Climate change – emergency or not?
James Knight is challenging some of the assertions being made by the climate change lobby, and shares his thoughts about what our response should be.
In recent weeks on Network Norfolk, there have been several articles adding emotional weight to the alarmism of climate change, paying heed to the likes of Extinction Rebellion, David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg, and telling us that the 'Christian' thing to do is to get on board this ship of environmentalist hysteria, lest we fail to love our planet as God loves it.
It's a seductive message for Christians, but like many seductive messages, I think it is leading people astray - and while my fellow Christians may well have good intentions regarding this matter, I think they are inadvertently buying in to a misguided movement that is causing untold harm, and will go on to have even more devastating consequences if it is allowed to grow.
I've been studying this subject, and my feeling is that a lot more epistemic humility is needed in trying to solve environmental problems - and that most of the time, the suggested solutions are probably a lot worse than not implementing them at all (for further reading on this, see my links at the bottom of this article).
My summary of the situation is this. There is an economic approach to climate change, and an environmentalist approach, and while the latter group purport to be the ethical, principled group, it is actually the other way around.
The economic analysis of environmentalism starts by understanding how complex the subject is, and it tries to ask all the right questions in order to perceive possible problems and possible solutions. It undertakes a proper cost-benefit analysis of pollution; it understands why we pollute, what other options we have and don’t have; it tries to figure out what an optimal level of pollution might be; and it concerns itself with the best way to deal with pollution. The economic analysis is the only one that can hope to find out which perceived pollution problems really are problems and which are not; which confer a net benefit on society; which pollutions we should do nothing about, which we should penalise and which we should try to discontinue altogether.
The environmentalist analysis considers none of these things – it takes a moral position that pollution is bad, that failing to deal with it is morally wrong, and that we should do whatever is necessary to eliminate carbon. This is an imprudent methodology, and in no other empirical discipline would something like this be tolerated.
Here's an amazing thing to ponder: None of the great human qualities and ideas - language, art, literature, morality, philosophy, even Christianity - explain the progression-explosion from successful survival machines to thriving humans with the advancements of today. What caused the upward surge of well-being of the past 150 years, in sharp contrast to the past 150,000 years of poverty and hardship that preceded it, was the increased ability to trade and to mass populate, both of which are underpinned by our ability to mass communicate, and to share ideas, knowledge and innovations in trial and error fashion.
If environmentalists really do want to advance good things for the environment, and everyone in it, they should be embracing the above market-led mechanisms of greater freedom to share ideas, to cooperate, and to maximise growth and innovation, because that is what really will do the trick better than anything else. It isn’t just the case that freedom to exchange ideas leads to the greatest progress and increased standards of living - there is a converse effect that bad ideas, foolish political agendas and widespread misinformation makes progress harder and increased standards of living more protracted.
Here’s why: As populations increase and become more widely interconnected, and as thoughts and ideas become less centralised in a decentralising nexus, the rate of idea-sharing increases, the power of communication and knowledge advances, and progress looks more like an exponential curve. But when bad ideas pollute the epistemological landscape, and sub-standard reasoning muddies the waters, diversity of thinking is narrowed and propagated, and there is a clustering effect that creates choke points within the landscape of ideas and knowledge.
Bad ideas don't just pollute the inner mind; they pollute the landscape for outer minds too, as concentrations of tribal thinking lead the in-group members astray, but also gravitationally attract outsiders who begin with ambivalence, but are looking for somewhere to belong, however foolish and damaging it may be. Lest we forget as well that the numbers are not exactly chicken feed: the climate change industry is apparently worth over $1.5 trillion.
The climate change alarmists' assumption is that because climate change is an emergency, we should be risk-averse, and risk-aversion here means spending more money and resources on tackling climate change in the here and now. But this is faulty reasoning, because risk-aversion should primarily focus on the world’s biggest risks - and the biggest risk of all is not that future (richer) generations will be born into a warmer climate, it is that present (poorer) people are going to be born in a poverty-stricken state where they can’t afford access to cheap, necessary, dependable energy. The way to be rationally risk-averse is to help poorer people become more prosperous - not adopt short-sighted climate change policies that make energy unaffordable for those that need it most.
