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climate change: doing nothing « Previous | |Next »
July 6, 2009

The politics of climate change is one in which the coal, mining and farming industries, a large part of the Liberal Party, all of the National Party, the free market think tanks and national newspaper, the Australian , are in favour of business as usual. This do nothing alliance has historically justified its stance in terms of denying that climate change is a man made problem.

As this justification increasingly lacks persuasive power in public debates, the denialists have turned to neoclassical economics for a justification for them doing nothing. This social science discipline has a stranglehold over public policy, and the acceptance of its utilitarian framework requires that policy is evaluated in terms of a cost-benefit analysis and discounting to justify the expenditure of scarce economic resources.

Neoclassical economics, which presents itself economics, presents itself as a self-sufficient mode of analysis, is primarily concerned with economic growth of GDP and it values the natural world only in terms of how much profit can be generated by its exploitation. It fails to grasp the ecological underpinnings of the economy, sees the economy as independent of the environment, and holds that there are no environmental constraints on economic growth. Environmental problems either do not really exist, or they can be solved by the free market plus technological fixes.

Even though climate change is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen, conventional neo-classical economists argue that saving the planet for its inhabitants may be all very well and good … but it is simply too expensive for the capitalist economy to afford. Stabilizing our future climate is too expensive. Conventional economic analysis typically recommends doing much less, and more slowly, in order to avoid dampening the prospects for economic growth. The inference is that it is better for society to bear the long-term costs of climate change than the short-run costs of climate stabilization.

Julian Simon in his book The Ultimate Resource published at the beginning of the 1980s, he insisted that there were no serious environmental problems, that there were no environmental constraints on economic or population growth, and that there would never be long-term resource shortages. Simon's mantle of firring salvos aimed at environmentalism was picked up by Bjørn Lomborg, now an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School). In The Skeptical Environmentalist, (200) Lomborg argued that attempting to prevent climate change would cost more and cause more harm than letting it happen. His Copenhagen Consensus” (2003), which ranked the world’s leading problems, placed climate change at or near the bottom of the world’s agenda.

His 2007 book Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming (2007) was primarily an extended attack on the Kyoto Protocol and all attempts to carry out substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Lomborg's essential point was that “all major peer-reviewed economic models agree that little emissions reduction is justified.” He relied particularly on the work of Yale economist William Nordhaus, a leading economic contributor to the economic discussion of global warming, who has opposed any drastic reductions in greenhouse gases, arguing instead for a slow process of emissions reduction, on the grounds that it would be more economically justifiable.

So the slow ‘policy ramp’, with meagre emission reductions over the next quarter of a century, is implicit in the arguments of Nordhaus and other neo-classical economists. The Stern Review stands in marked contrast to these arguments and so the issue was joined.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:05 PM | | Comments (11)


So dealing with climate change is on the back-burner? Legislation too slow and politically tricky?

Here's an idea! Why not repackage it and sell it as a "war".

The talk-radio jocks and pollies will got nuts for it.

WAR on terror, WAR on drugs, WAR on bikie gangs. "Better safe than sorry". you know. They just LOVE that sort of stuff! Hugely popular around these here parts.

Nice idea

I'm glad to hear that the climate change isn't as big a deal as many people think.

"There is no business to be done on a dead planet."

Environmentalist David Brower

Dave Gardner
Producing the documentary
Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity

you need to be careful of your friends. Thus William Nordhaus at Yale, the doyen of climate economics in the United States, argues for an “optimal” climate policy ramp that could eventually lead, according to Nordhaus himself, to levels of carbon concentration in the atmosphere of 700 ppm CO2. This is a level that most climate scientists would characterize as absolutely catastrophic, since it is associated with a jump in average global temperatures approaching 6°C (10.8°F). Policy makers, in contrast, are working to prevent a 2% increase in temperature.

I would trust natural scientists rather than economists on what a 6% increase temperature---the IPCC worst scenario case---means for us in terms of triggering tipping points. Economists have shown that they do not know much about the environment. Orthodox economists often project economic costs of global warming in 2100 to be only a few percentage points and therefore hardly significant. They fail properly to incorporate the possibility that an ecological collapse could undermine the economy.

the dominant economic paradigm is built on a value system that prizes capital accumulation in the short-term, while de-valuing everything else in the present and everything altogether in the future.

The Katrina hurricane disaster at New Orleans resulted in the much deprivations endured by the victims – they were left to fend for themselves in terrible conditions in the world’s richest country. Maybe this was a window into the future, a glimpse of what may be in store for us all if nothing is done about global warming.

Have a look at New Economics Foundation with its latest Happy Planet Index,

A recent AFP report claimed that Australia came third. It didn't. We came 102nd.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t give a shit about global warming, climate change, or whatever they’re calling it this week. For 2 reasons:

1. The types who have been squealing loudest have been wrong one every other social/political issue over the past 30 years;

2. There’s fuck all we can do about it, except adapt.

But I am VERY interested in the Medieval Warming Period and Little Ice Age, coz I’m trying to see if and how those significant changes were related to firstly the rise of Protestantism, and secondly the charging ahead of Xian Europe over Islam.

Though I did take a course on the Scientific Revolution, and have become quite a dab hand at ancient/medieval astronomy. So, the area of modern climate debate I’m really interested in is what impact the changes to: the earth’s orbit around the sun from a near circular to mildly eccentric elliptic; the long-term swaying back and forth of the earth’s axis; and the obliquity of earth’s orbit to the sun’s.

good for you John--each to their own.

Thanks for the link to the New Economics Foundation It looks interesting. I'll have a dig around. They have made the right moves away from GNP to measuring what truly matters to us - our well-being in terms of long, happy and meaningful lives - and what matters to the planet - our rate of resource consumption.

'Sustainable well-being' is a good concept, in the context of us facing a ‘triple crunch’: a combination of a credit-fuelled financial crisis, accelerating climate change and soaring energy prices underpinned by encroaching peak oil.