When many environmentalists discuss the costs of significantly reducing CO2 emissions in the near-to-medium future, there is a degree of unreality clouding the discourse. There is plenty of talk of new technologies and improvements in energy efficiency, but insufficient discussion of the projected demands for energy in the future.
The reality is that there are billions of people in less developed countries who have been waiting a long time to enjoy the comforts and luxuries we take for granted in the developed nations, and they are not going to put aside their material aspirations for the sake of global warming, no matter how convincing the evidence.
In fact, they are going to do everything in their power to acquire cars, refrigerators, fresh food, electronic devices, and larger homes, and there is every indication they are going to succeed. Growth rates in China, India, Brazil, and many other poorer countries point towards a huge increase in the ranks of the world’s middle class in the coming decades. Any realistic projections of what we need to do to tackle global warming must take into account levels of resource use that include at least another 1 billion to 2 billion voracious consumers.
Any policies that don’t recognize this are worse than fantasy; they are elitist. For who are we in the developed nations to even hint at trying to deny the large majority of the world the material progress we have enjoyed? It is simply a non-starter.
The only viable solution (as I see it) is massive CO2 reductions in the developed countries, followed by massive technology transfer to the developing countries (likely as foreign aid); otherwise, our reductions will eventually be surpassed by their increases.
This brings us to the most inconvenient truth of all.
I see very little evidence to suggest that there is the will in the developed countries to even begin to make the necessary sacrifices, investments, and transfers of wealth required to reduce CO2 by quantities being suggested by climate scientists.
There is no better case study to support my skepticism than the proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound. This renewable energy project would provide 75% of the electricity of Cape Cod and replace an oil-fired power plant. On face value, it seems like a perfect green project. But in the bluest of blue states there is fierce opposition, because the windmills will interfere with the views of the rich people who live near the bay (many of them in their second homes no less); the project may very well never see the light of day.
Think about this situation for a moment to fully appreciate it: the economy-wide sacrifices of a serious commitment to CO2 abatement will mean higher prices for many of life’s basics, like heat for homes, transportation to work, and food, yet in one of the most liberal enclaves in the world people aren’t even willing to sacrifice a little of their view from their country homes. (What’s even more ironic is that I like the sight of windmills and would be happy to look out on them from my ocean view.)
I could go on and on about how the great champions of combating global warming fly in private jets, own multiple mansions, and to my knowledge have not sacrificed barely anything to reduce their CO2 emissions, but that only belabors the point.
Given the available evidence, I believe global warming merits action within reasonable bounds that takes into consideration the likely opportunity costs. I am willing to make a number of personal sacrifices to reduce CO2 emissions, including not eating animal products, which is one of the most effective ways to combat global warming (and easy because I’ve been vegan for over 15 years), paying more for green power (I did until the California fiasco destroyed the green electricity markets), paying more for energy-intensive products (as is only right), and paying more in taxes if our government made a serious commitment to the development and dissemination of energy-saving technologies and CO2 sequestration (which hopefully some presidential candidate will have the courage to suggest).
The central question is whether the majority of the citizens of the wealthy nations are prepared to make tangible sacrifices that by all indications will not be trivial (certainly more substantive than a mildly altered ocean view). From all indications, the answer at this juncture is no.