Strangely, while Gregg Easterbrook’s evil twin was penning churlish reviews of An Inconvenient Truth the genuine article wrote a pretty smart op-ed on global warming for The New York Times. The stuff near the end is, I think, really crucial:
Scientific substantiation of a warming world is not necessarily reason for gloom. Greenhouse gases are an air pollution problem, and all air pollution problems of the past have cost significantly less to fix than critics projected, and the solutions have worked faster than expected.
During the 1960’s, smog in America was increasing at a worrisome rate; predictions were that smog controls would render cars exorbitantly expensive. Congress imposed smog regulations, and an outpouring of technical advances followed. Smog emissions in the United States have declined by almost half since 1970, and the technology that accomplishes this costs perhaps $100 per car.
Similarly, two decades ago a “new Silent Spring” was said to loom from acid rain. In 1991, Congress created a profit incentive to reduce acid rain: a system of tradable credits that rewards companies that make the fastest reductions. Since 1991 acid rain emissions have declined 36 percent, and the cost has been only 10 percent of what industry originally forecast.
Environmentalists, for obvious reasons, tend to emphasize the problematic elements of the current state of the environment. One unfortunate cost of this is that it sometimes leads the public to forget just how successful past interventions on behalf of the environment have been. On the global warming front, I think the biggest challenge to action hasn’t actually been all this pseudo-scientific controversy about whether the problem is real. Rather, what needs to be overcome is the widely held vague view that there’s nothing we can really do about it, or that anything we do do will be so catastrophically expensive as to be hopeless.
What people need to hear is that we’ve reduced emissions of all kinds of stuff in the past, the affected industries have always screamed doom, but it’s always worked out fine.