In today's Washington Post, I have an oped comparing the cost of the Iraq war with the cost of the Kyoto Protocol. Here are some excerpts, followed by a few additional comments:
"For the United States, the total cost of the Iraq war will soon exceed
the total anticipated cost of the Kyoto Protocol, the international
agreement designed to control greenhouse gases. For both, the cost is
somewhere in excess of $300 billion.
These numbers show that the Bush Administration was unrealistically optimistic
in its pre-war prediction that the total cost would be about $50 billion. [. . .]
For the world as a whole, the comparison between the Iraq war and the
Kyoto Protocol is even more dramatic. The worldwide cost of the war is
already much higher than the anticipated worldwide cost of the Kyoto
Protocol — probably at least $100 billion higher. [. . .]
In addition, a full assessment would have to look at benefits as well
as costs. The Kyoto Protocol would reduce emissions that contribute to
climate change, but to evaluate the agreement we need to know how much good
it would actually do. What would the United States get for its $325 billion
investment? Scientists agree that the Kyoto Protocol would make only a
small dent in climate change by 2100. Its defenders respond that the
agreement would spur new technologies and provide an international
framework for major reductions in the future."
The purpose of these remarks is to provide an accounting on the cost side -- not to suggest any particular judgments about the war or the Kyoto Protocol. In my view, President Bush was entirely right to reject the Kyoto Protocol, on the ground that the benefits were not high enough to justify the costs. Because developing countries were not included in the agreement, and because they are expected to be huge greenhouse gas emitters before long, the Kyoto Protocol would do very little to combat climate change (a paltry .03 C reduction in warming by 2100, according to the careful study by Nordhaus and Boyer).
But I also believe that President Bush was wrong not to suggest other, better approaches to climate change -- approaches that would be less expensive for the United States (eg, more emissions trading, less severe emissions reduction requirements for the short term) and be more beneficial to the world and the United States in particular (because all significant contributors to the problem would be included). A degree of "starting to reduce, then learning more" would also be sensible for climate change.
It is crucial to know the costs of our policies, with respect to national security and environmental protection (and much more), even though knowledge of costs tells us only part of what we need to know. (Note: I had a very brief earlier post on this topic, but decided to do a more detailed oped, and so deleted the earlier one in deference to the oped and this post.)