Distributism and Global Warming

by John Médaille on December 22, 2009 · 32 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Economics & Empire,Politics & Power

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Not a Single Cube of Ice

In November of 2008, the cargo ship Camilla Desgagnés delivered supplies to the Arctic village of Kugluctuk. It did so by traversing the Northwest Passage and was first commercial voyage through the passage in recorded history. Normally, the Northwest Passage can be traversed only by powerful ice-breakers, if at all, but on this voyage they did not see a single cube of ice. It is likely that the passage will soon be open to regular commercial shipping, and on a year-round basis. This is likely to cause some problems for Canada, since it claims sovereignty over the passage, a claim which no other nation (including the United States) recognizes. It could even be a causus belli, if Canada decides to defend its claims.

Canada’s claims are not my subject; I am concerned with the meaning of this voyage. The voyage of the Camilla Degangés should be sufficient to prove the reality of global warming, which has cleared the passage of ice. At one time, perhaps, it was possible to deny global warming, or to claim that the evidence was not weighty enough to reach a conclusion, but the voyage of a ship of 5,000 metric tonnes should be weight enough to settle the question. But while it settles the question of whether there is global warming, it does not settle the questions of the causes or the cures.

The major question is whether global warming has its roots in human industrial production, and the tons of pollutants spewed into the natural environment. To be sure, there have been changes in the climate within human history prior to the Industrial Revolution. There was the Medieval Warming Period which allowed the expansion of Viking power, and the “Little Ice Age” which ended it. Nevertheless, it would also be a mistake in logic to conclude that because there are natural causes of climate change, there can be no human causes as well.

I must confess up front that I am not smart enough to reach any informed conclusion about the subject; the scientific debates exceed my poor knowledge by several orders of magnitude. But I would be very much surprised to learn that you could dump unnatural chemicals into the environment, or natural chemicals in unnatural amounts, and not have any effect. To expect nature to handle a chemical it has never seen, or to rebalance chemicals it has already balanced, is to expect too much of the natural order. Of this I am sure: The burden of proof must rest on the polluters. Those who wish to use the air, the rivers, the ocean, and the land as public dumps should be forced to demonstrate, on sound evidence, that it will do no harm. Those who would limit such dumping do not have to prove a thing, other than that such dumping is not natural; it is up to the dumpers to prove that nature can take it.

Suspicion about “Environmentalism”

I believe that conservatives express great skepticism about global warming for two reasons at least. One, it is frequently connected with theories of “overpopulation,” theories which by now should have been thoroughly debunked, and two, they view it as an attack on capitalism and a back-door route to global socialism. These are legitimate grounds for suspicion. Concerning the first, if population control is the solution, then China, with its one-child policy, should be well on the way to solving its pollution problem. But in fact, the reverse is the case. China’s pollution problems are growing with its demographic problems, not shrinking. Indeed, the one-child policy has made China’s problems all that much worse. No matter how bad things get in the United States, they will still be better than what happens in China.

It is not too many people, but too many wasteful people that are the problem. One can confirm this with a little thought experiment. Imagine that the population of Africa is doubled at an instant, but their levels of consumption are held constant. It is likely that there would be little, if any, environmental effect; Africa has more than enough resources to support a much larger population. But now, imagine that the population is held constant, but their consumption levels are raised immediately to that of the Americans or Europeans. This is likely to result in an environmental catastrophe. This thought experiment is being tested in fact as both China and India aspire to American forms of consumerism.

Pollution as a “Property Right”

The other problem is that conservatives see environmentalism as an attack on capitalism and industrialism. However, even if that were true at one time, the reverse is happening now, namely that capitalism itself is being proposed as the solution, through the means of establishing pollution as a property right. This is the meaning of the “cap and trade” system. Government will give the biggest polluters the biggest rights to pollute, and then slowly withdraw the rights, leading to a market in pollution rights. And since the market knows all things, sees all things, the market will solve the problem without any further government involvement.

