Thursday, November 03, 2005

Climate Change

For someone like myself who is concerned about global warming, the simplistic and oftentimes ignorant discussion of climate change is quite irritating.

The error of skeptics is a complete lack of attention paid to causation. No one disagrees, that all else being equal, additional CO2 results in a warmer atmosphere. Not everything else is equal, of course- but skeptics have to confront the reality that only a catastrophic system collapse allows for a feedback effect to eliminate 100% of the stimulus, such as that posited by The Day After Tomorrow. But since no one really suggests that such a catastrophic cascade effect is likely to occur, we are left with the reality of climate change.

On the other side, advocates of initiatives like Kyoto ignore the fact that any action taken now only pays off decades down the road. The momentum of climate change is such that the economic opportunity cost of addressing climate change is enormously higher than advertised (and this is separate from the underestimation of the immediate cost). Secondly, in order to stabilize the global climate, a dozen Kyotos are needed. This fact is never mentioned, but incredibly important to the public discussion.

Finally, a few observations often left out: the effect of both the ozone hole and the burning of coal has been to mask the effect of global warming. Coal burning, while emitting CO2, also emitted enormous quantities of ash, which deflects solar energy back into space. The ozone layer, on the other hand, itself contributes to the greenhouse effect (though it is not, of course, anthropogenic). The erosion of the ozone layer has allowed more energy to get out of the atmosphere. The effect of coal emissions is on the wane, while the ozone hole appears to have stablized. We can therefore expect the current warming to continue, and perhaps even accelerate.


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