Picture from DeviantArt
In which Eli begins to work his way through "A Perfect Moral Storm" by Stephen Gardiner. About a week ago, the Bunniglean Library brought this book to the Rabett's attention. There was enough in the prequel to justify putting a few carrots out to the Amazon.
Gardiner has an ethicist's POV. He is a hard nosed, but very polite fellow and leaves poorly thought through ideas standing there in their shorts. You learn pretty quickly in science, and evidently philosophy that anyone above clown level can make a logical argument (ok, that eliminates a few blogs the bunnies don't read), so you start by looking at assumptions, and the author does a good job of this. Gardiner shows how climate economics suffers from root and branch disputes which make the current versions useless (see Part II, coming soon)
These disputes stem from serious differences in fundamental assumptions, and result in strongly divergent policy recommendations. Contrary to initial appearances, these differences do not revolve around narrow technical issues within economic theory, but rather concern deep ethical claims that fill fundamental gaps in that theory. Moreover, recent economic arguments do not fill these gaps, and neither does the (perhaps heroic) claim that some appropriate kind of economic modeling must in principle be possible. This does not mean that good climate economics is not worth pursuing. But it does suggest that we are far from the position where we can confidently rely on such analysis when deciding how to shape the future of the planet.But enough of this serious stuff, before moving on to a consideration of the cost-benefit paralysis which has delayed any action let us haul out the clown paraphernalia and let Prof. Gardiner beat Bjorn Lomborg about the ears.
He points out that the base of Lomborgianism is the false choice between helping the poor inhabitants of poor countries or their rich descendants later.
To Gardiner, this is already swallowing a large bunny foot without sauce, because there is no guarantee that climate change does not threaten anyone or anything besides the poor. Others can take it in the nose. But OK, he says
Lomborg argues that the right answer is to help the current poor now, since they are poorer than their descendants will be, because they are more easily (cheaply) helped and because in helping them one is also helping their descendantsBut wait, there are, as they say, issues
The first is the threat of a false dichotomy. Arguments from opportunity cost crucially rely on the idea that if a given project is chosen, then that choice forecloses some other option. But this is not the case in Lomborg's version. Helping the poor and mitigating climate change are not obviously mutually exclusive. . .After all, the poor have always been with us, and there is no evidence that rich countries will step in to eliminate poverty (or, as Gardiner points out to mitigate climate change). Fourth to Gardiner, this looks a lot like the first step in a "bait and switch" strategy.
Second it is not clear even that the two projects are independent of each other, in the sense that they are fully separable opportunities rather than necessarily linked and perhaps mutually supporting policies. . . .
Third, it is not clear that the opportunity that Lomborg wants to emphasize is really available.
"even hard nosed benefit cost analysts" agree that the claim that future people could be compensated by an alternative policy loses relevance if we know that the compensation will not actually be paid.This is more subtle a point that it first appears. The benefit in this case is that the larger economy will allow future generations to deal with an exacerbated climate problem, but if climate change limits economic growth, there is no larger economy, and even if there is a larger economy, it may not be enough to deal with the chaos associated with climate disruption. The Dark Ages in Europe were not nearly as pleasant as Roman times.
To Gardiner, Lomborg is arguing that it is sufficient to pay for our kids' education without saving for retirement, because they will take care of us. Sure.