It is hard for me to imagine a worse solution than making a pollution a “right,” essentially a legal right to poison your neighbor. When you create such rights, you are likely to get more of a thing, not less. And since there are such huge measurement problems, not to mention a host of loopholes, cap and trade will create a vast and profitable market without materially reducing pollution. Indeed, creating a property right in pollution creates a constituency to continue that right, and extend it. The “trade” part of cap and trade will be real enough; the “cap” part is likely to be ephemeral. (For a good left-wing analysis of this program, see Annie Leonard’s The Story of Cap and Trade; while you are at her site, see The Story of Stuff.)

Distributist Solutions

The proper answer to bad solutions is not no solutions; it is better solutions. Nor is denial an answer. Even if we are in a “natural” warming period, unrestrained industrial action can only make it worse. Distributism is capable of providing these better solutions, and recognizing the reality of pollution, for distributism itself is an exercise in realism. And distributist solutions are rooted in two sound principles: proper cost accounting and community rights.

Pollution is an “externality.” An externality is the cost of a transaction that is borne by someone not a party to the transaction. When a company dumps mercury into the river, there will be health problems downstream, a real cost. The price of a product should reflect all the costs, but this cost will not show up in the price. The people downstream of the plant will subsidize the company through increased birth defects; the company will get the benefits of using the river as a sewer, and the downstream babies will get the cost of a lifetime of problems. By definition, an externality cannot be handled by the market; it is external to the market. To ask the market to handle the problem is asking it to do something it cannot do, and that is asking for trouble.

The first step in any solution is not to see pollution as a right, but as a wrong. And the nature of that wrong is that it appropriates a community resource (such as the air, the river, the ground) as a private property, and does so without any compensation to the community. The community has every natural right to forbid this, or at least to charge for the use of these resources, up to their full value.

Proper cost accounting insures that all costs show up in the price of a product. In the case of externalities, the market cannot do this; it is up to the community. The community must put a price on its resources, just like any other owner of a resource must do. Some resources cannot be assigned any cost. In the case of mercury poisoning, it can only be forbidden. Other things can be priced, even at a price that restricts their use. Carbon outputs can be priced, and ought to be; the community ought to recover something for the use of its resources, and the overuse of certain things ought to be discouraged. Only proper cost accounting and the proper recognition of community rights can do this. It is amazing, by the way, just how many questions of social justice come down to questions of proper cost accounting. Indeed, one of the great uses of distributism is to ensure that costs are properly charged to cost causers.

Distributists should be leaders, not laggards, in dealing with these questions. Aside from the economic issues, distributism is rooted in Christian principles which dictate a reverence for nature. This reverence is not a worship of nature in the raw, but a proper respect for the created order over which man has proper dominion. This dominion is not a tyranny which allows us to abuse nature, but rather to care for it. We make nature serve human ends; this is right and proper. But in doing so, we do not violate its “natural” status; we do not convert the river into an open sewer, the ground into a cesspit. At that point, it is not natural, and quickly ceases to serve any human purpose, other than the purpose of letting a few humans get rich at the expense of their brothers.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jason Peters December 22, 2009 at 2:09 am

John–

When do you suppose externalities show up in the average Econ class? The last day of the last week?

We need proper accounting, as you say. We also need proper accounting of Accounting and Econ classes.

I have had Accounting and Econ students tell me that I am the first person to talk to them about externalities. And I’m just a pore kuntry English teecher who don’t know dookie.

avatar Marchmaine December 22, 2009 at 9:10 am

A fine article proving the necessity of an hereditary Landed Aristocracy.

You write: “The community must put a price on its resources, just like any other owner of a resource must do.”

Just as external costs are external to the market, resources are external to “the community.”

Democracy has no mechanism to manage these resources for a period longer than the next election cycle.

The problem is insoluble with the current institutions.

avatar Marion Miner December 22, 2009 at 11:11 am

Marchmaine, I don’t know about that. A hereditary landed aristocracy might be your solution, but I don’t think it’s the only one, and I certainly don’t believe that the democratic system is incapable of dealing with this.

John: Philosophically, I like your conclusions concerning the environment. Now, considering distributism as a whole: I never had any exposure to it at all until college and, though at present I am unconvinced, I would like to learn. Can you recommend any reading for me to better familiarize myself with its basic tenets?

avatar Dennis Larkin December 22, 2009 at 11:32 am

I read a definitive article just the other day –where did I put that bookmark– explaining that while the arctic is warming, the antarctic is cooling: nine times the size of the arctic, the antarctic ice sheet is expanding and thickening. So is the earth warming or cooling? Here in Iowa, we had the coldest summer on record. Last winter we had the coldest day on record. The data on global warming is inconclusive, and the passage of one ship through one route argues in favor of warming but it ignores other arguments against warming.

