Benefits of Procrastination

Stop Procrastinating
Might not always be the right way...

Our views towards climate change are often tinted with a veil of emotions – fearful of our children’s safety, the prospects of more disasters and such. As a result, we proceed as cautiously as possible when studying it and would rather we err on the side of exaggerating the effects of climate change than to downplay it. Robert P. Murphy, an economist specialized in climate change economics, gave the whole story a more objective treatment in his article, The Benefits of Procrastination: The Economics of Geo-engineering

The article mentions some interesting geo-engineering schemes that are currently explored, but the main issue of the article is not the technologies involved but the cost-benefit analysis for the choice between waiting for more options to fight climate change and fighting it now through emission reductions. He argues for wait-and-see approach towards climate change and encourage geo-engineers to get on with their innovations and research.

Murphy believes that procrastination might give us a better assessment of the effects and extent of climate change our economic activity is resulting in and thus allow us to respond with more effective initiatives without compromising our economic growth at present and paying too high a cost from preventive measures such as reducing emissions.

Interestingly, discount rates isn’t even the issue. The significant idea Murphy is after is that we could buy time to refine our assessment of climate change and also the means to tackle them. And that it’s worth it. I’m not sure if the potential life loss from the risk is accounted for but his suggestions would sound insane to those who are suffering at the frontline of climate change, like the Inuits in Arctic region.

Even as an economist-to-be, I know that these issues is not always about economics and when we are thinking about global issues and aggregating cost, we almost definitely will leave out the non-monetary cost borne by the fringe groups. Perhaps Murphy could re-do his calculations and analysis after he reviews the cost of the effects of climate change even using more conservative estimates of the effects.

Meaningful, I’m not so sure

The clock is ticking.

Key states have announced what they call a “meaningful” agreement at the Copenhagen Climate Summit to tackle climate change. The agreement between the US, China, Brazil, India and South Africa would set a mitigation target to limit warming to no more than 2C and, importantly, to take action to meet this objective.

The five-nation brokered deal promised to deliver $30bn of aid for developing nations over the next three years, and outlined a goal of providing $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries cope with the impacts of climate change. The agreement also included a method for verifying industrialised nations’ reduction of emissions. The US had insisted that China dropped its resistance to this measure.

However, it seems that only the US and China are supposedly “happy” from a meeting which seemingly had a “positive result”, or rather, what I term as a poor return from the 2 weeks worth of discussion.

In the face of a globalized world and the many challenges that we face, what the US and China put forth together seemingly only benefits them. For instance, nothing is done about limiting carbon emissions and on a legally binding treaty, something which sort of “liberalizes” the major powers in the form of US, China and India. With US out of Kyoto and the lack of a legally binding contract, China and India can be said to be free to do whatever they want, with all three nations insisting that national sovereignty comes first.

Now, I’m not saying national sovereignty should be ignored, but as we attempt to tackle a problem that we should have been engaged in long ago, we realize that the Copenhagen Accord, as Jo Leinen, chairman of the European Parliament’s environment committee described, is a completely “disappointment and below our expectations”.

Selfish interests of the global powers dominated the discussion table in Copenhagen, while the rest of the world are let down by their inability to co-operate and come up with a more radical approach to the problem. Yes, this is progress from what has come before, a necessity, but whether it will truly solve the problem, no. The roots of the problem ultimately lie in the countries’ inability to break out of their shell – their inability to come to a solid-enough compromise, and their covert belief that the economy should come first. This inability to commit to this cause from the US, China and India seemingly portrays them in a green limelight.

Progress has been made, yes, but it’s no longer about the ability to make progress, that almost didn’t happen, but rather, how fast we can reach humanity’s goal.

The clock is ticking.