Joe Nocera is having an important debate with James Hansen. Nocera celebrates Hansen as a pioneer climate scientist and as a good economist. Hansen demands a carbon tax now. All economists agree with adopting this efficient policy. As I write in Climatopolis, I’m a supporter of $10 gasoline now. Where Nocera and Hansen part company is on Hansen’s doomsday rhetoric about the consequences of the President giving the green light to the Keystone Pipeline. Below the fold, I discuss some nuanced issues.
For people who bothered to read my Climatopolis, they know that I moved to California in part because of my excitement of playing a policy role in the phase in of AB32. My optimism for how our cities will continue to thrive is that green guinea pig efforts such as AB32 will identify new cost effective solutions for reducing our GHG emissions. Once we discover such ideas they can diffuse around the world. Ideas are public good! Over the 21st century, we will simultaneously reduce our world’s carbon intensity and we will adapt to the climate changes we have already induced. Pessimists downplay the power of human ingenuity for generating new solutions for both carbon mitigation and adaptation. This will be a gradual process involving learning and experimentation.
I agree with Nocera that Hansen’s tendency to draw a line in the sand is counter-productive and makes him look like a Chicken Little. He should join the economists who are thinking hard about the political economy of how you build a carbon mitigation coalition and how you achieve “buy in” from those who might be on the fence on this important issue. Scientists have credibility in the policy arena but they can lose this elusive commodity if they are seen as overplaying their hand.
UPDATE: Severin Borenstein’s February 2013 post is worth reading.
Here is a good quote:
“And that’s where it seems there is an opportunity for a grand bargain of sorts. The Keystone XL and other new oil sources create billions of dollars in economic value. Blocking them will have at best a very small impact on emissions. But allowing them could be tied to much greater funding for alternative energy research and development. Such work may have a shot at creating low-carbon alternatives that can compete against the bargain basement fossil fuels that will very likely result if alternative fuels start to contribute substantial supply.”