Robert Samuelson joins the ranks of those unimpressed with the analysis presented by the Stern Review.
Stern's headlined conclusions are intellectual fictions. They're essentially fabrications to justify an aggressive anti-global-warming agenda. The danger of that is we'd end up with the worst of both worlds: a program that harms the economy without much cutting of greenhouse gases.
Let me throw some messy realities onto Stern's tidy picture. In the global-warming debate, there's a big gap between public rhetoric (which verges on hysteria) and public behavior (which indicates indifference). People say they're worried but don't act that way.
Even many nations that signed on to binding targets under the Kyoto Protocol have failed to make signficiant progress in curtailing their emissions. Samuelson offers three reasons for this:
1) "With today's technologies, we don't know how to cut greenhouse gases in politically and economically acceptable ways."
2) "In rich democracies, policies that might curb greenhouse gases require politicians and the public to act in exceptionally "enlightened" (read: "unrealistic") ways."
3) "Even if rich countries cut emissions, it won't make much difference unless poor countries do likewise—and so far, they've refused because that might jeopardize their economic growth and poverty-reduction efforts."
What then are we to do? Samuelson calls for "more candor" and a greater focus on technology.
Unless we develop cost-effective technologies that break the link between carbon-dioxide emissions and energy use, we can't do much. Anyone serious about global warming must focus on technology—and not just assume it. Otherwise, our practical choices are all bad: costly mandates and controls that harm the economy; or costly mandates and controls that barely affect greenhouse gases. Or, possibly, both.
The problem of generating enough energy to meet the world's future energy needs in an environmentally acceptable manner is a real problem. And, as Ron Bailey points out, one that will not be easily solved. One thing we should resist, however, is a naive faith that government mandarins can guide our way to a "clean" energy future. The history of federal efforts to spur technological advance is totally uninspiring. As Bailey concludes:
history teaches us to scrap the Apollo Project model for technology R&D. Federal bureaucrats are simply not smart enough to pick winning energy technologies. Instead, eliminate all energy subsidies, set a price for carbon, and then let tens of thousands of energy researchers and entrepreneurs develop and test various new technologies in the market. No one knows now how humanity will fuel the 21st century, but Apollo and Manhattan Project-style Federal energy research projects will prove to be a huge waste of time, money and talent.
The problem with this, however, is that there are sizable constituencies for Apollo-style federal spending programs, and a much smaller constituency for sound public policy.