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February 03, 2007

MY EARLIER POST ON GLOBAL WARMING AND THE NEED FOR A BAN ON PRIVATE JETS led one reader to ask me for some constructive thoughts, as opposed to snark. Fair enough, though if things are as bad as they say, a ban on private jets would be constructive, no? Or, if not, it's probably because it'll never happen, as the fatcats take care of their own. Which raises other issues . . . .

But, that said, I suppose I should offer more than criticism of media hype and celebrities' and politicians' posturing, even if mocking those things is itself a major and constructive contribution, and one at which the blogosphere excels.

Do I "believe in " global warming? In the sense that the world seems to be warmer now than in recent history, yes. The more apocalyptic scenarios seem to me to remain unproven, but certainly cause for concern.

Do I believe that global warming is anthropogenic? Not so clear. Plausible, but still far from certain.

Does this matter? Probably not. Regardless of what you think of the above, burning carbon is a lousy idea. Coal and oil are, over the long term, far more valuable as chemical feedstocks than as fuels anyway, and burning them is unacceptably filthy regardless of greenhouse issues. We should replace them as soon as possible with nice, clean, greenhouse-friendly nuclear plants and other environmentally friendly power technologies. Burning less carbon is good planetary hygiene, and good practice generally, regardless of what you think of global warming. So, I suppose, in a way we should be pursuing global warming remedies regardless of what you think about global warming.

Over the medium-term, things like the above can make a big difference in the amount of carbon that America produces, especially when connected to other carbon-friendly technologies like plug-in hybrids, electric cars, etc. Over the longer-term, things like nanotechnology are likely to render the problem moot, but it will be several decades before that happens.

In the short term, there's a lot of low-hanging fruit. I've been looking at compact fluorescent lights, which save a significant amount of power, and I've written a column on some related ideas for enhancing energy efficiency that are worthy of more attention than they've gotten.

What about a carbon tax? In principle, it might be an okay idea -- though I note that claims that it will spur technological advance are iffy, as Europe, which has very high gas taxes, hasn't been a hotbed of innovation in automotive efficiency. What's more, I worry that the advocates of a carbon tax are in fact often more excited about the "tax" part than the "carbon" part. If something like this is enacted, it should be revenue-neutral, with offsetting cuts elsewhere. Eliminate the income tax in favor of carbon taxes? On that, we can talk.

At any rate, Kyoto -- despite the way it has been misrepresented in the press -- could never pass even when the Democrats were in charge, and wouldn't make much difference even if the U.S. was a party, and if Europe wasn't engaged in rampant cheating. ("In truth, Europe's CO2 emissions are rising twice as fast as those of the U.S. since Kyoto, three times as fast since 2000. ") The fastest-growing producers of CO2 are in Asia, and won't slow their economic growth significantly in order to fight the greenhouse effect -- and they would have difficulty in doing so even if they wanted to. Short of Bush nuking the Saudi and Iranian oil fields (defunding terrorism and stopping global warming in one blow!) no single change we can make is going to make a big difference. I'm all for more research on more efficient technologies, but that takes time.

One thing that I think is important: Energy conservation needs to be something positive. Nothing sells on a "suffer for the future" model very well. Too many environmental activists are hair-shirt types (at least when the hair-shirt is for other people) and that stuff is poor salesmanship. Martin Eberhard, of Tesla Roadster fame, is right when he says that many early electric cars were "punishment cars," predicated on the notion that driving was inherently suspect. Make electric cars fun, and useful, and people will want them. This lesson applies to lots of other things, too. Neo-puritanism, on the other hand, has a certain personal and political appeal to some people, but it doesn't sell beyond its niche. The less scold, the more sold.

Of course, none of this is to say that a ban on private jets wouldn't help, too . . . .

UPDATE: On the other hand, Donald Sensing wonders what if global warming is a good thing? Interesting argument. It wouldn't change my position -- nothing short of a Fallen Angels scenario, in which human greenhouse gases are all that's holding off a new Ice Age, would -- but that's because my position doesn't turn on global warming one way or another.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Is the AEI buying climate scholars? Doesn't sound any worse than what the Joyce Foundation does on gun studies. I eagerly await Big Media outrage on that topic . . . .

But the beauty of things from my perspective is that it doesn't matter, because my position doesn't turn on global warming one way or another.

MORE: "JetBusters?" Heh. Why not? Stay tuned . . . .