Thursday, May 31, 2007

Globally Warmed Over

I am not a global warming denialist. I need to state this up front because I usually get mistaken for one when I point out that no political mechanism exists to mitigate AGWs effects. I also think that there are enough uncertainties in the degree and effects of warming, and enough uncertainty about what might actually help, that I am dubious about most prescriptions for actions.

Specifically, the imposition of any measure that is going to cause serious economic pain (which I suspect will be necessary if one is to stave off AGW's effects) gives an automatic opening to a rival party to make hay by offering to repeal it.

It should be clear that we are talking about taking actions now that will not yield all of their fruit for generations. Even if we could get people to acknowledge the usefulness of (for instance) a high gasoline tax, how would it 'stick'?

Climate is big, it has a lot of hysteresis, and will do confounding things, like unexpectedly going counter to the underlying trends for years. If you think evolution is a hard sell, just wait til AGW mitigation actually means that someone might not get to drive their SUV to the "Inconvenient Truth" screening.

We generally won't save money for retirement, as a culture, and we know that old age looms for all of us. We sometimes say we want to protect the children, but there is usually a fight about any taxation for schools. Who wants to pay 5 bucks a gallon for gasoline to keep our great great grandchildren comfortable? (I am being frivolous on purpose. I understand the gravity of the problem. I just don't see what to do about it.)

Note that this is not an argument for doing nothing. It is a cold, scary suspicion that this kind of problem may be outside the purview of politics as it is practiced. The world might hand the keys to a science-based policy that would cause deprivation and economic pain for a couple of years if something obvious and immanent were coming, like an asteroid.

My other dark suspicion is that AGW is, for most people (acknowledging that most people lack the skillz to calculate their own BMI, let alone evaluate climate models) a proxy left/right fight, where, since the US is doing approximately nothing about it, one can choose sides at nearly zero cost, lazily picking whatever their political affiliations suggest. Put less unkindly, few actually evaluate evidence because there is currently no penalty involved just going along with their 'side'. And people haven't gotten completely sick of the climate pr0n on the weather channel, yet.

My prediction- climate change denialism will become more fashionable the more is done to confront climate change. People are great rationalizers. When the money comes from their pocket, the data will suddenly be less clear. I suspect that the underlying science has the most acceptance and support it will ever get at this point now, before anything gets done. Once someone pays, sides will shift.

Yes, as a matter of fact, I am bitter, cynical, and slightly misanthropic.


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