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Climate change a 'questionable truth'

Continued from Page 3

This is not as sexy as putting solar panels on your roof or riding your bike to work. But it's actually a better solution to the problem. California's Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing this already, by imposing carbon-reduction targets on the automakers. “They're market-oriented regulations,” Prof. Jaccard says. “What he says is, ‘You guys figure out how to get it done.' ”

By the way, Prof. Jaccard and other climate economists agree we should have started taking this type of action years ago, and they blast both business and governments for not getting off the dime.

Other experts have different (but not incompatible) takes. “We need to break out the challenges of energy policy and adaptation into many tens of thousands of parts,” Roger Pielke Jr. says. Despite the many uncertainties, we don't need to wait to act, if only because many of the things we should do are worth doing on their own. For example, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels from unstable parts of the world — through substitution, conservation and new technologies — is a no-brainer.

But what about the alarmists? The ones who argue that the only way to save the planet is to stop driving, stop flying and stop consuming? Prof. Jaccard (who told me that he himself tries to live with a “small material footprint”) says: “Environmental activists are using climate change to wrap around their message about how they want humans to behave differently.”

In other words, it's not just carbon emissions they object to. It's our whole materialist, growth-oriented, SUV-driving way of life. For this reason, he argues that people like Tim Flannery are actually dangerous. “He gives people the impression that putting solar panels on your roof is actually a solution to the problem. And it's not.”

Here's another thought from Yale's Robert Mendelsohn. “The mistake Al Gore and others are making is to look at the cumulative effects of all the emissions over the next 100 years if we do nothing. And they say that will be really bad. And they may well be right. But the economics of this is that the damage from emissions now is quite small. So what we ought to be doing now is relatively mild things that don't cost very much. You should start slow and get increasingly strict over time.”

Mark Jaccard agrees. In fact, he argues that if we start to do the right things now, we will scarcely notice because adjustment will be gradual. The important thing is to get started. Now.

So what can a worried citizen do? “Lobby the politicians to put policies in place immediately that put a value on the environment,” he says. “Drive your car to Ottawa if you have to. The most important thing is to get policies in place that are intelligent.” And go ahead and ride your bike to work. At the very least, it will be good for your health.

As for Al Gore, here's one prediction you can bank on: Even though much of what he says is dubious or just plain wrong, he's going to win that Oscar anyway.

Margaret Wente is a columnist for The Globe and Mail.

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