Some Hard Truths About Addressing Climate Change

Posted on December 2, 2015 by Seth Jaffe

Last week, the Boston Globe had an op-ed by Joshua Goldstein and Steven Pinker concerning some “Inconvenient truths for the environmental movement.”  I’m sorry to say that I agree with pretty much every word of it.  Why am I sorry?  Because Goldstein and Pinker make clear – even though they don’t mention his name – that the Pope was completely wrong in his prescription for addressing climate change.  How so?  It’s really pretty straightforward.

People want more economic development, not less.  They want more markets, not less.  It may be that some wealthy societies could still have a relatively smooth transition to renewable fuels without sacrificing economic growth.  Unfortunately, that’s not where we have to address the demand for fossil fuels.  We have to do so in China and India and other developing countries.  I’m sorry, but I’ve seen the projected demand for fossil fuels outside the US and Europe and it’s not pretty.  Anyone who thinks that we can quickly and easily eliminate fossil fuel use in those countries and still allow them the economic growth that their citizens demand is delusional.

Which brings us to Goldstein’s and Pinker’s second inconvenient truth; nuclear power has to be a large part of the solution.  And I’m afraid that’s probably the end of the conversation for many of my environmental friends, so I’ll cut this short.

I’m still an optimist.  I believe that we can still solve climate change.  We can do so however, with more use of markets, not less.  And we must do so with more economic growth, not less, because the rest of the world won’t be satisfied with less.



Comments (2) -

Chris Davis United States
12/2/2015 4:52:14 PM #

I agree with Seth that nuclear power is a necessary part of the solution to climate change (along with efficient buildings and transportation, halting deforestation, sustainable agriculture,and a number of other slices of the solutions pie). But I have to disagree that significant increases in coal combustion and Western-style electric grid expansion are a necessary or smart solution to energy poverty and sustainable development in India, China, Southeast Asia or Africa.  Rather, the fastest and most cost-effective solution is likely to involve a proliferation of distributed solar microgrids, the costs of which are falling rapidly. Fossil fuels will surely be with us for a good while. But continued primary reliance on their expanded use to bring electric power to underserved areas of developing and emerging economies will virtually ensure catastrophic climate change, which will disproportionally harm the  intended beneficiaries in these countries.

Donald W Stever United States
12/3/2015 8:51:24 AM #

Unfortunately (at the risk of being labeled a gloomy cynic), the very unfortunate truth is that if you look closely at the climate change models and understand the realty of human global political behavior for which there is a pretty solid historical record, although the Pope might be wrong so are Goldstein and Pinker. Elizabeth Kolbert and others with sufficient scientific background and political perspicacity to see the big emerging picture correctly, point out that millions (perhaps hundreds of millions) of humans are likely to be displaced by rising sea levels and desertification by as early as 2050 - regardless of any atmospheric carbon reduction outcome of the Paris Climate Summit. The "give it your best shot" at carbon emission reduction approach being proffered in Paris this week won't materially  change the long-term outcome. Where are all of the displaced people going to go? Bangladesh and large ares of India under water, the Chinese population squeezed between the encroaching Pacific Ocean on the east and the advancing desert on the west, the large areas of the Middle East becoming too arid to be habitable.... The result will be significant regional conflicts over access to livable territory. I am afraid that Paul Ehrlich was, in the end, probably right about human population growth. He was just a hundred years ahead of his time.

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