Assuming - however briefly - that Canada must impose carbon taxes, when would be the best time to do it? Stephane Dion says now. Right now. Yale University economist William Nordhaus says, well, slow down, friend. We have time. Let's do this thing properly.
Dr. Nordhaus takes global warming seriously, anticipating that it may well "cast a shadow over the globe for decades, perhaps centuries, to come." When he says centuries, he means centuries. In his highly sophisticated computer analysis of global warming strategies, he includes the option of doing nothing at all for 250 years - and found that it delivered the same result (measured in global emissions of carbon dioxide one century hence) as the Kyoto Protocol with or without the United States.
He includes, as well, a 50-year delay and got an intriguing assessment. Implement the right climate change strategy in 2055 and you still get - by 2105 - precisely the same reduction in CO2 that you get with the computer-designed "optimal strategy," a go-slow, go-frugal approach that begins modestly in the next decade and expands incrementally through the rest of the century.
In a brilliant analysis of carbon strategies - The Challenge of Global Warming: Economic Models and Environmental Policy, published last year - Dr. Nordhaus observes that the complexity of global warming rules out absolute certainty of any kind, whether academic or ideological. "Whatever goal we set will probably be incorrect." Given this caution, it is essential to adopt a strategy that can be quickly adapted to changing circumstances and changing technologies, he says.
Dr. Nordhaus notes that a single technological advance in 2050, or in 2100, could render redundant trillions of prematurely invested dollars. This is one of the reasons why the most aggressive climate change strategies - the celebrated Stern Review proposals, the controversial dictums espoused by Al Gore - badly flunk the Nordhaus computer analysis test.
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