By: Dr. Robert Gorkin
Blog Category: Economics of Environmental Regulation
Robert Frost, in his poem Fire and Ice, wrote:
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
So too, do those who believe in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW). For some, there is no debate. Those who think there is room for further scientific deliberation are derided as being fully equivalent to “holocaust deniers,” and some of the more passionate “true believers” would have that CAGW questioners suffer a similar fate. Indeed, some have advocated that those who question CAGW dogma should be held legally responsible and have gone so far as to propose Nuremberg-style trials and even execution.
The Precautionary Principle implies that if the world as we know it is to end because of global warming, it becomes obligatory to do everything possible to prevent the impending catastrophe. An obvious rational corollary needs to be that any danger, no matter how great, ought to be realistically measured against its likelihood of occurring. For example, the iconic modern day “prophet” with his sandwich board proclaiming “Repent! The World Will End Tomorrow!” asserts a danger that no one is going to take seriously.
Supporters of CAGW contend that mankind’s increasing use of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution (particularly since the late 1900s), and the consequent injection of carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas—into the atmosphere, will cause the runaway destruction of the environment. Their proposed solution is to dramatically restrict the use of traditional energy sources (e.g., by international treaty, regulation, and “carbon” taxes) and to subsidize the development of alternative energy sources.
Opponents of CAGW, in addition to martialling conflicting evidence, claim that even if global warming were true, the proposed remedial economic disruption and its ramifications are unwarranted. Opponents claim it would be far better to take a wait-and-see approach tempered by adapting to any climate change as it occurs. They argue that even if there were any thermal abatement, it would amount to mere fractions of a degree achieved at an enormous cost. Among the dangers, they cite the cold weather deaths of the poor and elderly already seen in England due to unaffordable heating costs. Costs attributable to the skyrocketing price of electricity caused, in part, by the regulatory imposition of costly wind-generated power. Other concerns include increasing food costs associated with “green” economics favoring using food grains to make biofuels (gasohol), and the diversion of treasure and resources from currently pressing medical and other humanitarian needs. Furthermore, there may actually be overall benefits, since many plants show increased productivity with higher levels of ambient carbon dioxide, and many people would prefer to live in a temperate climate.
Climate always changes, and has done so over the eons since earth first acquired its modern atmosphere starting about 2.8 billion years ago. Trying to prevent climate change may well be a Sisyphean task as effective as trying to prevent the continental drift that will surely obliterate the world’s geography, as we know it today.
No matter what side of the debate one falls on, one thing can be assured: Time will tell. We are today faced with a choice; a choice we shall recount to our grandchildren. And in the telling of our tale, perhaps we will have the much the same sentiments that Robert Frost poignantly captured in this well-known stanza from The Road Not Taken:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.
See generally, e.g., Watts Up With That?, available at http://wattsupwiththat.com (last visited Mar. 31, 2014).