I have a new piece up at the American Spectator criticizing Barack Obama for smearing the ideals of the Ownership Society as “Social Darwinism.” Includes a riff on social solidarity and cooperative market order from my Cato paper.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

96 thoughts

  1. I wish someone would ask Al Gore if he is sorry for killing poor children in Africa.
    His support of ethanol as well as other initiatives has already cost lives.

    Maybe you should ask the midwest’s Primary voters, who won’t let anyone pass to the national elections without selling his soul.

    1. Anyone who seeks office pretty much disqualifies themselves in my eyes.
      Al Gore is such a loud, fact-challenged, hypocrite that I would love to see a ‘journalist’ throw that question at him.

  2. The reality is that the battle to reduce CO2 emissions is really about getting rid of coal. Coal is cheap and coal is dirty. CO2 taxes will also reduce air pollution. You can’t make this case for the harm of poor 3rd worlders from CO2 taxes without taking this into account.
    I don’t remember all the poor people in China complaining when they could finally see the sky again in Beijing for the Olympics. Sounded more like they were willing to trade slightly higher energy prices for clean air.
    Maybe you are right and the Chinese are willing to trade clean air and longer life expectancy for greater material prosperity, but at least phrase it that way.

    1. Why not check the life-expectancy trend beginning with heavy use of coal as an energy source and tell me what you find.

      1. Oh! We are a smart enough audience to know what you just did there Will.
        And Barry Ritholtz gave us all a reminder that it is not a new observation:

        The human mind cannot grasp the causes of phenomena in the aggregate. But the need to find these causes is inherent in man’s soul. And the human intellect, without investigating the multiplicity and complexity of the conditions of phenomena, any one of which taken separately may seem to be the cause, snatches at the first, the most intelligible approximation to a cause, and says: “This is the cause!”
        -Leo Tolstoy
        War and Peace
        Book IV, Part 2, Chapter 1, first paragraph

        Tough weekend Will? Or just going for the cheap traffic pulls?

      2. Huh? What did I do there? I implied that the negative health consequences of the use of coal have been more than offset by health gains due to rising wealth, which was in no small part a function of access to cheap sources of energy like coal.
        If your position is that the use of coal as an energy source has on net harmed welfare, then that’s weird and interesting and you should probably say some more about it instead of acting like an ass.

      3. BTW, the name calling, in combination with the strawman that my position must be “that the use of coal as an energy source has on net harmed welfare” is not very appealing.
        Are you determined to avoid adult discussion about the cost/benefits of coal use?
        I didn’t actually set you a strawman that you must favor unrestricted coal use (with no stack treatment to reduce pollution), but that’s what the Chinese actually do, and what you technically are endorsing.

      4. I didn’t realize you were aiming at an “adult discussion” when you implied that my (I think) sound point was the result of a “bad weekend” or an attempt for “cheap traffic pulls.”
        Anyway, I’m sure we can estimate the net effect of coal on welfare and I am willing to bet you that it has been positive. I’m sure there is some easy pollution mitigation the Chinese could do at some net benefit, but anything that significantly increases energy costs I’d bet will hurt growth and poor people.

      5. If I may try and state Odograph’s point more collegially.
        The burning of coal has negative health externalities and there should be a tax placed on it because of that. A CO2 tax in fact would be a proxy for that. Possibly the CO2 tax would be higher than optimal for just air pollution, but if so the negative impact of the CO2 tax is just how much greater that is.
        You appear to be making the argument that no tax should be placed on coal because any negative externalities that it causes are more than made up for by positive externalities. It is not clear to me what those positive externalities are.
        If people in Darfur have only the choice between sparse wood fuel or coal, then I think they would be better off using coal. But, if people in China can choose from 3¢ a kWh coal electricity and 5¢ a kWh solar electricity, then I think they would be better off with the solar.
        As for health gains, it isn’t at all clear to me that these countries would not have seen even bigger health gains if they had taxed dirty sources of energy and allowed their people to consume lower amounts of cleaner energy.

