Thursday, March 16, 2006

Stop global warming - hug an economist

My brother is a free market economist - a real one, who works with organisations like the UN, the WTO and the giant shape-shifting lizards that control the world. We get together whenever we can, and we usually argue. Our latest argument was held in Paris, because Mum was visiting and Paris is halfway between my home and his two.

Being a free market economist, I thought he would have a more enlightened approach to global warming. But he does not, as I will explain.

The basic facts are that, despite popular opinion, the scientists are divided about whether global warming is natural, or is caused by the unnatural intervention of human waste, polution and other sorts of intervention generally caused by industrialisation (and globalisation of you are one of those globalised anti-globalisation protesters, known fondly to most of us as Marxists).

My brother argues that it is a natural phenomenon, there is nothing we can do, so we should just juice up the Maybach - unless you can find something bigger - and drive around watching DVDs and sipping Martinis until the cows come home, or the milk is delivered, depending on your politics. And this is where his argument comes unstuck, because the cause of global warming is largely irrelevant.

We have been presented with two scenarios:
  1. It is our fault and unless we do something we are all going to die in an ice age triggered by global warming
  2. It is nature's fault, there is nothing we can do, we are all going to die in an ice age triggered by global warming
We also have two options:
  1. Do something
  2. Do nothing
With two possible outcomes:
  1. If we do nothing, the world will get hotter, the polar ice caps will melt, causing the Gulf Stream to reverse, there will be another ice age, and we will all die
  2. If we do something, the world will get hotter, the polar ice caps will melt, causing the Gulf Stream to reverse, there will be another ice age - or not! - it may not happen - our actions might make a difference and we will all die of old age instead of ice age
Also, doing something will increase economic activity through the researching and developing new techologies like bio-fuels and efficiency innovations like BMW's Turbosteamer, and reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, especially oil. That, in turn, will reduce the power of OPEC over the world's economies, easing the influence that oil prices have over monetary policy (oil prices and interest rates have similar impacts).

And most importantly, if we are all going to die anyway, be it by ice age, or old age, we may as well have fun on the way. Let's try these new ideas: let's make our cars go faster, and handle better, powered by a bowl of porrige and a pair of stockings. Let's make our paints less toxic, our buildings warmer, or better ventilated, or lit by solar tubes. Let's make our planes fly in space to save fuel, or go the slow way round in zepelins. Let's build massive, computer designed, hyper efficient sailing ships to move cargo about. Let's have electric cars, or ride bikes to work - it's more fun than a bus. Let's take the time to walk home, instead of rushing to get to the gym before dinner. Let's take control of our lives, of our world and the way we live. Let's say,
If we're going down, we'll go down kicking!
Oh, you could also help settle our argument by taking part in this very worthy research project.


At Wednesday, 22 March, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a nice think piece. You've misrepresented my position ...I don't even think that the earth is getting warmer...I think bits of it might be but other parts are getting colder. I think the jury is out on whether there is 'abnormnal' climate change going on. I certainly did not advocate 'juicing up a Maybach' and I agree with environmentalists who are concerned about local pollution that affects health and lifestyles, but this should not to be confused with an advocacy of the theory of 'global' warming. The data simply doesn't exist to convince me of anything unusual happening in the environment, despite the shrieking of those on the forefront of the environmental debate. Nor is it clear from your article whether alternative forms of energy are to be advocated because of security concerns (OPEC) or because oil reserves are diminishing. If the former, I agree with you; if the latter, the market will solve the problem of diminishing reserves through the actions of the 'invisible hand': the scarcer the oil becomes, the more expensive it will become and the less expensive will become alternative forms of energy. It is not 'fun' to advocate that we should all switch to electric cars and turbosteam motors. Such a change would entail huge costs that would be better spent on infratsructure such as health and education in poor countries (to allow them to become rich more quickly) and new investment and innovation in rich countries. The crippling cost of legislating a change from 'polluting' to so-called environmentally friendy modes of transport etc would be a reckless waste of resources that would condemn many in the developing world to poverty for several more generations.

At Wednesday, 22 March, 2006, Blogger Damian said...

Most of what you say is reasonable. Except that there is a massive amount of evidence that the globe is warming, and it's largely not disputed, as evidenced by the acceptance of the mini-ice age and various other geologically recent occurrences.

I agree about the invisible hand in a perfect marketplace. But it's not a perfect marketplace because different tax regimes change the price of fuel around the world, meaning that fuel in the UK (US$6 per galon) is six times as expensive as it is in the USA (just under US$1 per galon). And surprise surprise, I see at least one gWiz electric car every day in London, and hundreds of cyclists. And it's all well and good to wish that poor countries can become wealthy, but when you have countries like the USA consuming 20% of the world's resources, we have to re-define wealthy to be a living standard somewhat less than that experienced at the peak developed countries' lifestyles at the moment. And also the invisible hand is distorted by government spending, so that given the choice of spending $40 billion on reducing America's dependence on oil, or the same amount on shooting Iraquis, the US spent it on shooting.

Juicing up the Maybach was just hyperbole.

It's so cool. I'm sitting in Hong Kong in the Traveller's Lounge - a pay-per-visit lounge. I have a wireless internet connection, my Skype phone plugged into my computer and I'm happily sitting here at my table, some food in front of me, making phone calls and answering emails. It makes me wonder why I stay at home.


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