Saturday, 5 December 2009

The carbon-cutting crew's faulty logic

If localism is a cure for climate change then the assumptions that the scientific consensus rests upon are wrong

Tim Worstall, Friday 4 December 2009 18.00 GMT

I've a small confession to make and where better to make it than here? I'm one of those classical liberal types with the libertarian mindset that sees the carbon-cutters as, in general, authoritarian, super-statist, quasi-socialist conspirators intent on bossing people around and interfering with their lives and liberties. Having confessed, I'm now going to prove that it's true, that it's not just my belief but a true reflection of the world.
We're all entirely familiar with the usual puffery that infests the pages of every newspaper across the land. Everybody from Greenpeace to the Green party via Friends of the Earth, the Sustainable Development Commission, Plane Stupid, WWF and the tail-end of the whole alphabet soup tells us that the solution to climate change lies in localism. We shouldn't eat from outside our bio-region, economies should be regional or smaller, what trade there is should be within Polanyi's mutual networks rather than around the world and, well, in general, we've got to reverse this horrible, nasty globalisation thing. What we're less familiar with is that they're all, on this particular point, wrong: provably so.
Let us move to the scientific consensus, shall we? Yes, those reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that tell us all about climate change. They are of course based upon economic models: they have to be. For without an economic model, we can't think about how many people there are going to be, how rich they'll be, which technologies they'll be using and thus what emissions will be. If we don't know what emissions are going to be then we cannot run a climate model, can we? Good, these economic models are the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES).
There are forty scenarios grouped into four families. Each family is an economic model, a scenario is a technological path within that model. As a reasonable thumb sketch the families are A1 (globalised capitalism), A2 (local or regionalised capitalism), B1 (globalised Kumbaya*) and B2 (local or regionalised Kumbaya).
Whether you prefer the forced communalism of the campfire singsong over the red in tooth and claw of wealth creation is up to you: apply your moral principles as you wish. But have a look at Table 5-1 in chapter 5. You will see that capitalism produces more emissions than Kumbaya, yes: but you'll also see that globalisation produces fewer than a localised and regionalised world: definitely so in the B families, potentially so in the A. If you read the storylines, you will see as well that globalisation both times produces a smaller population and both times a larger world economy.
Please do note that this is the scientific consensus. These are the models that the whole cloth of the IPCC is made up of. You cannot reject these basic building blocks without rejecting everything which is built upon them: which of course means that if you reject them then you reject the IPCC reports, Al Gore's film, all the proof we have of climate change and the Kyoto and Copenhagen treaties.
Globalisation, whether we go for capitalism or caring and sharing, gives us fewer, richer people with less damage to the environment as a result of having fewer emissions, than not globalisation. So those telling us that localism, regionalisation, are a cure for climate change are clearly ignoring, ignorant of or lying about the scientific consensus.
Or, of course, they could just be authoritarian, super-statist, quasi-socialist conspirators intent on bossing people around and interfering with their lives and liberties and using any damn excuse to do so. Which is about where we came in wasn't it?
* Kumbaya here standing for a more caring and sharing approach than capitalism, one concerned more with the distribution than creation of wealth.