Global Warming, Redefining Marriage, and Risk Aversion

August 15, 2008 | 47 comments
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I think we can all agree that, from a risk analysis perspective, global warming and gay marriage share a lot of characteristics. No, no, no— Not that they are comparatively risky— rather that, from a public policy perspective, most people are deeply unsure about just how risky they are.

Start with global warming. Most of the reasons to definitely spend at least some money now on the problem is because of the possibility that global warming could shift us into a new bad climate equilibrium. Now that probability is, best guess, somewhere between really small and maybe 7-8%, depending on who you talk to and whether they are hugging a tree at the time. Since we don’t know the real probability, we have to account for the range of guesses. For example, if half the people think the probability of a new ice age is .1% and half of them think it is 5%, well you can average those two and come up with a best guess of about 2.55%. It is, at least, somewhere to start. Based on that guess, one would, as a matter of public policy, be willing to incur some costs today to avoid a possibly very bad outcome, and how much cost you incur depends very much on the probability you assign to these very bad outcomes. Though less important in this case, you’d also factor in guesses about the probability of a mild good or mild bad outcome.

OK, so there is an even greater dispersion across people about the costs and benefits of gay marriage, but most people probably agree that continuing to ban gay marriage imposes at least some subjective costs on a subset of the population. And by subjective, I mean that the group perceives it as a real cost, even if some other people don’t, so we should factor that cost in. Unfortunately, if you think the climatology research is guess-work, it doesn’t hold a candle to the research on the effects of redefining marriage. We really really really don’t know what effect that will have on society.

Some people think gay marriage will be fine, a few think it will be an improvement for everyone, I’d guess most people think there is some probability that it would be noticeably worse and some probability that it would be no big deal. We might do the same thing we did for global warming, average the views and come up with a best guess of the probability that legalizing gay marriage has large negative outcomes for the society as a whole, as well as guesses about the probability that it had no effect or a beneficial effect. It’s still a guess, that’s all we’ve got, but it is something we could then compare to the costs imposed on those who perceive substantial costs to themselves of not being able to marry people of the same sex. We’d be guessing at those too, by the way. If the expected costs of banning gay marriage outweigh the expected costs of allowing it (meaning you take account of the best guess probability of each of the outcomes you can imagine from the two courses of action), then you drop the ban. Otherwise you keep it. You could well be wrong, but you’ve done the best you can.

At this point, Pareto types would hop in to talk about how those who bear the costs should be reimbursed for their losses from those who gain. Regardless, in both global warming and gay marriage we are trying to weigh the probabilities for outcomes about which we have precious little information. There is some probability that global warming has very bad outcomes, and there is some probability that gay marriage has (completely different) bad outcomes. On the other hand, both of them might be net gains– we lack assurance for either one, nor is scientific inquiry likely to answer the question anytime soon. So we weigh definite costs against probabilistic future gains or losses. And we probably want to compute those probabilities based on some kind of averaging across the population (which is essentially what democracy tries to do).

Based on that, it looks like the best guess is that most Americans think the expected costs of gay marriage are too high to bear, as are the costs of unfettered carbon dioxide emissions.

Of course, God knows the answer in either case. Thus one approach to assigning these probabilities personally is to ditch the population average (which is likely to be better than your own completely subjective guess, but still pretty lousy) and follow the prophet as your best bet of what God thinks. Gay marriage has been pretty well covered. If President Monson says anything about global warming, I’m all ears.

47 Responses to Global Warming, Redefining Marriage, and Risk Aversion

  1. Maren on August 15, 2008 at 11:55 am

    It all makes me kind of dizzy, but in the end I have to concur.

  2. dan on August 15, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    We have to keep in mind that the subjectivity that you’re talking about here relies on those that we believe have a better knowledge of the world than we do. We believe that the prophet knows something that we don’t… therefore we listen to what he has to say and follow accordingly.
    *He has dedicated his life to helping the world.
    When the majority of scientists, biologists, and physicists agree that global warming is something we need to be concerned with (whether you believe we’re the primary source or not) we should listen. They are smarter than we are.
    *They have dedicated there lives to studying the world.

