"It is the unhappy fate of the scientist today that he must play the role of Cassandra in the body politic, sending his fellow men to bed with nightmares in the hope to be heard in time."

- Arthur von Hippel, in "The Molecular Designing of Materials" (h/t @upbeatprof)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ezra Klein is Badly Wrong on Climate Policy

At the Washington Post, Ezra Klein thinks he is advocating for a strong climate policy when he says:
One of the conceptual difficulties with trying to evaluate various energy bills is that the problem of climate change is qualitatively different than other problems. Usually, whether a bill makes a problem better is the primary question underlying whether senators should vote to pass it. But with climate change, if we don't stabilize carbon emissions, it's game over. So it's hard to know what to say about a bill that would move us forward on clean energy while still not doing nearly enough.
But he is wrong. Stabilizing carbon emissions is just a small beginning, and indeed there is some indication that it has already happened in America. What is required by the physics of the situation is stable concentrations, which in turn means near-zero net emissions.

The confusion endemic in the policy sector and the press about this is awfully tedious. Efforts from people who have some understanding of the science to make exactly this point have been ongoing for a long time, to very little effect.

As Dr. Ken Caldeira says:
I compare CO2 emissions to mugging little old ladies…. It is wrong to mug little old ladies and wrong to emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The right target for both mugging little old ladies and carbon dioxide emissions is zero.


William T said...

I think you're probably being a bit harsh - my interpretation is that this is just a poorly expressed phrasing and Ezra Klein really did mean that we need to stabilise (cumulative) emissions.

However the slip up does illustrate how far the bau philosophy (continual exponential growth) is from what is required by the physical reality of the planet (reduction of present over-consumption towards a long-term sustainable level). Stabilisation of output at present levels is not going to be nearly enough. That is a hard job to sell.

William T said...

A bit OT, but here's an insightful article on the pitfalls of growth for growth's sake.


Michael Tobis said...

William, it is even a harder job if people don't really understand it. It's my experience that most people don't.