      6. I’m totally sure that a slightly higher price for much cleaner energy is a good deal in terms of QALYs. But I’m not at all sure that there now a much cleaner alternative that is only slightly more expensive. I’m totally open to the evidence on this. But I’m frustrated by how cavalier are people in rich countries who have already benefited massively from their past phase of dirty growth about the possibility that pushing cleaner-but-more-expensive energy on poor countries could really hurt poor people.
        In any case, you can’t think trade war with China is good for anyone.

      7. My point was just that coal has negative pollution externalities and that a tax on them would be a good idea for that reason. A CO2 tax is a proxy for that. Maybe a CO2 tax would be higher than the optimal tax for just pollution, but if so, then the downside is just that which is higher than the pollution tax. And if there was no pollution tax at all, then the CO2 tax could be better than nothing at all.
        If a country had no access to any other source of energy than I can see your point on coal. If they can get other cleaner forms of energy for slightly higher prices, then I think those would be justified.
        And I believe that switching from coal to slightly more expensive cleaner fuels (natural gas if not solar or wind or nukes) would lead to greater life-expectancy.

      8. I think Will’s point is that they are not ‘slightly more expensive’.
        They might be in a few years, but if something is 80% more expensive that isn’t slight.

      9. But isn’t it better to leave figuring that out to the market? Are you insisting that demand for coal is infinitely inelastic over both the short and long run?

      10. “Why not check the life-expectancy trend beginning with heavy use of coal as an energy source and tell me what you find.”
        This is a really good point that can’t be ignored, though. From where it was, China had no choice but to go with coal, and more broadly to grant it’s people greater economic liberty. The current global economic contraction seems to be having serious social (though not yet political) consequences within China. It will be very, very hard to change this momentum.

      11. So, we are holding up the most polluted nation on earth as an example of environmental and development balance?
        Why do we ban their food again?

      12. Do you know of any country whose economic performance has done more to improve the welfare of over the past couple decades? No, you don’t.
        We ban (a tiny portion of) their food because of the paranoia of spoiled rich people like you and me.

      13. This morning I’m wondering if I wasn’t right the first time.
        We have a totalitarian regime whose environmental practices have resulted in multicolor rivers. They’ve pushed coal, yes, but faced riots for mine safety from their own people, etc. They had riots of their own about food safety.
        You, the libertarian thinker on progress and happiness are pushing them as a model? You don’t deserves one “WTF” at the very least?
        And I mean, where are you even going by taking such an extreme line, that “coal is good, because it means progress?”
        Is it really because you want to engage cost/benefits, or because you want to run a discussion without them?

  3. Forgive me for taking this a moment from empiricism to the philosophical, to explain why Will’s argument will never gain purchase in a larger cultural sense. Look no further than Joseph Campbell. Look no further than the fact that there have been and always will be about 1,000 different versions of “WALL-E” in Hollywood, whereas “Atlas Shrugged” will remain in development hell forever. Yes, I know, Randroids, etc. and all that noise, but I’m trying to illustrate a point – which is that certain narratives are ingrained in our collective subconscious. The idea that prosperity and in a more convoluted sense, technology as an extension of knowledge (think Prometheus) is inherently destructive is ancient, mythic, and perhaps permanently part of our values system, genetically speaking.
    It requires a great leap of self-control and in a broader sense, evolution, to accept ideas anathema to hundreds of years of evolutionary conditioning to tribal welfare. Unfortunately, that very human characteristic – that one of viewing wealth and technological progress as frightening and socially dangerous – makes ideas which promote prosperity over stagnation, and progress over the status quo, tragically unattractive to the majority of shaved apes. I regard it as what the late Bob Ross would have called a “Happy Accident” of evolution, that capitalism has had as much success as it has, in spite of our evolutionary tendencies, as a great adaptation our species has made, whether we like it or not to the cruel inconveniences of existence.

