Friday, February 16, 2007
Samuelson: Politics of Global Warming
Robert Samuelson hits the target with his recent commentary on global warming:
Don't be fooled. The dirty secret about global warming is this: We have no solution. About 80 percent of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), the main sources of man-made greenhouse gases. Energy use sustains economic growth, which -- in all modern societies -- buttresses political and social stability. Until we can replace fossil fuels, or find practical ways to capture their emissions, governments will not sanction the deep energy cuts that would truly affect global warming.When considering policy issues it is usually important to consider the incentives faced by our politicians. Samuelson does this and he cuts through all the crap. We should be careful in assessing how seriously to take all the conversation in the public square about global warming, and it would be good to keep in mind an old saying: In politics rhetoric is reality. I suspect Samuelson is correct that most of the politicians concerned about this issue are just trying to look and sound like they want to do something. Unfortunately, since the assumption of rational ignorance for voters makes quite a bit of sense, it is unlikely that enough people will learn Samuelson's lessons to lead to any different rhetoric about global warming any time soon.
Considering this reality, you should treat the pious exhortations to "do something'' with skepticism, disbelief or contempt. These pronouncements are (take your pick) naive, self-interested, misinformed, stupid or dishonest. Politicians mainly want to be seen as reducing global warming when they're not. Companies want to polish their images and exploit markets created by new environmental regulations.