Global Warming, True or False, Has No Bearing on the Environmental Question
After I wrote of A Pigovian Solution to Global Warming, Say Lee wrote:
Well, here is one disincentive for sure.
I've just finished watching 'The Great Global Warming Swindle' on Google Video here (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4520665474899458831), after having been alerted to it by this article (http://www.tbo.com/news/opinion/editorials/MGB7L3GIHZE.html).
The video features a panel of notable scientists from US, Canada, UK, Japan, Israel who claim that the man-made global warming movement has evolved into a climate change orthodoxy such that dissenters are branded as heretics and likened to holocaust deniers. They claim that global warming is driven by sun, or rather sun spot activity, and CO2 is irrelevant. And that there is a corruption of the peer review process in IPCC.
But their "claims" are not without basis, showing a long-term correlation between sun spot activity and temperature change and a several hundred year lag of CO2 change behind temperature change.
How are we to make of these?
Not being an amateur scientist or climatologist (let alone a professional one), I have never considered it my place to gauge conflicting claims about global warming and the environment. While I certainly do not agree with the stand taken by extremists who believe we need to get rid of much of modern society if humanity is to stand a chance, neither do I think that global warming is a huge hoax.
It's a bit wishy-washy, but at the present, I think the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. I am not sure about the degree to which global warming is actually real and dangerous, but I am quite confident that mankind does contribute — at least to a certain extent — to the changes in the climate that have been observed.
Although I am not fond of using an argument based on authority, it also seems difficult to refute the ever-increasing number of scientists and governments who declare global warming to be a major threat. There would have to be a major smoking gun to prove that virtually everything these people have been saying is wrong, and I don't see that smoking gun just yet.
Even the poster boys of the global warming skeptic movement such as Bjorn Lomborg, who famously wrote The Skeptical Environmentalist, don't deny that global warming is a problem. They just think it pales in importance with other, more pressing issues such as poverty.
It's impossible to deny that the scientific community has been incredibly vindictive at times in how it responds to people such as Lomborg. I still remember how Scientific American treated Lomborg as a crank, without really addressing the basis of his arguments. But does this in itself, or in combination with the other evidence we have, constitute a debunking of global warming? That's hard to believe.
I personally do not care that much about global warming. It seems like a real macro issue, but to me focusing on global warming alone is a very micro thing to do. It totally overshadows the overarching problem of pollution. Pollution in general imposes great external costs on society that must be internalised.
Even if it were true that global warming is a hoax, would this reduce the gallons of acid rain that fall on the earth every year? Would it cut the number of people who suffer from cancers and ailments caused by our blatant disregard for the impact of our actions on the environment?
If we had licence to log all the forests we wished, if we had licence to fish the hell out of the oceans, if we had licence to turn the entire planet into a concrete jungle, simply because global warming turns out to be a lie, does this change the fact that we end up destroying our great natural heritage? Does it eliminate the costs we impose on ourselves and our children by destroying the beauty of the gifts God has granted us?
These external costs are costs that must be eliminated by measures such as Pigovian taxes and subsidies, as I mentioned in my earlier article. Whether global warming is real or not, it has no bearing on the costs we impose by disregarding the effects of our actions on the environment — and indirectly, on ourselves.
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