pageok
pageok
pageok
Sunstein and the Political Economy of Climate Policy:

No international agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions will have a meaningful effect on future projections of global climate change without the active participation of the United States and China. Yet as University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein argues in his paper, "The Complex Climate Change Incentives of China and the United States," neither nation has much of an incentive to participate in such a regime. Whatever the global benefits of an international emission-control regime, the U.S. and China are unlikely to agree to such an agreement given the existing economic incentives they each face. According to Sunstein, there are two possible solutions. The first would be to alter each nation's perceived ratio of costs to benefits for emission controls. The second would be for the two nations to recognize a moral obligation to limit greenhouse gas emissions so as to limit likely adverse effects on the most vulnerable parts of the world.

I served as a commenter on Sunstein's paper at a recent conference on cost-benefit analysis sponsored by the Searle Center at the Northwestern University Law School. Following is a summary of my comments.

As an initial matter, Sunstein's analysis provides a useful, albeit sobering, dose of realism to climate policy discussions. Among other things, it helps illustrate how economic realities reinforce political resolve against significant emission controls. Yet Sunstein's analysis also has its limits. In particular, his reliance upon nationwide estimates of costs and benefits is ultimately of limited value in assessing the likelihood of political action in the United States. As public choice analyses have demonstrated, national policy is not always driven by aggregate costs and benefits for the nation as a whole. Rather, various interest groups with concentrated costs or benefits often drive policy decisions at the expense of taxpayers and consumers. As a result, we often see the adoption of national policies for which the nationwide costs clearly exceed the benefits, but which provide concentrated benefits to powerful lobbying groups. Trade policy is rife with such policies, but it is hardly the only context in which this occurs in the United States.

At the same time, interest group pressures can prevent the adoption of economically optimal policy measures. Consider the possibility of a carbon tax. Such a tax would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase energy conservation. Assume for the moment that such a tax could be adopted in a revenue neutral manner by replacing existing corporate taxes and excises, and that such a shift in tax policy would not compromise economic growth. Even under such assumptions, it is quite likely that those interest groups most likely to bear the brunt of such a policy change would mobilize against it, and that the built in inertia within the political system would prevent its adoption. I do not know whether China is subject to the same sorts of pressures, but the United States is hardly the only nation in which such public choice problems can be observed.

Despite this caveat, Sunstein is correct that a shift in the perceived costs and benefits of climate mitigation measures will increase the likelihood such measures will be adopted. The Bush Administration's climate policy initiative, such as it is, embraces this sort of approach insofar as it seeks to encourage the deployment of advanced energy technologies and reduce the carbon intensity of the U.S. economy. More aggressive policies of this sort might seek to provide super-competitive returns for low-emission energy technologies (such as through prizes), reduce regulatory barriers and transaction costs for alternative energy sources, or a shift in tax policy, such as that suggested above. Unfortunately, there is relatively little serious discussion of policy proposals designed to reduce the costs or increase the benefits of emission reducing measures. It is simply assumed that if regulatory controls are adopted, the necessary innovation will come. Unfortunately it does not always work this way. See, for instance, California's efforts to mandate the sale of electric cars.

Sunstein is also correct that were Americans to become convinced that they are under a moral obligation to prevent or reduce the climate-related risks faced by developing nations, the political process might respond with meaningful policies. Here, however, it is important to note that the recognition of such a moral obligation would not necessarily lead to the embrace of emission control measures, and almost certainly would not result in the adoption of emission controls to the exclusion of other risk-reducing measures. Rather, the likely outcome would be the adoption of a mix of emission reduction and adaptation measures, and it is quite possible that the latter would predominate.

