Nick Stern’s Climate Change Error – BBC Proves Only 1% Give A Toss


Perhaps we should go back to the foundational document that tells us we must do something about climate change. No, this isn’t the IPCC reports and COP 15 and all of that. Assume that everything that is said about emissions and future temperatures is entirely correct. We really will be – as the now cliche has it – boiling Flipper in the fumes of the last ice floe soon enough, London will be underwater and all that.

That’s still not a justification for us to do something about it. For our task is to maximise human utility. And it could be that we’re all just having so much fun emitting that damn it, the future can go take care of itself. The foundational document that shows that we should do something about it is the Stern Review. With all that talk of lower discount rates and all that. It being lower discount rates, making costs in the future mean more now, which create that case for bearing any of the costs now. For having less fun now emitting in order to benefit that far future.

Hmm, Nick Stern says we ought to because. But note that Nick Stern actually does say – we ought to. He’s smuggled in a moral precept there, that we *should* give more weight to the future than we do. But moral precepts are always assumptions. And it turns out that this isn’t one that actually holds. However we ought to care more for that future we don’t:

Less than half of the world’s major airlines are giving passengers the opportunity to offset the carbon dioxide produced from their flights, BBC research found. When airlines do offer such a scheme, generally fewer than 1% of flyers are choosing to spend more. Carbon offsetting enables passengers to balance out their carbon footprint by paying towards environmental projects.

This also illustrates another economic point. We only truly know what people value when we observe what they do. Not when they say something. That is, talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words. Many people say that we should be doing something about climate change. Under 1% actually do anything even when offered the opportunity.

The outcome of this being that sure, perhaps Stern is right and therefore we should care more about the future. The fact is that we don’t – only under 1% give a toss about it. Therefore we shouldn’t be doing anything about climate change, should we? Because the valuations that Nick Stern thinks we should have aren’t the valuations we do.

This is actually correct too. Because there are only us humans around to give a value to anything, the only valuation that matters is the one we apply ourselves.