NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The United Nations report issued earlier this month reinforced the arguments of those who believe that global warming is a clear and present danger, and that there is no option but to impose restraints on greenhouse gases to reverse it.
The economic cost of this policy would be less than the price of environmental disaster, they say, and might be offset by the development of new technologies and new industries.
There is another argument. In an opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Times, Jonah Goldberg of the National Review wrote that the price of global cooling is too high for many countries to accept, that India and China are unlikely to agree to policies that undermine their economic development, that the United States won't go along, either, and that we'd be better off learning to live with the effects of the global warming.
We're going to listen to his ideas and get responses from two well-known economists, and we want to hear from you. Is the price of reversing global warming too high? Can we afford not to reverse it? Our phone number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is email@example.com.
Later in the program, the case of the purloined pianists. But first, economics and global warming. Jonah Goldberg is with us here in Studio 3A. He's a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and a contributing editor for the National Review. Thanks very much for coming in.
Mr. JONAH GOLDBERG (Columnist, Los Angeles Times): Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And let me say for purposes of this discussion, we will stipulate that global warming exists, that it's the product of human industrial activity and that it will continue unless the production of greenhouse gases is sharply reduced. So we can keep the argument on economics, therefore.
So Jonah, why do you say that the cost of global cooling is too high?
Mr. GOLDBERG: Well, I say it - we can talk about it as economics, or we can talk about it as politics. In many ways, they're sort of the same thing. To govern is to choose, as they say, and economics is essentially the science of competing preferences.
As far as I am aware, nobody thinks that Kyoto, for example, is the solution to global warming. Kyoto would do almost nothing to prevent global warming, according to its advocates. It would take, you know, something on the order of 30 Kyotos.
Now, that is a price that simply no one is going to be willing to pay - period, end of argument, as far as I can tell, as a political reality. It's not just China and India that aren't going to abide by something like Kyoto, and they've been exempt from it, but there are, in fact - was it 155 nations that are exempt from Kyoto.
These are countries, in India and China alone, where you have hundreds of millions of people who are living on less than let's say $10 a day. They're going to want to get rich. China's going to be building coal-fired power plants. It's something like on the rate of one a week until the year 2020 or something along those lines. And the idea that we're going to somehow put a dent in our greenhouse-gas emissions while all of that development is going on is simply not the case.
And so I'm in favor of exploring technologies to mitigate global warming. It seems to me pretty clear that while I agree that the science of that global warming exists and is real - we can have arguments about how much of it is man-made, all that stuff - it doesn't follow, to me, that simply because the people who have been saying global warming is real all this time are right, that therefore, their proposed solutions to the problem are right.
These are two separate questions. And there are just - in my mind - there's just no such thing as a hundred-year problem. The IPCC report itself says that...
CONAN: That's the U.N. report.
Mr. GOLDBERG: Right, the U.N. report, which, you know, a lot of people, quote-unquote "on my side," are saying is alarmist and is exaggerating the problem. There are a lot of scientists who agree that it's exaggerating. There are others who don't. There's an argument there. But regardless, most people think that it's at least stating the problem starkly.
It predicts that a million people could die by the year 2100 because of global warming-related problems. More than a million people die every year right now from water-borne illnesses that could be solved with a fraction of a fraction of the money that Kyoto would cost.
And remember, it's not just one Kyoto. It's 30 Kyotos. So, you know, we have millions of people dying from malaria. We have millions of people dying from hunger. The world's problems right now are a result of poverty more than anything else, and we could do so much for the environment and for people around the world as a moral issue in terms of helping these people to race to get them to a point where they can care for their environments, too, than simply by throwing a wet blanket on the world economy, which is what basically the effort to sort of cap carbon emissions would be.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And you argue in your piece that if, indeed, human industrial activity was the cause of global warming, you say on the basis of what we've seen over the past 150, 200 years, it's been well worth it. And if the same pattern continued for another hundred years, that would be worth it, too.
Mr. GOLDBERG: Yeah. Numbers for this kind of thing are difficult to come by. The best numbers I found were from a British demographer who said, you know, over the 20th century, world GDP - world wealth - increased 1,800 percent. And according to the environmentalists, the argument is that that prosperity, that economic development, created something a little less than one-degree increase in global temperatures.