    This all goes without saying, even after we hear the prophets voice or read the scientific studies we need to deal with what our gut feeling tells us. Whether we’re aware of it or not we weigh the consequences, or “costs”, and decide if it’s worth taking the chance to not be proactive. “What if I know this is true and decide NOT to be baptized” “What if the prophet opposes gay marriage but I decide NOT to vote against it” “What if what we have done to the earth will put our grandchildren in great harm and I decide NOT to recycle etc..”
    I believe in all cases if there is a chance that we can do something to help the world we need to do it. Intention is huge in the eyes of God if we are truly trying to make the world a better place. However we also know that idleness is also huge in the eyes of God and if we don’t do anything when there is a CHANCE that we could help….I think we’ll be in a bit of trouble.

  3. joe on August 15, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    lol. frank i\’m a bit concerned about you throwing around numbers and percentages like that based on your own assumptions.

  4. Frank McIntyre on August 15, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Maren, that’s just what I’m going for :) Are you Maren from Vermont? In which case, good to see you again! We got your card and everybody looks great. If not, ignore that.

    Dan, I was actually thinking about the subjectivity of the rest of the population and of ourselves, more than I was worried about the prophet’s, so I think I agree with you.

    I think people overweight their gut feeling. Unless by that you mean spiritual promptings, in which case they probably underweight the ones that conflict with their gut and perhaps overweight the ones that agree with their gut feelings (by thinking they apply more broadly than they do).

  5. clark on August 15, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Dan, I think the big problem is that people tend to trust their gut instinct rather than going through it more carefully and rationally. I’ve encountered this with my family who tend to buy into a lot of quackery and pseudoscience in alternative medicine. While we can acknowledge that others have better knowledge than us trying to decide who really is an expert isn’t clear to many people and they are easily deceived. The fact is that most of us can do research and get well beyond the authority and gut instinct level.

  6. Frank McIntyre on August 15, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Joe, the first numbers I used were loosely based on what I recall hearing coming out of the Stern Review on Climate Change and other similar sources.

    But since the point of the post is that the numbers are uncertain and people disagree about them, you’ve exactly hit on why we have to think probabilistically in order to move forward.

  7. dan on August 15, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    I agree completely with you Clark… “The fact is that most of us can do research and get well beyond the authority and gut instinct level.”
    I suppose I made the mistake of using “gut feeling” instead of “spiritual promptings after personal study.” We will be held responsible for the work that we do to make decisions of our own instead of the cliched “blindly following” those bigger than us. We need to decide on our own what we believe and take responsibility for it. None of the lukewarm stuff and getting spewed out. :)
    The social problem here is that we are in an age where we quite frequently discover that what we’ve been doing is incorrect and we have to swallow our pride (no one likes to do that). We discover that who some proudly voted for ended up fouling things up; What we’ve been eating happens to be unhealthy; What we buy has been bad for the earth etc….I think a lot of our society has become afraid to actually have a strong opinion and act upon it because we’ve seen so much evidence of leaders and corporations deceiving us who we thought we could trust. We’ve learned that evidence often times buries our opinions and previous decisions after we’ve made them.

  8. ganzo on August 15, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    If it has been “revealed” that SSM will cause a societal deterioration, I wish someone in a leadership position would say that. For that matter, I wish the kind of societal deterioration we are talking about could be more concretely defined. I actually like the recent church statement in that it approaches such a definition but it still leaves a pretty vague picture. Maybe if I were more faithful, I could just assume that the church’s choice to get so involved in this issue means that the potential for societal deterioration (however defined) has, in fact, been revealed. However, if this is true and this issue is so important, why can’t this be explicitly stated? If our society is in the balance, shouldn’t the big guns be pulled out? As it is, I can’t help but think that the cultural background of our leaders causes some bias in their assessment of how SSM will affect society.

  9. MattG on August 15, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    “Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.”
    -Michael Crichton ;-)

  10. Frank McIntyre on August 15, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Ganzo,

    “I can’t help but think that the cultural background of our leaders causes some bias in their assessment of how SSM will affect society. ”

    Does the same apply to you? In which case how do you determine whose bias is more of a problem?

  11. ganzo on August 15, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Frank,

    Of course they apply to me and I freely admit that my biases are more problematic than the brethren on spiritual issues. However, I am not asking people to canvass neighborhoods and give substantial sums of money based on my bias. I would like to know this is based on revelation rather than any kind of bias even if it is less problematic than mine.

