Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Good Post on Global Warming at Volokh

I don't really have much to add to this; Professor Zywicki pretty much nails it. The precautionary principle is a virtually useless guide, as the environmentalists typically formulate it: it doesn't tell us what we should precautionate against, and there's no guarantee that acting bears any more risk than not acting. The kind of action the Greens generally demand often has potentially severe economic consequences (therefore we shouldn't take these actions. The chance of totally derailing our economy by implementing silly standards is too great to ignore; the precautionary princple demands that we not risk it. So there). Further, if we don't really understand what we're doing—and the climate system is so complicated that no one has any legitimate claim to understand what we're doing—we could easily exacerbate the harm we're trying to prevent.

The real problem with most Greens' analysis is a complete failure to weigh the costs and benefits of different courses of action (this doesn't apply to all environmentalists. There's a big difference between people who want to protect the environment and conserve resources effectively and people who buy into the Green ideology). In many cases, they see protecting the environment not as an economic tradeoff, but as a moral imperative. If you're worried about the trees-in-and-of-themselves, then it doesn't matter what the economic benefits of logging are. If you're trying to build the kind of world that most people would want to live in, it matters very much.

The worst example of this kind of thinking is recycling: in many cases recycling is far, far more wasteful than just throwing the stuff away, but many people seem to possess a complete inability to evaluate it this way. When I've pointed this out to people, they've typically either refused to believe me or claimed that we should encourage recycling even if it's bad for the environment and the economy, because it promotes good attitudes. I suppose it does, if by "good attitudes" you mean "complete disregard of facts in service of ideology." But I doubt that's what most people mean.


Okay, I take it back. I guess I did have something to add.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Bridgett said...

You seem to assume that we aren't acting by choosing to remain on our current course.

July 31, 2005 9:46 PM  
Blogger Jadagul said...

Sorry; that's actually the point I was trying to make—though I suppose the typo didn't really help. I was sort of saying that doing what we're doing now is a choice that bears risks, and making some change is a choice that bears risks. A lot of environmentalists say, "We can't afford the risk of doing nothing, therefore we must implement this policy," without ever comparing the risks of doing nothing to the risks of doing something. It's sloppy thinking, and annoys me terribly whenever I see it.

August 01, 2005 2:32 AM  
Anonymous patty said...

i am a bit baffled by the recycling insert- the article referenced is 9+ years old and it referse to a newsweek article almost 11 year old- at the time secondary sellingof recycled materials was wishful thinking- now a decade recycling has altered the baseline many companiesuse during market production - what was once expensive and costly to the market has caught up to demand (although you could argue created it's own demand and that would be another kettle of fish) and is no longer ascost imperative- there is a market for plastics and paper that do re-enter the market and also offsets costs (such as labor and containment) by now producing revenue-
it put a spin on your overall arguement that i had a hard time connecting with- although i do admit i became a bit over interested in the last part and the link- but it is late and i've had too much coffee- ah- coffee grounds for the garden excellent recycling

August 05, 2005 10:53 PM  

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