Saturday, May 29, 2010

Manzi up!

I've come today to praise yet another Republican: National Review's Jim Manzi, who has not quite entered David Frum's level of banishment from the GOP, but hasn't endeared himself to the party graybeards.

(I'm a little late getting to this ... but it drifted onto my radar after I went to a dinner this week where Manzi was the speaker.)

The controversy began when Manzi dressed down conservative loudmouth, Mark Levin, saying that the chapter in Levin's book Liberty & Tyranny (I refuse to link) on climate change is a lot of bunk.

Manzi has since been attacked as a tree-hugging, latte-sipping squish.

The irony in all this is that essentially Levin and Manzi would vote the same way on climate change legislation. (No!) But for critically different reasons.

Levin doesn't believe that climate change is manmade. And that it isn't a problem. (I think. I admit, I haven't read his book. Nor would I.) It is the argument of a fantasist.

Manzi believes that climate change is manmade. And it could be a very serious problem. But it isn't catastrophic, as of right now. Moreover, the cost to fix it would be so onerous that we should make sure it is, indeed, a catastrophic problem before we proceed with costly legislation.

I don't necessarily agree with Manzi, but I can attest he is a very serious man. He graduated from MIT and has a scientist's training in physics and chemistry. He is not some wild-eyed freak who is arguing that up is down, black is white, and that the data hasn't been telling us what every serious scientist in the world says it is.

I'll even give Manzi one better -- he's right that if we're going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on this problem, we had better be damned sure that we're spending it on the right things.

Moreover, Manzi would give my side a concession: If it looks like climate change is worse than most scientists are predicting (he says a 2 to 4 degree warming over the next 100 years) we should, indeed, spend the money sooner rather than later.

In short: Manzi is offering a serious argument. ("I didn't disagree with the idea of climate legislation," Manzi said, "my thinking was, 'You said it was going to cost how much?!'")

I asked Manzi what he conceded was the $64,000 question: OK, we might be able to live with the earth 3 or 4 degrees warmer in 100 years. But if the trends continue, won't it be 12 or 15 degrees warmer in 300 or 400 years? (Which would be catastrophic.)

Yes, he said.

The dinner that I attended had a Harvard-trained environmental economist who fell on the other side of the spectrum. (He believed that climate change would be worst than many scientists were speculating.) And the back and forth between the two of them was spirited, exceedingly technical and fascinating.

But it did make me come to realize one thing: Democracy simply doesn't work on this level. As long as morons like Levin can rally his troops by saying that global warming is a hoax and powerful schmucks like Jim Inhofe inhabit the halls of congress, nothing can really be done on these problems. Levin and Inhofe shouldn't be debating these issues. Nor should I, quite frankly. People who can understand the data should be the ones at the center of this debate. (But there's no sense believing that will ever happen.)