  12. Jonovitch on August 15, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Frank, I had to laugh at your reference to “ears” and Pres. Monson. :)

    Jon

  13. A California Mormon on August 15, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    Frank, I commented about this on SilverRain’s blog. You and M&M on that blog essentially make the same point. In the end, the only real argument the church has is a religious one, the prophetic voice of warning, and for a believing Latter Day Saint that religious argument is persuasive. That is why when I enter the voting booth in November my personal respose will be in favor of the proposition.

    But a religious argument only has power for a believer. Taking a religious argument and creating a campaign to convince the public to follow us is not only wrong it is dangerous. And that is why I refuse to participate in the church’s secular response to the prophetic voice, an organized program of asking for specific donations, putting up signs and canvassing neighborhoods.

  14. m&m on August 15, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    California Mormon,

    I am not convinced that the ‘only’ argument the Church has is religious. I even shared a few of my non-faith-based concerns on SilverRain’s blog. While the studies-based arguments have been addressed in Julie’s post, I think that there are valid arguments besides just ‘the prophet said so’ that are worth consideration and discussion.

    BTW, I don’t disagree with the idea that it can become difficult to mix a secular response to the prophetic voice. But to me, part of the prophetic position right now is to take secular action. I struggle with how to have those kinds of conversations because I know that not all studies are solidly backing our position up. .But that doesn’t mean I can try to share my own *personal* concerns, and some of the more general concerns that may have some validity to me, like religious and free speech rights, and the socialization of children (which I personally think is a huge concern).

    But all of this is given to us to sort out as we each will, and it was interesting to read what you have decided to do, so thanks for sharing.

  15. BruceC on August 15, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    We tend to believe the people we trust. Few of us have the skills to assess the climate data available. So we pick someone whose opinion we already agree with on some issues and align our other beliefs to match. When listening to the Prophet, this makes sense. I’ll go out on a limb and say that most Mormons believe he holds the keys for that sort of thing. But even then we are encouraged to pray for ourselves.

    We follow the same pattern in our views on global warming. Whoever we accept as our climate change prophet makes a difference. But might I suggest it is a bad idea to base our belief on what actors, politicians, and celebrities say. Even some scientists can be suspect. You never know their ulterior motive. I’m looking for what the climatologists say. The true prophets, if you will. Not that I couldn’t be steered wrong even then, but I’ll be better off than I would be listening to actors, politicians, or celebrities.

    And if Thomas S Monson chimes in on climate change? Well, I don’t listen to what earlier prophets have said on archeology, xenobiology, and economics. Why should I start now?

  16. A California Mormon on August 15, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    M&M, I probably wasn’t clear enough. You’re right, there are lots of arguments, but as Julie points out in her post, they are not all of equal worth. When I said, “In the end, the only real argument the church has is a religious one, the prophetic voice of warning…” I meant that the prophetic argument is, in my view, the only argument that really matters.

    On SilverRain’s blog you said, “when the prophets speak as emphatically and clearly on something as they have about the importance of marriage as defined in the Church (between a man and a woman), then I choose to trust them, even if there isn’t a study to ‘prove’ that they are correct.” I’m not trying to put words in your mouth but aren’t you saying the same thing? In spite of academic evidence you choose to follow the prophetic voice; doesn’t that make the religious argument the only one that really matters?

  17. A California Mormon on August 15, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    I should add something to the above.

    “I meant that the prophetic argument is, in my view, the only argument that really matters to one who believes the prophetic voice.”

  18. Frank McIntyre on August 15, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    Bruce, you do as you wish, but I’m an economist and I’m still interested in what President Monson has to say on economics.

    Ganzo, you differentiate based on the fact that the Brethren are encouraging others to follow their counsel. But their job is to be a voice of warning…

    California,

    If it is good counsel that is true, shouldn’t we encourage other people to adopt it? We encourage people to convert, for goodness sake. Here we’re just trying to get them to vote.

  19. m&m on August 15, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    A California Mormon,
    I guess I could say yes and no, because it is the prophetic position that has kept me taking the position I do, but over the course of the last several years (since walking precincts in 2000 for Prop 22 when I really was doing it more just because our leaders said to), there are many things influencing my more thought-through position now. Yes, the driving force is still the prophets. But I also see lots of reasons to take and follow this position, not just based on my faith in them. My faith in them as a starting point and ending point has given me a lot of middle points that to me are compelling.

