This post will explain why Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner have been taking a brutal beating in the press for a chapter in their new book, Superfreakonomics, in which they discuss global warming, and possible engineering solutions to it. By engineering, we mean, the use of technology (like chemicals emitted into the air, or big carbom sinks) that could actually reduce the presence of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
But to understand it, first you have to realise why global warming is the perfect global malady from the perspective of the left.
You see, global warming is a special problem, and it sits right at the sweet spot of all kinds of politically charged issues. By going after global warming, you’re also going after
- The oil industry
- Western nations
- Rural areas
- The meat industry
- Huge suburban homes
All those things happen to be politically charged, as it is, and the left has long had them (to varying degress) in their sights.
Now there’s something else, too. Global warming, it seems, MUST, involve a government solution — and preferrably an international solution. No single country can solve the issue by itself, and no private party has any incentive to reduce emissions significantly (except, inasmuch as doing so helps their image, though this is marginal). The solution must be public sector, it would seem, so again, for those with an orthodox liberal worldview, this is a good thing.
And from that, you should understand why it’s so enraging to people that some might suggest a technological solution is possible. If we can suck out carbon from the atmosphere, then the oil industry, cars, and huge homes in the middle of nowhere aren’t such a problem. And if there’s a technological solution, then there’s no need for expanded government regulation, or multi-national UN charters, and all that good stuff.
So there’s a HUGE incentive to marginalize anyone trying to make this part of the debate — hence the outrage from folks like Krugman and Brad Delong and Joseph Romm. If engineering could solve the problem, the politics become a lot less interesting.
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