Chrysler Chief Economist Addresses "Chicken Little" View of Climate Change

Is the European view of climate change much more "alarmist" than that in the United States? That's the view offered by Daimler Chrysler chief economist Van Jolissaint, according to comments he made at a private breakfast meeting at the Detroit Auto Show. The BBC reports that Jolissaint, in response to a question, claimed "...that global warming was a far-off risk whose magnitude was uncertain," and that the best approach to such a challenge, from a economic point of view, involves "...small and limited changes in policies relating to global warming, such as a slight increase in gasoline or carbon taxes." As these comments tend to fly in the face of the green theme of the auto show (as well as the focus on eco-innovation at last month's Los Angeles show), Chrysler was quick to issue a press release that "clarified" Jolissaint's remarks.

After reading a transcript prepared from a recording of the economist's brief remarks, one could certainly argue that the BBC overstated the case and Jolissaint was simply observing the different attitudes between European and American viewpoints. One could also argue that mixing science, politics and economics in a short answer inevitably creates a mess. Jolissaint definitely framed the issue in economic terms, though the question was asked about political climates:

It's difficult for me to describe, because I personally think we take a certain amount of [inaudible]. We think the problem is way, way in the future, with a high degree of uncertainty.

And what you do is buy insurance. And insurance tends to be for intended small, incremental increases in energy prices or important [inaudible] some of the proceeds of that revenue in future development and you devote resources to defeat problems that are big problems today, rather than uncertain problems in the future.

But we should do something. We should do something today, we should do more tomorrow. ...

We think they should deal with it in a step-by-step, rational way and not play much Chicken Little.

One could ultimately argue, and probably quite successfully, that Jolissaint's comments don't say much of anything... and that's particularly worrisome. The auto industry is working hard to "green" its image, and to introduce concept models that leave a lighter environmental footprint. Having one's chief economist present such a "fair and balanced" view in semi-public (or having one's press office release a statement that claims "...the science remains uncertain") only lends weight to charges of greenwashing. Is this simply a matter of an epidemic of foot-in-mouth disease, or evidence that Daimler Chrysler really just doesn't get it? Or, is this a classic "chicken and egg" problem from a onlooker's perspective: is Chrysler downplaying the threat because they've offered so little, or have they offered so little because they truly believe the science is still in question?

Thanks to Treehugger reader Eric Benson for passing this along ::BBC and Desmog Blog
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