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But The Essential Problem Is That The Will Of The People Is Not To Deal With Climate Change

We can always trust the Guardian to grasp the wrong end of any ordure stained stick and the goes double for anything John Vidal as to say about the environment. The claim is that the will of the people is to deal with climate change – when our actual problem is that it isn’t the will of the people to deal with climate change. For, if it were that will then the people would be dealing with it. The very fact that people are arguing for plans, taxes, restrictions, regulations and the entire overturning of the economic order is proof perfect that the will of the people lies elsewhere.

What’s worse is that we already know this, it’s encapsulated in the very basics of the science we use to analyse climate change itself. Humans are subject to hyperbolic discounting. That’s just what the problem is – we place too little weight upon things in the far future. “Too little” as defined by some omniscient planner of course but it’s also a known problem with us peeps. We grew up, evolved, with perhaps a 40 to 50 year adult lifespan. If we were lucky and started early we might get to see the great grandkiddies nappies then it was into that long dark night. Averages would be lower than that, maybe see the grandkids off to school. So, our time horizons, if you prefer the period of future time we consider rationally, is rationally about that period of time.

The end result of this being that we do tend to think that market interest rates – which are simply the aggregate of all our time horizons – are about right up to 25 to 30 years away. After that, well, perhaps we place too little weight on that distant future, value it too little. Thus we should use lower discount rates – vast parts of the Stern Review are on precisely this.

But note what this means. We the peeps don’t care very much about that far future, that’s our entire problem. Thus this statement is wrong:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The will of the people is to halt climate change, what about politicians?
John Vidal[/perfectpullquote]

It’s simply not true. If the will of the people was to beat climate change then we’d have that longer time horizon, that lower discount rate. We don’t – therefore we don’t. And that’s our entire problem. We don’t care enough about what happens in 2100.

Yes, of course, sure, we can make complaints about who the hell is telling us how much we should care and all that. But leave the teleology aside for a moment. If we did care enough about that future then we’d not have a climate change problem. We do have said problem (again, let’s just run with what they’re telling us here to expose the fallacy in their own logic) therefore we don’t care enough. And that means that it isn’t the will of the people to deal with climate change.

Again, if it were said will then we’d not need feed in tariffs for solar – everyone would just install them panels anyway. We’d not need windmill subsidies as all would clamour to buy just such electricity. We’d not need to tax diesel as all would reject such a method of transport – the gilets jaunes not exactly agreeing with that posit.

It’s not the position on climate change which so annoys, it’s the incoherence in the logic of the argument.

BTW, don’t just take it from me, try Paul Ormerod:

Y[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] et when it comes to being required to part with some actual cash in the form of a fuel tax, which is a more effective way of curbing emissions, they become enraged. They know that climate change may well impose large costs in the future, but they are unwilling to pay a small cost now to help reduce them. Behavioural economics provides the key to understanding this seemingly paradoxical behaviour. One of its strongest empirical findings is that, when trying to compare future costs and benefits with those on offer now, people often use “hyperbolic discounting”. Translated, this simply means that they place far more value on small rewards or costs which are incurred now than on much larger ones in the more distant future. It is unlikely to comfort Macron to know that the French riots can be ascribed, in part, to hyperbolic discounting. But the rest of us might enjoy a good laugh. [/perfectpullquote]

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Jonathan Harston
Jonathan Harston
5 years ago

“…halt climate change”

There’s that fascistic desire to control the universe. If it rains I use an umberella, I don’t stamp and scream and demand that the rain be stopped.

bloke in spain
bloke in spain
5 years ago

You obviously didn’t read the memo. The will of the people will be whatever John Vidal says it will be. Which encapsulates why your continuing advocacy of a carbon tax is pissing the wrong way in a strong wind. You’re using economics to address a political problem. Joe Public is not the only one to do hyperbolic discounting. So do advocates of state spending & the politicians who do the spending. They want our money NOW! Not in due course. They need to spend it on their pork NOW! Not have it turn up when they’ve lost the power to… Read more »

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
5 years ago

Why should I worry about posterity? What has posterity ever done for me?

(Je suis Marxiste – tendence Groucho.)

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