Category Archives: carbon credits

Conservation = Conservatism?

I think my blog posts on environmentalism may have surprised readers who know me well. They have certainly drawn a lot of comment. After all, I want a more socially responsible government. Why then, am I not an avid supporter of the Green movement? The Greens want us to look after our environment. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? One friend said she was surprised to see that I was so conservative.

Actually, I believe that it is the Green movement is conservative. This is not necessarily a bad thing. My problem with the Green movement is not the fact that they are conservative per se, but the way in which they make many problems a matter of faith rather than a matter of logic. This post has been percolating away in my head for a while, but it popped to the forefront of my mind after I got involved in a brief online “debate” with Mr Lefty the other day.

There are two reasons why I am not comfortable with the Green movement:

  1. I perceive that many in the Green movement base their policies not on fact or scientific data, but on what they want to believe. It is almost like a religious faith. They do not have a clear understanding of the way in which scientific methodology operates (they say there is incontrovertible proof that certain things are occurring, when such proof just can’t be provided). They are scared of science and “chemicals”.
  2. I believe that some Greens are actually conservative rather than progressive. In fact, I would say that the extreme Greens are reactionary. As can be seen from the link, the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy describes a reactionary as “an extremely conservative person or position that not only resists change but seeks to return to the “good old days” of an earlier social order.”

Of course, I realise that the “Green movement” covers a vast spectrum of belief. I don’t want to say all Greens are like this: but enough of them are like this to worry me.

Now, there are some good things about being conservative. In part, being conservative means that you don’t squander what you have, you look after your resources, you look after your land and you are mindful of past tradition and society (including indigenous traditions). Would anyone deny that these things are part of being a Green? I think it is a good idea to try and husband the earth’s natural resources better. I am also a strong supporter of looking after our natural environment (let’s not eat whales, let’s not wantonly destroy rainforests and rare bird species, let’s not leave awful contaminants in the soil etc).

However, it seems to me that the Green movement is permeated by “scientific illiteracy”. I should disclose my biases here. I was raised in a household where science was a religion. Dinnertable conversation might be on the theory of relativity, Popper’s notion of falsibility, the amazing properties of carbon, Kekule’s dreams about benzene rings or black holes. I was always aware, as Democritus hypothesised so long ago, that reality is atoms and the void. Whenever I hear someone say “but it’s got chemicals in it”, I wince. I’ve got news for “chemo-phobes”. Humans are one giant chemical reaction, an amazing sentient collection of atoms. Water is a chemical, air is a bunch of different chemicals, grass is an amazing array of organic chemicals etc, etc…

I’ve talked before about what I perceive as a lack of scientific analysis by many of those who espouse environmental causes. The example I gave in a previous post was of a Greenpeace man telling a woman that global warming caused tsunami.

Why is it always presumed “natural” means better or healthier? What about organic heavy metals like arsenic and mercury? What about plant poisons like curare and belladonna? What about the nerve poison, botulism, produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum? (Yes, it’s the one in Botox). What about aflotoxins, which grow in peanuts, nuts and the like? For goodness sakes, radioactive elements such as uranium occur naturally as well…it’s all part of nature, red in tooth and claw. It doesn’t even have to be a toxin to be fatal – I’m severely allergic to the “natural proteins” in tree nuts.

To be fair, it’s not just environmentalists who lack scientific knowledge: many people are unsure about science, particularly where scary chemical names are featured with a bunch of awful statistics. What about the famously dangerous chemical, dihydrogen monoxide? Please click on the link and see if you have been exposed to this chemical…

The thing that concerns me is that people are easily scared, and if an official “Climate Change Scientist” says that the end is nigh, many will believe it. My heart sank when I read the recent doomsaying reports about global warming. People are going to die from heat related diseases! Dengue fever will rise! Coral reefs will be bleached! Jeez Louise! Why are all of the effects of climate change be said to be uniformly bad? When I lived in the UK, every winter, elderly people would die as a result of the cold. Presumably this wouldn’t happen any more if the temperature rose. It worries me when reports are so one-sided, and I start to wonder about the agenda behind them.

It is often said that those who doubt climate change have links with the oil industry and are biased. What about the bias of climate change scientists? Their grants, their careers, and their standing all depend on establishing the reality of climate change. Somehow they’re supposed to be selfless and not interested in their livelihood, whereas those other nasty scientists denying climate change are totally different? Perhaps we shouldn’t just swallow all this stuff without question. We should be allowed to debate it. I do not believe that the anthropogenic causes of climate change are as clear-cut as these reports portray them.

Many people seem to want to believe everything the doomsayers say. But it’s not a matter of faith. It’s a matter of science, and as I said in my previous post, science involves questioning the facts and advancing different hypotheses. I hate the way in which many Greens take a holier-than-thou attitude – someone who merely questions climate change and the Green agenda is instantly written off as some kind of fascist.

