Will on global warming

There are both things I agree with and things I disagree with in George Will’s column today inspired, no doubt, by the report issued by the IPCC on global warming last week.  For example, when Mr. Will writes:

Nothing Americans can do to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions will make a significant impact on the global climate while every 10 days China fires up a coal-fueled generating plant big enough to power San Diego. China will construct 2,200 new coal plants by 2030.

he’s playing my song.  However, when he writes

Ethanol produces just slightly more energy than it takes to manufacture it. But now that the government is rigging energy markets with mandates, tariffs and subsidies, ethanol production might consume half of next year’s corn crop. The price of corn already has doubled in a year. Hence the tortilla turbulence south of the border.

I think he’s over-simplifying just a skosh.  American corn is used mostly in Mexico for animal feed and what white corn (the kind used in tortillas) Mexico imports from the United States has been diminishing due to Mexican price supports for local growers.  For details see here.  That isn’t consistent with the scenario painted by Will.  If you really want to save Mexican forests, we should be negotiating with Mexico to stop their darned subsidies.

But…that would injure small producers in Mexico and, given social and economic conditions in Mexico, exacerbate illegal immigration problems in the United States.  It’s a bear how these things are interrelated.

And I also have a little problem with his implication here:

And we do not know whether warming is necessarily dangerous. Over the millennia, the planet has warmed and cooled for reasons that are unclear but clearly were unrelated to SUVs. Was life better when ice a mile thick covered Chicago? Was it worse when Greenland was so warm that Vikings farmed there? Are we sure the climate at this particular moment is exactly right, and that it must be preserved, no matter the cost?

No matter the cost, no.  But I do think we need to do a little better accounting for negative externalities than we do now.

Among these externalities is that more warming means a more energetic atmosphere.  A more energetic atmosphere means more flooding, more powerful tornadoes, and more powerful hurricanes (as well as the kind of weather fluctuations we’re experiencing here in Chicago right now).  1,000 years ago there were far fewer human beings than there are now, there were no large governments, and there was a lot more desireable but undeveloped and unoccupied land than there is now.

1,000 years ago the response to climate change was to pick up stakes and move.  If we advocate the same response to day at the scale of migration that would be involved it would constitute a substantial challenge to national sovereignty and individual property rights.

Further, as we saw with the tsunami two years ago (or, perhaps, Hurricane Katrina last year), major natural disasters require strong central states to deal with the aftermath and, with the level of human misery involved in such disasters, the pressure for government to do something is irresistible.  The greater and more numerous the disasters the greater the pressure the more governments are expanded and enlarged.

If Mr. Will is the small government conservative I think him to be, he might re-consider his position if only to save small government.

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