Just because someone is professionally qualified to discuss a tree, a rock, or a cloud does not make them expert on what makes good public policy toward trees, rocks, or clouds. Need an example? Here is a clip from an interview with climate scientist Ken Caldeira on Yale Environment 360. Caldeira is currently blog-famous due to his inclusion in the controversial chapter 5 on climate change in Leavitt’s and Dubner’s Superfreakonomics“:
Yale Environment 360: I want to start with this little dust-up over SuperFreakonomics. In the book, you are quoted as saying, when it comes to global warming, “Carbon dioxide is not the right villain.” Is that accurate?
Ken Caldeira: That is not accurate. I don’t believe I said anything remotely like that because I believe that we should be outlawing the production of devices that emit carbon dioxide, and I don’t think we can solve this carbon climate problem unless we drastically reduce our carbon dioxide emissions very soon.
Hold on a minute, did he just say, “I believe that we should be outlawing the production of devices that emit carbon dioxide”? Does he have any policy analysis behind this recommendation, or is it just a jump from “carbon dioxide emissions bad => ban them” without further analysis?
Bad policy advice, at least if we take the remark as presented. (After all, maybe he was misquoted! And, in any case, given the chance Caldeira might add some useful qualifications to his bald statement of lousy policy).
As an economist, I naturally feel qualified to research, study, think about, discuss and opine on just about any topic out there. Similarly, as an economist, I will object to, resent, condemn, and oppose efforts by non-economists to discuss economics or closely related matters. I went to graduate school, this is what I was taught. Environmental policy discussions provide many opportunities for me to indulge both impulses. Climate science? Sure, I can comment on that! A climate scientist spouting off on climate policy? I call foul.
On the other hand, in my professional opinion as an economist, the interview is pretty good on the topic of geo-engineering.