What Could Be Worse Than Climate Change?

Let’s (just for a minute) say we accept the prognosis of the saner activists regarding the impacts of climate change through 2100. So let’s say that sea level rise will be between 26 and 98 cm. Let’s say that 0.23% of currently inhabited land is lost to this happening. Let’s say that global average temperatures will rise by 3C. Let’s imagine that drought-prone lands get more droughts and flood plains get more floods. Let’s take as a given that even if storms are not more frequent they get more intense. Let’s say that conflicts increase and that we must deal with tens of millions of climate refugees. Let’s say that the economic cost is 5% of GDP and that lives are disrupted around the planet.

We could just say ‘welcome to the 40s and 50s’, a period in the 20th Century that saw similar numbers of conflicts, refugees, economic turmoil, disease and poverty. But that’s a bit too easy.

What could be worse that what is outlined above? I would argue that the case is surprisingly easy to make. For billions in the developing world, their present is worse than the scenario depicted above.

Starvation

The present today is worse than the future predicted due to climate change for all too many. We pray that development will be as good for them as it was for so many of us, precisely because their present day condition is so miserable. If our prayers are answered they will have the resources to join us in whatever needs to be done to address climate change long before its impacts reach the levels described above.

The millions who have left Syria would perhaps smile if you told them that conflicts would get worse due to climate change, that the number of refugees would increase. What they see today is worse than forecast for climate change. There are 60 million refugees today, none of them due to climate change. Surely they suffer as much or more than will refugees of a richer future?

Those living at the water’s edge in the Philippines, India, Myanmar and Bangladesh are playing a seasonal lottery today with storms and storm surge. Those who die each year don’t care what tomorrow’s climate will bring.

Climate change may disrupt agriculture in many parts of the world–but don’t tell the 3.1 million children who die due to hunger every year now. Malaria may spread due to changing climate conditions–but that’s not at all important to the 438,000 who died from malaria last year. The same is true for the 374,000 who died from flooding between 1999 and 2009 and those who have died since.

If we address the needs of those who are suffering today, they will help us address the needs of those who suffer tomorrow. We will learn better ways of dealing with things. If we do not address their needs while mitigating climate change, we are securing the future for ourselves and our descendants at their expense.

It’s not only about deciding whose lives we will try to save.

The Economist reports that the world urgently needs to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure just to address the huge gaps that are retarding development. Spending on that will provide an incredible bang for the buck in terms of improved productivity, better lives, etc. If we were to commit to doing that today, nobody would object to adding a margin on top of that trillion dollars to prepare for climate change. Call it ‘pre-adaptation.’

For a survivor of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, struggling to farm around the army’s depredations and the ongoing struggles with ethnic minorities, describing a world affected by climate change is likely to produce a ‘so what’ response. Asked to choose between the spending agendas put forward in Paris at COP 21 and something based on what I’ve written here, I think there’s little doubt what he or she would choose.

The standard response of the activist community is to say that we could address all of these problems and climate change besides, all at the same time. And certainly we could do more on all fronts.

But the fact is that experience of the past century-plus shows that we focus on the problem getting the most attention, the squeaky wheel. For now, that squeaky wheel is climate change and it has led to horrible damages to the developing world–forests cut down for palm oil plantations, villages forcibly evacuated for other biofuel farms, corn used as fuel instead of food, the refusal of development funds for power plants based on their fuel and more.

The developing world is being harmed today so that we can say we are addressing climate change.

What could be worse than climate change? Ignoring the needs of the developing world while we smugly pat ourselves on the back for making our children (not those of the developing world) safer at the end of the century.

34 thoughts on “What Could Be Worse Than Climate Change?

  1. What could be worse than climate change? Ignoring (remaining ignorant of the obvious)!! …The intentional corruption of science by the UN\Marxist\Soylent elites. Perhaps this started as only a “good business plan”, by some top government and his buddy, the top lobbyist for an agency within that same government. The plan was to somehow disable ‘the competitor’ for the natural gas industry that both of them, plus a few others, had a great financial interest! The rest is history. That plan was overrun by at least two separate political activist groups, each with own plans to destroy the successful capitalistic society of that very country. Ignore that at your peril! What can now be done to repair science and society? Perhaps little can be done, but ignorance can but only aid such destruction!

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  2. Having lived in Cuba under the communist dictatorship imposed by the Castros, and later in Venezuela under the chaotic and abusive Chavez/Maduro regime, I put more emphasis on good governance, human rights, freedom, and having the ability to influence who gets to head the government.

