Paul Collier has finally ‘nailed it’ as they say on Australian Idol.
Climate change is, in fact, infested with ethical baggage, much of it unhelpful. Lets get rid of some of it now. First, climate change has been hijacked by the environmentalist hatred of industrialized modernity. The scientific process behind global warmingthe buildup of carbon emissionsunfortunately might have been designed as a parody of medieval Christian theology. Instead of the wages of sin being death, the wages of industrialization is global warming. Rather than burning in hell, we will burn on earth. The cap and trade system, under which the right to emit carbon beyond a set limit can be purchased from the authorities, echoes with remarkable precision the indulgences sold by the medieval papacy. The popes needed to finance the building of the Vatican; President Obama needs to finance the fiscal deficit. The environmentalist hatred of industrialization is matched by the guilt-ridden colonialist hangover: we in the rich West are responsible for the poverty of the South. As colonialism receded into history this sense of guilt became harder to sustain, but global warming gives it a new lease on life. We, the rich, have emitted carbon and now the worlds poor will suffer climatic deterioration as a consequence. Victimhood is back in business. Lets try a thought experiment to cut through the thicket. Suppose that scientists discover that the reason why we in the North die before we reach the age of 150 is that cassava, a crop grown by poor peasant farmers in Africa, emits ions which affect the air in Northern latitudes. Does this discovery give us all a claim for compensation from African farmers? The answer is, obviously, that it does not. Since the farmers did not know, they incur no liability. Now push it one step further. Once the science is accepted, what should happen? Clearly, African peasants should cease to grow cassava, but who should bear the cost? Should Africans simply recognize that killing us is an unacceptable price to pay for growing their favorite crop, or should we in the North compensate them for not killing us? I hope that you recognize the analogy with global warming: the emotive baggage surrounding the issuesin and guiltis not intrinsic to the structure of the problem, but imported from other agendas.
Now let me get down to the genuinely difficult ethical issues.
And so he does – a fantastic article if occasionally a little too strident and self assured for my taste.