Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Technology Redux


Regarding your latest post, let's begin by pruning away the most obvious misconceptions.

First, you say:

"Apparently, all that is required is the effective destruction of ONE country's economy, while the arguably "biggest offenders' do nothing..."

...which is exactly the opposite of what I was saying.

I said: "...More's the pity, because amateurs like Lomborg represent the only worthwhile opposition to unilateral "cap and trade" proposals being debated in this country today."

I then went on to quote (and agree with most of) a Lomborg piece which specifically singles out the folly of reducing carbon emissions unilaterally. I don't think I could have been more explicit about this if I had written it across the sky in letters of fire.

Second, and this is crucial, there is no such thing as the "ideal" temperature. Global concentrations of habitation and industry represent human adaptation to climate. Any substantial change can often lead to catastrophic consequences. Witness if you will the dust bowl of the 30's. This event was the result of not only some environmental factors (drought) which were beyond human control, but also some near sighted agricultural practices over which humans definitely did have control.

Today's farmers will tell you Steve, that the "ideal" temperature is that which results in the greatest harvest. But since they cannot rely on this or any other environmental variable, they take preventive measures like crop rotation, soil conservation and integrated disease management. None of these practices would have prevented the drought of the 30's. But no one can argue that they would not have drastically reduced the severity of it. Now if you accept that human activity might contribute to climate change, measures to lessen the impact of global warming by cutting back on the human contribution to it are no less a practical approach to farming than is crop rotation.

But this also holds true for any number of human enterprises which rely on a surety of environment. Humans have little control over the natural cycles of climate change. But it is only practical to calculate the effect of the human contribution and estimate the value of reducing it.

Now on any scale, from that of the individual to that of mankind altogether, it is always reasonable to demand justification for any present investment, particularly a costly one, which is claimed to yield future benefit. In the event, a healthy dose of skepticism is a useful tool. But consider that if 99 of a hundred doctors advise a man as to the urgency of undergoing a potentially life saving, yet perilous operation, is it wise for him to delay it until the single skeptical doctor agrees? Surely, the man would want to believe the skeptic, since by doing so he avoids the peril of the operation. But merely waiting on a hundred percent certainty is a poor substitute for good judgement.

I would submit that science has accumulated sufficient evidence on the human contribution to climate change that the debate should now shift from whether or not it is happening to what sorts of actions make the most sense. While I disagree that cap and trade schemes are a cynical attempt to re-distribute wealth and accumulate political power, I do agree they should be subject to a healthy dose of skepticism. What Lomborg was saying in his article was that unilateral action to reduce carbon emissions by some countries is worthless so long as other developing countries continue to offset them with increases. His argument, which makes sense, is that meaningful reductions will not occur until advances in technology provide individuals and industry with energy alternatives which are cheaper than fossil fuel. This is essentially a market based approach and I am surprised to find you of all people questioning it.

Government rightly and often funds research into technologies which may not be of present value to private industry, but pay big dividends down the road - and everyone benefits. Government funded research has been going on for over 50 years now in the field of fusion power and we are still many years away from a cost effective application. Yet, if and when we succeed it is almost impossible to overestimate the benefits to private industry and indeed all mankind. This is precisely the kind of technology Lomborg is referring to. Your turn...


No comments:

Post a Comment