The suggestion that <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />U.S. senators are considering inflicting severe damage on the U.S. economy to mitigate some of the supposed effects of global warming is worrying. It suggests that “the world's greatest deliberative body” hasn't deliberated anywhere near enough.
First we should remember that, even though it now seems that mankind probably is contributing to a warming trend, considerable uncertainties remain in our knowledge of what is likely to happen in the future. This is apparent when we consider that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that global temperatures could rise over the next hundred years by between 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit and 10 degrees Fahrenheit, a 400 percent margin of error.
Moreover, those projections are based not so much on science as on economic projections. Inquiries into those projections by expert economists suggest they are both methodologically unsound and also far from realistic. They predict, for example, that countries such as Zimbabwe, Vanuatu and North Korea will overtake the United States in per capita income by 2100. If this is the case, global warming may be the least of our worries.
Next, not enough effort has been put into assessing the likely costs of any damage caused by global warming compared with the costs of measures to control warming. This is an important issue, because it gets to the heart of the political involvement with global warming. Why should we take action to prevent it if those actions will damage us more?
The standard answer from environmentalists is that the costs of global warming damage are “incalculable,” which amounts to economic illiteracy. Yet we know that measures so far proposed could cost the world over a trillion dollars per year. That's a high price to pay when we don't really know what we're preventing.
Senators need to take a step back and ask themselves what they really want to achieve. The plan proposed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) would indeed cost the United States less than economic straitjackets like the Kyoto Protocol, at a paltry $331 billion by 2025. Yet it would have no measurable effect on global temperature, reducing it by only one-hundredth of a degree by 2050.
To reduce global temperature significantly would require much more drastic action. Americans would suffer, and the rest of the world would suffer as less American money was available to invest in their countries. We need to be a lot surer that what we're doing is worth the sacrifice before we commit to that. The Senate has only just begun to scratch the surface of this incredibly complex issue.
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