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Climate Policy: Why it’s Irrational to be a Public “Denier”

April 19th, 2013 · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

The recent collapse of the carbon trading market in the E.U. has prompted me to put in writing something I’ve been convinced of for some time — that skeptics of man-made catastrophic global warming should just keep quiet. My opinion is that they need to spend less time talking about the economics of carbon taxes and more time studying game theory.

Here’s what I’d tell a vocal denier:

  • You’re not going to convince anyone.
  • Live in a highly urbanized area? You’ll lose half of your friends.
  • Are your friends mostly under 50? (they didn’t live through the strikingly similar — and thoroughly discredited — “limits to growth” movement of the 70’s) You’ll lose half of those too.
  • This issue likely won’t be resolved in your lifetime, so you can’t gloat if you turn out to be right.
  • Even if you are vindicated in life, it will be like the sages of the cold war — no one will care, and those who were dead wrong will just move the goalposts and claim victory.
  • If you’re wrong, you stand the chance of going down in history as the devil.
  • Expensive carbon taxes will never happen. Religious Gaia types will be the first to defect when it hits their pocketbooks.
  • Expensive carbon taxes will never happen. Anyone who has seriously studied cartels and economic coalition knows aligned carbon-limiting agreements and enforcement among scores of countries is impossible. It just takes one country to cheat or refuse to stifle their economies by participating and it all collapses.

On that last point, Bryan Walsh of Time said it best: “if carbon trading can’t make it in Europe, it can’t make it anywhere.” He’s right. It can’t make it anywhere.

Am I being too jaded about how pocketbooks override ideals? Consider 2009 — when the Republican deniers were held in check by congress and the president. No fewer than 5 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) carbon tax bills were proposed by Democrats concerned about co2. Despite a fillibuster-proof majority, none made it to the floor.

Me, what do I expouse? I am adopting the line of the Economist. Despite the fact that “temperatures have not really risen over the past ten years.” (15 really…) We need to take “wise precautions.” I wholeheartedly advocate that our politicians spend as much time and effort as possible researching, discussing, and drafting bills that can help prevent catastrophe. They need to divert their attention away from meeting with lobbyists and instead study the climate.


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Steve Roth // Apr 22, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    “Religious Gaia types will be the first to defect when it hits their pocketbooks.”

    The millions who buy Priuses?

    Smarter or stupider than the ones who buy Ranger Rovers?

    “Better” or “worse” motives?

  • 2 Steve Roth // Aug 10, 2013 at 10:12 am

    “the price of emission allowances had fallen so low ”

    This *always* happens. Producers make this massive sky-is-falling hue and cry about how sulfur-dioxide restrictions will impose crippling costs on the industry.

    But when those costs get priced by the market, they turn out to be spectacularly overblown. The costs of mitigating SD ended up being far lower than even the most ardent regulation enthusiasts predicted.

    This *always* happens.

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