    BUT even if ‘academic evidence’ were to somehow lean in a different direction, yes, the religious argument would still matter more to me than anything. But for me, there IS more to consider than just my faith-based approach, so I think it’s worth considering, even as I agree that not all arguments are of equal worth. As I interpreted someone’s comment over on Julie’s post, that is part of political discourse. Not all arguments will be created or supported equally, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they shouldn’t be on the table at all. It’s a discourse, a discussion, a tossing back and forth of ideas. Frankly, I don’t think enough of that goes on in a really open way on this issue because often, people on both sides are so emotionally tied to their desired outcomes.

    I think Frank’s point is really important here. The way I say it is that to legalize SSM is, in effect, a huge social experiment. Since we don’t have a large body of data about all the potential effects and results of such a thing, and it’s likely that it won’t be possible to really see the effects for generations into the future, and that key guinea pigs in the experiment would be children, to me, the very fact that we don’t know whether the effects will be positive or negative is reason enough to me NOT to move forward with making such a drastic change as to redefine marriage.

  20. Jason J on August 15, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    At the risk of getting off subject, I would add that the War on Terrorism presents the same combination of definite costs and highly speculative benefits. I only make the point, because I have found that many neo-classical econ types make this (pretty strong) argument against global warming, but supported the war in Iraq as if the benefits of the conflict were as clear as day.

  21. Frank McIntyre on August 15, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Jason, I think a similar analysis would apply (although I have not run in to these people you’re talking about).

  22. A California Mormon on August 15, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Frank,

    I think it would be easier to convert someone that to convince them to vote for something because my prophet says so.

  23. m&m on August 15, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    If it is good counsel that is true, shouldn’t we encourage other people to adopt it? We encourage people to convert, for goodness sake. Here we’re just trying to get them to vote.

    If I’m understanding California right, part of the challenge becomes trying to help people understand the truth without getting them to actually convert! :) There is a lot up in the air logically about what could happen, and that makes it hard to ‘prove’ that one’s position is correct. As far as I’m concerned, that doesn’t mean we don’t try, but that has still been a concern of mine. I don’t want to just throw out arbitrary or emotional reasons that could actually end up hurting the cause.

  24. Frank McIntyre on August 15, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    California, a fair bit of electioneering is not about getting people to change their minds but in getting people who agree with you to show up at the ballot box.

  25. ganzo on August 15, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    And to be cynical, you also try not to say incendiary things that get people who disagree with you to show up.

  26. A California Mormon on August 15, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Sure Frank, and who out there is going to agree with my primary reason for following the church’s counsel on this issue who isn’t already a member?

  27. sscenter on August 15, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    The strongest parallel I see between SSM and global warming is a small group’s desire to control massive amounts of the behavior of others through an issue that may or may not be a problem.

    People who desire to approve SSM wish to greatly alter the concept and meaning of the most fundamental institution in our culture, only to benefit a very small minority, regardless of social cost.

    People who advocate for global warming wish to destroy the progress of the last hundred years, for something that very well may not happen. These same people wish to inflict poverty on billions in Asia, South America and Africa so they cannot progress themselves and thus keep the earth pure.

    The two issues are all about a small group wishing to control the actions of all of society. Didn’t we already reject this in the premortal world?

    ***http://www.drudgereport.com/ Has an article posted today where a group is starting to form warning of an impending ice age. Guess I should buy a better coat.***

  28. quandmeme on August 15, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    What’s the harm?– For those looking for academic speculation on sociological, political, and economic harm of SSM (to go along with the plentiful speculation on the harm of global climate change) BYU law school hosted a symposium in 2006
    http://www.law2.byu.edu/organizations/marriage_family/past_conferences/sept2006/abstracts.pdf
    Audio and and some of the papers are also on the site

    My favorites, if you want recommendations of an attendee are Kohm (women and children are worse off in societies where homosexual alternatives are accepted) and Holland (America requires citizens to look to the next generation, validating SSM puts an expiration date on democracy).

