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Free market advocate says fight effects, not global warming

Kate Raiford
Published: Tuesday August 8, 2006

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A debate among climate change experts has some researchers now suggesting that we focus on limiting the damage done by climate change, rather than on passing laws intended to prevent global warming, RAW STORY has learned.

Two sides of a debate

"Once you pass a law, bad laws stay on the books for years," said Sterling Burnett, an environmental ethicist and senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative nonprofit organization in Dallas dedicated to free market solutions.

"People assume that the science is sound and leap to the conclusion they must do something, and they know what select something to do, when it's not so clear what we should be doing," he said.

Waiting, however, won't solve a thing, responded J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy in Minnesota.

"We won't know the impacts until they happen, but when it does, it's too late," she said. "How do we manage that risk?"

Knowing what to do about global warming is a matter of risk assessment. Until we know the appropriate risk, it's hard to know what to do and how to spend our money effectively.

"What keeps the debate going is not so much the information [about global warming]," Hamilton added. It's about the solutions.

Worry about the consequences

Burnett advocates one side of that debate: Worry about the consequences, not about preventing what might happen, especially when we don't know the chances of it happening or how bad it would be.

Take the example of malaria, Burnett told RAW STORY. Global warming will probably increase the range of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, but the Kyoto Protocol will not lower the temperature significantly. We could attempt to prevent global warming, or we could inoculate people and spray DDT.

"One billion [dollars spent] can save a million lives," he said. "Where is the better investment?"

The same applies for coastal flooding from rising sea levels. Why not just stop building along the coasts, he asked, or build walls to prevent the flooding, which would cost Americans less than enacting the Kyoto Protocol.

"We spend an inordinate amount of money subsidizing people for poor planning decisions," he said.

Fix the problem

Hamilton represents the other side of the debate: Once we know we have a problem, we need to fix it.

"The best peer-reviewed science says we need to protect against the most dangerous consequences," she said. That science says that by 2050 we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent and that we must start in the next 10 years.

"It's a question of 'are we about to turn the ship around,'" she said. "Science says there is high risk."

Besides Hamilton argues, reducing greenhouse gases is inherently good for the world. "We need to do things in the best interest of everyone," she said. "That will solve other problems."

Using cleaner energy, for example, will reduce dependence on foreign oil and will reduce pollution.

Hamilton added, "We believe we have the technology to greatly reduce emissions," while creating a healthier people, a better economy and a happier earth.

The government's role

The government might not have what it takes to moderate this debate.

"At the federal level, it's been a real struggle. In fact, they are going backward," said Emily Moorhouse, the Canadian Sierra Club's atmospheric and energy campaigner.

In June, a scientific study released by the National Research Council led the evening news. The findings: that the earth is the warmest it has been in 400 years and that the temperature increase is most likely the result of human activity.

This review of previous scientific studies was commissioned by the chairman of the House Science Committee to put an end to the debate over global warming. However, the debate has not ended.

"All that report said was that it's plausible," said Marc Morano, communications director for the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which issued the Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) press release denouncing the science behind Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."

Morano said the key to slowing global warming isn't emission cuts, but a market-based system driven by private industry.

Burnett agreed. "The government shouldn't be directing technology development," he said.

But that would only work in a perfect world, Hamilton said.

"We are in an imperfect market economy and all the rules are driven by the government," she said. "How can you say the market will take care without having a price tag on it, when it�s invisible to the market place."

Things are happening at the state level, Moorhouse said. More than 180 cities have signed a pledge to adopt Kyoto Protocol guidelines for themselves, and California is a North American leader in the fight against climate change due to its emission cuts,

Said Hamilton: "We just hope it spreads up to Washington, D.C."