Monday, 29 July 2019

Turning Up The Heat On Climate Change: Has No One Ever Considered That Global Warming Might Be A Good Thing?

Recently I wrote a paper explaining why I think the politics associated with climate change is both bad economics and bad philosophy. That paper was a mix of my overall theoretical interpretation of how reality operates, and the empirical facts that we observe through an economic lens when considering highly complex societies. I will be sharing that paper soon, albeit selectively - and not, I'm afraid, on this blog (for more details on that, you can email me - see the right hand side bar).

On the political side of this topic, the view I've always had - something that seems alarmingly obvious to me, but just alarming to environmentalists - is that the carbon emissions that have caused the anthropogenic parts of climate change confer astronomically more benefits on the world than they do costs, and you have to be rather short-sighted or wilfully blind to not realise this. So, then, this evening I saw a paper from Matt Ridley that caught my attention, about why he thinks climate change has done more good than harm. When he isn't talking about God or spurious notions of chance and randomness in biological evolution, I find he often talks sense - and a brief digest of his work leads me to agree with his views on global warming.

Exploring some of Ridley's sources led me to some further empirical data surrounding climate change, where even the scientific consensus has it that climate change is nothing like the emergency many fear it is, and that it is actually more beneficial to the world than it is costly. Incidentally, I wonder if anyone in the environmentalist camp has ever even considered whether global warming may actually be a net benefit, especially as the cold seems to have historically (and presently) been a much more inhibiting force to our progress and our survival than warmth.

Professor Richard Tol (do Google his work - there's plenty of it) has perhaps done the most of anyone I've researched to show how when you factor in the economic, the ecological, the humanitarian and the financial factors, there is an overall positive effect in climate change. He arrived at this conclusion after undertaking 14 different studies of the effects of future climate trends. One of professor Tol's key findings is that climate change would be beneficial up to 2.2˚C of warming from 2009 (when his paper was written). Some say those temperatures may not be reached until the end of the century, some say even longer. The IPCC predicts we will reach that temperature increase by 2080. This means that even at worst case scenario, global warming will continue to be of net benefit for another 60 years. So it's not exactly a climate emergency, is it? And even if it the case that global warming will only benefit us for another 60 years (assuming current conditions) then the people who will have to deal with in 2080 will be about nine times as rich as we are today (assuming economic growth continues on its present trajectory).

This is like a cherry on the top of my cake: you see, my paper only went so far as to say that even if climate change is doing more intrinsic harm than good from a relatively isolated perspective, once you factor in all the economic and scientific benefits to the equation, we sit on a net positive. But further research indicates that even the changing climate itself has engendered more positives than negatives. That said, while I'm encouraged by Richard Tol's research, I think he slightly underestimates the mood for optimism by making a fairly big underestimation himself. He talks of global warming possibly being a problem by the time the planet undergoes 2.2˚C of warming (in 2080) without paying enough regard to just how much better equipped we'll be in 60 years from now to tackle perceived problems in 2009 (or even 2019). As an economist who mainly focuses on the cost-benefit analyses to do with climate change - trying to factor in all matters of consideration - digging deeper in to the scientific research (which isn't all that important, by the way, because these are largely economic questions, not scientific ones) has been encouraging to my cause.

This has always been a strange solecism from climate change alarmists too: Look at how the world has gone from 1919 to 2019. Nobody sane thinks that the world's population hasn't benefitted immensely from industrial progression and technological advancements alongside a changing climate during the past 100 years. So given that we are richer and more advanced in this day than in 1919, why are so many people unconvinced that the world's population won't benefit immensely from industrial progression and technological advancements alongside a changing climate in the next 100 years? Moreover, given that we in 2019 have most of the advancements to have been able to solve the majority of economic problems people in 1919 faced, why are we not more confident of having similar capacities 60 years henceforward, given that we are starting from an even stronger place, and that we have far more people on the planet to help solve the problems that might arise? We seem drastically unfair on ourselves when it comes to forecasting our ability to work together to solve problems.