  29. Frank McIntyre on August 15, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    ACM,

    Tons of people in CA agree with you (check a poll). The point is to get those people to the ballot box.

  30. A California Mormon on August 15, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    Frank,

    I think we’re talking past each other. That people other than Latter Day Saints support Prop 8 is beyond dispute. The only reason I entered the conversation is to note that many LDS find the real reason for their support of Prop 8 in the confidence and testimony they have of the prophetic vision and leadership in the church, and that is a reason that is hard to transfer the the unbeliever.

  31. Bill on August 16, 2008 at 2:06 am

    “People who advocate for global warming wish to destroy the progress of the last hundred years, for something that very well may not happen. These same people wish to inflict poverty on billions in Asia, South America and Africa so they cannot progress themselves and thus keep the earth pure.”

    This is nonsense. The progress of the last hundred years has involved moving from dirty technologies to ever cleaner ones. No one will benefit more from continued technological advances than the third world billions who have the example of previous industrial revolutions to learn from, and who can avoid some of the worst mistakes of the past by leapfrogging to new technologies, as is already happening, for example, with solar power in China.

    Since demand for a clean environment increases along with prosperity (as people are no longer concerned with subsistence) I don’t think anyone who is concerned with the environment wants to keep people in poverty.

  32. MikeInWeHo on August 16, 2008 at 3:02 am

    What a unique post. I’m not sure that trying to juxtapose two favorite conservative bugaboos does much to advance either position, though. No SSM + 1 new Chinese coal-fired power plant a week = Zion ???

  33. sscenter on August 16, 2008 at 8:21 am

    No Bill, it is not nonsense. The estimated cost of turning the planet “green” is 46 trillion dollars. To invest that sort of money would require that the united states revert itself back to the GDP it had just before the great depression.

    If there are any real doubts, look at Europe. They have policies that are much greener than we do in the US. Yet they have unemployment rates that are double to triple ours and poverty rates that run in the same range. Why, because of the limits they have put on their own industry and the insane additional taxes they impose to fight global warming.

    The real problem with the green movement is the demand that we move to energies that do not currently exist. Yes, it would be great if we could all go solar. I would do it in a heart beat. Except that to outfit my home with solar paneling that would collect enough energy to elimate my need for extra electricy costs more than the home itself did.

    So I would agree that in the future, probably in the next thirty to seventy years we will have technology that will be less based on fossil fuel and able to meet our energy needs cheaper. Fine. But this is today. Today no such technology exists. If it does, I would be happy to invest in it for my home, please post the web site Bill. I will be waiting anxiously for it. The only way to eliminate the threat of global warming is to stop using greenhouse gases. So until the new technology comes along, the only answer is to destroy what we already have to save the planet. It is that simple.

    In his book “An Enemy Hath Done This” Benson describes a future America where we would worship the earth rather than God. This has been a common practice in many cultures throughout history. I think that describes the global warning movement very acurately. No one is against conservation or recycling or filling up their tires or using high-efficency light bulbs. But doing every single “green” thing that we know works still does not approach in any way our energy needs. The only way to accomplish what the global warming movement wants is to stop having china, india and anywhere in africa as well as south america, basically anywhere that is poor stop creating industry until we, the United States and Europe say it is environmentally okay. In the mean time poverty is the single greatest killer in the world and will kill far more people in reality than global warming might in theory.

    Expecting people to behave today in a way that is not even possible for them to do so for half a century seems very irrational.

  34. Velska on August 16, 2008 at 8:41 am

    It has been stated that the ones who will pay for the big experiment of allowing SSM are children. I don’t try to be funny, but these people don’t produce children (okay, I know some exceptions). But there are lots of same-sex couples, both men and women, who have adopted children. Somehow this seems a bigger problem than SSM itself. A therapist explained to me how sexual identity is formed. I figure the children with two mommies or daddies will have some trouble with their sexual orientation. The research has not been conclusive on the material available, though, if I read it correctly.

    All the same, the very fact that the advocates of SSM see it as a “rights” issue makes me wonder how far we are from ACLU lawsuits demanding that all churches recognize – and perform – same-sex marriages, if it is first recognized that there is a valid civil rights issue in it. I don’t have a vote in CA, but I feel strongly about following the Prophet on this. The proclamation on the family is for me clearly a revealed standard.

