29 May 2006

Climate Change: Easterbrook's "Case Closed"

The once-skeptical Gregg Easterbrook, visiting fellow of the Brookings Institute and author of the contrarian's environmental history A Moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism, has just published an essay called "Case Closed: The Debate About Global Warming is Over," in the journal Issues in Governance Studies.

His main points: there is consensus in the scientific community that "artificial global warming," which Mr. Easterbrook uses to distinguish human-induced warming from that caused by the natural greenhouse cycle, and that "action against artificial global warming may not prove nearly as expensive or daunting as commonly believed."

"Greenhouse gases are an air pollution problem," Easterbrook argues, "and all air pollution problems of the past have cost significantly less to fix than projected, while declining faster than expected."

Easterbrook says that the "research is now in, and the scientific uncertainty that once justified skepticism has been replaced by near-unanimity among credentialed researchers that an artificial warming world is a real phenomena posing real danger."

But perhaps his most fascinating arguments are around what to do about it. Readers of this web log will find much that is familiar in Easterbrook's suggestions:
1. Kyoto is dead and pointless at this point;
2. While significant uncertainties do still exist, enough is known to make warnings "imperative even when much remains unknown";
3. Some effects of global warming may actually be good – Easterbrook cites the potential for increased agricultural productivity in some countries as a net-positive;
4. The main dangers are real and problematic, including "significant extension of the range of equatorial diseases," "sea-level rise," "melting ice," "altering the biology of the sea," and "misery in poor nations"; and, finally,
5. The "Big Thought that's missing from the global warming debate: there may be an optimistic path that involves affordable reforms that do not stifle prosperity."

I am thrilled to have some of my blog's main, practical themes supported so eloquently by Easterbrook, especially as he represents himself as a skeptic-turned-believer. Easterbrook lays out compelling reasons "to shift gears from the overly ponderous Kyoto approach to a market-driven, innovation-based approach" to address global warming before it sets significant climate change in motion.

Easterbrook distinguishes between the two, thusly "Global warming and climate change sound like the same thing, but are different. If the world became warmer while climate remained the same, the change would be manageable. In that scenario, the benefits might outweigh the harm, Significant climate change, by contrast, could cause awful problems." He goes on to say that "we do know that stable climate is associated with civilization, while climate change is associated with mass extinctions. We would be fools to tempt that equation."

"So what are we waiting for?" Easterbrook asks. Indeed.

Download the complete essay here: "Case Closed"

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