To illustrate this point, consider the following thought experiment. Imagine that anthropogenic contributions to climate change were recognized as nuisance under international law -- an action that violates the property rights of harmed nations -- and that there was some institutional mechanism to enforce such property interests in a bilateral context. Assume further that the property interest were protected by a property rule -- that is, assume that a threatened developing nation, such as, say, Bangladesh, could seek injunctive relief against the United States. Would this mean that Bangladesh would seek the imposition of dramatic greenhouse gas emission controls in the United States? Or would Bangladesh prefer compensation for the violation of its property rights in the form of foreign aid, development assistance, disaster preparedness, and the like. Given the choice of indemnification and adaptive assistance or the imposition of emission controls on the United States that could have negative implications for the global economy, on what basis would we assume that Bangladesh would prefer the latter? When one considers many predicted climate change impacts, including sea-level rise and a shift of disease vectors, investments in adaptation purchase greater risk reduction than even stringent emission limits in the near-to-medium term. Therefore, if we assume that developed nations would behave rationally, they might well prefer adaptation assistance over emission control.

The point of this thought experiment is to illustrate that the acknowledgement of a moral obligation on the part of the United States to reduce the harm of its greenhouse gas emissions on other nations is not sufficient, by itself, to make the case for emission controls. To the contrary, insofar as adaptive measures offer more cost-effective risk reduction, the United States might actually have a moral obligation to support such measures in the near-to-medium term before embracing emission limitations that could have substantial negative economic repercussions around the globe.

These comments notwithstanding, the Sunstein paper makes a useful contribution to the study of the political economy of climate change policy, and I look forward to reading his continuing contributions to the climate policy literature.

Voorhies (mail):
May I suggest that the global warning "debate" is a form of mass evolved adaptive behavior. One can almost hear the witch doctor canting about evil behavior causing the volcanic eruption.
11.12.2007 11:38pm
Lev:
]U.S. and China are unlikely to agree

Nor is India
11.13.2007 12:01am
Randy R. (mail):
Forget about the moral arguments. It's much better to pander to self-interests. I believe it was Colin Powell who said that climate change is a matter of our national security.

If national security interests aren't enough to appeal to even the most hardened conservative, nothing will.
11.13.2007 12:10am
one of many:
I think you'e off in assuming the US doesn't feel a moral obligation with regards to climate changes in devoloping nations. The case seems to be that it doesn't consider it a moral imperative.

I see that you've ignored the question of carbon sequestration in your thought experiment. If an attempt is made to quantify and access external costs of GGE then one should also have to figure in the external benefits of carbon sequestration, in which the US might have claim against Belieze.

The problem with any atempt to quantify externalities in terms of GHG is that while China and the US are the greatest absolute emitters of GHGs (why the are needed for any agreement) by any metric which doesn't weigh all countries as equal they aren't the worse emitters. Per Capita,Per GDP, per hectare &c they are much lower down in the pack, which confuses the issue of moral obligations - does Australia with about 1/4 more GHG emmisions than the US per capita have a greater moral obligation to reduce GHG emmisions than the US? Or is the moral obligation of a nation the sum of the moral obligation of it citizens? If so, while the Chineese individually have a small (relatively) moral obligation to reduce GHGs, as a nation they (probably) have the greatest sum obligation, which probably won't sit well with the individual Chinaman.
11.13.2007 3:17am
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
The moral urgency is diminished a lot by suspecting, or knowing, that it's all a hoax.

Physics ``model'' builders aren't particularly scientific ; they're more career oriented and tend to be meeting attenders.

There's no ``effective diffusion coefficient'' in the Navier Stokes equations. It's some guy winging it.

Let them wing it on their own dime.
11.13.2007 7:07am
Tim (mail):
In your example it might even make sense to move all the Bangladesh manufacturing to the US in that we could use the limited supply of energy more efficiently and create less greenhouse gases than Bangladesh could.
11.13.2007 8:23am
TokyoTom (mail):
Jon, in the face of ongoing climate change and the physical impossibility (much less economic and political impracticality) of stopping climate change on a dime (or reversing), we will all have to adapt to climate change - even if aggressive mitigation measures are justified.

Domestically, of course, we are already adapting as a society, as individual actors are making decisions in the face of changing climate zones, etc.

