Hidden Energy Articles

Hidden energy articles — The ‘right’ and climate change

I have been getting very interesting climate-related articles from ‘right-wing’ sources. Certainly more than the usual. This week I want to pay particular attention to two of them.

The first is a piece by Tim Worstall on the Adam Smith Institute’s blog about Shell’s divestment from oil sands and the subsequent call for carbon pricing. It basically says that carbon pricing is the correct (or at least the least wrong) way to address climate change:

Quite so, if we want to — and note at the top, we’re saying that something will be done, not that necessarily something need be done — change behaviour in this manner then the method to use is putting a price on that externality. A carbon price, a carbon tax. As Nordhaus, Stern,. Quiggin, Tol, Weizman, Mankiw and every other economist on the issue insists.

The second is this article by Curtis Williams on the Mises Wire about property rights and climate change. For Williams, the correct way to address climate change is via legal reparations for any harms incurred:

For example’s sake, let’s pick on Chevron — the biggest private emitter of carbon in the world (although governments tend to be the worst offenders). Obviously, because of the cumulative nature of climate change, no single defendant could be held responsible for the full cost of fixing up poor Mrs. Jones’s ruined garden. But, if Chevron caused 3.5% of the effect, they should be liable for 3.5% of the damages.

I am being extremely superficial here. Both authors defend their position and the associated caveats far better than the extracts above indicate. I truly recommend you to go and read them before continuing.

Regardless, I want to note three rather insightful considerations that can be derived from these articles.

Growing desire to change how the ‘right’ addresses climate change

Both authors note that their points of view apply regardless of whether you think climate change is happening or not. This may be to appeal to others in the community or because they do not believe in the issue themselves. It is impossible to know. Regardless, they reflect a growing desire in right-wing forums to engage with climate change.

And they are not isolated events. Browse any right-wing blog and you will likely find similar pieces. Some do still seem to think that accepting nature has laws betrays their principles. Regardless, debate is happening. The good thing about this is that debate typically leaves to improvement of ideas.

Key dissonances that need to be addressed

Don’t get me wrong. Both articles are very good. But they do disagree significantly. In one, carbon pricing is an ex-ante way to discourage all carbon intensive pollution. In the other, the claim is that discouragement should be ex-post and only when sufficient proof can be gathered against a specific act of pollution.

Nothing wrong with disagreement either. Debate is necessary for ideas to improve. But it needs to be clear that both articles are written as if one could determine the ‘correct’ path of action easily (and denying each other in the process).

There is a need for consistency of thought. If you claim that there is too much uncertainty about climate change as to know if it is happening (or if it is anthropomorphic), there is also too much uncertainty as for any single solution to be so straightforwardly clear.

Links to actual environmental efforts

The beauty of these two articles is that they put the finger on two of the most debated issues in environment politics nowadays: carbon pricing and reparations.

  • The biggest carbon pricing experiment thus far, the Kyoto Protocol, made the backbone for a significant chunk of climate action in the past decades.
  • Interest in the issue of ‘reparations’ has been raising in the past years. In fact, reparations was a rather contentious point in the negotiations leading to the Paris Agreement.

I am not going to claim that either IS the solution to our problems. Like I said, it’s a complex issue. But thought on both issues is certainly necessary.

Takeaway

When it comes to energy and environment, I side with pragmatism.

If there is hope for a proper solution for climate change, both left and right ideas need to evolve into something that people on both sides of the divide can live with.

Fortunately, now that the right is starting to think about the issue, the overlaps are starting to be evidenced. One cannot be but a little worried about the fact that these articles seem to trail behind both theory and practice by some 10 or 15 years, of course.

But hey, the foundations for a true dialogue are there!

Image credits: 
Change the politics (as seen from the London Eye). 
Joanna Penn. CC BY 2.0.