow storms blanket enormous regions of the country and cause huge economic loss and loss of life.

Earthquakes lay large ares low and send huge Tsunamis to lay waste to far shores.

Floods, droughts, and volcanic eruptions all do a part to cause life misery, and there is not, and never has been, a thing mankind can do about them except try to get away, or build something that will withstand the power of nature and give shelter to limited amounts of people.

We know for dead certain fact that the world has dramatically warmed and cooled as far back as we have managed to dig out the data. It did all of those things without one particular life form as the catalyst.

We also know from magnetic records in ancient rocks that the poles have actually flip flopped more than once. Do we know what that simple thing can do to weather or climate?

Truth is we know nothing about what triggers any or all of the natural diasters I listed above, nothing. We speculate and theorize but know nothing.

To those who so foolishly say, "But, if we believe we can make a difference, shouldn't we do it?" Go hit your head on a wall to clear out the radical leftwing crap and then come back to your question and think about the word "if". The use of that word tells intelligent people that you agree 100% with me when I say we know nothing about the causes, especially when you connect it to the word "believe".

The idiots who think we should radically alter our life based on an "if" and a "believe" are more dangerous to mankind than all of the diasters that nature can
throw at us.

By the way An, the world is not, "But as the world is becoming all told less agrarian and more urban" becoming less agrarian. With the total population constantly growing, what do you think is feeding them. Our science and technology allows more land to be productive but with fewer people engaged in that production. To think that shows that the world is becoming less agarian is sloppy thinking.

What puzzles me is why so few people recognize the truth about the flip flop of climate propaganda from the late sixties to the present. In the late sixties we were being told that greenhouse gases were moving to the upper atmosphere and reflecting sunlight and heat back into the void and that was what would cause the on coming ice age (due to hit by 1980). Now the same people are telling us that greenhouse gases are moving to the upper atmospher and absorbing heat from the sun and also reflecting Earth's heat back inward thus causing the global warming.

I believe that it is a miracle that the leftwing can hoodwink so many stupids into believe exact opposites by using the exact same tool!

I don't about the rest of you but I discovered a wonderous thing when I was a very young child. That wonderous thing was that when the Earth rotated and it became night it also became cooler and often by an amazing shift in temperature. Even at that tender age I learned that it was the sun that was the main source of heat on planet Earth.

Shall we go up to the mountain peak and command the sun? Yeah, why don't we do that. You go first, before I bother I'll wait to see if you have any affect on the temperature.

Is the sun's output in a strong cycle? Yes. Is the sun shooting off huge hot eruptions into space? Yes. Are sun spots increasing in number and intensity? Yes. Are the rest of the planets in our system also showing signs of warming? Yes.

Can all the ice that currently sits on water melt and never casue even the teeeensiest bit of rise in water level at any seashore? Yes.

I'd rather have an active volcano as a neighbor than a stupid person. At least I know that the volcano is never intentionally dangerous.

Nature does what nature does.

Harold April 9, 2007 at 10:58 am

If you think this is an interesting question once shorn of the author's agenda, check out University of Wisconsin historian William Cronon's forthcoming book. He's actually thinking about the ways we think about people as both inside and outside of nature, not trying to score cheap debating points about a subject (climate change) of which he chooses to remain ignorant.

Another George April 9, 2007 at 11:11 am

I like David White's comments. There is plausible evidence that our star's activity influences the flux of cosmic rays that bathe the solar system.

A current theory, which is an extension of what would happen if a nearby supernova sprayed the solar system with high engery radiation, posits that when the Sun's activity begins to wane the cosmic ray flux rises. More cosmic rays means more interaction with Earth's atmosphere; more interaction with Earth's atmosphere creates the seeds of cloud formation; more cloud formation deflects more of the Sun's energy back into space; less energy being received by Earth means, over time, global cooling.

I've always thought that human activity is puny compared to the raw power of nature.

Mike April 9, 2007 at 3:30 pm

Just as there is general agreement that cows cause global warming, there is general agreement that man makes global warming. The question is, "How much?" Since the answer to that question would require the discovery and measurement of a parallel universe with an Earth that is identical in all respects to our own except the absence of human industrial activity, the answer must rely on educated guesswork. There are at least two sorts of reactions to the present climate change: abatement (e.g., carbon caps) and adaptation (e.g., dikes). If man is a major cause of the present climate change, then both abatement and adaptation make sense. If man is only a small cause then abatement not only does not make sense, it positively robs from the efficacy of adaptation. The solution in equilibrium is adaptation.

