Climate change: why should conservatives care?

Suppose, for the sake of argument, the IPCC’s most favored projections are true, and the global average temperature is going to rise by around 3 degrees during this century if we don’t take drastic measures soon.  Would that be so bad?  After all, it’s a rare day that I imagine would have been awful if it would have been three degrees warmer.  It would be a freakish coincidence, would it not, if human prosperity depended on the Earth having a temperature within a few degree range and–lo and behold–the world just happens to lie in this tiny range?  How could we have been so lucky as to have been born into a perfect-temperature planet?  This argument, however, has the same flaw as the philosophe‘s arguments over government.  The latter always argued about what arrangement men who were starting from scratch would form, even though this was not the situation any modern nation faced.  They all inherited a pre-existing populace, with its distinct history and traditions, and the real problem was how to best accommodate this particular people.  Similarly, humanity is not shopping from outer space for an ideal planet.  We have already settled here and built our cultures and livelihoods around a specific set of regional climates.  A 3 degree warmer planet might be better in some absolute sense, but make such a shift now, and our existing farms will be in the wrong places or growing the wrong crops for the new climate; our people will no longer be living in the most habitable spots; our cities will no longer be ideally distant from the coasts.  Readjustments would have to be made, and they would be painful and, I’ll argue, culturally destructive.

Using a more quantitative cost-benefit analysis, Jim Manzi in a very smart article has argued that the economic benefits of to future world GDP (1-5% of 22nd century GDP) from averting warming don’t justify the hit to current world GDP from aggressive action, at least if one uses a sensible discount rate. (Dollars today are worth more than dollars tomorrow, because dollars today generate interest.)  It would be better to let 75% of the warming happen and use the money we saved by not stopping this to ameliorate its effects.

As Manzi himself acknowledges, his world GDP measure doesn’t capture everything.  Non-economic values aren’t counted, and the proposed costs and benefits will be far from evenly distributed.  Let us consider the issue of farm productivity.  Increased CO2 will actually make plants grow better, which will be a boon to agriculture–the net agricultural yield may actually increase.  High latitudes will also benefit from warming, while equatorial regions will suffer from increased drought.  More specifically:

Fischer et al. (2002b) quantified regional impacts and concluded that globally there will be major gains in potential agricultural land by 2080, particularly in North America (20-50%) and the Russian Federation (40-70%), but losses of up to 9% in sub-Saharan Africa. The regions likely to face the biggest challenges in food security are Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia, particularly south Asia (FAO, 2006).

Africa

Yields of grains and other crops could decrease substantially across the African continent because of increased frequency of drought, even if potential production increases due to increases in CO2 concentrations. Some crops (e.g., maize) could be discontinued in some areas. Livestock production would suffer due to deteriorated rangeland quality and changes in area from rangeland to unproductive shrub land and desert.

Asia

According to Murdiyarso (2000), rice production in Asia could decline by 3.8% during the current century. Similarly, a 2°C increase in mean air temperature could decrease rice yield by about 0.75 tonne/ha in India and rain-fed rice yield in China by 5-12% (Lin et al., 2005). Areas suitable for growing wheat could decrease in large portions of south Asia and the southern part of east Asia (Fischer et al., 2002b). For example, without the CO2 fertilisation effect, a 0.5°C increase in winter temperature would reduce wheat yield by 0.45 ton/ha in India (Kalra et al., 2003) and rain-fed wheat yield by 4-7% in China by 2050. However, wheat production in both countries would increase by between 7% and 25% in 2050 if the CO2 fertilisation effect is taken into account (Lin et al., 2005).

A comment on an earlier thread claimed that a carbon tax, or cap-and-trade, treaty would amount to a transfer of wealth from the first to the third world.  What we see here is that unrestricted fossil fuel emissions really amounts to a transfer of wealth from the third to the first world.  For some time, it’s been common to refer to the 1st and 3rd worlds as the global “north” and “south”.  A better distinction would be between high and low latitudes, the global “poles” and “equator”.  The former, which comprise the richer nations of the earth (or, at least, “poles” vs “equator” captures this distinction better than “north” vs “south”) have both profited the most from fossil fuel use, and they stand to have their climates actually improved by the resulting warming.  (It’s cold near the poles.)  Equatorial peoples, already living in greater poverty and danger of starvation, suffer greater heat and drought.

