07 May 2005

annals of science

From the 9 May 2005 new yorker, Climate of Man-III, by Elizabeth Kolbert

I asked Socolow whether he thought that stabilizing emissions was a politically feasible goal. He frowned.

"I'm always being asked, 'What can you say about the practicability of various targets?" he told me. "I really think that's the wrong question. These things can all be done.

"What kind of issue is like this that we faced in the past?" he continued. "I think it's the kind of issue where something looked extremely difficult, and not worth it, and then people changed their minds. Take child labor. We decided we would not have child labor and goods would become more expensive. It's a changed preference system. Slavery also had some of those characteristics a hundred and fifty years ago. Some people thought it was wrong, and they made their arguments, and they didn't carry the day. And then something happened all of a sudden it was wrong and we didn't do it anymore. And there were social costs to that. I suppose cotton was more expensive. ... It's clear from the record that [the climate] does things that we don't fully understand. And we're not going to understand them in the time period we have to make these decisions. ... If it's a problem like that, then asking whether it's practical or not is really not going to help very much. Whether it's practical depends on how much we give a damn."

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