Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Samuelson on Hot Air in Global Warming

A good piece by Robert Samuelson, Washingtonpost bringing (my pov) sanity in global warming debate. A thing rarely found sadly.

He begins:

You could be excused for thinking that we'll soon do something serious about global warming.
However you would be wrong:

Don't be fooled. The dirty secret about global warming is this: We have no solution. About 80 percent of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), the main sources of man-made greenhouse gases. Energy use sustains economic growth, which -- in all modern societies -- buttresses political and social stability. Until we can replace fossil fuels or find practical ways to capture their emissions, governments will not sanction the deep energy cuts that would truly affect global warming.
There are others who would disagree with him on the non-feasibility now of shifting to non-fossil fuel technologies. The most audacious of these proposals I've seen you can download and read for free here--is from Amory Lovins, called Winning the Oil Endgame.

My heart wants to believe Lovins, but my head tells me I think Samuelson is right.

Samuelson then states:

Considering this reality, you should treat the pious exhortations to "do something" with skepticism, disbelief or contempt. These pronouncements are (take your pick) naive, self-interested, misinformed, stupid or dishonest. Politicians mainly want to be seen as reducing global warming. Companies want to polish their images and exploit markets created by new environmental regulations. As for editorialists and pundits, there's no explanation except superficiality or herd behavior.

The two key issues as Samuelson notes, are growing need from countries like China/India and the difficulty of quickly moving to a post-carbon future:

Poor countries won't sacrifice economic growth -- lowering poverty, fostering political stability -- to placate the rich world's global warming fears. Why should they? On a per-person basis, their carbon dioxide emissions are only about one-fifth the level of rich countries. In Africa, less than 40 percent of the population even has electricity. Nor will existing technologies, aggressively deployed, rescue us. The IEA studied an "alternative scenario" that simulated the effect of 1,400 policies to reduce fossil fuel use. Fuel economy for new U.S. vehicles was assumed to increase 30 percent by 2030; the global share of energy from "renewables" (solar, wind, hydropower, biomass) would quadruple, to 8 percent. The result: by 2030, annual carbon dioxide emissions would rise 31 percent instead of 55 percent. The concentration levels of emissions in the atmosphere (which presumably cause warming) would rise.

He then goes on to criticize so-called cap and trade policies:

I do not say we should do nothing, but we should not delude ourselves. In the United States, the favored remedy is "cap and trade." It's environmental grandstanding -- politicians pretending they're doing something. Companies would receive or buy quotas ("caps") to emit carbon dioxide. To exceed the limits, they'd acquire some other company's unused quotas ("trade"). How simple. Just order companies to cut emissions. Businesses absorb all the costs.
But in practice, no plausible "cap and trade" program would significantly curb global warming. To do that, quotas would have to be set so low as to shut down the economy. Or the cost of scarce quotas would skyrocket and be passed along to consumers through much higher energy prices. Neither outcome seems likely. Quotas would be lax. The program would be a regulatory burden with little benefit. It would also be a bonanza for lobbyists, lawyers and consultants, as industries and localities besieged Washington for exceptions and special treatment. Hello, influence-peddling and sleaze.

I have suggested along the lines of Bjorn Lomborg to deal with the problems we can deal with now first. Clean water, clean air, crash courses if you will in renewable energies, post carbon future, alleviate poverty, AIDS/HIV medicines to the poor.

Then we have to fire-proof the planet. Some of the climate change will be good for certain beings (including some humans), much perhaps will not. The poor will likely suffer the worst. The other aspect Samuelson does not consider, as per Kurzweil, is an emergent technological change (nanotech.) that could in theory open up technical possibilities not currently possible or even imaginable.


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