Francois Tremblay April 9, 2007 at 4:42 pm

Comments on this blog should be closed except for certain posts, because all we get is a bunch of idiots posting their stupid opinions and muddling the whole thread. It seems that libertarian blogs get these bozos a great deal, which always puzzles me. I don't go on statist blogs and tell them how wrong they are.

Ethan April 9, 2007 at 6:37 pm

"all we get is a bunch of idiots posting their stupid opinions and muddling the whole thread"

Your noise adds little to the signal.

john Henry April 9, 2007 at 8:36 pm

One thing to bear in mind is that global warming is over. Permanently or temporarily I don't know.

Look at any chart that shows average temperatures from 1998 on. You will see a decline in temps. It is not dramatic if you look at the 5 year average you will see the trend is either level or down.

John Henry

Ray G April 9, 2007 at 8:45 pm

I think Russell sums it up neatly, though much of it is implied.

To take the standard anthropogenic GW stance, one has to assume that man is somehow not natural to the world. And, in doing things that are unnatural i.e. burning fossil fuels, we are both alien and immoral.

Of course "they" take these positions while comfortably situated in the lap of fossil fuel enabled luxury. "Hello, Mr. Gore, your power company is calling." Kind of like history buffs who would so love to live at some romantic spot in the past, but of course, not without the niceties of modern medicine, dentistry, hygiene, etc.

We have a new religion on our hands essentially, and they worship the Earth, or "Creation" itself.

Mike April 9, 2007 at 9:44 pm

Fred Singer is a professor at George Mason, yes? Surely he is worth an installment of EconTalk, right?

Ray G April 9, 2007 at 11:27 pm

Oh, and for those who are completely ignoring the context of professor Roberts' post – global temperatures are always in flux.

Nothing new there, but the religious zeal of the GW Left has blinded them (or you, depending on who’s reading this) to the basic reality that if the temps are always in a slight fluctuation, and we’ve been in greater warming periods in the past, then this whole anthropogenic scheme is merely another attack on capitalism and individual freedom in general and America specifically.

I know it’s convenient to attribute the basic Left/Right of this to the notion that the Left wants to save the planet, and the Right couldn’t care less, as long as ecological disaster turns a tidy profit, we’re all for it.

But the issue falls along these similar lines precisely because it has so very little to do with actual science, and so much to do with politics (and subsequently and unavoidably economics).

A number of commentators had predicted in the early 90s, after the fall of Communism, that environmentalism was the next vehicle for the attack on capitalism. It's all really old hat actually.

David Johnson April 10, 2007 at 12:26 am

A long time ago, there was this thing called "conservation". Conservation was about reducing waste (both wasteful consumption and waste products) and preserving the environment. It was a practical and pragmatic approach to the environment. Pollution was bad in and of itself. Then it got replaced by environmentalism. This was an emotional, ideological, and almost religious, approach to the environment. Pollution is now bad because it harms the planet.

But what happens when we find out reducing pollution isn't going to "save the planet"? There are many more reasons to cut down petroleum usage than merely reducing atmospheric CO2 levels. What's to stop us from polluting when we find out that CO2 isn't the most horrible substance in the world? The current doom and gloom environmentalism is doing a great disservice to the environment.

YouArgueSoBlindly April 10, 2007 at 12:47 am

Many of you above have shown your true colors by arguing on a subject that you do not truly understand; it is very clear that 99% of the posts to this article have come from contributors who have zero significant scientific knowledge. Perhaps you have no faith in science, but let me list a few things that are blatantly WRONG.

1. Man is "puny" compared to nature. No, no, no, no, no, we are a major part of nature, and over the past several centuries we have become even more powerful. The earth is a system of cycles and processe; the most important being physical, chemical, and biological. HUMANS HEAVILY AFFECT all of those cycles, and thus HEAVILY impact the earth. The idea that we do not have the power to change the earth, for better or for worse, is a blatantly ignorant view purely based on antiquated opinions and "notions". We KNOW this for a fact, arguing otherwise is not "just a different opinion", its just plain wrong. George, I have to pinpoint you here, because your comments amaze me, for example "not causing a tornado". If you had the slightest education in the sciences you would realize that while mankind may not conjure a specific tornado, our actions as a species on this earth can unquestionably impact the earth's cycles in a manner that will change the general patterns of phenomena such as tornados; e.g., frequency, location, and strength.

