Monday, March 10, 2008

Scientists Giving Orders

Here Juliet Eiperin of The Washington Post informs us that some scientists are telling us we “must cease” carbon-dioxide emissions altogether because we are changing the climate:

The task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to avert a dangerous rise in global temperatures may be far more difficult than previous research suggested, say scientists who have just published studies indicating that it would require the world to cease carbon emissions altogether within a matter of decades.
Their findings, published in separate journals over the past few weeks, suggest that both industrialized and developing nations must wean themselves off fossil fuels by as early as mid-century in order to prevent warming that could change precipitation patterns and dry up sources of water worldwide.

Using advanced computer models to factor in deep-sea warming and other aspects of the carbon cycle that naturally creates and removes carbon dioxide (CO2), the scientists, from countries including the United States, Canada and Germany, are delivering a simple message: The world must bring carbon emissions down to near zero to keep temperatures from rising further.

Leave aside the question of whether this particular set of “models” will turn out to be true. Leave aside too the question of whether precipitation patterns that dry up some places might make water more abundant someplace else. Scientists have no more business recommending what people “must” do than barbers, cheerleaders or bookkeepers. This is a task for all citizens, interacting together in the political system, ideally as relatively free men and women. Those citizens will listen respectfully to the scientists, then think carefully about the likely cost of global warming, and the likely cost of fixing global warming. (How many heart-attack patients would we be willing to forego taking to the state-of-the-art, electricity-hogging hospital in an ambulance driven in a very fuel-consuming way because of the resulting CO2 emissions?)

Climate change and dealing with climate change have benefits and costs. The fetishization of scientific expertise as the last word on what public policy should be is a dagger at the heart of a free people. Scientists are simply not qualified, any more than any other random citizen, to answer the most important questions.



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