Editor’s note: Robert Samuelson is a respected economic commentator (that phrase is by the way sheer code), and here we have his views on matters which concern us greatly. My reaction? Well, objectionable as it may be to some, these are voices that we need to listen to and somehow integrate into our understanding of both the problematique, and of the way out. I have once again highlighted what strike me as points of contention. And would it only be that he were all wrong. But hey! He ain’t. Which leaves us with the job of being just as smart as he is, And then some. Your comments?
By Robert J. Samuelson,
Almost a decade ago I suggested that global warming would become a "gushing" source of political hypocrisy. So it has. Politicians and scientists constantly warn of the grim outlook, and the subject is on the agenda of the upcoming Group of Eight summit of world economic leaders. But all this sound and fury is mainly exhibitionism -- politicians pretending they're saving the planet. The truth is that, barring major technological advances, they can't (and won't) do much about global warming. It would be nice if they admitted that, though this seems unlikely.
Here are some IEA estimates of the increases: France, 6.9 percent; Italy, 8.3 percent; Greece, 28.2 percent; Ireland, 40.3 percent; the Netherlands, 13.2 percent; Portugal, 59 percent; Spain, 46.9 percent. It's true that
On their present courses, many European countries will miss their
We are seeing similar exhibitionism in the
"We expect CO2 emissions growth in
Like most forecasts, these won't come true. But unless they're wildly unreliable, they demonstrate that greenhouse emissions will still rise. Facing this prospect, we ought to align rhetoric and reality.
First, we should tackle some energy problems. We need to reduce our use of oil, which increasingly comes from unstable or hostile regions (the
Second, we should acknowledge that global warming is an iffy proposition. Yes, it's happening; but, no, we don't know the consequences -- how much warming will occur, what the effects (good or bad) will be or where. If we can't predict the stock market and next year's weather, why does anyone think we can predict the global climate in 75 years? Global warming is not an automatic doomsday. In some regions, warmer weather may be a boon.
Third, we should recognize that improved technology is the only practical way of curbing greenhouse gases. About 80 percent of CO2 emissions originate outside the transportation sector -- from power generation and from fuels for industrial, commercial and residential use. Any technology solution would probably involve some acceptable form of nuclear power or an economic way of removing CO2 from burned fossil fuels. "Renewable" energy (wind, solar, biomass) won't suffice. Without technology gains, adapting to global warming makes more sense than trying to prevent it. Either way, the Bush administration rightly emphasizes research and development.
What we have now is a respectable charade. Politicians and advocates make speeches, convene conferences and formulate plans. They pose as warriors against global warming. The media participate in the resulting deception by treating their gestures seriously. One danger is that some of these measures will harm the economy without producing significant environmental benefits. Policies motivated by political gain will inflict public pain. Why should anyone applaud?