Letter: A climate of panic obscures the issues

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your various correspondents (Letters, 7 February) on the need for this country to enter into firmer and tougher commitments to cut CO2 emissions to prevent the threat of climate change appeal to the so-called 'precautionary principle'. What they seem to mean by this is: 'Take action now when it is very expensive and it is not clear how far it is necessary, rather than later when we shall have a clearer idea how much of it we need and when cheaper technologies will be available to reduce carbon emissions per unit of output'.

In fact, the global economic effects of climate change will be far less alarming than many environmental activists would have us believe. Even on the basis of the 1990 climate change predictions, the overall effect on the world economy by the latter half of the next century would probably be negligible. And given that the average per capita income in the world as a whole will probably be three to four times as high by then as it is now, a small reduction in that income as a result of climate change would certainly not justify imposing heavy burdens on the current generation.

It is true that some reduction in carbon emissions can be achieved at low, or even negative cost. But the scope for doing so in an economically viable manner is nothing like as great as Michael Redclift seems to believe (unless we are to assume that industrialists are all hopelessly incompetent at minimising costs).

Nor does the threat of climate change justify diverting attention, time, energy, research and financial resources from more serious environmental problems facing the world today in rich and poor countries alike. These include, in the former, pollution of beaches and underwater aquifers, disposal of garbage and radioactive waste, traffic congestion and urban air conditions in some cities, and so on. In developing countries they consist primarily of access to clean drinking water and sanitation.

The global warming scare has a nice apocalyptic ring about it. But the fact is that we are not on the brink of the abyss. We have time to think.

Yours sincerely,

W. BECKERMAN

Oxford

8 February

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