And anyway, if we’re all evolutionists, what’s the big deal? The environment is mutating so that human and mamalian species head toward extinction, while other more adaptable species (say, germs) head toward dominance. Just another day at the evolutionary grind.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 22, 2009 at 11:40 am

Say Wha?…
“A fine article proving the necessity of a Landed Aristocracy”

I suppose if reducing the populace to subsistence penury as tenant farmers is a means to reducing the spoliation resulting from unbridled commercial exploitation of resources, perhaps it is. It did so much for Ireland. But then we arrive at the little issue of exhausted gene pools, weak chins and even weaker minds, presided over by world class sycophantic rats who enrich themselves on the backs of the subjects whilst blowing carbon credits up the potentates ample soft arse.

Could it work? Sure, why not? But then…….We are already well on our way back to that halcyon Nirvana of Yore with our big strapping oligarchy entering a new phase of royal prerogative. Perhaps Rupert Murdoch will don the purple or maybe some unknown Hun out of the Far East. We genuflect to a witless popular culture, why not do the same to some arrogant Blue Blood ?

A landed aristocracy….whoo boy, this take the cake. I can’t wait for the pogroms. But its an idea, I hope it came up in Copenhagen. We are at a point where a comparative discussion of the tyranny of Nation State Socialism, Despotic Mercantile Fascism and Royal Abuses just might produce a common thread of guiding wisdom. But then, we do so like to be kicked pillar to post in search of leaders to obey.

Resources are not external to a community, they never have been. A community is only as good as its resources and moral sensibilities whereupon the community that squanders its resources demonstrates moral deficiencies that will soon acquaint the community with the severest of consequences because, in the end, the fiddler will be paid.

Frontier Cultures, and we remain mired in the downside of that mindset (the upside is a fair portion of the vigorous and optimistically “can-do” American Experience) ….. defer stewardship of known resources because they are forever in hopes that the next grubstake over the western horizon will pull the collective arse out of the fire. Where natural resources are significantly blurred by Technology, as in our case, one even begins to abandon the care of any resource. A sense of magic replaces the prudent regard of one’s resources. The distance between the citizen and their natural resources increases to a wide and impassable breach where environmentalism is reduced to sentimental notions and the flatly uneconomic practice of witless and unheeded resource exploitation is embraced by the so called “realists”…hence, the “get out of jail free card” of the so called “externalities, Modern Economic’s Unicorn dancing upon the far side of the moon.

The efficacy of the bottoms-up wisdom of subsidiarity comes into play and with this, there must come a mindset where the community understands that it is its natural resources. The citizen must shed its juvenile mindset and reconnect with both resources and means of production and it will never do so by waiting for Imperial Decree….as it is now doing whether to King or State.

But, you are right, the problem is insoluble with the current institutions. But I would assert it is not simply the institutions , the institutions are potentially sound, we remain as a people in thrall to despotism.

avatar eutychus December 22, 2009 at 12:29 pm

quick question: How has China’s one-child policy made their pollution problems much worse? I think I must have missed the explanation of that statement.

avatar rex December 22, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Just as external costs are external to the market, resources are external to “the community.”

External costs are external to the market because the market is simply a mechanism, and all mechanisms are amoral. If resources are external to your definition of community then your definition of community is flawed.

A landed aristocracy is no more immune to ignoring the common good than a representative democracy. Even our current oligarchy could function if they took the concept of the common good to heart. Again, governments are mechanisms and one form is not inherently less evil than another. Some are more robust and resistant to fatal flaws creeping in, but all will fail if the common good is ignored.

avatar Albert December 22, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Mr. Larkin, you raise an interesting question. Perhaps the “global” in global warming presupposes a very non-local idea, namely that warming or cooling on earth is monolithic. I would hope that localists would be careful not to ignore the possibility that climate changes are localized, contra a “global” diagnosis.

The “global” rhetoric would seem to foster the sort of easy obfuscation of interests and power motivations that is common in attempts to do things on behalf of the “global community.”