Here's another angle on the benefits from Matt Ridley:

"The chief benefits of global warming include: fewer winter deaths; lower energy costs; better agricultural yields; probably fewer droughts; maybe richer biodiversity. It is a little-known fact that winter deaths exceed summer deaths — not just in countries like Britain but also those with very warm summers, including Greece. Both Britain and Greece see mortality rates rise by 18 per cent each winter. Especially cold winters cause a rise in heart failures far greater than the rise in deaths during heatwaves. Cold, not the heat, is the biggest killer. For the last decade, Brits have been dying from the cold at the average rate of 29,000 excess deaths each winter. Compare this to the heatwave ten years ago, which claimed 15,000 lives in France and just 2,000 in Britain. In the ten years since, there has been no summer death spike at all. Excess winter deaths hit the poor harder than the rich for the obvious reason: they cannot afford heating. And it is not just those at risk who benefit from moderate warming. Global warming has so far cut heating bills more than it has raised cooling bills. If it resumes after its current 17-year hiatus, and if the energy efficiency of our homes improves, then at some point the cost of cooling probably will exceed the cost of heating — probably from about 2035, Prof Tol estimates."

And then there are the myths about the weather:

"Well yes, you may argue, but what about all the weather disasters caused by climate change? Entirely mythical — so far. The latest IPCC report is admirably frank about this, reporting ‘no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century … lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency offloads on a global scale … low confidence in observed trends in small-scale severe weather phenomena such as hail and thunderstorms’. In fact, the death rate from droughts, floods and storms has dropped by 98 per cent since the 1920s, according to a careful study by the independent scholar Indur Goklany. Not because weather has become less dangerous but because people have gained better protection as they got richer: witness the remarkable success of cyclone warnings in India last week. "

Not only is it the case that the climate change alarmists are trying to kill the geese that are laying the golden eggs that really are sorting out the problems they want to solve, the situation is even worse. The policies they are instituting to fight climate change are doing mass harm around the world, especially in the world's poorest countries. It's basic econ 101 that the cheaper and more readily available food and fuel is to the world's poorest citizens, the better their lives will be. Yet climate change policies drive up prices for energy, fuel and food, and hinder competition to provide these things at lower prices - and this has devastating effects on young people trying to eat in northern Africa right through to old people trying to heat their home in northern England.

I learned from Bjorn Lomborg that the European Union will pay £165 billion for its current climate policies each and every year for the next 87 years, and from Matt Ridley that Britain’s climate policies - subsidising windmills, wood-burners, anaerobic digesters, electric vehicles and all the rest - is due to cost us £1.8 trillion over the course of this century. And here's the worst statistic of all - consensual expertise has it that every £100 spent fighting climate change brings just £3 of benefit. Furthermore, the efforts to mitigate climate change through campaigns for emissions reductions are having a negative effect on food security, due to indirect impacts on prices and supplies of key agricultural commodities.

All this stuff boils down to basic economics really, and a shocking indictment of the climate change hysteria that it seeping into our politics. Carbon emissions happen alongside of, and because of, our industrial achievements and or economic growth. Therefore setting an arbitrary date to produce net zero carbon emissions is foolish because the cost-benefit analysis is far too complex to be pinned to a date that's thought up on a whim by politicians. You can't artificially reduce carbon through some political fiat without destroying capital, undermining investments and harming value-creating production. This is a solid argument for not imposing short-sighted targets, but instead leaving it to highly competitive industries to become greener through the natural mechanisms of competition and innovation in relationship with the law of parsimony - something they've been doing quite naturally, and remarkably well, for the past 150 years.

I have no objection to the notion that some of the scientific predictions may come to pass - but even if they all come to pass, the alarmists are grossly underestimating the future technological advancements, and how our future selves will be equipped to respond. Here's a better way to think of it. There are certain, immense benefits to our industrial activity, some certain costs, some other probable costs and some other probable benefits - and anyone who tells you they've figured out the net costs and benefits for the next few decades in this complex equation of numerous unknowns, and can then show that there is a net cost and that they have a solution to it, is being dishonest and somewhat delusional. Maybe we should confer tax breaks to the biggest carbon emitting businesses, not tax penalties. It sounds absurd, and perhaps it is, but it may not be. Our industrial and technological revolutions have conferred so many benefits on the planet that it seems more imprudent to punish and discourage them than to encourage them, as long as we ensure that negative externalities are penalised whenever the action is efficient. 

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