I am currently in Beijing, which is up there amongst the most polluted cities in the world. Beijing’s summer days are characterised by heavy cloud cover, which traps the unsightly gaseous consequences of China’s lightning-fast growth. The sun usually becomes discernable at around 4pm, when a golden-brown orb peers timidly through the haze. Being more acquainted with the brilliant Australian sun, for a split-second I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at when I first saw its rather diminished Chinese incarnation.
In such circumstances, I have been thinking a lot about the “carbon footprint” of countries in the economic vanguard of the developing world – countries like China and India. Like most who contribute and comment here, l classify myself as a “global warming skeptic”, due to the evangelical, anti-science and frequently absurd rhetoric that typifies global warming activists of all stripes. I am not a complete denialist – I have not written off the theory of anthropogenic global warming entirely. I simply believe there is an awful lot we do not yet know, and it is rash to be making grand predictions about impending weather-related catastrophes, and demanding action based on such flawed predictions. If, however, I was to reconsider my position and embrace the concept of AGW, I would still not champion the Kyoto Protocol or any other effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The fact is that if AGW is a genuine phenomenon, it is inevitable. There is absolutely no point in the rich world winding back its CO2 output, because China, India and the rest of the developing world will replace any first world CO2 reductions several times over. Despite the occasionally placatory noises about limiting CO2 emissions heard from the likes of the Chinese central government, the fact is that the Chinese, the Indians, the Russians, the Brazilians, nor anyone else from the developing world will ever stymy their nations’ opportunity to develop by hobbling their industrial output via significant CO2 emissions controls. Nor are the leaders of these countries likely to do anything to incur the wrath of their citizens by curtailing their perfectly reasonable aspirations to own motorcars, motorcycles, air conditioners and enjoy the convenience of air travel – all enormous direct or indirect sources of CO2 emissions. If significant CO2 reduction could be achieved with minimal economic and social cost, then perhaps the developing world would cooperate. However, large-scale CO2 reduction is an extremely expensive and socially disruptive exercise, and this reality will persist for several decades.
And it is too late to roll back the clock – too many people in the developing world have tasted the fruits of development, and quite legitimately demand more. Those governing the aspirational billions are far more likely to be influenced by them than An Inconvenient Truth. Global CO2 emissions are going to continue to grow for many years, there is no doubt about it. The “global warmenists”, as the mighty Tim Blair calls them, need to re-evaluate their positions, because what they propose at present is simply an exercise in developed-world wealth destruction on an epic scale. Those insisting on such a state of affairs appear little short of anti-human luddites, as detractors of the green movement have long asserted. Bjørn Lomborg is spot on – any resources allocated towards the AGW issue should be directed towards researching crisis management and developing an appropriate disaster-relief capacity under the circumstances of rapid climate change, even if only as an insurance policy. And the absolute last thing we in the developed world should be doing is hampering the wealth-creating organs of our societies in a futile effort to cut CO2 emissions. If AGW is truly the looming catastrophe that many predict, we need to be as wealthy as possible to plan and make provisions for its impending consequences, and thus deal with them when they start to unfold.