2. Scientists don't really know what is going on. Again, no, no, no. Today's science is amazing no matter what you may believe, and this administration has done its best to cast doubt on the nation and the world's scientific abilities. The concept of "uncertainty" is just one example, misunderstood by the general public. Instead of going further as it would require some simple mathematical knowledge to understand the ensuing explanation, let me put it in short and simple terms hopefully everyone can understand with this example. The IPCC (for those who don't know, an international panel, not some "hippies") put out a report saying that the likelihood that we are the main contributor to global warming is over 90%, and admitted that is a CONSERVATIVE (meaning minimized)number. If you were playing a game of poker, would you call a big hand knowing that the odds of losing were at least 90%? Then why would you gamble on the future of the planet with the same odds?

Someone above mentioned that all of the global warming predictions ignore nanotechnologies that science will invent to deal with the problem. You have this much confidence in science, yet refuse to believe the assertions that have already been made? There's a real logic gap there.

3. This is all politics, no science. Huh? Of course there are politics involved, there are in every major topic, domestic or international. It would take a moron to argue otherwise. Yet it is funny to hear the claim that it is the left that is "attacking", when practically all of the monetary ties and special interests surrounding the issue clearly lie on the right with the oil companies and similar interests. Behind every scientist in the "debate" that has any question about the truth of global warming is funding of a conservative at some level, to the last. Please, come out of your shells and look at this as a global humanitarian issue instead of immediately attacking the "radicals" that you all seem to be afraid of; actually reading the literature will shock you based on some of the comments above. If you can read.

There are so many more things to say and arguments to make, scientific and logical, but I am going to hope at least some of you stop and look at the issue anew.

This is not just a political attack; if you come away with nothing else please realize that the climate IS changing, we ARE a major part of it, it WILL have drastic negative effects, and we CAN do something about it if we so choose. Despite what Fox News and Sen.James Inhofe may tell you, these are all truths.

And reading most of the posts above has been a scary experience; the ignorance, arrogance, and stubbornness displayed is depressing, discouraging, and quite pathetic. In 20 years when this global warming "hoax" remains one of the most important topic of this century, remember and be embarrassed. Heh, I half expect from this site that everyone here would argue against evolution too.

YouArgueSoBlindly April 10, 2007 at 1:01 am

One more note:nuclear power. It was not the best option back then, but the information and increased efficiency that we have today tells us that by doing a cost-benefit analysis (money or public health, either works) shows that this is our best option. The difference is that today's society allows for much greater efficiency in nuclear power, it is a vastly improved technology. Not only that, it is now much safer; while you may not have heard about it people HAVE been doing research on nuclear power for the last several decades. The major differences (there are a few more) between now and the 70s are improved safety and improved efficiency (by several orders of magnitude). To those who don't get what that, the simple economics is that it now takes less money to build and maintain the plant, and we get hundreds to thousands of times the amount of energy we could then.

Ethan Sklar April 10, 2007 at 5:56 am

Wow! This is really a simple post!

Russ is not challenging global warming science in this post; simply environmentalists who see humans as a cancer. Some prominent environmentalists believe this and Russ, I believe is only trying to expose the fact that their positions are not aimed at improving human welfare; however many poeple back up their positions on the environment thinking it will improve human welfare.

Ethan Sklar April 10, 2007 at 6:20 am

Second.

All the liberations who have been battling the liberals(?) over global warming in this post, are just as guilty as the liberals(?) in missing the core/strength of what should be their (libertarian) argument.

There should be no argument over the science of global warming(yes, I'm skeptical), because at the core, the science (even if wrong)is not a problem. What every reader on this site should oppose and see as the fundamental problem, is the solution advocated by global warming activists.

Their solution is of course massive government intervention to solve the problem of global warming. (Hopefully, Russ and Don have convinced a few of you this might be a bad idea) If activists sought not government action, to combat global warming then no harm done.

More importantly, and this goes to both the liberals and libertarians – if Global Warming is real, we especially don't want the state in control of fixing the problem. Something so important cannot be entrusted to the government. Just as you (libertarians) are for private health care and education because it is only through this sustainable avenue will these two goods be of high quality and available to everyone.

hope this makes sense it is 4am…

odograph April 10, 2007 at 7:22 am

"Suppose we discovered that the earth was cooling rather than warming due to a natural cycle. Would you encourage people to drive more and use more carbon-based energy as a way of warming the earth?"

