So What Should We Do?

In the climate change debate, both sides have an incentive to scientize – to argue about the science rather than the resulting value/political/policy propositions.

Those who advocate greenhouse gas reductions believe that the science is clear and compels a particular policy response. Those who oppose greenhouse gas reductions have found great success by arguing over the uncertainty of the science. In the resulting gridlock, we never really get to the political/policy debate, happily ensconced instead in the furious minutiae of hockey sticks and the role of the sun.

Donald Boudreaux sidesteps that tangle and tackled the issue head-on in a piece last week on Reason that says, in essence, OK, I accept the science, now let’s talk about the economic realities of the proposed policy responses.

Being neither an atmospheric scientist nor a former U.S. vice-president, I haven’t the expertise to judge whether or not global warming is a reality or the extent to which humans cause it. Experts who I trust, however, persuade me that science does indeed show that global temperatures are rising and that industrial activity is at least part of the reason. I’m prepared to believe even the possibility that global warming will eventually kill millions of people.

But I nevertheless insist that science does not unambiguously endorse action against global warming. Put differently – and contrary to today’s elite opinion – ignoring global warming is not necessarily a sign of scientific illiteracy or of ideologically induced stupidity.

You don’t need to agree with the guy to applaud him for getting on with the part of the actual debate that matters. (Hat tip Benny Peiser.)


  1. All the guy did was fall back to another standard-issue skeptic/denialist argument that we have heard many times before. I’m truly surprised you think there’s anything meaningful here, John.

  2. Boudreaux is very concerned about the possibility that regulations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases could stifle “if not kill” capitalism, but very little concerned about the possibility that global warming “could kill millions of people.”

    This is an argument to be applauded?

    If you take a serious look at the projections for mid-century and beyond, you quickly realize that if scientists like Hansen are on the ball, the effects of global warming will be very serious and quite likely devastating not just to individuals, but to businesses too.

    The insurance industry is already well aware of this.

    If we really care about our way of life, including capitalism, we will want to take action now, as, of course, countless far-sighted corporations and non-profits (GE, Duke Energy, Goldman Sachs, UPenn) already are.

  3. See WGII and WGIII in the various IPCC reports.

    However, I kind of suspect that these have been Rasooled** by the denialists.

    **Rasooled, disappeared as Rasool the first author on a mid-1970s paper with Schneider has been declared a non-person in the climate wars.

  4. Kit –

    It’s not the argument “to be applauded”. It’s the argument to have – what are the costs and benefits of various approaches to reducing greenhouse gases, and do the benefits outweight the costs. I happen to believe that the economic costs of greenhouse gas reductions are less significant that Boudreaux argues. But the point here is that you’ve got to assume people on the other side are reasonable and engage that argument – not dismiss then ad hominen as “standard-issue skeptic/denialists” and assume that if you’ve won the science argument, you’ve won the policy argument as well, as Steve B. apparently wants to do.

  5. Thanx for the interesting link, John.

    For me personally, it’s hard to read this Reason op-ed seriously, as I see wurdz like ‘elite’, ‘command and control’, etc. Right away, he is knee-jerking the argumentation, in addition to falsely framing solutioning in the hands of the elites; are these people so powerless that they can’t participate in societal solutions? No, they are gaming the solutioning to their ideology. Dismal science indeed.



  6. John, I suppose as a journalist you are required to assume that someone isn’t just making things up even when it’s clear that they are. Doing otherwise does make your job harder. In this particular case, I think one can consider the historical arc of climate change argumentation from Reason etc. Also, note this breathtaking statement from Boudreaux:

    “If global warming’s ill-effects won’t occur for, say, another 150 years, nothing objective says that people today should sacrifice for that distant tomorrow.”

    Ignoring the entirely false premise (since not being a journalist I’m free to ignore them), if that’s not “ideologically induced stupidity” I’m not sure what would be.

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