Cheat-Seeking Missles

Thursday, November 02, 2006

De-Industrialization A Bad Cure For Global Warming

In an essay at TCS Daily, economist Arnold Kling outlines two plans for stopping (if we can) (if we need to) global warming.

First, the UN/Warmies' approach of reducing global warming emissions, which he calls the "De-Industrialization" approach. Oh, holler all you want about new clean industries, but look at what's on the table: reducing emissions generally means producing less, at least until speculative, perhaps specious, new technologies come along.

Then, Kling's alternative, "Climate Engineering," or what he creatively calls Operation Sunscreen. More on that after I burn a few million more electrons.

Kling cites the recent Stern Review on the economics of climate change, a study that's driving policy today in Europe. Stern argues that De-Industrialization (which it more passively calls "reducing greenhouse gas emissions") will cost 1 percent of global GDP each year, which is much less that Stern's projected "overall costs and risks of climate change [that] will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year."

Quite a bargain! If you believe the 5% figure, which Kling neither attacks or supports in this essay. And if you pretend 1% of global GDP is a small number, which it's not.

When the Stern Review says that the cost of the de-industrialization strategy "can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year," that makes the cost seem small. The number 1, after all, is a low number.

However, when the cost of de-industrialization is converted to dollars, the number no longer seems trivial. According to World Bank data, total world GDP in 2005 was over $40 trillion dollars. One percent of that would be over $400 billion dollars. What Stern is saying is that we should forego over $400 billion a year to forestall global warming. (emphasis added)

Glibly, Kling mentions that ...

... it would be rather a shame to toss away $400 billion dollars a year using the de-industrialization strategy and then discover "Oops, the cause of global warming wasn't carbon-dioxide emissions after all. It must have been something else, because temperatures are still rising, even though we reduced emissions to levels that we thought would stabilize global temperature."

His recommendation, Operation Sunscreen, would involve coming up with ways to deflect or filter or otherwise alter global temperatures -- an idea Kling admits he's utterly clueless about.

I readily concede that I have no idea whether Operation Sunscreen can be carried out or what it might cost. What I would propose at this stage is that the National Science Foundation undertake a feasibility study concerning the climate engineering strategy. This feasibility study would examine various approaches in order to assess their costs, benefits, and risks.

After all, if we spend $50 billion or even $100 billion to build Operation Sunscreen and a few billion a year to maintain it -- or adjust it if climate change itself changes -- then we'd be way better off than if we dropped that $400 billion annually on not making stuff.

The chemists and engineers who would scheme together just how Operation Sunscreen would work might have their feet on the ground more than the climatologists and their kookie computer models ... but even so, I find Kling's idea of trying to master a system we hardly understand incredibly frightening. Unintended consequences tend to abound whenever man tries to master nature.

But still, it's the kind of action I like -- forward thinking, lemonaid out of lemon kind of stuff that settles with me much more than the draconian De-Industrialization concepts that warm (not too much, I hope) the cockles of a Warmie's heart.

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