That said, this essay is very even-handed and a great starting place. I wonder, though, whether the articulation of these ideas in the language of rights is the best approach. It would seem difficult to divide up “air,” for example, in such a way that I (or a community) could claim to have a right to it. Perhaps the language of rights is necessary in a legal system approach; I would suspect, then, that such an approach would have to be combined with a culture where the experience of the real effects of pollution renders the abstract language of externalities more intelligible. It’s quite easy for modern folks like us not to care.

I myself learned the concept of externality in my first macroeconomics course at university, where it was used to justify a centralized technocratic mindset that would call on experts to decide how much things cost. Pollution was reduced to a problem that would be managed by use of more powerful technologies and bureaucracies that would allow people to be wasteful with a clear conscience. I doubt this is what Mr. Peters had in mind.

avatar Marchmaine December 22, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Landed Aristocracy is just red meat for the internet… what it signifies is a trans-generational ownership stake in the land.

Though it is interesting to see that Americanism trumps Aristotle.

I also find it interesting the a common Porcher response is to equate community with petty bureaucracy.

I rather admire the fact that John is a Macro Distributist; my point is that like all good economic theories it starts with Assume X.

In this case, it is: Assume Communities.

avatar James Matthew Wilson December 22, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Per usual, I agree with Albert. But to extend one of his thoughts:

I have always found something odd about global warming as cultural phenomemon: its massive scope, the absolute terms of the stakes, all derive from the age old tendency to millenialism. The Christian fear of the Last Judgment and the End of the Age appears morally superior to the stripped down terror of a mere “environmental” disaster, as, of course, the phrase “apocalypse” promises something richer than “disaster.” So, my first small irritation with global warming is the way it extends a problematic but significant, and true, tradition of fearing the end of things. A world that fears God, fears his judgment; a world that has made individual pleasures into idols simply fears the ends of those pleasures and global warming conveniently tells us it is those pleasures themselves that will ultimately destroy us in the “spiritualized” form of CO2.

Why, in an age so suspicious of grand moral narratives has this one gained such purchase? Let me respond to that in two ways.

One does not have to be John Medaille to confess ignorance of the science behind theories of global warming, because it is inexact and speculative even at its most sophisticated. When we hear of man-caused or man-exacerbated global warming, most of us incline to believe because we have the empirical experience of a world made very ugly by so much of our activities: concrete and asphalt, litter in the bushes, gasses lingering above the city as one drives into Phoenix or LA, the garish and meaningless semiotics of strip malls and shopping plazas. We know we are in a bad way, and the only difference between men is of those who try to focus on the interior of the Starbucks and those who look in horror at its location and how it fits into a tapestry of tastelessness. Why are questions of “environment” not addressed primarily as questions of “place”? John actually does address them as questions of place: his essay evidently provides better argument against the pollution of a watershed than it does against the excretion of methane (I wink) into the heavens. These questions really matter in the sense that they evidently, manifestly, matter. Those of global warming are plagued with uncertainty above all because they are far above our experience. How far? So far, that we would do better to ignore those questions altogether — if we are willing to attend to the microcosmic questions of this factory or that dump instead.

But, secondly, how curious that “environmentalists” have gone in the opposite direction. I think this bespeaks their religious misanthropy, whose sacred meditator is not Christ but, as Albert says, technocratic experts. Why not pitch their tent on a problem so stark, so absolute, so unfathomable that the only choice remaining to a person touched by its threat would be either despair before determined natural forces or a despairing leap of faith into the lap of that modern natural force, the state?

I won’t explore the full range of implications to this phenomenon, but I do think it suggests the supersititiousness of the de-Christianized; the lapdance many Christians now perform on global warming suggests also a loss of equilibrium, a loss of that superior metaphysical position of analysis that fears God’s judgment more than a tsunami. This, in turn, suggests a refusal to apply practical wisdom to immanent problems and to give over instead our faith to a new technocratic dispensation that, let me assure you, will do nothing about the ugliness amid which most of us live.

avatar Marion Miner December 22, 2009 at 2:18 pm

James: well stated. The problem approached as one of place seems very well to be the only solvable one, as is the case concerning many other problems other than the environment. I like your observations on post-Christian worldviews as well. One really could write forever about that.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 22, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Marchmaine, What “landed aristocracy” might mean to you is one thing, its commonly accepted definition is another. I do like the poetic possibilities of your definition however, the thought that identification with a very specific piece of land and the stewardship of it can develop a kind of aristocracy…the aristocracy of terroir.

