Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pennsylvania Scientists and Economists' Call for Action

I recently received a request to join Pennsylvania scientists and economists in signing a "call to action" letter on global warming that will be presented to state legislators in the coming weeks. I thought readers might be interested in the letter and my reasons for not signing the letter. Below is the "call to action" letter and my response to the organization follows.

You can get more information about the letter and the organization at
Pennsylvania Scientists and Economists' Call for ActionWe, the undersigned scientists and economists living and working in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, support the U.S. Scientists and Economists’ Call for Swift and Deep Cuts in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, which calls on our nation’s leaders to act quickly to cut emissions sufficiently to protect against the worst effects of global warming and states that such action creates economic opportunities for the nation.
New climate science research shows that we are feeling the effects of climate change faster and more intensely than the models projected when the statement was drafted, underscoring the need for urgent action to reduce emissions.
Taking action to move to cleaner sources of energy and reduce global warming emissions will inevitably have short-run consequences for some industries and some regions, which will need resources in order to adapt. Fortunately, climate action also creates economic opportunities for the Commonwealth, including new jobs in the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries, and the opportunity for Pennsylvania to become a world leader in renewable energy technology. Moreover, energy efficiency can help consumers to save on transportation, heating and electricity costs, and policies can be designed to assist consumers and industries make the transition to a clean energy economy.
On the flip side, without strong leadership and action, Pennsylvania could experience significant changes because of global warming, changes that will create adaptation costs for the Commonwealth. For example, by the end of the century, without action:
  • Many Pennsylvanian cities would expect dramatic increases in the number of summer days over 90°F, putting vulnerable populations at greater risk of heat-related health effects and curtailing outdoor activity for many.
  • Snowmobiling conditions would disappear from the state, and widespread ski resort closures could result as winters become too warm for snow-natural or human-made.
  • Yields of native Concord grapes, sweet corn, and favorite apple varieties would decrease considerably as temperatures rise and pest pressures grow more severe.
  • Climate conditions suitable for prized hardwood tree species such as black cherry, sugar maple, and American beech may decline or even vanish from the state.
The good news is that the Commonwealth is well placed to take advantage of the new economy created by strong climate change policy. Many Pennsylvanian entrepreneurs in the energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors are already experiencing growth throughout the state.
We cannot wait until the economy recovers to begin reducing global warming emissions. We respectfully urge the Congress of the United States to act rapidly and sensibly. As Congress crafts comprehensive climate and energy legislation, key provisions in the bill should:
  • Require global warming pollution reductions commensurate with the scientific urgency–on the order of 35 percent below today’s levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
  • Require polluters to buy credits for their global warming emissions at an auction, and use the auction revenue for the public’s benefit by investing in programs that can help reduce emissions and ease the transition to a clean energy economy.
  • Require 25 percent of our nation’s electricity to be generated from renewable resources by 2025.
  • Exclude loopholes that would let polluters delay or avoid needed emissions reductions, especially unlimited carbon “offsets” or a price ceiling that limits the fee for emissions.
We hope you will demonstrate your commitment to responsible stewardship of America's environment for our children and grandchildren by supporting scientifically and economically sound climate and energy policy.

Jean Sideris
Outreach Coordinator
Climate Program
Union of Concerned Scientists
Cambridge, MA

I agree that climate change is happening and that the actions of humans are accelerating climate change. I also agree and support actions that will mitigate the external costs associated with climate change. However, I do not agree that the policies highlighted in the letter are the policies that will create the greatest net benefit to society. I have been reading about some innovative and lower cost solutions to mitigate climate change and I believe we should also consider the theory that reversing course now on “global warming pollution” will have very little affect on the estimated external costs and therefore we should be looking at ways to cope with a warmer planet. Unfortunately, when politicians, lobbyists, and scientists who discard their “scientific cloak” (as Buchanan (JLE, 1959) would have described them) get a whiff of what seems to be public opinion or conventional wisdom, whether right or wrong, their actions tend to stifle innovation, research, and better policy.

In my opinion, it is far more important that we seek out solutions to the externalities of global warming that result in the greatest social benefit at the least possible social cost and I believe we haven’t explored all options yet. I also believe that if this argument were presented to some of the economists who have not signed this letter, you might see a different level of support. In fact, if this point were emphasized more in your letter, I would sign.
Mike Gumpper

1 comment:

  1. I found it interesting that the author of this letter says that immediate climate control action would have a large effect on the environment. What I find hard to believe, is that the direct effects on the environment and economy, would outway the costs of companies switching to environmentally-friendly procedures. I'm not an expert on this by any means, but it does seem a bit far-fetched in my opinion.