For the past couple of weeks, many big-wigs are meeting in Copenhagen for a chit-chat about climate change. This happens against the backdrop of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit email hacking. This is said by some to offer evidence that climate scientists have manipulated data in order to boost the case that climate change is man-made.
The emphasis on whether or not climate change is man-made confuses me. For instance, the Met Office’s response to the hacking seeks to underline the fact that climate change is man-made: “The bottom line is that temperatures continue to rise and humans are responsible for it.”
Why is there so much concern over whether or not changes in temperature, and the knock-on effects that result, are man-made? Would climate change really be any less of a problem if it were caused by, say, volcanoes, sunspots, or other natural phenomena? The flood would come anyway.
Surely the correct question is not whether climate change is man-made. The correct questions are:
- Is climate change happening?
- What effects will it have?
- What will be the net cost of these effects?
- What actions can be taken to guard against these effects?
- What will be the cost of taking these actions?
- Is the cost of taking these actions greater than the net cost of the effects of climate change? (i.e. can the resources be better spent elsewhere, for instance on alleviating poverty, etc.)
If I see that it is raining, I don’t just stand there for ages pondering over whether or not the rain is man-made. I just put up an umbrella.
- Is it raining? Yes.
- What effects will it have? It will make me wet.
- What will be the net cost of these effects? I will feel uncomfortable and may become ill.
- What actions can be taken to guard against these effects? I can put up an umbrella.
- What will be the cost of taking this action? I will have to carry my umbrella around with me.
- Is the cost of taking this action greater than the net cost of the effect of rain? No.
Voila — I have successfully guarded myself against the effects of rain in the most efficient manner, without worrying about what caused the rain. So why worry about what causes climate change? As far as I am concerned, if the flood is coming, the flood is coming and that is the only information I need to know.
Granted, the causes of climate change are a pretty important thing to know. If you know the cause, you know what you can do to help prevent it.
But the debate over whether or not climate change is man-made implies that, even if climate change is happening, it doesn’t matter if it’s not man-made. But that is surely not true. The effects will be just as devastating whether it turns out climate change is caused by man-made or natural causes.
It just seems to me that the focus on whether or not climate change is man-made suits both sides of the debate rather too much. Climate change sceptics will apparently view any evidence that climate change is not man-made as a signal that climate change is nothing to worry about (which is surely not true).
Meanwhile, left-wing environmentalists love the focus on the man-made aspect because it gives them an excuse to lecture people on their behaviour. This can be seen in the ever-growing list of human behaviours that are said to cause climate change — everything from taking the car to eating meat and even — can you imagine? — having children.
I would like to hear a bit more emphasis on the effects of climate change in the event that it is not man-made. Otherwise, the anti-environmentalists seem like all they care about is their cheap flights and fast cars. And the moralising environmentalists come across as wanting to take us all on one big guilt trip for having the temerity to exist.