Mr. GOLDBERG: On average, right. And that is an unbelievably good trade. We've had life expectancy almost double in the West. We've cured innumerable diseases. The environments in the Western industrialized world - in many, many respects - are healthier and cleaner today than they were 100 years ago. Our water is cleaner, our air is cleaner. Many of our forests are much larger than they were 100 years ago, and we can afford to have these improvements in the environment, these improvements in health, because we are wealthier.
And so it seems to me that you know, the only route out of this plight is to get these other countries wealthy, too. And when you factor in the fact that as a political matter, as just a simple cold, hard calculation, there is no way the Western world is going to agree to 30 Kyotos to solve global warming, then to me, it's sort of a dead letter.
I mean, we're already seeing right now that the European Union cannot come to grips with the first Kyoto. And they're trying to get out of it any way they can, and Germany's not going to meet up with it. There are a lot of industries in Germany that are just balking entirely. The idea that they're going to do it - that they're going to comply with 29 more is just ludicrous. So we've got to figure out other things.
May be there are technological solutions. I'm a big believer in the promise of geo-engineering. Who knows? But it's a long way off to say we should stop the prosperity that saves lives, improves the human condition on a bet about how bad global warming might be 100 years from now.
CONAN: Let's see if we get some listeners in on the conversation. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255 - 800-989-TALK. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. And why don't we turn to Michael? Michael's calling us from Long Island in New York.
MICHAEL (Caller): Hey, good day. Thank you for having me on the air.
MICHAEL: I'm a biology student, and like I said, I'm a supporter of the Kyoto Protocol. I think it's sad that our country hasn't adopted anything or we're doing something on our own. But you know, my concern is that, yeah, it's not a 100 or 200 years into the history change. My concern is that, you know, human, you know, bio and physiology, a 10-degree raise in temperature, let's say, in 400 or 500 years - how much can our, you know, our population sustain that great of a change of temperature?
We're going to lose a lot of our population. You know, there are studies out that seem - you know, that that's how the dinosaurs died. It was a temperature change. Our fluctuation in our body is not able to handle a drop in temperature of a certain amount, and temperature going up. And we know we're going to see extremes from this. We need to act now. I'm going to take my call off the air. Thank you.
CONAN: Okay, Michael. Thanks for the call. Ten-degree shift in temperature?
Mr. GOLDBERG: Well, I haven't seen anything that says that there's going to be a 10-degree shift in temperature. But it's important to realize that the planet has been warmer than it is right now. It's been colder than it is right now. The Medieval warm period, we saw them farming in Greenland. There were Vikings farming in, you know, places that are now covered in ice. It was a time of immense prosperity for China. And the idea that somehow it's - there seems to be a sort of Rousseauian literary romantic desire to sort of imagine these terrible scenarios where we're going to - we're going to - the gods are angry with us and we're going to ruin the planet. I have a lot more faith in humanity.
And it seems to me that we're a tad bit more adaptable to problems than the dinosaurs were. When we started to run out of game we started animal husbandry and started farming them. When we stopped being able to be hunter-gatherers, we started planting crops. We're going to figure out how to deal with these problems, and it's just going to be a lot cheaper 20 years from now than it is today.
CONAN: Let's see if we can go to Nancy. Nancy calling us from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
NANCY (Caller): Hi.
NANCY: Thank you for taking my call.
NANCY: My question is, maybe I don't have an optimistic view of humankind as your guest does, but my question is, what are we going to do when New York City is underwater? And what about Miami and other coastal cities?
CONAN: Well we do get the advantage that Washington, D.C. would also be underwater, but...
NANCY: Yes, that is an advantage.
CONAN: Jonah Goldberg?
Mr. GOLDBERG: I guess this is where, you know, I get into, you know - a lot of people are just going to sort of tune me out. I am deeply skeptical. I agree with the science about global warming. I am deeply skeptical of the - a lot of the scare tactic consequences that people are predicting about global warming. You know, Al Gore's, you know, animation of New York City underwater is not exactly well confirmed by a lot of scientists. I think the IPC report just cut - this new U.N. report just cut its predictions about sea level rise - increases in half.
