Monday, July 27, 2009

Greenhouse gas emissions, India and China

The good professor has this article on his blog .(The professor is one of the best Economics bloggers around and one of my favourites.)

Usually, I try to resist the chip-on-the-shoulder response to articles on the western media, but this time I thought the article was painting a wholly inaccurate picture and chose to comment. My comment was as follows

Dear Sir,
An interesting article. But unlike your usual articles, there are some specious bits of reasoning which are thrown in into the mix here. 1. You say that the NBP's are wrong to say "your ancestors broke it, you fix it". Mainly because their ancestors dramatically increased population.

Your exact rant reads thus - The logic in the argument of the NBPs comes unstuck especially badly here. If the overdeveloped world is held accountable for the choices of past and present generations that produced large past emissions of CO2E and resulted in today’s high atmospheric concentration of CO2E, then surely today’s inhabitants of China and India should be held accountable for the individual and collective choices of past and present generations of Indians and Chinese that have resulted in the oversized populations of these countries? The selective application of the ‘your ancestors broke it, you own it’ logic by those who advocate special lenient treatment for today’s poor countries in global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is deeply intellectually dishonest.

Sir, I cannot imagine you actually drew out this comparison. The previous generation of OECD's pillaged the world. The previous generation of NBP's had kids (because they were poor and did not know about contraceptives, by the way). I agree with your original contention that inter-temporal punishment is morally unjustifiable. But your counter-argument is built on spurious ground.The argument from the NBP's need not be stated as "It is our turn to pollute". It can be interpreted as "You have taken the lead in polluting, now take the lead in cleaning up". A stance that I find very justifiable, morally.

2. You set out to try to establish that per-capita comparisons are incorrect. Your passage says - First, the externality associated with greenhouse gas emissions relates to the total amount added to the atmosphere, not to the amount emitted per capita. A given quantum of CO2E emissions does an equal amount of global harm, regardless of whether it is produced by 2 over-fed Americans or Europeans or by 100 under-fed Indians. Those who bang on about per capita emissions appear not to understand the ‘technology’ of the global environmental externality created by CO2E emissions.From here on you draw the conclusion that per-capita emissions are an inaccurate measure.

It is undeniable that overall emissions matter to the world's well-being and per-capita is but a diversion. But when on the issue of determining how we can morally justify how much EACH country can pollute, per-capita measure is perhaps as good as any other. Would the world stop writing articles on global warming if India were broken down into 30 smaller countries, each not being big enough to be part of your global 20?

3. When you start your argument, you get in your disclaimers early; and further hedge your positions well by citing the precautionary principle. I guess George Bush's justification for the Iraq war could have been constructed on similar grounds. 1) Weapons of Mass destruction are a bad thing 2) Human-made WMD are capable of destroying the world (and very quickly) 3) That WMD can be created by some dictator-run state is a reality. Invoking the precautionary principle, one should attack everyone in sight. The green-mongers have succeeded in depicting anyone debating climate-models as someone who is out to destroy this world.

The debate on how much we need to do is very crucial to the debate on who has to do what? In the current setting, the way you have put things, it appears as if the OECD countries have woken up to the threat posed by global warming, have taken a lead in cleaning the act for the world and given the time constraint everyone (read NBPs) has to chip in. An alternate interpretation could be, the OECDs have had their fun, now that they are losing out, they are throwing the toys out of the pram. The NBPs perhaps have this view.

OECD carrying the moral high-ground on the global warming debate. Now, that is hilarious.

In case it was not obvious, I am from one of the NBPs that you have mentioned. And although I am sceptical of the climate models (from a scientific point of view), I agree to the premise that the entire world must pull together to reduce emissions. I also agree that India and China should do more to reduce emissions. What I disagree with (and vehemently) is that the OECD countries should be pontificating on moral high ground.

My stand on this global warming debate is straightforward. India should fight tooth and nail against any restrictions, be it on geopolitical or moral grounds. I belong to the Henry Kissinger school of thought - His guiding philosophy was that foreign policy should serve the national interest.

On the more global issue of global warming, I think the debate should cover the grounds on which scientists are claiming that the world is heating rapidly. Invoking the precautionary principle in defence of going green is unacceptable in a world full of vested interests. As a student of science, I am inclined to give credence to scientists' claim that the globe might be warming. On the same basis, I think there should be room for healthy scepticism for the scientists and their models.
The world is already reeling under the impact of one group of self-appointed geniuses believing the infallibility of their models; we can ill-afford another screw up like this. Let us by all means reduce CO2 emissions; but let the freedom to question these models not disappear either.

After all, it was only 35 years ago when the world was damn scared of the Ice age; and even these scientists will tell you that climate changes will take a century to take shape.

No comments:

Post a Comment