Monday, June 03, 2002

Jane Galt has gone over the numbers detailing the economic impact of Kyoto (or one version of them, anyway, I've seen several) and has come to the conclusion that Kyoto simply costs too much, so it shouldn't be ratified. Some choice comments:

But serious carbon controls, the kind that would really dent global warming, would take us back to approximately the economic level last seen when global warming was not a problem. That's 1850. But say we're willing to accept a slower growth of global warming. 1900? Ouch. 1950? Doesn't sound so bad? Turn off the appliances, baby: your dishwasher, air conditioning, washer-dryer, and refrigerator are a major factor in global warming. Get rid of the second car; hell, half of you get rid of the first car. No air conditioning at work, either. That computer sucks a fair amount of juice; so does that plane trip you took to visit Mom -- and the Hawaiian vacation you were planning. Ever wonder why those resort communities in the Catskills and Poconos are dying? Because people can afford to go somewhere better, these days.

Huh? Yeah, maybe, or maybe the technology in question will be forced to become significantly cleaner and/or more energy efficient. And so what if people get rid of the second car, and some get rid of the first (or simply buy a much more energy-efficient car?) This sort of thing assumes that the widespread use of individual automobiles is some sort of unalloyed good whose elimination would ruin society. Couldn't people just take the subway? This sort of argument seems to assume that the entire basis of american technological and economic growth is cheap energy, which is utterly ludicrous. For someone with such a great faith in markets, Jane seems curiously averse to the market's ability to handle the correction of the huge subsidy of dirty energy that energy consumers currently enjoy.

In a similar vein...

Maybe that's what we need to do. But that's going to be the price of serious global warming controls -- a serious decline in our standard of living. Or a serious conversion to Nuclear, and hey, I'm all for it.

Um... or any number of other renewable energy resources. If the choice is between adopting wide-scale wind, solar, and tidal energy and turning off all our appliances, I'm pretty sure there'd be a lot of turbines and solar panels getting built in the near future. Or, for that matter, a large-scale switch from coal and gasoline to natural gas.

Here's the key question, though: if not Kyoto, then what? Jane didn't get into the environmental science aspect, but it's getting harder and harder for the typical industry fronts to bleat that global warming won't have an impact, and there certainly isn't much of a debate left within most of the scientific community outside of the aforementioned industry shills and economists-fronting-as-environmental-scientists such as Bjorn Lomborg. Those who are arguing that Kyoto will have a huge economic impact that can never be recovered are somewhat missing the point: that there already is an impact, and just because it's a long-term negative externality doesn't mean that it should be ignored. While economics is extremely useful for gauging the cost of something, environmental science seems to be showing that there could be a point where no amount of money could fix the problem and no known (or predicted) technological trick that could fix it even if the money existed. The problem with arguing against Kyoto (or environmentalism in general, which is what Jane is really talking about) is that the price is already being paid, and even if the process of eliminating this subsidizing of dirty energy is painful, it's one that needs to be dealt with sooner or later. The cost is only going to go up and the economic arguments against it are never going to change until it's far too late.

To paraphrase Reagan yet again: If not us, who? If not now, when?

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