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Richard L. Revesz

Richard L. Revesz

Richard L. Revesz, dean of NYU's School of Law, is an expert on environmental regulation and policy and co-founder of the Institute for Policy Integrity. ALL POSTS

Look at the price to pay

Q: Some of the most dire impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, are several decades away, and even the loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic is years away. How should we factor these threats into our decision making today? Should we be seriously worried about them, or not?

The question of how seriously we should worry about the most severe effects of global warming depends on what we are willing to pay to avoid serious harm to our children and grandchildren.

In 45 to 50 years, the current generation of adults will be at the end their lives and today's children will be at the peaks of their careers, raising families of their own, maybe thinking about retiring. That is when leading scientists think the more severe effects of climate change will begin to kick-in-droughts, floods, rising sea levels-potentially causing drastic interruptions in their lives that will, most likely, come with correspondingly drastic price tags.

Science suggests that we have to take steps now to prevent such a future -meaning that our generation will pay to avoid harms that might not come within our lifetime.

Here is an analogy: If someone offers you $100 today or $100 in 50 years most people would take the money today. But if taking the $100 means your grandchild will lose $1,000, one might think twice. Climate change presents a similar decision-do we take a small economic hit now knowing it will save future generations from more dramatic losses later?

Currently, our actions essentially force future generations to retroactively subsidize our decision not to increase energy efficiency and move to cleaner fuels today. For example, each gallon of gas we use in our cars charges at least 19 cents per gallon to future generations in the form of damages they will face due to global warming-based on estimates from a federal interagency taskforce on the social cost of greenhouse gas emissions. Americans use 380 million gallons of gas annually, so that's $26.9 billion every year and $807 billion after 30 years.

And gasoline consumption represents only a tiny fraction of world emissions-the annual tab for the damages of worldwide emissions is around a trillion dollars. Every year that we don't reduce emissions, we keep on piling onto the tab that futures generations will have to pay.

So even if there is controversy about how the melting arctic ice will affect our generation, scientists are clear about how climate change will affect future generations -- they will be the ones to feel the worst impacts of climate change. But we are the ones who will decide how bad the damage is going to be.

Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions will not be free -- the Congressional Budget Office estimates it will cost about $10 per month per household. But that seems a small price to protect the our children and grandchildren from what could be drastic effects of climate changes we helped to create.

By Richard L. Revesz  |  January 8, 2010; 12:10 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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People have been taking carbon out of the ground and putting it into the air at increasing rates for four hundred years--and that will continue. Even if we cut the rate in half (which we can't) there would be still more carbon dioxide in the air next year than there was last year. If doing everything we are urged to do about global warming means Key West goes under water in 2055 instead of 2052, what's the point.

If global warming is continuing, and if human activity is the cause, we need to think about ways we can reflect more of the sun's heat out into space. We cannot stop the use of carbon based fuels by the human race. The most drastic measures can barely slow it, at enormous expense.

Thinking we can stop global warming by reducing the rate at which carbon dioxide is adding to the atmosphere is superstition, not science.

While we wait for clearer evidence that warming is still going on, we need to look at engineering solutions for reflecting more heat back out into space. That would be science.

Like one of the other commentators, I grew up in the Midwest and was taught in elementary school that the glaciers came down into Ohio not that long ago. Most climate change is unrelated to what people do.

Posted by: robertrossweed | January 10, 2010 7:11 PM
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U. S. Senate Minority Report

“For how many years must the planet cool before we begin to understand that the planet is not warming? For how many years must cooling go on?" - Geologist Dr. David Gee the chairman of the science committee of the 2008 International Geological Congress who has authored 130 plus peer reviewed papers, and is currently at Uppsala University in Sweden.

“Earth has cooled since 1998 in defiance of the predictions by the UN-IPCC….The
global temperature for 2007 was the coldest in a decade and the coldest of the
millennium…which is why ‘global warming’ is now called ‘climate change.’” -
Climatologist Dr. Richard Keen of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado.

“The ‘global warming scare’ is being used as a political tool to increase government
control over American lives, incomes and decision making. It has no place in the
Society's activities.” - Award-Winning NASA Astronaut/Geologist and Moonwalker Jack Schmitt who flew on the Apollo 17 mission and formerly of the Norwegian Geological Survey and for the U.S. Geological Survey.

“I am a skeptic…Global warming has become a new religion.” - Nobel Prize Winner for
Physics, Ivar Giaever.

Warming fears are the “worst scientific scandal in the history…When people come to
know what the truth is, they will feel deceived by science and scientists.” - UN IPCC Japanese Scientist Dr. Kiminori Itoh, an award-winning PhD environmental physical

“The IPCC has actually become a closed circuit; it doesn’t listen to others. It doesn’t have open minds… I am really amazed that the Nobel Peace Prize has been given on scientifically incorrect conclusions by people who are not geologists.” - Indian geologist Dr. Arun D. Ahluwalia at Punjab University and a board member of the UN-supported International Year of the Planet.

“The models and forecasts of the UN IPCC "are incorrect because they only are based on mathematical models and presented results at scenarios that do not include, for example, solar activity.” - Victor Manuel Velasco Herrera, a researcher at the Institute of Geophysics of the National Autonomous University of Mexico

“It is a blatant lie put forth in the media that makes it seem there is only a fringe of scientists who don’t buy into anthropogenic global warming.” - U.S Government Atmospheric Scientist Stanley B. Goldenberg of the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA.

“Even doubling or tripling the amount of carbon dioxide will virtually have little impact, as water vapour and water condensed on particles as clouds dominate the worldwide scene and always will.” – . Geoffrey G. Duffy, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering of the University of Auckland, NZ.

Posted by: AJAX2 | January 10, 2010 3:48 PM
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The article claims that the CBO estimates it will cost about $10 per month per household. We have about 115 million households which means the cost would be $10*12*115 or about $14 billion. Cost estimates have been at least 1% of GDP for climate expenses. One percent of GDP is around $140 billion.

Posted by: ron72 | January 10, 2010 8:06 AM
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Assuming the putative consensus of climate scientists is correct -- an increasingly questionable assumption in light of Climategate -- even if carbon emissions were to go to zero tomorrow (which they won't) the world will be warmer in 100 years than it is today.

Combating global warming is discretionary. Adapting to global warming in mandatory.

Assuming global warming happens, our grandchildren will have adapted to a warmer world. They will curse your name and spit on your grave if actions we take today force them to re-adapt to a cooling one.

Posted by: pauldanish | January 10, 2010 12:15 AM
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Serious harm to our children and grandchildren? Ooooh, what a dire warning.
Does this dumb-cluck understand that most ancient coastal cities now lie under twenty feet of water.
Is he the chair of the Chicken Little Law department?
Utter nonsense. Why are we listening to lawyers again?

Posted by: BigSea | January 9, 2010 6:56 PM
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I grew up in Wisconsin. 40 thousand years ago we had a glacier here and it covered most of the state. It stayed for 30 thousand years and then melted 10 thousand years ago. Why did it stay for that long? Why did it melt after that long? Why hasn't it returned. The Great Lakes were formed by that glaciar. The sun heats and cools the earth, not humans or organic molecules.

Posted by: virgin12 | January 9, 2010 3:04 PM
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I could not care less about Global Warming

Posted by: Robster1 | January 9, 2010 2:06 PM
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