Matt Ridley’s Seventh and Eighth Tests

This is my seventh post responding to writer (and new Lord) Matthew Ridley’s recent essay for the GWPF (found here: Ridley-Lukewarmer-Ten-Tests). His thesis is there are ten points that need to be answered before he will be convinced that current policy regarding climate change makes any sense at all. If you look below, you’ll see my responses to the first six of his tests.

20051107_thaipumppanel

His seventh test really isn’t a test at all–he doesn’t lay out a proposition that needs to be answered or pose a question or raise a problem. He writes:

“Nor is it clear that ecosystems and people will fail to adapt, for there
is clear evidence that adaptation has already vastly reduced damage
from the existing climate – there has been a 98% reduction in the
probability of death from drought, flood or storm since the 1920s, for
example, and malaria retreated rapidly even as the temperature rose
during the twentieth century.”

I agree with everything he writes here. I would only note that one of the ways people adapt is to change ecosystems–not always for the better.

Ridley poses his test in number 8, writing:

“So I cannot see why this relatively poor generation should bear the
cost of damage that will not become apparent until the time of a far
richer future generation, any more than people in 1900 should have
borne sacrifices to make people today slightly richer. Or why today’s poor
should subsidise, through their electricity bills, today’s rich who receive
subsidies for wind farms, which produce less than 0.5% of the country’s
energy.”

Although I agree with Lord Ridley’s sentiment, it’s hard to see where his worries are coming to pass–with the exception of his home country, the United Kingdom. (I cite other problematic places below.)

As one who lived in the UK for five years I am familiar with the very real mistakes they have made regarding energy policy and climate change. They have over-committed to wind power, largely because of successful lobbying from industry, regulatory capture and public officials acting in what can charitably be described as a marginally ethical manner. The results have been a basic failure of large proportions.

Italy has also had scandalous experiences with renewable  energy, as the Mafia predictably moved quickly to extract rents from a fledgling industry with distant but lucrative government support. The trading of carbon certificates in Europe was similarly corrupted and the initiative seems doomed to failure. Here in the U.S., Enron showed how corruption should be done, with brazen criminality that harks back to the worst of the Robber Baron days.

Admitted. Let’s grab the criminals, try them and punish them in accordance with the law.

However, if I am correct in thinking (and calculating) that energy consumption will increase six-fold by 2075, it is not some distant and richer generation that will deal with climate change impacts, even presuming low sensitivity. It will be the people being born now. It is worth doing something to help them and their children.

Moreover, the measures frequently discussed don’t really target the poor–schemes like rural electrification programs are designed to bring them solar powered electricity precisely to get them off the dung and wood they are using now. It will, if it continues, be the comparatively wealthy (including people like myself and most of my readers) that will be asked to contribute.

But many of the measures are ‘no regrets’ options that make sense regardless of climate change’s extent and impact. We’ll discuss those in another post (and quite probably in the comments to this one), but the burden for many of these measures should be born by businesses that benefit from greater energy efficiency and consumers who similarly benefit from improved transmission grids and power generation that doesn’t lose more than a third of its output to wasted heat.

So in response to Lord Ridley I say that I agree that the poor should not pay for the no regrets options that are the sane way to continue our fight against climate change. But the rich could and should, because we will benefit by more than we spend.

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2 responses to “Matt Ridley’s Seventh and Eighth Tests

  1. Regarding #8 may I ask you to take a look at Tim Morgan’s report “The Dick Turpin Generation,” referring to us.

    http://www.tullettprebon.com/announcements/strategyinsights/notes/2010/SIN20100318.pdf

    This strategy note makes one bold and stark claim, which is that the current generation is guilty of pilfering on a massive scale. We call this ‘generational theft’. As well as short-changing pensioners, we are piling huge obligations on to the young people of today and of the future. Will future generations be prepared to pick up the tab? And, indeed, is there any reason why they should?

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