Day By Day

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Case for Not Taking Action on the Environment

So the Gorey activists tell us to switch to biofuels as a way to reduce greenhouse gases, and we start to, then new studies show that the production of biofuels creates more greenhouse gases than is saved by using them. [here]

"So what's the problem?" say the activists -- "We tried a solution and it didn't work, try another."

But the problem is real. Instituting public policy to encourage or compel certain kinds of activities is expensive and introduces serious distortions into markets. We saw that when shifting agriculture to the production of biofuels created food shortages in much of the world. What is more, once instituted public policies create constituencies that will fight to keep them intact even if they prove to be counter-productive. Biofuels production has a big constituency in the farm states.

The point is that expert solutions that sound great in theory can be disastrous when applied to public policy and once instituted are very hard to change. This is why we should approach subjects like climate change hesitantly and with considerable trepidation rather than going in whole hog on the basis of expert opinion.

Global warming enthusiasts, like Sen. McCain, like to point to dramatic events like the collapse of the Larson ice shelf in Antarctica to prove their assertion that global warming is an imminent and overwhelming problem that must be addressed immediately. But time and again studies disprove that the original interpretations of these events were erroneous.

Science News Daily reports:

(Feb. 11, 2008) — When the Larsen B Ice Shelf in Antarctica collapsed in 2002, the event appeared to be a sudden response to climate change, and this long, fringing ice shelf in the north west part of the Weddell Sea was assumed to be the latest in a long line of victims of Antarctic summer heat waves linked to Global Warming.

However in a paper published in the Journal of Glaciology, Prof. Neil Glasser of Aberystwyth University, working as a Fulbright Scholar in the US, and Dr Ted Scambos of University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Centre now say that the shelf was already teetering on collapse before the final summer.

“Ice shelf collapse is not as simple as we first thought,” said Professor Glasser, lead author of the paper. “Because large amounts of meltwater appeared on the ice shelf just before it collapsed, we had always assumed that air temperature increases were to blame. But our new study shows that ice-shelf break up is not controlled simply by climate. A number of other atmospheric, oceanic and glaciological factors are involved. For example, the location and spacing of fractures on the ice shelf such as crevasses and rifts are very important too because they determine how strong or weak the ice shelf is”.

So, once again the original assumptions made and conclusions reached by experts were shown to be erroneous. Once again we have an excellent example of why scientific authority is an inadequate guide for making public policy and a warning against undertaking precipitate and potentially mis-informed action that will have unforeseen consequences for future generations.

Read the article here.