Right-wingers are morons, part XXIIVI

February 10, 2011

I’ve been bashing Labour for quite a while, and so it’s time to pick on some of the stupidity coming from the Right. I don’t normally have a lot of time for Prince Charles, but his speech to the Low Carbon Prosperity Summit was bang-on. He argued that our long-term prosperity is threatened by a combination of rising temperatures and ecosystem degradation, and that decoupling economic growth from business-as-usual consumption was essential to maintain that prosperity into the future. In a particularly stirring section, he condemned climate sceptics in no uncertain terms:

“I wonder, will such people be held accountable at the end of the day for the absolute refusal to countenance a precautionary approach for this plays a most reckless game of roulette with the future inheritance of those who come after us?”

Of course, such forthright views almost instantly attracted the vitriol of right-wing jester James Delingpole and the at least internally consistent libertarian writings of Dan Hannan. Both of them have lambasted Charles for attempting to send us into a dark age of economic stagnation. Unfortunately, the text doesn’t really bear that out – they both appear to have seen this part of the speech:

“There is, surely, no way round the fact that we have to move away from our conventional economic model of growth, based, as it is, on the production and consumption of high-carbon intensity goods.

“We need to meet the challenge of decoupling economic growth from increased consumption in such a way that both the well-being of Nature’s ecology and our own economic needs do not suffer.”

and thought, “HE’S CONDEMNING CONSUMPTION! MUST STOP HIM!”

No. He’s condemning carbon-intensive consumption, which is different from, well, low-carbon consumption. The clue is his use of the word ‘decoupling’, which is used in economics to indicate the separation of production from increasing pressure on the environment. This is a relatively common position for environmentalists to take – that we can have the benefits of economic growth while safeguarding the natural world as long as we have an appropriate policy framework in place. It is, in fact, perfectly compatible with liberalism, as it typically requires additional payment for externalities. This can take the form of a carbon tax or subsidies for low-carbon electricity generation paid for by energy users.

Both Delingpole and Hannan appear to have convinced themselves that no-one arguing for environmental impact considerations with regard to economic activity can possibly be in favour of prosperity. This is quite a severe case of (a) stupidity and (b) setting up strawmen. It’s also dangerous – reducing the impact of the biosphere to sustain us will impact on our future prosperity, and so it needs to be a factor in our economic calculations. Both right-wingers appear to be advocating a rather naive version of libertarian economics that appears to deny the existence of any possible externality. On the other hand, at least Hannan is emphasising the importance of private property, so hopefully he’ll get around to campaigning against the planning system.

Addendum: Another spectacular example of right-wing stupidity at the Telegraph, where Ross Clark is arguing that since localism is hard we should stop doing it. What a brave man you are, Mr Clark.

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