Climate Change Charades: False Environmental Pretences of Statist Energy Governance
Queen's Business Law Symposium Conference Paper
25 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2007
Date Written: October 2007
Five obstacles stand in the way of achieving significant reduction in global annual greenhouse gas emissions: industrialism, international development, the tragedy of the commons, the clash between developed and developing world on defining environmental limits, and incremental accumulation. Industrial civilization is premised upon cheap and plentiful fossil fuels, in which economic activity is proportional to energy use. Within an industrial paradigm, development means achieving high per capita GHG emissions. Higher per capita emissions from countries with large populations produce ever higher GHG concentrations in the atmosphere, a global commons. Protecting a global commons requires global internalization of environmental externalities, which requires universal collective action. Such action is difficult to negotiate, given the clash between measuring emissions on a per capita basis and requiring nations to observe limits that avoid imposing environmental externalities on others. In the absence of global action, pursuit of incremental domestic reduction is futile. GHG concentrations accumulate in the atmosphere incrementally, and economic and population growth outpace any marginal gains from efficiency or behavioral change. Incremental harm requires revolutionary change, and revolutionary change is not achieved by incremental means.
Climate change is a poor justification for energy statism, which consists of centralized government administration and control of energy supplies, sources, prices, generating facilities, production and conservation. Statist energy governance produces climate change charades: government actions taken in the name of climate change that bear little relationship to the nature of the problem. Such actions include incremental, unilateral steps to reduce domestic carbon emissions to arbitrary levels, and attempts to choose winners and losers in future technology, using public money to subsidize ineffective investments. These proffered solutions are counter-productive. Governments abdicate their responsibility to govern energy in a manner that is consistent with domestic legal norms and competitive markets, and make the development of environmental solutions less likely rather than more so.
Keywords: climate change, energy, greenhouse gas reduction, environmental law, electricity, Kyoto, conservation, energy subsidies
JEL Classification: K23, K32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation