Megan McArdle, the Atlantic Monthly blogger fond of making up nonsensical arguments about the economy, health care, and education policy, has waded into climate policy with similarly catastrophic results. In a critique of a Kevin Drum piece about new research on a warming-induced decline of global stocks of phytoplankton, McArdle claims he misses the point:
I actually think that Kevin misses the point a little: if this is true, 2% of GDP isn’t going to cut it. We’d better get back to an emissions level around 1940, or earlier, and stay there. Being that we now have about 2.5 times as many people in the country, and the world, as we did then, that’s going to be tricky.
Notwithstanding McArdle’s staggeringly ignorant post, climate policymakers have already considered this “tricky” challenge. The 2006 Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change estimated that stabilization at safe greenhouse levels would require investments of approximately one percent of GDP. In 2008, review author Sir Nicholas Stern argued the estimate should be raised to two percent of GDP because signs of increasing climate change necessitated faster action. Other economic estimates are in line with Stern, some even finding the investments could increase GDP growth.
So what emissions targets was Stern using? The Stern Review assumes eventual reductions of “more than 80% below current levels.” In 1940, global carbon dioxide emissions were about 4.8 gigatons. They’re now approximately 30 gigatons. So to get to “an emissions level around 1940″ would require an 85% reduction — in line with the Stern analysis (and every other serious economic analysis of global climate policy). McArdle’s supposed insight that deep cuts are needed is nothing new.
A blogger who had spent any effort understanding climate policy would recognize that the emerging challenge is not reaching an eventual low emissions level, but increasing the speed that emissions are cut while ensuring that natural carbon sinks and stores (like phytoplankton, the rain forests, and the permafrost) are not radically disrupted by the unavoidable warming of the coming decades.
In McArdle’s defense, her pseudo-expert folderol isn’t much worse than that being produced by the Congressional Budget Office.
By the way, McArdle’s insight that the population has increased since 1940 is also not news to climate policy makers. Just in case she’s wondering, the Stern analysis recognizes that “global population growth is likely to remain positive at least to 2050.”
McArdle also displays ignorance about China’s decision to institute a carbon cap-and-trade system and offers arguments against mass hysteria that are so dumb that they might encourage rational people to panic. But let’s leave those monumental works of mindless contrarianism as exercises for the reader.