As for what the need for adaptation means internationally, assistance to lesser developed nations that are expected to bear the brunt of the negative climate impacts, as well as having the least wealth, resilience and infrastructure to deal with it - as Lomborg, Goklany and you argue - will of course be needed. But helping those nations itself presents a problem of coordination akin to that of international mitigation measures, but are actually even stickier since the task with require direct and intimate involvement in providing needed physical and GOVERNANCE infrastructure.

Just transferring wealth to kleptocratic elites from dominant ethnic groups in states whose lack of effective governance is the largest factor in their poverty is a guaranteed waste of money and, to the extent voters are paying attention, a political nonstarter.

I fail to see why "adaptation" assistance to developing nations should not dovetail with any mitigation regime adopted by developed nations.
11.13.2007 8:43am
Bottomfish (mail):
I will choke down my own feeling that calculations of effects of global warming, attribution of causes, and calculations of risks and benefits are an extremely uncertain business.

My own feeling is that Professor Adler is probably correct in saying that "investments in adaptation purchase greater risk reduction than even stringent emission limits in the near-to-medium term. Therefore, if we assume that developed nations would behave rationally, they might well prefer adaptation assistance over emission control."

The reason Africa and India are so vulnerable to global warming is that their economies are so dependent on agriculture, which is by the way much less efficient that US agriculture. Since these areas are lined up for a lot of development aid anyway, there would seem to be no reason why adaptation assistance might be folded into existing development programs. Probably their economies should not include so much agriculture.
11.13.2007 9:05am
Montie:

It's much better to pander to self-interests. I believe it was Colin Powell who said that climate change is a matter of our national security.

If national security interests aren't enough to appeal to even the most hardened conservative, nothing will.


Ahh...I can hear the charges of imperialism and warmongering now if we take that route.
11.13.2007 9:33am
Bob Sykes (mail):
If the AGW theory is true, then only a massive depopulation and deculturation will stop it. This means that humanity would have to be reduced to a very few million stone age hunter-gatherers. No industry. No agricultural. This will not happen, so the morally and ethically correct policy is to figure out how to adapt to a warmer world.
11.13.2007 9:52am
Houston Lawyer:
If it's going to get so warm, shouldn't we be speculating in land in Canada?

Does the author have his Swine Flu vaccinations up to date?
11.13.2007 10:41am
Zacharias (mail):
Great! And if climate change caused by the US and China ends up being positive, which seems just as likely, we will be entitled to contributions from all the poor countries who have failed to produce enough carbon dioxide!
11.13.2007 11:14am
Robert Lutton:
Ahh...the volakh comments, land of the deniers :-)

One comment JA, I wouldn't be so quick to jump on the carbon tax as the solution. When a commodity is selling far above its production cost (such as oil with a price of $100/bb with a cost to most producers in the 10-15/bb) it is not clear that a tax would do anything more than lower the part of the $100/bb market price goes to the producer. Why should the Saudis lower production when the price that they can get is far above the cost of production?
11.13.2007 12:18pm
David M (mail) (www):
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 11/13/2007 A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.
11.13.2007 12:26pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Florida, Louisiana, Galviston area, East Coast barrier islands, Shanghai, Pearl River Delta. Seems like a good list to me.
11.13.2007 2:08pm
Smokey:
Oh, hey, it's the multiple-site pest again.
11.13.2007 4:12pm
happylee:
This interesting and thoughtful post reminds me of the good old days, when academics spent thousands of hours trying to figure out how socialism was to be spread around the world. Ha ha, joke was on them because, well, you have to understand that socialism is evil, and so is this whole "reducing consumption" or "reducing carbon foot prints" etc. It's all evil and share the same goal of reducing everyone's standard of living. Period.

