Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Perspective on Global Temperature Changes

As I sit in my warm kitchen looking out at a raging blizzard here in the Midwest, I am reminded of the need to post a link to this wonderful piece by Pete DuPont that sets out an historical perspective on global temperature changes.

We would do well to consider this before responding to alarmist politics. If we are to adopt policies that will constrain economic growth and the immediate quality of life of citizens, including those in developing nations, we had better have our ducks in a row.

Here is another thought to consider before you buy a "CO2 Offset" from nativeenergy or any other source. Let's assume you wish to reduce CO2 emissions by purchasing a windmill, perhaps next to your place in Martha's Vineyard. (Ooops, I forgot that the beautiful people who vacation there rejected that idea because of aesthetic concerns. But I'm sure they do care about the environment -- really deeply! )

So, let's say you put the windmill somewhere else - like next to some farmers in the Midwest whose complaints are easily ignored because you live in a 20 room mansion far from them. Unless those windmills can provide a reliable source of power for cost equal to or less than the cost of conventional power, you have invested inefficiently. (The economics of this are hard to gauge, as up-front costs are high, but marginal costs appear low. Production varies dramatically depending on wind speeds at that particular location. Moreover, the resulting power suffers from intermittency, which makes it a poor substitute for conventional power unless you are willing to sit in the dark when the winds are calm. For more on these topics, see, e.g., (2003); .)

In other words, you are paying an incremental cost for the privilege of being green. A similar feature occurs when you buy the hybrid vehicle instead of the conventional one. As discussed in previous posts, that proves to be a poor investment based solely on the gasoline savings. Government subsidies might help you, but in reality those are contributions from the public for the "green" privilege.

If it makes people feel better to spend their money on the green privilege, good for them. But consider this. If your motivation is based on stopping global warming, your spending may not make a difference -- or much of one. If you really want to make a difference in the world, there are many ways to do so where there is no doubt at all about your impact. Providing clean water sources, which Creighton faculty member Dr. Gary Michels has done in the Dominican Republic, will save lives immediately. So will killing mosquitos responsible for the spread of malaria, or providing healthcare workers to aid in stopping the spread of diseases. Or if environmental quality is your thing, there is a lot of trash dumping and waste to clean up in this world. These activities pay off directly and certainly.

In light of the alternatives, it is puzzling to understand why the speculative results of environmental intervention in global warming can generate so much bluster, when these other needs do not. Alarmist exaggeration, such as predicting a rise in sea level in terms of feet, rather than inches - a distortion that has since been exposed -- is designed to make people worry and act out of fear. We can only hope cooler heads will prevail.

There is another possibility. Perhaps because the global warming can be addressed through bluster alone, while it takes real work do accomplish the other things, makes it so attractive to those with political agendas that are built on harnessing fear. Politicians are good at bluster, and you can do bluster work from the comfort of your jet and your 20 room mansion. Real work comes with a little more difficulty.



Shawn said...

Ed, you are not really attacking the fact global warming is taking place. Instead you are attacking the actions in place to prevent global warming. This is a conceding position to climate change.

I think what you are saying is just. We currently do not have the best solution to stop climate change. However, let's try to find a constructive way to solve the problem.

Tom Friedman suggests charging $3.50 per gallon of gas. In order to offset the strain on poor and middle class, we will allow a tax credit to the middle and poor income brackets. This will, in effect, force us toward innovation toward reducing heavy oil usage.

Jon said...

Hey, I have an idea, how about instead of just taxing gasoline, why not just tax income at 90%. Then we won't have any discretionary income to spend on those evil fossil fuels.

Also, in a side note, don't you think that the poor also contribute to pollution. I mean have you seen the cloud of smoke that comes from those 1972 Gran Marquis' driving down the road.