      1. On second thought, maybe you can make them go away with a series of dense posts about Richard Rorty. Or maybe Donald Davidson. What’s the deal with that guy, anyway?

    1. Wall*E was an excellent film! I don’t think it’s particularly anti-technology (the protagonist is a plucky robot!), but rather was anti-sloth and anti-consumerism. And even if it was anti-technology, the plucky robot’s story was still strangely moving. The principle obviously has limits, but one can appreciate art that promotes a worldview with which he disagrees.

  4. “I’m simply unwilling to trade certain immediate harm to vulnerable people in exchange for extremely uncertain future benefits.”
    Isn’t that what the Christian Scientists who allow their children to die from curable diseases say?

      1. I think it is.
        Most of the world’s poor compete against “cheap energy” when trying to sell their physical labor.
        A carbon tax would make folks making a dollar a day wealthier, not poorer.
        Since when did Libertarians care about “the poor” anyway?

      2. Sigh. This is one of the most economically illiterate things anyone has ever written in my comments! And also personally offensive. You’re a prize.
        I’m going to look on the bright side and be glad that people who vehemently disagree with me find this blog stimulating enough to read and comment on.

      3. Exactly how many humans are working in the cornfields out there in Iowa, Will?
        One guy with a big piece of machinery per field?
        There are more than 3 billion poor people currently employed as agricultural laborers around the world.

      4. You simply do not understand basic economics, my friend. Let’s just say that the transition from an agricultural economy, in every place that has undergone that transition, has been the opposite of a tragedy in terms of employment and income. The fact that the real price of food has plunged precipitously as agricultural productivity has increased has a good deal to do with why there is so much less hunger and poverty now than in the past.

      5. “You simply do not understand basic economics, my friend.”
        Spoken like a stimulus hater on the day the Dow jumped 500 points.
        Another day like that and the Dow will be up under Obama.
        Don’t forget we’re talking about short term gains and losses for the poor here, not long term productivity gains.
        “I’m simply unwilling to trade certain immediate harm to vulnerable people”
        In the short term, price of gas gets too high…farmer parks his CO2 spitting machine and hires 100 dollar-a-day laborers to save money.

      6. As much as I have disagreed with our esteemed blog host on some questions, he’s absolutely right here.
        If you’re poor, and scratching a living on a farm, you might at best expect to be better off if you buy a tractor and get reliable electricity installed in your hovel. Imposing a carbon tax, and the pricing externalities into energy? That WILL hurt people in the third world.
        Where I part company with Will is that I’ve come to accept the science which concludes that we need to do this to preserve property rights; theirs and ours.
        In the short to medium term this harm can be mitigated in other ways. Most of the third world runs a pretty carbon lite economy. Sell ’em some polluting credits, and use more open trade to share the technology.

      7. Will may be right in the long run, but we’re talking short term here.
        You wake up to the sound of a burglar breaking into your house, you don’t place an order to an alarm company or go out and buy a gun…you call the cops or pull out the gun you already bought.

      8. I know the human mind proceeds by analogy and metaphor, alphie. But it’s tiresome. The whole debate degenerates in a series of unpublished chapters of The House at Pooh Corner.
        “Pooh?”, said Piglet.
        “Mmmm?”, said Pooh.
        “There’s a burglar. In my house.”, said Piglet.
        Pooh thought a moment. Which was hard for him, being a bear of small brains. But he plucked up a moment, and said, “Sing him a song. That works with Christopher Robin.”
        “It’s a fucking burglar, Pooh.”, said Piglet. “And I’m a fucking small animal. You want me to sing him a fucking song?”
        “Yes.”, said Pooh. And went on humming.
        “Fuck that static.”, said Piglet, who went to find a fucking big gun.

