For those against further government meddling in the economy, an eminent scientist voicing his desire for the Copenhagen negotiations to break down may sound encouraging. However, this isn’t the case when that scientist is James Hansen, the original harbinger of global-warming doom.
Despite pledges to cut carbon emission having potentially large impacts on national economies, Hansen believes that any Kyoto style global agreement would be fundamentally flawed – for its lack of radicalism. He likens the tackling of global warming to the struggle against Nazism and Slavery, claiming “on those kind of issues you cannot compromise. You can’t say let’s reduce slavery, let’s find a compromise and reduce it 50% or reduce it 40%.”
Many countries plan to reduce CO2 emissions through carbon market schemes and the trading of carbon permits. Assuming the best thing for human development and the planet is to cut carbon emissions now (even though that is not nearly as clear-cut as the climate change fanatics insist), then using a market mechanism is one of the better ways to go about it. Allowing people to trade limited carbon rations should lead to the best allocation of these amongst the competing needs, and ensure that even with reduced carbon emissions the most useful goods are still being produced. The incentives for firms to develop and install green technology could also encourage investment and technological advancements in other areas too.
However, Hansen believes in much more drastic action – the swift abandonment of coal as a source of fuel coupled with an escalating carbon tax across all other fossil fuels in order to force producers to magic up alternate forms of energy.
With no room in Hansen’s arsenal for compromise, there is no room for disagreement or dissent either. For him ‘business as usual’ while we learn to adapt to a lower-pollution economy is not an option. The opportunity costs associated with an extreme attempt to tackle global warming are unimportant. Never mind falls in GDP and average income, reduced development prospects for the poorer nations and stagnation in innovation and healthcare; these are examples of inconsequential collateral damage when defeating the danger of climate change.
It seems that changing international agreements to suit Hansen’s taste would require the bypass of traditional democratic politics; which after all seeks to mediate between many competing interests. Hansen may be right when he likens climate change to Nazism – but only in the sense that once the ideology gains popularity in politics it can lead to totalitarianism, and significant constraints on our personal liberties and behavior.