Superfreakonomics on Geo-Engineering
By David Henderson
Back in 2009, I posted three pieces on Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s book Superfreakonomics. As with their first book, there were strengths and weaknesses. I highlighted them here, here, and here.
I never posted, though, on their chapter on geo-engineering, that is, using technological steps to prevent or offset global warming. I recommend the chapter. It’s cleverly titled “What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?” Their answer: “both suggest a way to cool the planet, albeit with methods whose cost-effectiveness are a universe apart.” I would add, “Both spewed hot air.”
They quote Nobel prize winner Paul Crutzen, a Dutch atmospheric scientist. According to Levitt and Dubner, Crutzen stated that injecting sulfur in the atmosphere “is the only option available to rapidly reduce temperature rises and counteract other climatic effects.
There are many other nuggets, too numerous to mention here, which is why I recommend the chapter. For a numerate look at geo-engineering that covers some of the same ground, see this Econlib article by Robert Murphy, “The Benefits of Procrastination: The Economics of Geo-engineering,” December 7, 2009.
One big criticism, though. In laying out what an externality is, they give the following example:
In the United States alone, more than 100,000 coal miners died on the job over the past century, with another estimated 200,000 dying later from black lung disease. Now those are externalities. (italics theirs)
On second thought, I won’t give my criticism. Instead I’ll post a question for readers: are those externalities? To make the case that they are, what do you need to assume? Are those assumptions correct?