Monday, July 06, 2009

Climate Change

That the climate is changing because of Carbon Dioxide emissions due to human activity is a fairly well accepted fact. There's a mountain of evidence in the scientific literature corroborating this - and very little questioning it. This article will not question this scientific consensus, because the author believes that Climatologists would probably know more about this situation than politicians and Cable TV pontificators.

Given that the planet is probably warming because of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, what is the best course of action a developed country can adopt? What steps ought be taken to mitigate this situation? What steps would be fair?

The earth has been warming and cooling over its entire history. There's always been ice ages; there's been extremely warm periods. The planet's climate is cyclic, nay, chaotic. Climate change has been triggered by a variety of events in the past - such as massive volcanoes, solar activity, life and so on. The new increase in temperature is nothing new. The earth is used to it. Planet earth will not collapse. If the goal of the environmentalist is to save life on earth, then the environmentalist needs to fret not. The planet will be just fine. Life will do just fine.

It's the human race that we must worry about. An increase in sea level would sink some of our more densely populated places on the planet. NYC. Mumbai. And the entire of Bangladesh's Ganga delta. A change in precipitation patterns could result in the desertification of currently inhabited areas (Australia is already facing this). The failure of monsoons could spell disaster more more than a billion people. So let's get this clear - the environmentalist impulse is not an altruistic impulse - it is grounded is pure selfishness. The dangers of climate change are real, clear and present. Climate change is worse than models have predicted. The Arctic AND Antarctic are losing ice cover every year. Planet earth is finding it more and more difficult to support 6B humans. We are getting closer and closer to a Malthusian scenario.

If I were a neutral observer hailing from another planet. An observer who did not have a horse in the race - and I heard something like this about Earth.

Of the 6B people on this planet, 1.5B people live relatively luxurious lives - they have cars, centrally air conditioned houses and live up to 75 years each. They have heated indoor swimming pools which are in air conditioned rooms which they use in mid-summer. They waste two or three times of what they eat. They eat other animals that are fed more food than the bottom billion of this planet.

Then there's 3B middle class people who drive cycles and two wheeled motorized vehicles. They have ceiling fans rather than air conditioners. (A few of these have an air conditioner in their bed rooms). They use public transport. They can feed their families quite well - but they do not waste that much food. Their diet contains a lower proportion of meat.

And then there's the bottom billion or so in this planet that has no roof to sleep under; a bathroom called the wide outdoors. Most children can't make it to adulthood. Those who do live under the treat of AIDS and foreign misslies fa
I would immediately make some quick recommendations. Get rid of those things that you can do without - all those things that result in emissions that you really don't need. You know, like those excesses. Do you really need those massive portions in restaurants when you're going to leave half of it on your place. Do you really need to gorge yourself to the brim? Do you really need to drive that ridiculous SUV when you get from one point to another in a Tata NANO - or public transport?

Does the GDP of a country really have to be so large? Why would any country need a GDP (per capita, PPP) of $40K - when the same standard of living could be obtained with a lower GDP of, say $20k (per capita, PPP) . Why all the excess inefficiency? Economic heresy, even the most liberal of the economists would call this. But what are our choices?

I know that this sounds a little too much like some socialist propaganda that most Americans are brainwashed into thinking is evil. So, let me spell it out in language that will not turn off too many Americans (and other victims of western propaganda)

I hate socialism for the same reasons that Americans hate s. I think socialism is little else but an excuse to be lazy and corrupt. That's why things do not work in India (yet). Petty corruption has reduced only after Dr. Singh set India free from license Raj.

Capitalism will spew out garbage (like it has been doing right now in the US and other advanced economies) if all the costs are not accounted for accurately. I look at free markets and capitalism as means to an end rather than an end itself. A tool, if you will, which brings out efficiency - as long as the inputs given to it are correct. Of course, if you do not price the externalities (such as the cost required be carbon neutral, restricting climate change) appropriately, then you end up with Garbage. Garbage in, Garbage out.

And it is my firm conviction that henceforth, all non-green utilities must be required to sequester the carbon. All oil refiners, all coal mining companies - everything - must be responsible for sequestering all their carbon. This will not come cheap - and this cost must be passed on to the end user.

Of course, this will result in higher energy costs. That's the idea. These higher energy costs ought to result in a contraction the economy (I suspect, since I think the current standard of living is unsustainable) - a contraction which will lower the GDP across the world - a contraction that shall help make the planet more sustainable. If the economy really does grow, it will do so by developing cheap and environmentally friendly (carbon neutral) technologies. And with such technologies, it deserves to grow.

Even if the rich world contracts 10% per capita, the developing world (such as India) will need to grow significantly to achieve standard of living parity. So, yes, the developing world must be given the same opportunities as the developed world. The economy must rationalize - making the west more efficient.

But here's the rub. There's no chance in hell that the current democratic system that the developed world enjoys will ever let a politician take any steps that will result in an economic contraction. The polar bears, I'm afraid, will sink. Obama's cap and trade will be designed such that it won't hurt the economy - and therefore, it won't work. You know, the only hope for humanity right now is in Wall Street's hands. The only hope for the survival of humanity as we know it lies in wall street inflating another bubble that sends the planet into a full fledged economic depression - destroying GDPs all around the planet.

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