Why should we care what happens to the Africans?

  1. They’re human beings.
  2. They won’t stay put.  Humanitarian crises will send them storming the citadel of Europe.  Shall we keep them out?  How dare we, given that we caused their suffering?  Even if we do try, we will fail, just as the Romans did with their barbarians.  Europe will be overwhelmed and Africanized.  The process has arguably already begun.

Suppose we ignore for the moment the really dire possibilities.  Let’s consider climate changes that don’t amount to humanitarian disasters.  We conservatives are concerned with preserving not only people, but cultures.  For conservative historians like Christopher Dawson, a culture is a sort of hylemorphic union of the formal principle of religion and the material principle of a specific land.  Change the religion or change the land–what crops are grown and what animals hunted–and you have a new culture.  Should the Eskimos be grateful to us for warming their climate, making their (admittedly difficult) traditional way of life impossible?  For we Americans, the cultural changes will not be so dramatic, but they may still be profound.  Imagine shifting the nation’s farmlands north by an unknown amount on a map.  The effect on regional cultures could be profound.

I conclude, then, that a conservative should weigh the negative effects of climate change more strongly than an individualist.

18 Responses

  1. Unfortunately, many people who claim to be “conservatives” or “right-wingers” don’t think in terms of principles but only in terms of “sticking it to the left.” Thus they take the opposite of whatever they perceive as the “left-wing” position without examining the merits of a given issue or considering whether some issues (such as the environment) would be better off if not seen as “left-wing” or “right-wing” at all.

    Never mind that there actually is a long history of environmental consciousness among conservatives and rightists from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Ludwig Klages, because many contemporary “conservatives” aren’t even all that acquainted with their intellectual lineage.

  2. I’m afraid “sticking it to the Left” probably does have a lot to do with it. It’s the sort of attitude that leads us to making asses of ourselves.

  3. Oh dear, Maistre Bonald – this is psychotic stuff!

    I use the word precisely.

    You simply take it for granted that humans have the ability to control the global climate to a level of precision of a couple of degrees, then discuss the economic pros and cons of various courses of action.

    This resembles conversations I have had with schizophrenic patients, such as the man who sincerely believed the universe was ruled by a budgerigar.

    But of course we can’t control the climate of the earth any more than we can change the weather, reverse the magnetic poles, or alter the tilt of the earth’s axis – there isn’t the smallest scrap of evidence that humans can decide on the climate. We don’t know anything about the causes of climate – we don’t even know the cause of the Ice Ages – the single biggest event of the past thousands of years.

    Yet you seem to argue that a *failure* responsibly to exercise this wholly-imaginary power as being reckless, selfish, short sighted partisan…

    The fascinating, but chilling, thing that *I* want to understand is not how many magic moonbeams we should gather – I mean how we should exercise our control over global climate – but how this stark madness – propagated by obviously dishonest and incompetent mediocrities (with the sole exception of the originator of all this, the brilliant and honest James Lovelock, whose real views have been sidelined for a couple of decades) – has infected even clever and sensible people such as yourself.

    Nothing in human history can compare with the Global Warming scam for its scale of sheer craziness. I see it as a typical PC phenomenon – nihilistic self-loathing being exploited by shameless careerism.

  4. Dr. Charlton has a post about how lying is now the norm in England. I believe it’s the norm across-the-board in the West, and that includes the world of science. Especially science, since scientists trumpet their search for truth the loudest. On that basis I assume the AGW is a massive lie and fraud, just because it’s pushed by liars.

    Bonald, you sound too accommodating to the spirit of the age on this matter.

    On the other hand, NASA says we should take global warming seriously because aliens may kill us to save the universe.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/aug/18/aliens-destroy-humanity-protect-civilisations

  5. Drieu, you have hit the nail on the head. Climate change has become identified as a cause of the left, and this has caused millions of people who have no real knowledge of the science to default to their chosen side. Even when people try to research the science, they go to sources that they already trust, which skews their conclusions. This includes people on the left as much as people on the right.

