William Niskanen on Climate Change Public Policy: Part I

In the Fall 1997 issue of JOBS & CAPITAL of the Milken Institute, William Niskanen, then chair of the Cato Institute, published an important article on the case against regulating carbon dioxide (CO2) via a global treaty (or otherwise). The Kyoto Protocol was just ahead, which pitted the Malthusianism intelligensia and rent-seeking corporations (such as Enron and BP) versus fossil-fuel consumerism and a Julian Simon view of the world.

The issue was titled Too Much, Too Soon: Is a Global Warming Treaty a Rush to Judgment?, edited by Milken economist Benjamin Zycher. In addition to Niskanen and Zycher, other contributors were Dale W. Jorgenson; Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. Knappenberger; and Kevin E. Trenberth.

Niskanen’s article begins with this introduction:

In December, policymakers will meet in Kyoto to discuss an international treaty to control greenhouse gases.  But with a dearth of knowledge about the costs, benefits, and alternatives, broad regulatory action is premature. President Clinton has endorsed a global warming treaty, the details of which are expected to be resolved at a December conference in Kyoto.  For this treaty to merit our support, the proponents should be asked to demonstrate the accuracy of all of the following statements:

  1. Continued increase in the concentration of artificial greenhouse gases (primarily carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere will increase the average global temperature.
  2. An increase in average temperature will generate more costs than benefits.
  3. Emissions controls are the most efficient means to prevent an increase in global temperature.
  4. Early measures to control emissions are superior to later measures, whether to control emissions or adapt to a temperature increase.
  5. Emissions controls can be effectively monitored and enforced.
  6. Governments of the treaty countries will approve the necessary control measures.
  7. Controlling emissions in richer countries is desirable even if emissions in poorer countries are not controlled for several decades.

As will be seen below, the case for any one of these statements is surprisingly weak.  The case for a global warming treaty, which depends on the accuracy of all of these statements, in shockingly weak.

Jerry Taylor, then with the Cato Institute, praised Niskanen’s argument in “Clouds Over Kyoto: The Debate over Global Warming” (Regulation: Winter 1998):

As Cato Institute chairman William Niskanen has noted, for any international action to merit support, all of the following propositions must be proven true: 

(1) A continued increase in the emission of greenhouse gases will increase global temperature. 

(2) An increase in average temperature will generate more costs than benefits. 

(3) Emissions controls are the most efficient means to prevent an increase in global temperature. 

(4) Early measures to control emissions are superior to later measures. 

(5) Emissions controls can be effectively monitored and enforced. 

(6) Governments of the treaty countries will approve the necessary control measures. 

(7) Controlling emissions is compatible with a modern economy.  

The case for any one of those statements is surprisingly weak. The case for a global warming treaty, which depends on the accuracy of all those statements, is shockingly weak.

 Taylor concludes: 

There is no compelling need to act now. According to a recent study by Wigley et al. in Nature, waiting more than twenty years before taking action to limit anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions would result in only about a .2 degree Celsius temperature increase spread out over a one hundred year period. 

Why might we want to wait a couple of decades before acting? First, we might profitably “look before we leap.” There are a tremendous number of uncertainties that still need to be settled before we can be reasonably sure that action is warranted. Second, we cannot anticipate what sorts of technological advances might occur in the intervening period that might allow far more efficient and less costly control or mitigation strategies than those before us today.

Given the low cost of waiting, it would seem only prudent to continue to try to answer the open questions about climate change before making major changes to Western civilization. 

The post William Niskanen on Climate Change Public Policy: Part I appeared first on Master Resource.

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May 15, 2018 at 11:20PM

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