George Today

Hmm, I seem to be making long comments at CiF today. Sort of taking it to the moonbats rather than just preaching to the converted here perhaps.

"I can accept that a unit of measurement that allows us to compare the human costs of different spending decisions is a useful tool."

Good, because that\’s the only way it can be done. NICE looks at the cost of drugs by valuing QUALY (quality of life adjusted years) and says that if the use of a treatment gives a year of good quality life for less than £50 k or so then the NHS will pay for it. If it costs more than that then they won\’t (although there are exceptions) as Polly told us recently.
The rail system says that spending upon safety matters should go ahead is one life per year is saved per £1.4 million spent. More than that and we don\’t spend on the safety.
Local councils (I think this is true at least, these numbers are from memory) change road layouts if the cost is less than £100,000 per life saved per year.

There are, as you continually point out George, limited resources in the world (your mistake is in thinking they are fixed over time: they are not, but at any moment they are) and thus decisions must be made about what use to apply them to.
Claiming that human life is invalauable is all very noble but it\’s extremely childish. Should we spend a £ billion to cure one person of cancer (that is, in fact, the sort of sum we do spend in certain pollution reducing regulations)? Or would that £ billion be better spent eradicating malaria in a few countries? Which contributes more to human welfare?
You might argue that we should spend £2 billion: but pretty soon we do come up against the constraint of everything we have and thus need to make decisions and prioritise.
And yes, just as we have to do this with the NHS, with safety spending upon roads, upon railways, we have to do this with climate change.

It isn\’t, you should note, about profits: it\’s about the social benefit of emitting carbon as against the social cost of emitting carbon (or methane, NOX etc). This is exactly the sort of calculation we have to make if we are to even conceptually arrive at a rational decision. What is the cost of a Bangladeshi farmer losing his fields to floods in 2080? What is the cost of Bangladesh either developing to American living standards (as one of the models underlying the IPCC report assumes) or not doing so (as another model does)? What is the cost to us in lowered living standards of reducing carbon emissions?

Now what you can do is argue about the values placed upon all of these things: that\’s how we get the differences that we do in the social cost of carbon. Nordhaus seems to think, in one paper at least, that it\’s $2.50 a tonne CO2-e. Stern came out with $85 per tonne. If you want to say that human life is more valuable than Stern does, fine, argue for a higher social cost of emissions. That\’s a valid and logical thing to do (even if most will disagree with you, there\’s nothing conceptually wrong with the logic).

But to insist that no price can be put upon human life is insane. We do it all the time, we have to do it all the time, for, sadly, we do indeed have limited resources at any one time.

 

2 comments on “George Today

  1. “Claiming that human life is invalauable is all very noble but ..”: not, it’s not noble at all, not in the slightest. It’s self-indulgent preening, it’s heart-on-sleeve posturing or, perhaps, it’s plain lying. All are ignoble.

  2. The tone of astonished outrage in Monbiot’s piece must be a little bit faked. It’s inconceivable that he hadn’t come across cost-benefit analysis in environmental debate before.

    Actually, last year Monbiot wrote an article about speed cameras, approvingly quoting a committee that reported “Well-placed cameras bring tremendous safety benefits at excellent cost-benefit ratios”. So he’s OK with cost-benefit analysis when it gives the ‘right’ answer.

    Clearly, however, to most of the most of the CiF-ers, this is a completely new, alarming concept. It is odd that people should have such strong opinions about how to run the country, without the slightest knowledge of how Government works.

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