    As far as climate change goes, check out how far north and south critters like malaria or dengue fever-bearing mosquitoes or Lyme disease-bearing ticks have migrated from where they were 30 years ago; or some funky weeds that basically kill everything else that’s green (like Kudzu vine migrating north in the US and into Canada). Despite all this, the summer here has been exceptionally cold and rainy (statistical freak or change in cyclone movement patterns – who knows?).

  35. Frank McIntyre on August 16, 2008 at 11:04 am

    Mike,

    “What a unique post. I’m not sure that trying to juxtapose two favorite conservative bugaboos does much to advance either position, though.”

    I am curious what positions you thought I was trying to advance. What is a conservative bugaboo? Is that equivalent to saying they something is a liberal hobbyhorse?

    ACM,

    I agree that you can’t transfer your reasons for opposing SSM to a nonbeliever. That is very different than not being able to encourage people who have, or are persuaded by, other reasons, though. That’s how one builds a majority in this crazy country.

  36. MikeInWeHo on August 16, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    “Is that equivalent to saying that something is a liberal hobbyhorse?” Yes.

    re: 34
    The research is quite conclusive, despite what you may have heard in the foyer. But let’s not go down that road again.

  37. Sash Nahalin on August 16, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    ganzo Said: \”If it has been “revealed” that SSM will cause a societal deterioration, I wish someone in a leadership position would say that. \”

    Here you go. Read this well documented article from the LDS.org newsroom.
    http://www.newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/commentary/the-divine-institution-of-marriage

    Our prophet has asked to support Proposition 8 in California in no uncertain terms: “We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.”

    We have a choice. We have moral agency.

  38. chads on August 17, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Enjoyed the analysis, Frank.

  39. Bill on August 17, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    Whether or not sensible climate change legislation will cause some people to remain poorer for longer or would prevent catastrophes that would otherwise disproportionately affect those same poor countries, what I called nonsense was your contention that advocates for addressing rather than ignoring the climate crisis want to “destroy progress” and “inflict poverty on millions”. Such inflammatory rhetoric adds nothing to the debate. The poverty already exists, of course, and needs no one to inflict it. It is the result of many factors, none of which is the non-existent climate change legislation in poor countries.

    “No Bill, it is not nonsense. The estimated cost of turning the planet “green” is 46 trillion dollars. To invest that sort of money would require that the united states revert itself back to the GDP it had just before the great depression.”

    This is a meaningless comparison. US GDP in 1930 was $91 billion, less than a rounding error when we are talking about amounts 500 times as great. Today US GDP is around $14 trillion, but the better metric is world GDP which was estimated in 2006 to be $66 trillion. You seem to think we need to come up with the amount needed upfront, rather than gradually spending over decades as GDPs continue to increase to levels that make $46 trillion relatively insignificant. And you also assume that there will be no economic benefits as a result of greener policies or economic damage from continuing to degrade the environment. For a discussion on exactly how small the cost as a percentage of GDP could be (Hint: In 2050, global average macro-economic costs for mitigation towards stabilisation between 710 and 445 ppm CO2-eq. . . corresponds to slowing average annual global GDP growth by less than 0.12 percentage points), check here:

    http://www.cato-unbound.org/2008/08/13/joseph-romm/a-small-cost-will-avoid-a-catastrophe/

    “If there are any real doubts, look at Europe. They have policies that are much greener than we do in the US. Yet they have unemployment rates that are double to triple ours and poverty rates that run in the same range. Why, because of the limits they have put on their own industry and the insane additional taxes they impose to fight global warming.”

    European unemployment lagged in the 70s and 80s, before the EU ever set up an Emissions Trading Scheme. Their unemployment levels have much more to do with particular labor policies than any environmental regulation:

    http://www.nber.org/reporter/summer04/blanchard.html

    However some countries are doing rather well. Sweden, which gets 39% of its energy from renewables, and Denmark, (17%), both had under 5% unemployment in 2004, according to the article.

    “The real problem with the green movement is the demand that we move to energies that do not currently exist. Yes, it would be great if we could all go solar. I would do it in a heart beat. Except that to outfit my home with solar paneling that would collect enough energy to elimate my need for extra electricy costs more than the home itself did.”

