The smart, in this case, is David Riggs, a Ph.D. in applied economics with whom I became friends when he worked at the Center of the American Experiment, a Minnesota-based think tank on whose board of directors I served for some years, and of which Scott is currently a member. David’s specialty is environmental economics, and, generally speaking, he advocates free enterprise solutions to environmental issues.
On its face, this is a sound perspective. Where have environmental catastrophes mostly occurred in the world? Where governments have been all-powerful–Eastern Europe under the Communists, for example. And where people are poor; as in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Where have societies best dealt with environmental issues? Unquestionably, where economies are prosperous–that is to say, free–and where government is limited. So one could say that being a free-market environmentalist is almost a redundancy.
That’s not, of course, how Nick Coleman sees it. You probably haven’t heard of Mr. Coleman; he is an obscure local columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. His father was a leading Democratic politician in the state, and he has carried water incessantly for the Democrats for as long as he has had a column in local newspapers. The only good thing to be said about Mr. Coleman is that hardly anyone reads him.
I would normally ignore a local nonentity like Coleman. But in his most recent column he attacks Riggs, an old friend, as well as the Center, of which I am fond. So please indulge me for a moment.
Coleman claims that the Center of the American Experiment is to blame for Hurricane Katrina. Really. Here is how Coleman expresses that paranoid fantasy:
Part of what drowned New Orleans is a political ideology determined to shrink government and ignore scientific evidence of global warming. Well, “stuff” flows downhill, and some of those tainted ideas came straight from Minnesota.
Take a 1998 publication of the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative think tank in Minneapolis that has pooh-poohed global warming and pushed for “limited government.” …
The results of such recent American Experiments are on view in New Orleans…
So David Riggs and the Center are to blame for Hurricane Katrina. How does Coleman support this astonishing charge? He doesn’t, of course, but his “logic” proceeds as follows:
In “Global Warming: Divided Science and Unfounded Policy” (and many other papers) the center argued that even if global warming is real, the cost of fighting it is too high. Cutting back on emissions (by agreeing to the Kyoto Protocols), the report contended, would put a damper on the economic wealth that will save us from hurricanes that might take lots of lives in poorer countries but not here, by gum.
Fatality lists might be “tragically long” in Bangladesh, Riggs wrote. But storm fatalities in the U.S. — even with global warming — would be “few” because “our economic well-being reduces our exposure to risk and facilitates recuperation when disaster strikes.”
Quoting another author, Riggs explains: “The wealth of our society makes it possible for people to incur the expenses of relocation.”
Oh, really? Tell that to the people who drowned in nursing homes while waiting for help from “emergency” agencies that moved like molasses in January. Tell it to all the babies who have lost their mothers. Tell it to all those who hungered and thirsted and prayed and begged for help.
The paper that David wrote, which forms the basis for Coleman’s outrageous attack, can be accessed here. My request: please read David’s article in its entirety before proceeding further. Consider whether Coleman’s column consitutes a rational response to the argument that David made.
First of all, Coleman pretends that Riggs admitted that the global warming theory–that the earth is getting inexorably warmer because of human activity, especially the release of CO2 into the atmosphere–is correct. This is absurd. The bulk of David’s article was devoted to pointing out how many flaws and uncertainties there are in that theory. As David noted, most scientists in the relevant disciplines reject it:
In a 1997 survey of U.S. state and regional climatologists, 58 percent disagreed with this statement: