The Tyndale Centre: not knowing what they're talking about


The latest little report attempting to scare the bejabbers out of us:

The centre, a partnership of seven universities including Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester, says that the economies of developed nations will have to shrink and consumption of almost all types of goods will have to fall “in the short to medium term".


“It’s a very uncomfortable message but we need a planned economic recession. Economic growth is currently incompatible with reductions in absolute emissions."

Ah, no, I'm sorry, but that argument just doesn't work I'm afraid. And it doesn't matter what the climate models say, nor whatever new gremlins you've found within them. For this is an economic argument and that's not one that a bunch of atmospheric physicists, however eminent, are going to win. Especially as they seem not to understand it in the first place. Assume, arguendo, that everything they're saying about their models, emissions, warming etc is correct: they're still wrong.

For the real argument, after we've accepted their part about the physics and chemistry, is what do we do next? Our aim is, of course, to maximise human utility, to make ourselves and those generations coming after us as rich as is humanly possible (properly rich, not just in cash). This is the very basis of the argument of the Stern Review. Indeed, despite the Stern Review making a few desperate contortions to get to the desired conclusion, the essence of his argument is entirely sound. What balance of spending money now, of investing, of curtailing consumption, will maximise human welfare in the future while causing the least cost to us now? Should we be pushing adaption? Should we be trying mitigation, reducing emissions? Simply let rip, grow the economy as fast as possible and let the rich people in the future deal with it? Stern's answer is that in order to avoid a possible loss (yes, "possible") of 20% of GDP in 2100 we should be willing to give up 1-2% of GDP now. This is through a mixture of both adaptation and mitigation.

As I say, Stern contorts quite a lot to be able to justify that conclusion but let's again accept it, arguendo.

Now the Tyndale Centre says no, this isn't enough. We must be giving up much more than 1-2% of GDP now: but we are still avoiding only that 20% of future GDP cost. That is, Stern's carefully worked out cost benefit analysis tells us that the cost of the 20% of GDP benefit is 1-2% of GDP. This is a good idea. However, if someone comes along now and says, no, the cost of avoiding that 20% of GDP hit in the future is 5% (or whatever) of GDP now then it becomes, by Stern's very arguments, a bad idea. Thus we shouldn't do it for we will be making the future poorer than it need be.

This is what the Tyndale Centre doesn't seem to understand. By insisting that we must cut GDP now in order to avoid climate change they're actually telling us that we shouldn't bother to try stopping climate change. Forget mitigation altogether, we should just let rip with the economy and let those vastly richer than us people in the future sort it out for themselves. Let them adapt, not us mitigate.

In other words, the more people tell us we have to restrain the economy now in order to avoid climate change the less we should actually restrict the economy: for our descendants would be better off with the climate change but with the wealth we can bequeath them.