September 07, 2005
A Poverty of Reason
Tom Plate is a well known and respected commentator on China and Asian matters. I wish he would stick to what he knows. His piece "From Kyoto to New Orleans" repeats the growing meme that Hurricane Katrina is a warning about global warming:
It is also a fact that many eminent scientific seers directly connect the worldwide warming phenomenon with certain kinds of bad weather news -- to wit, the apparently growing severity of "natural" catastrophes.It is also a fact many seers disagree with this contention, and even with the idea of global warming itself. Set that aside. It is easy to refute Tom's thesis. The trend of hurricanes striking the US is declining, as the data from the US National Weather Service shows. In Hong Kong we've not had any typhoons this year at all. Maybe the one impact of global warming is the frying of Californian brains?
Don't worry, Tom, you're in good company. There are plenty of people saying nutty things about Katrina.
On a related topic, if you are at all interested in the ideas of sustainable development, you must read A Poverty of Reason by Wilfred Beckerman. In less than 100 pages Beckerman clearly and logically explains why the Earth will not run out of natural resources for the foreseeable future, why the idea of sustainable development makes poverty worse, and is destructive in terms of intergenerational equity. Perhaps his most important points are his plea for most cost-benefit analysis (especially when dealing with the "precautionary principle") in dealing with the environment and that so-called sustainable development remedies are often worse than the problems they purport to fix.
His conclusion bears repeating:
The greatest contribution that we can make to the welfare of future generations is to bequeath a free and democratic society.Despite protestations to the contrary many "green" policies make poverty worse, preventing the poor from getting a chance at better living while greenies lecture them from the comfort of their Western lifestyles. It is the new imperialism. That's irony for you.
Excellent additional reading on the Kyoto/Katrina meme at Daily Demarche...plus ca change.posted by Simon on 09.07.05 at 10:43 AM in the Environment category.
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Nah, it was the Russians:
http://www.weatherwars.info/katrina.htmposted by: shaky on 09.07.05 at 11:17 AM [permalink]
The graphs do not seem right. The 2001-2004 interval should not be compared with the other 10-year intervals.posted by: cip on 09.07.05 at 12:02 PM [permalink]
CIP - the text under that graph acknowledges that this is not a complete decade. Feel free to remove the 2001-2004 data point. The point remains the same.
Shaky - I stand corrected.posted by: Simon on 09.07.05 at 12:09 PM [permalink]
Dear No 1.5 son.
Good to see you have time to blog again.posted by: da on 09.07.05 at 12:27 PM [permalink]
I'll send you Beckerman's book.
The data linked above traces both frequency and severity. Hurricanes will have more impact ceteris paribas as we go forward, because more people choose to live on the coast, people are getting richer with nicer houses and possessions to get blown away. That's the fault of economic growth. Should we ban that?
If the effects of global warming mean the feared mini ice age that was all the rage in the 1970s can be avoided, then I'm for it. If it means there will be more arable land in the world, I'm for it. The climate is always changing, getting hotter or colder, more disasters and less. The correlations are almost impossible to predict given the massive number of variables involved.
Beckerman says that if we get on with the business of economic growth and democracy, the environment will get taken care of in due course. As people get richer they can afford to choose "green" options, and they can afford to make sacrifices in their living standards for the sake of the environment. The poor don't have that choice. Beckerman is saying that green groups seem to choose the environment over saving fellow humans. A matter of priorities, I suppose.
And if climate change means the Swans can win the Grand Final, then I'm strongly in favour!posted by: Simon on 09.07.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]