Should West be penalized for making the world better off?

If we in the West are to pay damages for the Industrial Revolution, shouldn’t we also consider the extraordinary wealth that process has helped spread around the world?

By Ger­ard Baker, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 22, 2022

The latest synod of our modern church of climate change theologians, otherwise known as COP27, concluded its deliberations in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with a “breakthrough” agreement over the “loss and damage” provisions of the global governance regime they have established to tackle climate change.

Before they left their air-conditioned hotels and hopped into limousines to take them to their jets for the long journey home, these courageous fighters for carbon neutrality agreed to create a fund on the principle that rich countries like the U.S. should compensate poor countries for the damage caused by climate change. Successive administrations, Democratic and Republican, long opposed this idea, justifiably fearing that it represents an open-ended scheme to funnel American taxpayers’ money to beacons of planet-saving good governance like South Africa, Pakistan and Indonesia.

The idea is that developing countries are being literally inundated with the costs of climate change in the form of rising sea levels, extreme weather and the other horsemen of the meteorological apocalypse. Developed countries are responsible for most of the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere and therefore should be made to pay for the costs of climate damage to small developing countries that have contributed little to the planet’s warming.

There are several problems with this.

We are all moved by scenes from the disasters the climate lobby cites to justify its plans, such as those from Pakistan’s devastating floods this summer. Simple human compassion compels those of us more fortunate to want to assist.

Climate-related deaths have plummeted in era of ‘global warming’

But aside from the big question of how many of these weather events are actually caused by man-made climate change, we know that the human cost of these disasters is much smaller today than it was before we were alarmed by the climate alarmists.

In his brilliant dissection of the climate extremists’ case in his book, “Unsettled,” Steven Koonin, who served as undersecretary for science in President Obama’s Energy Department, notes that climate-related deaths have plummeted in the era of global warming. Citing data from the

Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disaster at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, he notes that “weather-related death rates fell dramatically during the past one hundred years” and are “about 80 times less frequent today than they were a century ago.”

Weather-related death rates fell dramatically during the past one hundred years and are about 80 times less frequent today than they were a century ago.

Why? Almost entirely thanks to improvements in infrastructure and mitigation enabled by rapid industrialization.

A second problem is that under the agreed plan, China and India, as “developing countries,” haven’t agreed to contribute to the fund but have made only vague commitments to assist. So countries whose emissions have grown rapidly in the past decade will be exempt while the U.S., whose emissions have been declining, are on the hook.

Above all, the idea that the least developed countries in the world have received only the cost of industrialization and not the many benefits is ahistorical. The sophists at the United Nations insist that the new fund is a model of “climate justice,” but it sounds an awful lot like a vehicle for the “reparations” climate extremists have long demanded from the countries that were first to industrialize for supposedly having inflicted their environmental costs on the world.

If we in the West are to pay damages for the Industrial Revolution, shouldn’t we also consider the extraordinary wealth that process has helped spread around the world?

Maybe Pakistan could have become a thriving economy with little industrial activity, producing carbon-free economic growth and prosperity for its people. But the nation’s gross domestic product per capita has roughly tripled in the past 50 years, and I’d wager that a significant amount of that growth has been the result of innovations such as the combustion engine, air conditioning, the microchip, the personal computer and all the other wonders of the developed world.

Critics say that the developed world has already received the benefits of those advancements in the form of profits for the West’s capitalists. But have they? If we are going to examine the wider social and environmental effects of rapid growth, isn’t it reasonable to ask what would be the level of the world’s overall income and wealth without the innovations of industrial capitalism?

No good deed goes unpunished, they say. So, for having the genius to produce the ideas, create the economic system and develop the capital that has in a little more than a century given the world unimaginable prosperity, eliminated deadly diseases that once killed millions, reduced infant mortality, extended life expectancy and lifted hundreds of millions of people out of hunger and poverty, we must now be made to pay.

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