    The Cubans who remain in Cuba are used to their condition as slaves, but it’s really heartbreaking to listen to and read Venezuelans as they slowly descend into hell. This isn’t helped at all when I see how this disaster is ignored, how the emergence of the Maduro dictatorship is encouraged by obama’s policy towards Cuba (Maduro is Raúl Castros pupil, if not his puppet). And meanwhile I get to watch the imbecile hedonists who run european TV devote coverage to a triathlon in Havana. It’s nauseating.

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  3. Brilliant summary of the humanist – the praying humanist – case against the squeaky wheel of climate.

    It’s not that it shouldn’t be a wheel of some sort. It’s the squeakiness that drowns out so many other, much more important and immediate concerns. The squeakiness of faux moral superiority. Reading this with an open mind should put paid to that.

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  4. Might I congratulate you on a beautifully written and well argued post. What you didn’t have space to mention perhaps is the wasted efforts given to CAGW in university departments devoted to international development.

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  5. The thing is, I’m not sure we know how we got out of poverty, so we can’t really help anyone else do the same. It was a long time being forged and involved a lot of backward steps. It requires trust that acting on CO2 without a public mandate, ironically damages.

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  6. Like arguments about the social cost of carbon, arguments about intergenerational justice and obligations tend to be remarkably one-sided.

    Assuming some net negative consequence for industrial scale of CO2 emissions, there is of course a social cost of CO2. However, there is also a social cost for removing CO2 that is never addressed.

    With the same assumption for CO2, it is legitimate to query ourselves on our obligation to our great grandchildren. Different people will arrive at different conclusions. But to ask that question without acknowledging that resources will in all likelihood be diverted from helping those who are suffering today is sloppy thinking.

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  7. Agree with the squeeky wheel of climate change harming the poor perspective. But disagree on much of the rest in the post. There are cultural values (corruption, treatment of women) and regional circumstances (wars between ‘tribes’, dictatorships) that are a major part of such places undoing. Example: Zimbabwe used to have large prosperous modern farms and was a net food exporter. Mugabe expropriated them, gave them as small land holdings to the disposessed, and is now a forced food importer because of loss of productivity printing 1 trillion banknotes.
    That children have and will starve begs the question of whether these children should have been born in the first place. One thing that slows unsustainable population growth is misery. A simple example. Egypt’s last increase in fresh water capacity was 1970 with completion of the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser. In 1970 Egypt’s population was ~34 million. It is now ~94 million. That is a 60 million additional mouths to feed self inflicted wound that no amount of western liberal good intentions can fix. Egypt now imports ~2/3 of its major staple wheat, and has precious little to exchange for it. So it buys food as the expense of internal economic investment because it gave itself no choice. No amount of western development aid, health projects, educational aid,… adresses the fundamental underlying dynamic in places like Egypt.
    Another example. Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Its population density is over 160/km^2, one of the highest in the world (current population over 10 million). It is 95% deforested for agriculture and firewood despite being mountainous. Yet its population growth is still over 3%/yr. Providing better health care, sanitation, and food aid only makes the fundamental underlying problem worse.

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  8. Ristvan, there are many who hold your point of view. I am not one. You are writing of countries and macro-level developments. But decisions about family size are taken at the individual, or at most, family level.

    In most of the developing world, a larger number of children yields better outcomes–for their parents. There are two major reasons–first, uneducated children can help in agriculture at a very young age. Second, high infant and early childhood mortality make multiple childbirths a sound ‘investment.’

    Progress in economic development changes the risk/reward calculation for the first reason. Progress in infrastructure and the availability of health care changes the second. Which is why development in both has always preceded changes in fertility per female.

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  9. TinyCO2:

    The thing is, I’m not sure we know how we got out of poverty, so we can’t really help anyone else do the same.

    I think it’s people being able to create and market things like Henry Ford with the model-T, Steve Jobs with the i-phone and George Mitchel with advancing fracked natural gas.

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  10. Thomas, fine words, but by and large, people don’t care, as shown by the people of the US who have just elected a president who couldn’t give a toss about the developing world. Go to a poor country and the better off don’t really care about the poor and resent their taxes being used to support the poor who have twice as many babies as they can afford.

    In many parts, as others have said, it is all down to politics and corruption. Rich countries could address this by not stealing from the people of poor countries. But they won’t because they don’t even see themselves as stealing.

    So as the Trump/Putin presidency is likely to cut climate funding, what policies would you have them enact to address world poverty?

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  11. “I think it’s people being able to create and market things like Henry Ford with the model-T, Steve Jobs with the i-phone and George Mitchel with advancing fracked natural gas.” Canman

    But first you have to have peace. You have to have leaders who need their people working to provide their own prosperity. The gap between feudalism and what we’d recognise as a consumerist society was a thousand years or more in the making. Capitalism began when lord of the manor needed people more than they needed the land. Globalisation allows war lords to have the goodies without co-operation and religious terrorists don’t even want the goodies, they just want the power.

