Monday, December 26, 2016

Climate Change

It seems like the issue of climate change is accelerating in dialog as the days go by.  The media would have us believe that there are two camps.  The first is the enlightened group of scientists, politicians, celebrities, and the rare business-person who buys it, lives it, is scared by it, and wants to dramatically change our culture and economy to avoid it.  The other camp is populated by the few scientists who are ignorant, politicians who want to pander to their troglodyte constituents who don't know any better, one or two celebrities who may never work again, and the vast majority of business-persons who don't give a shit about it as long as they are making money.  Two camps.  No in between.  You are either enlightened or you're an idiot. 

Of course, that's not entirely right.  There are some who beleive that there are impacts to the environment being exacerbated by man and we should figure out what to do about it and how urgent our actions need to be.  We generally believe that before we shut down whole industries and impact virtually every aspect of our life, we ought to have pretty firm ground to stand on.  And we believe that there are some good, prudent steps that can be taken to minimize the damage.  We generally believe that innovation needs to be applied to the use of fossil fuels so their impact will be minimized but that for the foreseeable future, we are going to need to rely on them.  

As I've watched this dialog unfold over the last few years and as Obama has embraced it and started to create winners and losers in the field, I've been a bit perplexed as to why he and other politicians would embrace such a drastic strategy.  These are smart people, surely they know that that the urgency needs to be tempered with analysis.  And then I happened on an article by one of my favorite analysts, George Friedman.  It is actually a reprint of an article he did a year ago at the end of the Paris climate accords.  Don't know why I missed it other than there was so much being written at the time, but as usual, he has a different take that makes sense to me.  You can read it here.  By the way, if you''re not reading his site, Geopolitical Futures, then you're missing a bet.

But anyway, his argument is that the debate on climate change and what to do about it is eerily similar and really the same thing as the debate between capitalism and socialism.  It's akin to how much do we want the state to define and control our lives and how much freedom do we want.  If the climate change zealots get their way, we will shut down industries, governments will make decisions on winners and losers, and money will be redistributed.  But under capitalism, the free market reigns, personal responsibility and ambition are valued, and there are winners and losers.  There isn't equality of outcome, but there generally is equality of opportunity.  When capitalism rose in the 19th century there was an outcry that it would result in social and economic catastrophe.  It was generally thought that the elites and intellectuals have to rule, make decisions, and take care of people.  Well, we have learned that isn't quite right.  

Friedman's analogy seems to me to be spot on.  7 billion people living on earth will have an impact.  How that will unfold and the urgency to do something are still questions that need a whole lot of analysis and discussion.  And as always, follow the money.  Unfortunately, the zealots have now created an environment in which reasonable debate is difficult.  
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