Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Climate bet offer to Charles Krauthammer

(After Krauthammer wrote this Op-Ed, I sent the email below.)

Dear Mr. Krauthammer,

Personally, and like many environmentalists, I'm agnostic about nuclear power - its high cost, vulnerability to terrorism, and role in nuclear weapons proliferation balance against its low-carbon footprint in a way I find difficult to judge.

But seeing as you could single out no other way to reduce carbon output in your recent column, I would like to know if you would be willing to bet a substantial amount of money over whether global warming will accelerate in the near future. Specifically, I would like to bet you that warming in the next decade will be at least twice that of the per-decade rate in the 20th Century. That type of warming hardly fits well with the theory of negative feedbacks that you think might keep us all safe.

I expect you might say that I'm challenging you to a bet where you haven't taken a clear position. However, if you advocate doing little beyond expanding nuclear power (and no reasonable expansion of nuclear power alone will solve the carbon problem), then your policy bet is that the climate won't warm enough so that rapid action is required. This policy choice has consequences, so I suggest you and I make the consequences a little more financially direct.

I would note that if you decide against betting because you might lose, then you are applying the precautionary principle and choosing a policy for your wallet, right now, that acknowledges a serious threat from global warming and takes an action right now to avoid that financial threat to you individually. I suggest the same policy choice should apply more broadly.

Maybe I'm overreacting to your column - maybe you would have added support for a carbon tax, increased mileage standards, financial support for renewables and conservation, etc. but you just wanted to say something controversial. I suggest you add those policies in the future. Meanwhile, I will wait for your response to my bet offer.

Brian Schmidt

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