Why climate change is different from other environmental issues

It’s not politics, it’s economics

Content of the article

Twitter recently decided I needed to see an exchange between angry greens and devious conservatives that looked something like this. Smirking Conservative: The Greens have been telling us for decades to panic about overpopulation, acid rain, pollution, the ozone layer and now climate change. Yawn. Angry Greens: Yes, but that’s because we took action and solved all these problems, but now we’re ignoring the climate crisis because the good Tories who cared about it are all gone and now all we have is this are bad conservatives who hate the planet (and are stupid).

Advertisement 2

Content of the article

Twitter is a factory of slogans, insults and low blows, but unfortunately it also seems that a lot of journalists form their opinions on things, so it is worth talking about. For context, as the above exchange unfolded, the news from Reuters was “Global coal-fired power generation in 2021 hits record high.”

Is it because stupid planet-hating conservatives are in charge everywhere? Barely.

The laws of the economy are in effect everywhere, which is why political leaders on all sides (including the Greens) are now ordering their coal-fired power plants to reopen and run at full capacity. They desperately need energy and the alternatives are much more expensive.

Regarding the Twitter feed, there are two questions to ask. First, do conservationists have a history of exaggeration, and second, why aren’t we stopping climate change even though we’ve tackled all these other issues? My answer to the first is yes: they are engaged in political advocacy and they use alarmism to get attention. The failed apocalyptic predictions of people like Paul Ehrlich and Al Gore have been documented elsewhere. I have written many times about how this impacts on the issue of climate change in terms of claims such as floods and storms, extreme weather, wildfires, economic growth, etc. The green movement has gotten a lot of political traction over the years. announcing the end of the world, but people are turning away from it now, for valid reasons.

Advertisement 3

Content of the article

On the second issue, we don’t address climate change the way we did, say, acid rain because the costs and benefits of action are completely different. Simply put, for some of the earlier environmental problems there were emission control options that provided dramatic improvements at low cost. In the case of carbon dioxide, control options are expensive and accomplish little. Hence the difference.

  1. None

    Junk Science Week: Net-Zero Edition – Ross McKitrick: Junk Science Led to Junk Policy

  2. The Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Building in Washington, DC on May 4, 2022. - Wall Street has grown nervous as the Federal Reserve prepares to make its biggest rate hike in more than two decades to crush the inflation that has reached levels not seen since the 1980s. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

    Ross McKitrick: We didn’t have inflation after 2008. Why do we have it now?

  3. Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting with state culture award winners via video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on March 25, 2022. — On March 25, the President Putin has criticized the West for discriminating against Russian culture, saying it was like the book burning ceremony by Nazi supporters in the 1930s. (Photo by Mikhail KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP) (Photo by MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

    Ross McKitrick: The 2030 Emissions Plan: Canada’s Gift to Putin

Canada, like most industrialized countries, once had a problem with high levels of carbon monoxide (CO, not CO2) in our cities. In the mid-1970s, 84% of urban air quality readings in Canada violated health standards for carbon monoxide. But technology was developed (primarily catalytic converters for automobile tailpipes) that dramatically reduced emissions at low cost. Problem solved. As my colleague Elmira Aliakbari and I showed in a 2017 report published by the Fraser Institute, data from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) shows that ambient carbon monoxide levels have fallen by 90% from 1975 to 2015, and since 2011 no monitoring sites anywhere in the country have shown carbon monoxide violations. This happened despite economic growth of 240% and the tripling of the size of the vehicle fleet.

Advertisement 4

Content of the article

The story is similar for sulfur dioxide, which is linked to acid rain, and fine particles, which contribute to smog. Technology in the form of stack scrubbers and process methods that remove sulfur at the refinery stage has significantly reduced both types of emissions. Eliminating lead from gasoline also eliminated lead from the air. Stratospheric ozone depletion was linked to the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). By the time the problem was discovered, relatively inexpensive substitutes were available, so CFCs were banned in 1987 under the Montreal Protocol.

Then, around 1988, the conversation turned to carbon dioxide and global warming. Despite some early hopes that a global treaty like the Montreal Protocol could work the same magic, it quickly became clear that the economics were very different. Carbon dioxide is closely related to the use of fossil fuels, but there are no scrubbers or catalytic converters capable of capturing it before releasing it. Large-scale global emission reductions would require large-scale global reductions in fossil energy uses for which there are no feasible alternatives. And even aggressive emissions cuts would barely affect global CO2 concentration for a century due to the size and slowness of the natural carbon cycle. Meanwhile, the socio-economic costs of warming, despite green alarmists, have proven small, especially compared to the benefits of energy-driven economic growth. Climate models have overestimated atmospheric warming for decades, while the IPCC (and many climatologists) have been arrested for using deliberately exaggerated emissions forecast scenarios.

This is why we have not yet, and probably never will, respond to the climate issue as we have to acid rain, urban smog, and other past environmental issues. The costs and benefits of feasible policy options differ. It’s not politics, it’s economics.

Ross McKitrick is Professor of Economics at the University of Guelph and Senior Fellow at the Fraser Institute.

Advertising

comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively yet civil discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour to be moderated before appearing on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications. You will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, if there is an update to a comment thread you follow, or if a user follows you comments. See our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Comments are closed.