I can say "sure, why not?"

(And then I can worry about the missing information and hidden messages in the query. The key question in GW (and other "env" issues) is whether our current actions make the earth a less-nice place for future generations. It's less "should I do extra charity?" than "is there a downside to my current actions?")

Ron Mexico April 10, 2007 at 8:06 am

You are all stupid, I am the true provider of intelligence. Here you go:

1) start my list of double super intelligent points

2) keep pretending everyone thinks I'm as smart as I think I am

3) just a few more points, points rock

4) snide comment about how others have no scientific background compared to my doctorate in climatology and tenured professorship at MIT

5) I think they are on board with me now

6) Job done, tell everyone they are morons again, pretend a few at least want me to teach them more

Ron Mexico, you 12? April 10, 2007 at 1:08 pm

Ethan Sklar you make an excellent point, to which I would pose a question (that I certainly don't know the answer to). If the government does not provide some economic incentives, where will the capitalist motivation to deal with GW come from?

It doesn't seem to me that there are clear monetary incentives yet to fight this battle (at least in the private sector), and economics is what will keep the process sustainable. Perhaps tighter regulations will force companies to shift to more efficient processes, as it would no longer be cheaper to pay a few fines here and there and not invest in new equipment. It seems to me that could start a chain reaction where entire marketplaces are forced into a new equilibrium because changing regulations have caused a shift in the short term (and long term) cost-benefit analysis of operations options.

Do note that practically all of the legitimate science on the issue, at least in the US, comes from government funding already. Thus there is no real money to be found in the science/research itself at this point. There must be a way to get corporations to care enough that they are willing and ready to help fund new technologies and essentially their future.

I agree that we don't want the government running the show here, but with that said… perhaps some tweaking of emissions standards, energy efficiency, etc. could act as a catalyst for the private sector to begin battling global warming.

Agree/Disagree?

True_Liberal April 10, 2007 at 3:53 pm

At least one of the "rent-seeker" companies has major manufacturing facilities at sea level. Is it any wonder they want to profit from keeping their factory high and dry?

Patrick April 10, 2007 at 4:01 pm

"Perhaps some tweaking of emissions standards, energy efficiency, etc. could act as a catalyst for the private sector to begin battling global warming."

No.

You just prove what this all about – government intervention.

Perhaps sea levels rising, farm land drying, and excessive oil drilling collapsing the mantel will get the private sector to battle warming – human caused or natural. Better to deal with actual events rather than hypothetical events which, if posited wrongly, could result in us taking the exactly wrong action (like layering the polar ice caps with black soot).

Just as the IPPC report must pass political muster before its scientific reports are released, the whole GW crowd is an extension of the Flat Earth, Sun Revolves Around the Earth, mentality that the Church used to control the masses for nearly two millenia.

The GW crowd is unwilling to grasp the enormity of the planet, that we inhabit only 1/3 the surface of the Earth. They are unwilling to grasp the enormity of the Sun and its power to influence warming/cooling trends here on Earth.

To the original post, I'd expand to add two more questions:

1. What's the temperture of the Earth today?

2. What should be the temperture of the Earth today?

If those two questions can't be answered then how do we set goals and know when we've met the targets?

Unless the GW crowd isn't really interested in results, but rather process…

vincent April 10, 2007 at 5:31 pm

Can someone explain how prior CO2 levels that were many multiples of what they are today, simply decreased without Al Gore?

Unknown feedback mechanism?
External influence?
Aliens (legal ones)?

mjh April 10, 2007 at 6:02 pm

Ray, you said, "I think I keep seeing economists making recommendations for economic policies to prevent negative results which they think will occur if changes aren't employed – or why the emphasis on free trade? Perhaps you should acknowledge that the climatologists are justified in a similar proposition."

My response to this is to quote Warren Meyer: "Economics is a science. Willful ignorance or emotional rejection of the well-known precepts of this science is at least as bad as a fundamentalist Christian's willful ignorance of evolution science… In fact, economic ignorance is much worse, since most people can come to perfectly valid conclusions about most public policy issues with a flawed knowledge of the origin of the species but no one can with a flawed understanding of economics." http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2006/10/advice_to_the_r.html

mjh April 10, 2007 at 6:05 pm

(Sorry, I meant to add the following to my previous post.)

