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Arrogance Ignorance Stupidity

Today I listened to several podcasts on the topic of global climate change. It was interesting to hear the reasoned views presented especially when compared to the indefensible nonsense argued by most climate change deniers. I would challenge anyone to listen to the interview with James Hansen and still think climate change deserves serious doubt. He handled all the usual objections with ease although I do have to concede that the interviewer was playing devil’s advocate more than acting as a serious adversary.

There are several types of people who don’t accept climate change: the ignorant who follow their preferred leaders who themselves are either ignorant or have a political objective; the dogmatic (such as libertarians) who simply cannot accept that control of business is necessary for the greater good; the politically motivated who see climate change as a view supported by the left and therefore cannot accept it whatever the facts; and those who have genuine doubts who, in most cases, aren’t as familiar with the facts as they should be to make those judgements.

So in general all of the people who are against global warming are in fact deniers rather than genuine skeptics. That’s why I generally refuse to refer to them as global warming skeptics. I am a skeptic on a number of subjects but skeptics do accept theories which have good supporting evidence and global warming clearly fits into this category. Therefore I am very offended at calling deniers “skeptics”. They don’t deserve that label.

One of the more interesting points I heard made concerned libertarians. When I use that term I mean people who want a free market, who trust the market (whatever that is) to sort out all problems, and who want the minimum (or zero) regulation. These people often refer to groups who want to protect the environment as being ideologically driven and of following a religion. I agree, some environmentalists do fit into that category, but the ironic thing is that the libertarians themselves are at least as bad. Their ridiculous idea that the free market is the answer to almost any problem is pure nonsense and should surely count as a religion accepted on faith more than a genuine political or economic theory supported by facts.

Rejection of global warming exists at several levels. First, some people reject the idea that the climate is warming at all. Second, others accept that warming is happening but reject the theory that humans are the primary cause. Third, some say it is true and may or may not be human caused but is a good (or neutral) phenomenon anyway. And finally, some accept the truth and cause and concede it is bad but think there is nothing we can realistically do about it, either because the problem is too big from a practical or political perspective or that the economic cost of action is too great.

As time has passed and the evidence has grown I have become convinced that global warming is happening, that there is very strong evidence that it is primarily caused by human activity, and that the overall outcome will be negative. But until now I was less sure about whether there was anything that could be done about it. After listening to Hansen I think there actually is something that could be done but I still don’t think it will be done because governments of the world rarely do what is right: they are too involved with short term political cycles to make the big changes necessary.

Hansen thinks a carbon tax is the answer. The money which was taken would be redistributed evenly to all the citizens of the country where it was taken and any imports from countries who don’t run a similar scheme would be taxed at the border.

I’m no economist but superficially it seems like a great idea. There are two major objections to carbon taxes: first, the extra costs would be passed on to consumers (users of electricity from coal powered stations for example) and would therefore not count as a real disincentive at all; and second, countries with no carbon tax would have a huge advantage over those who do, again creating a totally counterproductive situation.

But if the tax takings are redistributed to everyone then the consumers have the ability to pay the extra charges, unless they source their power from a carbon neutral source in which case they will be better off. And any country who doesn’t tax carbon producing industries will have them taxed anyway when they export their products. The only difference is the country doing the importing will get the tax instead of the country of origin. That seems like a reasonable incentive to apply a tax, wouldn’t you say?

Maybe the only reason this sort of scheme hasn’t been applied is pure self-serving arrogance, ignorance, and stupidity. Higher tax policies are sabotaged by business interests. That’s arrogant (actually it’s just evil in a situation like this). Taxes designed to create a specific economic or social outcome are rejected because people don’t understand the big picture. That’s ignorant. And all taxes are unpopular even when the majority are better off as a result. That’s stupid.

Unfortunately I think there will be no real action on this for just the reasons I have mentioned above. Ironically China is taking the whole situation far more seriously and is investing in new technologies (although they are still building a lot of new coal burning power stations) so it could be a less “free” country which has the real advantage when action really does become necessary.

Of course, by then it will be too late. It possibly already is. Arrogance, ignorance, and stupidity. It’s a hard combination to beat!

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