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Today’s proof that beating climate change will make us poorer

Summary:
Or if you prefer, today’s proof that some insist we must become poorer to beat climate change:Nevertheless, the French bill still compares favourably with the efforts of the UK government when it comes to aviation emissions, by virtue of this key distinction: the ban recognises that we can’t tackle climate change without some actual curbs on air travel. Up until now, the idea that there might be hard limits to consumption in a carbon-constrained world has been anathema to politicians everywhere. This ban is an important step towards accepting that curbing consumption is essential for driving down emissions. Finding fair ways to impose these limits in practice will be difficult. But banning unnecessary domestic flights should be the easiest place to start.By definition we are richer if we

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Or if you prefer, today’s proof that some insist we must become poorer to beat climate change:

Nevertheless, the French bill still compares favourably with the efforts of the UK government when it comes to aviation emissions, by virtue of this key distinction: the ban recognises that we can’t tackle climate change without some actual curbs on air travel. Up until now, the idea that there might be hard limits to consumption in a carbon-constrained world has been anathema to politicians everywhere. This ban is an important step towards accepting that curbing consumption is essential for driving down emissions. Finding fair ways to impose these limits in practice will be difficult. But banning unnecessary domestic flights should be the easiest place to start.

By definition we are richer if we are able to consume more of what we wish to consume. This is true whether our desired consumption is digging in allotments, enjoying slow food, greater leisure or being able to fly from Manchester to London. Sating more desires is being richer.

Thus to insist that climate change can only be beaten by curbing consumption is to insist that we must be poorer.

There is also that “Kto, Ktogo?” point. Who is it that decides that domestic flights are unnecessary for whom? It being a cornerstone of any form of liberal society - not just liberal or neoliberal economics - that the utility to be maximised is defined by the person doing the maximising, not by some bureaucrat in an office elsewhere.

But the thing that has always confused us in these insistences about air travel is that of course climate change can be beaten without changing flying habits in the slightest. Currently aviation is some 2% of global emissions. This is a rounding error in the scheme of things - especially since zero emissions is not in fact necessary to turn the problem into some mild annoyance rather than a civilisational disaster.

Further, even if we do talk about net zero the net there is important and there are plenty of carbon negative processes out there. Iron fertilisation of the Southern Ocean - that alone would cover global aviation emissions - , building up the carbon content of pasture soils and so on. It may well be - and we would insist that it will be - true that people would prefer to carry the costs of those carbon negative technologies and still be able to fly. It being - because we’re liberals - our insistence that the decision is up to those people, not the bureaucrats in some office.

All of this before we get to the most obvious point, which is that if this green hydrogen revolution is really to come to pass then the manufacturing of net zero carbon avgas becomes rather simple.

This is possibly unkind but it is the only logic which seems to make sense to us. Which is that some people just don’t want others to be able to fly, insist that people should be made poorer by not being allowed to do so. Climate change is the excuse, not the reason.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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