Cost-Effectively Adapting to Climate Change

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Cost-Effectively Adapting to Climate Change

Any discussion about climate change should be framed by two questions. First, is global warming actually happening? And, if so, is it the result of human activity?

To date, neither of these questions has a conclusive answer. Yet, companies are being forced to comply with costly, productivity-robbing regulations handed down by an overly powerful Environmental Protection Agency as if these issues had been settled. Worse yet, the solutions themselves have never undergone rigorous cost-benefit analysis and they are, for the most part, based on totally outdated approaches to dealing with the problem.

Despite decades of research, there are varying opinions on whether global warming is, in fact, taking place, as well as the extent of the warming. And, a growing number of experts are beginning to acknowledge this reality.

A paper recently published by Dr. Nigel Fox of The National Physical Laboratory, the UK's National Measurement Institution, explains the weakness in relying on complex measurements to understand climate change and basing forecasts on them.1 These measurements include ice cover, cloud cover, sea levels and temperature, chlorophyll levels, and the radiation balance of energy entering and leaving the Earth.

For the purpose of forecasting, these measurements need to be taken from space and they need to be made over long time periods. These constraints face two major problems. The time scales needed are beyond the life of the typical space mission, and at launch, instruments, particularly optical ones, typically lose their calibrations and then drift further during their time in space. Fox does not doubt that there is climate change, but he believes the speed of this change is unclear and is currently not measurable.

At present, the best research seems to indicate that global temperatures have risen 0.5 degree Celsius since 1979. While it seems reasonable to accept this historical result, it's a lot harder to get people to agree on any climate change forecasts.

Because of this inherent limitation of precise measurement of any change, predictions vary wildly about how quickly — or even if — temperatures will rise. Estimates range from less than 2 degrees Celsius to 10 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. That's a big uncertainty on which to base expensive solutions today.

If the historical evidence and forecasts about global warming are unclear, the question of human involvement is even murkier. The centerpiece of the argument for human-caused warming, known as Anthropogenic Climate Change, is that we are causing an increase in the amount of airborne carbon dioxide...

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