[w]hether or not tropical storms are becoming fiercer, our growing wealth and ingenuity helps us to survive them
[a]daptation is and always will be the way to survive storms.
In some sense the above is simplistically true; it would seem easier to deal with extreme weather if you’re wealthier, than if you’re poor, and these storms will always happen, so some amount of adaptation is inevitable. However, the basic premise of the article (adaptation policies [have] benefits over carbon-reduction policies) seems horribly flawed.
The one obvious issue is that it’s not just about surviving extreme storms, it’s also about dealing with things like increases in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves and extreme precipitation events, continued and accelerating sea level rise, ocean acidification, and expansion of the Hadley Cells, which determine the locations of the tropical rain-belts and where we find deserts. These are all essentially linked and so that we might be able to deal with some of the changes more easily than others isn’t really a very good argument for largely ignoring climate change and just aiming to get richer.
There’s however, in my view, a bigger issue with Ridley’s argument. It essentially seems to be that we should mostly ignore climate change, just get richer, and that fossil fuels are mostly better than any alternative. The problem is that if we drive economic growth through burning more and more fossil fuels and pumping more and more CO2 into the atmosphere, then the climate will continue to change and the impacts will get more and more severe.
If we were confident that economic growth would always outpace climate damages, then this might be a reasonable suggestion (although, maybe don’t suggest it right now to those who live on Caribbean islands). However, this is almost certainly not going to be the case. There is almost certainly a level of warming above which the impacts would be utterly catastrophic. We may not be able to define it precisely, but it is almost certainly within reach, either because we simply pump all the CO2 we can into the atmosphere, or because our climate is sensitive enough that we get there even if we don’t emit as much CO2 as we possibly could.
Given this, there must be an even lower level of warming at which cimate damages start outpacing economic growth. So, suggesting that we can just grow our way out of trouble simply seems wrong. If people don’t like the current policy then the solution (in my view) is not to argue that we should essentially ignore climate change and simply grow, but to argue for something like a carbon tax.
The idea behind a carbon tax is to properly price CO2 emissions (future damages discounted to today) so that the market can determine the optimal pathway. In a sense arguing that we should mostly ignore climate change and simply grow, is potentially arguing for a future pathway that is not only less efficient than one in which we take climate change into account, but one that potentially guarantees that we face the worst possible climate impacts. The argument seems so obviously flawed, that I’m still amazed that people who regard themselves as intellectuals actually have the gall to make it.
There’s always the chance that I’ve somehow misunderstood the general argument that Ridley is making (if so, it would seem pretty easy to misunderstand) but this is essentially pretty standard Ridley schtick (everything will be fine, just grow) so that does seem rather unlikely.