Monday, June 22, 2015

Climate Pessimism

My friends in the climate denialist camp like to call themselves skeptics. They call me a climate alarmist. I prefer to call myself a climate pessimist, by which I mean than anthropogenic climate change is happening, probably going to be catastrophic, and unlikely to be avoided, mostly because humans are too foolish, or more precisely, too poorly organized to cope with the challenges presented. Ezra Klein has promoted his own version of climate pessimism here, and while I largely agree with him, I think he still underestimates the difficulties.

Democratic Presidential candidate Martin O'Malley has advanced what is widely regarded as a serious climate plan, but I'm not buying it. Supposedly he wants to eliminate fossil fuels in 35 years. As the saying goes, if frogs had fur, the world could be made safe for chinchillas. The problem is how to get there from here. His vague mix of cap and trade and efficiency measures won't cut it. The world has been fooling around with cap and trade for a decade or so now and essentially all that has happened is that a new market for speculators has been opened.

Moreover, what happens in the US will be increasing irrelevant to the global carbon budget - only concerted global action has a chance to affect it. The only idea with a chance, I think, is a global carbon tax, imposed on all goods, with the proceeds used to promote renewable energy and efficiency. Such a tax would have fierce opposition everywhere, and the economic consequences would likely be ferocious. Energy would inevitably become more expensive, and the connection between oil production and global gdp growth is very strong.

Perhaps a very small such tax could be implemented, with the hope that more serious measures could be put to work as the consequences of global warming become more manifest. Every good pessimist hopes to be proven wrong, but I'm not optimistic.