I thank the committee chairpersons, ranking members,and other members for the opportunity to appear before you today. I am Lee Lane, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. AEI is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization conducting research and education on public policy issues. AEI does not adopt institutional positions on issues, and the views that I express here are solely my own.
The committees are to be commended for addressing the issues covered in this hearing. Climate change is one of the most important and difficult issues facing the world. I have worked for the last eight years on developing economically efficient solutions to it. All of us, I think, are concerned with America's security. So the committees have certainly focused on matters of prime importance.
My remarks address three points:
It would be prudent for government to explore the various novel technologies that many scientists believe might produce significant global cooling even in a high-greenhouse-gas world.
First, climate change poses a serious long-term problem. However, viewing it through the prism of national security may not provide the most useful perspective on it. Some have worried that by worsening environmental and resource problems in very poor nations, climate change may pose a risk to U.S. national security. Ecological problems in poor countries are, in fact, troubling for many reasons, but within the next twenty years or so, expected global warming is likely to have only a modest effect on these problems--all of which would exist were no warming whatever expected to occur. Moreover, as many distinguished economists have pointed out, in the near term, efforts targeted at directly alleviating the underlying environmental stresses and poverty are likely to be far more cost-effective than attempts to reduce greenhouse gases will be.
Second, a balanced climate policy will require careful consideration of the costs of mitigation as well as its benefits. Greenhouse gas output must be curbed, but hasty, unilateral cuts would impose significant burdens on the American economy. If China and India do not join the effort to curtail emissions, our sacrifices will yield little benefit. Furthermore, attempts to use trade sanctions to coerce China, India, and other nations on greenhouse gas limits will surely add to international conflict, not alleviate it. Finally, some of the technologies suggested as ways to curb climate change, themselves, prompt concerns. A large expansion of nuclear power would fuel proliferation worries, and, by expanding bio-fuel production, we may squeeze global food supply. Trade-offs are inescapable.
Third, new technology will be the key to success. But halting climate change requires a zero net emission global economy. Today's technologies are not even close to being able to meet this goal at reasonable costs, nor will incremental improvements suffice. Devising new transformational technologies and diffusing them globally could easily consume the remainder of this century. As time passes, and emissions continue, the risk grows that high-impact abrupt climate change might appear.
It would, therefore, be prudent for government to explore the various novel technologies that many scientists believe might produce significant global cooling even in a high-greenhouse-gas world. At this point, these technologies, often referred to as geoengineering, remain speculative. But having them available might provide a vital margin of safety during what is likely to be a long transition to an emission-free global economy. The single most important thought with which I would like to leave you is that research to learn more about geoengineering's potential and its limitations might be one of the very best ways of hedging against the larger risks and uncertainties that surround climate policy.
Lee Lane is a resident fellow at AEI.