Assuming we don't give in, future generations will thank China and the country formerly known as "United States of America."
11.13.2007 4:34pm
one of many:
Intersting thought spurred by M. Lutton's comment. How morally culpable are the US and China with regards to GHGs versus the OPEC nations which provide the fuel which produces most of them? Wouldn't it be better to access moral obligations to the originators of the harms? GHG production has been demonstrated to be movable and not tied to any one country - countries under Kyoto have moved their GHG producing industries to countries not covered by Kyoto, so it should be better to place the burden on the originating countries (Canada, Saudi Arabia, Venuzuala) of the fuel for the GHG producing activites.
11.13.2007 6:14pm
Brian K (mail):
Wouldn't it be better to access moral obligations to the originators of the harms?

that's like blaming the makers of the VCR for illegal taping of tv. or dvd manufacturers for movie piracy.
11.13.2007 6:38pm
TokyoTom (mail):
As for Mr. Lutton's comments, he and others forget that it is coal that poses the greatest warming and environmental risks. Carbon taxes or cap and trade would actually shift demand to oil and to natural gas, which have much lower C/btu profiles and whose extraction and combustion do much less damage to the environment.
11.13.2007 9:50pm
one of many:
Well Brian, while auto manufacturers have very low CO2 emmisions producing cars, relative to the people who drive them at least, Europe and the state of California feel it perfectly appropriate to hold car manufacturers responsible for reducing the CO2 emitted by the cars, even though they don't drie the cars arround emmiting all the CO2. Admittedly this is mostly a convience issue as it is easier to regulate car manufacturers than multiple individual car drivers, but given the likelihood of China and the US agreeing to a carbon emmisions capping scheme it seems a reasonable idea to search for alternatives. A shift of a carbon tax to cover the external costs of carbon based AGW from carbon emitters to carbon fuel producers might create an international agreement.

As for the DVD and VCR argument, well the problem with the analogy is that the crime (copyright violation) is caused by the immediate action of the person taping. Except for the occasional victim of carbon monoxide person (who I'm perfectly willing to absolve the gasoline manufactuer of all responisbility for) no one is directly harmed by GHG emmisions. Since we are dealing with indirect harms (externalities) through a chain with various human and natural actors, assigning moral responsibility to any particular human actor up the chain is morally no worse than some other actor, especially if one is working from a results oriented morality.

Certainly no one is buying oil from Saudi Arabia for any significant purpose other than burning it as fuel, producing as a byproduct GHGs. Certainly South Africa is not mining a few dozen million tons of coal annually for any purpose other than burning it, and incidentally producing GHGs. Isn't a nation which exports fuels to the US and China and India benefiting from the indirect harms of AGW not being considered in the pricing of their fuels? Froma results oriented point of view, making fuel producers responsible for indirect harms would result in an increase in the price of fuels, resulting in a change in the political economy of the US &China encouraging less fuel consumption, resulting in less GHG emmisions, resulting in less AGW - just the goal we were looking for. As for US and China intransigence, well they are not essential for an agreement based upon fuel production (although having them aboard would be nice).
11.13.2007 10:54pm
Brian K (mail):
Admittedly this is mostly a convience issue as it is easier to regulate car manufacturers than multiple individual car drivers
I think this pretty much explains why car companies are held responsible...not because they are morally to blame but because it results in the most easily implemented solutions. It is much easier to enforce mpg restrictions when dealing with a few producers instead of millions of buyers or hundreds (thousands?) of sellers.

As for the DVD and VCR argument, well the problem with the analogy is that the crime (copyright violation) is caused by the immediate action of the person taping. ... Since we are dealing with indirect harms (externalities) through a chain with various human and natural actors, assigning moral responsibility to any particular human actor up the chain is morally no worse than some other actor, especially if one is working from a results oriented morality.
This is a distinction without a difference. If I shoot someone, the blame is placed on me, right? We don't punish the gun manufacturers. Futhermore, the blame is placed on me despite the fact that i was not the direct cause of the injury...that honor would go to physical tearing and cavitation effects of the bullet. If i point an empty gun at someone and pull the trigger, they would not be harmed...remove the bullet and you remove the harm.

The person ultimately held responsible is the one whose actions lead to the harm. The oil driller is not directly harming the environment through production of GHGs, the end user is. after all, the producer is not forcing anyone to use the oil, coal or natural gas. (the oil companies can still be morally blamed for damages they caused, e.g. the recent oil spill in SF).