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  12. TF, you make the standard arguments for female education, better health, and economic development as the keys to ‘natural’ reduction in population growth rates. The problem is, that analysis is always comparing past OECD population development with ‘the third world’ in recent decades as if all else were equal. It isn’t.
    The example of Egypt illustrates this beyond sustainable water capacity. Economic growth GDP) averaged 3.81% 1992-2016 (I could not find 1970 to now in a quick search). Female literacy is now 86% (2012 per unicef) up from ~24% (1970). Childhood mortality (<5 years old) was ~201000 in 2015 down from ~240/1000 in 1970. Yet in 2014, the median age for first birth was 22.7 years and the fertility rate was still 3.5 children/female. So, economy grew near 2x US, dramatic increase in female literacy, very dramatic improvement in child healthcare. Yet still first child at 22 and 3.5 children/female. Egypt rather falsifies the standard premise. Simply is not true there over past 47 years. Hard data. Not beliefs.

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  13. What could be worse than climate change?

    There are any number of answers. For example, having Lennie or ATTP turning up to give me their dismally unfactual lectures on climate change. Janes Hansen camping outside my house. Connolley parking his rowing boat in front of my car. Obama getting another chance to wreck the world.

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  14. BTW..I think it is interesting, or worthy of comment after reflection here, that Centrica seem to be pulling out of their wind-farm investments, Maybe the the sur-tax on users to help inefficient suppliers is starting to crumble. More reflection is neeeded. Perhaps ATTP and his super-sized intelligence can guide our thinking. I imnagine that BBD over on ATTP’s fan-site is spewing tons of drivel, as usual.

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  15. Ristvan, well, fertiity in Egypt is now 3.5, true. Much higher than Europe in the US, true.

    But in 1970 it was 6. They’ve cut it by almost half. Your data is not hard if you do not show this, don’t you agree?

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  16. Mr. Martinez, after a 50-year period that has seen poverty fall by more than in all of recorded history, your imputation of indifference rings very hollow. Perhaps you could look more at the performance of the Millenium Goals, the establishment of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Medicine Sans Frontieres, the number of volunteers from the developed world from faith-based organizations and NGOs to lift your spirits.

    The fact that the task isn’t finished yet should not cause you to ignore or bad mouth those working at the job today. Indeed, wouldn’t it make sense to raise a glass in honour of those now working to stimulate others to join in?

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  17. Thomas, I’m not bad-mouthing aid organizations Of course there are many who do care, and there are many great organizations that try to help. I’ve supported MSF for a decade and admire them greatly. My experience talking to climate sceptics though has been that they (or those that I’d align with Trump) hate UN programs and foreign aid. And talking to friends in poor places, they are not at all happy with their taxes paying for those unfortunate enough to be born in poor backgrounds. And friends in rich countries are too busy with their own problems to worry about the poor in Africa or Asia.

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  18. Perhaps if the UK left the EU and did not put a 28%tariff on Orange juice from Tunisia in order to protect Orange juice producers in Spain and Italy, there might be an influence.. But unlike Len I am not omniscient

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  19. Africa has suffered due to EU protectionism. There are all sorts of unintended consequences out there. eg in Africa, there should be lots of cheap clothing business springing up but because they receive so many second hand charity clothes, there’s no local market for new ones.

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  20. TF, you cite fertility rates from the early 1960s. You anchor to Aswan only. But no matter. By your beliefs, increasing womens education by 3x, increasing childhood survival by 10x, increasing health care by ~ 10 x reulting in less than halving the birth rate to something that still results in a massive increase over two plus generations.

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  21. Mr. Martinez, I don’t claim to speak for skeptics–I am a lukewarmer, a progressive liberal Democrat at that. However, most of the skeptics I know (and I know quite a few) do not match your description. They do rail against government waste–I don’t hold that against them.

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  22. TinyCO2, the article you linked to was presaged by Julian Simon, Bjorn Lomborg and Matt Ridley. It is not a coincidence that they have all been reviled by those determined to profit from stories of impending doom.

    One mistake you sceptics seem to make is not to put alarmist tropes into historical context. Paul Ehrlich has been around a long time…

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  23. On population, Thomas Fuller is absolutely right to point out that decisions on family size are taken at the individual level. Tim Worstall pointed me to this article from 1994
    http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/311251468766230197/pdf/multi0page.pdf

    Ninety percent of the differences across countries in total fertility rates are accounted for solely by differences in women’s reported desired fertility. Using desired fertility constructed from both retrospective and prospective questions, together with instrumental variables estimation, it is shown this strong result is not affected by either ex-post rationalization of births nor the dependence of desired fertility on contraceptive access or cost. Moreover, despite the obvious role of contraception as a proximate determinant of fertility, the additional effect of contraceptive availability or family planning on fertility is quantitatively small and explains very little cross country variation. These empirical results are consistent with theories in which fertility is determined by parent’s choices about children within the social, educational, economic, and cultural environment parents, and especially women, face. They contradict theories that assert a large causal role for expansion of contraception in the reduction of fertility.