    On the right, the argument tends to be:

    Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi and the United Nations say that climate change is a problem -> therefore, climate change is not a problem

    I’m not joking – Mark Steyn once came very close to formulating the argument in exactly that way. There is a more sophsticated version:

    The policymaking community has suggested new taxes and regulation of industrial activity as potential solutions to climate change -> therefore, climate change is a socialist conspiracy to take away our money

    On the left, there is a mirror image of these arguments:

    Nice decent liberal people like Madonna and Chris Rock are worried about climate change -> therefore, climate change is a problem

    George W. Bush and the oil industry have cast doubt on climate change -> therefore, there must be a right-wing conspiracy to suppress the truth

    Kudos to Bonald for doing some proper research on this subject.

  6. The last point is well taken too. I don’t know about America, but the original environmentalists in 19th century Europe were romantic traditionalist conservatives who hated industrialisation and the ugliness, social dislocation and socialist politics that it produced. In those days, industrialisation was a progressive cause.

  7. Yeah, when Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi and Satan are all on the same page, I scratch my chin and start connecting the dots.

    “Climate change deniers will be despised just like racists one day, says Al Gore”

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2031278/Climate-change-deniers-seen-racists-day-says-Al-Gore.html

    The people driving this are Christ-haters and fanatical anti-racists (anti-racism is just codeword for anti-White). I’m starting to figure the global warming push is part of a plan to genocide European Christian Whites. They just can’t help themselves.

  8. That hypothesis would fail to account for the Vatican’s strong support for action to counteract climate change.

  9. It is not always my Master’s voice I hear coming from the Vatican these days.

  10. Hi Continental Op,

    Thanks for sending this along. I had heard this idea of cosmic rays helping seed clouds before–the idea isn’t not new–but it’s exciting that there’s this new evidence for it.

  11. Satan has a position on global warming?

    Also, could you connect the dots for me between carbon tax and white genocide? I’m more open to these sorts of conjectures than most, but I’m feeling mentally sluggish today.

  12. Thanks. This is an interesting subject, and since I don’t have a strong stake in any position, I can sit back and enjoy the science.

  13. I conclude, then, that a conservative should weigh the negative effects of climate change more strongly than an individualist.

    I agree with this. Similarly, if the Club of Rome had been right, then conservatives should have been working hard to do something about the problem, harder than an individualist would feel compelled to.

    On the other hand, the changes that the alarmists claim are coming are going to be played out over the course of a century, allowing for plenty of time for organic evolution of the relevant cultures in response. We aren’t about preserving whatever happens to exist in amber, right?

  14. Thus they take the opposite of whatever they perceive as the “left-wing” position without examining the merits of a given issue

    You seem to be implying that this is a bad thing. Everybody can’t be an expert on everything. Most people aren’t bright enough to be an expert on any scholarly topic at all. The heuristic “The Left is vigorously asserting A; therefore, not-A” seems like a very reasonable heuristic to me. Do you have some alternative heuristic which can be applied by an IQ 90 member of the public lacking specialized knowledge? One that will approximate the truth better? Certainly it can’t be trust the experts. On controversial issues, that one has performed very badly indeed of late.

    The use of this heuristic has costs, of course. In practice, the “right” gets the support of rightists just by dint of opposing a few leftist initiatives, and it doesn’t matter much which initiatives. This is a problem with universal suffrage democracy and with our goofy rationalistic modern system more generally. Stupid people can’t get un-stupid, and a system which relies on this happening to work is an objectively crappy system.

  15. In areas related to the natural sciences, yes you should defer to what the vast majority of scientists in the field claim, especially if your own amount of scientific knowledge is limited. If you have a problem stomaching this, then another option is to *keep your mouth shut*.

    In the social sciences, I can understand having some qualms. Though I might apply the last sentence of the last paragraph as a general rule: Unless you have informed yourself enough on a given topic to have an informed opinion, then you should probably not share your opinion on said topic and simply pass over in silence.

    I don’t believe in democracy. I think the opinion of “the common man” is just about worthless.

  16. Some fields are more technocratic than others. I agree with Drieu that you can’t make social policy simply by trusting the experts, and the same is true (to a lesser extent) of economic policy. But climate change is an area where going with the bulk of the experts is likely to be wiser than simply inverting what your political opponents are saying.

