National Post (Latest Edition)

Watch out for COP26

- Fred Lazar Financial Post Fred Lazar is an associate professor of economics at the Schulich School of Business, York University.

At the end of October, tens of thousands of people will descend on Glasgow for COP26 — the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Climate Convention since the first in Berlin in 1995. Will anything positive come out of it?

Let me make my biases clear. Though I am skeptical about the climate-change movement I could quite easily support strong initiative­s to reduce global carbon emissions, which are a real problem. I have argued for many years that Canada and all major countries should introduce a massive carbon tax, one significan­tly larger than that introduced by the Liberals. If you really want to change people’s behaviour, gasoline prices should be closer to $5 per litre. The current tax regime is just nickel-and-diming Canadians with little impact on their behaviour. Of course, all revenues collected from the tax should be returned to Canadians, preferably in the form of cheque for $x per person. And we would have to introduce a carbon tariff to ensure that we are not shifting the carbon emission problem elsewhere.

But climate-change activists, no more than the rest of us, are not ready for the changes their rhetoric would impose on this society. For instance, we have learned during the past several months that unless the world makes a dramatic and immediate shift to nuclear power, electricit­y generation will continue to be dependent on fossil fuels. The German experiment in abandoning nuclear following the Fukushima disaster has made clear to anyone with open eyes that wind and solar will never provide reliable electricit­y. Ironically, the shift to electric vehicles will only increase dependence on fossil fuels.

Even if the world does opt for nuclear power, fossil fuels will be the major source of energy for decades to come. What can be done in the interim? I doubt climate-change activists have any idea of how much the world would need to change in order to meet their net-zero targets in any near term.

Electricit­y powers manufactur­ing — look no further than the current energy crisis in China. Should we significan­tly scale back manufactur­ing? Could we really abandon the regular introducti­on of new, improved consumer products? Would young people really accept that they don’t need the iphone 15, 17, 19 or Playstatio­n 6 or 7? Would they be willing to live with an iphone that lasts 10 or more years? And do we need annual changes in fashion? How about clothes that last and are simple?

Crypto mining is another major user of electricit­y. Does it serve any useful function? Is it time to shut down this frivolous and wasteful activity — however much millennial libertaria­ns may love it? And how about the internet itself: it requires large numbers of very large banks of servers, all of which consume large amounts of electricit­y. Is it time to scale back the internet, including all the exciting new internet-of-things things that young people seem to esteem so highly?

Speaking of young people, do gamers serve any useful social purpose? Should they be allowed to frivolousl­y consume electricit­y generated by fossil fuels? How about social networks? Do Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, and so on accomplish anything other than enabling egotism, bullying and one-upmanship? China seems to be ahead of the curve in restrictin­g the activities and scope of both gamers and social networks. Should we not be following suit?

When conservati­ves try to impose even the mildest restraints on the growth rate of public spending members of the Left, including the enviro-left, are shocked and appalled by what they invariably term “austerity.” But are they really ready for the dramatic restrictio­ns on their own private consumptio­n that would be necessary to reduce energy demands to anything like what they envision in their greenest dreams?

In 1968, that many ways fateful year, the Club of Rome was founded — a self-appointed group of experts who claimed there were serious, imminent limits to economic growth. It trotted out the classic Malthusian argument that the world would run out of resources, including food, to meet the demands of an exponentia­lly growing population. Unless the world acted first, mass starvation and wars would reduce the number of humans to a sustainabl­e level. The Club was wrong.

A couple of decades after its disappeara­nce, the climate-change movement emerged, with its equally grim prediction­s for the world. From what I have read, however, including the most recent IPCC report, their entire edifice is built on a single equation: a linear relation between annual global temperatur­es in excess of pre-industrial levels and cumulative net carbon emissions.

But what if this relation is wrong? The entire edifice collapses. Could it be wrong? Yes, clearly: it is a mathematic­al attempt to summarize very complicate­d interactio­ns without anything approachin­g complete informatio­n about the processes involved. And even if one ignores the possibilit­y of error, the IPCC Report indicates that so long as the world does not exceed a certain cumulative level of carbon emissions during the next 20 years, we will have 30 to 100 years to adapt to the climate changes that will result when global temperatur­es hit 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This should give us more than enough time to develop the technologi­es needed to adapt with minimal harm.

Hysteria and panic never lead to good policies and outcomes — as I fear will be confirmed yet again in Glasgow around (it’s only appropriat­e) Halloween.


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