Global Warming’s Winners?

Gregg Easterbrook’s piece on global warming (“Global Warming: Who Loses—and Who Wins?” April Atlantic) actually made me miss the global- warming denialists—at least their arguments have some kind of logical coherence. The most glaring problem with the essay is the author’s antiquated nation-state approach to who “wins” and who “loses.” Easterbrook does seem to recognize that our current prosperity is based on trade with countries like China (which he predicts will soon be a disaster zone), but he doesn’t follow this observation to its obvious conclusion, which is that any climate change that devastates a majority of the world’s population will not produce many “winners” anywhere. If a drop in the Shanghai stock index is felt immediately in New York, imagine what would happen if Shanghai dropped into the sea!

Worse than Easterbrook’s neglect of the interconnected nature of today’s world are his misguided policy suggestions. He berates The New York Times for advocating increased government funding for global-warming research, arguing that the “real” way to progress is to let the market do its work through tax incentives. Yet as Easterbrook surely knows, that is a false choice. There is no reason why the government could not increase direct funding for basic research while also providing incentives to private industry.

Furthermore, the idea that an emissions market (apparently Easterbrook’s sole favored policy) is a “free market” solution is also wrong. Far from being “laissez-faire,” emissions markets are actually aggressive regulatory devices. The government creates and enforces the use of carbon credits; the idea that companies themselves would follow this regime on their own is absurd.

Tackling global warming will demand action from both the public and private sectors. Easterbrook appears to believe that tying one hand behind our back is the best way to proceed. Why not use both hands instead?

Shonin Anacker
Washington, D.C.

Unless the international scientific consensus is badly mistaken, global warming will have no winners, only varying degrees of losers. The United States may not be among the worst-hit countries, but by the end of the century it could find its great coastal cities flooded, much of Florida underwater, the Southwest burned to a crisp, and the Southeast turned into dry grassland. Even Canada and Russia, Gregg Easter­brook’s supposed big winners, could have nothing to celebrate: A vastly expanded Hudson Bay could put much of northern Canada underwater, and the defrosting of Siberia would hardly be a boon if that territory should find itself overrun by millions of Chinese fleeing the devastation of their homeland.

The idea that a warming world might “favor the United States more” is not just mistaken; it’s dangerous, since it offers an excuse for those who argue that our society and economy need not submit to the restructuring that will be required to avoid serious climate change.

David A. Korn
Washington, D.C.

For Better or Worse

I agree with Clive Crook (“The Phantom Menace,” April Atlantic) that we’re much better off materially than we were in the 1970s, but his claim that immigration is a big contributor to our prosperity is just plain wrong. Many studies have been done about immigration’s impact on the economy, and they all say broadly the same thing: It’s not significant.

Immigration enthusiasts like to point to a 1997 National Academy of Sciences study, which found that all immigration since 1980 raised the income of native-born Americans by between $1 billion and $10 billion. But that’s at most about 0.1 percent of the gross domestic product, in what was then an $8 trillion economy. A 2005 study from Columbia University, meanwhile, identified a net loss of $68 billion to native-born Americans in 2002. The results from the NAS study, even if we accept them uncritically, merely mean that in return for agreeing to share our country with another 30 million to 40 million people, each of us gets the equivalent of a nice dinner out.

It’s fine for Crook to express his preference for a cosmopolitan country with a fast-growing population fueled by immigration. However, his suggestion that we would endanger our prosperity by reducing immigration levels is not just condescending but wrong.

Jim Hemenway
San Ramon, Calif.

Jihad in the Philippines

Mark Bowden makes the subjective judgment that the episode in the Philippines he describes (“Jihadists in Paradise,” March Atlantic) was a “small, early success” in the global “war on terror.” But he seems to have overlooked more-objective measurements of its effectiveness.

The U.S. commitment to the hunt involved more than 1,100 military personnel. A helicopter crash killed 10 American servicemen, a bomb killed a Special Forces sergeant, and a retaliatory attack after the mission was over left a captain wounded (two Filipino civilians were killed and 21 injured in the same attack). The armed forces of the Philippines admitted publicly that 45 Filipino soldiers had been killed during the 54-week pursuit, with an undisclosed number wounded.

