Home > Human Limits, Solution-Problem, Unintended Consequences > Matt Ridley on the Cure for Global Warming

Matt Ridley on the Cure for Global Warming

One of my pet projects is spreading the idea that there are no solutions, there are only tradeoffs.  Matt Ridley, in the transcribed text of the Angus Millar lecture he recently gave, drives the point home with reference to global warming:

The problem is that you can accept all the basic tenets of greenhouse physics and still conclude that the threat of a dangerously large warming is so improbable as to be negligible, while the threat of real harm from climate-mitigation policies is already so high as to be worrying, that the cure is proving far worse than the disease is ever likely to be. Or as I put it once, we may be putting a tourniquet round our necks to stop a nosebleed.

I also think the climate debate is a massive distraction from much more urgent environmental problems like invasive species and overfishing.

Many attempts have been made at estimating the economic impact of climate change.  All are necessarily of the speculative sort, and predicting the future is legitimately hard.  

However, I have seen a far more convincing case made for the idea that the economic impact of mitigating climate change will outweigh the possible damage from the climate change itself.

Certainly, terrible things can happen at the hands of Mother Nature, but I am not sure why we would assume a passive population.  As weather changes, people will change, adapt, move, and just generally roll with the punches – like they always do.  Nobody will be lounging in their living room utterly surprised when the floodwaters suddenly begin to lap at their knees.

Then again, people will only adapt, and they will only adapt in positive ways, if we let them.  Adopting a top-down approach to this problem will simply backfire.  It will assume too much, and when circumstances change in unforseen ways, top-down policies will prove too sclerotic to adapt, thus locking people into a situation worse than that which they were attempting to avoid.  The real question is not “how should our government deal with global warming?” but “which decisions do I prefer to make under the circumstances presented to me?”

Or in other words, there are no solutions.  Only tradeoffs.

(H/T: Random Nuclear Strikes)

  1. klem
    November 8, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    If there are no solutions, why then are we building wind turbines, setting up feed-in-tarrif schemes, setting up Cap&Trade schemes and in some places carbon taxes?

    These have been promoted by the greenie left as solutions to future climate catastrophe not mere trade offs. What say you to these proposed solutions?

  2. December 3, 2011 at 9:40 PM

    Well put (yourself and Ridley). It’s rather annoying to hear people in the media casually talk about the “economic impacts” of global warming. If someone really could construct such an economic prediction of the future they would be investing in the solutions to these problems. And by invest, I mean invest. Not the fake version that comes from taxation and then gets “invested” into infrastructure or whatever pet project.

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