Demands for ‘climate reparations’ are laughable

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Protestors from an anti-fracking group wait for the start of a demonstration outside EU headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. The European Commission on Wednesday proposed a framework for climate and energy policies beyond 2020 and up to 2030. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) Virginia Mayo

Demands for ‘climate reparations’ are laughable

The demands for climate reparations from wealthy countries are so absurd, so unscientific, and so offensive to natural justice that it is difficult to know where the criticism should begin.

The argument is that, since countries that industrialized earlier produced a lot of carbon a hundred years ago, they now owe a debt to poorer states. Naturally, this argument appeals to assorted Marxists, anti-colonialists, and shakedown artists, and COP27 has been dominated by insolent demands for well-run states to pony up.

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Some, including Austria, Belgium, and Denmark, have capitulated. No doubt others will follow. These days, once something is framed as poor-versus-rich or darker-skinned-versus-lighter-skinned or ex-colony-versus-ex-colonizer, the pressure becomes irresistible. Nevertheless, it is worth running through the absurdities in play.

First, the claims are rooted in indignation rather than science. For example, Pakistan, which leads the G-77 group of poorer states and is leading the campaign, claims that its floods are a product of climate change. But might Pakistan look a little closer to home? Although Europe and North America have seen significant reforestation over the past half-century, Pakistan has gone in the other direction. A third of its landmass was forest when it became independent in 1947. Now, it is one-twentieth, and the rains run straight off the mountains into silted-up reservoirs that then overflow, whence the floods.

But never mind all that — blame the colonialists, eh?

Second, there is the utter refusal to acknowledge what wealthier countries are already doing. I don’t just mean in terms of making direct monetary transfers — though, sticking with Pakistan for a moment, Britain has been borrowing around $400 million a year to give to that country, which pleads poverty while funding a nuclear weapons program. No, I mean in terms of impoverishing themselves through drastic action on carbon emissions. Britain has cut its carbon dioxide production by nearly half since 1990, largely by closing down its coal mines. Pakistan has more than 100 coal mines in operation.

But, again, blame the colonialists, eh?

Third, there is the ingratitude. One of the things I used to resent about the European Parliament was the entitled and hectoring way in which representatives of poorer countries (they were usually very rich people) would call for bigger transfers. “This is unacceptable,” they would say of whatever offer the Brits, the Dutch, or the Germans put on the table. Fine, I’d think, don’t accept it, then. Yet the numbers only ever got bigger. Look, I’m sorry to be blunt about this, but a 2-degree rise in temperature is far less menacing for Britain or Canada than it is for most countries. The least-threatened countries are doing the heaviest lifting by far. But don’t expect any gratitude.

Fourth, there is the implication that industrialization, the miracle that released our species from 10,000 years of backbreaking labor, is regrettable. In truth, as well as giving us longer, healthier, and freer lives, the wealth released over the past 200 years of specialization and exchange is cleaning up the environment. The air and water are purer in London than in Lahore because GDP is higher. For the same reason, natural disasters have become far less lethal. The 1950 floods in Pakistan killed many more people than this year’s, because they hit a poorer country.

Fifth, there is the related assumption that rich countries owe their wealth to exploitation, that one nation’s gain must mean another’s loss. This is palpable nonsense. The enrichment of a country, other things being equal, is good news for all of its trading partners. And countries get wealthy not by conquering others (a process that is always expensive) but by pursuing the right policies, such as secure property rights, low taxes, independent courts, light regulations, and free trade. If you tax successful countries to pay unsuccessful ones, you will end up with fewer of the former and more of the latter.

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Sixth, and most preposterously, there is the ugly collectivism that lurks behind every shakedown attempt, from the return of artworks to slavery reparations. Our criminal justice system, like every Abrahamic religion, is based on the idea that we are individually responsible for our actions. But when it comes to these scams, we are all suddenly defined by ancestry or skin color.

It is precisely because Western nations broke out of that dispensation that they became rich in the first place. And it was by copying their individualist outlook that other countries were able to catch them up. Far from complaining about industrialization, the rest of the world should thank us for having developed capitalism, and they should seek to emulate it.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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