The world’s governments, large environmental quangos and companies have been locked in talks to save the planet.
Let us make a couple of assumptions that will be unpopular on this site. Let us assume the world is warming. Let us assume that the main driver of this warming is the production of extra carbon dioxide from man made sources. I know that many of you are not persuaded the world is simply warming in a predictable way. Many of you think sunspots and other solar activity, volcanoes, natural carbon dioxide, water vapour and patterns of cloud cover will all have effects on the long run climate. Global warming theorists assure us they have taken this all into account and that these other factors are unimportant compared to man made carbon dioxide.
If we accept the conventional wisdom we can see why there is currently a row between the rich and poor nations, and an argument over whether to spend money on prevention or on adaptation. The poor countries say to the rich, you have created much of the carbon dioxide which causes the problem, so you should pay us to adapt to the results. The rich say it is now the poorer countries which are adding most to the world output of carbon dioxide, so they have to take expensive action to limit their contribution to the problem. The result will be an agreement which entails the rich paying more to help the poor, and results in more emphasis on adaptation. There is much haggling over surprisingly small possible changes in temperature, arguing over 0.5% of a degree, as if the experts can be that accurate.
One of the strange features of the debate is the absence of much talk about population growth. If you believe the world cannot take much more carbon dioxide, surely you want to limit the numbers of people joining the world population. The best strategy for a single country like the UK to cut its carbon dioxide output would be to limit immigration much more successfully, as this would reduce the need for carbon intensive new investments in additional capacity of all kinds to cater for the extra people. China, the world’s most populous country, has had a policy of limiting population growth for many years. It is now changing this as it can have difficult consequences for mothers and babies. The best policy to limit population growth is a policy which promotes higher incomes for all. Family size usually falls through voluntary action as income rises.
The problems with conventional policy responses based on trying to prevent more carbon dioxide include their adverse impact on income levels and therefore on population numbers. The danger of anti global warming policies in a single country like the UK is they may through dear energy simply send our energy intensive businesses to another country, so we lose the jobs but the carbon dioxide is still created elsewhere to meet out demands. Some responses to this problem as defined by the governments will make it worse, not better.