      9. Hah, nice story, Paul.
        Burning pooh is a source of power for the world’s poor people that you and Will have such novel views about.

      10. Since forever. They just think the way to help the poor is by increasing economic growth–the only proven method in all of history for removing people from grinding poverty.
        And Will is a libertarian, not a “Libertarian”.

      11. It’s not quite so simple. The former chief economist of the world bank found that “…a permanent redistribution of income reduces poverty instantaneously through what was identified as the distribution effect; but also redistribution contributes to a permanent increase in the growth elasticity of poverty reduction – therefore accelerating the rate of poverty reduction for a given rate of growth.” Since libertarian concern for the poor goes back “forever”, I’m looking forward to their full throated support for the income redistribution that helps poor people every bit as much or more than economic growth alone does.
        But I’m not holding my breath.

      12. I don’t think anyone here is unaware of the growth elasticity of poverty. What Will and I doubt– as you should know without having to be told– is that you can boost it without hurting the growth rate that makes it work in the first place.

      13. Who cares? If you’re alleviating poverty more effectively at a lower growth rate than you were at a higher one what difference does it make? There are obviously optimization issues here, but “oh noes! you’ve maybe hurt growth!” seems to be missing the point.

      14. As for people like you Kevin, you would rather sit on the internet and tell us how much you care about poor people.
        If liberals took 1/10th the time they spend on the internet telling everyone how much they care, they could actually do something with that time. But liberals don’t get off on helping people, they get off on talking about caring.

    1. What does that even mean? That I think it is possible for poor people to not languish in poverty forever? I’m surely against smugly delusive tradeoff-denying “green” thinking and vicious complacency. Is that pro-teleology?

      1. The more important question is: What’s been drawing the weird commenters to Will Wilikinson’s website lately? Fame, it seems, has its price after all.

      2. Close, Paul. What it really means is, “I studied lots of philosphy, but now the only real-life applicability I can find for Aristotelian ideas is in blog comments, and hey, I gotta use my education somehow, right?”

      3. BTW, I think the meme that Freddie is trying to push, is that libertarians’ faith in markets to achieve broad prosperity in the long run is a mistake; that this faith is a fallcious teleological assumption. I would like to hear him explain the source of the exponential increase in living standards over the last few centures.
        1. Is it due to the advent of the institutions underlying the market economy and the subsequent improvement in economic growth? If not, then what is reponsible?
        2. If the answer to question (1) is yes, then why shouldn’t we expect the trend to continue, absent the abandonment of above said institutions.
        If Freddie has a plausible answer, then I might start paying attention to him again.

  5. I’ll call your utilitarian bluff. Why not sell everything you own, live out of an inner-city shack and send everything but basic living expenses to people less well-off than you? Or, donate to a microlending organization or something else libertarian-compatible?
    Aren’t you killing people by writing this post rather than working?
    I love how everything libertarians believe in is not only perfectly correlative with materialism and the western idea of the good life, but also makes the poor more well-off. So things that make you less comfortable are also those things that kill poor people – that’s a nice functionalist bludgeon you have there!
    And those who buy Lexuses when they could be driving Corollas are never to be blamed for anything – they’re simply pursuing happiness, and their purchases are making the world better off. I’m sure some libertarian was defending the housing bubble this way a few years ago.

    1. Tigger arrived. Or bounced in. He ran three times around the room and threw his Lexus keys into the chair.
      “Hurrah!”, he said.
      “Hmmm?”, said Pooh. “Oh. Tiddly Pom. Are you looking for Piglet? He said he was going somewhere to buy some fucking ammo. Dear me. I do not know what he means. Trojans for Eye-or, perhaps?”
      “XZOMG!”, said Tigger, and pointed at the burglar. “WTF is that?”
      “A Burglar.”, Pooh replied, solemnly. “It’s why Piglet went To Buy The Fucking Ammo.”
      This started as a small, narrowly focused thought about balancing the claims of the african poor and Stephen Chu’s threats of a strange kind of anti-trade war (“We will produce less and claim the soaring economic height!” “No! We will produce even less! And waft the balloon of social justice as a beacon over your economically stagnant (though racially indistinguishable – ain’t America grand!) heads!” “Then in retaliation, we shall shut down coal fired plants at the rate of ..” etc) and now we’re deep in the weeds.
      At least no one’s mentioned The War.