Now, if we don't have the science good enough so that within just a few years our scare scenarios are already being cut in half, the idea that it automatically flows that a one-degree rise or two-degree rise in average global temperatures over the next century are going to create - are going to make Manhattan and Miami go underwater - it just doesn't follow to me. I don't believe that we have the computers that can do these sorts of predictions. I could be wrong. But what I sort of reject are people saying, well, you know, when you say this, when you say do nothing, that means you're in favor of New York being flooded. No, I'm not in favor of New York being flooded; I'm just not persuaded that it's going to be flooded.
CONAN: So in other words, you're not persuaded that these arguments, these worst-case scenarios that you're seeing described, that they will actually happen 100, 200, 500 years in the future.
Mr. GOLDBERG: Yeah, I'm not worried about any possible problems we might have 500 years from now.
CONAN: We're coming up on the break, but a lot of people saying you're willing to bet your grandchildren's future on your present prosperity.
Mr. GOLDBERG: No, I'm willing to bet that my grandchildren will be so prosperous that these sorts of problems will be able to be solved very quickly.
CONAN: All right. We're going to have to take a short break. Nancy, thank you very much for the call. We appreciate it. We're talking with Jonah Goldberg about whether we can afford to stop global warming. When we come back, one economist argues that we cannot afford not to stop global warming, and the sooner the better. You can join the conversation if you'd like: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, email@example.com. We'll be back after the break. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking about whether or not we can afford to reverse climate change. Jonah Goldberg is with us here in Studio 3A. He's a columnist with the Los Angeles Times, a contributing editor to the National Review and wrote a provocative column in the Los Angeles Times arguing that global cooling is too expensive. As always, we invite your calls. Is the price of reversing global warming too high? Can we afford not to reverse it? 800-989-8255. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are, very broadly speaking, two schools of thought among economists on this issue, those who believe we should act to stop global warming, but gradually. They caution that too much too soon will just damage the economy. Then there are those who feel we must act now and decisively regardless of immediate economic impact. We're going to hear arguments on both sides. Let's turn first to Barry Rabe, who believes environmental action must be balanced with economist costs. He's a professor at the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He joins us today from the studios at WUOM, our member station in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Barry, nice to have you on the program.
Professor BARRY RABE (University of Michigan): Neal, thank you. Good to be with you.
CONAN: And is Jonah Goldberg right? Can we - is global cooling too expensive?
Prof. RABE: Jonah's absolutely right to raise the point of economic concern. And I can certainly understand the attractiveness of sort of throwing your hands up and saying there's not a lot we can do about it short term. Let's kick this down the road for a decade or a generation. But he used the term earlier faith in humanity and he has it, and I appreciate that. And I do too. And I think it's interesting to focus on the period in the decade or so after Kyoto, not on the issue of Kyoto or ratification of Kyoto or revisit those issues, but look at in this ten-year period what actual governments, whether they have ratified Kyoto or not, have done and what the economic ramifications have been; I mean the individual nations of the European Union, the states of the United States.
And I think if one looks at actual emission trends and actual economic trends in those 50 states and in those 25 members of the European Union, there's some really interesting examples of governments that have been able to reduce, stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, not at a level that will solve the problem but are at least in the initial steps, and have some degree of economic growth. And there are some jurisdictions - some governments - that have pretty much put their head in the sand and say we can't deal with this issue that haven't necessarily experienced economic growth. So by looking at what actual governments or corporations have done, one gets a little more nuanced version than just saying, gee, if you do something about this problem you're going to collapse the economy.
CONAN: So you suggest that there's evidence, but if the effort to reduce global warming requires, as Jonah Goldberg says, something on the order of 30 Kyotos, that's going to be a lot of economic impact.
Prof. RABE: We can debate the number of Kyotos, but clearly there are going to be a number of technologies, a number of economic considerations and a number of factors and players that are going to come into play. And we're really only at the early stages of dealing with this, and even thinking about the kinds of policy tools that we might use to spur new technology, different tax mechanisms, different kinds of regulator mechanisms, and I think it's very easy to sort of take the worst-case scenario and the worst possible kind of policy that would be cumbersome and expensive and then apply that across the globe.
