Thursday, August 14, 2014
We were discussing global warming at the Indiana Law and Economics Lunch, and the curious path of world temperatures. From NASA data, which is standard, the pattern is that temperatures rose from 1980 to 2000 and then stopped increasing (but stayed high). This doesn’t necessarily mean we can forget global warming as a problem, though--- something I hadn’t thought about before--- because maybe the continued high temperatures will cause big problems even if temperatures don’t rise any more. It could be, for example, that Greenland’s ice will melt and raise the sea level. Whether that would happen or not, if the temperature stays constant, I don’t know.
But this implies current suggestions for global warming policy are totally misguided.
If temperature has stalled, but we still have a big problem because of continued high temperatures, then carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, etc. won't help in the slightest. Restricting carbon output is only good for keeping the temperature from rising, and if it's not rising any more, that’s addressing the wrong problem. Rather, we'd need to actually REDUCE the amount of carbon in the atmosphere (if carbon was indeed the cause of the 1990's warming, and it has stopped only because of negative feedback via clouds, etc.), which absolutely nobody proposes. Rather, if we need to actually reduce the temperature rather than stop it from increasing, the only solution would be climate manipulation via putting some kind of particulate in the atmosphere.
The Supreme Court decided in EPA vs. Massachusetts in 2007 that carbon dioxide was a pollutant and needed regulating, regardless (if I remember rightly) of whether the regulation would make any detectable difference to the global temperature (or the Massachusetts seashore, the plaintiff's alleged source of injury). Suppose the global temperature continues to stall for 30 years, or even decline. Would that affect the Supreme Court decision? Or would it be like with Brown v. Board of Education, where the experiments with black and white dolls and self esteem wasn't really the key to the holding?