From MIT’s campus newspaper, The Tech:
Not worth the fight huh? Them’s fightin’ words to some people.
The United States would gain little in trying to forestall climate change
Global warming is real. It is predominantly anthropogenic. Left unchecked, it will likely warm the earth by 3-7 C by the end of the century. What should the United States do about it?
Very little, if anything at all.
As economists, we are inclined to take the vantage point of the benevolent dictator, that omnific individual with his hands upon all of the policy levers available to the state. When placed in such a position, the question of how to respond to global warming is answered by performing a simple comparison: does x, the cost of optimally mitigating carbon emissions, exceed y, the benefit of that carbon mitigation? Where the answer is yes, the global carbon mitigation effort remains rightfully nascent, where the answer is no, it springs up and becomes law with a just and sudden force.
H.L. Mencken once wrote, “Explanations exist; they have existed for all times, for there is always an well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” Such is the economist’s explanation of climate change.
Global warming is a tragedy of the commons, carbon emissions are a negative externality, and reducing CO2 in the atmosphere is a global public good. These types of problems have been well-studied by economists, and solutions to them are known. Unfortunately, these solutions require a sovereign power to enact them, and in this world there is no global power to enforce economically optimal solutions, no benevolent dictator, no organ of international government capable of superceding national sovereignty and its attendant self-interest. The international system is not cooperative — it is best defined as anarchic and follows the Thucydidean maxim: the strong do as they can… the weak suffer as they must.
Instead of thinking as economists, we should think as international relations realists. In the realist school of thought, a man comports with another’s will only in proportion to the cudgel wielded over his head. We will not, solely through moral suasion, convince others to act against their own national interests.
Countless man-hours of scientists and economists have gone into trying to estimate the costs and benefits of climate change mitigation. Yet the real question is not whether y is greater than x, but rather whether it is greater than x + z, where z is the cost of enforcing an agreed upon reduction in carbon emissions. This is the minimum threshold that must be passed before any action is possible, and the chances of passing it in the near future are slim: not in least part because we lack the technology to monitor the emissions of other countries. But even if we did have the technology, the nature of the problem makes the challenge nearly impossible. Suppose two nations Alpha and Beta, agree to limit their emissions, and suppose further that it is cheaper for Alpha to reduce its emissions in the present while it is cheaper for Beta to limit its emissions in the future. What prevents Beta from reneging on its agreement after Alpha has already committed to a reduction? The act of punishing a defector, whether it comes in the form of a trade sanction or other action, is itself a public good that carries some cost to the punisher.
The sound and the fury that has characterized the public discourse on global warming often obscures a basic economic fact: we are in the situation we are in because it requires fewer resources to generate electricity with coal or propel automobiles with petroleum than it does to accomplish those same goals with solar cells and biofuels. The “green economy” our politicians have placed on a pedestal is not an improvement over our existing one — there is no gain to be had in producing with the effort of three men what we previously accomplished with two. We should tolerate this inefficiency only insofar as it helps us avoid some other, greater harm.
Full story here
h/t to WUWT Jimbo and Climate Depot