In a previous thread, Andrew Adams made an insightful comment about how climate change impacts and mitigation mix in with economic development in poor countries:
Energy poverty in the developing world is a problem, along with food shortages and loss of arable land due to soil erosion and other factors, lack of clean water supplies, the prevalance of diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS, the debt burden etc. And, of course, climate change, which both raises entirely new threats and exacerbates some of the problems mentioned above.
It is naïve to suggest that they can just go full steam ahead now and worry about the problem later once they have better developed economies. It always bears repeating that humanity doesn’t get to dictate the timescales for taking action to avert dangerous climate change – the planet does.
But of course, what they are going to do is only part of the problem; if we really care about the fate of people in developing countries we also have to ask what we are going to do about it. Unless we take action to reduce our own emissions we can hardly expect them to follow suit and in any case any action they do take will be futile, and if they are going to develop along low emission lines they are going to need our assistance in both practical and material terms. And of course it is our past (and present) actions which have brought humanity to the position it is now in so even if not everyone accepts the moral/ethical responsibility of those who are well off to assist those who are less fortunate, there is still the responsibility to deal with the consequences of our own actions. I see a lot of skeptics expressing concern for the effects that climate mitigation policies will have on developing countries but they reject the notion that the developed world should do anything to help bear the costs itself.
In a comment over at CaS he said it in a bit more sarcastic way:
Hmm, I can never remember whether AGW is a huge plot to enrich developing countries by redistributing the wealth of us in the West, or a huge plot to impoverish developing countries by denying them access to affordable electricity.
The ethical issues that are behind this were summed up by Steve Easterbrook:
To many people, living comfortable middle class lives inNorth America, climate change is some vague distant threat that will mainly affect the poor in other parts of the world. So it’s easy to dismiss, no matter how agitated the scientists get. If you follow this line of thinking, it quickly becomes clear why responses to climate change divide cleanly along political lines:
- If you care a lot about fairness and equity, climate change is an urgent, massive problem, because millions (maybe even billions) of poor people will suffer, die, or become refugees as the climate changes.
- On the other hand, if you’re comfortable with a world in which there are massive inequalities, where some people live rich lavish lifestyles while others starve to death, then climate change is a minor distraction. After all, famines in undeveloped countries are really nothing new, and we in the west are rich enough to adapt (Or are we?).
The dominant political ideology in the west (certainly in the English-speaking countries) is that such inequality is not just acceptable, but necessary. So it’s hardly surprising that right wing politicians dismiss climate change as irrelevant. No amount of science education will change the mind of people who believe, fundamentally, that they have no obligation to people who are less fortunate than themselves. As long as they believe that they are wealthy enough that climate change won’t affect them, that is.
Apart from the separation in space between those who caused (the bulk of) the problem and those who suffer (the bulk) from it, there is also a separation in time: Future generations will suffer the most from this problem of our making. On both counts one could say that the problem is that it’s not our problem.
I don’t think that there is something intrinsic to right wing politics to discount problems that your own actions cause to others (I sure hope there isn’t). There are plenty of examples of politically right oriented people making a big stand for e.g. environmental issues (e.g. Winsemius and Nijpels in the Netherlands; Schwarzenegger in the US). It is however disconcerting that the current manifestation of this important political stream does show signs of such discounting/ignoring especially as it relates to human induced climate change.