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July 01, 2005

Why I do believe in doing something about global warming

Posted by Richard D. North

Richard D. North - the author of Rich is Beautiful: A Very Personal Defence of Mass Affluence - concludes his series on G8 and Global Warming: G8 Gleneagles Fiasco: a sceptic's account of global warming and its humbugs.

Why I do believe in doing something about global warming
Whilst we can have only limited confidence that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will have a proportional benign effect on climate change, we may nonetheless decide that it is worth making that sort of adjustment, even a small one, as a matter of (very uncertain) insurance. There is a chance that small pain will produce great gain. (That's non-linearity for you.)

Personally, I am the sort of person who thinks that doing what is convenient and cheap and doesn't affect the life chances of the poor and might at the margins stand a chance of doing something to avert man-made climate change may be worth doing. So I cycle to get the paper, sometimes. And I worry when I buy a cheap airline ticket. And I think the house ought not to be over-heated. I tend to use a train rather than a plane, but not on Sundays when the rail network goes into repair mode. Blah, blah, blah. You know this kind of rap.

And I think the Third World more needs to get richer than it needs to worry about climate change. If it can do both, great. If it can't, it should make getting richer a priority.

I am not proud of my timorous approach. I am radically unsure whether I should boldly assert that we need not bother about climate change, or assert that we should make a vast effort to see that we must change our ways because of it. Sorry.

What I can claim is that I devote a lot of effort to laying out the arguments to help others to decide for themselves.

Some right-wing remarks
Here are some right-wing remarks, and they are the core of the argument.

Africa and global warming (GW) are doubtless on Tony Blair's conscience, and doubtless he has a tender one. But every day, millions of Western people go to bed and sleep soundly knowing that their meanness is condemning African children to starve and die, whilst our selfishness is quite possibly condemning the planet to overheat.

Teenaged young people get excited by all this and mostly do absolutely nothing about it, or the wrong thing, or the thing which suits them (for as long as it suits them). Their parents feel and act likewise, but more distractedly.

When we discuss what we ought and can do about the wrongs in the world, we need to remind ourselves of the important limits to our interest in other people and especially people distant in time and place (the hypothetical unborn in faraway places).

This is important. The church and socialists and greens are always trying to get the state to assume that their countrymen have very wide "circles of empathy". Such campaigners should realise how narrow are their own "circles" before lecturing the rest of us about ours. (Martyrs and campaigners all get their rocks off on their righteousness.) They should note that they often favour courses of action which do harm rather than good.

As we consider the policies they propose we need to be realistic about what we will do (after all, they won't be). This matters because if we know how little we are prepared to suffer, we may direct the little it is, better. This is to say: a policy which requires a large public response to be any use at all may not do as much good as a policy which requires a small response.

In GW terms, it is unlikely that the world will do the hugely noble thing of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by enough to make much difference. If that it is the case it may be worth doing as several contrarians suggest: arm the poor against GW's effects rather than try to avoid the effects in the first place. This is not to say we need do nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: but it may be worthwhile only aiming to do so much of that activity as is easy and cheap and saving the rest of our limited generosity for enriching the poor to survive what we can't or won't spare them.

Richard D. North is the author of Rich is Beautiful: A Very Personal Defence of Mass Affluence.


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Two questions for anyone who is worried about "global warming":

What is the correct temperature for the Earth?

What will the temperature be here in Tallahassee, Florida, three days from now?

Until someone can answer those questions with any accuracy and believability, I will not worry about global warming.

Posted by: Robert Speirs at July 1, 2005 08:43 PM
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