Remarks by Donald Trump and his team have reignited the debate over Global Warming, or Climate Change if you prefer. There are very big risks involved. If America changes direction, a lot of other countries will be tempted to follow.
The obvious risk is that there will be an increase in global warming with the associated effects on the weather, including more volatility and, ironically, colder winters in the British Isles due to disrupting the Gulf Stream.
Of course, the risk to offset this is that we could all go to a lot of effort, possibly to the detriment of economic growth, unnecessarily, if the World has not been getting warmer or if the causes are other than human activity. The Ice Ages all ended for some reason, and it was not industrialisation.
I cannot provide conclusive evidence either way. You must decide from all the information available, which risk you think is greater.
What I can do is to point out a few additional risks, costs and benefits which tend to get overlooked in the argument.
- Pollution is harmful. Very harmful. Reducing exhaust fumes from vehicles, for instance, would benefit the health of people living in cities, especially those living near main roads.
- Recycling reduces the waste of scarce resources.
- So does energy efficiency.
- Depending on fossil fuels, or any one source of energy, makes Society vulnerable to any interference with its supply. Too many eggs in one basket.
- Trees produce oxygen and consume carbon dioxide. Destroying forests is harmful to the atmosphere. Some people and animals depend on the rain forests in particular for survival.
- Seas are being overfished and polluted. Human waste, such as polythene bags, kills many species of marine creatures.
I think these considerations tip the balance in favour of acting as if we believed in Global Warming, almost regardless of the scientific evidence. This does not necessarily mean agreeing with every idea proposed by the Greens. It does not necessarily mean going back to pre-industrial society. We need to invest in scientific research and technological innovation, so as to make life more sustainable and to improve the quality of life for everyone.
We need to manage the risks of failing to manage our resources properly against the risks of damaging economic growth.