    It’s not a question of everyone immediately having to make impossible financial sacrifices. It could simply be that if you vote for the right person, the very tax dollars that you would pay anyway could be subsidizing clean energies rather than the dirty ones that now receive much more massive subsidies. For instance, thanks to California’s mandate that the state get 20% pf its energy from renewable sources by 2010, two giant solar plants are being built there at a scale that will allow electricity to be produced much cheaper. As more infrastructure is developed, the costs will continue to decrease relative to dirtier technologies. The same thing is happening with wind in Texas.

    “The only way to eliminate the threat of global warming is to stop using greenhouse gases. So until the new technology comes along, the only answer is to destroy what we already have to save the planet. It is that simple.”

    No, we don’t have to destroy what we have, but we do need to begin to make big changes. It’s not that hard to make more fuel-efficient vehicles, despite having had our heads in the sand on that one for several decades. New construction can be more energy efficient while at the same time costing much less. Current factories often have energy inefficiencies that could be easily remedied at a large cost savings. For an optimistic view see the Charlie Rose discussion with Amory Lovins:

    http://www.charlierose.com/shows/2008/07/15/2/a-conversation-with-amory-lovins

  40. Bill on August 17, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    Whether or not sensible climate change legislation will cause some people to remain poorer for longer or would prevent catastrophes that would otherwise disproportionately affect those same poor countries, what I called nonsense was your contention that advocates for addressing rather than ignoring the climate crisis want to “destroy progress” and “inflict poverty on millions”. Such inflammatory rhetoric adds nothing to the debate. The poverty already exists, of course, and needs no one to inflict it. It is the result of many factors, none of which is the non-existent climate change legislation in poor countries.

    “No Bill, it is not nonsense. The estimated cost of turning the planet “green” is 46 trillion dollars. To invest that sort of money would require that the united states revert itself back to the GDP it had just before the great depression.”

    This is a meaningless comparison. US GDP in 1930 was $91 billion, less than a rounding error when we are talking about amounts 500 times as great. Today US GDP is around $14 trillion, but the better metric is world GDP which was estimated in 2006 to be $66 trillion. You seem to think we need to come up with the amount needed upfront, rather than gradually spending over decades as GDPs continue to increase to levels that make $46 trillion relatively insignificant. And you also assume that there will be no economic benefits as a result of greener policies or economic damage from continuing to degrade the environment. For a discussion on exactly how small the cost as a percentage of GDP could be (Hint: In 2050, global average macro-economic costs for mitigation towards stabilisation between 710 and 445 ppm CO2-eq. . . corresponds to slowing average annual global GDP growth by less than 0.12 percentage points), check here:

    http://www.cato-unbound.org/2008/08/13/joseph-romm/a-small-cost-will-avoid-a-catastrophe/

  41. Bill on August 17, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    “If there are any real doubts, look at Europe. They have policies that are much greener than we do in the US. Yet they have unemployment rates that are double to triple ours and poverty rates that run in the same range. Why, because of the limits they have put on their own industry and the insane additional taxes they impose to fight global warming.”

    European unemployment lagged in the 70s and 80s, before the EU ever set up an Emissions Trading Scheme. Their unemployment levels have much more to do with particular labor policies than any environmental regulation:

    http://www.nber.org/reporter/summer04/blanchard.html

    However some countries are doing rather well. Sweden, which gets 39% of its energy from renewables, and Denmark, (17%), both had under 5% unemployment in 2004, according to the article.

  42. Bill on August 17, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    “The real problem with the green movement is the demand that we move to energies that do not currently exist. Yes, it would be great if we could all go solar. I would do it in a heart beat. Except that to outfit my home with solar paneling that would collect enough energy to elimate my need for extra electricy costs more than the home itself did.”

    It’s not a question of everyone immediately having to make impossible financial sacrifices. It could simply be that if you vote for the right person, the very tax dollars that you would pay anyway could be subsidizing clean energies rather than the dirty ones that now receive much more massive subsidies. For instance, thanks to California’s mandate that the state get 20% pf its energy from renewable sources by 2010, two giant solar plants are being built there at a scale that will allow electricity to be produced much cheaper. As more infrastructure is developed, the costs will continue to decrease relative to dirtier technologies. The same thing is happening with wind in Texas.

