For quite a while, I have wanted to see that someone address the question of comparing a richer and warmer world with a poorer and cooler world, and not just assuming that the latter is superior. As I wrote here, this is one of the most important questions ignored to date by Kyoto supporters. Supporters of immediate climate change action shout warnings about the dangers of raising the earth's temperature a degree or two. But what if that comes at the cost of reducing world economic growth a percentage or two? There is still a lot of work to be done to understand the impacts of a 1-2 degree temperature rise, but it is very, very well understood what 1-2 extra points of economic growth can do, especially in developing countries. Economic growth reduces starvation, increases life expectancy, improves health care and sanitation, and increases the ability to survive natural disasters.
The Commons Blog links to this study by Indur Goklany on just this topic. I have not had time to get through it all -- I am just happy someone is even asking the question -- but the Commons Blog folks have:
If global warming is real and its effects will one day be as devastating as
some believe is likely, then greater economic growth would, by increasing
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, sooner or later lead to greater damages from
climate change. On the other hand, by increasing wealth, technological
development and human capital, economic growth would broadly increase human
well-being, and society's capacity to reduce climate change damages via
adaptation or mitigation. Hence, the conundrum: at what point in the future
would the benefits of a richer and more technologically advanced world be
canceled out by the costs of a warmer world?
Indur Goklany attempted to shed light on this conundrum in a recent paper
presented at the 25th Annual North American Conference of the US Association for
Energy Economics, in Denver (Sept. 21, 2005). His paper "” "Is a
richer-but-warmer world better than poorer-but-cooler worlds?" "” which can
be found here, draws
upon the results of a series of UK Government-sponsored studies which employed
the IPCC's emissions scenarios to project future climate change between 1990 and
2100 and its global impacts on various climate-sensitive determinants of human
and environmental well-being (such as malaria, hunger, water shortage, coastal
flooding, and habitat loss). The results indicate that notwithstanding climate
change, through much of this century, human well-being is likely to be highest
in the richest-but-warmest world and lower in poorer-but-cooler worlds. With
respect to environmental well-being, matters may be best under the former world
for some critical environmental indicators through 2085-2100, but not
necessarily for others.
This conclusion casts doubt on a key premise implicit in all calls to take
actions now that would go beyond "no-regret" policies in order to reduce GHG
emissions in the near term, namely, a richer-but-warmer world will, before too
long, necessarily be worse for the globe than a poorer-but-cooler world. But the
above analysis suggests this is unlikely to happen, at least until after the
It is particularly important to do the economic work using the same assumptions that the climatologists use. As I posted before, climate studies tilt the playing field in the favor of warming by assuming huge economic growth rates in developing nations. This ups CO2 emissions estimates, because it is also assumed that these countries remain inefficient energy consumers. I have criticized this approach in the past, since it yields ridiculous outcomes (many of these smaller nations end up with economies larger than the US in 2050). However, if they are going to insist on these assumptions, that should also be the backdrop for estimating economic impact of reductions. Presumably, since in their model CO2 comes disproportionately from developing country growth, then the costs will be seen disproportionately in terms of reduced developing country growth. Which will have predictable results in terms of malnutrition, starvation, disease, and shorter lifespans.