George Monbiot does rather misunderstand things


The latest bright idea from George Monbiot is that we must, in order to beat climate change, force people to leave fossil fuels in the ground. On the basis that it is necessary to attack supply as well as demand:

Imagine trying to bring slavery to an end not by stopping the transatlantic trade, but by seeking only to discourage people from buying slaves once they had arrived in the Americas.

It's an interesting example of his faulty logic. Because of course the transatlantic trade was at first banned in 1803 and then gradually extended to non-British ships and so on. But slavery lasted in the US until 1865 and into the late 1880s in Brazil, long after that supply was both legally and effectively banned. The solutions were variously more and less bloody but they were actually that people were dissuaded from purchasing slaves rather than that people were dissuaded from supplying them anew from Africa.

So it is, we're sorry to have to say, with fossil fuels and their associated emissions. We are not all victims of the evil capitalists (and, given that governments actually own the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves and resources, it's definitely not the capitalists to blame) who are forcing us to use such fuels. Rather, we the people rather like what we can do with such fuels: travel, heat our homes, heat our food and so on. It is the demand that needs to be changed (assuming that you want to consider climate change to be a problem), not the supply.

After all, banning the production of psychedelic drugs has proved so successful hasn't it? So too the supply of prostitution services where such is illegal. It really is worth recalling that while Say's Law (that supply creates its own demand) might not be entirely true the opposite, that demand calls forth supply is.

The answer to climate change, as above assuming that you think it is a problem and one that needs a solution (we do, even if not as immediate and cataclysmic as Monbiot does), is as it always has been. Either cap and trade or a carbon tax, plus research into non-CO2 emitting forms of energy production, in order to curb demand. Just as Bjorn Lomborg, the Stern Review, William Nordhaus, Richard Tol and everyone else who has actually looked at the economics of the problem has concluded.