Opinion: Any “fix” for global warming should require skin in the game

Updated Jun 20, 2019

I 11 Concrete 14

The government’s track record on fixing things isn’t particularly good. Remember when President Johnson declared war on poverty? We lost. I was still a teenager when the government declared war on cancer. We lost that, too. The war on drugs? A weed tycoon was the second-highest paid CEO in the country last year. Sounds like a surrender to me.

This is not to disparage all government activity. The Environmental Protection Agency has done good work in cleaning up our waterways and air pollution. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration keeps our construction workforce a lot safer than it would be otherwise.

What seems to separate the wins from the losses in government programs are the numbers. The EPA has concrete, measurable results when it comes to reductions in air and water pollution. OSHA puts out the numbers of injuries and fatalities in the workplace for all to see. If the numbers turn bad, heads will roll.

But when it comes to global warming, what’s the number we want to achieve? Exactly how much CO2 do the activists and politicians want to cut from our industrial world and exactly how much will that cool the earth?

Author Nassim Nicholas Taleb has some insights here. One of his common themes is, “Never trust anybody who doesn’t have skin in the game.” If you make a prediction and you’re wrong, there must be a penalty. Wall Street traders who bet on the wrong stocks take a hit to their finances. Every entrepreneur, business owner and employee in the private sector understands this. Skin in the game keeps folks honest. It kills bad ideas and rewards good ones.

Only in government programs that lack measurable goals, do we find zero penalty for being wrong. Remember when Al Gore said, “We only have 10 years to save the planet.” That was in 2006, by the way. The planet is still here, and in fact, Yosemite National Park in California just recorded its latest and biggest snowfall ever.

So all I want – before the proponents of the Green New Deal commandeer the biggest and most important sector in the world economy (energy), before they tax us to the hilt to combat this chimera, before they shut down all of the cars and trucks and heavy equipment, and we all are forced to grow our own food using draft animals – is to see the people promoting CO2 reductions put some skin in the game.

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Give us your best numbers, solid predictions based on real field measurements that say in the next five years, if we put X-amount of additional CO2 in the atmosphere, it will result in X-amount of temperature increase globally. If you’re right, let’s get to work on a solution. If you’re wrong, you lose your job, your tenure and pension; and you’re barred from working in a scientific or related field for life.

The Romans, according to Taleb, required their engineers and architects to live with their families under the bridges and aqueducts they built. If the bridge failed, their family would be wiped out by the collapsing structure.

A lot of those bridges are still standing after 2,000 years. The pronouncements uttered by Al Gore, and of late, Alexandria Octavio-Cortez, seem to reach their expiration date in about 10 years. That’s the difference you get with skin in the game.