Climate Change

by Don Boudreaux on April 18, 2011

in Cleaned by Capitalism, Environment, Risk and Safety, Standard of Living

Here’s part of the conclusion of a recent, data-rich paper by Indur Goklany; this paper is Chapter 6 in Climate Coup (Patrick J. Michaels, ed., 2011):

Despite claims that global warming will reduce human well-being in developing countries, there is no evidence that this is actually happening.  Empirical trends show that by any objective climate-sensitive measure, human well-being has, in fact, improved remarkably over the last several decades.  Specifically, agricultural productivity has increased; the proportion of population suffering from chronic hunger has declined; the rate of extreme poverty has been more than halved; rates of death and disease from malaria, other vector-borne diseases, and extreme weather events have declined; and, consequently, life-expectancy has more than doubled since 1900.

And while economic growth and technological development fueled mainly by fossil fuels are responsible for some portion of the warming experienced this century, they are largely responsible for the above-noted improvements in human well-being in developing countries (and elsewhere).  The fact that these improvements occurred despite any global warming indicates that economic and technological development has been, overall, a benefit to developing countries [pp. 181-182].

Indur here nicely captures my own attitude toward the current hysteria about climate change.  I neither deny that climate change is occurring nor that its occurance is the result of human activity.  (I’m no natural scientist, so my ability to judge the science is inadequate.)

What I do deny is (1) the presumption that climate change necessarily has worsened or will worsen human well-being compared to what that well-being would have otherwise been, or will be, under different feasible policies, and (2) the presumed necessity for governments to ‘do something’ about climate change.  From the perspective of an economist, it is a non sequitur to conclude from the existence of made-made climate change that government must take steps to halt, or to diminish, those human activities that contribute to climate change.

Of course, the fact that fossil-fuel fueled improvements in humans’ ‘micro’ environments – the close-in environments that matter most to us, such as the air in our homes and workplaces, the cleanliness of our clothing, the absence of animal manure on our city streets, etc. – are very real and very large does not imply that steps ought not now be taken at the margin to reduce human activities that are thought to contribute to climate change.

But the case for taking such steps would be more plausible, believable, and acceptable were not so many of its advocates prone to write and speak as if the benefits of industrialization, such as those mentioned above by Indur, are unreal or overblown or, more precisely, as if these benefits are not connected with the very industrial and commercial processes that climate-change hawks wish to further rein in.  So much of the conversation by climate-change hawks takes place as if the demonstration of the existence of a cost is sufficient to prove that that cost must be reduced.

And, too, so much of that same conversation takes place as if the political authorities to be charged with reducing this cost will act both wisely and in the public interest.

Both stances are most unscientific.


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