Suppose you believe the things that most people who understand the science believe:
- that the changes we are imposing on the world are huge and dangerous
- that the impacts follow the causes by some decades
- that we have a moral obligation not to trash the whole planet in the future
Then suppose you grant that, as an especially egregious op-ed by Holman Jenkins in the Wall Street Journal has it today:
Our political system has been looking at the problem of climate change for a generation, and lack of action is not due to the machinations of big oil – but to the inability of policy to bridge a giant chasm between proposed costs and benefits. Even if carbon’s guilt is assumed, the economics are far from certain that it wouldn’t be cheaper just to endure a changing climate.
You would conclude that the word “cheaper” in this case is not an example of frugality but of shallowness. You would try to find out how this sort of shallowness managed to position itself as the arbiter of long-range decision making. You would seek intellectually sound alternatives that didn’t yield results absurdly out of line with any remotely moral position that doesn’t have a direct line from God on the date certain of the Rapture.
Then there’s the concluding paragraph:
Voters and their representatives then could at least contemplate supporting a climate policy on cost-benefit grounds, rather than on the religious posturing that Al Gore and others adopt to push what they can’t sell rationally.
Yes, of course, Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore. Who’s the rational one here? (Of course, if it weren’t Al Gore it would be somebody else.) This isn’t about personality cults, it’s about physics and biology.
As for costs and benefits, I have been arguing all along that you need to attend to the worst plausible cases for cost-benefit analysis. I welcome the day when people at the WSJ and the like understand that the IPCC median outcome is very far short of the cost-weighted mean outcome.
That’s not my main point, though. Look very carefully at what they are doing. See how “cheaper” is declared “rational”, protecting the earth for our descendants is “religious posturing”. This position is unreasonable, even if you concede that it is in some sense “cheaper” to “endure”. Human beings did not sell the right to a moral compass when we invented money, insofar as I know.
Economics is not the totality of reason, no matter whether it declares itself so or not. There are, as even the WSJ may have heard, some things that money just can’t buy.
A viable planet, for instance. It’s an important case, you know. It’s the one thing that if you don’t have it, money can’t buy anything at all.
Update: Dano didn’t much care for this entry, but he came up with this amazing link, congressional testimony of Jonathan Rowe. That’s the best statement of the problem with the growth imperative that I have ever seen. Except for the (very interesting) history, there’s probably nothing here I or many of us haven’t said in one way or another, but it’s presented powerfully and (for me at least) very persuasively.