A reader writes:

Patrick writes that Matt Steinglass “lands a few solid punches against Manzi” when he argues that evaluating climate change legislation in terms of its impact on GDP leaves out those things that climate change will take from us that nevertheless don’t show up on the national ledger – the existence of polar bears, Venice, snow on the peaks of Kilimanjaro. But this is uncharitable to Manzi. Manzi’s main criticism of the Waxman-Markey bill isn’t that it’s too costly, it’s that it’s too costly given that it will have no appreciable effect on global climate.  By all accounts, the bill’s not nearly radical enough to cause the sorts of changes that would save Venice, or the polar bear, or the snows of Kilimanjaro.  If Waxman-Markey is the end of the story, polar bears are still a goner by the end of the century, and probably much sooner than that. 

It’s one thing to ask your opponent, when doing a cost benefit calculation, to incorporate all the costs and benefits, even those not captured by GDP.  It’s another thing to insist your opponent account for virtues your position doesn’t even have.  Steinglass isn’t connecting.  He’s swinging desperately and wildly.

This reader makes some good points, but Steinglass is basing his argument on the assumption that this bill will provide a framework for more stringent legislation in the future and that it will spark international action. I'm agnostic on both counts. Waxman supporters may be overplaying their hands by invoking the politics of fear, but the overall point about GDP and modeling is worth noting. Nate Silver did a better job digging into the GDP numbers and putting them in context. He checks out how many countries you could destroy before consuming 5 percent of world GDP. The bottom line:

Collectively, these countries consume 4.99997 percent of the world's GDP. There's absolutely no budget left for anyone else -- not even St. Vincent and the Grenadines...So, we'll have to settle for just these 81 countries, which collectively have a mere 2,865,623,000 people, or about 43 percent of the world's population.

Like Steinglass, Silver isn't engaging with the specifics of the Waxman bill and how it would prevent this outcome, and his post should be read with that in mind.


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