Wednesday, February 02, 2011

From a great height

"The Harper government is reluctant to impose regulations on 'energy-intensive industries' like the oil sands in the absence of comparable U.S. moves, arguing that to do so would damage Canada’s economic competitiveness."

Developed nations attempting to outdo one another in economic growth are a little like skydivers competing for the highest terminal velocities in free-fall. Refusing to regulate the tar sands because it might damage economic competitiveness is akin to refusing to open a parachute because the other guy might get ahead of you.


Anthony Douglas said...

I think this metaphor surpasses even the car crash one! Lovely. And tragic.

David Palmer said...

Hi Byron,

One or two questions cross my mind.

Are you against economic growth?

Are you aware of the positive link between economic growth and pulling people out of poverty?

Maybe economic growth is OK for developing countries but not developed countries?

Interested in your thoughts.

You might be interested in this just published report from The Brookings Institution on the sharp decline in world poverty and the reason they give for it - rapid economic growth in developing nations, growth which is much in excess of that of the developed world.

All of which raises the paradox: what do you want - reduced poverty, more carbon emissions or less carbon emissions and more poverty?

If carbon emissions and global warming is your concern, you can almost forget the developed world, it is the developing world that now is pushing them up.

Last October I heard James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank, say on the ABC PM programme, 28th October 2010 that whereas 80 per cent of the world's GDP in 2000 was in the United States, Europe and Japan, you'll find that in another 20 or 30 years, by 2050, ...we're seeing that China and India, and to a degree some of the other Asian countries .. will together have more than 60 per cent of the global GDP.

It always pays to take frequent reality checks.

Jon Coutts said...

I wonder if Harper is leveraging himself against the States as a cop out or if he means to call them to task along with Canada. Who knows, but it makes some sense to try to do with the latter, since the US undoubtedly has some vested interest in oil so close to home and surely Harper gets a lot of pressure from the oil corporations to let Canada be competitive in this market. I fear, however, that the effect will not be the "call to task" but the "cop out", like you have indicated.

byron smith said...

David - Once again, we've had this conversation before.

I am against unnecessary economic growth in developed nations, as I said in the post and the last couple of times you asked me this.

what do you want - reduced poverty, more carbon emissions or less carbon emissions and more poverty?
A false dichotomy. I want reduced global carbon emissions through contraction and convergence, which gives room for developing economies to grow out of stupid (absolute) poverty through smart investment on a low carbon path. This will require both decarbonisation and de-growth in developed economies.

you can almost forget the developed world, it is the developing world that now is pushing them up.
Blame-shifting. Look at historical and per capita emissions. This is overwhelmingly a developed world problem. And even just looking at national emissions today, the developed world still emits the lion's share of carbon pollution. And Australian per capita pollution levels are still four times that of China and many more times that of India. There's a reality check.

I think we should also acknowledge that significant parts of China are no longer accurately excluded from the "developed" category. Bringing all of China and India into western levels of consumption is (a) impossible and (b) the attempt reveals the utter irresponsibility of our levels of consumptions.

Jon - I haven't followed Canada's situation closely, but I have some friends who do and they are very pessimistic about the Harper government's environmental record.

byron smith said...

Egypt is actually an interesting case study. GDP has been growing 7% a year, yet in the last twenty years, the number of Egyptians in poverty (less than USD$2/day) has grown from 20% to 44%.

Not all growth is equally good. I am against stupid and unnecessary growth, wasted growth, growth in the wrong places, and unchecked growth without reference to the rest of the body (i.e. cancer).

David Palmer said...


You are right. We have been around this loop before.

I had hoped you might have widened your reading and therefore the level of your understanding but I see you remain wedded to magical thinking when touching base with reality is what is required.

It is not hard for me to refute each of your responses but it is certainly tedious.