Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on September 14, 2012

in Cleaned by Capitalism, Environment

… is from Matt Ridley’s August 17 Wired essay, “Apocalypse Not: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry About End Times“; this quotation was also featured recently in the Wall Street Journal‘s “Notable & Quotable”:

In the climate debate, we hear a lot from those who think disaster is inexorable if not inevitable, and a lot from those who think it is all a hoax. We hardly ever allow the moderate “lukewarmers” a voice: those who suspect that the net positive feedbacks from water vapor in the atmosphere are low, so that we face only 1 to 2 degrees Celsius of warming this century; that the Greenland ice sheet may melt but no faster than its current rate of less than 1 percent per century; that net increases in rainfall (and carbon dioxide concentration) may improve agricultural productivity; that ecosystems have survived sudden temperature lurches before; and that adaptation to gradual change may be both cheaper and less ecologically damaging than a rapid and brutal decision to give up fossil fuels cold turkey.

We’ve already seen some evidence that humans can forestall warming-related catastrophes. A good example is malaria, which was once widely predicted to get worse as a result of climate change. Yet… [m]alaria-specific mortality plummeted in the first decade of the current century by an astonishing 25 percent. The weather may well have grown more hospitable to mosquitoes during that time. But any effects of warming were more than counteracted by pesticides, new antimalarial drugs, better drainage, and economic development.

Just as policy can make the climate crisis worse—mandating biofuels has not only encouraged rain forest destruction, releasing carbon, but driven millions into poverty and hunger—technology can make it better. If plant breeders boost rice yields, then people may get richer and afford better protection against extreme weather. If nuclear engineers make fusion (or thorium fission) cost-effective, then carbon emissions may suddenly fall. If gas replaces coal … then carbon emissions may rise more slowly. … We will combat our ecological threats in the future by innovating to meet them as they arise, not through the mass fear stoked by worst-case scenarios.

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