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Gregg Easterbrook's Global Warming Conversion

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyMay 24, 2006 11:05 PM


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I am not particularly impressed by his piece in the New York Times today. The evidence on global warming was in long ago; there was no particular reason for Easterbrook to hold out this long. But that's not what really troubles me about Easterbrook's argument. He writes:

Once global-warming science was too uncertain to form the basis of policy decisions -- and this was hardly just the contention of oil executives. "There is no evidence yet" of dangerous climate change, a National Academy of Sciences report said in 1991. A 1992 survey of the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society found that only 17 percent of members believed there was sufficient grounds to declare an artificial greenhouse effect in progress. In 1993 Thomas Karl, director of the National Climatic Data Center, said there existed "a great range of uncertainty" regarding whether the world is warming. Clearly, the question called for more research.

On the contrary: Just because the science was uncertain doesn't mean there was no basis for policy decisions. Believe me, we knew how the greenhouse effect worked in 1991; we knew that human greenhouse gas emissions were rising; and we knew what the likely consequence would be even if it hadn't fully manifested yet. There was a justification for *precautionary* policies back then just as there is a justification for precautionary policies now; the only difference is that now we've waited a lot longer, and the problem is consequently bigger. With the fate of the planet at stake, I hardly think we have any compulsion to wait until every last "skeptic" is finally convinced by the evidence....

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