Saturday, December 09, 2006

Becker On Global Warming

"I don't care if people believe in it or not," said Racine Mayor Gary Becker. "To me, why even argue the point? All the things to reduce global warming are things we should be doing anyway."

Like what sort of things? Well, we could use less energy, reduce mercury contamination from coal-fired power plants and reduce the nations involvements overseas, according to Becker. "Do the right things, and leave the debate about global warming alone."

Wow! Now I think we humans have a responsibility as stewards of the earth, but must we follow the dictates of King Becker without any debate?

Even if we assume that the earth is warming (much evidence suggests so) and that humans and their pollution are substantial contributors to the problem ( less evidence), does it follow that Beckers proposed solutions should be followed without debate?

Debate is sorely needed. Is global warming all bad, mostly bad, or would the good outweigh the bad? The folks in northern Canada, if there are any, might just welcome some warmer weather.

But lets assume that global warming is all or mostly bad and that it is caused by humans. Do we then follow Becker without debate?

No, because we would need to consider the cost of Beckers suggestions versus the potential benefits. For example, reducing energy use in some parts of the world could contribute to poverty. Would reducing our involvements overseas slow global warming? Would this be worth it if the result was the unchecked spread of religious extremism and terror?

I wish things were as easily solved as Becker seems to think they are.


Kathy said...

Denis, I think that we could debate this issue until the cows come home. To me, global warming is indeed happening. However, this may very well be a cyclical thing that is being sped up by man's hands. I agree with Mayor Becker in the respect that we are stewards of this planet. We as humans have an obligation to make sure that the air, water, and land are clean. Instead of using less energy we need to invest in, capitalize on, and convert over to greener more environmentally friendly energy. Unfortunately, as long as the leadership in this country is driven by greed and continues to line their pockets on the cheaper, dirtier means of energy going green will always be a fight.

Denis Navratil said...

To Kathy. Mr. Becker makes the same mistake that most liberals do. They don't ask about the costs. There are costs associated with any policy decision. It makes the most sense to weigh the costs and benefits of any action with the cost and benefits of other action and/or inaction. Becker has not done this and neither have you. There are plenty of "green" solutions out there. We could discontinue the use of electricity and refuse to drive a car. Why aren't you and Gary Becker doing this? The reason is that you have an understanding of the costs of that decision. I am not meaning to pick on you or Gary, but for most of us abandoning our cars and electricity would cost us alot. We would be very uncomfortable in our homes and we would be greatly inconvenienced by the lack of mobility. We might lose our jobs and then perhaps the homes that we live in. To suggest that we undertake any collective action as a nation without considering the costs is as stupid as discontinuing the use of electricity and gasoline without considering the costs. That is not to say that conservation and efforts to promote alternative fuels are inherently bad ideas. But these decisions should not be made with total disregard to the costs. That is the common mistake made by many on the left, and that is my beef with Gary Becker on this issue.

Kathy said...

I am fully aware that there are cost issues involved, but I'm not buying that. Would you prefer your child drink dirty, polluted water just to save yourself a buck? You apparently have never had the pleasure of watching your child struggle to breathe while having an asthma attack and there isn't a damn thing that you can do about it!! I have. There are several people in the neighborhood butted up against these coal plants suffering/dying of cancer and this is acceptable to you? It isn't to me. The problem with conservatives is that they are so concerned about the bottom line that they are willing to turn a blind eye and leave the mess for future generations to clean up.
What I would love to see happen is green companies step up and create a competitive market and make coal and fuels like it a less desirable source of energy. If I had the money I would do it.

Denis Navratil said...

Kathy, I enjoy considering difficult subjects such as these, knowing full well that they can be emotional subjects for all involved. I am also guilty, at times, of being condescending or fiesty, though I try to stop myself as it only makes civil discourse that much more difficult. As such, I reject the assertion that I, or conservatives lumped together, are greedy, only think of costs, could care less about people with asthma, cancer etc... although I am sure some fit the bill. When I speak of costs, it is not limitted to what it costs me but what it will cost society, ie others. And costs are not limitted to money, they can be other things. You seem convinced that one of the costs to coal fired power plants is asthma or cancer for some. Perhaps so, I don't know. But every policy decision results in both costs and benifts. The trick is to find the policy with the best results for all and that is not easy. On a personal note, I ask to reread my statements and to please read my entry called "Thinking Beyond Stage 1" where I attempt to demonstrate that well intentioned decisions, often based on emotion, can have bad results in the long run. It is fair enough to tell me why I am wrong, but try not to assign evil motives (greed, selfishness etc...) just because you think I am mistaken. That said, I doubt there are many among us with entirely pure motives. I am not making that claim either.

