The Prelator

Weblog of Patrick McKay

Adapting to Global Warming

Posted by darklordofdebate on December 21, 2009

As a followup to my last post, I just wanted to post a couple great quotes from this opinion article by the Global Warming Policy Foundation president Nigel Lawson on the Wall Street Journal:

The reasons for the complete and utter failure of Copenhagen are both fundamental and irresolvable. The first is that the economic cost of decarbonizing the world’s economies is massive, and of at least the same order of magnitude as any benefits it may conceivably bring in terms of a cooler world in the next century. After all, the reason we use carbon-based energy is not the political power of the oil lobby or the coal industry. It is because it is far and away the cheapest source of energy at the present time and is likely to remain so, not forever, but for the foreseeable future.

Moreover, any assessment of the impact of any future warming that may occur is inevitably highly conjectural, depending as it does not only on the uncertainties of climate science but also on the uncertainties of future technological development. So what we are talking about is risk.

Not that the risk is all one way. The risk of a 1930s-style outbreak of protectionism, if the developed world were to abjure cheap energy and faced enhanced competition from China and other rapidly industrializing countries that declined to do so, is probably greater than any risk from warming.

The time has come to abandon the Kyoto-style folly that reached its apotheosis in Copenhagen last week, and move to plan B.

And the outlines of a credible plan B are clear. First and foremost, we must do what mankind has always done, and adapt to whatever changes in temperature may in future arise. This enables us to pocket the benefits of any warming (and there are many), while reducing the costs. And since none of the projected costs are new phenomena, but the possible exacerbation of the problems our climate already throws at us, addressing these problems directly is many times more cost-effective than anything discussed at Copenhagen. Nor does adaptation require a global agreement, although we may well need to help the very poorest countries (not China) to adapt.

And beyond adaptation, plan B should involve a relatively modest increased government investment in technological research and development—in energy, in adaptation and in geoengineering.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the Copenhagen debacle, it is not going to be easy to get our leaders to move to Plan B. There is no doubt that calling a halt to the high-profile climate-change traveling circus risks causing a severe conference-deprivation trauma among the participants. If there has to be a small public investment in counseling, it would be money well spent.

Along the lines of my previous post, there are three lessons we can draw from this. Number one, everyone agrees that the economic cost of decarbonization will be immense, and it will be highly difficult if not impossible to secure agreement between enough countries to make a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions. Second, any benefits produced by decreased warming would in turn likely be far outweighed by the economic risks achieving such reductions would necessarily entail. Finally, the best and easiest solution to global warming is to simply do what humanity has done for thousands of years and adapt to changing conditions. Considering the tremendous technological progress the human race has made in the last century alone, it shouldn’t be that difficult to deal with the consequences of a climate that’s at most a few degrees warmer.

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