In a recent New York Times article, economist Robert H. Frank–“The Economic Naturalist”–argues that fighting global warming through government intervention entails a small cost and promises a large benefit. Yet to cast serious doubts on his claim, all we need do is quote from U.S. government and IPCC reports. We find that even in a textbook implementation, it’s not obvious that government mitigation efforts deliver net benefits.
Of course in the real world, if the politicians and/or EPA starts intervening in the energy sector, their actions will be far from the economist’s theoretical ideal. Then the case for such policy activism falls apart.
Frank’s Pros/Cons of Intervention
Frank’s opening paragraphs nicely summarize his views on climate policy:
FORECASTS involving climate change are highly uncertain, denialists assert — a point that climate researchers themselves readily concede.
“With overwhelming scientific evidence that the threat of global climate change is real and accelerating, it’s imperative that the United States, the second-biggest producer of carbon dioxide, take a leading role in crafting solutions. [Waxman-Markey] offers an opportunity to begin exercising that leadership.”
The Houston Chronicle editorial page is one of the most biased in the nation when it comes to climate alarmism and associated public-policy activism. And it maintained that unenviable reputation with last Sunday’s op-ed, Cap-and-Trade-Off.
The 559-word piece is disappointing both for what it did say and for what was left unsaid.
First, some facts in the piece were out of date. (Okay, someone clocked out early for the long weekend; me too.) The bill was not under debate as stated in the first sentence; it was voted out of committee.…
Jim Manzi has a very good post introducing the analysis of costs and benefits of Waxman-Markey. Here I want to follow up on Manzi’s great start, by showing that Chip Knappenberger’s estimate of the climate benefits of Waxman-Markey (W-M) actually erred on the side of optimism in its assumptions.
Specifically, Knappenberger very conservatively ignored the problem of “leakage”–he didn’t model the fact that unilateral U.S. carbon caps would actually increase the rate at which other countries’ own emissions grow. What’s worse, even if the entire world signed on to the aggressive emission schedule in W-M, the resulting environmental benefits would be achieved at a staggering cost in terms of lost economic output.
No matter how you slice it–whether the U.S. goes it alone, or the rest of the world signs on too–the environmental benefits of W-M are swamped by its economic costs.…