The Greeks trumped Aristotle First.

I don’t understand where you might get the idea that the “common porcher response is equating community with petty bureaucracy”” What do you mean by this? My perception is that the so called “porcher”, a suspect term….. promotes community and a local emphasis as an antidote to bureaucracy, petty or otherwise.

Wilson,
To a degree, the poorly named “global warming” is, in effect, the secular technocrat’s Apocalypse. A spiritually depauperate people that are nonetheless cognizant of the rather sordid trajectory we inhabit must have some concept of things being resolved, benefits conferred or punishments exacted or the low grade nihilism of the times will go Big League Nihilism. Its no accident that the Global Warming debate coincides with the debate about “Enlightenment Scientific Values” vs. “Religious Spiritual Values”, as though this kind of either-or argument is remotely productive or that religious intellectuals were not the authors of the Enlightenment. But, as with all herding species, the instinct to herd-up strengthens when under assault.

As to carbon credits, it seems a reasonable first step to a people who cannot express a value of something unless it is a commodity but I smell another bubble coming on for the purposeful soldiers of financial legerdemain. Carbon credits are purportedly a device to help poorer nations get ahead and sub prime derivatives were involved in increasing home ownership for those less able. The Sow is all dressed up with no place new to go.

This entire issue of “Man’s Dominion” needs a thorough historical assessment. Why has dominion come to mean less of stewardship and service but more of exploitation and dominance? …particularly, why has this mindset advanced to the degree it has within a Republic…or the runt remains thereof…where some prevailing notion of commonweal should include at least rudimentary notions of stewardship? Is the threshold into the Tragedy of the Commons we have crossed a permanent exile?

avatar Bob Cheeks December 22, 2009 at 3:58 pm

D.W., I’m “petty bourgeoisie” and damn proud of it!

avatar John Médaille December 22, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Jason, I find the same ignorance about externalities, which is perplexing since I doubt that there is an economic text in the world which doesn’t have a chapter on the subject. However, that may be the problem: it has its own chapter which is somehow alongside, or outside, the market theory, which is viewed as complete, save for this minor flaw, introduced later. Further, they attempt to cloud the issue with discussions of “positive” vs. “negative” externalities. That language is incorrect. The positive externalities, so-called, are symetries where there are always costs and benefits on both sides; externalities proper are asymmetric. The costs are on one side and the benefits on another. But even the Austrian texts will allow the problem to be handled by taxation. The more liberal texts will, as someone pointed out, use it as an excuse for govmint management. This is true, but only to the extent that govmint represents the community. In democratic societies, the externalities tend to become political prizes, awarded to the friends of the administration. The take-away for the student is “oh, well, the positive and negative cancel each other out” or “We need govmint management right now!” The first conclusion is false, the second only partially true. We need community management of some resources, which MAY mean government (in the nation-state sense) or may not, depending on the circumstances. The externalities define the limits of the market, and in a sense the limits of the government.

Marchmaine. I am not sanguine about a “landed aristocracy” unless that group is large enough to be a significant portion of the populace. IOW, I like the “landed” part; I’m a bit skeptical of the “aristocracy.” Also, I not only “assume community,” I ask “What kind of systems are likely to reinforce community?”

James, I think you are right that environmentalism becomes a secular (and false) religion. Anything cut off from its sacred roots (and certainly the environment is sacral) becomes its own opposite.

I rather like the language of rights when applied to communities. I think the language of individual rights is somewhat paradoxical, since rights always refer to some social relationship, if they are meaningful rights.

Marion, the founding texts are The Servile State and What’s Wrong With the World. Then there are economists such as Schumacher, Pesch, Tawney, and others, but not as many economic treatments as I would like to see. My next book Toward a Truly Free Market, to be published next year by ISI books, is meant as an primer on the economics of distributism.

avatar eutychus December 23, 2009 at 11:25 am

geez, i didn’t think my question was all that difficult. what’s a guy got to do to get a little service around here?

avatar Uland December 23, 2009 at 6:33 pm

“The voyage of the Camilla Degangés should be sufficient to prove the reality of global warming, which has cleared the passage of ice.”

