4.05.2009

Cool It


I've always been a bit of an agnostic when it came to global warming, choosing to go along with the cause if not the reasons, because of important parallel considerations such as finite resources, nervous geopolitics, and other negative externalities. This book only strengthens my contrarian position: "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming." While agreeing that global warming is in part man-made, the author makes the following compelling arguments:

* Much of the publicity has been sensational, alarmist, and in some cases false: good policy is hard to come by when a dire tone can said to trump all other concerns, and heart-tugging images like stranded polar bears misrepresents the fact that the polar bear populations that are struggling are those in places that are getting colder and in fact the majority are blossoming because they live in places that are getting warmer.

* Any negative effects associated with warmer high temps will be more than offset by positive effects associated with warmer low temps: any increase in deaths due to higher highs will be more than made up for large decreases in deaths due to higher lows.

* Only the most herculean efforts to reverse climate change will have even minor effects: billions upon billions of dollars can be spent on the kinds of things required in Kyoto I and Kyoto II, but they may only lower temps by fractions of one degree and/or forestall warming by a year or two over the next century.

* Those efforts are vastly costlier when compared to other things we can be spending our time and money on to improve the quality of life for billions of humans today: for vastly less, we can improve the plight of billions in the present, and in doing so elevate personal and national incomes today so that we can better adapt to a warmer world tomorrow.

Do we need to take global warming seriously? Absolutely; if anything, the author's complaint with today's debate is that it deflects us from properly prioritizing our scarce resources towards the best uses. Let's be mindful of the environment, yes; but let's be mindful of it in ways that do the greatest good for the greatest number, both today and tomorrow.
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