Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Let the Future Save Itself

I have said that I actually like reasonable budget deficits and leaving the debt to "our children". Most people look at me and say you're crazy, that's an awful thing to do. Not really. Why should I have to live a poorer life so that "our children" can live a richer life at our expense? Aren't these roads and baseball stadiums we current tax payers are paying for going to be used by "our children"? Of course they are. Why shouldn't "our children" have to pay something for them too?

But I digress...

When John McCain or more likely Hillary or Obama christen the next administration America will launch the official start of the climate change mitigation the rest of the world has been waiting for. Never mind that the science is not settled no matter what Al Gore says. Never mind that the evidence actually points to a greener, better fed, happier healthier world if warmer global temperatures extend our growing seasons and reduce our heating seasons. Never mind that the Solar cycle is entering it's quietest phase in a millennia that actually portends drastic global cooling. Never mind that some of the proposed draconian regulations and taxation will sink the U.S. economy and by extension the global economy.

We are supposed to as a people, as a generation, drive ourselves into the poor house to "pay" for a richer future for our even richer progeny.

John Tierney, the New York Times blogger, cites a study by Indur Goklany of the Cato Institute that works from the assumption that even if these dire temperature forecasts are accurate, he remains critical of the exaggerations of the economic costs of global warming. Here is the money paragraph from Goklany's paper:

For the foreseeable future, people will be wealthier—and their well-being higher—than is the case for present generations both in the developed and developing worlds and with or without climate change. The well-being of future inhabitants in today’s developing world would exceed that of the inhabitants of today’s developed world under all but the poorest scenario. Future generations should, moreover, have greater access to human capital and technology to address whatever problems they might face, including climate change. Hence the argument that we should shift resources from dealing with the real and urgent problems confronting present generations to solving potential problems of tomorrow’s wealthier and better positioned generations is unpersuasive at best and verging on immoral at worst.

I couldn't agree more. Am I expected to live like a pauper in order to pay for my rich child's house and car? Of course not. Paying (or helping to pay) for college is different in the same respect as we don't make the kids buy groceries or pay the heating bills while they're growing up. College is an extension of that. We make an investment in the kids just as we make an investment in our society. Eventually they inherit what we started and continue to make payments for future generations and so on.

But what about ecological degradation? What about the current trashing of the environment while we selfishly use up all the resources? Good questions? Not really.

In the 70's Paul Erlich predicted mass starvation as the world population explosion surpassed our ability to feed the people. Didn't happen. The world is richer and food production is increasing just like Goklany's report asserts will be the case in regards to "climate change". Yes, we still see famines in places ravaged by war or afflicted with inept governments, but it's not because of a lack of our capacity to produce food. Today there’s more than enough to feed the entire world even after adding another billion since Erlich's prediction was made.

We have been taught to be scared by the Peak Oil scenario since the 70's. There is still a lot of oil even as the easily accessible oil is used up. Technology is already solving the problem of extracting the not so easy to get oil. Better yet, technology is being developed as we speak to do away with this "limited resource" for the betterment of future generations.

Critics of Mr. Goklany take him to task for "believing that global warming is not the biggest problem now and won’t be the biggest problem in the next century". Goklany's claims that the most important environmental problems are loss of habitat and reduced biodiversity are right. This situation is caused largely by increasing human populations in poor countries. Intransigent poverty or environmental poisoning is caused largely by corrupt and/or incompetent governments and those they supposedly regulate. See Africa and China for prime examples. Does calling for more growth make it worse? No.

If growth equals prosperity and prosperity leads to cleaner environments and decreasing fertility rates then bring it on.

Goklany's argument is similar to the one Bjorn Lomborg has been making since the “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” came out almost a decade ago. In essence we could spend the billions wasted in some vain attempt to lower carbon emissions on valuable measures to help people here and now instead of trying to save the world for future generations. Let the future save itself.

Does that mean we should be wasteful and careless? Umm, no. Wasteful and careless won't deliver us into a more prosperous future. We need to be good stewards of the planet and we have a quite ways to go toward that end. The oceans are in a bit of trouble, there can be no doubt about that. Countries like China are poisoning themselves during this period of unprecedented economic growth. Eventually that kind of pollution will be personally and economically unacceptable as the people themselves demand better.

I am convinced that civilized humanity can and will achieve a sort of harmony with nature. Prosperity and the growth of freedom along with free markets is key. There is far too much pessimism being fueled by the hysterical environmental crowd and their cheerleaders in the media. Augments and debate over the environment are good things - valuable change can result by the bell ringers. But progress needs to march on or millions upon millions of the poor - the very people the hand-wringers claim are being hurt by our resource gouging growth - will never have the opportunity achieve the prosperity we in the West enjoy.

More study is required, unfortunately the alarmists won't concede this, but we must forestall their desires before acting out of ignorance to remedy a poorly understood situation.



al fin said...

Very good advice, Craig. Thanks.