Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I don't believe we're on the eve of destruction... that guy told him over and over and over again back in 1965.

Quoth Dave: I'm curious about both your views on (4) that we shouldn't do anything about global warming - what's the rationale?

My first assertion is grounded in all the projections of global CO2 levels I have seen. The Kyoto protocol will not make a hell of a lot of difference to world temperatures in 2100, even if everyone implemented it seriously today. It is just a ruinously costly sentimental gesture. Anything less ambitious than Kyoto will have even less effect, and will be a proportionately less ruinous but equally sentimental gesture.

My second assertion is that the rate or degree of global warming to be expected if we burn all the coal we know about in the next century is not unprecedented; it is not even unprecedented in a ‘happens once every major extinction event’ way. Any reasonable big series of volcanic eruptions, or asteroid impact dislodging a lot of methane hydrates, could be expected to have a similar effect. It almost certainly happened within the last twenty thousand years. An event that is that common doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans to the environment, geologically speaking. Thus global warming is not going to mess up the environment in some unprecedented ‘naughty humans messing with things they should not wot of’ way.

Basically I see two ways to fix the problem:

(1) A massively coercive one in which Al Gore seizes power, conquers the world and sterilizes everyone, reducing the worlds population so that it can be supported on a ‘pre-fossil-fuel era’ technology. This is unacceptable to me for a variety of reasons.

(2) An innovation-driven one in which we whisk through as quickly as possible to the ‘post-fossil-fuel era’, keeping economic growth high to improve the standard of living in India and China et al. I strongly believe that any half measures like Kyoto will just slow this process and are hence a bad thing in absolute terms. Even if the West is taken over by New Age fruit loops- case in point, my university now offers degrees in homeopathy- I am pretty sure India and China c.2050 will invest in developing the technical fixes that do exist, and that are/will be economical. Anyone who reads New Scientist knows that possible technical fixes to one aspect of the problem or another are bubbling up all the time.

Essentially I am in agreement with
Bjorn Lomberg
, of ‘Skeptical Environmentalist’ infamy. Our descendants (mine and Marco’s, I mean) will be richer and smarter than us, and can solve the problem.


Marco said...

You were right about this possibly being a dangerous subject - I am dangerously close to agreeing with all of that post - Bjorn Lomberg is my hero also! I am as usual less optimistic than you about future technical fixes - We will find more, and more diverse ways of polluting the environment than just CO2, with better technology, as well as finding fixes for various unexpected things. The one thing I do find positive about Kyoto is the emerging concept of emissions trading. This concept (in general) is a proven way to resolve various "tragedy of the commons" situations all over the world very cheaply. In other words, we have some of the cheap technological fixes - we just have to move way beyond CO2 and move to all the other "commons"

Dr. Clam said...

My reading of history leads me to believe that the 'pie-in-the-sky' engineering engineering fix is usually more achievable than the 'hard-headed realist' social engineering fix. Be of good cheer! People are clever at figuring stuff out, and they are especially clever at figuring out how to do what you don't want them to. Even experiments on social engineering to solve problems where everyone personally knows lots of people who have died because of the problems (e.g., smoking, seat-belts)have been less than completely successful and so so slow...

Dave said...

Ah, fair enough. In a lot of respect I agree with all of the above (have never heard of but will duly read up on this Lomberg feller of yours).

I guess I'm just not looking forward to the interim period from 'massive irresponsibly pollutant oil-based economies' to 'economic collapse due to increasingly avoidable dependency on a limited resource' to 'these wind and tide farms actually look kinda pretty in the post-catastrophe sunset, huh?'