Climate Disruption as policy: wisdom or folly?

by Rarbol2004Could it be in China’s interests to ignore climate chance?

According to the Danish ‘skeptical environmentalist’ Bjorn Lomborg:

Climate models show that for at least the rest of this century, China will actually benefit from global warming. Warmer temperatures will boost agricultural production and improve health. The number of lives lost in heatwaves will increase, but the number of deaths saved in winter will grow much more rapidly: warming will have a more dramatic effect on minimum temperatures in winter than on maximum temperatures in summer.
There are few arguments for China and India to commit to carbon caps – and compelling reasons for them to resist pressure to do so.”

Now to say that Lomborg has been accused of playing fast and loose with statistics would be an understatement, so there is no special reason to trust his unreferenced ‘climate models’. However, commentators at the Ecologist Magazine, hardly Lomborg’s best friends, have said more or less the same thing, and added Canada as a potential beneficiary of climate change. So let’s just suppose Chinese, Indian and possibly Russian officials and politicians are indeed thinking along these lines. After all, disruption and change always create opportunities for someone, somewhere. Would it be possible to develop policy on the basis that climate change will substantially alter the balance of environmental blessings between the world’s nations? In other words, could rising temperatures shift competitive advantage to certain nations? Of course it would be possible to develop policy on this basis. But would it be wise?

Ecosystems can be described as being complex and in dynamic disequilibrium. This means that while we can at a stretch model deaths in heatwaves and cold snaps as Lomborg suggests, just about every other effect and side-effect of climate change is much less predictable, and potentially more significant. The effect on agriculture, for instance, is just one affect that Lomborg doesn’t consider. Unfortunately, China has a history of widespread policy-induced famine (as does pre-independence India). And it may well be that in treating climate change as a mixed blessing, Lomborg is encouraging history to repeat itself.

Further, despite what Lomborg claims, the jury is still out on whether China actually stands to benefit from Global Warming.

According to William R Cline of the Petersen Institute for International Economics and the Centre for Global Development… China’s loss and benefit will both be 7%, meaning that climate change will have a neutral impact on the country.”

Finally, whatever the impacts of climate change on China, it is highly likely they will be unevenly distributed. Low Lying coastal areas, where half the population lives, will be disproportionately affected, as will be the headwaters of some major rivers.

Egalitarians tend to see nature as precariously balanced – best treat carefully to avoid disaster. Individualists tend to see this as nonsense, with a benign nature endlessly able to bounce back. Hierarchists see nature as in need of careful management, while Fatalists see it as capricious and unpredictable let alone manageable. Lomborg has until recently been playing a straightforwardly Individualist role – denying that Climate Change is a really serious issue, characterising it as the unwarranted preoccupation of alarmists and/or a marvellous opportunity. However, as evidence mounts up, he seems to be modulating his views – or is he just trying to find new ways of conveying his established message?

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