June 29, 2005

Global Warming Sham
#5 Medicine or Trees

Economics is the distribution of scarce resources; opportunity cost is whatever you can't do that mutually exclusive with what you decide to do. The basic lesson of economics is that we have limited time, energy, labor and capital. Given that, priorities for spending our resources are a necessary step.

If resources are spent on global warming, either in limiting our current energy output or in controlling or altering it, then those are resources that can't be spent elsewhere. If we simply cut energy output (as I suspect most environmental religionists would prefer) then we have fewer resources to distribute.

Now let's remember that poverty, disease, illiteracy and malnourishment are still problems around the world, especially in the less developed parts of the world. If we're serious about fighting the problems of want then we're going to need more resources, not fewer. AIDS research, pharmaceutical production, fighting malaria, making and shipping clothes, building sturdier homes, constructing sanitary sewage systems, implementing water drainage and sanitation technology, and improving hospitals are all important for the quality of life around the world, but especially in the poorest parts of it.

Environmental activists would probably like to say that we can do both, or even that a government that was "environmentally responsible" (what a misnomer that is) would be more interested in aiding the poor. The fact is that, despite their attempts to please everybody all at once, it's just not possible. The first rules of economics about scarcity and opportunity cost hold true; we can't spend on everything because time, energy and resources are limited. You simply can't please everyone and you can't do everything. In this case, the goal of less energy and less productive output is directly at odds with the desires of the poorer people in the world that would benefit from medicine, food and shelter.

If we're going to first decrease the amount of resources we have available to spend, then regulate an increase in the cost of energy, and then spend more of the remainder on forests and swamps and tundra, then we're going to find it very difficult to ship needed supplies and aid to Africa, Asia and elsewhere. In fact, we'd be reserving energy to an even wealthier subset of human beings who could afford the premiums that environmental regulations require. Environemntalism could have some very inegalitarian effects in this case.

We need to set priorities. Climate change is hard to understand, highly difficult to predict, unlikely to be affected substantially by human reductions in carbons, and would probably include longer growing seasons and warmer winters. Contrarily, malaria, malnourishment, famine and inadequate shelter are all easy to recognize and easy to solve, while AIDS is an obvious threat to millions upon millions of people. We can prove that an avoidable lack of resources is negatively affecting people's lives right now, but we can't prove that climate change is readily avoidable or that it would be an obvious threat even if it does come true.

Setting priorities, it makes a lot more sense to increase our resources so that we have more to help develop the poorest parts of the world rather than impoverishing the entire world for the sake of an unproven threat.

WEBSITE: This is available on the website under issue articles along with the other Global Warming Sham essays here.


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