  6. My comment this morning is: what do people choose, when they can choose for themselves?
    Totalitarian regimes aside, don’t market democracies always choose some level of emission controls?
    Will has started, for whatever reason, from an extreme position that cheap energy is good, and therefore anyone who suggests moderation is a nasty rich imperialist … I don’t think that really adds up.
    It’s like libertarianism finding their muse in a Stalinist steel town.

  7. Ridley’s interpretation of the precautionary principle is obviously hard to endorse. But an alternative view would be that we should take cost-justified steps to reduce risks, even if we don’t know whether those risks will occur. And when what we have is uncertainty, and not just risk, we should be really careful — maybe even try to reduce the uncertainty by learning something before we commit to an irreversible course of action.
    What’s wrong with that?

  8. I don’t know where to begin on this–where to point Wilkinson in the technical literature–because I don’t know what “alarmism” is. I’m nearly as familiar with the climate literature as one can be without being a working climatologist, and have the background to do that kind of science were I interested in changing fields. Based on that literature to advocate anything but policy change is foolish.
    When Wilkinson decries “alarmism” is he speaking against being worried beyond what the literature justifies, e.g. concerning one’s self only with the thick tails of the distributions in the Roe and Baker study, or is he referring to some peculiar subset of the literature. I haven’t seen any special “alarm” terms in any of the formulae in the literature, but, again, this isn’t my field. If this is the case, perhaps he could give a reference to an attribution study or a prediction of the consequences of increased CO2 in which there’s a differential equation with an “alarm” term?
    On an unrelated note, I wonder why he hasn’t said a thing about ocean acidification.

    1. “I don’t know where to begin on this–where to point Wilkinson in the technical literature–because I don’t know what “alarmism” is. I’m nearly as familiar with the climate literature as one can be without being a working climatologist, and have the background to do that kind of science were I interested in changing fields. Based on that literature to advocate anything but policy change is foolish.”
      Could you expand on this more(I’m genuinely curious)? What policy changes would you see as beneficial? One of the problems I have with climate alarmism is that alarmists (and by “alarmists” I don’t necessarily mean most scientists but a smaller subset of the more religious doomsday advocates) seem to peddle a pretty narrow set of solutions, many of which (perhaps not coincidentally) require extensive government regulation and, for that matter, restrictive lifestyle changes. Combined with rampant rent seeking from a variety of industries, this makes me very skeptical that the motivating agenda of climate alarmism has anything to do with altering the climate or an interest in assessing the tradeoffs between solutions.
      For example, is adaptation a better strategy than reducing emissions (This has the added benefit of working even if, by chance, warming isn’t CO2 related)? How certain are we that a warmer climate would be worse? If we can alter the climate, should we try to insure the Earth is even cooler than it is now, or was the early 20th century the best possible climate? What about depositing a large amount of dust in the L1 Lagrange point to reduce solar radiation – I admit this last one is a bit silly, but if a massive change in energy production/use will cost the economy trillions over many years, why not spend it on mass drivers to launch moon dust if it can cool the planet just as well?
      Let me reiterate that my beef is more with alarmism than the idea that the Earth is warming (My understanding is that there is a pretty clear 150-year warming trend in the historical data) or even that humans may be the primary cause (I am less convinced on this point but I may have allowed my suspicion of alarmist motives to unreasonably color my judgment so I’m not going to dismiss it, and certainly humans are having some climatic effect if for no other reason than land use changes). Unfortunately, I don’t know if I can adequately operationalize “alarmism” for you, but I would say that it is a combination of advocating costly measures out of proportion to the dangers (I realize this is a debatable point and may not be helpful as part of a definition), a refusal or reluctance to assess alternative solutions other than those that fit into an advocate’s seemingly preconceived notion of proper socioeconomic structures, and the appearance of being more concerned with promoting said environmental solutions as a means of societal change than looking for effective solutions. Note, of course, that I don’t apply this rather cynical description to anyone concerned with this issue. I am happy to say (as noted in another part of this thread) that there those who are serious about global warming looking at previously taboo solutions such as nuclear energy.

