Posted by: Bill | July 14, 2010

Quick note on Climategate

Clive Crook, writing for the Atlantic, sums up my latest thoughts on Climategate pretty well. I have not had enough time to follow the reports from various committees that “investigated” the climate scientists. However, it looks like these reports were exactly as expected. The one from Penn State made me laugh out loud.

All that being said, this post from Ezra Klein actually made me think….that maybe I need to reconsider some things. If we are going to spend a boatload of money on this, I have always preferred we tax carbon rather than use a hair-brained cap and trade system. Here are a few paragraphs of his argument that caused me, for the first time in a long time, to think that maybe such a tax is a half-decent idea rather than just the best of a group of bad ideas.

There’s a range of likely outcomes from a tax on carbon, and we can handle most of them. There’s also a range of outcomes from radical changes in the planet’s climate, and we’ve really no idea which we can handle, and which we can’t. We don’t even really know what that range looks like. And although a tax can be undone or reformed, there’s no guarantee that we can reverse hundreds of years of rapid greenhouse gas buildup in the atmosphere. If you want proof, look at our inability to deal with an underwater oil spill, and consider how much more experience we have repairing oil rigs than reversing concentrations of gases in the atmosphere.

One of the oddities of the global warming debate, in fact, is that the side that’s usually skeptical of government intervention is potentially setting up a future in which the government is intervening on a planetary scale. I don’t think of myself as particularly skeptical of the feds, but I’m a lot more comfortable with their ability to levy a tax than their capacity to reform the atmosphere. That’s why, when faced with the choice between being risk averse about a tax or about the planet, I tend to choose the planet.

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Responses

  1. Two comments;
    1. Where will the tax revenue go? If just into the general fund, I have issue with it. It jsut becomes another revenue stream for over spending Congress. If specifically used for green house gas reduction/research maybe ok
    2. Just increasing the “cost” of carbon related products will not change our consumption behavior(cigarettes, booze, gas taxes as example). Cost will just get passed along to ultimate consumers.
    How high will the tax have to go to get us to change our ways?


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