Which leads me beautifully into my next point. Is it me who is the fascist, or are some environmentalists the real fascists? As Mr Lefty commented, the Green Party in Australia is are libertarian in relation to sexuality and drugs. (That’s the progressive bit of the Greens). I’m happy with the former, but less comfortable with the latter, which is why I suspect I came out as “moderate right” in terms of “traditional values” when I did the OzPolitics test.

However, he then asserted that the desire to live a sustainable way is “hardly reactionary”. This is not defensible. There is an incontrovertible reactionary element to the Green movement. The Green movement is permeated by a longing for earlier days, when we didn’t use evil machinery and engines fired by fossil fuels. It often looks admiringly at indigenous societies who lived in a sustainable manner, and regrets the rise of rampant consumerism. To an extent, I am sympathetic to this aim, but within reason.

Some Greens wish to turn back to nature, and wind back the clock to a time when the world was less populated, less mechanized, less technologically dependent. In fact, some of my acquaintances who are environmentalists wish to stop development altogether, no matter if this causes people to die of starvation or disease. One girl once said to me that I’d have to throw away my asthma spray, as it was a blight on the environment. I said that I would die. Her response was “Sometimes we all have a price to pay”. What does this look like? “An extremely conservative person or position that not only resists change but seeks to return to the “good old days” of an earlier social order.” Yes sirree, that’s reactionary.

The Greens are suggesting that we should all curtail our greenhouse gas emissions. Where do greenhouse gas emissions come from?

  • burning of fossil fuels (creating higher emissions of CO2);
  • deforestation (meaning less CO2 is absorbed by plants in photosynthesis); and
  • farming (emissions of methane, NO through fertilizers).

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, that the evil dihydrogen monoxide is one of the principal greenhouse gases, but it’s very hard to take into account as a variable as its presence in the atmosphere varies so much.

The main way in which we can reduce carbon emissions is to burn less fossil fuels (less cars, less trucks, less planes) and ensure more areas are forested. This means we can all use cars, trucks and planes less. In fact, environmentalists such as George Monbiot argue that air travel is an evil which should be curtailed at all costs. I don’t think people have really thought through the logic of such a statement – looks great on paper, not necessarily so good in practice.

Monbiot has suggested that resources should be allocated on the basis of carbon credits. A review of his book Heat summarises his proposal as follows:

Monbiot recommends the per-capita carbon budgets be allocated nationally. Nations would decide how to parcel out these allocations. Ideally, these could be passed through to individuals. But Monbiot notes the administrative costs involved in having people spend their carbon allowances on tens of thousands of products and services, each one denominated in carbon credits as well as currency. To simplify the process, he recommends a strategy developed by two of his compatriots, Mayer Hillman and David Fleming. They argue that since 40 percent of the UK’s carbon emissions result from the use of fuels and electricity and it is relatively simple to develop a method by which individuals pay for these energy sources with carbon credits, 40 percent of the nation’s carbon allocations should be passed through to individuals. The remaining 60 percent would belong to the government, which might auction them off to generate revenue.

[emphasis added]

My fear is that if carbon trading was introduced, the price of everything would be raised substantially for the average person, as corporations tend to pass on extra costs involved in transporting goods. Many people would lose their jobs. The poor would suffer. And if carbon credits were auctioned off to raise government revenue, it would be the rich who could afford to travel and and to heat their houses during winter. The net effect of this could be to create a tremendous gap between “haves” and “have-nots”, with a new “carbon-friendly” elite. Any scheme would have to be introduced very carefully.

As I said above, conservatism is not necessarily a bad thing. There is a lot to be said for conserving one’s resources, being frugal and harking back to traditional ways of doing things. But I just want any measures which are taken to be logical and not based on scaremongering and fear. And what I really do not want to see is people suffering as a result of ill-thought out measures to deal with predictions which may or may not be accurate.

Postscript

Catallaxy has an interesting post on the economics of a carbon trading regime and the recent report of the Productivity Commission on the matter. A section of the key points are reproduced below:

There is a growing consensus that the anthropogenic contribution to climate change could pose serious risks to future generations and that coordinated action is needed to manage these risks. However, uncertainty continues to pervade the science and geopolitics and, notwithstanding the Stern Review, the economics. This is leading to divergent views about when and how much abatement effort should be undertaken.To be fully efficient and effective, greenhouse gas (GHG) abatement must occur globally. Effectiveness increases with the coverage of emissions and of emitting countries. Below a certain threshold, any abatement action will have little effect.

