Sunday, January 22, 2006

Who cares about climate change?

We talk a lot about climate change but in reality even what little we are doing to mitigate the problem could well be making it worse. We should be more honest in our intent.

The clearest exposition I have found on the argument that climate change is occurring and that there is a human component is presented by the Royal Society here.

Imagine you wanted to put as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as possible. How would you do it? Scavenge as much oil, coal and natural gas out of the ground as you could? Strive to keep the price low? Encourage industrial growth and consumption worldwide? All of the above?

Now imagine you want to do the opposite. Extend the use of nuclear power, encourage renewable energy sources, attempt to reduce demand and trade in carbon credits?

If you really meant it, then you'd also add in the opposite actions of your first list. Sadly, when it comes to our collective actions, we don't really mean it.

Our economy doesn't really care about climate change or emissions reductions. We tinker here and there. Nuclear power, renewables or demand reduction could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but these are secondary effects to the real reason we pursue these options. What we really care about is energy price and security of supply.

What about carbon credits? Are they, at least, part of climate change mitigation? No. The tax insufficient to stop demand, and I doubt if we would ever stomach the price levels that would affect demand. Recent gas price increases have already called for a reduction in emissions controls. Worse yet, much of the tax take is simply sitting in the coffers of government, whose objective is economic growth. Economic growth increases greenhouse gas emissions. Perversely, the carbon tax could therefore be spent putting more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

We can either create economic growth or address climate change. We are not ready to harm the former for the sake of the latter. In turning to technology, we might be able to do the former and the latter together. But we should stop pretending to ourselves that we really yet care, let alone have a plan.