I wondered where he’d been. For there was that wailin’ of a decade back that ohmygodwereallgonnadie and then the reverse ferret of actuallyyouknowitsnotgoingtobequiteasbadasthat.
So, what’s the next thing? Can’t be writing books and articles about climate change without some contrarian point to make after all. So, what’s going to be the girtbigclaim to be made in a shocking and powerful book that keeps the grants and commissions rolling in? Why would poor island nations turn for advice to an advisor who wasn’t being radical?
So here we have the pitch on that next girtbigclaim:
Forget net zero – let’s have a ‘fossil freedom day’
Let’s just pick a day, somewhere off into the future, where we say we’ll never use fossil fuels beyond this point.
No, forget all we know about humans and politics and government. That this requires armed wardens guarding the Forest of Dean to ensure that no commoners scrape out a few hundred pounds of that surface coal. That some international source of control will be necessary. For what if some place decided not to and didn’t have to retreat to being medieval peasants as a result? Who is going to take on China which produces the germanium that makes fibreoptics work, the Ge gained by burning coal?
No, no, let’s just go for it!
My suggestion is extremely simple: we set a date for the worldwide exit from fossil fuels, a sort of independence day from carbon. Like all ideas that eventually become mainstream, at first sight this looks preposterous. You mean, we actually have to stop burning oil? No more petrol? No more LNG tankers plying the world’s oceans? No more giant coal machines scraping up carboniferous forests from underneath medieval villages in eastern Germany?
Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. A fossil fuels exit date forces us to confront what net zero doesn’t – that we have to actually entirely stop combusting carbon.
Gosh, what bravery, such iconoclasm!
I propose 2047,
Fittingly, 2047 is also exactly a century on from the year of Indian independence in 1947,
Twattery of the highest order.
We should time a change in the energy system of the world to mark the ascent to political power of Edwina Mountbatten’s lover ?
Well, that’s certainly radical. Twattish, but radical. And it’ll provide at least a decade’s worth of opportunities to campaign, write, be commissioned, talk show appearances and book readings before the inevitable reverse ferret.
It also entirely ignores everything that we know about climate change. What the IPCC, Stern Review, Bill Nordhaus and his Nobel, every damn economist on the planet actually, has been saying. Which is that old saw, prices matter.
What’s the price of stopping the use of fossil fuels on that orgasmic (well, we suppose it was for Edwina, she did go back often enough) date? What’s the benefit of doing so?
What those actual numbers are doesn’t matter for the logic here. Pick any set you like but you do have to do the calculation.
For as all those economists keep trying to point out the aim isn’t to have no climate change. We’ve already sold that pass by agreeing that we’re not going to stop the use of fossil fuels at 3 pm Tuesday afternoon next week. For we’ve all also agreed that 1 or 3 or 5 billion dead folk is a rather high, a too high, price to pay for not having 1.5 oC of gorbal worming. We think that wouldn’t be a maximisation of human utility over time – which is, as the economists keep insisting, the actual goal.
The actual aim is to have the right amount of gorbal worming. That right amount being the quantity of it, balanced against the not having it, which over the centuries best promotes the greatest interests of the greatest number.
Which is prices. The price of not having gorbal worming is somenumberofsmilingkiddiesnotenjoyingtheworldbecause economicresourceswerespentonidiotclimateschemes. The price of having gorbal worming is somenumberofsmilingkiddiesnotenjoyingtheworldbecauseeconomicresourceswerenotspentonclimateschemes.
We want to take the actions which maximise the numberofsmilingkiddiesenjoyingtheworld. We do not want to take the actions which maximise the numberofsmilingkiddiesnotenjoyingtheworld. That means we want to take those actions which cost less, in the reduction in number of smiling kiddies now but maximise the future number, and not take the ones that cost more.
Prices matter, d’ye see?
The general answer from all those tens of thousands of economists who have worked on this problem specifically, the further tens of thousands who have worked on the base problem of externalities over the past century and a bit, is that you don’t set the target and you don’t then manage and plan to gain the target. Instead you set up the mechanism, with prices. Then leave society and the economy to chew through that information – prices being information, d’ye see? – and we get to that maxima. Where we’ve balanced that future damage against damage now, where we’ve reduced future costs to the minimum consistent with not making humans, over time, worse off overall.
All of this being explained rather well by Bill Nordhaus – Nobel and all that? – by Artie Pigou that century back and the Stern Review is a 1200 page exegesis on the point. This is the collective human wisdom on the subject. Stick the $80 per tonne CO2-e on it and don’t, for God’s Sake, try to plan shit.
But Mark Lynas wants to propose something different. Because, well, got the publisher lined up yet Mark? Book tour booked? Script for the TED Talk ready?
Just a little reminder, it’s not self interest, it’s enlightened self interest.