      1. Among others, the Pew Center and the Brookings Institute have put forth whitepapers on mitigation. Mitigation and adaptation is not an either-or question–and the mainstream solutions being proposed are either Pigouvian taxes or cap-and-trade, hardly the stuff of social engineering at all. So I won’t bother to answer the question of wouldn’t it be better to adapt–that’s like asking whether I prefer food or drink. Adaptation will happen anyway as some warming, in addition to that which has happened already, is inevitable.
        Among cap-and-trade systems, some are more interventionist than others. Nothing being considered in the mainstream entails restrictive lifestyle changes–they leave the changes up to the market. One could model such a system after the US’s mechanism for reducing sulfur dioxide emissions, and allocate permits year after year that are only good for one year’s emissions, or one could allocate annual emissions permits one time. Coaseian bargaining becomes much easier in such a scheme, the means to reducing emissions is straightforward and fair–buy and retire a permit–and thre is much less room for year-to-year governmental tinkering.
        People who don’t dig deeply into this often see this as being about automobiles. Maybe it is, but it’s also about transoceanic shipping, farming and land use, electricity generation, and concrete making. Wilkinson makes the mistake of assuming who will make the cuts when we’re finally in a system in which nest-fouling behavior is limited. It’s possible that reductions will not be made in the quality-of-life areas the “do nothing and take all harm” set set assumes must be terribly negatively affected by mitigation.
        Regarding whether or not warming is harmful, the IPCC report neatly summarizes why we’re concerned about this. Scientists don’t talk about whether or not a particular radiative balance is optimum. They work on the local climate changes that come with a “hotter” radiative balance courtesy of anthropogenic warming and find tremendous harm. Regarding whether or not observed warming is anthropogenic and whether anthropogenic warming will continue, so much effort has been put into presenting the evidence, too, that there’s really no reason to not believe humans are the primary cause of global warming and that human emissions will continue. I get the impression that you haven’t sought out mainstream materials on this. Forget the alarmists and read the IPCC report, following references therein for details.
        As for space dust, telescope mirror guru Roger Angel proposed something similar, albeit interference-based. An interesting idea, but it puts us in a very dangerous situation if maintenance of such an arrangement were ever to cease, moreover, it does nothing about ocean acidification.

  9. Ocean acidification would remain a problem even if co2 didn’t cause global warming. Global warming is not the only reason we should stop pumping excess co2 into the air.

  10. lol, now that the evidence against AGW is growing, out comes the next bogyman.
    Acid rain worked as a scare tactic, lets try acid oceans.

    1. No, it is not actually growing.
      What is persistent however is that people with enough anti-GW memes to be dangerous (to themselves) can inhabit the back-threads at political blogs, and pretend another reality..
      My standard question to skeptics is, if your science is so good, why don’t you take it to them and win? Why do you hang out places like these.
      My answer is that you don’t really have the science, and deep down you know it.

      1. Climate science is not black and white. It is a complex area, and the scientists in the area understand that their models are very incomplete and much more needs to be done. They know the science is not settled.
        The reality is that the alarmism is not coming from scientists acting as scientists.
        Scientists are interested in questions like, “Why the warming predicted by the models has not come to pass?” They try to understand what variables that are not in the model (like cloud cover) and want better understand cloud formation so that it can be included in the model.
        Why are the alarmists so far ahead of the science? Perhaps, they have other agendas than “saving the planet”.
        My standard question to alarmists is “If global warming is such a big problem, why are you still against nuclear power?”

