Climate change policy

Climate change policy has been set for some time with the primary goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

There are different settings of this basic policy but the main mechanism is to make human production of greenhouse gas expensive either through direct penalties [a tax on emissions, carbon tax] or by putting  market mechanisms [cap and trade] in place.

At first glance this makes sense given the rhetoric of climate change — climate change is bad and we should try to stop it if we can.

The logic of emission reduction goes something like this:

we know that greenhouse gases trap the long wave energy from the sun as it bounces back of the earth’s surface

this energy trap is the greenhouse effect that is vital to maintaining a habitable temperature but is also a sensitive mechanism

given that life has evolved within a fairly narrow temperature range, too much greenhouse effect might warm the atmosphere and oceans beyond normal tolerance

before that happens the extra energy in the ocean and atmosphere system will play havoc with weather patterns, increase the frequency and intensity of severe weather and deliver other climate change effects that we would rather not see

we know that human activity has doubled the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere

and we suspect from our ability to model the future that this doubling of greenhouse gas concentrations will result in significant global warming 

So it makes logical sense to try and reduce greenhouse gas emissions so as not to make the problem worse.

A climate change policy to reduce emissions would seem to tackle the problem at its core. Less greenhouse gas would mean less greenhouse effect that would slow or even remove the threat of no global warming. Problem solved.

If only it were that simple.

It is quite something to make the leap from anthropogenic climate change to climate control.

If you think about it for a moment, we are being asked to believe that an emission reduction policy will actually control our climate, a vast and ungainly beast that has been changing on a cyclical and indeterminate basis for millions of years.

A climate that is driven by cosmic forces [from Milankovich cycles to changes in the stellar wind] as much as it is by the composition of the atmosphere.

No that is too much of a stretch. Emission reduction makes common sense because it is a precaution and, more importantly, because a dependency on fossil fuel energy is becoming very risky.

CCW has a more detailed description of emissions reduction policy that hints at the real reason behind climate change policy.

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