Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pick a target with a pin

Well, I don't know anything about James Wimberley other than what it says in his bio (scroll down a bit) at Mark Kleiman's Reality-Based Community blog, and that he seems to be a very bright guy.

Today, Wimberley has a piece over there entitled, A radical thought experiment in halting climate change. In it, Wimberley writes
You wake up tomorrow as [a ruthless and utilitarian but benevolent world dictator]. Sitting down at the jade desk in your palace in Persepolis at 6 a.m - being emperor of the world is no sinecure - you find a file marked "Climate Change". What do you decide?

It is stipulated that you are as benevolent as Asoka, as strictly utilitarian as Bentham, and as ruthless as Tamerlane. Justice, rights, and national feeling are to you just petty foibles of your subjects, and there are few practical limits on your power to coerce obedience to your commands. (I won't bother making this male fantasy gender-neutral).

Let's open the file.

Wimberley then goes through some words from the G8 and from the IPCC, calls both of them something to the effect of more words, writes about GNP, GNI at PPP, tabulates some presumed costs of CO2 stabilization, and discusses how American GDP should be "downgraded (at least by half), and African GDP upgraded (at least doubled)" because of the different marginal values of different GDPs.

Wimberley packs a lot into a few paragraphs, then states that the optimum policy for his (ruthless and utilitarian but benevolent) dictator is to pick a target with a pin and order your satraps to get moving. You can always adjust as you go, but get going.

Wimberley says this is the only way things can change, and that it's been Angela Merkel's intended course at the G8. As for Americans,
The current health care debate in the USA is welcome but it's an impossible model for climate change. Health care reform will take the form of a set of once-off measures that can be implemented by federal legislation and budgets. It's reasonable to demand that the proposals are detailed, coherent and joined-up. Climate change is complex, world-wide and only partly understood: like unemployment during the Depression, or race inequality in the 1960s. Measures addressing them will start processes that themselves can't be fully predicted: as with a carbon tax, a right to reverse metering, massive research on renewable and fusion energy. On climate change, the models for American politicians should be FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society, driven forward by men who were not wonks - though they listened to them - but visionary, flexible (and none too scrupulous) leaders.

If they fail, I fear the world may spiral into a night of chaos in which the despairing peoples may, as many of them have done before, sacrifice their freedom to a Strong Man. There is zero probability that such a man would be an Asoka, and very little a Bentham or Augustus. What they would likely get would be more like an unvarnished Tamerlane.

Aside from a slight quibble about the title (because it's too late for halting climate change), this sounds about right to me, except he doesn't give the odds I'm sure he's thought about a lot. I wonder if he's got as bleak an outlook as mine?

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