Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on July 29, 2022

in Environment, Myths and Fallacies, Seen and Unseen

… is from page 208 of former Caltech physics professor and provost – and former Energy Department undersecretary during the Obama administration – Steven Koonin’s superb 2021 book, Unsettled? What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters (emphases original):

The could question is very different from the question of “What should we do?” Any discussion of how the world should respond to a changing climate is best informed by scientific certainties and uncertainties. But it’s ultimately a discussion of values – one that weighs development, environment, and intergenerational and geographical equities in light of imperfect projections of future climates.

DBx: This point is vitally important and, because it’s frequently overlooked, must frequently be repeated. There is no ‘objective,’ scientifically determinable ‘optimal’ collective response to climate change that exists independently of the subjective value judgments, preferences, and expectations of each of the nearly eight billion people alive today. Professor Jones, pundit Smith, or politician Snort can write, talk, and pontificate until their hair falls out about what ‘should’ be done, but even the best-intentioned and best-informed person can at best make only an educated guess about what ‘should’ be done. A practical implication of this reality is that the range of disagreement among reasonable people about what ‘should’ be done is very wide.

My position on this matter is that to ‘combat’ climate change very little should be done collectively, that is, by governments. While the climate is heating, and while human industrial activity is indeed contributing to this heating, we simply know too little about, among other variables, (1) what changes in human industrial activity will do and when to the climate, (2) what government-engineered changes in economic activity will do to the economy (and, hence, to human well-being), (3) how both the costs and the benefits of centralized, government-directed adjustments to climate change compare to the costs and the benefits of decentralized, market-directed adjustments to climate change – decentralized changes many of which centralized, government-directed changes will either make impossible or unattractive to pursue.

The above uncertainties reveal not only that the precise rates at which carbon taxes “should” be set are impossible to determine ‘scientifically,’ but also impossible to determine in practice is whether or not we should use carbon taxes at all as opposed to not intervening at all.

Contrary to the claims of too many people, including economists, there is no clean-cut case for taxing carbon emissions (or, I say for the record, for any other intervention to ‘address’ climate change).

Add a Comment    Share Share    Print    Email

Previous post:

Next post: