I’ve been participating in a debate on Waxman-Markey at the Atlantic, and I promised readers there I wouldn’t burden them with any more back and forth after my last entry. But Jim Manzi has responded once more and I feel the need to answer some of his criticisms. They are boggling. Let’s follow the conversation for a bit, shall we? I wrote:
This strikes me as a strange reply. For one thing, the deal we’re offering developing nations here doesn’t seem to me to be all that great. We offer Bangladesh the polio vaccine and then make their country unlivable, and they’re supposed to be grateful?
This strikes me as pure rhetoric.Â I believe that the correct way to consider the “deal” (recognizing the enormous complication that this wasn’t really a “deal”, as we never got consent) is the thought experiment I proposed in my post:
Ask yourself this question: Would you rather be born at the median income level in Bangladesh today, or at the median income level in Bangladesh in the alternative world where the entire Northern Hemisphere had never escaped life at the subsistence level?Â That is, to live in a world of lower carbon emissions, but no Western science, none of the economic development inside Bangladesh that would not have occurred had the West not developed, no hospitals, no foreign aid, and no meaningful chance of ever changing the material conditions of your life?
Bolding mine. Manzi then excerpts additional comments from me:
But the big error in thinking here is that it assumes that economic growth — in the past and, crucially, in the future, cannot take place without this level of carbon emissions.Â You can have the polio vaccine and warming or neither, in other words, and those are your only choices. But of course, this is absurd.
He, then says:
Yes, this is absurd – and it is beneath Ryan’s sophistication as an economic thinker. It’s not binary.
Bolding again mine. Seriously? He’s criticizing me for presenting a binary argument? Please, Jim, go look at the hypothetical with which we’re supposed to go to the Bangladeshi. This is particularly ridiculous since Manzi also writes:
It’s not binary. Imposing carbon emissions restriction would reduce current consumption to some degree, and would in turn reduce the expected value of potential future losses from climate change damages.Â What matter here are these quantitative trade-offs.Â I have presented a detailed argument about these trade-offs (from a global, not merely U.S., perspective).Â Unless Ryan is prepared to point out the errors in the relevant analysis, he should accept its implications.
I have been laboring to point out the flaw in Manzi’s argument, but I have evidently not been clear. Yes, yes, he has done a quantitative analysis of the trade-offs between consumption and emissions reductions. I don’t agree with it, for reasons I’ve stated before, but for our purposes here, that disagreement does not matter. Here is what matters:
1) What share of the benefits from global economic growth over the past century have accrued to developed nations?
2) What share of the costs from global warming will be borne by emerging markets and less developed nations?
“Global consumption” and “the value of losses from climate change at a global level” are not the relevant concepts, because we are not benefitting equally from the consumption and we are not at all losing out equally from the effects of warming. There is no getting around that. There is nothing ethical about our enjoying the lion’s share of the benefits from industrialization and sloughing off the lion’s share of the costs on the world’s poorest nations. Saying that it all balances out in the aggregate is turning a blind eye to one of the great acts of unlateral aggression in history.
It is our responsibility to do something about this. We can either take the efficient path — pricing emissions — which will protect as much developed nation consumption as possible while limiting the damage we do to others, or we can take the hard road and begin transferring a much larger share of developed nation wealth to those most threatened by climate change. Or we can conclude that significant global hardship and mortality is fine by us, so long as we don’t have to limit our consumption in any way.
I suppose I am increasingly burdened by the fact that for all the good American growth has done the world, we remain fantastically rich relative to most every country in the world, and most every country in the world will suffer more from our emissions than we will.