Politics trumps science in climate change debate

Or so says Popular Science. Reporter Colin Lecher lays out some bold claims in an article published online last Friday about the role statecraft plays in the climate change debate, citing a Nature study to say that politics, not science, is the main driver of the controversy over global warming. Here’s the text of the article, as seen on the Popular Science website:

An analysis in Nature has confirmed what we already knew: politicians need to hurry up if we’re going to stop climate change. What’s more, the longer they wait, the more it’ll cost them–and taxpayers–to fight the problem. (Good thing everything has been going swimmingly in Congress as of late.)

The researchers behind the study knock down the excuse that waiting until scientific and technological “uncertainties” are cleared up is worth delaying action. For example, one common goal is to keep global temperature at no more than two degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels. The analysis calculates the odds of staying below that two-degree line if countries work to meet target emissions by a certain year:

  • If the 195 countries that plan to start cutting off emissions by 2020 meet that goal, it gives the planet a 56 percent chance of staying within that goal.
  • But if those countries delay action until 2025, it drops the odds to 34 percent.
  • And if that goal was pushed forward to 2015, it would raise our chances to 60 percent.

As for cost: if action started in 2015, the analysis states, it would cost 60 dollars to get rid of each metric ton of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of another greenhouse gas. But waiting until 2020 would raise the cost to $150 per metric ton.

No one ever went broke betting against politicians taking swift action, but we can at least hope it makes financial sense for our leaders in this case.

The big takeaway for this article for me was actually an obvious insight – the sooner we address a problem in government, the cheaper it will be to solve. As a red-blooded conservative, I’m all for saving a few dollars when it makes cents.

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Posted in Fiscal Policy, Foreign Policy
4 comments on “Politics trumps science in climate change debate
  1. Jim Hull says:

    A conservative who believes in Global Warming? And who thinks the government can do something about it without screwing it up worse? I have to sit down.

    The budgetary idea is … ahem … optimistic. It generally costs several times as much to have the government do anything. Starting earlier is still way too expensive, especially since costs always balloon absurdly beyond projections as the program stumbles forward and politicians sink their teeth into it, dragging it down. Even then, the program will probably make things worse. (Ever find a government program that actually worked? Let’s see … Education? Health care? Anti-poverty? Infrastructure? The Drug War? I rest my case.)

    For the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that Global Warming is real. While governments dicker — or impose inefficient solutions that are draconian or window dressing — the next billionaires aren’t waiting: these inventors and entrepreneurs already have set up carbon sequestration test systems around the globe, presenting us with the possibility of a much-improved future climate that doesn’t rely on authoritarian edicts (that would depress economies and actually _slow down_ investment in alternatives).

    It’s already being fixed. But politics thrives on impatience and anger, so — knowing humans — we’ll probably backseat-drive the solution off a cliff.

    • I agree with you that a private sector solution is 10,000x better than a government-mandated program. Those things tend to go downhill fast! Elon Musk is my favorite industrialist-environmentalist – if you aren’t familiar I highly suggest you look him up!

  2. I think you’re on to something here. The best way to convince skeptical conservatives to act on climate change could be this financial angle. Acting now is cheaper and less disastrous. I like it.

    • I loved that angle too. I’ll have to put some numbers together and see if I can make a good case. For issues as controversial as global warming I like to make sure I have all the facts before I plunge in. That’s why I haven’t written on it yet. Hopefully that will change when I get some free time.

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