Again, if one looks at real experience, I think one sees some degree of variation. Take the case of Michigan. I would argue that the state of Michigan has followed exactly the playbook that Jonah's recommending. In the 1990s this state bet that climate change wasn't going to be an issue, refused to take federal money to study the problem, completely eviscerated existing energy conservation, energy efficiency programs, and decided there was nothing to renewable technology and energy. In turn, we all know what Detroit-based auto manufacturers were betting in terms of vehicles and energy costs, that the demand for low fuel efficiency vehicles would continue to be high, the price of oil would be cheap.
Michigan, having done nothing to reduce greenhouse gases from a policy perspective, is in an economic collapse. And yet one can look at other governments, like California, like New Hampshire, like the United Kingdom, like Hawaii - a whole range of states - Wisconsin - and see states that have not solved the problem by any stretch of the imagination but have been able to devise some interesting new policies that are in their very early stages. They are clearly not impacting economic growth. They actually may promote economic growth, and if implemented in a proper way could be a model for future state and national policy. And I think that's a more productive way to go than sort of 30 Kyotos versus nothing.
Mr. GOLDBERG: A couple of quick responses. I think that there's some very valid and interesting points there and I - and I'm at pains to disagree with some of it, but there's others that kind of bother me. One is, first of all, I have no problem studying the issue. Where there's no - let's throw a lot of money at it. We're already throwing a lot of money at it. But the more important thing is, this is an apples and oranges thing going on here. Michigan's problems - seems to me that - it strikes just from a plain reading of it - have a lot more to do with the burdensome obligations of unions, with the burdensome problems of healthcare costs, and to compare Michigan with its car problem, it's union problems, it's healthcare problems with Connecticut or California who don't have major auto industries, it's just - it strikes me as a bit of apples and oranges.
I should also say that the 30 Kyotos prediction is not mine. I mean, I didn't come up with that. That comes from, I think it was Robert Hansen(ph), from one of the major climate scientists who told that to Congress. And I'm all in favor of - if we can come up with some good market mechanisms, I think carbon trading has a lot of promise. It turns out right now there's a report out today that it looks like it's all falling apart because Russia's got too many so the carbon credits aren't worth very much.
But I'm all in favor of coming up with interesting and innovative ways of thinking about all of this. And my only point is, is that it's the other side of the argument, you know, it's the let's stop all debate - that's Al Gore's position. The time for debate is over and we've got to have a crash course. And I think the professor and I agree that the crash course approach is the wrong one. We could have arguments about the wise nuanced approach is, but it's the crash course thing that I'm against.
CONAN: Well, let's bring in Dan Kammen. He's director of the Berkeley Institute on the Environment and the founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkeley. He joins us now from his studio at the University of California at Berkeley. And Dan, it's nice to have you on the program today.
Mr. DAN KAMMEN (UC, Berkeley): Thanks for having me on.
CONAN: And I understand that you think it is time for decisive action - past time.
Mr. KAMMEN: Well, I think it's way past time, and I'm just having a hard time making a list of all of the things that I found were in error in Joshua Goldberg's comments. But let me just address the point you mentioned, and that is...
CONAN: Jonah Goldberg.
Mr. KAMMEN: Jonah. Apologies. The idea of 30 Kyotos - and in fact that may be an underestimate. The central estimate from all the world scientists is that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 80 percent. And if you translate that to 30 or 29 or 35 Kyotos, that's fine. In fact, what we heard from Barry from the University of Michigan was in fact much closer to the reality. And that is that the municipalities, states and countries around the world that have invested in cleaner environments are actually also the locations of more and better-sustained economic growth.
And what's interesting is that if you look at the actual economic history and not just rant about it, what we find is that the places that have invested consistently have done exceedingly well, not as an accident but as a direct outcome. So for example, California, that's been investing in energy efficiency, the least cost, the easiest and the fastest payback of the ways to build a clean energy base since the '70s, has held electricity use per person constant for 30 years, has done so with tremendous economic growth, has been able to close dirty power plants, has grown jobs, and that's only one example.
