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Pundit's Mailbag — Thoughts On Global Warming And Wealth

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, April 14, 2016

Our piece on terrorism — Putting Aside Pesticide Residue Levels And Climate Change: Will The City Of Light Be A Beacon For The West To Combat ISIS? We Can Never Prosper If Our Civilization Crumbles — brought a complimentary note:

At times like these, your thinking and writing are too important for just this industry. Well said, and I agree with every word you wrote.

Doug Stoiber
Recruiting Consultant
Ag1Source
Hesston, Kansas

We have often appreciated Doug’s contributions to the Pundit, which have included many pieces such as these:

Pundit’s Mailbag — United Fresh And Others Weigh In On Booth Babes

Pundit's Mailbag — Pundit’s Critique Of New York Times’ Reporter Annie Lowrey’s Piece About Abe Gorelick And The Plight Of The ‘Long-term Unemployed’ Draws Notice Of Produce Industry Pros

Pundit’s Mailbag – The McDonald’s Study, Nanny-Stateism And The Role Of Industry Advocacy Groups In Promoting Big Government And Budget Deficits

Pundit’s Mailbag — Price Gouging And The Lessons Of Lincoln

Pundit’s Mailbag — Wal-Mart Dilemma: Add Labor or Reduce Complexity?

Aaw Shucks

But another Pundit contributor, Deidre Smyrnos, has also contributed many pieces including these:

Booth Babes: Al Jolson, The Supreme Court, Self-Promotion And How Context Can Make All The Difference

Pundit’s Mailbag — Sexism In The Produce Industry

Pundit’s Mailbag – “Booth Babes”, Professionalism and Hypocrisy: What Should PMA’s Policy Be?

Pundit’s Mailbag — Further Discussion On Sexism In The Produce Industry

Deidre was not as impressed:

There is certainly a degree of real correlation between the Refugee Crisis and Unrest in the Middle East (and elsewhere) and Climate Change – so let’s NOT put the serious threat and existence of Climate Change aside!

Take a look at this article.

—  Deidre Smyrnos
Viva Tierra Organic Inc.
Rye, New Hampshire

The issue of climate change and terrorism or, more broadly, the threat to our society from climate change and how we ought to react to it is an important topic. We will leave aside for the moment the question of whether climate change is man-made or if we can actually do anything about it in light of the fact that it is a global issue and it will be difficult to get meaningful cooperation from China and other countries.

When it comes to the idea that climate change has something to do with terrorism, it is important to remember that correlation is not causation. There may have been a drought in Syria, but there was also a more severe drought in Australia — and Australians didn’t decide to become terrorists.

This argument is similar to the argument every time there is a riot somewhere that it is caused by poverty — although the vast majority of the world’s population is poor and they are not rioting.

The bigger issue, though, is that even if everything said about climate change is true, it is not obvious that focusing on preventing climate change is the optimal path. By definition, focusing on climate change means spending money. So, even though oil, natural gas and coal are currently the cheapest fuels, some governments, including ours, heavily subsidize solar and wind power and electric cars to prevent climate change. Yet the reality is that the most important thing is accelerating economic growth.

If increased heat and water shortages cause bad behavior, we can ameliorate those issues in Australia with air conditioning and tanked-in water because Australia is affluent whereas Syria is poor.

If you look at things such as water levels rising, you could look at a piece we did titled, Reducing Carbon Vs. Increasing Wealth, which features a review of a book that The New York Times did by Bjorn Lomborg, who held the interview in a bar:

After looking at one too many projections of global-warming disasters — computer graphics of coasts swamped by rising seas, mounting death tolls from heat waves — I was ready for a reality check. Instead of imagining a warmer planet, I traveled to a place that has already felt the heat, accompanied by Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish political scientist and scourge of environmentalist orthodoxy.

It was not an arduous expedition. We went to an old wooden building near the Brooklyn Bridge that is home to the Bridge Cafe, which bills itself as “New York’s Oldest Drinking Establishment.” There’s been drinking in the building since the late 18th century, when it was erected on Water Street along the shore of Lower Manhattan.

Since record-keeping began in the 19th century, the sea level in New York has been rising about a foot per century, which happens to be about the same increase estimated to occur over the next century by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The temperature has also risen as New York has been covered with asphalt and concrete, creating an “urban heat island” that’s estimated to have raised nighttime temperatures by 7 degrees Fahrenheit. The warming that has already occurred locally is on the same scale as what’s expected globally in the next century.

The impact of these changes on Lower Manhattan isn’t quite as striking as the computer graphics. We couldn’t see any evidence of the higher sea level near the Bridge Cafe, mainly because Water Street isn’t next to the water anymore. Dr. Lomborg and I had to walk over two-and-a-half blocks of landfill to reach the current shoreline.

The effect of the rising temperatures is more complicated to gauge. Hotter summer weather can indeed be fatal, as Al Gore likes us to remind audiences by citing the 35,000 deaths attributed to the 2003 heat wave in Europe. But there are a couple of confounding factors explained in Dr. Lomborg’s new book, “Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming.”

The first is that winter can be deadlier than summer. About seven times more deaths in Europe are attributed annually to cold weather (which aggravates circulatory and respiratory illness) than to hot weather, Dr. Lomborg notes, pointing to studies showing that a warmer planet would mean fewer temperature-related deaths in Europe and worldwide.

The second factor is that the weather matters a lot less than how people respond to it. Just because there are hotter summers in New York doesn’t mean that more people die — in fact, just the reverse has occurred. Researchers led by Robert Davis, a climatologist at the University of Virginia, concluded that the number of heat-related deaths in New York in the 1990s was only a third as high as in the 1960s. The main reason is simple, and evident as you walk into the Bridge Cafe on a warm afternoon: air-conditioning.

The lesson from our expedition is not that global warming is a trivial problem. Although Dr. Lomborg believes its dangers have been hyped, he agrees that global warming is real and will do more harm than good. He advocates a carbon tax and a treaty forcing nations to budget hefty increases for research into low-carbon energy technologies.

But the best strategy, he says, is to make the rest of the world as rich as New York, so that people elsewhere can afford to do things like shore up their coastlines and buy air conditioners. He calls Kyoto-style treaties to cut greenhouse-gas emissions a mistake because they cost too much and do too little too late. Even if the United States were to join in the Kyoto treaty, he notes, the cuts in emissions would merely postpone the projected rise in sea level by four years: from 2100 to 2104.

“We could spend all that money to cut emissions and end up with more land flooded next century because people would be poorer,” Dr. Lomborg said as we surveyed Manhattan’s expanded shoreline. “Wealth is a more important factor than sea-level rise in protecting you from the sea. You can draw maps showing 100 million people flooded out of their homes from global warming, but look at what’s happened here in New York. It’s the same story in Denmark and Holland — we’ve been gaining land as the sea rises.”

This is the crucial issue that those passionate about global warming want to ignore: If you wish to avoid bad outcomes, follow the policies that will increase wealth. This is easier and cheaper than trying to stave off changes in temperature.

Many thanks to both Doug Stoiber and Deidre Smyrnos for weighing in on this important question. 

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