Thursday, February 08, 2007

Unintended Consequences

For half a century, Western guilt made the lives of the poor even worse by propping up despots and corrupt bureaucracies through foreign aid. A new form of Western guilt, environmental fundamentalism, is making the lives of the poor even worse in Mexico after triggering a huge rise in the price of corn -- the chief component of the tortilla -- thanks to a government-induced increase in the demand for ethanol in the United States.

This constitutes poignant evidence that the drive for carbon reduction can be costly. And not just for the poor: Many European countries, who attacked the United States savagely when it refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, will not meet their goals in terms of reducing emissions by 2012 because they have discovered what a high school student could have told them: Life is one constant trade-off. Meeting the Kyoto goals would mean sacrificing the economic well-being of many Europeans at a time when fewer and fewer people are sustaining an ever-growing number of retired citizens.

Environmental fundamentalism has made it a sacrilege to even raise a brow at some of the premises of those who predict an apocalypse if massive carbon reductions are not made mandatory. Even though a number of scientists indicate that global warming is not as bad as is generally assumed and that historical precedent points to recurring patterns, it is now very hard to argue that a much more thorough debate is needed before any drastic action is taken and that governments need to carefully weigh the consequences of the mandatory caps that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is proposing.

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