And so to hear that somehow we're going to tomorrow morning wake up and instill one policy that does 30 Kyoto protocols isn't even laughable. It's not the right direction, because the way you do good policy and the way you build good economic structures is to experiment and learn and build on the winners. And California has won hands down by its first Kyoto effort. It's now embarked on two more. We're going to beat the Kyoto protocol by a fair amount in the next few years in our processes. And this generates jobs, generates trading opportunities.
And so to think of it as drop all debate now that we know climate science is telling us global warming is real and plunk down billions or trillions overnight is really a completely alarmist and a defeatist way to think about an opportunity.
And the opportunity is that we don't need vehicles that have the same efficiency as they had in 1972. We can have vehicles that are faster, more fun, more exciting and that they're getting 200 miles to the gallon if they're, for example, plug-in hybrid being fueled on clean electricity and then on liquid fuels like biofuels in the tank as a backup. And that's one trivial example of a whole set of things that we'll never fully explore until some states - California and Sweden and the whole New England coalition called RGGI - it's the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative - and Scandinavian countries and Germany begin the process. But we're gong to have to move over time to an actual tax on carbon because we need to send the right signals to industry.
But to think that it is a yes/no - we now are climate believers so now we must spend trillions - just flies against everything that liberal or conservative policy makers know to be true. It's just alarmist grandstanding.
CONAN: So where does the spending begin? This carbon tax?
Mr. KAMMEN: Well, what I would do is to observe the states and the regions that are taking it on, and so California in 2006 passed the world's most comprehensive bill. It's called Assembly Bill 32. It's the Greenhouse Gas Solutions Act. And it calls for a 25 percent reduction in emissions over the next two decades.
Governor Schwarzenegger also signed an executive order in 2005 calling for, by 2050, an 80 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions. That's the ecologically known term. And by the way, the IPCC is not alarmist. It's actually conservative in many of its estimates, contrary to what was said before. That's what IPCC said we have to aim for.
And we're then going to want to move the country towards a low carbon fuel senator, as Senator McCain and Governor Schwarzenegger called for yesterday and that California's instituting right now. And a carbon tax, although there's many ways to do taxes that are actually progressive, that generate more jobs and importantly are progressive for the poor.
And one thing that was said in the opening salvo, and that was that we should spend our money on poverty reduction around the world is absolutely true. There are immediate problems of drinking water and local air quality. But the fact is clean energy around the world generates more opportunities, often costs dramatically less, and the poor around the world and in the U.S. are going to suffer disproportionately from climate change.
Katrina was a small example of the poor being the first to go in a environment-related event. And we're going to see more events like Katrina as global warming continues. And so the poor are the frontlines of this battle, and for the rich to sit around and say, well, let's not invest is really environmental racism.
CONAN: Let's get a response from Jonah Goldberg, and then we're going to get a bunch of phone calls. So hang in there.
Mr. GOLDBERG: I'm not an economist. I never claimed to be one, but I can't help but feeling like I have some cider in my ear after listening to all of that. So cleaning up the environment, stopping global warming, all of these things that's going to create wealth, create jobs, make everybody happy seems to be the upshot of what the professor is saying.
And I think the trotting out of Katrina is one of these medusa's heads that people bring up that they have no evidence for but they try to terrify people in saying that somehow Katrina was the result of global warming.
Prof. RABE: That's not what I said.
Mr. GOLDBERG: It's kind of what you said. It is.
Prof. RABE: No, it's not.
Mr. GOLDBERG: You said we're going to have more Katrina-like events as global warming goes on and Katrina was the first sign of what we're going to see coming. And it may not have been your intent, but it clearly is the intent of a lot of scaremongering environmentalists who bring up Katrina, who did blame President Bush for it, who did blame the United States for it, including, I believe, it was the environmental minister of Germany blamed it on global warming.
And again, I am all in favor of interesting policy innovations and the like. I guess I'm more on the side of Bjorn Lomborg and these guys who believe that we should have to some triage and some risk assessment analysis if the IPCC is correct. And that it's going to cost a million lives by 2100.
That as a matter of cost benefit analysis is not a very high price compared to losing a million lives or two million lives a year. And when I listen to some of these people talk like this, it fuels the suspicion that they're looking at global warming to use it to increase statism and government control of things.
Prof. RABE: Actually not what I said.
