Friday, August 14, 2009

What is the proper response to Climate Change?

Keith Lockitch has announced the publication of an important paper by him in the journal Energy & Environment. The paper is entitled "CLIMATE VULNERABILITY AND THE INDISPENSABLE VALUE OF INDUSTRIAL CAPITALISM" and is available online. The abstract is as follows:
It is widely believed that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are increasing overall vulnerability to climate-related disasters, and that, consequently, policies aimed at cutting off these emissions are urgently needed. But a broader perspective on climate vulnerability suggests that the most important factors influencing susceptibility to climate-related threats are not climatologic, but political and economic. The dramatic degree to which industrial development under capitalism has reduced the risk of harm from severe climate events in the industrialized world is significantly under-appreciated in the climate debate. Consequently, so too is the degree to which green climate and energy policies would undermine the protection that industrial capitalism affords–by interfering with individual freedoms, distorting market forces, and impeding continued industrial development and economic growth. The effect of such policies would, ironically, be a worsening of overall vulnerability to climate.
I have read the paper and, somewhat reminiscent of Andrew Bernstein's excellent book The Capitalist Manifesto, it reminds readers that it is capitalism (in as near a form in which we live under it) that has been responsible for the elimination of much of our historic vulnerability to natural threats, including climate change.

This is a crucial point that advocates of restrictions on CO2 emissions, whether innocently or not, completely miss. Recently I engaged in an online exchange on the whole topic of environmentalism and climate change in particular with someone who is sympathetic to environmentalism. I decided that the crucial point to get across was not primarily that the science behind many of the environmentalist claims is suspect (though I mentioned that as well). Instead, I focused on man's ability to handle any potential natural or artificial changes voluntarily and technologically rather than by forceful imposition of restrictions. That shifted the discussion from the details of science which neither of us was particularly qualified to evaluate without much further research, to moral values, which it turned out my friend chose not to get into. I think that's exactly where the debate should be.

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