Tags: Global warming | climate change | US carbon emissions

Ex-Bush Economist: Don't Regulate Carbon, Adjust to Warmer World

Image: Ex-Bush Economist: Don't Regulate Carbon, Adjust to Warmer World Edward Lazear, Council of Economic Advisors. (Dennis Brack/Landov)

Wednesday, 03 Sep 2014 10:29 AM

By Melanie Batley

The Obama administration should abandon its policies to mitigate climate change and instead focus on adapting to a warmer world, said Edward Lazear, a former economic adviser to President George W. Bush.

In an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal, Lazear, who is a professor at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business and a fellow at the Hoover Institution, said carbon emissions reductions will not make a difference in reducing the world's total emissions. 

"The Obama administration is instituting a variety of far-reaching policies to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change. Are any of these capable of making a difference? Simple arithmetic suggests not. Given this reality, we would be wise to consider strategies that complement and may be more effective than mitigation—namely, adaptation," Lazear wrote.

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Lazear notes that China, India, and other developing countries are expected to continue to increase their emissions in the coming years, with China, the largest emitter, accounting for one-fourth of the total carbon produced.

"Without worldwide changes, there is limited gain, even from dramatic action by the world's second-largest emitter," he wrote.

Lazear contends that reductions in carbon emissions from transportation, for example, would hardly make a dent in reducing total U.S. emissions, while the economics of transforming power production could not be justified given the low costs of coal.

"Unless an economical low-carbon source of power generation becomes available, it is unrealistic to expect that countries, especially developing ones, will accede to any demand to produce power in a higher-cost manner merely to emit less carbon," Lazear wrote.

Meanwhile, Lazear said that even though high carbon taxes would likely spur conservation and prompt take-up of lower carbon power sources, they would have adverse effects on the economy.

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"Given these limitations on mitigating carbon emissions, it is important to study how to adapt to climate change," Lazear said, adding that groups such as the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have supported adaptation as a complementary strategy to mitigation.

"Carbon math makes clear that without major effort and a good bit of luck, we are unlikely to control the growth of emissions enough to meet the standards that many climate scientists suggest are necessary. It is time to end the delusions and start thinking realistically about what can and will be done."

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