      2. If you are making the argument that we should do nothing, not even the cheap and easy things, to reduce CO2 emissions, aren’t you then making a black and white argument?
        I’m only 80% sure of AGW, so I’m only ready to commit to moderate and not extreme solutions 😉

      3. (I’m not really anti-nuke, though I’d rather push things like solar-thermal in our local deserts that work and have a payback with the kind of environmental damage I can accept (a few less creosote bushes))

      4. Just so that you know, there’s a lively and ongoing debate in conservationist circles about the role nuclear power will play. You really ought to catch up on the last decade of debate. The remaining problems are proliferation and waste disposal; neither of which is strictly technical, both of which might be helped by guvment regulation.
        And please don’t pile on with a bunch of reasons why these are not problems. I know the arguments. I’m in Brother odograph’s camp, I think. Nuclear Powa (Zap! Pow!) a shitty option, but it might well be the only realistic option we have.

      5. You two are the first of hundreds of AGW champions I have interacted with that have not demonized me for even bringing up nuclear power.
        OTOH, if there is debate, then I would guess that there are many in “conservation” circles that do not think AGW is a worse problem then nuclear power.
        And if AGW is not as bad a nuclear power, why should I not worry more about other issues like malaria or clean water?

      6. Heck, I’ve been on a Sierra Club hike when some member said he was pro-nuke (this was 5 years ago), none of the other hikers got upset or cast him out.

      7. You two are the first of hundreds of AGW champions I have interacted with that have not demonized me for even bringing up nuclear power.
        I call bullshit! Hundreds? “AGW champions”? “demonized”?
        Just google it! Google (“Nuclear Power green”) and you’re confronted with the breadth and depth of the discussion. Debates on the topic, blog-wars, TV programs that set out to explore the green arguments for nuclear power ….
        There is a generational divide. Older conservationists gravitate to the “anti” camp. Younger ones tend to lack the visceral “Mushroom cloud bad!” response, and are more open to the idea. Younger greens also tend to appreciate the nature of connectivity – how actions are connected, why scale matters, etc. What your response suggests to me is that you need to get out more!
        Things are about at the tipping point right now (in my judgement). If we can, through conservation and by using non-nuclear technologies, generate enough energy, nuclear will move off the table. But if we can’t get to15c per KwH baseline in the next 10 years? Nuclear it will be.
        See? It’s much more fun to learn the facts than salve your ignorance.

    2. Evidence against AGW is growing? Point me to it in the literature, tough guy.
      I don’t mean “teh blogosphere”, I mean real scientific journals, or at the very least conference abstracts and proceedings.
      But you think acid rain was a “tactic” and not a harmful phenomenon, and seem not to know what the ocean acidification problem is about. So I don’t expect you to be able to deliver.

      1. Cloud formation from cosmic rays and its impact on global warming:

        A study in the July 2002 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research-Space Physics, published by the American Geophysical Union, proposes for the first time that interstellar cosmic rays could be the missing link between the discordant temperatures observed during the last two decades (since recorded satellite records began in 1979)

        Just one of many that show this climate change is trickier than you thought

      2. And augmenting Brother odograph’s response – what you have here is really good science.
        The original proposal was based on an observation – more cosmic radiation – a theoretical framework – cycles of solar activity and their interaction with the earth’s magnetic field – and a proposed physical mechanism – increased condensation (more clouds) creating a forcing effect. The proposal doesn’t deny other evidence – yes, we are warming, yes, CO2 is going up. And it presents its ideas in such a way that other scientists – outside the scope of the original author’s expertise – can corroborate, or falsify, the theory.
        Then other scientists did. The atmospheric types ran some numbers and said – “Look – there’s not enough radiation to account for sufficient cloud cover, and what we see in cloud patterns is the opposite of what the science in the original proposal would predict.”
        Those of us who operate on a basis of reason, mutual respect, and some trust, all nod and move on. But others seize on the original idea, ignore the subsequent science, and repeat it, and repeat it, and repeat it ….

