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Greenhouse or Poorhouse?

OXFORD: The environment, as the recent global focus on the health of the world’s oceans demonstrates, has become a focus of political struggle, both domestically and internationally. An increasingly powerful movement argues that the world is threatened with great harm from future climate changes - say, the notorious "greenhouse effect" - and that we must enact tough measures to limit carbon emissions today in order to save the world for tomorrow. A striking feature of this drive is its moralizing tone. Appeals are made to justice between generations, and accusations are commonly heard of a "betrayal" of those who come after us.

Yet calculations of present sacrifice and future harm are rarely accurate and much of what we hear is nonsense. The irony - indeed, the tragedy - is that few policies are so inequitable and morally iniquitous as those that propose huge burdens on today’s generation, particularly its poorer members, in order to prevent what will be at worst an insignificant reduction in the incomes of future generations - who will, in any case, be far richer than we are today.

Not long ago, I criticized the British government's stance, first announced at last year’s Kyoto conference on climate change, and was chided for being wrong about the limited amount of economic damage that climate change would inflict. A committee of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), I was reminded, had concluded that, if the global temperature was to rise by 3°C, world income levels would be reduced by between 1.5% and 2.0%. Fancy that! By the time the global temperature rises by 3°C (assuming it ever does) the world will be incomparably richer than it is today.

According to the latest so-called international scientific 'consensus' this "temperature shock" will happen towards the end of the next century if no special actions are taken to prevent climate change. On conservative assumptions about future economic growth, however, in a century’s time world per capita income levels are likely to be over four times as high as they are now.