Guest essay by Eric Worrall
The Wall Street Journal thinks skeptics should embrace a carbon tax as a kind of insurance policy, against the possibility we are wrong about climate change. But what about risks arising from the neglected monitoring of real problems?
Why Climate Skeptics Should Support a Carbon Tax
Even if you’re skeptical, you should probably still back a carbon tax. When you consider the range of things that could happen, odds are the country will still be better off.
It’s an insurance policy. How certain are you that human-caused global warming is not causing irreversible harm? Let’s say 90%. That means you accept that there’s a 10% risk of serious economic damage. That’s enough to merit some sort of insurance policy. After all, attacks by unfriendly countries and terrorists are also pretty unlikely, but the U.S. still takes extensive and costly precautions against them.
Adopting a carbon tax now, especially if its revenues are used to reduce other, growth-damaging taxes, is a pretty cheap insurance policy. It is a much lighter burden on growth than command-and-control regulations or green-energy subsidies. It can also be implemented gradually so that the growth effect isn’t felt for a long time.
Read more (paywalled): http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2016/10/03/why-climate-skeptics-should-support-a-carbon-tax/
My objection to this line of reasoning is there is simply no compelling evidence that global warming would be a serious problem, even if climate sensitivity is high. A few degrees of warming would not threaten food supplies – at worst farm belts would move a few hundred miles towards polar regions. Some important food production regions, such as the Canadian prairies, would become more productive.
There is also no evidence the economically harmful effect of a carbon tax could be mitigated – as the WSJ itself slyly suggests, with its comment that the tax could be implemented “gradually”, to delay the impact on growth. Punishing businesses which use a lot of energy, and refunding the money to less profitable businesses, is effectively an attack on entrepreneurial success. Under a revenue neutral carbon tax, the undeserving get a slice of the income of the productive.
There are real problems which we probably actually should be taking some kind of “insurance” against – climate change, despite the hype and desperate failed attempts to find genuine “climate refugees”, simply doesn’t qualify as a real problem.
The 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor (seen above) was a near catastrophe which should have served as a wakeup call. Without warning, the people of Chelyabinsk, Russia had a half megaton explosion occur almost directly overhead. Thankfully a long way overhead, or the damage and loss of life would have been severe.
Other recent meteor events, though smaller, are in some ways even scarier – the 2002 Eastern Mediterranean Event, if it had struck a few hours later, over India or Pakistan, could have triggered a nuclear exchange if it was mistaken for a first strike – at the time of the event, India and Pakistan were on the brink of war.
Skywatching for dangerous meteors probably receives at most a few million dollars every year.
Other neglected issues should also be serious concerns. The 2004 Indonesian Tsunami killed an estimated 230,000 people. Better early warning systems, such as those which guard Japanese coasts, would have saved many of those lives. The 2011 Japanese Tsunami killed around 15,894 people, and triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster – but many lives were saved thanks to sophisticated and well functioning early warning systems.
One day frittering our resources on non issues like climate, while being complacent about a real dangers, will cost us.
Just off the coast of the US North West, there is a looming megaquake. When the 600 mile Cascadia fault triggers, maybe tomorrow, likely in the next thousand years, it will deliver large tsunamis which devastate hundreds of square miles of populated US territory over a long length of coastline, and will likely kill a very large number of Americans – unless American politicians stop spending all their time obsessing about climate, and start to take Earthquakes and Tsunamis as seriously as Japan does.