12 May 2009

Benefits/Costs of Waxman-Markey

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At MasterResource I summarize the latest goings-on in the climate wars. An excerpt:

[S]ome of the most credentialed and respected supporters of cap & trade…agree with the numbers: Waxman-Markey would cost households $3,100 in higher prices per year (possibly offset through truly productive government spending and/or tax relief), in exchange for a world which warms 9/100ths of a degree less by 2050 than it otherwise would.

To be clear, that figure of 9/100ths of a degree assumes the rest of the world continues with “business as usual,” while the US obeys the (eventually harsh) emissions reductions in Waxman-Markey. (You will not be surprised to learn that the really harsh limits kick in down the road, not when the thing is first signed into law.)

Chip Knappenberger, MasterResource’s climate scientist, has also run the numbers assuming other countries participate in comparable emissions cuts. Here is his post on this scenario, but I haven’t followed this debate closely so I don’t know if the critics at RealClimate agree to his numbers here. Of course, Chip finds that if other industrialized countries participate, then we get better results (i.e. more avoided warming), but even so it’s not great:

If the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, Europe, and former Soviet countries all limited their emissions of greenhouse gases according to the schedule laid out under Waxman-Markey—a monumental, unexpected development—it would, at most, avoid only a bit more than one-half of a °C of projected global warming (out of 4.5°C—or only about 10%). And this is under worst-case emissions assumptions; middle-of-the-road scenarios and less sensitive climate models produce even less overall impact.

I stand open to correction, but I think the big thing here is that unless you get China on board, at best you are merely postponing (what some consider to be) dangerous warming by a few years.

I think it is incredibly wishful thinking to assume that the leaders of China would seriously hamper their economic growth because of the warnings of climate scientists. It’s not as if the world will literally end anytime soon; in the worst case scenarios millions of people around the world might get flooded out of their homes, etc.

So if world leaders (such as the Chinese) continue to build nuclear weapons in order to keep the US at bay–even though this collectively runs the risk of the true destruction of civilization as we know it–are they really going to hesitate to achieve higher economic growth because it might kill some poor people on the coasts?

I realize I will be accused of not caring for these people. That’s not my point here. My point is, the rulers of China do not care for these people, at least not enough to cripple how quickly their economy catches up to the Americans’. And I’m not saying the Chinese leaders are particularly vicious in this respect; I’m singling them out because they are the crucial ones who need to limit emissions if these plans are to have any success.

Sooo, if you really do think that (say) 5 degrees C of warming could threaten millions of people, I think it’s very foolish to pin your hopes on a plan that requires all major governments around the world to lower their own economies’ economic growth for many decades. Does that sound like a realistic plan?

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