Monthly Archives: November 2013

Carbon Emissions Caused Global Warming

Thus far, Robert has been very successful at living his life without stating any significant opinion or position on the issue of global warming, its existence, causes, and possible remedies.  Much to the chagrin of his wife, when asked to commiserate or state his position, he typically grunts and says something like “I don’t know anything about that.”

Today he will take the plunge and do something that too few people do when talking about science, current events, and policy.  Instead of talking in generalities and jumping on a bandwagon, he will state his current understanding of a matter of public concern. He will create a record and will be willing to change it over time.

Here are Robert’s current understandings and beliefs.

1. The planet Earth is getting warmer.

2. Human beings are causing some portion of this increase in temperature.

3. Carbon emissions from things like airplanes, cars, and power generation facilities are responsible for causing some portion of that portion of human-caused increase in temperature.

4. The planet will be about 6 degrees warmer overall at the end of this century. This increase in temperature will cause some good things to happen and some bad things to happen.

5. It is not clear to Robert how much net cost/damage to planet Earth and all of its creatures will be caused by increased temperatures.  He assumes that there are measurable net costs/damages by the end of this century and that those costs should be reduced.

6. It is not clear to Robert how accumulative the effects of carbon emissions on the atmosphere are. In other words, it is not clear to Robert how slowing (but not stopping) the rate of carbon emissions has beneficial effect. If all carbon fuel on the Earth will eventually be burned, does it matter how quickly it is burned? And, is there an argument that says that it is better to burn it quickly that to prolong the process?

7. Human beings should take concerted effort now to reduce carbon emissions and otherwise limit or stop global warming. This is true even though we don’t know the exact measure of cost/damage.

8. Discussions concerning steps individuals can take to reduce global warming are not especially interesting.

9.  Sadly, nuclear power production is historically under-used in the world.  Some of the consequences of carbon fuel emissions could be reduced, perhaps drastically, by the increased use of nuclear energy.

10. If Robert had to, he would bet that advances in clean energy solutions will come very rapidly over the next 30 years and that by then we will have forgotten about the global warming issue and moved on to another crisis that satisfies our Western-Judeo-Christian-fueled thirst for a doomsday rhetoric. But of course we can’t bank on this bet.

11.  The best way to limit carbon-based global warming is to introduce a worldwide hybrid carbon tax and cap-and-trade system. If these taxes and systems are put into place, some good things will happen and some bad things will happen.  It is true to say that if these policies are put into place, then at the margin some people will be harmed, even die, because of them.

12. As a category, limiting coal burning power production creates the best opportunity to reduce harmful carbon emissions.

13. All things being equal, Robert would vote for a political candidate that favors eliminating coal burning power production, a carbon tax, and cap-and-trade policies.

14. All this said, Robert still believes that it does not really matter what he thinks. Democracy is not very good at solving problems like global warming because it is difficult to get people to vote for policies that make them pay a price in the short term in order to make the world a better place in the future. And the more voices that chatter on the issue, on all sides, means the more inaction there will be. This is a problem that should be solved by technical experts. But in the age of hyper-democracy and incessant chatter, it is difficult to see how it will be.

Robert invites comments. Please use the reply feature on this blog post if you would like to comment, make suggestions, or tell Robert that he is wrong or should consider a different perspective.