It should? Why? We know that temperatures have been higher than they are now, long before mass industry.
I really do not believe this is sufficient proof of anthropogenic global warming.
I recommend all interested parties view this filmed lecture by Christopher Monckton, entitled “Apocalypse?, No!” :
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5206383248165214524#

avatar V. Maro Grammaticus December 23, 2009 at 9:39 pm

“The voyage of the Camilla Degangés should be sufficient to prove the reality of global warming, which has cleared the passage of ice.”

One sentence should be sufficient to prove the rhetorical sloppiness of that statement.

avatar John Médaille December 23, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Eutychus, population control makes it worse because it is viewed as the answer to the question. The Chinese, in their own estimation, have gone to extreme, indeed draconian lengths to “solve” the problem. Therefore, they should be free to build as many coal-fired plants as they want or dump as much crap in the streams as they wish. Every false solution makes the situation worse.

I think we have vastly underestimated the scientific education of most Americans, or at least that is conclusion that I draw from the fact that so many people have such settled opinions on a such a technical matter. Me, what do I know? No much. Only this: If you keep crapping in your nest, pretty soon your nest will smell like crap.

avatar Artie December 24, 2009 at 9:58 am

This article ends where Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons begins. Hardin thought the solution was population control, or relinquishing the freedom to breed. I think Hardin got it all right except for the solution. We need to freely relinquish the complementary aspect of freedom to breed, which is freedom to pollute.

avatar John Médaille December 24, 2009 at 10:32 am

I’m not sure I can agree with Hardin because I don’t think he was talking about the “commons” at all; he was talking about unowned property, like the air, or rivers, or bits of unowned land.

avatar Artie December 24, 2009 at 11:56 am

Depending on your definition of ‘commons.’ Hardin expanded on the idea of the commons. All living things share a common need for clean water and air, and there is a finite supply. A growing population will inexorably run into natural limits to health/growth in a finite environment. Ergo, to mitigate the inexorable tragedy of overpopulation/environmental decay, you either effect some control of the population size, or the control of the amount of resources consumed and waste produced.

Of course the real tragedy is that no one wants to be told how much they can consume or how many children they can have, and guilt and shame are not really effective means of achieving sustainability. I agree that a deeper reverence for nature would, if widely-held, make the tragedy somewhat more bearable. I don’t sense this deeper reverence coming from the Christian right.

avatar John Ryan December 24, 2009 at 1:11 pm

I am intrigued by the concept of Distributism. Are there any good Distributist books that you can recommend, Mr. Médaille?

avatar Jon December 24, 2009 at 3:02 pm

John, regardng “the burden of proof must be on the polluters” and that whole paragraph, I think this viewpoint is a misunderstanding of science. Firstly, the idea that polluters must show “with sound evidence” that their pollution “does no harm” is a non-sequiter. Of course pollution does harm, that’s why we call it “pollution” :-). It is more a matter of whether the pollution is diluted in the environment to levels where we cannot measure the harm. Worse though is the unseen harms that we didn’t have the foresight to see, such as long term mercury pollution in the sediments of the Great Lakes.

Even just talking about CO2, which is not really a pollutant but whose environmental concentration we currently believe is important, there’s no way that CO2 emitters could “prove” it will do no harm. We cannot run a planet-sized double-blind-with-placebo experiment over a time scale to prove this one way or the other. All we can do is wait and watch what happens with this planet. I’m not arguing that we cannot use good science to decide to control CO2 emissions or not, I’m just saying that the policy decision will have to be done absent hard scientific “proof”. (No, the simulations that much of climate science depends on are not proof, they are valid exploratory efforts, but I’m a computer scientist by trade and know too much about computer simulation to put too much faith in simulations.)

Finally, it’s easy to talk about “polluters” in the third person, and to take a harsh stand on controlling them, but let’s never forget that they are polluting on our behalf, not just because they want to pollute. It is we who are consuming the electricity (and thus coal), the gasoline, the plastics, the metal. It is our lifestyle that is causing the pollution. To put it another way that ties back to your article, how many of us first-worlders are willing to start living an African subsistence lifestyle?