This is not to say that the producers are completely blame free. they can be held responsible for their actions with regards to hindering alternative fuel source developments or blocking measures aimed at conservation or what have you.

Froma results oriented point of view, making fuel producers responsible for indirect harms would result in an increase in the price of fuels, resulting in a change in the political economy of the US &China encouraging less fuel consumption, resulting in less GHG emmisions, resulting in less AGW - just the goal we were looking for.
I agree here, but i think you're using legal responsibility and moral responsibility interchangeably. I don't think the two are the same. fuel producers are not morally responsible, although they can be held legally responsible if for no other reason that it is easier to hold them legally responsible than it would be to hold anyone else legally responsible.

assigning moral responsibility to any particular human actor up the chain is morally no worse than some other actor, especially if one is working from a results oriented morality.
I see what you're saying but i think it argues more towards spreading the blame around rather than assigning it to any one element. I would contend that the brunt of the blame is placed on the end user...especially since they have the greatest ability to mitigate the harm. the oil producer has little to no control over how the oil is used but the car driver can choose the efficiency of their car and decides when to drive it.
11.13.2007 11:55pm
one of many:
This is a distinction without a difference. If I shoot someone, the blame is placed on me, right? We don't punish the gun manufacturers. Futhermore, the blame is placed on me despite the fact that i was not the direct cause of the injury...that honor would go to physical tearing and cavitation effects of the bullet. If i point an empty gun at someone and pull the trigger, they would not be harmed...remove the bullet and you remove the harm.

But there is a difference. If you shoot a gun, and the bullet lodges in a tree and the tree is cut down and made into lumber and someone steals some of that lumber containing your bullet from the lumberyard and makes a wooden bowl out of it which contains your bullet and sells the bowl to somone who dies of lead poisoning from eating soup out of the bowl, are you orally responsible since you shot the bullet? Aside from rare carbon monoxide poisoning, no one is harmed by GHGs. No directly identifiable harm is indicated from AGW either. Some incidental harm may come from Global Climate Change caused by AGW caused by GHG, but it is difficult to estimate the net harm or benefit of that. ( the chain of moral responsibility in the thought experiment ) GHGs cause AGW which instigates GCC which causes polar ice to melt, which raises sea levels, and some people bought land and built homes on lower elevations of land which flood. But GHG emision is the direct cause of the harm, nor is AGW nor even GCC but instead the direct cause is rising sea levels. What you are trying to do is convert am extremely indirect externality to a direct harm. An argument could be made that the emitter is morally responsible because they are the first human actor up the chain from raising sea levels, but one could also fault the person who sold the low level land or built upon it and if we consider governments as liable actors those which allowed people to live and develop land which became flooded (and more directly related to causing the harm than the GHG emitters). Unless you are pointing out that emitters are responsible for the direct impact of their pollution, but that doesn't make them responsible for AGW or GCC or sea level rise, and I am perfectly amiable to making emiters responsible for those rare people who are harmed due to inhaling GHGs.

As for fuel producers being morally responsible, again it all comes down to knowledge. While a GHG emmiter knows that GHG cause AGW causes GCC causes melting polar ice causes rising sea levels cause people being flooded out of homes, a fuel producer knows fuel sold is burned causing GHG causing AGW causing GCC causing melting polar ice causing rising sea levels causing people being flooded out of homes too. I'm not certain how to quatify the end user of GHG emmitting processes either, cars are sorta OK to consider the driver as end user, but if the vehicle is a truck bringing toys to Walmart is Walmart the end user responsible for the pollution? Or the parents who buy the toys for thier kids? or the kids? And let's not even think about electricity production where the end user may have no idea of how the water they are drinking comes out of a plastic bottle made with elctricty produced by a coal fired plant. Instead of establishing the end user a responsible, the GHG emitter has been arbitrarily chosen as the person to be responsible for meeting the cost of the moral responsibilty of the end user, and hopefully passing that cost on the end-user so that they meet their moral responsibilty, but that's just a convience.

