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The Case Against Climate Change Reparations


I was a little disappointed by Boris Johnson’s argument against Britain paying reparations for the damage done to developing countries by climate change.

Yes, he acknowledged at Cop27, Britain was the first country to industrialize and, as a result, ‘people in the UK have put an awful lot of carbon into the atmosphere.’ [bold, links added]

But we simply don’t have the financial resources to pay compensation for all the harm caused by the industrial revolution.

Hmmm. I can think of several better arguments against climate change reparations.

To begin with, he could have questioned the link between carbon emissions and the extreme weather events that are supposedly wreaking havoc in the developing world – such as the flooding that occurred in Pakistan earlier this year.

Turns out, more people died in floods in Pakistan in 1950 (2,900) and 1965 (10,000) than they did in 2022 (just over 1,500). So while this year’s floods were bad, they weren’t the worst in the country’s history.

Indeed, the evidence that flooding in general is becoming more prevalent as average global temperatures increase is pretty threadbare.

In 2011, a group of geophysicists looked at the data on extreme floods going back to 1891 and concluded they were less intense in recent years. But it’s unlikely Boris would have made that argument, given that he’s abandoned climate change skepticism and become a net-zero zealot.

A better argument is that even if you accept there’s a link between carbon emissions and, say, rising sea levels, it doesn’t follow that the UK should pay compensation to the developing world.

After all, China is a developing country and China has emitted more carbon dioxide in the past eight years (80 billion tonnes) than Britain did between 1750 and 2020 (78 billion) – that’s according to Our World in Data.

The UK is estimated to be responsible for 4.6 percent of all historic emissions and that figure is declining because Britain now contributes less than one percent of all global emissions each year. Boris could easily have pointed all of this out and remained on brand, as it were.

But the most disappointing thing about his response is that he didn’t bang the drum for capitalism and the free enterprise system. As Boris argued in 2018, the economic model pioneered by Britain in the middle of the 18th century has lifted billions out of poverty.

In 1970, almost 27 percent of people worldwide lived in absolute poverty. In 2006, that number had fallen to a little over 5 percent. The UN estimates more poverty was reduced in the past 50 years than in the previous 500, thanks to the industrial revolution – and the main beneficiaries have been people in the developing world.

Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of the population in developing countries living in poverty fell from 43 percent to 21 percent.

In light of this, the notion that Britain should pay a financial penalty to the developing world for being the first country to industrialize is completely absurd.

It’s a bit like arguing that because a British citizen created the world’s first successful vaccine, we should pay compensation to all those people who have suffered vaccine injuries, overlooking the fact that without vaccines hundreds of millions would have died from tuberculosis, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, polio, tetanus, and hepatitis B.

He could have argued, as I’m sure he has in the past, that before the birth of the modern age, life was nasty, brutish, and short. The idea that preindustrial society was some kind of Eden where man lived in harmony with nature is romantic poppycock.

As Jonah Goldberg points out in Suicide of the West: ‘The natural state of mankind is grinding poverty punctuated by horrific violence terminating in an early death.’

Thanks to free-market capitalism, the poorest people in industrialized countries, barring a few homeless drug addicts, live more comfortable lives than the richest did in those countries 1,000 years ago.

Read rest at The Spectator UK

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