Enough about programming for a moment. Here are some questions I have about climate change
1. Temperature measurements clearly show that the Arctic regions are warming up. Atmosphere measurements clearly show that the amount of carbon dioxide in the air is increasing. The physics showing that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can lead to increasing temperature are simple enough that I can understand them. This all hangs together nicely. It seems to me that people who argue that climate change is not occurring need to explain why increasing carbon dioxide does not make the earth warmer, and why the earth is getting warmer anyhow. That is, instead of having a neat explanation for what real measurements show, they have two puzzles. It does not seem parsimonious.
2. I’ve seen arguments that climate change may be occurring, but that it may not be due to human activity. To which I can only respond, who cares what causes it? We should still think about what to do about it.
3. I frequently see that it may be too costly to take the actions required to stop climate change. This argument seems like a misunderstanding of economics. Changes to the climate are a classic economic externality. Somebody has to pay for them, one way or another. If we don’t apply a carbon tax one way or another, then it will be applied for us later on. You can’t escape an externality by pretending that it doesn’t happen, the best you can do is push it onto somebody else. In our case we are currently pushing it onto future generations. That may be a rational choice, if we believe that future generations will be richer than we are. But we shouldn’t pretend that we can’t afford to stop climate change. We don’t have a choice about whether to pay for it.
4. In any case, adjusting for climate change only hurts the economy if we measure the economy in terms of consumption of natural resources. That is not a very relevant measure of the U.S. economy today. Shifting to different technologies will cost jobs in some areas and create job in others. We can grow the economy while using fewer natural resources. It’s entirely possible for us to shift to carbon neutral technologies without hurting the economy (that is, it is possible in an economic sense; it may or may not be possible in a technological sense). I’m not saying it will be easy, but it is certainly possible. The U.S. is currently letting countries like Germany and China get a significant technological lead in this area, but it’s probably not too late to catch up.
5. I really don’t understand why climate change has become a partisan issue in the U.S. There is nothing either Republican or Democratic about science, or about skepticism.
6. Freeman Dyson makes the very interesting point that about 8% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by vegetation every year. That means that biological processes can have enormous effects on carbon dioxide levels. We should be experimenting with biologically based forms of carbon capture. Probably people are already doing this.
7. The climate is already changing. I think the only interesting question now is whether we will prevent a significant rise in sea level. My current bet is that we won’t; history is definitely on the side of people avoiding dealing with environment issues until they are blatant. This is not a good time to invest in beachfront property.