On prudent ecoskepticism

June 3, 2008, 5:59 AM UTC
Fortune

The great business journalist Joe Nocera set out to write a column Saturday in The New York Times about a classic Nocerian conflict, in this case the annual meeting of ExxonMobil , which pitted America’s largest company against the founding Rockefeller family.

He ended up writing a different column altogether, one of the better pieces of intelligent ecoskepticism I’ve seen in a while. (So you know, Nocera is my friend, mentor, drinking buddy, former editor and colleague, role model, and so on.) Read the column yourself to get the full story. In a nutshell, Nocera explained that school of thought that says that while global warming is real, all the policy prescriptions intended to stop it don’t necessarily make sense. It’s a similar position to the one pushed by Bjorn Lomborg. I wrote a little about this after our green conference in April. Nocera writes about the Yale economist William Nordhaus. I’ve discussed this with his Yale colleague, Robert Mendelsohn, who has argued intelligently that global climate change policy debates often underestimate the power of human adaptability.

Two nits for my man Joe:

1. Of Exxon’s financial success he writes: “You can argue, as many do, that this performance is nothing more than a case of holding out the umbrella while it rains money — that it’s all due to the dramatic run-up in the price of oil.” I guess he means holding the umbrella upside down, because holding it the normal way wouldn’t be a particularly effective way of collecting anything. Is this a common expression I don’t know about? And aren’t there better ways of catching rain than an upside-down umbrella?

2. I kind of expected Joe to note the Rockefeller family’s ownership stake in Exxon, which I’ve seen reported various ways (Fortune’s Marc Gunther reports it’s less than .01 percent) but never in an amount that’s all that impressive in the sense of being able to push around Exxon’s management.