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“Unlike You, I Refuse to Protect Myself from Danger. So Compensate Me!”

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Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Your report on the “growing clamor” for rich countries to “compensate” poor countries for the allegedly lethal consequences of climate change – consequences that fall disproportionately on poor countries – misses some facts (“Growing Clamor About Inequities of Climate Crisis [2],” Nov. 17).  Here are two.

First, countries with higher per-capita incomes suffer fewer casualties from extreme weather events than do countries with lower per-capita incomes.  Second, although the frequency of extreme weather events is rising, the earth’s climate is becoming far less, rather than more, lethal.  Global death rates from extreme weather events have fallen steadily and dramatically over the past 80 years.  For example, in the decade 2000-09 those death rates were less than 20 percent of what they were in the 1960s and less than 5 percent of what they were in the 1920s.*

So even if market-driven industrial activities cause more extreme weather events, the greater prosperity also caused by those activities increasingly protects people from being killed by such events.  And because per-capita incomes are highest in countries that are most economically free,** the blame for poor-countries’ relatively higher death rates due to weather belongs not on rich countries for relying upon market-driven industrialization but, rather, on the poor countries themselves for refusing do so.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Indur M. Goklany, “Wealth and Safety: The Amazing Decline in Deaths [3]
from Extreme Weather in an Era of Global Warming, 1900-2010 [3].”  Reason
Policy Study #393.  September 2011.

** Robert A. Lawson, “Economic Freedom [4],” Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (2007).