04 Jan 2009

Murphy Praises and Criticizes James Hansen

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Uh oh, another post on climate change that may stir up the hornet’s nest in the comments. Anyway, here I give a guest response to NASA’s James Hansen’s open letter to Barack Obama. An excerpt:

But there’s the rub. The politicians are not going to [follow Hansen’s advice and] impose a simple carbon tax. Instead, they will install a confusing cap & trade program, because it will be easier to hide its impacts (in terms of higher energy prices) from voters, and because it provides the politicians with more opportunity to bestow blessings or punishments on certain sectors. For example, the various cap & trade plans differ in their details over whether the permits should be auctioned or freely disbursed, and which groups (power plants, local governments, etc.) should get the free permits. And we can be quite certain that the politicians will, on net, extract far more revenue from the economy after the imposition of the new carbon scheme.

Ironically, Hansen seems to know all of this, for he writes:

Optimism is fueled by expectation that decisions will be guided by reason and evidence, not ideology. The danger is that special interests will dilute and torque government policies, causing the climate to pass tipping points, with grave consequences for all life on the planet.

The President-elect himself needs to be well-informed about the climate problem and its relation to energy needs and economic policies. He cannot rely on political systems to bring him solutions – the political systems provide too many opportunities for special interests.

And yet, Hansen’s eight-page missive is on what policies the government ought to pursue, since persuasion and argument are obviously inadequate. Professor Hansen is sure that he is right, and he wants the new President to force everyone else into line—immediately.

We can only hope that in his next letter, Dr. Hansen explains how the leader of the U.S. political system will implement these suggestions without recourse to the political system. I don’t consider it too flippant to compare Hansen’s letter to a request that the Pope reform the Catholic mass without involving the Church.

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