[t]he best lesson the world can take from Texas is to follow the path of its extraordinary economic growth on the way to environmental resilience.
Essentially, get wealthier and you will be more able to deal with environmental challenges.
The problem I have with this is not that it’s wrong (I’m sure it’s roughly true) but that it’s just trivial. It doesn’t really tell us anything about how to do so, and it ignores – in my view – many relevant factors. A response I particularly liked was this one, by Joseph Majkut, which points out that we should really be considering what it would cost to follow a pathway that reduces the impact of climate change and comparing that with how much of a reduction in damages that would produce.
However, rather than discussing this any further, I thought I would just make some points that I think are relevant and often ignored.
- The issue is not about fossil fuels specifically, but about the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere. If we could find a way to use fossil fuels without emitting CO2 into the atmosphere, then that would be one viable solution. However, I do think that we should be careful of banking on technologies (such as negative emissions, or CCS) that have currently not been shown to work at the appropriate scale.
- We have the potential to emit enough CO2 that the resulting impacts would almost certainly be regarded as catastrophic. Furthermore, even if we do not emit as much as we possibly can, we still can’t rule out that the impacts will still be very severe. Maybe we’ll be lucky and climate sensitivity will be on the low end and we end up not emitting enough to produce changes that are severe. Maybe we’re lucky and we end up reducing our emissions without really considering how to do so. However, assuming that this will be the case seems a poor way to address this; we can’t rule out the possibility that we could follow a pathway for which the impacts of climate change will be so severe that we will not simply be able grow ourselves out of trouble.
- A key thing that I think is misunderstood is that CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere; it’s not about stabilising emissions, but getting about them to zero. As long as there is a net anthropogenic emission of CO2 into the atmosphere, it will accumulate. This means that as long as we are emitting CO2, we will continue to warm, our climate will continue to change, and the impacts will continue to get more severe. This implies that if we continue to rely on fossil fuels that emit CO2, then there has to be a level of growth below which climate damages will almost certainly grow relative to the size of the global economy.
- About 20% to 30% of our emissions (depending on how much we emit in total) will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years, and the resulting changes will effectively be locked in. This means that climate change is essentially irreversible on human timescales. If we do too little now, and the impacts turn out to be very severe, we don’t get to try again. Yes, maybe we can develop technology that removes CO2 from the atmosphere, or cools the planet by reflecting some extra sunlight back into space, but these will carry their own risks and will probably be technologically challenging. Certainly my view is that it would be better to think of ways to avoid possibly having to rely on technologies that we’ve yet to develop.
So, I certainly don’t dispute that becoming wealthier is an effective way to deal with environmental challenges. However, implying that we can grow wealthier without actually considering the potential environmental challenges, seems remarkably naive, especially as we do have the ability to produce changes to our climate that could lead to impacts that are extremely severe.
Trash arguments from Lukewarmer Oren Cass.
When integrity checking is more important than fact checking: More bad faith from Bret Stephens.
NY Times climate-misinformer tells Houston: You’ve ‘never been safer’.