Progressives and climate alarmists have proposed various plans to lower CO2 emissions. These plans are ineffective to lower emissions and associated increases in global warming, are prohibitively expensive and limit individual energy choices while making energy more expensive. In the 1950s, Dutch dam-builders turned fossil fuel energy into protection from Mother Nature at a fraction of the cost of today’s green proposals.
The EU’s declaration of a climate emergency takes resources away from real emergencies and stifles evaluation of practical, cost-effective alternatives that can shelter people from the potential impact of climate change. Emergencies provide an opportunity for a power grab to advance a collectivist aim:
“Emergencies” have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have eroded.” ― Friedrich von Hayek
It is encouraging to see that scientists are starting to speak up with louder voices about people taking climate change predictions beyond a scientific framework. For example, 700 scientists recently urged politicians to deprive climate change activists of this emergency status. But politicians could not resist and declared an emergency anyway.
The emergency declaration is a regressive tax on the world’s poor. It will boost unreliable, inefficient and expensive zero-emission energy that cannot scale commercially. As a result, it will make energy more scarce and expensive – something that is already observed in countries and states where renewable energy is more prevalent. This will make it even harder to provide power the everyone, making it tougher for the world’s poor to protect themselves from Mother Nature.
Mandating zero emissions is prohibitively expensive. Nobel Laureate Nordhaus shows that ambitious policies like the Paris Agreement target of 3.6°F would cost the world $134 trillion. The Clean Power Plan is expected to reduce temperature increases in the year 2100 by 0.023 – 0.057°F, and as Bjorn Lomborg explains, delaying temperature increase over the next 80 years by 8 months. Another doozy is the Green New Deal, with an expected cost between $52 and $93 trillion, to be spent over 10 years. That represents a whopping 24 – 44% of US GDP for a period of 10 years.
A cheaper alternative to these green emergency plans would be to do absolutely nothing. The IPCC estimates that a laid-back approach toward climate change will reduce 2070s average world incomes by 0.2 – 2%, which would be insignificant given GDP per capita will likely have grown by some 300-500% by that time.
A more practical alternative is to spend money on protection in places where this is needed. Spending on protection is much more practical and cost-effective than fighting CO2 emissions. Earth’s atmospheric pool with everyone’s emissions suffers from a tragedy of the commons problem, and governments around the world are behind on the reduction pledges. Protection is generally paid for by the people who need, who then benefit from it.
A Dutch history lesson from the 1950s is instructive for the achievement of practical and cost-effective protection from Mother Nature.
For centuries, the Dutch have been fighting – and mostly winning – the battle to claim land from the sea. It has made for a proud Dutch attitude when they reflect that “God created the earth, but the Dutch created Holland.” The fight also came at a risk – Mother Nature would sometimes take battle gains away in massive floods. The last flood in modern time was in 1953. Almost 2,000 people died, and overall damage represented about 5% of Dutch 1953 GDP.
It would be a wake-up call for the Netherlands. The Dutch had already dammed off the Zuiderzee with a 20-mile dam in the 1920s and 1930s to protect hundreds of miles of their northern coastline. The 1953 flood initiated a government-led program to build what would become the Delta Works. In addition to increasing dike height across the Dutch shoreline, the Delta Works would dam off several estuaries in the west of the country to minimize the length of dikes requiring extra height and to reduce cost and impact.
With this massive civil engineering projects, the Dutch turned energy, mostly from fossil fuels, into protection and shelter. While average sea levels around the world have risen about 25 cm over the last century, the Dutch increased their average dike heights by about 3 m.
The most surprising aspect of this massive engineering project is its cost. 890 million euro for Delta Works and raising the height of other dikes, to be spent over ~25 years – represented less than 0.5% of Dutch GDP per year.
Today, Delta Works maintenance and upkeep of “delta height” cost less than 0.1% of GDP. With sea levels rising by about 3 mm every year, maintaining a risk level of flooding at once every 10,000 years is conducted at relatively little cost to a thriving economy that exists below sea level behind the protective barrier.
Even though this example is from a time when people were kinder and politicians built consensus, it shows that planning improvements for the ‘collective good’ can work out, even when done by government. However, care should be taken in identifying real emergencies, and to address them with a practical and cost-effective mindset.