Strengthening the Knowledge Base

The lack of knowledge on important issues becomes obvious as one participates in debates surrounding global warming. A number of priorities quickly emerge. The first, and perhaps most fundamental and glaring, is the lack of a consensus among scientists on the underlying causes behind the observed changes in global temperatures. We know that historically these temperatures have experienced both short-term fluctuations and longer-term trends. Despite the substantial additions to our knowledge, there continues to be a great deal of uncertainty about the underlying causes that are driving those changes.

Having a better understanding of the causal factors behind global warming is fundamental to designing policy responses to this phenomenon. If the cause is anthropomorphic, and this is where a significant part of the lack of agreement centers, some of the remedies are obvious. If instead it is not anthropomorphic, but due to physical phenomena in the larger environment, some of the same policy recommendations may apply, while others may not.

Understanding the underlying causes of global changes in temperature is also important if serious attempts are to be made to calculate an optimal temperature or stabilization value for the global temperature. Such knowledge will be especially important once one recognizes the need to reflect regional differences in such calculations.

Knowledge is also important if "quotas" are ultimately assigned to individual countries for changes in their contributions to global temperature changes. That knowledge will be critical to estimating the marginal benefits and the marginal costs of remedial efforts for individual countries. Ultimately, such allocations are needed. Moreover, knowledge of the marginal benefits and costs of individual policy actions is needed if rational policies and their associated institutional arrangements are to be designed.

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