Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Old King Coal

Eli Rabett has taught me a lot about global warming, so I hate to quibble with his analysis of economics and the climate future, but I do think he has some wrong ideas here: http://rabett.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-montreal-solution.html Mostly I think he wants to bash Lomborg and others who say the world can't afford to deal with climate yet - mainly because the poor countries need coal and other ceap fossil fuels for development.

Eli:

First, climate change underway today mostly hurts the poor. It is clear that any assessment shows that the countries that are going to be most hurt by climate change are the poorest countries. Every attempt at an integrated assessment model, the IPCC reports and more shows this. By opposing immediate action on climate change Lomborg, Pileke (sic) and Ridley are hurting the poorest.

The proposition, I think, does not follow from the premise. The rich nations of the world all developed their economies using cheap energy from coal and later, other fossil fuels. China and several other rapidly developing nations are currently doing the same. The people of Bangla Desh and South Beach are both threatened by rising ocean levels. The South Beachers have much better prospects because the have a lot more money. Wealth brings options.

Almost all agree that the worst effects of climate change are in medium to distant future, as measured in terms of a human lifespan. Forty years of economic progress at the rate China has achieved would give the people of Bangla Desh some important options.

Some more Eli:

Second, fossil fuel as an energy source is characterized by relatively low capital costs and high operational costs. Wind, solar, hydro and nuclear the reverse. If fools like Lomborg and Ridley really wanted to help the poors they would be advocating for donation by the developed world to carry those initial capital costs and increased energy efficiency so the poors were not subject to eternal thralldom under the coal and oil industry.

Eli is a professorial rabett, so presumably he has spent his life in the ivory tower which could explain not being quite up to speed as to how the world works. "[A]dvocating for donation by the developed world to carry initial capital costs..." is a strategy with a history and prospect of success somewhat worse than praying for rain. Extracting the necessary trillions from the personal pockets of Eli, me and many others both more and less fortunate than us is not a program with potential popular appeal. If the world really believed that the initial capital costs could be retrieved in energy efficiency, hard eyed accountants would be telling their investors to rush in - they aren't.

If they could agree among themselves, the world might force the Bangla Deshes to adopt less carbon intensive economy by adopting punitive import taxes. Such taxes would be extremely painful for the present day citizens of Bangla Desh, with the only certain benefit for future citizens therein being that many more of them would fail to survive to adulthood to experience the climate horrors to come.

My larger point is that preventing climate change requires a vast network of enforcement mechanisms which will have big costs for a lot of people - big upfront costs that may or may not ever be recovered. As Eli might just remember from when he paid for the solar power system for his house - assuming that he has done that.