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Thursday, June 6, 2013
R.L. White’s letter (“It’s energy interests vs. the public interest,” June 3) finally gets to the real substance of the global warming debate. The previous string of letters almost gave me the impression that all of a sudden the public had become passionate about science and cared deeply about the integrity and accuracy of scientific findings.
Actually, the bottom line is that both global warming and efforts to slow it down are expensive, very expensive, and that is the real reason why the public cares. But when it comes to specifics, the latest letter raises more questions than it answers.
So we “must” spend $10 trillion over the next 20 years. Well, if we do that, it will buy us what? And from where will the $10 trillion be diverted, and what is the cost of that? (The annual amount of $500 billion is roughly three-fourths of the total nondefense discretionary spending by the federal government.)
The devil is, as always, in the details, which are not a matter of science alone. When it comes to that, it hardly helps that economists have an abysmal record trying to predict anything.
The prospect of Hampton Roads being under 6 feet of ocean sounds like a half-truth. Yes, some projections predict an increase in sea levels of 6 feet by the end of the century. But this would not put Hampton Roads under 6 feet of water.
For starters, not all of Hampton Roads is at sea level. There are also conceivable countermeasures, albeit expensive ones. For instance, about one-fifth of the Netherlands is below sea level.
Of course, pulling off something like this requires investment for a public purpose, a concept that is admittedly more popular in the Netherlands than it has been lately in the United States.
A reasonable assessment of the relative cost and effectiveness of cutting emissions, moving low-lying communities, building dikes and a slew of other options is certain to be far from simple and fraught with considerable uncertainty.
But do not hold your breath expecting that such attempts even will enter the public discussion in a substantial manner. Why bother? In the polarized world of 21st century politics, it is just so much easier and so much more effective to question the integrity of scientists or to dismiss skeptics as lackeys of greedy corporations.
Weather JournalWarmth next 2 days hits icy wall