BALTIMORE – Well, it didn’t take investors long…
In less than 24 hours, they figured out that the trade war was fake and the “incredible” deal between President T. and the Chinese at the G20 summit was fake, too. JPMorgan commented:
The yield curve flattened on Monday as well, signaling another wide divide between the “booming” economy advertised by Wall Street and the sluggish reality on Main Street.
Stocks fell, with the Dow down nearly 800 points by the close of day.
But there’s a long way to go. Our guess is that another 10,000 points will have to be lopped off before the pruning is complete.
But let’s turn to our subject du jour.
In Europe, people sneer at the “War on Terror.” They think it’s fake. But they jump in the trenches to stop global warming. They may be cynical about fighting terrorism, but they enlist readily in the great cause of environmentalism.
Then, three weeks ago, under the cover of a dense, choking, BS haze, the French feds ordered an attack. They raised the price of gasoline to $6.50 a gallon. Rather than go “over the top” once more, the taxpayers mutinied.
The French government claims the new tax is part of its program to eliminate fossil fuels and “guarantee cheap and clean fuel for France” by 2050.
In America, too, many people think dramatic action is needed. Typical of the comments you see is this (from a discussion forum):
In the normal course of events, you don’t go to the body shop until you’ve wrecked your car. And you don’t go around stuffing corks in everyone’s mouths just in case they may want to spit on the street.
This is a reflection of what colleague Dan Denning calls the “strategic ignorance” of the human race. We never know what will happen… So you wait to find out. “Life is one long struggle in the dark,” said Lucretius, anticipating Dan by about 2100 years.
But there are exceptions. Sometimes humans take action before something awful happens.
Courts issue an injunction in advance of an event on evidence of the “irreparable harm” it may do. The Supreme Court will even set aside the First Amendment and allow the feds to block free speech if it sees “clear and present danger.” That’s why you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater just to see what will happen.
But what about climate change? Is it a “clear and present” danger? Will it do “irreparable harm”? Or do we go with the president’s gut on this one?
Donald J. Trump says he doesn’t believe in global warming. The scientists may have charts and graphs… and studies and hypotheses… But President T. has intestines! From the president to The Washington Post:
It must be nice to have such a well-informed digestive tract. But the large intestine is also where a lot of the what-the-trade-deal-turned-out-to-be accumulates.
Still – and here, we rush ahead to a conclusion – we suspect that his instinct is correct, at least insofar as it leads to a policy.
But let’s walk it through…
First, is the earth heating up? We don’t know.
This is something that seems straightforward, the sort of thing scientists should know. But it’s not that clear. Most appear to agree that temperatures are rising. A few dissent. But since it feels warmer to us in the Chesapeake Bay area, we’ll guess that the majority may be correct.
Second, is carbon dioxide – from burning fossil fuels – the cause of it? Again, we don’t know.
The hypothesis has been around for a long time. Alas, there’s no way to know for sure. You can’t do a controlled experiment. There’s only one Earth.
And the observed rate of temperature increase may or may not correspond to increases in carbon dioxide emissions or the predictions made by scientists.
And even if the theoretical/experiential case was airtight, you’re still left with the uncertainty of post hoc ergo propter hoc. (Just because one thing follows another, doesn’t mean the first even caused the second.) If you took away the one (carbon dioxide, for example) you might still get the other (hotter temperatures).
Third, even if you accept the climate change hypothesis to this point – that the world is getting hotter and the sweat is caused by our own carbon dioxide emissions – you still face two major uncertainties…
Field Crops in Greenland
First, is it good or bad? Here, the scientists are powerless to give us an answer. Good and bad are beyond calculation. They are value judgments, much too subtle and too slippery for numbers to compute.
What would it be worth to enjoy a warmer winter in the Great Lakes area? What would more rainfall do to the Sahara?
And rising sea levels sound like bad news for those who own low-lying properties. But our farm, for example, is about 50 feet above sea level. If enough icebergs melt, we might have waterfront property!
Subject to computation, but still not to valuation, is the greening of the planet apparently caused by global warming.
Plants like carbon dioxide. And as carbon dioxide levels increase, so does the amount of vegetation. Crop yields go up. The biomass levels the world can support increase. Grass spreads across the barren steppes. Vines hang heavy with fruit, even in areas that were previously too cold for grapes.
What if we could grow field crops in Greenland, Siberia, and Northern Canada? Would it be worth a tropical storm in Pakistan, a flood in Fort Lauderdale, and an earthquake in the Levant?
What if food prices fell as a result of global warming, so that a million people wouldn’t starve? Would that be worth 500,000 others who’d die from flooding?
If the earth is warming, it will doubtless have some good consequences and some bad ones. We can’t know with any precision or certainty in which direction the balance will tilt, nor can we know whether it’s worth trying to do anything about it.
Which brings us to our second major uncertainty: We can’t know whether our efforts would pay off or do more harm than good.
How much would they cost? Who would bear the expense? Why should peasants in the Himalayas have to pay for protecting millionaires’ beachfront mansions in Miami? Who decides?
A visionary program of this scale and ambition would have to be put in place and carried forward by elites from around the world. Naturally, they are almost all in favor… and are all slathering at the opportunities.
Who will get consulting contracts? Who will own the windmills and solar power plants? Who will benefit from tax credits and government contracts? And who will tell the rest of us what to do in a peremptory and condescending tone?
And like the French, who will take to the streets and set cars on fire?