Day By Day

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Dim Ray of Sanity on Climate Change

Over at the New York Times, John Tierney cites a study of global warming issues by Indur Goklany of the Cato Institute [the report is here, Tierney's article is here]. The gist of Goklany's analysis is that scarce resources would be better spent addressing immediate problems in the developing world rather than trying to forestall long-term climate change. In other words economic development is far more important than dubious plans for combating climate change and will provide resources for future generations to use in coping with whatever adverse consequences might eventually emerge from global warming. He calls this the "warmest but richest" strategy.

If we continue to promote economic development, he argues,
For the foreseeable future, people will be wealthier—and their well-being higher—than is the case for present generations both in the developed and developing worlds and with or without climate change. The well-being of future inhabitants in today’s developing world would exceed that of the inhabitants of today’s developed world under all but the poorest scenario. Future generations should, moreover, have greater access to human capital and technology to address whatever problems they might face, including climate change. Hence the argument that we should shift resources from dealing with the real and urgent problems confronting present generations to solving potential problems of tomorrow’s wealthier and better positioned generations is unpersuasive at best and verging on immoral at worst.
As Tierney points out this is ultimately a humanistic moral judgment, one that places the well-being of human beings at its core. Others might raise spiritual or aesthetic objections to counter it. And, of course, declinists are fond of asserting that the future will be poorer, meaner, and more problematic than the present. I, for one, find none of these objections persuasive.

Goklany's arguments are by no means new. Their most vocal exponent for years has been Bjorn Lonborg, the "Skeptical Environmentalist". I have myself articulated similar points of view several times and have heard them from the mouths of several scientists with whom I have spoken. But this perspective has rarely been found in the mainstream media which breathlessly reports every scare story that appears, or in our educational institutions which relentlessly push Al Gore's fevered fantasies on our children, or in the entertainment media which continues to crank out environmental disaster scenarios.

Goklany's analysis is eminently sensible and, to my mind, moral. It is encouraging to see it reported by the New York Times. Perhaps sanity is beginning to intrude on the hysterical global warming/climate change discourse.

Let us hope so.