Jon.

avatar The Pale Scot December 24, 2009 at 3:24 pm

The problem is “climate change”, NOT “global warming”;

If the temperature increased a couple of degrees uniformly around the world there would be changes but few catastrophes. What is going to happen is that the grain belts in N. America and Asia are going to move north, Russia is going to benefit immensely. Rainfall patterns are changing, leaving billions of people in permanent drought conditions and forcing mass migrations.

As for Antarctica, from Skeptical Science

“If the Southern Ocean is warming, why is Antarctic sea ice increasing? There are several contributing factors. One is the drop in ozone levels over Antarctica. The hole in the ozone layer above the South Pole has caused cooling in the stratosphere (Gillet 2003). This strengthens the cyclonic winds that circle the Antarctic continent (Thompson 2002). The wind pushes sea ice around, creating areas of open water known as polynyas. More polynyas leads to increased sea ice production (Turner 2009).

Another contributor is changes in ocean circulation. The Southern Ocean consists of a layer of cold water near the surface and a layer of warmer water below. Water from the warmer layer rises up to the surface, melting sea ice. However, as air temperatures warm, the amount of rain and snowfall also increases. This freshens the surface waters. So now you have a surface layer that is less dense than the saltier, warmer water below. The layers become more stratified and mix less. Less heat is transported upwards from the deeper, warmer layer. Hence less sea ice is melted”

More snow doesn’t mean it’s colder;

When the CIA opens a new Dept to look at the national security impact from look at the national security impact from “phenomena such as desertification.;

Insurance companies are modifying their actuary tables (PDF);

And the American Association of Petroleum Geologists go from wildly cheering Michael Crichton to saying that the denialist position is “not supported by a significant number of our members and prospective members”

I would say the forecast calls for massive changes of the location of habitable areas with a possibility of being completely screwed.

My opinion is that we’re already past the tipping point and that oil production is going to drop just when we need access to cheap convenient transportable energy to prevent WW3. In asia alone three nuclear armed nations are going to lose their Himalayan water sources, Bangladesh will be most affected, so if they aren’t picking up and moving to higher ground because of rising sea levels they’ll be looking for water.

When climate change was just a hypothesis in the late 80′s in was predicted that the Artic might be ice free by 2100, every couple years that number has been adjusted downward. Quebec will be my retirement spot.

avatar John Médaille December 24, 2009 at 3:57 pm

All we can do is wait and watch what happens with this planet.

Hmmm. What do you say after you say “ooops!”?

the policy decision will have to be done absent hard scientific “proof”.

Then wouldn’t you want to err on the side of caution?

how many of us first-worlders are willing to start living an African subsistence lifestyle?

Ah, so those are the only choices. I see.

avatar Steve Berg December 24, 2009 at 11:03 pm

“Climate change” is not scientific, whereas “global warming” is. The former cannot be falsified, while the latter can be, albeit over time. Of course there is climate change. There was Precambrian glaciation in what is now southern Africa. Now, it is much warmer there. If climate gets warmer, you have change, if it gets colder, ditto. The same thing goes for precipitation. Change cannot be falsified. It is a constant.

My main beef with these carbon zealots is that they always seem to want other people to be forced to change their habits, while they are most reluctant to do so themselves. I am a firm believer is stewardship, and do what I can to lead a life with minimal waste of resources, but I cannot say the same for many of the environmentalists of my acquaintance.

avatar Jon December 25, 2009 at 12:40 am

John,

Hmmm. What do you say after you say “ooops!”?

Exactly. But it cuts both ways. What if we spend 60% of our society’s productivity reducing our carbon footprint, and it turns out we didn’t have to? If you put 100 policemen on a city block, you’ll certainly reduce crime but you’ll never really know how many actual crimes you prevented. It’s an uncalculatedable cost-benefit ratio.

Then wouldn’t you want to err on the side of caution?

If we took that approach we’d have never smelted iron ore, gold ore, created and used artificial fertilizer, dammed rivers, and so on. Virtually _everything_ modern society does has a negative ecological impact. Who decides what we should be cautious about?

Ah, so those are the only choices. I see.

