GHG Dilemmas: Consigning China & India to Perpetual Poverty?

I was taken aback at a Melbourne conference sponsored by the Australian Financial Review. A questioner suggested that we need to recognize that third world nations will never be able to live at first world levels of affluence because of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction policy. My response was simply that I doubted the Chinese and Indians would agree with that proposition.

Yet much of the current rhetoric on GHG reduction proceeds from this assumption, despite the fact that IPCC models and documents assume that strong economic growth will continue. Much of this has to do with the “hysterical” nature of the GHG reduction debate. For example, some observers blame global warming for Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans, rather than the Army Corps of Engineers and other government agencies that were remiss in their responsibilities to maintain the levees to withstand a category 3 hurricane (yes, a category 3 hurricane, not the category 5 hurricane that the hysterical so often disingenuously assign to Katrina). New Orleans was not a victim of climate change, it was a victim of government incompetence.

It is time to cut through the rhetoric. The Indians, Chinese and other lower income nation residents will not be satisfied to continue their less comfortable quality of life at the same time that Americans, Western Europeans, Japanese and Australians live their rich, comfortable lives. Nor should they. This is simply unsustainable.

Moreover, the political institutions of China and India are sustainable only if they facilitate the strong economic growth that their citizens have rightly come to expect. Simply reducing GHG emissions by reducing economic activity or controlling demand will not work. This does not mean that GHG emissions will continue to rise without limit --- technological advances can reduce GHG emissions while permitting economic growth to continue. This is the hope; it is the only hope.

For those inclined to “back to the cave” strategies that somehow imagine sacrifices being made by lower income nations, there is a single rhetorical question:

    If Chinese and Indians are not to be permitted to live as well as Americans and Western Europeans, then when will Americans and Western Europeans going to start living like Chinese and Indians?