CONAN: And we're going to have to interrupt just to say that we're speaking with Jonah Goldberg of the Los Angeles Times and the "National Review," Barry Rabe, who's a professor at the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, and Dan Kammen, director of the Berkeley Institute of the Environment and founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkeley. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And as promised, let's get some listeners involved in the conversation. And why don't we begin with, this will be Janice(ph). Janice with us from Chicago.
JANICE (Caller): Hi. My question is, Jonah, you were talking about the fact that the world is doing just fine with global warming ever since, you know, the beginning of time, even though all this stuff's going on. And right now my question is - in China, there's a huge population of people, much larger than the United States by a huge amount, and India as well. Don't you think that if they have coal burning that it's going to pollute the environment at a much quicker rate? And don't you also believe that if we can create new valuable sources for energy, that it's going to help those environments and help the economy get better and stronger in those nations?
Mr. GOLDBERG: Yes. I'm entirely in favor of coming up with new and better technologies for all sorts of things. And I'm very much in favor of India and China getting rich as quickly as possible, hopefully without burning a lot of coal. But the fact that they're going to need to get rich and they're going to be determined to get rich underscores the point that these sort of Kyoto-like approaches are going to be of limited utility. Because as of now and forever, as far as China is concerned and India are concerned, they're going to be exempt from Kyoto-like approaches.
So you know, there's a lot of talk about what governments and the U.N., all these sort of international agreements can do to solve global warming. There's less evidence that it can be very effective.
CONAN: Barry first and then Dan Kammen. Barry Rabe - China, India, other developing countries. That is definitely a problem.
Prof. RABE: It's definitely a problem and it's clear that those countries are not obligated by Kyoto. But at the same time, I think it's been interesting in the last couple of years, particularly in the Chinese case, to see that government and some of its corporate leaders begin to turn to the United States, corporate leaders here and in Europe, for new technologies, ideas and models.
They realize they have a big problem on their hands, and it's not just greenhouse gas but it's all of the environmental issues that emerge when you burn fossil fuels. Particularly air pollution. There's already concern that the 2008 Beijing Olympics is going to be a disaster because air quality is going to be so bad because of the coal that's going to waft over Beijing that you're going to have a huge embarrassment for the Chinese government, as well as concerns about health and long-term kinds of considerations.
Interesting then to note that China's beginning to enter into discussions with some states, with some U.S. firms about policy, policy designs and the like. And again, I think there's a real opportunity right now for the United States drawing on experience from states and from Europe to really begin to think about what a world leadership position might entail.
What policies work well, effectively and efficiently, and what don't. We can think of a lot of really bad - from an economic perspective - ways to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that would not be cost effective, that Bjorn Lomborg and his colleagues would really be concerned about legitimately.
But there are others that are really quite different and I think we're positioned at a very interesting moment in the U.S., especially given the congressional focus on some of these issues in a new way. To think about what the design of those policies might be and if it is in fact possible for developed and developing nations to work together on this issue, as they have in some other areas of environmental concern. Or if in fact they have to splinter and go their own ways.
CONAN: And Dan Kammen, we'll let you have a chance when we come back from a break, but we're up against the time. I apologize for that. Janice, thanks very much for the call. And Janice called us from Chicago.
When we come back from the break, we'll continue this conversation with Barry Rabe and Dan Kammen and Jonah Goldberg. We'll also be talking about some high-tech detective work that uncovered a classical scandal, the Joyce Hatto hoax. We'll talk with the people who uncovered it. Don't go away.
I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Today we're talking with Jonah Goldberg, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and a contributing editor to the "National Review," and with economist Barry Rabe at the University of Michigan and Dan Kammen at the University of California at Berkeley. This following a column that Jonah Goldberg write - is global cooling too expensive? And we're taking your calls.
Dan Kammen, just before the break I did not get you an opportunity to answer Janice's question from Chicago. What do you do about India and China, and other countries not part of Kyoto and not eager to stop development?
Mr. KAMMEN: Well, it's a great question. And actually what we're seeing is really what Professor Rabe just mentioned. We're seeing much more discussion between governments and corporations around the world now becoming increasingly concerned about the global warming issue because of the local effects.
