It’s the stupid economy

On CPAC  this evening Goldhawk was talking with a panel and callers about the environmental policies of the various parties, asking for opinions on which had the “best” environmental policy.

As soon as you talk about any of the party platforms on the environment you’ re talking about the economy because the two are very much now wrapped up together. If we want to see what any of these policies will mean why don’t we look at countries which have already gone further down the environmental yellow brick road.

Take Germany for example:

Germany must push for change in how European countries share the financial burdens of tighter carbon trading rules after 2012, or face prohibitive rises in carbon avoidance costs, energy users’ group VIK said on Monday.

“Germany’s carbon trading position has to become top of the political agenda as we get closer to elections in 2009, the ball is in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s court to avert disaster,” said Alfred Richmann, managing director of the Essen-based group.

The EU plans in their current shape will not lead to any more CO2 emissions savings, as those are capped, but bring sky-high new carbon taxes,” he said at a conference in Berlin.

“On top of that, there will be a tsunami of power price hikes as a consequence, which could threaten investment plans, our industry’s competitiveness, and jobs.[link to source]

Is this what we should expect to follow here? And if not, why not? All the parties are leading us in the same direction as Europe. What about Britain? They built all those windmills turbines didn’t they? Has that helped?

The founding chairman of the Renewable Energy Centre, said addressing the looming energy crisis was a more serious challenge than climate change.

“If our civilisation is really crumbling, if we do have serious power cuts, that focuses the mind on running the country,” he said. “Security of energy supply must be seen as taking priority over everything else, even climate change.”

In an independent report commissioned by a leading industrialist, Prof Fells said wind power will fail to fill the gap.

Instead he said coal and nuclear power stations must be extended beyond decommissioning dates, more electricity must be brought in from Europe and the government must start immediately on building new nuclear stations and coal stations using carbon capture.

The report suggested burning municipal waste in incinerators, like the 100MW plant opened by the government in Runcorn, Cheshire, despite protests over possible pollution. [link to source]

But you say- what is the cost of NOT doing anything? Funny you should ask. They mentioned that on CPAC too. No one counters that argument better than Bjorn Lomborg:

The sleight of hand works because we assume that the action will cancel all the effects of inaction, whereas of course, nothing like that is true. This becomes much clearer if we substitute much smaller action than Barroso [ president of the European commission, José Manuel Barroso] envisions.

For example, say that the EU decides to put up a diamond-studded wind turbine at the Berlaymont headquarters, which will save one tonne of CO2 each year. The cost will be $1bn, but the EU says that this is incredibly cheap when compared to the cost of inaction on climate change, which will run into the trillions. It should be obvious that the $1bn windmill doesn’t negate the trillions of dollars of damage from climate change that we still have to pay by the end of the century.

The EU’s argument is similar to advising a man with a gangrenous leg that paying $50,000 for an aspirin is a good deal because the cost compares favorably to the cost of inaction, which is losing the leg. Of course, the aspirin doesn’t prevent that outcome. The inaction argument is really terribly negligent, because it causes us to recommend aspirin and lose sight of smarter actions that might actually save the leg.

Likewise, it is negligent to focus on inefficiently cutting CO2 now because of costs in the distant future that in reality will not be avoided. It stops us from focusing on long-term strategies like investment in energy research and development that would actually solve climate change, and at a much lower cost. [link to source]

He goes on to say:

The inaction argument makes us spend vast resources on policies that will do virtually nothing to deal with climate change, thereby diverting those resources from policies that could actually make an impact.

We would never accept medical practitioners advising ultra-expensive and ineffective aspirins for gangrene because the cost of aspirin outweighs the cost of losing the leg. Why, then, should we tolerate such fallacious arguments when debating the costliest public policy decision in the history of mankind?

You should read the whole thing though.

One of the better calls to Goldhawk live was from a fellow who said that reducing the speed limit nationally would do more for conservation than any tax and had the benefit of reducing accidental deaths. He also advised a national ban on drive-throughs. Very sensible. One could wish governmental policy was as sensible.

The comment that wasn’t heard was in a call from another fellow who dared to say that PERHAPS  the whole premise on which all the parties’ policies were based,  ie. the premise that climate change was man made and therefore preventable by any of our efforts,  was wrong and if it was wrong, where would that leave us? Of course he was not allowed to speak; Goldhawk told him all the parties had accepted the premise and that was that. Pretty sad.

This is an important topic because this misguided belief about man’s role in the changing and changeable climate pervades our policies at all levels and will affect our economy at all levels. Blind stubbornness and stupidity at all levels and from all parties.

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