    As for how this fits with democracy, what should happen in a representative democracy is that the political élite should filter out the worst policy options before they are put to the voters. This is what has effectively happened in most western countries with climate change, where mainstream conservatives (Cameron, Sarkozy, Merkel, Netanyahu) as well as left-wingers accept the premises that climate change is real and requires action. In most democratic countries, voters simply don’t have the option of supporting a major political party which denies the reality of climate change (the US is only a partial exception to this – the likes of Romney and Huntsman accept the scientific consensus, as McCain did in the last election).

  17. I’m not an expert on–but I am highly trained in STEM–but I can spot fraud and I can spot hubris. This stinks of massively arrogant scientific fraud, and has all the hallmarks of a cult. I’ve been in a cult, so I’m the expert there because I researched them. And the people pushing it–the Left. Yes, my instincts are to assume that the Left lies like it’s the breath of life. If a Leftist told me it was 10:30, and my watch said “10:30”, I would find any number of explanations EXCEPT that the Leftist was telling the truth. Since lying is of the father of lies, the Left is the vanguard of the kingdom of the Liar-in-Chief. To be in a Leftist regime is to be in the kingdom of Satan, and these Leftists are his minions.

    These are the exact same people who push multicult and diversity on us. Diversity means “fewer Whites” and multiculturalism means “fewer Whites and more non-Whites.” The Left will push these to the end: “no Whites” and “no Whites, all non-Whites.” They push them ONLY on nations with whites, so it’s not just Christians they’re after. I added this point tangentially, but there’s just no evil they’re above.

    These are my sworn enemies. Therefore EVERY front they open is an attack.

  18. “A comment on an earlier thread claimed that a carbon tax, or cap-and-trade, treaty would amount to a transfer of wealth from the first to the third world. What we see here is that unrestricted fossil fuel emissions really amounts to a transfer of wealth from the third to the first world. ”

    You’re still an idiot.

    1) You have not shown the planet is actually warming. Regurgitating studies by people whose grants and livelihood depend on presenting whatever data they can find or fabricate to support the claim it is warming, is insufficient.

    2) You have not shown that fossil fuel emission is the cause of any actual warming. (And you can not do so, because the atmospheric effect of CO2 is logarithmic, and an order of magnitude less important than, for example, water vapor. This is a fact of natural law, sir. You are not allowed to ignore it.)

    3) You have not shown that any decreased habitability due to drought would be decisive in lessening productivity, as opposed to the pre-existing tendency of many inhabitants of those regions toward slothful or savage behavior. As a thought experiment, put a country of whites in such a location, a 3% increase in drought would be hardly noticed, it would just be something to live with. We already have a similar case in the Midwest, where the Ogallala aquifer is drying up. Zimbabwe did not go from breadbasket to basket case because of climate change, but because of political and racial change.

    4) You have not shown, even assuming all the preceding counterfactual assumptions are granted as true, that there is any morality taking wealth from industrial nations and transferring it to non-industrial ones, nor that there is any mechanism for accurately judging the precise amount that should be transferred, nor that such a transfer will in any way result in actual benefit to the non-industrial ones judging by how they handle “foreign aid” as it stands.

    As for stopping barbarians, that is what machine guns are for. That is what they were invented for. That is what Rorke’s Drift was about – and it does not really matter if the barbarians have the physical objects themselves, what matters is the soul to use them effectively. Civilized races can, barbarian ones can not. That you neglected to mention this possibility indicates to me you find the idea of killing starving Africans at casualty ratios of a thousand to one – or, more specifically, ten million to ten thousand – more morally problematic than dying or starving yourself; this is an attitude I have come to associate with certain types of Christianity. I can only hope you shake it off at some point. Not everyone will share your distaste, and those that do not will be the ones left when the dust clears.

    I’ve been spoiled by Vox Day, I had gotten the idea that hardcore rightwing Christians were actually pretty smart. The level of thinking I see here is what I expect from my Obama-voting friends in the computer game industry – they at least have the excuse of being fundamentally oriented toward childish short-term thinking and make their money from how effectively they can master it.

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