Are climatologists justified in a similar proposition? Depends on their understanding of economics. They are perfectly qualified to assess the state of the climate. But once the start making policy recommendations they've stepped off of that field, and started talking about tradeoffs. That is the field of economics. If they have a flawed understanding of it, they will make flawed policy recommendations.

Ethan Sklar April 10, 2007 at 6:45 pm

Ron Mexico, you bring up some interesting points so let me try and address them.

1. "It doesn't seem to me that there are clear monetary incentives yet to fight this battle (at least in the private sector)"

- There are a few directions this can go. A common problem I believe is that most poeple assume the only emergent order is that of the market, where monetary incentives are involved. Therefore without financial incentives society will never organize itself to mitigate the harmful effects of Global Warming. And that government must then take the lead.
However look around, money is not the force behind many forms of spontaneous order. Unfortunately, large government has the effect of "crowding out" other emergent solutions, either driven by altruism or money.
Having government create or fund solutions to GW crowds out the solutions that are actually viable and practical.
Or, If the government gave back most of the $2.5 trillion it collects and said it is not accountable for fixing problems caused by global warming; assuming GW turned out to be very negative, an extremely wealthy society would love to help the world through philanthropy/charity – to a far greater extent than it does. Look at all the energies and passion around GW, if government isn't the "silver bullet" then all this individual political momentum would be turned into individual action and monetary funding (The best solution).
This way, negative effects of GW on human welfare are averted. Of course, as Russ implies, if the true motive that human impact on the natural world is awful in itself then you would not see this ( a world sustaining more people, development, and change) as good.

2. "Do note that practically all of the legitimate science on the issue, at least in the US, comes from government funding already. Thus there is no real money to be found in the science/research itself at this point"

- Precisely why so many libertarians are skeptical of the science. Convenient that the conclusion the research, is more government control and spending on all environmental issues. ( In Time is week, it said to lower the impact of GW you should- eat food from local farmers…huh…wear green eyeshadow…sell your McMasion…see the disconnect?)
I would be more concerned when companies
are behind the research which plan to profit from say technology that prevents coastal flooding(I'm sure there are 1000 better examples, but you get the point). If such company is wrong the owners/investors have lost everything, thus an extremely strong incentive exists to be correct. If, the government was wrong, it has only gain more control and power – or "hooray!" has prevent a terrible disaster and we should rejoice it.

3. "I agree that we don't want the government running the show here, but with that said… perhaps some tweaking of emissions standards, energy efficiency, etc. could act as a catalyst for the private sector to begin battling global warming"

- Based on the above therefore I would disagree. I don't see the government solution as more effective or desirable than one that would emerge spontaneously in the absence of government intervention.
I have yet to mention the harmful effects wrought by government policies either because the problem of GW is less serious than believed or it is serious and the government picked many disastrous policies that were ineffective, unnecessary, and/or counterproductive.

trumpetbob15 April 11, 2007 at 2:03 pm

YouArgueSoBlindly,

Just a couple of quick questions for you since you seem to have all the answers.

1) If man isn't "puny," perhaps you can tell me how man can stop volcanos? They spew more junk into the air than the world's cars can ever. So, how do we stop them from erupting? If you can answer that, just imagine how many lives you will save from suffering the same fate as the residents of Pompeii.

2) If science has proved global warming, then perhaps someone could explain why the Ice Age ended. I still can't figure out how the Earth suddenly warmed up so the ice covering my home state of Michigan could melt when nobody was driving an SUV or running a factory. One nice thing about economics (which ties in with an earlier comment on this board) is that economists generally try to get large sample sets. If we use a conservative estimate and discuss the Earth's warming and cooling since the dinosaurs, about 65 million years, how can anyone reasonably say that the past 100 or 200 years is a representative sample? Statistics may not be considered useful by some of the fancy global warming scientists, but shouldn't the math win out? For example, saying that all gasoline in the country is selling for $3.49 because that is what the city of San Francisco's prices are is foolish and easily proven false. Thus, until scientists use a real sample and then predict global warming, there is a good reason to ignore their calls to make us all poor. If they don't have the common decency to prove their case, why should I give them the common decency of considering them scientists?