If we move to the top of the chain and make the first beneficiary of the process which many steps later produces people being flooded out of homes responsible for the costs of the moral obligation of the entire process, they will disperse the cost of meeting that moral obligation along the entire chain of beneficiaries and no one will get a free ride. If we start at the emitter portion of the chain, those after the emitter bear the cost of meeting the moral responsability of the entire chain and those above the chain get a free ride (both from cost and moral responsibilty).

We are not dealing with direct causation here. GHGs are not the harm, so making GHG emiters solely responsible is not appropriate. Control over mitigation is an intersting argument, but I'm not certain how an emiter who burning GHG emiting fuel to meet the demands of far downstream end-users has more control of how much GHGs are produced than a fuel producer does. Does an electic plant have the power to decide that some people are too wasteful of elctricity and the power to cut them off? and if so, why doesn't a petroleum producer? If an electic plant can decide to only produce so much electricity and corresponding GHGs, why cannot a coal producer? Cars are a little better, but how about a meter reader or rural postal dilivery woman? they cannot decide when to drive thier car and not always decide the effienceny of it.
11.14.2007 2:01am
Brian K (mail):
If you shoot a gun, and the bullet lodges in a tree and the tree is cut down and made into lumber and someone steals some of that lumber containing your bullet from the lumberyard and makes a wooden bowl out of it which contains your bullet and sells the bowl to somone who dies of lead poisoning from eating soup out of the bowl, are you orally responsible since you shot the bullet?
There is a difference here. in your example there are many different actors between the proximate cause and the direct cause of the harm (the tree cutter, the lumber maker, the thief, and possibly even the doctor that failed to adequately treat the patient). in the case of GHGs there are no intermediate actors between release of GHGs and increases in sea level (of course there are many other effects of GCC that this analysis ignores). Therefore it is appropriate to hold the releasers of GHGs morally responsible. however, this may not result in the most efficient distribution of legal responsible from a policy perspective.

If we move to the top of the chain and make the first beneficiary of the process which many steps later produces people being flooded out of homes responsible for the costs of the moral obligation of the entire process, they will disperse the cost of meeting that moral obligation along the entire chain of beneficiaries and no one will get a free ride. If we start at the emitter portion of the chain, those after the emitter bear the cost of meeting the moral responsability of the entire chain and those above the chain get a free ride (both from cost and moral responsibilty).
I agree this makes good legal/economic sense. but efficient distribution of legal responsibility does not necessarily mean that moral responsibility is similarly distributed. but as cigarettes show, this is not always the policy implemented (the smoker pays the tax, not the tobacco farmer).

What you are trying to do is convert am extremely indirect externality to a direct harm. and We are not dealing with direct causation here. GHGs are not the harm
Yes they are. without the AGHGs, the end results would not occur...it is a direct chain of events with no intervening cuases/actors. to use the gun example, when you pull the trigger you cause a spring to move, which causes a hammer to come down, which causes a primer to go off, which ignites the gun powder which propels the bullet out of the gun, which causes direct tissue injury and rapid expansion of air which causes more tissue injury. once the process is started it can't be stopped (ignoring the rare malfunction). given that the conversion of gun powder to a gas is the direct cause of the bullet flying through the air, who/what do we hold legally (and morally) responsible for shooting someone? the person who pulled the trigger. not the gun manufacturer, the gun seller, not uncle vinnie who gave the gun to guy as a present, not the ammo seller/producer, not the spring or the primer. we hold the person who pulled the trigger responsible, i.e. the person who set off the chain of (unstoppable) events that led to the harm; in part because only he has the power to prevent the action. (i should have been clearer that this is the person who i was referring to as the end user...the person most directly responsible for the direct release of GHGs and the person with the greatest ability to alter that release)

Cars are a little better, but how about a meter reader or rural postal dilivery woman? they cannot decide when to drive thier car and not always decide the effienceny of it.
in this case, with the above explanation, i would hold the postal service and whatever agency/company is in charge of meter readers responsible. i also realize that some release of GHG is unavoidable...i would not hold the person who had no choice in the matter legally responsible for GHG emission and moral responsibility would depend on circumstances.