  11. Will – do you ever buy insurance for anything? I forgo a piece of my income (lets say 1%) to protect myself against a potentially catastrophic hit from future occurrences. I’m not certain that this will pay off in the end, but it makes economic sense nonetheless.
    The case for action on climate change is even more compelling. The IPCC tells us that the cost is coming with a great deal of certainty. It’s as if I was told I had a 99% chance of cancer, and then was offered a payment plan to reduce the future costs of treatment or even the likelihood of getting sick. Would you give up some income now in order to avoid that future big hit? Maybe you need to apply a discount, but present spending is not always preferable to future damage.

  12. It seems that of all the politically important, nay, existentially important topics people could get impassioned over, THIS gets everyone the most steamed. And yet, of the lot, it is the one that is of no immediate threat. Of course, assuming the verity of the claims, it is a threat to our grandchildren, their children, and so forth. But to make the burden our descendants would shoulder due to the supposed collective faults of our generation cause for mitigating action requires the most reckless form of abstract thinking. If our greater concern is not prosperity in general, but rather the prosperity of our own grandchildren, then we might as well have not done away with primogeniture, as that system seems to cut to the quick of looking after hypothetical beings rather expeditiously. Why tax estates if the well being of the subsequent generations is of such importance to us? Why suddenly does a political constituency that could normally care less about offspring (in fact recoils at stories like the infamous Octomom), wax almost ecclesiastic about our children, and children’s children. I personally am not in line to become a parent, but it seems to me that this abstract argument is the only way to breach the natural inclination of a human being to really only view life within the prism of his own existence. I think that’s healthy to a certain extent.
    And for the record, our great great grandkids will be just fine. And if they’re not … who cares … we’ll all be dead anyway. I mean, honestly, how many of the AGW, blog reading, cosmopolitan crowd out there actually believes in an afterlife.

  13. “Atlas Shrugged” is your best example of a narrative about technological progress? I’ll put campy Star Trek above your Atlas any day.
    Anyway, humanity’s tendence to fear destruction from technology already as already been baptized by Isaac Asimov, with the very cool name of Frankenstein complex. 2 points about Will’s post:
    1 – If he is truly worried about malaria, he could write a post defending an increase in foreign aid, focusing on medical supplies. The U.S. is one of the countries with the lowest % of GDP in aid.
    2 – I’m sensible about the argument of immediate harm vs. uncertain future benefits. But, in the question of global warming, I would frame the choice as between immediate harm vs. not-so-uncertain future incredibly greater harm.

  14. Scott Nolan Smith – I am a writer/editor/producer. Committed thinker, politico, blogger, social media enthusiast and information junkie. I have spent my career in the think-tank, political, social media and digital journalism fields. I hold an academic background in Political Science and Diplomacy. My written works have appeared in the Hawaii Reporter, Politics.com, theSkittzo and on my personal tumblr. I grew up in the Seattle metro area of Washington State and spent my early childhood years overseas in both Germany and Italy. I have traveled and lived in many places throughout my life, recently spending time in both Hawaii and Virginia. Today, I live in Washington, DC with my wife Alicia.
    Scott Nolan Smith says:

    “I’m simply unwilling to trade certain immediate harm to vulnerable people in exchange for extremely uncertain future benefits.”
    Excellent statement. People must come first. The livelihood of people is of the utmost importance. It should not be sacrificed for the unknown.
    Similar issues have arisen between environmental activists and local peoples in the Andean region of South America, where environmentalist have pushed to purge local economies of anything that may harm the environment, even if it means crippling the local people economically.
    People should be the priority.

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