If one looks at the supposed CO2 reductions we “need” to “save the planet”, realistically then I’d say yes. I don’t see any takers…

Jon

avatar John H December 26, 2009 at 11:23 pm

One measure of consumption of resources is our “ecological footprint” – the amount of the area of the Earth’s surface needed to produce the resources we use. According to most analysts who believe in this measurement, if everyone on Earth lived like Americans, it would take 6 or 7 planets to support them. Africans on average today only need an acre or less per person.

So we are not putting a high enough price on the resources we use – water, air, oil, coal, etc. Just the extaction cost, not the replacement cost. That’s where reasonable taxes make sense. Charge a tax of $25/ton of Carbon emitted. Charge a $1/gallon of gasoline to pay for the wars that defend our American ability to extract oil and our lifestyle.

But given our current (American) political talents, where Conservatives oppose every tax on every thing and yet spend like drunken sailors when they can and their popular demonization of gummint since Ronald Reagan, it does not appear that we will avoid getting to “oops.”

avatar John Médaille December 27, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Charge a $1/gallon of gasoline to pay for the wars that defend our American ability to extract oil and our lifestyle.

Pay for our wars? What a novel idea. I thought that’s what children were for.

Oh, wait. We’re not having any of them, either.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins December 29, 2009 at 11:34 pm

I haven’t had any advanced knowledge of economics, since I took a course on basic Econ which turned out to have a Marxist teaching it. I wanted to study Marxism too, but that semester, I wanted Samuelson and Friedman and Keynes, which is quite a spectrum in itself. However, what is presented here as Distributism is exactly what I’ve been looking for on pollution. Sweep away all the whining voices about infringing on freedom: establish a form and content of regulation which insures that the produced pays the full price of the product. That could be quite steep: for instance, the entire cost of whatever it takes to totally remove the pollutant from the river, or, alternatively, the entire cost of treatment and care for every major and minor deformity caused by the mercury, etc. Either way, with that measure in place, the producer will FIND a way to end the pollution — the market will take care of that, given the right incentives.

I don’t agree that “overpopulation” has been debunked as a valid concern, but it certainly isn’t the root cause or immediate solution for global warming. I don’t believe African CAN support twice its current population, but that would be a separate paper of some length to sort out. China is paying a price for thinking that overpopulation was not a concern, back in 1949, then finding out that they would have been a lot better off with only 600 million people or so. Now they have to get draconian to try to scale back a bit, or even stabilize. It is not directly related to their carbon output.

The real solution to global warming is not convincing everyone to turn off their TV and park their cars — nor forcing them to do so by police action. The real solution is to set up incentives that take into consideration the full cost of carbon emissions, then, coming up with new technology. It would help of course to inspire new forms of urban AND rural planning to cut down on the need for vehicles — communities where people could conveniently walk to work, to the store, to church, or ride bicycles convenient distances without being marathon enthusiasts… The approach John lays out seems to be a good one. But its not far different from cap and trade. Cap and trade worked fairly well to deal with acid rain from sulfur dioxide pollution. Its not a right to pollute. Pollution law starts with an absolute prohibition on ALL pollution, then sets some allowed limits since it is not feasible to cease at once.

avatar De Las Casas August 28, 2012 at 8:59 am

From the article “The voyage of the Camilla Degangés should be sufficient to prove the reality of global warming, which has cleared the passage of ice.”

Which has what? How do you know this cause and effect with such certainty? This is superficial thinking about a complex subject. According to reliable sources, a National Geographic Atlas for one, the Arctic Sea was also free of ice during the last Ice Age when ambient temperatures were lower. Some professionals in this area have speculated that alterations in the locations of polar upwellings of deep ocean currents melted the ice.

But I am not sure. Why are you so sure, John Medaille?

avatar John Médaille August 28, 2012 at 10:40 am

I don’t see how your comment does anything but add to what I said. You merely point out that there were other periods of global warming, as indicated by the melting of the ice. How previous periods of GW cast doubts on this period of GW, you don’t say. But I think you are confusing the arguments; I think (correct me if I’m wrong) you are trying to say that this period of GW isn’t man-made. Maybe, maybe not, but either way there is GW occurring, as indicated by the melting of the ice.

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