Of all the ludicrous decisions I have seen taken by governments and courts, one taken in the Netherlands last week comes very near the top of the list. After a campaign by environmentalists, a court ordered the Dutch Government to reduced emissions by 25% from 1990 levels – by 2020. This is crazy for three reasons.
Firstly, it cannot and will not be done. No doubt the Government will pay itself a hefty fine.
Secondly, it assumes, ludicrously, that all the emissions are under the control of the government. In fact, very few are. From corporations to individuals, responsibility for emissions is shared. The government cannot be held responsible in a remotely liberal society (and we are speaking here of a very liberal one of course) for all of its citizens and corporations’ actions. Punishing them for living their daily lives and running their daily business (necessary to achieve the target) but be crazy, would constitute an outrageous imposition, and would destroy the economy and living standards. Human rights, you say?
Thirdly, actions by the Dutch Government and even by the Dutch people collectively, taken alone, will make almost no difference to climate change. Here is something that will: globally, 50 new runways are being built in the next few decades, a third in China alone. Beijing’s new airport will be the size of Bermuda; Mexico City’s will be the largest in the Americas; Istanbul’s will be twice the size even of an expanded Heathrow. Even if tomorrow Europeans and North Americans stopped flying at all, the amount of global air traffic would double from today’s within the next 25 years. Not only will this, all other things being even, toss double (treble, actually, because of course we will continue to fly) the emissions into the air, most new air travel will be in developing countries to enable economic growth which will itself require more and more energy and more and more emissions.
Climate change, like social justice and many other things, is bizarrely causing us to look ever more inwards for local solutions (and, at best, appeals to Western-based morality) as if the growing middle classes in the Far East, South Asia and elsewhere are somehow not relevant actors. In fact what is required, again as with social justice, is a global solution to the global problem. But of course, again as with social justice, that will require restrictive and even punitive action in the West that no electorate there will actually tolerate…
Addendum (thanks to one regular correspondent):
Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for his work on the psychology of human decision-making, says: ‘This is not what you might want to hear,’ he says, but ‘no amount of psychological awareness will overcome people’s reluctance to lower their standard of living.’