On not understanding climate change

The Guardian leader:

In Britain, the price of rail travel is rising ahead of inflation: in a low carbon world, public transport would be so cheap that urban motorists would gladly abandon their cars.

No, that\’s not it at all. We do not want, in order to deal with climate change, to make everyone use public transport.

What we do want to do is make sure that we include the costs of climate change in our decision making process about the use of private or public transport. Our entire problem is of course that these costs are externalities, external to our current decision making process of market driven prices.

Thus we interfere, apply a Pigou Tax, so as to bring those costs into said decision making processes. After we\’ve done that, we just carry on as normal, allowing that new information incorporated into prices to change behaviour.

For example, it is possible for us to build a tram system up and down every street in the land and to charge people nothing for its use. This would certainly reduce the amoun t of urban motoring. But the taxes required to pay for such a system would be vastly greater than the damage being done by the current level of urban motoring. Thus such a universal tram system would make us poorer.

The mistake that is being made in the leader here is that they\’ve picked up one correct argument, that there is a cost to urban motoring, and ignored the other also correct argument, that there is also a cost to not urban motoring. Thus we do not want to get to a system of no urban motoring: we want to get to a system with the optimal amount of it, an optimal amount which is almost certainly greater than zero.

Just as the optimal amount of public transport is certainly greater than zero and also certainly less than 100% of all urban transport.

10 comments on “On not understanding climate change

  1. If you feel like shredding the Grauniad, why not look into “Munich Re predicted that 2011 – on the evidence of the first six months alone – will be the costliest year ever for disasters triggered by natural hazard”. I can’t help feeling that the Japanese tsunami might have something to do with the large numbers. I might even bother look it up myself.

  2. Uhm public transport will never be cheap, they’ll just make motoring expensive, or impossible with draconian parking restrictions. It’s not about climate, it’s about control, thus rational arguments will not work, we’re dealing with belief systems.

  3. also worth noting that outside of rush hour most buses, trains and trams run largely empty and so produce more CO2 per passenger mile than an equivalent car journey

  4. “Thus we interfere, apply a Pigou Tax, so as to bring those costs into said decision making processes.”

    And which of the governmental, academic, NGO, and QUANGO idiots rightly and often flensed by Mr. Worstall will we trust to calculate the externality costs that enable the government, academia, NGOs and QUANGOs to haul in even more taxpayer money?

  5. You’re missing the point Tim.

    The Left hates cars (or at least, hates the plebs being able to afford them) for the same reason they hate cheap flights, cheap food, and the cheap consumer goods created as a result of globalisation.

    It has nothing to do with any rational concern for the environment.

  6. The Left have another valid reason for preferring public transport over private motoring: social exclusion. If a car is required to access jobs, those without the means to buy and run a car will be unable to work.

    In particular this disadvantages the young, who are charged exorbitant rates for car insurance. For a 19 year old male driving a cheap no-frills car and without a no-claims bonus, insurance quotes of £1,500 – £2,000 are standard.

    At the other end of the spectrum, elderly drivers also face high insurance premiums and/or medical conditions leaving them unable to drive. Being unable to drive leaves them unable to access shops or visit their friends, ruining their quality of life.

    Left-wingers might have other, more emotive reasons for hating cars; but the issue of social exclusion is important.

  7. “The Left have another valid reason for preferring public transport over private motoring: social exclusion.”

    another?

    “If a car is required to access jobs, those without the means to buy and run a car will be unable to work.”

    the solution to people needing cars is thus to make it as difficult and expensive as possibly for them to buy and use them, makes perfect sense don’t it…

  8. Andrew Montgomery,

    The Left have another valid reason for preferring public transport over private motoring: social exclusion. If a car is required to access jobs, those without the means to buy and run a car will be unable to work.

    How many poor 19 year olds need a car to go to work? Sure, there’s some jobs out in the sticks, but most jobs for people at the poorer end of society are in urban areas, and they live in urban areas.

    I know quite a few young people who don’t even have a car.

  9. Pingback: Natural disasters (again) | h-info.co.in

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