Friday, July 16, 2010

Why You Should Be an Environmental Policy Skeptic Even If You Believe in Global Warming

By Peter Boettke

"Climate Change is real, and it is man-made. But the question is what are we going to do about it."

That was Bjorn Lomborg commenting on the radio show On Point. The show was focused on a new study by Stanford climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh which argues that heat waves are becoming commonplace. The host Tom Ashbrook really wanted to push an alarmist interpretation of the study and the discussion. In fact, one caller actually suggested that the best government policy would be to give each of us a gun so we can shoot ourselves because the living will envy the dead in this apocalyptic future of extreme weather.

Actually, Diffenbaugh resisted this interpretation and said that as a scientist he tries to take a skeptical stance toward all positions, including his own, and examine the data critically, and think in terms of trade-offs. In fact, he said at one point in response to Ashbrook's prodding, that there were obviously benefits from the activities that are leading to climate change, and that ultimately the policy options are really about weighing costs and benefits.

In fact, the most 'controversial' thing Diffenbaugh said was that the scientists associated with "Climategate" were perhaps rude but completely innocent of the charges of scientific fraud. But in this he was merely reporting what the British panel released last week. I don't have any strong opinion on the episode, and would study it mainly as a case-study in the sociology of science.

I am not an environmental scientist, and I am not someone who follows the climate debates closely. I do believe that trade-offs abound in every aspect of human life, and suspect this issue is no different. And I am very skeptical that government policy can effectively deal with negotiating these trade-offs. And, I should add that I was long ago persuaded by Julian Simon's argument that the ultimate resource is the human imagination, so that as the costs start to outweigh the benefits of activities, individuals will have a strong incentive to find alternative ways to avoid the costs and realize the benefits of living better together.

Read the rest here.


  1. From my experience, most of the warming hysterics are totalitarian leftists who deny the laws of economics. I suppose that does not make them wrong per se but it is definitely a concern about their honesty and vision.

  2. I don't have a clue about this man made stuff. I've never studied it.

    It does seem clear that if the environment were rapidly changing, that the free market would cope with the change better than any government efforts at adapting to it.

    Even if by a stretch global warming is man made, it's a cost benefit analysis. Look at all that free markets (in as much as markets have been and still are free) have already brought us. Indeed more privatization is probably the answer. We could *try* to find more ways for people own rivers, oceans, and even clean air. If you pollute my property, you should have to pay compensation of some sort.