Global Warming: If You Can’t Beat It, Join It. February 24, 2010

This recent article in Reason Magazine by Ronald Bailey raises the issue of whether Global Warming is worse than the sort of society and government it would take to stop it. Actually, I think a more efficient way of dealing with global warming might be to adapt to it.  That solves two problems.

First, I don’t have to deny that global warming is taking place.  There are still some valid questions as to whether it is entirely a result of human activity, or even if it’s going to continue, but I don’t have to be committed to a position of denial.

Second, I think the cost of adaption will be a lot less.  We will not have to shut down our entire economy.  There are certain expenses that humankind will have to bear.  For example, much of the population of Bangladesh will have to be relocated.  The Russians are not reproducing themselves and have a very low life expectancy, so they can carve out a New Bangladesh somewhere in their territory.  There are some other similar resettlements from low lying coastal areas that will be needed.  An international version of the old Civilian Conservation Corps can be recruited to plant species of trees at higher altitudes in the mountains, or at more northerly latitudes, than in the past.  Also some animal species will need help to be relocated in the same way.  There is a lot of talk about “desertification,” but is the Sahara really likely to expand in both directions?  The alarmists can’t have it both ways.  Some areas will actually be drier.  But in others there may actually be more rain, but it may come in bingey episodes rather than in the steady rains of the past, and we will have to find ways to store water from these episodes.  Snow on the mountains, which has been for California and many other places in the world, a natural way of storing winter precipitation to release in the spring months, will be much less available to us, and we will have to devise methods to replace it.

One pleasant prospect is an excuse to get rid of respectable business dress conventions that are based on the climate of England and France in the Little Ice Age, which ended in the century before last.  Ties are becoming rarer, but I find them rather decorative.  The really irrational garments in warm weather are jackets and wool pants.  The Scots, of all people, may have devised a garment suitable for global warming adaptation:  the kilt.

In some parts of the world during part of the year, like Las Vegas and Phoenix, and maybe Texas and Florida, we could go farther than this.  Will the new slogan be “No Shoes — No Shirt — Global Warming Adapted”?  In that case, we’ll have to start wearing slogans on our pants – T-pants?  T-kilts?

Related: “Is Government Action Worse than Global Warming?” by Ronald Bailey at Reason Magazine

curt.deckert 02/26/2010

Even though I do not think global warming is real, we still have an obligation to keep our air healthful. This requires some effort and cost for industrialized countries. If there happens to be any real global warming, the idea of adapting to it is good and necessary. Our technology should be helpful in adapting to it by pumping purified water to desert areas using wind and solar power. This could provide coastal low-sea-level people and people in extremely cold areas a means to resettle in more desirable areas. It could also support tree planting and farming in deserts to help purify the atmosphere. There is still a lot of land not being used, but it should be used wisely. Fashion adaption for any global warming could have global economic and sociological consequences.

Anna Haynes 03/26/2010

Interesting. Here’s how I’d go about evaluating it, & then my take on his argument.

For most climate science & policy, to get the best understanding, the #1 most effective thing you can do is just to assess credibility of the source. So, what’s Bailey’s cred?

I was dubious because he’s with a libertarian magazine, and libertarians have an unfortunate track record on this issue of promoting just about any interpretation of the state of the science/policy as long as the conclusion is that we don’t have to take action on climate change.

But that’s a very quick&dirty judgment. To make a better one, I looked at Bailey’s own track record (which, thanks to Google News Archives, we can do). And found & read this review of his 1993 book:
I also checked his science background, from Wikipedia, where he’s got a BA in philosophy and [thinking-inside-the-box] economics, and some training in law. No natural sciences.

Neither his past views nor his background ed. seem promising. Doesn’t mean he’s wrong, but it does mean we’d better check his reasoning & conclusions against what others say, before giving them much weight.

And – with the caveat that I’m no climate scientist – my understanding is that, first, things are going to *keep* changing, & likely at an accelerating rate – it’s not like we just flip from condition A to warmer condition B. So the adaptation needs to be ongoing, and ever-changing.

And second, we don’t know just how bad warmer conditions C, D, E, F, G and so on are going to get. And they could get *very* bad – as Tobis puts it, “The real risk spectrum remains invisible to the public.” . Or as the most recent issue of the Economist puts it, “Action on climate is justified, not because the science is certain, but precisely because it is not” –

An ounce of prevention….
p.s. re Bailey’s “discount rate” stuff – it’d be one thing if *we* were the ones to pay the bill later, but if we’re just leaving it to the kids – with a ruinous interest rate – that’s not right.

Sorry. That was an earful.

Anna 04/07/2010

and I would be extremely interested to hear your take on the (upcoming) NYTimes magazine article on environmental economics (& climate policy) by your fellow economist Mr. Krugman –
Climate Change – Building a Green Economy

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