Feeds

Eco-nomics: Was Stern 'wrong for the right reasons' ... or just wrong?

Perhaps greens just aren't the good guys

Seven Steps to Software Security

If not Stern, then what?

The result of Stern Report, Tol writes in the foreword, is an "overly ambitious emission reduction in the short run, as embraced by the European Union and the United Kingdom, is needlessly expensive". Climate activists over-egged their case, essentially.

In Lilley's view the government should return to evidence-based policy making. It should back emissions reductions policy where it makes economic sense: increasing energy efficiency, replacing coal with natural gas, which has half of coal's CO2 emissions. It should back R&D. "These are the low hanging fruit," he writes.

The most compelling argument against rapid carbon dioxide cuts is the human misery inflicted on the most vulnerable - suffering not felt in the affluent West. Stern is "coy" on how much poor countries would suffer, notes Lilley. Given that it's unlikely that Western countries could make 80 per cent cuts, they'd buy credits in developing countries.

"By definition, that involves paying developing countries to use more costly technology than they would otherwise have done or to forego development of their energy needs".

And depriving poor countries of cheap energy and modern energy grids (and the vans and trucks they need to go to market) is condemning them to avoidable misery. Lilley, who with Claire Short, Menzies Campbell and Hilary Benn founded the charity Trade Out Of Poverty, finds this both hypocritical and immoral. He writes:

"Armchair environmentalists may romantically imagine us returning to the simple life without dependence on fossil fuels which they imagine poor people enjoy," he observes.

"The reality is a lot grimmer: In fact, it means lives of grinding toil – where water is hauled every day rather than pumped through pipes; where fields are tilled and crops harvested by hand rather than with tractors and combine harvesters; where surplus crops – if any surplus can be produced without fertilisers - must be carried to market on your own or your animal’s back; where you have no light to read or study by in the evening; where you cannot run any of the domestic appliances, from fridge to TV, which we all take for granted; where you cannot buy cheap clothes, food, and mass-produced goods made elsewhere because there is no transport to bring it to local markets; where hospitals cannot run X-ray machines, sterilise equipment or keep drugs cool because they have no electricity."

The UN's ambitions to create a global successor to the Kyoto Protocol died in Copenhagen in 2009, largely as a result of the refusal of poor countries to stay poor: "Even if that is an attractive vision to some Western intellectuals, it is perfectly clear that every developing country in the world wants to acquire as rapidly as possible what we in the developed world take for granted. To do so they need abundant energy as economically as possible; they are not going to invest their limited capital in new low-carbon technologies which will give them only a fraction of the power they could have from conventional sources.

"Stern’s approach would require them to do so. It would put the interests of a future rich world ahead of those of today’s poor."

It may well be a bogus choice in any case. As Diane Coyle pointed out a decade ago (PDF) in a debate with George Monbiot, in the US and the UK "all the growth of the 1990s occurred without any additional use of raw materials and resources at all." And she pinpointed the problem:

"Environmentalists, on the other hand, stake their expertise on the likelihood of catastrophe."

So the morality of climate policy is far from a simple fable of goodies versus baddies. It is difficult to accept, at face value, that activists whose policies retard economic development, and by doing so prolong human misery, are doing 'the Right Thing'.

The 'dismal science' of economics is much criticised today, and large areas of it - particularly macroeconomics - lie in disrepute. Economics is a peculiar mix of the normative (shoulds and oughtas), and the positive (what is), as Lilley notes. Of late, it has become a political tool, the collection of evidence to justify a set of beliefs and value judgments. But we can't escape economics; it's a discipline we're cursed to continue. We can choose to do badly, or do it well.

Why don't we do it well? ®

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
Beancounters tell NASA it's too poor to fly planned mega-rocket
Space Launch System would need another $400m and a lot of time
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.