And so the best way we are discovering to influence what China does, in terms of not building more coal-fired power plants and maybe making those that are built cleaner with an ability to sequester or bury carbon, is to innovate ourself and not try to impose the command and control structure. Remember, the Kyoto protocol was written almost 20 years ago as a first draft before we had seen many of the effects and learned many of the features about our energy economy we're seeing today.
What California's doing, what Sweden is doing by saying they'll be off oil in 20 years, what Germany is doing by building up their solar and wind industries and actually seeing export orders with many-year backlogs in their factories is all about this new, cleaner energy economy.
And I think that the thing we're missing in the debate is to recognize how good we are at innovating if we give ourselves the right signals. After Rachel Carson brought to everyone's attention the problems of DDT and killing birds and fish, we were able to get rid of DDT very effectively. And when the ozone hole was first discovered, companies said, well, we can't possibly cut down on the emissions of CFCs because it'll bankrupt our companies.
And then we saw the major producers of CFCs discovering with a little public pressure and some research that they were able to clean circuit boards and make spray cans that in fact didn't harm the environment. And we're now seeing the beginnings of the healing of the ozone hole.
Global warming is no different. It is a case of in the past we didn't tell our industry to worry about CO2 emissions. We allowed that to flow to the environment as an externality. There was no cost. We're now discovering that there is a cost. And to think it'll break the bank or we're unable to innovate our way out of it is foolish because time after time we see that we can.
The one feature that's critical, though, is that global warming has a long latency. Emissions we've already made and emissions we will make will be with us for decades to centuries. So our opportunity and our challenge is to put the policies in place and bring the technologies to market that allow us to have as good or better a lifestyle by investing in those areas. And that's what these greener innovating companies and countries and communities are doing.
And it's really the challenge and the opportunity to innovate that we are looking at here. And to say let's just wait 20 years and let them deal with it, denies our own ability to innovate today.
CONAN: All right. Let's get another caller on the line. This is Willet(ph). Willet calling us from Gainesville in Florida.
WILLET (Caller): Yes. Thank you very much for taking my call. I'm a doctoral student in archaeology. And in listening to Mr. Goldberg's comments I found them in some ways rather uninformed. Because while you have models for the future that may be speculation or that you may ask questions about, we also have the long-term evidence from the past. And there is a very clear correlation between the rise and fall of sea level with changes in global temperature.
Just for an example, here in Florida, the archaeological evidence indicates that during the last, most recent ice age, which was approximately 12 to 13 thousand years ago, you had the sea level vastly lowered. And you logged equally strong evidence from the past that when global temperatures have risen, sea levels rise.
The difference this time around is the human race has moved into the stage of industrial production. And here in this country particularly, most of our financial and industrial infrastructure is right in the areas that are going to be affected by sea level rise.
And I found Mr. Goldberg's comments completely uninformed in that that's not speculation. That is iron-clad fact. That is based on archaeological, historical, ecological evidence.
CONAN: Well, how much sea rise there might be this time around, Willet, is speculative, is it not?
WILLET: Not precisely. We have pretty clear evidence from things like cores, from studies of sediment in lake beds, from the...
CONAN: Well, not that it's happening, but how much it's going to happen is speculative, is it not?
WILLET: Not entirely. You can take a look and you can see. We have at least some evidence from the past to show that you have the rise and fall of sea levels. The fact that even a minor rise in sea level, even if we're only talking about a foot or two would inundate a vast part of coastal areas should be cause for concern.
What are we going to do to rebuild that entire area of infrastructure in the event that we have our coastal cities flooded? We have the areas where we have the vast part of our financial and industrial networks concentrated. That's a factor that is simply not being taken into account, this evidence from the past, which is not speculation. It's simple fact.
Mr. GOLDBERG: I'm still not clear as to why I'm misinformed. I didn't dispute predictions that there was going to be sea level rise with global warming, and I didn't dispute that there's a correlation between the two.
I disputed Al Gore's prediction that there was going to be a 20 foot sea level rise, which I haven't seen a lot of science that confirms that either. And let me say, I am all in favor - I mean there's this idea that I'm against innovation. I am not against innovation. I am all in favor of innovation. My whole point is, is that we need to have incentives for innovation. I can agree with that entirely.
