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More Humility, Please, About Climate-Change Policies

At EconLog, David Henderson has an excellent post exposing CBS News’s unmistakable bias on the issue of climate change. Frequent commenter Thomas Hutcheson posted, in response, this remark:

“like the idea that if we don’t do a lot now, we will have big trouble within a few years.”

Crudely put, but the sooner we tax net emissions of CO2 and methane, (admittedly that is not “a lot”) the lower the tax will need to be to achieve any given target CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

In response to Mr. Hutcheson’s remark, I posted this comment – a comment (here very slightly modified) that repeats a point that I make often, but one that is consistently ignored by far too many people:

Mr. Hutcheson: You write as if you have solid information confirming that the best way to deal with climate change is to reduce emissions of CO2 and methane. I understand that nearly everyone assumes that reducing greenhouse-gas emissions is the only, or at least the unquestionably best, means of dealing with climate change. But this assumption is no more than that: an assumption – and, at that, an assumption taken on faith.

We have, as far as I know, no solid information showing that the costs of efforts to reduce CO2 emissions (by whatever amount) are worth the resulting benefits. What would be sacrificed by such efforts? And how do we know that the value of these sacrifices would be less than the value of what would be sacrificed if humanity dealt with climate change instead in some alternative manner – say, by building higher seawalls and more air-conditioning? Or by arranging to increase the earth’s albedo? Or by reducing government-erected barriers to the construction and use of nuclear-power plants? Or perhaps even by simply suffering climate-change’s negative (along with its positive) consequences? Or by some combination of these (and other) means of dealing with climate change without reducing emissions of CO2?

I do not deny that perhaps in the mind of god the best way to deal with climate change is to reduce, or even to eliminate completely ASAP, emissions of CO2. But having no access to god’s mind, I can admit this possibility only as, well, a possibility – one among countless alternative possibilities.

The core point here is that no one – not St. Greta of Stockholm, not Pres. Biden, not Al Gore, not you, no one – has access to the mind of god. Even putting aside the fact that there is (as David correctly points out) serious debate among serious scientists about many aspects of the climate-change question (see, e.g., Steven Koonin’s excellent 2021 book, Unsettled?), we simply have no reason to know if – and, if so, by how much – reductions in CO2 emissions are an appropriate tool to use to deal with climate change. Given this lack of adequate information, it’s highly unscientific to endorse taxes on carbon emissions as if the case for such taxes has been scientifically established. That case has not been so established. Not by a long shot.