Climate Change Is Not Interested In Who Deserves What

My colleague Brad Johnson has noted that the tornadoes devastating the American south recently are yet another example of the kind of havok wreaked by severe weather events—severe weather events that only become more common as we pump more and more climate pollution into the atmosphere.

An outraged Tabitha Hale accused Johnson of “adopt[ing] the Pat Robertson model and claim[ing] Divine Justice for those redneck Republican climate change deniers in the south.” But Brad did know such thing, he merely noted that climate change happens—and kills—whether or not politicians want to acknowledge it.

Indeed, precisely the crux of our problem is that climate chaos isn’t divine retribution for pollution. If severe weather specifically afflicted the individuals responsible for pollution, then polluters would need to weigh the costs and benefits of generating additional pollution. The result would be an efficient equilibrium. But in the real world, the costs of the pollution don’t fall specifically on polluters. The result is that engaging in extra polluting activity is often profitable even when the costs far exceed the benefits. That’s precisely why we need a regulatory solution, ideally featuring a system to charge polluters for polluting and bring the system into equilibrium.