No directly identifiable harm is indicated from AGW either
Yes there is. increasing GHG directly leads to the GCC that harms people. unless you've come up with a way to prevent ice from melting at above freezing temperatures (and drastically increasing pressure is not a viable solution), there is no way to stop/mitigate the process short of decreasing GHGs in the air, therefore it is the direct cause of the harm.
11.14.2007 3:33am
happylee:
Brian K and One of Many's exchange reminds me of Crichton's novel, "State of Fear." In the book an attorney for the forces of darkness (enviropinkos) basically concedes that his experts could not survive cross examination in a court of law because direct causation between carbon ( a basic building block of life -- hint, hint...) emissions and "global warming" simply cannot be proved. It all relies on half-baked theories that rely on bogus climate data and ignores that, lo and behold, the earth has warmed and cooled throughout history -- and well before man harnessed the power of the flame and its fuel.
11.14.2007 12:19pm
Smokey:
If I may go a step back from happylee's excellent posts: No one has proved, or even provided any worthwhile evidence, that CO2 is in any way harmful to the planet. But it has certainly been proven to be beneficial.

There are numerous charts of the Earth's history available, which conclusively show that when CO2 was ramping up in the past, the planet's temperature was declining. And this was not an isolated blip; the geologic time frames are on the order of millions of years.

If CO2 in fact caused the [scientifically discredited] 'greenhouse effect,' then, as atmospheric CO2 increased, the planet's temperature would increase as a direct result.

The fact that the exact opposite happens is another nail in the coffin of the AGW fanatics' baseless conjecture.
11.14.2007 4:38pm
One of many:
Brian, you are confusing a chain of causation with direct causation. It isn't law, its logic. I have no interest in legal liability on this issue, too many arguments could be made in too many directions, so I confine my self to moral responsibility. Liabilty is also a non-starter except in terms of potential liability for future actions, this is not an exercise in examining who has caused AGW but in how to ensure that future GHG producing transactions properly include the costs of AGW related externalities.

Using a fairly standard allocation of moral obligation, the moral obligation for costing an externality belongs to all persons who benefit from the externality being uncosted. Adressing the issue of the moral responsibilty for costing the externality is different from the issue of moral responsibilty for the harms from the externality, and is really the point of Sustien's paper - that establishing a method of costing the harms at the emmiter level is impossible because of the politcal situations in the US and China. Where in the chain of beneficiaries from the externality you place the costing is important, because all of those above the point at which the externailty is costed are insulated from paying for their full portion on the harm caused by the externality. As a practcal matter it is considered an acceptable level of moral irresponsability [ hmm, never seen moral irresponsibility used before, I hope the meaning is obvious ] to let some escape their full moral oligation when the costing is done at some point down the chain, but in this case it is not possible to do the costing down the chain anyway because the US and China will not permit it.

A quick note on all these chains. They are important in this case, because the harm is indirect. There are moral systems which can acess moral culpability easily in case of direct harm, ie Happylee shot Brian K, Happylee is morally cupable. SO we have to use a moral system which allows culpability for indirect harms, there are many but they can be simpflied into 2 categories - those which assign sole culpability to the closest (in the chain causing the harm) morally responsible actor and those which assign moral responsability among all morally responsible actors involved.

The first however are problematic for our exercise. If we examine the chain of GHGs down to where we get to a costable harm (people being flooded out of homes) we have other morally responsible actors (governments which allowed people to live in floodable areas) involved. These formulations require us to assign the all the culpability to the closest morally responsible actor, which has no necessary part of GHG transactions. We meet our mandate to ensure that GHG transactions properly include the cost of AGW related externalities by using a moral system which values that cost at nothing, an idea which might fly in China and the US but not the rest of the world.

