This is going to be a long conversation but I want to stake out my point clearly from the start so when we keep coming back to it you will know where I am coming from
I hold these positions
- Climate Change is almost certainly real
- Humans are almost certainly causing it with carbon emissions, deforestation and domestication of animals
- There will be large environmental costs associated with climate change include a very rapid increase in extinctions
- There are likely to be major population dislocations because of climate change
- There are likely to be major agricultural shifts because of climate change.
Nonetheless, we should pursue the development of fossil fuels as rapidly as possible including looking for ways to streamline regulation in North American regarding fossil fuel production.
The Immediate Concerns.
- We are in the midst of a long Aggregate Demand slowdown in the Northern Hemisphere. This could be alleviated in part by increases in investment demand. Encouraging the exploration of fossil fuels provides this investment demand. It is like free stimulus for the economy.
- We have a serious dearth of high paying jobs for middle-brow men in this country. Energy extraction, refining and transport provide a potential attractor for these men. Otherwise we will face serious social consequences from watching the wage of these men fall to minimum wage and an increase in permanent joblessness.
- Global growth is constrained by natural resources at the moment, chief among them energy. The speed at which the entire globe can grow is limited by the availability of energy sources and puts us in a rare zero-sum fight over growth. No, this is not a permanent state of affairs even without fossil fuels. High energy prices will induce development both in energy saving and the production of new sources. But, this could take a very long time and produce a high tension period lasting potentially for over a decade.
Rapidly expanding North American fossil fuel production can help cure us of many of the current ills that we face. If you read me you know that I am very now-focused in general, but over time I will try to convince that this is a really big deal and working class families are really struggling.
There are other public policy solutions that you can find but aside from wage subsidies (which seem unlikely in this environment) and opening up new industries for hard working middle-brow folks there will be little improvement. Health care won’t do it. Improving the schools won’t do it.
Even more importantly, there are hundreds of millions of very poor families around the world right now, who would benefit enormously from lifting the energy constraint on growth. It would allow us to shift out of biofuels which would do a little – though not much – to alleviate the other big natural resource constraint, food.
The Long Run Concerns
The primary concern is that this would make it most difficult to meet our aggressive targets in controlling global warming. I stress, not impossible, because no one can predict the future of alternative energy development. I tend to think solar will come to dominant energy production in a matter of decades regardless, because the fundamentals are becoming so cheap.
However, even if we have to face the warming, we face it in the future with a much richer and more progressive world.
The raw wealth accumulation in third world will make much of the transition cost effective. As global manufacturing leaves China for Southeast Asia and eventually Africa billions of people will be lifted out of poverty. These people will adjust their living patterns anyway. They will build new cities and new infrastructure. If they do it in a way that is sensitive to climate change then there is little marginal cost.
An expansion in global trade production also means that local agriculture becomes less important. Farming will become harder in the Congo but easier in Russia. This is fine if the Congo has something to sell to Russia. Growth and trade mean that the costs are greatly ameliorated.
Opposition to immigration is concentrated in the older cohorts of most Western Societies. As they die off the younger generation will be more cosmopolitian and more welcoming of immigrants. This means that a large part of the harmful affects of climate change will be mitigated simply because so many people move to North America and Siberia over the next 100 years.
We will lose species, there is no question about that. An effort to capture and catalog them genetically should be done. However, I caution us against putting too much weight on the flora and fauna that we have. The vast majority of species have gone extinct. We are left with a very small set that happen to have thrived in these conditions. Its not clear that they are somehow fundamentally superior to what will come next, and of course something will come next.
There remains the possibility of geo-engineering. If we really decide that climate change is intolerable there are things we could do to stop it. The very fact that the side effect of energy production is inducing this process tells us how sensitive the climate can be to our interventions. That likewise means that we can introduce other interventions.
Now, we shouldn’t be convinced that we can fine tune the planet. There will always be unintended consequences. However, we should be confident that if things are clearly and obviously much worse for humanity as the world gets hotter we can do something about it. We should not make the perfect the enemy of the good enough.
Lastly, and this will persuade few people but it is important, 100 years is a long time in the industrial age. However, it is simply forever in the information age. There is an extremely high chance that the very nature of human society itself will have changed by that time in ways that render this entire issue moot.
It would be tragic if we sacrificed the wellbeing of poor people today for something that became almost meaningless 100 years from now. Yet, that is precisely what we may be doing.