"Climate Change is real, and it is man-made. But the question is what are we going to do about it."
That was Bjorn Lomborg commenting on the radio show On Point. The show was focused on a new study by Stanford climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh which argues that heat waves are becoming commonplace. The host Tom Ashbrook really wanted to push an alarmist interpretation of the study and the discussion. In fact, one caller actually suggested that the best government policy would be to give each of us a gun so we can shoot ourselves because the living will envy the dead in this apocalyptic future of extreme weather.
Actually, Diffenbaugh resisted this interpretation and said that as a scientist he tries to take a skeptical stance toward all positions, including his own, and examine the data critically, and think in terms of trade-offs. In fact, he said at one point in response to Ashbrook's prodding, that there were obviously benefits from the activities that are leading to climate change, and that ultimately the policy options are really about weighing costs and benefits.
In fact, the most 'controversial' thing Diffenbaugh said was that the scientists associated with "Climategate" were perhaps rude but completely innocent of the charges of scientific fraud. But in this he was merely reporting what the British panel released last week. I don't have any strong opinion on the episode, and would study it mainly as a case-study in the sociology of science.
I am not an environmental scientist, and I am not someone who follows the climate debates closely. I do believe that trade-offs abound in every aspect of human life, and suspect this issue is no different. And I am very skeptical that government policy can effectively deal with negotiating these trade-offs. And, I should add that I was long ago persuaded by Julian Simon's argument that the ultimate resource is the human imagination, so that as the costs start to outweigh the benefits of activities, individuals will have a strong incentive to find alternative ways to avoid the costs and realize the benefits of living better together. I should also add, that I have a great faith in the resilience of nature and of man if left to free to choose. Add all that together and I am an environmental policy skeptic even if I had a strong position on climate change as being real and man-made. Even if you make an argument about a "global public good" it seems to me you still would need to worry about "demand-revealing" mechanisms, etc. In other words, if you grant many of the strongest arguments to the climate change alarmists, they would still have to worry about (a) identifying what the correct policy response would be, and (b) figuring out how to implement such a policy in a cost effective manner.