Telling the selfish their opposition to action on climate change is really a defence of the poor

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Some people are complaining/agreeing with Matt Ridley’s latest piece on climate change in the Wall Street Journal. If you are familiar with Ridley’s output on the issues, then none of it will be new to you. Some (half OK) stuff about how bad renewables are; some (dubious) stuff about climate sensitivity being lower than most scientists think; and so on and so forth.

As always, there is a flourish at the end.

We should encourage the switch from coal to gas in the generation of electricity, provide incentives for energy efficiency, get nuclear power back on track and keep developing solar power and electricity storage. We should also invest in research on ways to absorb carbon dioxide from the air, by fertilizing the ocean or fixing it through carbon capture and storage. Those measures all make sense. And there is every reason to promote open-ended research to find some unexpected new energy technology.

The one thing that will not work is the one thing that the environmental movement insists upon: subsidizing wealthy crony capitalists to build low-density, low-output, capital-intensive, land-hungry renewable energy schemes, while telling the poor to give up the dream of getting richer through fossil fuels.

A rather curious way to end it, I’d say. Ridley is essentially telling his right-wing readers at the WSJ that, yes, you’re opposition to climate change is selfish, but if you rationalise it long enough you can turn it into a defence of the poor.

This, though, is a persistent theme. Spend any time reading the blogs of climate change “skeptics” and you will find this at every turn. People whose politics would do nothing but damage to the poor will instantly act as if their opposition to wind farms or cuts to carbon emissions is all in the name of the poor. I once had a curious discussion with one of these people who was adamant that climate change action would do great damage to the world’s poor, and that Britain should scrap all foreign aid. Think about that.

This goes, of course, to the supposed slaughter of endangered birds by wind turbines. The ecological sensitivies of the apparently ecologically unsensitive prick up the second a wind turbine slices and dices an eagle. There is no evidence – and I’ve looked – of any of these people caring about birds dying by any other means.

And so it goes on.

Ridley’s article points to a new book “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” by Alex Epstein, a book that appears to be full of praise for the power of fossil fuels to liberate the poor. It also appears to be rather popular among right-wing libertarians whose policies would remove whatever benefit fossil fuels would provide the poor.

The book’s website tells us the following:

ALEX EPSTEIN started the Center for Industrial Progress to offer an alternative environmental philosophy to America, one that is anti-pollution but pro-development.

It is worth paying attention to the words people use. Someone’s read views can be betrayed with a single world. So ask yourself why it is the word “but”, and not “and” in this sentence?


4 thoughts on “Telling the selfish their opposition to action on climate change is really a defence of the poor

    Hans Erren said:
    March 15, 2015 at 10:42 pm

    Do you really think that high energy prices are benefiting the poor?


    Keith Brown said:
    March 16, 2015 at 10:40 am

    I have to say I think Matt Ridley’s article makes a lot of sense. Lifting the poor out of poverty is a priority for the world. To suggest those of us who believe in the relative (all things are relative) efficiency of free market economics are somehow callous about the poor is a common accusation of the Left but that does not make it true. (I also spend a small fortune feeding hosts of birds that make my life richer by visiting my garden, but left the RSPB when it morphed into yet another ideological quango). As for combating climate change, if we are going to do this whilst also lifting the poor out of poverty, of course we will need (relatively – that word again) cheap, high density power generation. So why are so many environmentalists against nuclear power?


      Robert Wilson said:
      March 16, 2015 at 7:53 pm

      Who is your question directed at?


    donoughshanahan said:
    March 17, 2015 at 10:51 am

    Typo “If you are familiar with Ridley’s outpu”

    I have not read Epstein’s book yet but probably will soon. However the word ‘moral’ is usually a bad starting point for any argument.

    For example the Guardian had a moral article recently. I pointed out that if the moral argument is to divest, then to prove this you have to address the flip side. Morality is about choice and you have to define both (or many) options so as to pick the best one. However as in that article, what you usually get is someone claiming that one choice is moral without testing the other.

    So oversimplified, exaggerated and not necessarily true example. Stop fossil fuels for environmental reasons thereby slowing down the access of the poor to cheap energy. Morality = bad. So increase fossil fuels thereby speeding up the access of the poor to cheap energy and environmental destruction in the future. Morality = bad.

    That is why morality is a hard starting point. With a simple reading, you will probably get an irreconcilable argument. And we get a lot of simplification.


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