Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Before Earth Day

David Leonhardt writes about global warming and cap-and-trade politics in the context of the Ehrlich-Simon debate and wager. I always like to see the E-S bet make it to public discussion, but here is Leonhardt's concern that E-S is not relevant when it comes to global warming:
But global warming is different. The fact that carbon emissions are warming the planet doesn’t make it more expensive to produce those emissions. So companies do not have an ever-increasing incentive to emit less — the way they would if the problem were, say, a lack of oil. Global warming doesn’t solve itself the way that resource scarcity does.

But richer is cleaner. The clincher is that richer predicts greater longevity.

Absent unforeseeable calamities, our successors will be richer and they will laugh at the idea that we made long run forecasts that included impossible-to-predict technological change and that we used these to justify policies that could well impede progress. From burning wood to burning coal to oil to gas to who-knows-what, there is a trend. Cars are cleaner than horses. Considering just the air they breathe and the water they drink, most office workers would not trade for the farm or mine or factory work of their grandfathers.

And most of these improvements came before Earth Day and the EPA.