This leaves those who think we are 'destroying the planet' with a big problem, because the only way to bring an end to global poverty and help the neediest people out of their plight is to help those people attain economic freedom and prosperity, and the ability to trade, be self-sufficient, and productive in the broader market economy. And, of course, the only realistic way to achieve this is to generate the kind of industry and globalised expansion of the market that will come at the cost of using some of the earth's natural resources.
To eradicate global poverty entirely, we're going to have to carry on making the best use of the earth's raw materials. Like most things, there's a trade off, and it is thanks to the use of the earth's resources, particularly since the Industrial Revolution, that we've moved the human condition from a state of widespread poverty to a state of greatly reduced poverty and much more prosperity. Of course, there's still a way to go, but as the developing world countries increase their infrastructure and market potential, they are going to be using the most ecologically efficient technology - so there is every reason to continue to develop and pioneer more environmentally efficient methods of industry.
Realistically, the things that are the biggest ingredients in achieving this - free trade, healthy imports/exports, high employment, sensible and equitable government spending, a good legal system, cultural plurality, immigration, global travel, welfare systems, human rights, property rights, family rights, and being freer citizens – are going to have an environmental cost that is more than compensated for by the good it will do for the neediest people in the world.
So instead of just asking “How can we best reduce our carbon footprint?”, a better question is; “How can we best cope with the fact that our increased technology and a wider market economy has environmental costs as well as all the benefits it confers?” Stirring up people to become too obsessed with reducing emissions often causes them to be less mindful of coping with the costs of our increased technology and a wider market economy, which then has the concomitant danger of causing them to be less mindful of the immeasurably more good that increased technology and a wider market economy does for the world’s neediest people.
Climate change alarmists peddle the narrative that the world's poorest people are being drastically hurt by what a thriving global economy is doing to our planet. But the world's poorest people's main plights of life are not caused by climate change, they are caused by an inability to participate in a thriving global economy (for all sorts of complex reasons).
What we have to realise is that most of the things negatively affecting the world's poorest people now - labour hardship, inadequate access to clean drinking water, low life expectancy, children having to be sent to work, subjugation of women, lack of literacy and numeracy, and conflict over hard to acquire resources - were affecting the vast majority of people before the progression-explosion that began about 150 hundred years ago, and has exponentiated ever since. Before the Industrial Revolution they were the natural state of most humans, and had been ever since the evolution of homo sapiens - they are not for the most part plights that have suddenly been caused by climate change.
In fact, if you take the overall picture into consideration, those human plights only began to be eradicated precisely when we started to break a few environmental eggs of industry to create the progression explosion that has brought about the diminution of most of those plights for over three quarters of the world's people.
At the heart of the Christian gospel is the message that God wants to have a relationship with us. Humans are the only creatures made in God's image, and as such, the human well-being is God's most important priority. We have been assigned the job of taking care of everything on earth, including the animals that share a planet with us (Genesis 1:28-31) - but if the reactionary climate change policies suppress innovation, retard progress, keep people mired in poverty for longer by making access to cheap energy more expensive, increase suffering, and cause countless avoidable deaths by denying them access to life-changing opportunities, then Christians should be very wary about which ideologies they champion and which causes they support.
Everything I've distilled from studying climate change leads me to believe that the medicine of climate change environmentalism is, in fact, a poison that too many people are swallowing without enough care and attention.
Is This Going To Turn Out To Be One Of Humanity's Costliest Mistakes?
Why We Should Be Wary Of Carbon Tax
Me & Climate Change: I Guess Things Are About To Get Hot!
The BBC's Climate Change Programme - Some Facts, But Mostly Fiction
Wiping Out 60% Of Animal Populations May Not Be A Bad Thing
The 'Destroying Our Planet' Fallacy
Why Greens Are Probably Hindering The Green Revolution
The Climate Change Alarmists May Be Putting The Cart Of Wrong Answers Before The Horse Of Right Questions
The Myth That We're Running Out Of Resources
The above image is courtesy of https://pixabay.com
James Knight is a local government officer based in Norwich, and is a regular columnist for Christian community websites Network Norfolk and Network Ipswich. He also blogs regularly as ‘The Philosophical Muser’, and contributes articles to UK think tanks The Adam Smith Institute and The Institute of Economic Affairs, as well as the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC).
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