The Depolarization of Global Warming Debate

Global warming is something I don't really like to talk about because arguments over it are usually just stealth political clashes with science being used as flimsy camouflage. There's been relatively little room in the discourse for those who 1) believe it's a real problem, 2) are skeptical of our capacity to accurately gauge the magnitude of the problem, and 3) don't think the policy implications of it are obvious.

This has left me disgusted by the spectacle of right-wing hacks trying (and failing, badly) to discredit the evidence for global warming, and left-wing hacks blithely using it as an excuse to smuggle in their preferred policies (i.e. handing more economic control over to the government -- quel surprise!) without serious examination of all the alternatives. Aside from a few breaths of fresh air like Thomas Schelling, Tyler Cowen, and Arnold Kling (on his better days), incautious claims and downright dishonesty seem to dominate the discussion.

So with that little bit of bitching off my chest, it's good to see middle ground positions getting a bit of press time (courtesy of Cosh):

Consider how many non-catastrophist views are available to a person who is completely, utterly convinced that the Earth is warming. He could conclude, for starters, that it is a good thing on balance; perhaps it's no coincidence that the Medieval Warm Period coincided with the intellectual and economic fertility of the High Middle Ages. He could believe that it is bad for the world as a whole, but good for his own country, adopting a posture of personal or national selfishness. He could look at the climate extremes in the European historical record, still clearly wider than those experienced by any living person, and deduce that mankind will adapt without large-scale organized effort. He could foresee significant pan-global costs from warming, but believe that the available solutions are even more expensive, or that other threats are more urgent.

He could be an optimist who prefers to delay policy action and bet on the arrival of a simple, cheap technological solution to warming. He could decide, like some economists, that the costs of warming should be borne mostly by future generations, who are likely to be wealthier than us. He could even think that the damage we have already done is irreversible, or that future damage is practically unpreventable, and that nothing remains for us but to go on enjoying the final decades before the global kablooie.

None of these positions, not one, involves any "skepticism" about climate change or its causes. Most are reasonable enough to have already been espoused publicly by distinguished figures. They all share the same climatological premise, but schemes for planned economic contraction like the Kyoto Protocol are scarcely consistent with any of them.

I don't necessarily agree with any of the above positions (though I lean toward the second-to-last), but even seeing them being addressed is an improvement. Now that the partisan shock troops have just about worn themselves out, hopefully it's now time for some more nuanced approaches to take the stage. None too soon, either.

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