As an “incentive” to permit deployment of Task Force 510, President Bush had promised a large financial package—in excess of $300 million—to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. During the operation, the United States provided $55 million to the Philippine government for the war on terrorism and $100 million to “fight poverty,” plus five UH-1H helicopters and 13,000 M‑16 assault rifles. And as Bowden pointed out, an additional $1.6 million was paid out to informants.

What did we get for this investment? Of the original hostages, three were executed, Martin Burnham was killed by the rescuers in the final rescue attempt; and only Gracia Burnham was freed (although wounded) by the operation. At most, a dozen Abu Sayyaf members were killed. If this is a “small success” in the war on terror, we can ill afford many such more.

R. A. Fulton
Bend, Ore.

Mark Bowden replies:

I think R. A. Fulton raises a very good point—one that only reinforces mine. The “small success” I wrote about did not involve any of the wasteful, expensive, and ultimately foolhardy efforts that Fulton documents; it involved the far more subtle and skillful CIA effort, which succeeded in spite of the large-scale blundering going on around it. As such, I think it can be a model of how to fight terrorist groups intelligently.

Cooling the Culture Wars

Jonathan Rauch makes a compelling case that laws banning or legalizing same-sex marriage should be left to individual states (“A Separate Peace,” April Atlantic). However, Rauch should remember the lessons of the African American civil-rights movement. After Reconstruction, the southern states were allowed to pass their own laws discriminating against blacks, under the rubric of “separate but equal.” Only after the Supreme Court found this practice unconstitutional, and federal troops were sent in, did the southern states do away with it.

The situation today with same-sex marriage is not completely identical to segregation, but it is similar. If individual states are allowed to decide for themselves whether to allow same-sex marriage, this country will be divided as it was for a hundred years after the Civil War, between some states where gays and lesbians possess equal rights and others where they remain second-class citizens. There are some cases in which the federal government must intervene and take precedence over individual states. Same-sex marriage is one of them.

Charles Green
Annapolis, Md.

Cooling the world

I enjoyed James Fallows’s article (“Mr. Zhang Builds His Dream Town,” March Atlantic), but I wish he had gotten his facts straight rather than swallowing the Broad Air Conditioning propaganda. The heating-powered cooling system he describes is “absorption” cooling, a concept substantially invented and commercially developed by the Carrier Corporation in the 1940s. Absorption cooling made headway in the United States until the first oil embargo, at which point its net energy inefficiency moved it to niche status within the cooling industry.

In its current form, widely used throughout the developing world, its coefficient of performance (cooling produced versus energy input required) is about 1. The more common “vapor-compression” cooling, by contrast, has a coefficient of about 4 . Even when you take into account a 3-to-1 electrical- generation-system inefficiency, vapor compression is more energy efficient than absorption. Vapor-compression cooling is also less polluting and generates less greenhouse gas than absorption cooling, if your standard of comparison is based upon electricity generated from natural gas.

Absorption cooling’s primary advantage to the Chinese (and other developing-world economies) is that it provides significant amounts of cooling without taxing already-limited electrical-distribution systems, and it may be somewhat better from an environmental standpoint for countries whose only electrical alternatives are coal-fired power plants. However, by no stretch of the imagination is absorption more energy efficient than vapor compression when comparing equivalent systems.

Michael Gallagher
La Habra Heights, Calif.

James Fallows replies:

Broad Air Conditioning does not claim, and my article did not mean to suggest, that its absorption system for air- conditioning represented a new scientific breakthrough or that companies in other parts of the world were foolish for not specializing in it the way Broad has done.

What Broad emphasizes is the value of its technology in reducing the demand for electric power, rather than reducing energy demand overall. That achievement is important for industrial customers in countries such as China and India, where the electrical supply is unreliable. Also, as Michael Gallagher points out, it is particularly significant in China, where the rising demand for electricity is being satisfied mainly by coal-fired generators, coming online at a rate of one per week.

The other advantage of Broad-style cooling is that it can be adapted to a variety of power sources, including solar power in certain circumstances. But Gallagher is correct in saying that absorption cooling is not an improvement in the fundamental energy efficiency of air-conditioning. It saves electricity, which is important, but not energy in the broadest sense. My article was wrong to suggest otherwise, and the mistake was mine rather than Broad’s.

Editors’ Note:

In Nadya Labi’s article “The Kingdom in the Closet” (May Atlantic), the eighth-century poet Abu Nuwas’s name was misspelled. We regret the error.