Sunday, July 22, 2012

Krugman on Climate Change

Paul Krugman makes a couple of essential points about climate change. The first points to a new paper by James Hansen. As Krugman puts it:
The first is the relationship between extreme weather events and climate change. The normal, cautious thing is to say that there’s no way to attribute any particular event, like a heat wave in the Ukraine, to global warming — and news media have basically been bullied by this argument into rarely mentioning climate change even when reporting on extreme weather. But Hansen et al make an important point: this argument is much weaker when we’re talking about really extreme events, like temperatures more than 3 standard deviations above historical norms. Such events would almost never happen if there weren’t a rising trend in global temperatures; so when they become quite common, as they have, it’s fair to call them evidence of warming.
The second addresses something that has bothered me for a long time, the "won't there be winners with global warming?" argument. My rebuttal has always been that we have optimized agricultural land use based on our current climate. Krugman makes that point but takes it further:
The second point is how we know that climate change is a bad thing — a question I sometimes get asked. The questioners wonder why the fact that, say, more of Canada becomes agriculturally viable doesn’t offset the damage in places that get too hot. 

My first-pass answer is that we have a global economy that is adapted to historically normal climate — not just in terms of what is grown where, but in terms of where we locate our cities. In the long run, after a couple of centuries’ worth of urban development and infrastructure has been drowned by rising sea levels and/or made useless because previously habitable regions need to be abandoned, we might be able to reconstruct an equally productive economy; but in the long run …
On a related note, we are now having to worry about invasive species in in Antarctica.

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