Friday, 2 June 2017

Why Climate Change Matters

If we have to list my generation's biggest delusions and misunderstandings, the obsession with Climate Change would definitely rank up there, probably together with incessant emphasis of (phoney) "inequality" or beliefs that the "poor are getting poorer". So let's discuss why and how Climate Change actually matters. No, we're not all gonna die. And no, runaway climate change is not a disaster for humanity or the end of the world. Can we please just move beyond such empty hysterical demagoguery for a change?

The whole Trump-Paris-Agreeement nonsense is a great case in point that brings out the worst of every kind of left-leaning person I know. Trump withdraws from a toothless and empty international document, and everyone goes haywire, saying he's an evil climate denier, that he doesn't understand science and that the world is doomed. As Alex Epstein, the author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuel brilliantly pointed out in a congressional hearing over climate change: As a philospher, "I'm here to help you think straight".

Climate change is about economics. Not science, not melting ice or starving polar bears or unusual storms or crop failure. Here's Ryan McMaken at Mises Wire today explaining the distinction:

After all, the Paris Climate Agreement isn't a scientific study. It's a political document that lays out a specific public-policy agenda.

Agreement or disagreement with the accord might hint at one's opinions about climate science. Or it might not. One can agree that climate change exists and that human beings have a large role in the phenomenon. Agreement on this matter, however, does not dictate that one must also agree with the political policies outlined in the Paris document.
The two are totally independent phenomena.
What the climate change debate does is that it clouds our already faulty judgments with respect to economic calculation, the most fundamental economic idea that basically nobody but Austrians really grasp. And it gives us a perfect opportunity to explain how important it is. The entire reason I take an interest and follow the climate change discussions is its ability to teach us economics, to tangibly and meaningfully show how economic calculation is the fundamental thing in human life, trumping(!) the effects of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere by orders of magnitude. Here is Mises in Human Action, describing the differences between the Engineering of a bridge, and the economic meaning of a bridge:
The art of engineering can establish how a bridge must be built in order to span a river at a given point and to carry definite loads. But it cannot answer the question whether or not the construction of such a bridge would withdraw material factors of production and labor from an employment in which they could satisfy needs more urgently felt. It cannot tell whether or not the bridge should be built at all, where it should be built, what capacity for bearing burdens it should have, and which of the many possibilities for its construction should be chosen. (p. 209)
Let me explain the point in a way I have put it before: The outcomes for human civilisation of any natural phenomena (of which all climate change is a part) is given by the natural forces and our ability to economically prevent their consequences. This is the example I gave in my post The Mistakes We Make almost a year ago:
150 years ago, my Swedish ancestors froze, starved and died at 45. My great-great-great-grandpa had to work incredibly long hours on back-breaking fields and basically suffer through the cold winters and harsh climates, hoping not to catch a fatal disease.
If he did, he died;
if his harvest failed, he died;
if he couldn't save enough seeds for next year, he died next year.

Most families had at least one child dying before its first birthday  even among the wealthiest of us.

The innovations to keep warm, and the economic ability for normal people to purchase heat, were almost entirely lacking. Fastforward 150 years of economic development, and very few people suffer from the icy winters; instead, we sit inside our heated homes.
If we catch diseases, we can afford to have amazingly knowledgeable doctors cure us.
If the harvest fails, rather than starvation, prices rise by like a dollar, effectively redirecting production to more urgently-required goods.
If it's cold outside, we turn up the heat inside.
No biggie.
The mistakes and fallacies prevalent in any discussion of climate change is a perfect opportunity to learn and improve one's understanding of human relations, the economy and stuff that actually matters. Trump withdrawing from some meaningless protocal is emphatically not one of them.

Stop worrying about climate change itself. It so doesn't matter.

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