And I agree with the professor from Berkeley entirely on that. By all means, let's think of innovative policy solutions and new technologies. That was my point earlier, about human beings learning to switch to farming and agriculture.
What I wouldn't want to see is something precipitous like the DDT example. The DDT example, we - by getting rid of DDT in a heartbeat, we also consigned hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people to die of malaria because DDT was the best, and is still the best, way to combat malaria.
And my point is, is that this is a gradual process by all the respectable models and predictions, and we have time to invest in ourselves, invest in creative solutions, and if we're talking about moving away from Kyoto and the wet-blanket approach and coming up with more innovative stuff, that sounds great to me.
CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got, this from Brenda. Your guest Jonah Goldberg claims that he has faith in humankind resolving the current global warming problems. We are humankind: your guest, myself, everyone else in the here and now. We are the ones that need to deal with our problems. Your guest seems to be taking the pass-the-buck approach, which is what brought us to this point. We simply cannot continue down this road. We must take off our blinders and face reality.
Mr. GOLDBERG: There was a great science fiction story I read once when I was a kid about these guys who go off on a rocket at less-than-light-speed travel, and it's going to take them 20 years or 30 years of suspended animation to finally make it to Alpha Centauri or whatever. And about a month into their trip, they encounter a race from another planet that has faster-than-light travel and can make the trip in two minutes. And it seems to me that that's the parable we're looking for.
Right now, we have no faster-than-light travel, no solutions to global warming, and if we just turn the ship around and go back and study the problem more and come up with innovative solutions, we will. And we have solved a lot of technological problems. We've doubled lifespan over the 20th century. There are all sorts of things that we've done through technology and with our prosperity, and that is what I am calling for.
And if the professors want to move away from the wet-blanket Kyoto approach and come up with these innovative policies that they tell me they have, that sounds great to me.
CONAN: All right. Let's get last comments from Barry Rabe and then Dan Kammen, and if you could keep them within the minute-or-so range, that'd be appreciated.
Mr. RABE: Sure.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
Mr. RABE: First of all, I do want to emphasize that this is not a new issue, something that we haven't thought about before or are just learning about. Congress held its first hearings on climate change back when Gerry Ford was president in 1975. It has since held 218 hearings, and there are probably more launching as we begin.
Many of them have not been very systematic or careful or thoughtful discussions, but a few have and really do begin to lay out some ways in which we can seriously deal with this issue and begin to think about this problem. And I tend to be relatively optimistic, sort of falling back on this emphasis on the possibilities of humanity to find ways to deal with it, and I hope over the next few years, particularly in the United States, we can begin to raise the level of discourse on this and really focus on those areas where we have achieved some degree of success and built on those. Because I think those models are there, and we tend not to focus on them very often.
CONAN: And go ahead please?
Mr. KAMMEN: So it's interesting to note that I do think that the Kyoto Protocol approach, which is sort of a commanded control with an international flavor, is one that everyone has moved away from because we're finding out that the opportunities to act are good deals economically in the short term.
Does that mean that we know the full path to get from here to a de-carbonized future world? No, but we better not know all of them now because that would mean we'd studied it, and right now as a society we've invested almost nothing in research and implementation of those technologies. We are just coming out of the gate on this.
Scientifically, we're coming out of the gate 20 years or so too late, but we have already seen remarkable strides in terms of energy efficiency and making wind power now less expensive than coal-fired power, and now we need to open up the markets for these clean technologies. And that's really what the challenge is, and that is to let clean tech be the driver and let the entrepreneurs get into that space. And that's what we're just seeing now.
That's a process that will likely lead us to a solution if we support it, fund it and open it up. But right now most of the money still goes to a fossil fuel-dominated economy, and that's not good economic or environmental sense.
CONAN: Dan Kammen, thanks very much for your time today. Dan Kammen, director of the Berkeley Institute of the Environment and the founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkeley.
Barry Rabe, we'd like to thank you for your time as well. He's a professor at the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He joined us today from WUOM, our member station in Ann Arbor.
And Jonah Goldberg, thank you for joining us here in Studio 3A. He's a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and contributing editor to the National Review, and this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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