The price of global warming

Richard Haas, of the prestigious Council of Foreign Relations, draws our attention to an article in The Economist:

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The Economist says that “Earth is smouldering. From Seattle to Siberia this summer, flames have consumed swathes of the northern hemisphere. One of 18 wildfires sweeping through California, among the worst in the state’s history, is generating such heat that it created its own weather. Fires that raged through a coastal area near Athens last week killed 91 (see article). Elsewhere people are suffocating in the heat. Roughly 125 have died in Japan as the result of a heatwave that pushed temperatures in Tokyo above 40°C for the first time … [and it adds] … Such calamities, once considered freakish, are now commonplace. Scientists have long cautioned that, as the planet warms—it is roughly 1°C hotter today than before the industrial age’s first furnaces were lit—weather patterns will go berserk. An early analysis has found that this sweltering European summer would have been less than half as likely were it not for human-induced global warming.

Of course it singles out China and India as major users of dirty coal which contributes an inordinate amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. But let us remember that those dirty, carbon spewing coal fired electrical plants have lifted more people from abject poverty to, at least, a lower middle class standard of living that everything else that all humans have done for millennia … it is politically and, I assert, morally impossible to ask China and India to revert back to the old days just so that we can ‘save’ Miami and Osaka from flooding.

Yes, China and India are part of the problem but they are only one part of the solution. The solution is not, as many green progressives would have us believe, to abandon industry and revery to some of of idealized vision of an 18th century agrarian existence …

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… and, of course, the generally common sensical Economist does not support that sort of nonsense. It does support carbon pricing … but it fails to explain how it can work well enough to justify the costs. I would support carbon pricing as long as 100% of the price is borne, visibly, by the end user: you and me when we buy groceries, rather than pick them from our garden, or turn up the heat when the (Canadian) winter temperature is below 0° or fill our car with fuel ~ and, as The Economist notes, that isn’t always as clearcut as it seems because, for example, “China’s 1m-plus electric cars draw their oomph from an electricity grid that draws two-thirds of its power from coal, they produce more carbon dioxide than some fuel-efficient petrol-driven models.

A second article, from the Guardian, published late last year, hit home because I have visited every one of the major cities (Alexandria, Miami, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro and Shanghai) they say will be severely impacted by flooding when (if) the climate reaches 3º above pre-industrial age levels. Tens of trillions of dollars in assets will be lost and hundreds of millions of people will be displaced unless someone does something.

But what?

The Economist’s prescription, with which I agree and which I commend to Conservative policy makers for consideration is: “Technologists beaver away on sturdier grids, zero-carbon steel, even carbon-negative cement, whose production absorbs more CO² than it releases. All these efforts and more—including research into “solar geoengineering” to reflect sunlight back into space—should be redoubled … [but, it cautions] … none of these fixes will come to much unless climate listlessness is tackled head on. Western countries grew wealthy on a carbon-heavy diet of industrial development. They must honour their commitment in the Paris agreement to help poorer places both adapt to a warmer Earth and also abate future emissions without sacrificing the growth needed to leave poverty behind.

In other words the line, beloved of many Canadian conservatives that we don’t have to do anything until China and India stop burning coal is absolute and, I repeat, immoral rubbish. We cannot, must never consider averting climate change by condemning billions to poverty. But nor can we meet the Paris targets without some scientific/engineering/technological breakthroughs … perhaps the first thing Canada could do is to admit that it cannot and will not seriously try to meet its Paris targets … which were the exact same ones proposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and derided as inadequate by Justin Trudeau when he was on the campaign trail in 2015.

The second thing Canada might do is to get behind efficient energy use:

  • Petroleum products should be used in the main for mobile applications ~ ships, land vehicles, aircraft ~ while other energy sources should be used for ‘static’ applications like electricity generation and home heating;
  • The ‘other sourcesmight include coal if our scientists can make “clean coal” something other than a sad oxymoron;
  • The ‘other sources’ should also include nuclear energy ~ surely the scientific challenge of the safe transport, storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel is less than the challenge of making solar power work during Canada’s long, dark winters; and
  • Wind, tidal and solar power are part of the solution ~ we need to challenge our scientists and engineers to make them work better and to make them easier to integrate into the big, continental energy supply and distribution superstructure.

All that, The Economist asserts, “will come at a short-term financial cost—although the shift from carbon may eventually enrich the economy, as the move to carbon-burning cars, lorries and electricity did in the 20th century … [and the authors add, and I agree] … Politicians have an essential role to play in making the case for reform and in ensuring that the most vulnerable do not bear the brunt of the change. Perhaps global warming will help them fire up the collective will. Sadly, the world looks poised to get a lot hotter first.

Let us, especially those of us who profess to be Conservatives, not fault Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister McKenna for wanting to do something to avert global warming … in fact let us all applaud them for wanting to do the right thing. Let us, however, roundly condemn them for being “all hat and no cattle” as our Albertan friends say … for throwing dribs and drabs of money as this, that and the other symptom while failing to get behind research and policies that aim to cure the disease.

Yes, we want and need to stay “in step” with the Americans and President Trump appears unconcerned with the environment ~ he is certainly skeptical about the Paris Accords ~ but even he might worry about Miami. But being “in step” with the Americans doesn’t mean we have to be in lock-step, we can still pursue Canadian goals.

We all want a clean green planet ~ all of us who are sane, anyway. We might disagree with others’ priorities and methods but we should all want to do what we can to stop ruining our planet and to clean up the messes we have made.

One thought on “The price of global warming”

  1. James Watt, by making steam engines efficient and more economically viable, did more to end slavery than all the politicians combined.

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