Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Yeah...I'm concerned about Global Warming!


“We simply must do everything we can in our power to slow down global warming before it is too late. The science is clear. The global warming debate is over.” This quote about global warming did not come from a far left leaning democrat, but a moderate Republican, named Arnold Schwarzenegger. It seems today though that the debate continues on about global warming. This essay will try to shed some light on why the debate on this global crisis continues (my value judgment tells me that the debate should be over) and what can be done on economic level as well as a scientific level to reduce global warming when the debate concludes. So why does the debate continue on about global warming?

The debate continues not because most people reject the idea of global warming but because of two rather minor reasons. The first reason is that as a society we are not sure how to deal with global warming in way that that creates an efficient end result. Although we are not sure, I think that we should at least try something becasue we know that it exists and it is harming the population, I believe this to be fact, but you can take it as my value judgement. The second reason is that sometimes we simply choose not to address the issue, except for when it supplements an argument on another issue. We need to make Global Warming the issue not tip toe around it because it suits us; if we are able to move away from the debate around global warming then we might be able to start addressing the problem.

The most likely economic approach to dealing with global warming is creating a hybrid policy that creates a market, which includes elastic short-term permits along with, a specified number of long-term permits. The permits could be bought and sold or leased without restriction, and each one would allow the holder to emit one ton of carbon per year. Once distributed, the permits could be traded among firms or bought and retired by environmental groups. In addition, each government would be allowed to sell additional short-term permits for a specified fee. The hybrid plan thus combines the key advantages of tax and permit policies. Like a tax, it places an upper limit on the marginal cost of abatement, and the hybrid policy also avoids many of the distributional issues of an emissions tax.

Now moving from an economic approach to solve global warming to a scientific one, one such idea is injecting chemicals into the upper atmosphere to cool the poles, or blocking sunlight by making clouds more reflective or stationing mirrors in space. However, consequences of planetary engineering that cannot be anticipated may be serious and even harm the earth. Hopefully, at the very least the discussion about geo-engineering will finally sound an 'audible alarm' for others.

On one subject, though, there was wide agreement: interest in geo-engineering is no longer merely theoretical. The participants in the conference noted that global emissions of greenhouse gases were already moving above the upper limits predicted by many climate models. As a result, several said, the projected arrival of ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean has shifted, in a few years, from 2100 to 2040 to 2013. And survival estimates are changing for the Greenland ice sheet, whose melting would cause a potentially devastating rise in sea levels. Once estimated in terms of millenniums, they are now expressed in estimates of only mere decades. It is time for something to be done, I’d rather we respond to this crisis now using an excise tax on global emissions, than geo-engineering, but at this point I am willing to try anything…

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