It is in Australia’s interest to participate in the design of a multilateral framework – for example, pressing for:

  • emission caps for all major emitting countries that are supported by strong verification arrangements, and can react flexibly to new information;
  • allowance to gain credits for emission reduction projects in other countries and also flexibility in rules on land cover change.

Independent action by Australia to substantially reduce GHG emissions, in itself, would deliver barely discernible climate benefits, but could be nationally very costly. Such action would therefore need to rest on other rationales.

  • Facilitating transition to an impending lower emissions economy is the strongest rationale for independent action, but it is contingent on the imminent emergence of an extensive international response.

Current climate change policy in Australia is a disjointed, fragmented patchwork of measures across sectors and jurisdictions. The potential impact on resource allocation (for example, firm location) underscores the need for a national approach.

A national approach should be based on GHG pricing – through an emissions tax or an emissions trading scheme. Due to its administrative simplicity, a tax has some merit as a transitional tool and could be introduced in a revenue neutral way.

If it were decided to introduce a national emissions trading scheme:

  • to constrain costs, the emissions price should be kept modest via a ‘safety valve’ until a multilateral regime that comprised major emitting countries was in place;
  • to limit adjustment costs and international relocation of production, it may be appropriate to mitigate the most adverse competitive impacts on energy-intensive producers until an international regime is in place;
  • existing regulations that substitute for emissions trading should be discontinued.

It concerns me that the Australian economy could be crippled by a purely ideological decision to commit to the reduction of greenhouse gases, when there would be very little net benefit to the environment or Australia. As the key points state, our emissions are so small in global terms as to be of limited impact unless there is some kind of concerted global effort.

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Credit where credit’s due

Just a little something I’ve been thinking about, thanks to an interesting line of comments on my post on water restrictions.

“Anonymous” got me thinking a little more broadly about making people pay more for services because of environmental concerns. As Anonymous points out, a disadvantage of charging higher prices for water is that the vulnerable in society may end up being affected adversely – retailers pass the costs on to consumers, the rich continue to use exactly the same amount of resources as they always have, and the poor suffer. It’s an important consideration. I tried to cater for it in my suggestions by saying that the most vulnerable in society should have access to concessions, but I admit that this is not perfect.

“Anonymous” also mentions carbon emissions in passing. Which got me thinking about other environmental issues. What about the increasing trend to look at impact on the environment in terms of carbon emissions? George Monbiot has suggested that resources should be allocated on the basis of carbon credits. This (sympathetic) review of his recent book Heat summarises his proposal as follows:

Monbiot recommends the per-capita carbon budgets be allocated nationally. Nations would decide how to parcel out these allocations. Ideally, these could be passed through to individuals. But Monbiot notes the administrative costs involved in having people spend their carbon allowances on tens of thousands of products and services, each one denominated in carbon credits as well as currency. To simplify the process, he recommends a strategy developed by two of his compatriots, Mayer Hillman and David Fleming. They argue that since 40 percent of the UK’s carbon emissions result from the use of fuels and electricity and it is relatively simple to develop a method by which individuals pay for these energy sources with carbon credits, 40 percent of the nation’s carbon allocations should be passed through to individuals. The remaining 60 percent would belong to the government, which might auction them off to generate revenue.

[emphasis added]

You think he’s kidding – carbon credits as the new currency? Well, there are already websites in Australia where the environmentally conscious can offset their carbon emissions by purchasing carbon credits: the company then promises to reduce pollution. And yes, of course there’s a fee involved!

What about transport? Cars, trains, airplanes and the like create a lot of greenhouse emissions. Monbiot argues that air travel is an evil which should be curtailed at all costs: a killer in the skies. But as this article in The Times points out, there’s a lot of hypocrisy by environmental leaders. Some of them have a far more massive carbon footprint that I do. Monbiot himself hasn’t travelled recently, but as Tim Blair points out, he did fly over to Australia in 2003 to promote his book. (The links in this paragraph came from Blair’s post).

Seems to me that there is a conflict here between traditional left wing values and environmentalism. If these kind of initiatives were introduced, I’m predicting market forces would operate in the usual way. The cost of carbon credits for corporations would be passed on to the consumer, which would raise the prices of everything substantially for the average person. And if carbon credits were auctioned off to raise government revenue, it would be the rich who could afford to travel and and to heat their houses during winter. In fact, knowing the way the world works, this would be the inevitable effect of such a scheme. There would be a lot of people profiting from such a scheme as well. All sounds very capitalist to me.

These thoughts just firm up the similarity in my mind between the words “conservative” and “conservationist“. It’s important to consider our impact on the environment. But I am wary of suggestions such as Monbiot’s. It seems to me that the net effect of a carbon credit economy would be to entrench a conservative world order where only the financially well resourced could afford natural resources.

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Filed under carbon credits, climate change, environment, monbiot