Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

“If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing.”

Posted by Daniel Hall on February 7, 2008

Like Matt Yglesias before me, I am sufficiently impressed by one of Tyler Cowen’s posts today that I am just going to quote the whole thing:

A new Cato study, by Indur Goklany, suggests that instead of carbon taxes we should spend money on better water policy, drought prevention, anti-malarials, sea level protection, and so on. In general we should make the world as wealthy as possible. Here is the link, the piece is intelligent throughout and well worth reading.

Two questions suggest themselves. First, is the choice either/or? I don’t see arguments against a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Second, is there really enthusiasm for the proposed measures or is the real intent to do little or nothing on carbon? Since this is both a Goklany piece and a Cato piece, an interesting question arises: who exactly is now obliged to push for anti-malarial foreign aid? Cato? Goklany? Either/or? Both? Or is it enough to just make the comparison once and leave it at that?

I have had neither the time nor energy today to read the study and write my own response, so I’m going to outsource that as well. First, Matt:

One way to raise the money necessary to “spend money on better water policy, drought prevention, anti-malarials, sea level protection, and so on” would, of course, be through a carbon tax or (more politically realistic) an auction of tradable carbon emissions permits.

Ryan Avent follows up with a superb post; go read the whole thing. Here’s the key bit:

I understand those who think that a carbon price is not going to be the only solution to the challenge of climate change. Arguing against the legislation of any disincentive for emission of carbon is tantamount to declaring oneself a climate change skeptic. If carbon is a problem, then everything we know about economics suggests that we should have to pay something for the pleasure of emitting it.

I am sure that there are aspects of Goklany’s report that I will substantively agree with. Take water policy as a prime example. The recent drought in the Southeast U.S. has highlighted how irrational current water policies are here (and it doesn’t get better when you go elsewhere). Having rational pricing strategies to allocate water to its highest value use will make us better off. But this doesn’t amount to a serious argument against a policy to mitigate GHG emissions. As Ryan eloquently put it:

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing.

That applies whether you’re talking about water policy, anti-malarial drugs, or climate policy.

One Response to ““If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing.””

  1. Dano said

    I agree in principle in a less-populated world. We are on a finite sphere of finite dimension. We derive wealth from resource extraction. One day it will end (infinite substitutions are a fallacy). We will then have a hard landing or a soft landing. Eliminating the fallacy of wealth for everybody in a 8.5-10B human-populated world will go a long way toward a soft landing. We must eventually reduce our population or our consumption for the premise of your post to be true (please, no simplistic ululating rhetoric about greenie population reduction).



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