3) Which is more dangerous, poverty or global warming? Considering global warming "may" kill us in the future, though its mere existence hasn't been proven, poverty will kill people today. Poverty reduces life spans; that is a proven fact. So why exactly should we all agree to impoverish ourselves, reduce our lifespans, so that we could possibly eliminate global warming since even some of the "consensus" scientists say we can't do anything about it?

I will check back to see if you can answer my questions or if anyone can. Remember, without proof of some kind, there can be no truth. I can say the sky is green, but unless you see a green sky when you look up, the sky isn't green.

YouArgueSoBlindly April 14, 2007 at 6:32 pm

TrumpetBob, responses to your 3 "questions"

1. Volcanoes may spew out more "junk" than cars, I don't know much about volcanoes, but you dont specify what that "junk" is. What it isn't is C02, the main contributor to today's climate change problem. For a quick, more qualitative response check out this link. http://volcano.und.edu/vwdocs/frequent_questions/grp4/question458.html

2. How the Ice Age ended has to do with cycling. Instead of asking me to post the answer to that on a blog comment page, do a simple literature search and you will easily find that answer. In terms of your sample size, I understand your comment. That said, all of these things are already considered by today's climate change community (both the believers and skeptics). And while you say our sample size is only 100 to 200 years, consider that we have gathered so much information from the earth that we can break it into thousands of similarly sized samples. When we do that we see that this current period's data is highly analagous to that of the periods preceding ice ages. Science is able to tell us with great confidence that this is a matter of causation, not correlation (which would still be scary).

Perhaps you would rather us wait a few million years to decide if this problem is definitely real; we don't have that luxury. What we do know is from our knowledge of the earth's history is these changes in the earth can happen quickly, on the scale of decades and centuries.

Consider your San Francisco gas example. Sure the sample size isn't great, but what if from history we know that there is a direct relationship between the gas prices in San Francisco and the average US price? Then we should be able to use that knowledge to give us a good idea of what the average US price actually is. There will always be a measure of uncertainty, but that is reflected in the literature (and continually brought out by the current administration).

Statistics are definitely useful; the statistics that we have for the earth are the raw data input used in the models of the earth that we have today. If you so firmly believe in the use of statistics that should actually lead you to be less of a skeptic. The scientific models of today are based on mathematics and the basic conservation principles that are not theory, but well proven (mass, momentum, and energy conservation).

3. There is a basic problem with the premise in your third question, that we have to impoverish ourselves to deal with global warming. That is a whole issue of its own and one of the greatest misconceptions of the "debate". Attempting to tackle this problem will likely be economically beneficial in the short term and the long run for many different reasons. There are an increasing number of books and articles on this subject. I point you to a couple of examples, "Eco-nomics" by Richard L. Stroup and "You Can't Eat GNP" by Eric A. Davidson.

Also I point your attention to a study that came out just last week that showed that the most impoverished nations will be the most affected by global warming. You can find that on CNN's science page if you want.

Hope those answers help.

IFavorGW April 15, 2007 at 1:07 am

Wow, I never realized that science had so completely proven the causation between man-made CO2 and global warming that it is now established "fact"…

Of course, since I am a mere "thinking" human being, and not a "climatologist" (or is that "cosmotologist"?), I can't possibly understand anything a scientist says – so my opinion is merely a waste of everyone's time. (It would be nice to get into arguments where my knowledge and experience couldn't be challenged – because I'm perfect… like climatologists apparently are.)

Related to your questions/answers (YouArgueSoBlindly)…

1) Volcanoes spew out more "greenhouse" gases in a few hours than all the "greenhouse" gases ever produced by human industry (including cars) combined – ever. A volcano in Antarctica has continuously spewed out carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and numerous other greenhouse gases for as long as humans have been tracking the gases emitted. (BTW, the "hole in the ozone" – is right over that volcano.) So I'm not sure where you get your data that volcanoes don't emit greenhouse gases, but you have been misinformed.

2) Science "knows" and can "prove" causality in global warming is the height of arrogance. Science knows nothing of the sort. The clear science suggests that the Sun is the _only_ factor in this current warming cycle that can be suggested as having a clear causal link to the current micro warming trend.

3) Clearly the _entire_ global warming scam is a ploy to slow the economies of the western world so that the third-world and China can catch up economically. Kyoto protocol exempted India (one of the world's largest polluters – and far worse than the US), China, and the entire third-world. If global warming were really a serious threat – Kyoto would have required equally draconian rules from the "entire" earth, not just the wealthy nations of the west. The idea that "fighting" global warming will have any positive economic benefit to anyone is not just preposterous, it is an outright lie – told by the true adherents to the global warming religion.

