Climate Hawks

It’s fair to say that while Zuuko and I have non-identical views and interpretations of politics and economics, I can see where he’s coming from in most instances where we disagree. There are two where I can’t: climate change and the US deficit.

Conveniently for me, Jonathan Chait notices that a lot of important people share Zuuko’s opinion that the US deficit is a huge problem, and climate change isn’t. He proceeds from the premise that these important people are looking for things to get bipartisanly high-horse-y about, and asks, if your point is having to scold both parties for failing to find compromise, why not just do it about climate change instead? I would certainly welcome such a change.

After all, here’s what’s true about climate change: it’s real and it’s spectacular(ly bad). Here is a factoid from the New York Times report, for instance: no one who is under 28 has lived through a month of global temperatures that fell below the 20th-century average, because the last such month was February 1985. So explain to me how the US deficit is a bigger problem?

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4 Responses to Climate Hawks

  1. Zuuko says:

    I didn’t realize it was contest.

    I think the difference is the US budget deficit is a relatively easy problem with a set choice of solutions to deal with. People are just disagreeing on which solution is the right one and generally acting like 5 year olds about it.

    Wtf do you do about climate change? It’s hard. It’s hard to define the precise nature of the problem’s essence but general agreement on this or that facet. Then, what solutions are there? Its hard to even come up with big global actionable items for politicians to enact as policies. I mean, beyond doing obvious things (RECYCLE!), its hard and costly to enact real solutions (lets build transit everywhere so people don’t drive! How much? like bajillions of dollars…).

    • zolltan says:

      It is a contest from the point of view of media attention: “what is the problem the nation is facing today?”, and also of political action: “what laws should we try to pass”. I mean, you’re right, just cause something is a problem, doesn’t mean something else isn’t, but when you say you believe “the first order of business for a president is to balance the budget”, e.g., you’re doing some prioritizing there. Since your opinon of what’s important isn’t gonna make much of a difference, you can continue to have this opinion. The thing is, people whose opinion of what’s important does make a difference somehow agree with you, and (a) I don’t get why and (b) I think this is very bad for everyone.

      That climate change is a harder problem to deal with than the deficit I grant you, but this is not a good reason to punt. I mean, I’m sure jaywalking is an easier problem to deal with than gang violence, too. You don’t wanna be like David Brooks here:
      who is saying “oh, okay, there are problems, but the republicans don’t want to deal with all of those problems, so why not pick some totally other things no one cares about and do that instead!”

      Otherwise, I don’t agree. What’s hard to define about the essence of the climate change problem? Temperatures are rising and will continue to rise, thereby causing a rise in sea-levels that will flood many places where people live, increased abnormal weather, rapid changes in the habitability of certain places, massive species die-offs, potential civilization-destroying positive feedback effects.

      Here’s a relevant piece from NYT today:

      What’s the essence of the deficit problem? There’s a deficit and … uhh… what’s the bad thing that’s happening as a result?

      There is nothing we can do? There are tons of things! Investment in clean energy research, higher gas taxes, cap and trade, public transportation that costs bajillion dollars, geoengineering, etc. etc. etc.

      • Zuuko says:

        See… all those things to do cost a shit ton of money. But that’s not your central point, which is media attention.

        The US budget deficit is clearly the responsibility of the President and Congress. Along with zipping up their fly in the morning, wiping their asses clean after taking a dump, they should begin the day with a clear idea of exactly how they’re going to wipe the deficit clean. It doesn’t have to be all in one day either (unlike their shits).

        Be that as it may, climate change isn’t one country or one man’s problem. If you could point to the institution or politician who’s responsibility it is, then I’m sure the cameras will be shoved in their faces every day until their is a credible plan. The isn’t the President or Congress. Climate change is a much bigger problem and it’s not clear who’s job it is to fix it, except to say everyone’s. This is the very definition of the Tragedy of the Commons

      • zolltan says:

        -“All those things costing a shit-ton of money”: well, some of them are revenue positive, some are revenue neutral and some are revenue negative. Likewise, some I would guess would be stimulative and some contractionary. So unless you’re using a definition of “costs a shit-ton of money” that isn’t “costs the government a lot” or “reduces GDP” you’re not making sense.

        -Will it be a lot easier to deal with climate change in the future? I don’t see any reason to be sure about this, so I am skeptical of any “well, it’s hard so we shouldn’t do it” argument.

        -“they should begin the day with a clear idea of exactly how they’re going to wipe the deficit clean” You’ve now asserted something like this at least three times, but you’re still yet to explain why you think this is the case. I continue to think this is not the case because: – borrowing money for the US is currently very cheap, investors want US bonds; – inflation continues to be low and unemployment high suggesting deficit-reducing austere policies would cause increasing misery; – there are no indications I know of that the US’ large deficit is hampering the current status of the economy; – there is no moral dimension to the US having a deficit or not in and of itself; – if the US were to begin feeling deficit-related problems, it seems both the government and the Fed have tools at their disposal to help deal with it then; – any sufficiently long term revenue / spending plan is silly because future politicians are the ones who control what money gets taken in and spent in the future, not current ones. In short, I think the deficit isn’t something the president and congress should be worried about too much right now.

        -it’s obviously true that only US politicians can deal with the US budget deficit whereas global warming is global. It’s a good point that this diffusion of responsibility is why there is less media coverage. But I don’t think this is a textbook tragedy of the commons in the least because it is unclear to me that being a country that doesn’t deal with global warming is individually beneficial. Obviously, for some countries it’s good (e.g. Saudi Arabia until it’s no longer inhabitable, Canada), but I don’t think that’s general. Besides, on the rare occasion that Canadian and American politicians get asked why they’re not working to address climate change, I don’t think the response is that they would only if someone else were doing it, too.

        -A side point would be that there aren’t actually that many important players in dealing with global warming and Obama is certainly one of them, so I don’t see why the fact that there are about 15 instead of about 3 makes it hugely different from the budget deficit.

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