So we have to use a system which assigns moral culpability to all morally responsible actors to produce a result we can use. There are a variety of these systems, and they seem to agree with costing being assinged to fuel producers. Some moral systems require knowledge for morally responsible actors to be culpable, but unless one wishes to argue that the Iranians believe that the French are buying crude oil to soak their gout ridden feet and the South Africans believe all that coal they are mining is being use for decorative walkways we can dismiss the whole knowledge thing. Likewise these systems often include a provision that to be a responsible moral actor one must have control over the actions of others to be culpable, but in the GHG producing chain of events fuel producers have as much control as any other actor, HydroQuebec has as much control over whether One of Many leaves his kitchen light on all night as Wambo Mining has over whether the Kogan Creek power plant uses Atmospheric Fluidised Bed Combustion or Circulating Fluidised Bed Combustion. The simplest would assign full and equal culpabity to all responsible moral actors and any one meeting the obligations meets the obligations of all, in which case it is irrelvant that we are putting the obligation on the fuel producers. If culpability is assigned dispersely in a moral system, then the fact that the costing is done at the fuel producer level is irrelvant also, we are merely making the fuel producer responsible for meeting it's own moral obligations and passing the remainder down the chain so that they can meet their obligations - and we are still fulfilling the original mandate of ensuring that the cost of the AGW related externalities is properly represented in GHG transactions.


[Hmm, 16 years since i took an ethics class and that was business ethics - i think it shows. i was expecting someone more interested in the issue to pick it up. i wonder if it is actually doable, a carbon tax on carbon fuel producers instead of carbon emitters.]
11.14.2007 5:11pm
one of many:
Pointless here to discuss the validity of the science, it is accepted on a political level. There will be GHG emmision limitiations, the only question is what level and how. Sure it is all hokum, but it is orthodox hokum. The science is irrelvant also because humanity fried from the hole in the ozone layer, frozen in the ice age, starved from overpopulation, died in an antibiotic reisitant plague, is sterile because of PCBs, talking about using fossil fuels which humanity used the last of in the 1940s &1960s &1980s &1990s &last year, lost our humanity in service to machines and went extinct when Halley's Comet collided with the Earth.
11.14.2007 5:27pm
jhp (mail):
Global Warming, regardless of accuracy, is an opportunity to implement the energy consumption upgrades / improvements that have large agraget costs and benefits but small individual benefits. Prime example is an upgrade of the electrical grid. The only time there is a noticeable benefit to upgrading the grid is after a failure. By then the system has already paid a large upfront cost.
11.14.2007 5:42pm
Brian K (mail):
One of many,

I apologize for taking so long to respond. I've enjoyed this debate quite a bit (it's rare that I have an opportunity to discuss ethics).

Brian, you are confusing a chain of causation with direct causation. It isn't law, its logic.
It may be a chain of causation, but it is a direct chain of causation with no intervening exacerbating or mitigating factors. I think they are functionally the same. The first step in the process that leads rising ocean levels (the direct harmful agent) that is not preordained is the release of GHGs into the air. Therefore, the release of GHGs caused the harm and the person that released the GHGs is the one that is morally responsible. You can make the argument that everyone who is up the chain is also morally responsible (as you do) although I don't like the results of that argument. To be consistent, you also have to hold everyone involved in the manufacturing of a gun (from the guy who mined the steel to the guy who sold the gun to the criminal) morally responsible when someone shoots someone. You have to hold the creator of file transfer software liable when people use it to illegally transfer files. the software maker didn't break the law, the user did.


Aside from the above explanation, i think we're going to have to agree to disagree. With several projects coming due, I don't have the time to continue this debate.

Take care
11.15.2007 6:10am
one of many:
Dave K, if you have min, after 2 days it finally occured to me where we diverge. If the intent of the person emitting GHGs is to cause AGW and so on, then I can accept that the emitter is the primary or sole responsible person ( the gun analogy ). However, GHG emmision is just a side effect of the process the emitter is doing, not the intended result. (There are no people out there burning coal seams in an effort to induce GCC, or am I being too kind to humanity?)
11.17.2007 1:29am