Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A truly inconvenient truth

Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson thinks that even those politicians who claim to care about global warming are just engaging in hypocritical public relations exercises.

All rational scientists agree that global warming is happening. There is no debate about whether or not global warming is happening. A majority of scientists agree that the manmade contribution to global warming is the significant factor causing increases in world temperature.

Samuelson cites a new report from the International Energy Agency in Paris which describes various scenarios involving "heroic" efforts to control population growth, economic growth, and energy consumption, but these best efforts still show a calculated increase in greenhouse gases from 6 percent to 27 percent by 2050.

The problem of global warming can't be solved, argues Samuelson, without a major new technological breakthrough:

The trouble with the global warming debate is that it has become a moral crusade when it's really an engineering problem. The inconvenient truth is that if we don't solve the engineering problem, we're helpless.

It's time to get serious about global warming.

We need a "war president" who has the courage to wage war on the stranglehold energy companies have on our political system; who has the courage to forge a dramatic new direction for our country, and the world.

Hint: The answer ain't (Shell) hydrogen fuel cells.

Dennis "Hungry Hungry Hippo" Hastert

NPR's amateur hydrogen car story

Why hydrogen?

Update: Judd at ThinkProgress thinks Samuelson is intentionally distorting the facts of the IEA report to reach the conclusion that nothing can be done about global warming. In fact, according to Judd, there is an IEA scenario, that Samuelson failed to cite, which projects a 16 percent decrease in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

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At 7/05/2006 06:31:00 AM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

There we go! That's the turning point of what I was hoping to see in your global warming posts. It seems to me that we too often see a marriage between those who are most worried about global warming ("green" folks/environmentalists) and luddites. In other words there seems to be a strong correlation between the most vocal crowd on global warming and that same crowd's fear of technology (presumably because technology is laid to blame as the cause of the problem in the first place.)

I think it's very important for us to really consider technology's place as a tool for use in the human condition. Yes, technology can have negative impacts and, where possible to concieve those impacts, they should be considered in the equation of how and when to use technological considerations in the future. Unfortunately some of the greenest of the greens prefer to stand in the way of techologic solutions, generally out of fear of the unforseen consequences.

I think we are too far down the path of technology and it has had far, far too many positive impacts not to continue trying to use the tools of technology to improve the human condition (be that global warming, or mosquito control in Africa, or hunger, or Nuclear power instead of gas/coal, or whatever.) I don't know that government is the best arbiter of that, but that's just my libertarian side showing again. ;)

At 7/05/2006 10:53:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

You'll have to elaborate on what a libertarian means when he advocates a government solution:

"I don't know that government is the best arbiter of that, but that's just my libertarian side showing again."

I would identify one of the unsolvable problems being the very nature of technological progress in a free capitalist society. Technology isn't being harnessed to solve the problems of humanities future survivability, necessarily.

Often it happens that way, true. But most of the time, technology is used to sell comfort to the present generation, without regard for the costs to future generations.

There is a cost to future generations in current activities which isn't borne by the present generation.

What if, for example, future generations could tax us for every gallon of gas we consume.

My suspicion is that alternatives like battery-powered vehicles and mass transit look far more attractive to peoples' pocketbooks.

Can a government answer such problems of defining which technologies are good, and which are bad?

As always, the real problem is converting minds and hearts to pay attention to, and to address, the concerns of the rest of humanity, now and in the future -- nearly impossible given the messages that are produced from mainstream American culture.

At 7/06/2006 08:08:00 AM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

That statement wasn't advocating a government solution, it was a statement that I'm not at all conviced that a government solution would work for the problem. And I don't think we can trust the government to not make bad decisions about what is a "good" or "bad" technology at all. It's kind of a knee-jerk reaction that when I see a call to arms about global warming it always seems to involve governmet legislation as the answer to the problem (well, perhaps in specific forms of regulation if you take a geolibertarian point of view.

Generally the free market does not necessarily come up with answers to these kinds of problems, but private charitable organizations have and any libertarian will suggest that charitable organizations are an absolutely integral part of the free market. Funding research is certainly something we can, as individuals, push for. The big question is who to fund? Greenpeace? They more often seem to prefer standing in the way of technological response.

In other words I don't really agree that "unsolvable problems" are part of "the very nature of technological progress in a free capitalist society." I think that such a society does have the tools available to begin to address those problem. The only other option I can see is a guided allocation of resources which is normally allocated by some central authority, namely the government. Unfortunately we've all seen how inept and corrupt the government can be, and how easily corruptable government entities are by the very nature of political appointment within those agencies.

I think I'm more willing to trust our scientists and those independent organizations (even though most of them do have government subsidies, even if it is just as a tax deduction, in some form or another) that are looking into solutions rather than something like the Kyoto Accords for any real answers to global warming.

At 7/06/2006 08:23:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

We always have these interesting discussions. I agree with you up to this point: When solutions are created, who will enforce them?

Ultimately, economies of scale and the requirement for an even application of the necessary remedy would require some sort of institutional social behavior control with the power to punish agents who try to shirk their responsibility.

Government is messy business -- democracy may be the messiest -- but I'm not willing to give it up. In fact, I would think that a libertarian would see the necessity for democratic structures, since, the only other alternatives at the extreme are totalitarianism or anarchism.

At 7/06/2006 12:11:00 PM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

Oh, I defintely agree that the "necessary evil" of government is something of a necessity. Limiting that government, though, is an important factor. The thing for me is that I consider myself more of a left-libertarian (not sure I'm willing to go the route of geolibertarianism, though.) Government, IMHO, is primarily needed to enforce laws and provide a judicial system for arbitration and enforcement of contracts. I break a bit from the more anarco-capatilist wing of libertarians in that I think a certain amount of limited (and sunsetable) regulation is not necessarily a bad thing.

For example, take the current smaking ban in restaurants. I'm a non-smoker and don't enjoy smoke around me (especially true since I'm also an EX-smoker for some 15 years.) However it seems to me that a truly appropriate compromise to the smoking ban would not be to ban what a private business owner would like to set as policy on their personal property, but to instead regulate that each business must prominently display their smoking policy outside of their business.

That kind of information can provide an empoering affect to customers who can make an informed decision about which businesses they wish to support based on that businesses smoking policy. Eventually such a regulation could then be allowed to expire once the elected legislature feels it is no longer needed.

At any rate, in no case am I advocating giving up on Democracy. If anything I'm advocating that we fight to get it back. I feel that our legal burden now is such that we don't even know what our laws say anymore. The tangle of beuracracy is such that law no longer serves the public, but hinders us instead. A reduction in government should do far more to giving the individuals in this country more say in their government again. Of course I think we desperately need to have something like IRV ( implemented ASAP!

I guess I'm more in the modernist camp of libertarian in the likes of David Brin. We should be using the scientific method to work out what really will work as best as we can work towards, but in order to do that we also need as much freedom to get there as we can muster. Unlike the mroe right-leaning libertarians who see the free-markeat as the all-abiding answer to everything, I think we must not only acknowledge that government can be corrupted (and do all we can to prevent it) but also that corporations can be corrupted as well and we must not allow the corruptors to hide behind the legal wall of "corporation". If regulation is what is needed to enforce the fairness and competetiveness of a truly free market then I'm willing to accept it (with sunset provisions and an eye towards repealing such if the unintended consequences don't yield the expected results.)

That might get me labeled a heretic in certain libertarian circles, but too bad for them. ;)


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