There is a dancin' an' a singin' as China announces that the country will eat less meat in the future. At least that's what we would think is happening from the reports of this matter this morning.
The Chinese government has outlined a plan to reduce its citizens’ meat consumption by 50%, in a move that climate campaigners hope will provide major heft in the effort to avoid runaway global warming.
New dietary guidelines drawn up by China’s health ministry recommend that the nation’s 1.3 billion population should consume between 40g to 75g of meat per person each day. The measures, released once every 10 years, are designed to improve public health but could also provide a significant cut to greenhouse gas emissions.
About which we might say two things. The first being that the Chinese government has not laid out any such plans. What has happened is that the usual health wowsers have released a report saying that they think it might be a good idea if China's meat eaters didn't eat quite so much as they are projected to.
This is not so much a plan as a pious exhortation, akin to our own wowsers telling us that we should drink less or consume less salt. Something which we all take with a pinch of that latter as we all continue on with our lives as we wish.
The second is that of course this is not how to deal with climate change, attempting to monitor the rice bowls of 1.3 billion people. Yes, we know, we get endless stick for our insistence that assuming that there is a problem here then the solution is a carbon tax. But this is a good example of why it is the solution to that problem if the problem does indeed exist.
We want to have just the one intervention, just the one lever jammed into the sprogs of the economy. Not some myriad of plans and hopes and interventions few of which will work anyway. Change the price of emissions and we change the price of everything produced by making emissions. And thus the price of pork, or beef, in China becomes the correct price to optimise human utility in the face of climate change. As does, from that same one and single intervention, the price of using coal or solar for electricity production, the transport of green beans from Kenya or not, the use of a car or a bicycle to get to the pub and absolutely every other possible or potential intervention that anyone might want to make into the economy.
We are, normally, most hesitant to talk about interventions into those markets - externalities, whether positive or negative are one of the known exceptions to the general rule of leave well alone. Copyrights and patents are a useful intervention to solve the externality of the public goods nature of invention and innovation. A carbon tax is the best intervention to deal with the negative externality of emissions, assuming that such are indeed such.
On the very reasonable indeed grounds that the Chinese government releasing dietary guidelines about meat consumption isn't going to have much effect in a country rising up out of peasant destitution for the first time in human history. While changing the price will.
If anything needs to be done about climate change it is a carbon tax. Whether is a different question but those who insist that something must be but who do not insist upon the only efficient or sensible method of doing it are just not being serious.