Kathy said...

Denis, first of all, I do not think of you personally as evil on any level. You are right in that I am very emotional about this subject, and I should not have "lumped" all conservatives together. That is unfair. In regard to this particular subject it is hard for me not to assign greed to it when our leadership is personally invested/owns oil companies. Why should he give a flying flip about my children? We have the technology to start to move in a greener direction. Why must we wait until 2025? The U.S. needs to be involved in the world. To pull away from the world would be irresponsible. We are a World Power and should take a leadership role. Holland has gone green and leads the world in this arena. China is now starting to move in this direction also. The US needs to make sure that we can be competitive. Again, I would like to see green companies become competitve and make coal and other fuels like it less desirable. Will coal and oil ever go away? My guess is that they will always be used and the technology will/does focus on burning them in a cleaner way. I'm OK with that, but as long as mercury contamination and the disruption of the ecosystems of the land and water by these plants is present I will always have a problem with them. What will happen when the coal and oil are gone and used up? Will the wind stop blowing? Will the water stop flowing? Will the sun stop shining? We're foolish to not employ them instead of relying on natural resources that someday may be gone.
I reread your comments and I did read "Thinking Beyond Stage 1". Although I think that the actual subjects are apples and oranges, I understand your line of thought. However, just as you question the global warming and its effects, I question that if we were to go green extremism and terrorism would be the result. And I find it hard to believe that anyone would oppose cleaner air, land, and water.

Denis Navratil said...

I also don't know anyone who would oppose cleaner air, land, and water, unless the process of cleaning it makes things worse overall. But I think statements like Beckers are kind of silly, that we should do this or that and that there should be no debate about it. That mindset is not merely silly, it is dangerous, as it debases the value of critical thinking and rationality while elevating the importance of raw emotions. I can't think of many problems, macro or micro, that are solved by the expression of emotions.

Kathy said...

Denis, you may very well be right.
I've included a little something that I think that you may find interesting:
"Researchers Steven Pacala and Robert Socolow from Princeton University investigated whether the world possesses the technologies required to run an electricity network of the extent, scale, and reliability of that we currently enjoy, while at the same time making deep cuts in CO2 emissions. They identified fifteen basic kinds of technologies, ranging from sequestration to wind, solar, and nuclear power, that could play a vital role. Not all of these technologies need to be used, but at least half of them do if we wish to control the world's carbon emissions for at least the next fifty years. "It certainly explodes the idea that we need to do research for a long time before getting started," was how Socolow summarized his work. The many examples of governments and corporations around the world that have slashed emissions (by over 70% in the case of some British local councils)while at the same time experiencing strong economic growth show that Socolow is right:Big coal's and big oil's scare campaign that it's all too hard and too expensive is swiftly being unmasked."- Tim Flannery; The Weather Makers.
I also need to correct myself. It is Denmark and not Holland that leads the world on the road to going green via wind. They are not completely green, but 21% of their electricity is supplied by wind. And 85% of capacity is owned by individuals or wind cooperatives, so the people control the power. Wind has proven to be cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuel, and the industry is growing at a rate of 22% a year. Over the next few years the unit price of wind is expected to drop 20-30%, which will make it even more cost effective.
When I read about all of the really cool things that they are doing all around the world to make our planet better, I'm truly amazed.
We are America. Historically we have done amazing things and we continue to do so. I know we can do it. "I have a dream...."

Denis Navratil said...

Kathy, thanks for that info. Certainly there are promising alternatives to fossil fuels, as well as promising technology to limit the emmissions from fossil fuels. And this is great. Of course in this day and age of Nimbyism, these alternative ideas will face political, legal, and any number of other challenges. I am reminded of a proposal to generate wind power off the coast in Massachusetts that was vigorously opposed by the wealthy liberals there who didn't want to see the wind generators. If you are saying that progress in environmental matters is likely to come from technological advancements, I would agree with you. I place a lot more confidence in scientists than in politicians however.