There are many people who would use these current economic events as the entryway to a properly – by their desires – organised economy. The problem with this only being that the majority of people don’t agree with them:
People are planning to drive and fly more in future than they did before the coronavirus pandemic, a survey suggests, even though the overwhelming majority accept human responsibility for the climate crisis.
People like flying and driving. This is, of course, the base climate change problem in the first place. We like doing the things which lead to emissions. If we didn’t then there wouldn’t be the emissions as there wouldn’t be the activity – thus no problem.
This then poses that conceptual problem. How much should people be able to do what they want when their doing so harms others in the future? It may well be, for example, that I like swinging my fist but there is a certain amount of other peoples’ nose that rightly limits my freedom to do so.
With climate change, as with other slightly vague – vague in the sense of being able to attribute effect upon one person directly to the cause of the one other person – and large scale effects. We have to fall back to that utilitarian calculation of the greatest good of the greatest number. That is, if the benefits of the action are greater than the costs then it should still go ahead, even though there are such costs.
Say, the use of a gallon of petrol causes a reduction in the maize crop of 5 kg in some foreign field in the year 2050. I don;t say that’s actually trackable but just take it as a useful working assumption to follow the logic. A use of a gallon of petrol is justified if the benefit is greater than that loss of 5 kg of maize in 30 years.
OK, some calculations need to be done. What’s the net present value of that 5kg? The Stern Review deals with that. Maybe rightly or wrongly but we’ve a discount rate at least. We can make assumptions about how much maize is per kg (50 cents? A buck> Summat). We can also make some sorts of assumptions about the value right now of the activity.
A gallon used to get me fresh bread for my lunchtime sandwich might not be worth that future cost. A gallon used to take a pre-eclampsic woman for her magnesium injection, thereby saving two lives, might well be. But whose valuations do we take here?
The base assumption is that valuations, that utility gained from an action, are always resident in the person taking the action. Utility is personal. We doing the thing decide what the value of the thing being done is. So, now we want to balance that valuation by us now with that cost in the future. We know the cost in the future, we know the net present value of it. So, if we add that to the costs of taking the action then we’re done.
The people acting now are considering the costs in the future against their current benefits because those costs are, through the carbon tax, included in their decision making process. Cool we’re done, we now have the optimal amount of climate change that maximises human utility over time.
We already have the appropriate taxes on fuel use in the UK at least. Fuel duty and Air Passenger Duty are above the correct Stern levels in fact. So, we’re done.
As it turns out we the peeps are entirely happy with there being rather more climate change than some think we ought to have. The correct answer to which is that we are already done here, we do have the correct, Stern complaint, mechanism in place and we the peeps get to decide from thereon. Bugger the greenies in fact.
The apparent disconnect between beliefs and actions raises fears that without strong political intervention, these actions could undermine efforts to meet the targets set in the Paris agreement and hopes of a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis.
Sadly, that’s not what they’re suggesting. Instead we must be forced into a diminution of human utility because the ecofascists aren’t prepared to follow the science here. But then that just brings us back to the usual observation – this all really isn’t about the science, is it?