Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Slow response to climate change?

Clive Crook of the Atlantic is right:
Facing such huge but distant risks, the crucial thing is to think long term, the very thing that Washington does worst.
But he goes on to commit an error, I believe:
An initially moderate carbon tax, an initially gentle scheme of mandatory caps on greenhouse-gas emissions, and an honest plan to promote long-term energy efficiency could nudge the economy with minimal disruption on to a path of much lower climate-change risk. At the same time—anathema to many environmentalists—serious thought should be given to policies for adapting to climate change. Whatever happens, we will have to live with higher temperatures. And, above and beyond the warming that is already, so to speak, in the pipeline, it will make sense to tolerate some more, and adapt to it, rather than aim or hope to stop it altogether.
Why so slow? The typical answer is that a fast response is bad for business. But for which businesses? The entrenched ones? Or the ones we have yet to see?

I have not heard a "take it slow" argument that adequately addresses whether a fast response would be bad for business in general, or just for the very large and historically successful business interests already deeply entangled in Washington politics. This comes into sharper relief when we consider that the long-term costs of climate change are expected to be far, far greater than the short-term shocks that could result from quick changes. Gradual changes may do nothing to ameliorate climate change.

And he forgets one element of Washington politics -- panic will make Capitol Hill do just about anything.

No comments: