Monday, October 13, 2008

That is a LOT of money - what about global warming?

I've been pondering something for the past few days: the British government can rustle up £37 billion at short notice to solve a banking crisis:

So what about global warming? What about energy security? Couldn't these issues be greatly improved by this cash?

I suspect the reason has to do with the fact that the situation around global warming is extremely uncertain: governments still aren't entirely sure if it will happen as advertised and if it does, will it be all bad?

Bjørn Lomborg and Freeman Dyson have both pointed out that there are potential upsides to global warming and climate change. Bjørn Lomborg claims:

According to the first complete peer-reviewed survey of climate change’s effects on health, global warming will save lives. By 2050, global warming will cause almost 400,000 more heat-related deaths each year – but 1.8m fewer people will die from cold.
And Freeman Dyson claims:

...if the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is allowed to continue, shall we arrive at a climate similar to the climate of six thousand years ago when the Sahara was wet?

Second, if we could choose between the climate of today with a dry Sahara and the climate of six thousand years ago with a wet Sahara, should we prefer the climate of today?

My second heresy answers yes to the first question and no to the second. It says that the warm climate of six thousand years ago with the wet Sahara is to be preferred, and that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may help to bring it back.

I am not saying that this heresy is true. I am only saying that it will not do us any harm to think about it.
What I am certain of is that climate change lies in Taleb's fourth quadrant and is liable to be rife with black swans, and maybe a few white ones.

Then there is the misrepresentation of academics' views by the media.

There is also the obvious fact that no one is entirely sure what the best course of action is. Some advocate nuclear power, others advocate wind, tide, and solar power.

I am inclined to agree with the politicians: this is a complicated and unpredictable situation. By all means do something (at least only for reasons of energy security - a much more explicable problem, if no more tractable) but don't imagine we understand everything.

[image from the BBC NEWS]

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