    “The only way to eliminate the threat of global warming is to stop using greenhouse gases. So until the new technology comes along, the only answer is to destroy what we already have to save the planet. It is that simple.”

    No, we don’t have to destroy what we have, but we do need to begin to make big changes. It’s not that hard to make more fuel-efficient vehicles, despite having had our heads in the sand on that one for several decades. New construction can be more energy efficient while at the same time costing much less. Current factories often have energy inefficiencies that could be easily remedied at a large cost savings. For an optimistic view see the Charlie Rose discussion with Amory Lovins:

    http://www.charlierose.com/shows/2008/07/15/2/a-conversation-with-amory-lovins

  43. ganzo on August 17, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    Sash (#37),

    I have read the article to which you refer. My comment was not made in ignorance. Any specific assertion this article makes about the effect of SSM on society includes a qualifier such as “may”, “likely”, “potential for” and “could”. This does not strike me as revelatory. I believe the churches teachings on the personal morality of SSM but I am unconvinced by what has been put forth about the broader societal impacts. Fortunately, I recently moved out of CA so I don’t have to decide whether or not to vote for this proposition out of blind obedience.

  44. W on August 17, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    In his book “An Enemy Hath Done This” Benson describes a future America where we would worship the earth rather than God. This has been a common practice in many cultures throughout history. I think that describes the global warning movement very acurately.

    While there are limited cases where it’s arguably apt to say the there’s literal worship of the natural world (perhaps, for example, Wicca), I think it’s also a pretty easy but poor leap to conflate the somewhat fuzzy space surrounding true worship with the wider circles of reverence and due regard. Saints who’ve had to defend the church against hostile mainstream christians should know this better than most — who here hasn’t encountered the assertion that our reverence for Joseph Smith constitutes “worship”?

    If we’re not going to keep ourselves to some sort of literal standard surrounding the term, accusations of worship might as easily be leveled against those whose reverence for industrialism and the invisible hand reaches a level of ideological fervor easily matching the enthusiasm of those who are interested in the health of the environment. And it’s certainly arguable that there are warnings aplenty in the canon against that enough to match any about worshiping nature.

    I don’t think Saints need to fall into either trap. The great principle of good stewardship as it’s often interpreted in the church implies both a real reverence for the things God’s given us to manage, and the need to exert ourselves to manage it intelligently, something which would certainly includes markets as a means, and Bill’s made some great points on the specifics.

  45. Amanda B. on August 18, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    In response to #33-
    I believe it is very possible to move \”North\” countries towards more green energy sources, as Bill describes, by providing tax breaks to those companies who are developing or using those energy sources or reducing their emissions. Current gas prices are already helping that process. With the price of oil, businesses are popping up in order to fill that niche and provide alternative sources to consumers.

    Sadly, \”South\” countries do not have the resources to begin developing or even utilizing those alternative energy sources (yet, maybe alternative energy will soon become cheaper than gas…! We can hope). The infrastructure and social problems in many of these nations make it next to impossible to finance or install alternative greener energy sources. Every developed nation has had to go through a type of industrial age (look at the U.S. and the UK) before it reached developed status. I believe that many of those third-world nations will have to go through the same process.

    But that doesn\’t mean that we can\’t attempt to find solutions that would make it possible to skip or circumvent that stage. Developing alternative energy sources will not increase the poverty or social instability of these nations. In fact, it will probably improve the political situation in countries where oil has been the cause of political strife and war (think parts of Africa and in recent news, Georgia).

    I believe that the stewardship of caring for God\’s creations is enough to make alternative, greener energy a goal (regardless of global warming, pollution has been linked to deteriorating health). And if stewardship isn\’t enough, shouldn\’t the commandment to improve and increase our intelligence include this worthy endeavor?

    By the way…I\’m new to reading this blog and love it! Good work…very thought-provoking discussions.

  46. John David Payne on August 19, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    >>
    I think we can all agree that, from a risk analysis perspective, global warming and gay marriage share a lot of characteristics.
    >>

    Sentences like this are the reason I love Frank McIntyre. Also, he turned me on to the Raconteurs.

  47. Maren on August 19, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    Re: #4. Yes. Thanks. Tell your lovely family hello.