National Review has published an article by Jim Manzi that acknowledges that man-made global warming is a fact and makes some sensible suggestions on what should be done about it (article currently available only to subscribers). The article correctly points out that nearly all economic analyses suggest that a near-term expensive crash program to abate greenhouse gases is not the best way to address the problem. I noted that one such recent study by Yale economist Robert Mendelsohn found
"the aggregate net impacts [of climate change] for the globe are surprisingly small for the next century across all scenarios." They note that regional impacts of climate change would differ but they calculate that climate change overall would reduce global GDP by between 0.08 percent and 0.24 percent by the year 2100. "These estimates are considerably smaller than the earlier estimates in the literature that predict impacts of 1-2 percent of GDP," notes the Mendelsohn study.
Nevertheless, global warming poses some risk of catastrophe. So what to do? Manzi suggests:
In the face of massive uncertainty on multiple fronts, the best strategy is almost always to hedge your bets and keep your options open. Wealth and technology are raw materials for options. The loss of economic and technological development that would be required to eliminate literally all theorized climate-change risk would cripple our ability to deal with virtually every other foreseeable and unforeseeable risk, not to mention our ability to lead productive and interesting lives in the meantime. The Precautionary Principle is a bottomless well of anxieties, but our resources are finite. It's possible to buy so much flood insurance that you can't afford fire insurance.
In fact, a much more sensible strategy to deal with climate risk would emphasize technology rather than taxes. A science-based approach would hedge by providing support for prediction, mitigation, and adaptation technologies.
Although Manzi opposes carbon taxes (which I have recently discussed here), he and I agree that more research on the likely course of future warming and encouraging technological progress, not massive changes in lifestyles, are the keys to solving the problems posed by climate change.
Global warming is a manageable risk, not an existential crisis, and we should get on with the job of managing it. Conservatives should propose policies that are appropriately optimistic, science-based, and low-cost. This should be an attractive political program: It is an often-caricatured, but very healthy, reality that Americans usually respond well to the conversion of political issues into technical problems. After all, we're very good at solving the latter.
Although former Vice-President Al Gore says that climate change "is not a political issue so much as a moral issue." He's wrong and Manzi is right. It's a technical issue and it's good news that conservatives are now joining the debate over how to solve it.
Addendum: It is worth noting that a recent computer model study by NASA Goddard climatologist Jim Hansen suggests that catastrophic global warming may be closer than most other studies and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change find.