Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Debating global warming

Having pointed out that something is more tragic, deadly and important than global warming, it is important to note that it IS important to discuss, but how about answering some questions first. In order to assuage those who believe it is happening, let's assume that a human enhanced greenhouse effect is underway. Unfortunately the scientific argument on this has almost become a case of absolute belief or absolute disbelief - neither are likely to be accurate. It is difficult to deny that there is climate change happening, but it is also difficult to believe the hysteria around it and the evangelism around it. Seriously, not driving tomorrow will not make one iota of difference.
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So here are questions I'd like answered.
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1. What is a realistic range of costs AND benefits of global warming? Few talk about the benefits, and some will benefit. Should they pay others for those benefits, given the call for many to pay for the costs? The Stern report was hardly realistic.
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2. If there are costs, who bears those, and who bears the benefits. Not glib statements about the poor and the rich, but something geographical.
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3. What is the cost of measures to reduce the impact, what are the net benefits of doing so, what else could that money be used for? (e.g. the argument it is better for people to buy better health care than to spend a lot of money on reducing emissions).
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4. What public policy that would improve economic outcomes and reduce emissions could be undertaken? (e.g. remove of price controls on electricity, ending subsidies for all transport modes, ending subsidies for any industrial or agricultural production).
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In other words it shouldn't be about "global warming will kill us" hysteria, but a sober appreciation of steps that can be taken in the right direction of economic prosperity and reform that WILL see less waste. It is also about recognising the costs of that. My list of steps that could be taken that would not hurt economic growth, AND would reduce CO2 emissions are:
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- End price control and subsidies for any part of the energy sector. If energy companies could charge as they wish, the price would go up, demand would drop and voila so would emissions. New forms of energy would be incentivised by the market to appear. It might be wind, it might be biofuel, it might be nuclear, it might be hydrogen fuel cells. However you can be sure there is no way in hell that this lot, or this lot or even this lot know what is best.
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- Cease subsidising any industries. Why give preferences to any activities that use energy and are clearly less economically efficient.
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- Cease subsidising breeding. End any welfare or tax credits for people who have children. The most environmentally destructive activity anyone can do is breed, so the government shouldn't incentivise it.
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- Get the government out of subsidising and running transport. Ceasing subsidies for any transport, and privatise roads. You might find when people pay for what they use, more will walk and cycle, and people will drive less at peak times because road owners can charge a lot more for peak time use. Congestion would significantly reduce too.
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Funnily enough the loudest advocates of doing anything for climate change want to subsidise energy, subsidise businesses, increase welfare for breeding and spend a fortune on subsidising transport that few people will use.

3 comments:

Raf said...

Lomborg did an analysis in the Skeptical Environmentalist but really it's hard enough trying to work out how the ecosystem functions without trying to predict the costs of uncertain outcomes in 100 years.

Whilst we probably have different view on global warming i do agree that the market can function best when there is as much information available as possible. By this i mean that all costs are priced in and no interference is made in the form of subsidies and the like.

I do believe in public goods however such as water. I think we should pay for our water but the resource should not be owned privately. These may be subtle distinctions but they are important. We tend to lurch from one extreme to the other never quite getting it right.

Trucost pricing and no subsidies would allow more accurate prices in the market and enable better decisions to be made in terms of investment, production and consumption.

Where do you stand on a citizens income to replace the welfare state ?

libertyscott said...

Fair enough, I don't know what you mean by "citizens income", unless you mean the Milton Friedman negative income tax idea - which I am not opposed to as a transitional measure to replace the welfare state, as it incentivises people to work, innovate and co-operate.

Echo said...

I don't believe for one second that 'breeding' is the most environmentally destructive action. 'Breeding' (which is my livelyhood, my main goal in life, and one of the few things that makes me happy) is what makes the world go around. What is more important is helping those who do have children to understand what they can be doing to lower their impact on the world. However, since I don't necessarily believe in global warming.. well, I guess it doesn't make much difference to me.