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17.7.04

Climate Change And Global Justice

Climate change isn't really my main issue, but while I'm on the subject, Abiola Lapite has a relatively sensible view of the issue from a libertarian standpoint. It restores some of my confidence after an earlier post in which he asked whether global warming was falsifiable (the comments thread on that one did help make it clear that this wasn't just a rhetorical gambit like the creationist claim that natural selection is a tautology). He points out that there will be both winners and losers from climate change -- a point often made by proponents of action, though they do so in order to emphasize the presence of the worst losers and the implications for international justice that the unevenness of the effects raise, rather than to temper our pessimism by reminding us that there are winners. In the comments, Brad DeLong makes a typical ecological imperialism/ecological modernization argument, that industrialization will greatly benefit developing countries and that it shouldn't be restricted in the name of combatting climate change. This is more or less the logic behind the two-tiered model in the Kyoto Protocol, in which only already-industrialized countries face quantified emissions reductions targets (though the Clean Development Mechanism would allow them to meet those targets through aid and technology transfer that helps developing countries develop without increasing their emissions). DeLong concludes from this that it might be prudent to hold off on addressing climate change until China and India have caught up.

I see it in a somewhat different way (and not only because I'm skeptical of the single-trajectory model in which third world countries are all South Koreas waiting to happen). Those developing countries that have the most to gain from emissions are also generally accepted to be those most likely to be the losers from climate change. This reduces the practical pressure on the US to unilaterally reduce its emissions, as we can more easily externalize the worst effects. But it also increases the moral pressure, as it limits the degree to which third world countries can accept or reject the industrialization-climate change tradeoff for themselves. Only by reducing the first world's emissions will there be enough slack in the climate system to allow the third world to industrialize without screwing themselves over climate-wise.

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