    Where particular populations buck the trend towards lower fertility rates, you have to look at political reasons for individuals making that decision. Populations with current huge fertility rates include Afghanistan, Iraq, the Congo, Palestine and the Jewish Orthodox population of Israel. Draw what conclusions you like from that.

    The long lag in the decline of fertility rates in e.g. Africa has this disturbing result: the most advanced developing countries in Africa (South Africa, Algeria) have already stabilised their populations, and will be dwarfed in size by countries which have yet to catch up. E.g. South Africa’s population is forecast to grow from 50 to 54 million by the end of the century, Tanzania’s from 41 to 316 million. There are sombre conclusions to be drawn from this, but not the usual ones.

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  24. One of the main cures for a high birth rate is prosperity and a consumerist society. When women are encouraged to work for a salary, rather than subsistence, they are valued for their earning capacity more than their ability to breed more childen and potential workers. Women choose between more children and giving themselves or their family a better life. Immigration distorts this by importing women and men who haven’t made the change of reproductive policy. At some point populations would need to consider how to persuade women to have children.

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  25. “Those living at the water’s edge in the Philippines, India, Myanmar and Bangladesh are playing a seasonal lottery today with storms and storm surge. Those who die each year don’t care what tomorrow’s climate will bring.”

    Exactly, and that’s just one instance. Furthermore, people, and their houses, move much faster than climate change. Even an American insurance company will assume that most existing beach-front properties will have have been knocked-down and rebuilt long before the owners feel the alleged rising late-century-ocean lapping their smallest toe. (Actually, the owners will be comfortably dead long before that happens). So they re-build a few inches further up the hill, when the time for rebuilding becomes a reality. There. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

    A third-world shack built from corrugated iron is rather more easily relocated, and probably already gets flattened by local storms every ten years.

    The rising-sea-level-due-to-global-warming scare doesn’t hold water in any part of the world. Sensible policies, like London’s Thames Barrier, were already in place to deal with local issues long before global warming activists seized the megaphone. The issue remains a local political one. I have read that much of the local area in New York has known for decades that they need improved sea-defences. Global warming hasn’t changed an already-established need. The local citizenry just need to vote for, and pay for, a technically straightforward solution to what is already known to be a looming problem. Use of “global warming” as a justification only speaks to the cowardice of local politicians.

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  26. Will Janoschka says: 15 Jan 17 at 12:17 am

    “What could be worse than climate change? Ignoring (remaining ignorant of the obvious)!! …The intentional corruption of science by the UN\Marxist\Soylent elites. Perhaps this started as only a “good business plan”, by some top government and his buddy, the top lobbyist for an agency within that same government. The plan was to somehow disable ‘the competitor’ for the natural gas industry that both of them, plus a few others, had a great financial interest! The rest is history. That plan was overrun by at least two separate political activist groups, each with own plans to destroy the successful capitalistic society of that very country. Ignore that at your peril! What can now be done to repair science and society? Perhaps little can be done, but ignorance can but only aid such destruction!”

    Why no response To the SCAM ,FRAUD,. or being a voluntary TRAITOR, .To the attempted governance of The United States of America? As lousy as that turned out to be??

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  27. thomaswfuller2 says: 16 Jan 17 at 1:14 am

    “TinyCO2, the article you linked to was presaged by Julian Simon, Bjorn Lomborg and Matt Ridley. It is not a coincidence that they have all been reviled by those determined to profit from stories of impending doom. One mistake you sceptics seem to make is not to put alarmist tropes into historical context. Paul Ehrlich has been around a long time…”

    It is you thomaswfuller2 that does not “put alarmist tropes into historical context.” What is the date that Jimmie Hanson deliberately SCAMMED the US Congress? How long before that was science\technology undermined by the the intentional corruption of science by the UN\Marxist\Soylent elites?
    Try ‘just after WWII when the Marxist had to do something, anything’, to survive!

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  28. michael hart. Often people living by water resent the extra embankments needed for flooding. While it’s dry they moan about any potential loss of a view of the water and then moan when they get wet. Most countries are placing more assests in danger of flooding or erosion, not less. They build on flood plains which not only puts those builddings at risk, it increases the risk to previously safe properties.

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