Lastly, in the 1200s & 1300s the earth was as much as 7 degrees warmer (on average) than it is now… Why didn't the ice melt, the ocean levels rise, and the continents sink into the ocean back then? And here's a small challenge for you – draw a circle that represents all of the things a person would need to know to understand the earth's climate. Make the circle pretty large. Now, put a dot somewhere inside that circle. The dot represents the sum total of all human knowledge of the climate of earth. Explain to me how you can extrapolate that dot enough to fill the circle. (If you tell me that we know more than a dot I'm gonna laugh at you – because we both know that you're full of manure.)

YouArgueSoBlindly April 15, 2007 at 2:22 pm

I was not arguing volcanoes don't emit greenhouse gases. My point was this (apparently the link isn't working): Since the industrial revolution volcanoes have contributed on average ~ 3% of annual atmospheric C02 emissions, anthropogenic sources ~97%. And ironically, the ozone hole you speak of lets out entrapped heat, decreasing the effects of warming.

If you call the economic argument preposterous then you have either read nothing on the subject or handpicked only extremely conservative authors. I pointed you towards two books in my previous post that you will obviously choose to ignore; show me some legitimate sources that would argue the potential for net economic benefit .

Your causation argument and dot/circle "exercise" both just argue that today's science is inadequate to understand or deal with the problem. All I can say is that there will always be doubters, stubborn and often ignorant. And yet you point to the "clear science"; how did you decide what science is right and what is not? You admitted at the beginning of the article that you do not have a scientific background, thus it is odd that you are able to dig through the literature and determine what is legitimate and "clear" and what is not.

Morganja April 21, 2007 at 2:47 am

Does anyone remember where the Bubonic Plague came from?

1) There are those who claim to be Liberterians but abandon their alleged philosphy when it comes to externalities. It seems absolutely clear to me that a person has no right to force negative externalities onto me. Yet alleged Liberterians argue that they have the right to force me to breathe their exhaust fumes while I am sitting in my living room on my own property.

2) These same alleged Liberterians claim that either, and sometimes both, that we have no impact on the environment, or that the environment has no effect on us. Both startling positions which have absolutely no scientific backing. In fact, anyone who spends any time outside observing nature quickly realizes that the world around us interacts with itself in ways beyond the human capacity to ever fully understand. I use my economic training when I observe the world. The same way that a government interference in the economy leads to myriad unforeseen, and usually detrimental, consequences, so our meddling in the natural order in which we evolved, will lead to a myriad of unforeseen, and usually detrimental, consequences.

3) The callous disregard that these alleged Liberterians show for the possible terminal effects to me, my children and my species, by their behavior leads me to a ship analogy. When you are on a ship, and someone or a group of people act in a way that endangers the ship and the lives of everyone on the ship, and they refuse to be restrained, then they must be cast overboard. This is not a political statement. It is simply one of survival.

SupernovaT2 April 26, 2007 at 7:48 pm

Asked by Ethan Sklar:
"2) If science has proved global warming, then perhaps someone could explain why the Ice Age ended."

The current theory is based on Milankovitch cycles which you can read about at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milankovitch_cycles

SupernovaT2 April 26, 2007 at 8:16 pm

As to Russell Roberts' question at the top of this thread, I would not advocate placing more CO2 in the atmosphere to compensate for global cooling.
Increasing atmospheric CO2 has several known effects on the environment and probably more unknown ones. With more CO2 plants grow more vigorously and the chemical composition of the oceans change making them more acidic ( http://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/viewArticle.do?id=17726 ). Peter D. Ward's article "Impact from the Deep" (_Scientific American_ Oct. 2006, p64) warns that if atmospheric CO2 levels reach approximately 1,000 PPM by volume (current level is ~380 ppmv), then the chemocline will rise to the ocean surface releasing hydrogen sulfide. The hydrogen sulfide would destroy the ozone and kill most forms of life. This theory is an explanation for several mass extinctions in Earth's past.

If the goal is to compensate for global cooling, then other ideas could be used that would be more easily reversed, stopped or regulated when the desired warming is obtained. For example, we could paint our roofs black or put soot on snow to melt it faster.

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