Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Climate Change Alarmists May Be Putting The Cart Of Wrong Answers Before The Horse Of Right Questions

One of the climate change protestors in London got arrested for vandalising a government building, and had the following to say about it in her blog post (I saw this because my wife is friends with her):
"It seems the message of the urgency and importance of real cuts to greenhouse gas emissions is not getting through in conventional ways, and hence the need for a bit of drama. We’ve marched, we’ve petitioned, we’ve written to MPs, we’ve written to ministers, we’ve met our MPs and lobbied, we’ve campaigned and voted in the election, we’ve moved investments and supported businesses who are calling for progress… we’ve used all our democratic powers, and yet still those who are meant to represent us are doing the opposite of what we are calling for"
Every sinew of this blogger's being seems wedded to the conclusion that these politicians she is trying to galvanise are too supine to even bother addressing her obviously correct analysis of the climate change situation. Now I've no doubt that most of our politicians are hardly paragons of mental excellence, but I wonder if it ever occurred to her that, in actual fact, her questions may be wrong to begin with, so she is not likely to arrive at the right answers, let alone convince politicians to act on her every wish. Or to put it another way, she may not have realised yet that, in actual fact, the reason politicians are so inactive is because there isn't that much they can do.
You see, I'm with the climate change activists on pressing forth the notion that more needs to be done to help countries that have been negatively impacted by climate change - of course that's a good and noble cause. But it's their auxiliary narrative that I think sends them wayward - calling governments to be the ones to instil these game-changing alterations to our economic behaviour - that's where I think they are putting the cart of wrong answers before the horse of right questions. The right questions they should be asking, and seemingly are not, are:
a) What realistically can politicians do to change an economy that they have almost zero ability to manage or predict (apart from what they are already doing through green taxes)? 
b) Are the people supposedly in crisis because of climate change actually in crisis, primarily, for other more important reasons?
c) Are the drastic measures the climate change alarmists are looking to enforce subjected to a proper cost-benefit analysis?
Asking the right questions to begin with gives me a gut feeling that the answers to the questions are:
a) In all likelihood not much more than they are already doing
b) Almost certainly yes
c) Almost certainly no
Here's what I think needs to be realised in relation to the three answers. If you do a proper cost-benefit analysis of the situation to begin with you can more easily see why the answers are as they are. Just like nature’s physical laws, the natural flow of the economy tends towards the path of least effort (as I explain here in this blog), so although there are exceptional cases (cases already penalised with State-enforced Pigouvian taxes) there are already huge incentives in market transactions to be as parsimonious as possible with energy and resources (as I explain here in this blog).
That's the reason governments cannot do very much more (stress 'very much more') to 'tackle' climate change than they already doing. As the blog attached to the first hyperlink explains, the entire nexus of the global economy is a physical system which is all the time tending towards the principle of maximum efficiency, or it would be without all the government interference retarding it. Businesses are already looking for the most efficient means of supplying customers using as little energy as possible, because in a highly competitive market it is in their interest to do so to remain profitable.
The goal to reduce energy output can, and has, come in various ways: replacement of human energy for machines, replacement of metal-based technology for higher intensity resources or carbon-cased materials, replacement of paper for digital devices, and so forth – and these are improvements in production that naturally improve business’s cost-effectiveness.
The transition from the paper revolution to the digital one required lots of burning of fossil fuels, equivalent to energy being driven into the system from outside, but all the time that external energy is helping the global economy tend towards a path to least resistance very similar to how thermodynamics operates in the natural world. As the old saying goes, you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs - and the eggs we've cracked since the Industrial Revolution, while not without some externalities, have done more to improve global standards of living than anything else in human history (more in depth analyses of which you'll find in these blog posts here, here, here, here, and here).
On top of how vastly over-exaggerated the government's ability to 'tackle' climate change is, now the other issue needs addressing - the one where climate change alarmists peddle the narrative that the world's poorest people are being drastically hurt by what a thriving global economy is doing to our planet. As I said, where the world's poorest people are in any kind of crisis by climate change, we should be pulling out all the stops to help them.
However, the reality is deeper. The world's poorest people's main plights of life are not caused by climate change, they are caused by an inability to participate in a thriving global economy (for all sorts of complex reasons). What you have to realise is that most of the things negatively affecting the world's poorest people now - labour hardship, inadequate access to clean drinking water, low life expectancy, children having to be sent to work, subjugation of women, lack of literacy and numeracy, and conflict over hard to acquire resources - were affecting the vast majority of people before the progression-explosion that began about 200 hundred years ago, and has exponentiated ever since. Before the Industrial Revolution they were the natural state of most humans, and had been ever since the evolution of homo sapiens - they are not for the most part plights that have suddenly been caused by climate change.
In fact, if you take the overall picture into consideration, those human plights only began to be eradicated precisely when we started to break a few environmental eggs of industry to create the progression explosion that has brought about the diminution of most of those plights for over six eighths of the world's people.
There is still a long way to go, sure - but I hope that will at least offer a slightly broader perspective that factors in the benefits as well for a more balanced view, and gives some exhibition as to why the picture is much bigger than it simply being the case that politicians can 'tackle' climate change with some grand-slam panacea.