Nobel prize-winning NYT columnist Paul Krugman has been doing some terrific writing on the economics of climate action (see Climate action “now might actually help the economy recover from its current slump” by giving “businesses a reason to invest in new equipment and facilities” and Krugman strongly endorses Waxman-Markey).

Now he has turned his attention to fellow economist Martin Feldstein, who recycled a lame WSJ piece into an uber-lame Washington Post piece.

[Note to self: If Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt keeps recycling garbage, you’re going to have to stop criticizing him for being anti-environmental.]

At 5:02 am (!) today, Krugman blogged:

Ugh. Martin Feldstein has been making sense on macro issues, but this is a really bad column, on multiple levels.

On the most basic level: Waxman-Markey eventually calls for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80 percent, so looking only at the 10-year target, for about a 15 percent reduction is deeply misleading.

Beyond that, Feldstein says this:

“Since the U.S. share of global CO2 production is now less than 25 percent (and is projected to decline as China and other developing nations grow), a 15 percent fall in U.S. CO2 output would lower global CO2 output by less than 4 percent.”

Um, in the absence of a cap-and-trade system, emissions would grow by quite a lot. So the right comparison is not with current emissions levels but with what they would have been in the absence of the policy — a much bigger number. That’s the sort of comparison economists always make — it’s definitely weird for Feldstein not to see this.

Finally, and most important, anyone who has been following this issue at all knows that saying

“The U.S. should wait until there is a global agreement on CO2 that includes China and India before committing to costly reductions in the United States.”

is basically saying let the planet burn. The only chance we have of a global agreement is if the United States moves first; it will quickly be followed by other advanced countries, and then we sit down and use a combination of carrots and the threat of big sticks to get developing countries into the fold.

Precisely.