Mitigating Factors

Roger Pielke Jr has posted a letter to his Prometheus website that he wrote in response to an op/ed by CEI Adjunct Fellow Dr Henry Miller, which commended Dr Pielke Jr for drawing attention to the benefits of adaptation to global warming.  Dr Pielke Jr says:

Any effective approach to climate policy will require that we both mitigate and adapt. The urge to present adaptation and mitigation as somehow in opposition is a reflex shared by those on opposing sides of the debate over greenhouse gas emissions. On climate policy we must walk and chew gum at the same time.

Well, perhaps.  Both adaptation and mitigation strategies have to be worth the effort to be worth doing.  CEI actually strongly supports certain mitigation efforts, such as free flight or dynamic pricing of electricity.  The thing these mitigation efforts have in common is that they are “no regrets” options – things worth doing anyway that just happen to have the effect of reducing emissions.  When we get beyond that and if the policy options come with a price tag attached — whether that be in terms of jobs lost, increased emissions elsewhere because industries are forced overseas or simple opportunity cost — then we have to assess whether the benefits outweigh the costs.  For mitigation policies, that means that the policy must actually be effective in reducing global warming – and Kyoto and all the other US-proposed policies are not – and also have a cost less than the costs of not reducing global warming by the amount that the policy would avert.  We are not yet aware of any mitigation policy that passes both these tests.  Adaptation policies, on the other hand, do appear to be beneficial, particularly in so far as they build resilience to events that might occur whether or not global warming exacerbates them.  Taking measures to reduce the effects of malaria is a good example.

All of which suggests we should be undertaking the adaptation policies now while searching for genuinely cost-effective mitigation policies.  We may indeed need to walk and chew gum at the same time eventually, but we need to get the gum out of the packet first.   And we can do that while walking.