An Historical Perspective On Global Warming & My Response
For 250 years we have been polluting the planet in order to achieve the fantastic quality of life we have today.
Can we afford to continue to do so?
Are there any alternatives?
An Open Letter to CBS News Radio Commentator Dave Ross
by DON BOUDREAUX on AUGUST 9, 2012
in CLEANED BY CAPITALISM, ENVIRONMENT, HISTORY, SEEN AND UNSEEN
Mr. Dave Ross
Dear Mr. Ross:
In your segment “What happened to global warming being a hoax?” – aired during today’s 1pm hour on Washington, DC’s, WTOP radio – you played a clip of U.C.-Berkeley scientist Richard Muller saying that “all of this warming over the last 250, 260 years has been caused by green house gases emitted by humans.”
Being no physical scientist myself, I accept Mr. Muller’s claim. But contrary to most people’s reaction to this news, my reaction is “What a deal!”
In exchange for slightly warmer global temperatures, humanity gets off-the-charts benefits never before enjoyed by ordinary men and women – benefits that began to flow only 250, 260 years ago. In industrialized countries, these benefits include a near-tripling of life-expectancy; a growth in average real per-capita income to a level at least 30 times higher than it was a mere three centuries ago; an end to famine and plagues; abolition of the multi-millennial-old institution of slavery; widespread literacy; and an unprecedented expansion in women’s rights and opportunities – all these wonders, and more, from bourgeois commerce and industry powered in part by fossil fuels. Has humanity ever gotten so much at such a puny price?
Asked differently, who among us would choose to exchange modernity and its stupendous prosperity for whatever reduction in global temperature we’d enjoy had all the greenhouse gasses emitted over the past 250, 260 years never been released?
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030
P.S. None of the above suggests that, at the margin, reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions aren’t desirable. They might or might not be, depending on the attendant costs and benefits. But historical perspective – which is utterly lacking amidst popular and media commentary on this question – is necessary. If the choice were between, on the one hand, all the commerce and industry and its attendant greenhouse-gas emissions over the past 250, 260 years, and, on the other hand, none of that industry and (hence) no industry-released greenhouse gasses over the past 250, 260 years, how many rational people would choose the latter?
The historical perspective is a very interesting one, and one which cannot be ignored although I do take issue with a few statements.
“an end to famine and plagues; abolition of the multi-millennial-old institution of slavery;”
Over one billion people on Earth live below the poverty line, are hungry and AIDS and other diseases are rampant in those areas with the greatest poverty. Despite the fact that they can be treated effectively through the use of the latest drugs – which of course these very people cannot afford. I would suggest that there is MORE human suffering now than there was 250 years ago.
As regards slavery, the use of so-called sweatshop labour by multi-national corporations is surely slavery by another name. These people, often young children, MUST work in order to earn the money to survive, the only difference between this system and the old system is that a tiny amount of money has been added into the equation. Which often finds its’ way back into the coffers of the corporations through the purchases made by the workers.
“If the choice were between, on the one hand, all the commerce and industry and its attendant greenhouse-gas emissions over the past 250, 260 years, and, on the other hand, none of that industry and (hence) no industry-released greenhouse gasses over the past 250, 260 years, how many rational people would choose the latter?”
However we do not live in the past, but in the present and the wise man will have his gaze firmly fixed to the future. The wise man will also know that with the current level of technological knowledge we possess, there is no need to burn fossil fuels. Renewables – solar, wind, geothermal, wave & tide power – could easily power the whole world with zero greenhouse gas emissions. The stumbling block is not lack of technology, but a lack of political will, since the very same corporations who supply the modern society with the fuel and goods also control governments through various methods – lobbying, contributions, payment of taxes, creation of jobs. No politician or government is powerful enough to challenge them.
The Imperial Capitalist Industrial System has brought mankind to its current level. However the cycle of constant unlimited growth that this system demands is not sustainable on a planet with limited resources and 7 billion humans.