Time for Plan B?

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Both environmentalists and climate change skeptics should read this opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Nigel Lawson, who for years was Chancellor of the Exchequer in Margaret Thatcher’s Government.

Lawson is long-time critic of the Kyoto Protocol and, for a while at least, sided firmly with global warming skeptics. He’s nuanced his arguments in the last few years recognizing now that global warming is a reality that will have a negative, albeit moderate, impact on us. But he has little time for alarmist and apocalyptic statements from climatologists and climate change policy advocates.

Lawson proposes we “abandon the Kyoto-style folly that reached its apotheosis in Copenhagen last week, and move to plan B,” which essentially boils down to adaptation, plus modest increases in government investment in technological research and development.

This hardly amounts to much of a solution, however Lawson’s analysis of why Copenhagen failed is spot on:

1. The massive cost of decarbonizing the world’s economies because carbon-based energy is likely to remain the cheapest form of energy for the foreseeable future

2. Solving climate change is about negotiating a solution on how to share the burden between the developed world, responsible for the bulk of past emissions, and the developing world, which will likely be responsible for a sizeable chunk of future emissions.

His most insightful comment on the dilemma facing the developing world is this:

And the overriding priority for the developing world has to be the fastest feasible rate of economic development, which means, inter alia, using the cheapest available source of energy: carbon energy.

Moreover, the argument that they should make this economic and human sacrifice to benefit future generations 100 years and more hence is all the less compelling, given that these future generations will, despite any problems caused by warming, be many times better off than the people of the developing world are today.

For an interesting debate pitting Nigel Lawson and author Bjorn Lomborg on one side against Green Party leader Elizabeth May, and George Monbiot, on the other, check out the Munk Debates site.