Earlier this week, economist Roger Bezdek gave a presentation at the Ronald Reagan Building titled “Carbon Dioxide: Social Cost or Social Benefit?” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank covered the event and published a short review titled “The new climate denialism: More carbon dioxide is a good thing.”
Granted, it’s hard to develop an argument about a complex, technical subject in a 760-word column, but Milbank doesn’t even try. He takes cheap shots and spouts off without knowing whereof he speaks.
Milbank starts with a snarky putdown, asserting that “though Bezdek is an economist, not a scientist, he played one on Monday.” How so? Some of Bezdek’s slides show the fertilization effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on crop yields and plant growth. For example:
That is not playing scientist, it is citing scientific research.
Another slide shows that, over the past 250 years, CO2 emissions closely correlate with population growth, life expectancy, and per capita GDP.
Milbank retorts that “correlation is not the same as causation.” Deep! But does he really think unprecedented improvements in the human condition — a greater than doubling of average human life expectancy, an eight-fold increase in the sheer abundance of human life, and an eleven-fold increase in global per capita GDP — would have occurred without fossil fuels?
Milbank repeatedly misfires, as the excerpts below (indented in blue) and my comments (standard width in black) show.
For years, the fossil-fuel industries have been telling us that global warming is a hoax based on junk science.
Name a single CEO of any major energy company or trade association who says that! If there are any, they are outliers. Skeptics argue that predictions of catastrophic global warming are based on speculative interpretations of selective evidence and model projections that increasingly diverge from observations. That’s a different thesis — and much harder to refute. Milbank inveighs against a straw man.
But now these industries are floating an intriguing new argument: They’re admitting that human use of coal, oil and gas is causing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to rise — but they’re saying this is a good thing.
New argument? The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change has emphasized the ecological and health benefits of atmospheric CO2 enrichment since its inception in 1998. Founder Sherwood Idso published two peer-reviewed studies on the effects of CO2 fertilization on sour orange trees in 1991. In 1986, he published a letter in Nature, provocatively titled “Industrial age leading to the greening of the Earth?”
I pointed out to Bezdek that increasing energy use fueled the economic growth, and CO2 was just a byproduct. So wouldn’t it make more sense to use cleaner energy?
CO2 does not dirty the air, so reducing/capturing CO2 emissions does not make energy cleaner. CO2 is not “just” a byproduct; it is the inescapable byproduct. Thus, UN emission reduction targets endanger both existing economic, health, and welfare benefits and progress towards a wealthier, healthier world.
He [Bezdek] went on to point out that “35,000 people every year in the United States die in automobile accidents, but the solution is not to ban automobiles. You try to make them safer.” And the solution to climate change is not to ban energy but to make it cleaner.
Making energy “cleaner” in the present context means banning (rapidly phasing out) the carbon-based fuels that currently supply 82% of U.S. and world energy consumption, and are projected — absent additional market-rigging interventions — to supply 80% of U.S. energy in 2040.
The presentation began as a standard recitation of the climate-change denial position, that “there’s been no global warming for almost two decades” and that forecasts are “based on flawed science.”
Milbank provides no evidence that the “standard recitation” is incorrect — very likely because he can’t.
So instead, he resorts to name calling and labels Bezdek a ‘denialist.’
Enough back and forth. What matters is the big picture. Some 1.3 billion people in developing countries have no access to electricity and 2.3 billion people face chronic electricity shortages.
Even in Europe and the United States, millions of low-income households struggle with high energy costs. Many must choose between heating and eating.
Source: EU Fuel Poverty Network
Source: Bezdek (2014)
Forcing an energy-starved planet to abandon fossil fuels before cheaper substitutes are available is bound to have profound social costs. That is Bezdek’s thesis, and it is spot on. Milbank is in denial.