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Global carbon tax would have low risk and high benefit

Hansen’s proposal should be supported by everyone, even those who are skeptical about global warming

In one of his recent letters the Rambling Man Jim Lamberton said your editor has doctorates in literature and physics. He has also called your editor a “captain,” although he hasn’t been clear if that rank is in the army, navy, merchant marine, air force or other. In his most recent letter, he even nominated your editor to be Clearwater Citizen of the Year.

For the record, and just in case anyone takes Jim too seriously, I have to announce that I have none of the titles, positions or honors mentioned.

In his most recent letter, however, he did describe me with one title that I am honored to accept: an old friend.

Yes, Jim Lamberton and I are old friends from away back.

And Jim, old friend, I hope one day to convince you of how wrong you are to underestimate the dangers presented by global warming.

It all comes down to probabilities: how do we balance the risks and the benefits?

Science does not deal in absolute truths. Instead, scientists say a certain event is likely to happen, while another is improbable.

As noted in my Dec. 12 editorial, Harvard economist Martin Weitzman has described the possible outcomes of the global warming situation as a bell-shaped curve. There is a two-thirds chance that the most probable outcomes predicted by the IPCC will occur – that global temperatures will rise by the end of this century by 2 to 4.5 degrees C.

Weitzman has said we should focus on the less probable but more extreme outcomes at the far end of the curve – the one in six chance that things won’t just get bad, but could get very bad indeed.

My friend, on the other hand, appears to be focusing on the least extreme side of the curve – the one in six chance that global warming will prove to be relatively harmless.

Jim, one empty chamber out of six isn’t very good odds if you’re going to play Russian roulette.

Usually, Russian roulette is played with five empty chambers and one bullet but, even then, most rational people would say the odds are not good enough.

In fact, not many rational people would think almost any odds favorable enough to risk putting a possibly loaded gun to his or her temple – especially when it isn’t just one individual life we’re talking about, but millions or hundreds of millions, and even civilization itself.

Lamberton did attempt to include a couple of facts in his latest letter. Point one was, “Last week, Antarctica reported the lowest temperature ever recorded: -93C.”

Point two, “The year, Arctic sea ice didn't experience rapid melting as it has in past years.”

According to Wikipedia, the lowest temperature ever was -93C in Antarctica as indicated by satellite data, but it wasn't last week, it was in August, 2010.

Whenever the record was set, it is more likely to be a reflection of inadequate sampling rather than a real trend. Fifty years ago there were far fewer places in Antarctica where temperatures were being taken, and no temperatures taken by satellite.

Point two, the slowing of Arctic sea ice melting this year, does seem to be correct. However, none of the climate forecasts predict a smooth transition. Instead, we can expect increasingly unstable and unpredictable – and gradually warmer – weather.

A global carbon tax would be a low risk alternative to global warming, especially if the proceeds were to be distributed to everyone as proposed by climate scientist Jim Hansen.


In fact, Hansen’s proposal would be of such low risk and such high benefit to so many people that it should be supported by everyone, even those who are skeptical about global warming.