Taking on the latest argument from climate do-nothings
OK, I lied, there are two things I wanted to mention from the Revkin interview.
Revkin says this:
When will we begin to apply the hedging behavior that we do routinely in our life like buying fire insurance? You don’t buy fire insurance because you know your house is going to burn down. But we do it routinely and our banks require us to do it. When are we going to realize that we need to apply this to other parts of our life?
But then later, says this:
I’ve written a bit about the economics. The Energy Department cherry-picked the information that allowed President Bush to abandon his campaign pledge to regulate CO2 from power plants. And EPA and others protested this and were ignored. There has been an inadequate focus on the quality of the economic analyses and forecasts. They are highly suspect and have far more wiggle room and error than any climate model.
I would suggest that the first comment attacks a bit of a straw man — at least in terms of state-of-the-art arguments from climate do-nothings — and the second one shows why.
The 2006 model of do-nothing argument is this: "We don’t know exactly how much damage global warming will do; it may be that we could adapt to a warmer world fairly easily. And reducing CO2 emissions substantially would cripple our economy. So the smart thing to do is keep searching for a technological fix and otherwise keep the economy strong."
Or to put it in Revkin’s terms: "The risk of fire is uncertain; fire insurance would bankrupt us; so let’s look instead for ways to fire-proof our house."
This is a sneaky, insidious argument, and I don’t think many climate-change advocates have caught up with it.
I hope to write more about this later, but for now I’ll just mention that there are two ways of coming at it.
The first, and easier, is to show that the risks are unacceptably high. After all, we’re not just going to get a new climate — as long as we keep accelerating change, we’re going to get a constantly changing climate. No human society can "adapt" to that.
The second is trickier. It’s to make the argument that reducing CO2 emissions can be done economically — perhaps even at a net economic benefit. As I said here, making these calculations is almost unimaginably difficult. But it must be done.