Gore says “We can’t afford inaction any longer, and frankly, there’s just no excuse for it. We all want the same thing: for our children and the generations after them to inherit a clean and beautiful planet capable of supporting a healthy human civilization. That goal should transcend politics.... This isn’t an ideological debate with two sides, pro and con. There is only one Earth, and all of us who live on it share a common future.”

Also he says “And that is what is at stake. Our ability to live on Planet Earth—to have a future as a civilization. I believe this is a moral issue.”

Well I certainly cannot argue against Mr. Gore’s beliefs but I would ask you to consider the following questions and where you would place them in relation to Gore’s prescriptions.

What follows are some of my moral questions.

What should we do first?

The scientists and economists involved in the Copenhagen Consensus project have tried to answer that question. In their words:

“The Copenhagen Consensus Centre (CCC) is a centre under the auspices of the Copenhagen Business School. Through the commissioning and conveying of research, we work to improve the foundation for prioritizing between various efforts to mitigate the consequences of the World's biggest challenges. In particular we focus on the international community's effort to solve the World's biggest challenges and how to do this in the most cost-efficient manner.”

Asking the question, What is the best way to spend 50 billion dollars on global problems?, brought a team of scientific and economic experts to the following list of priorities.  As you can see mitigating climate change is very low on the list.

Bjorn Lomborg (Ed), "Global Crises, Global Solutions.”, Final Overall Ranking., Cambridge University Press, 2004. p.606
Very Good1. Communicable diseasesControl of HIV/AIDS
2. Malnutrition and hungerProvide micronutrients
3. Subsidies & TradeTrade liberalization
4. Communicable diseasesControl malaria
Good5. Malnutrition and hungerDevelopment of new agricultural technologies
6. Sanitation and waterCommunity-managed water technology and sanitation
7. Sanitation and waterSmall-scale water technology for livelihoods
8. Sanitation and waterResearch on water productivity in food production
9. Governance and corruptionLowering the cost of starting a new business
Fair10. MigrationLowering barriers to migration for skilled workers
11. Malnutrition and hungerImproving infant and child nutrition
12. Communicable diseasesScaled-up basic health services
13. Malnutrition and hungerReducing the prevalence of LBW
Bad14. MigrationGuest worker programmes for the unskilled
15. Climate changeOptimal carbon tax
16. Climate changeThe Kyoto protocol
17. Climate changeValue-at-risk carbon tax

See also the project website:  http://www.copenhagenconsensus.com/Default.aspx?ID=675

What about those who have an urgent need for fossil fuels now?

The International Energy Agency estimates that 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity, and about 2.4 million still rely on traditional fuels for their energy needs; wood, crop waste and dung; for cooking and heating.  Reliance on traditional biomass also takes a heavy toll on forests and the local environment.

International Energy Agency, “Energy and Poverty.”

Indoor air pollution for these people is 3 to 37 times dirtier than outdoors in the world’s most polluted cities, and kills about 2.8 million people a year, most of them women and children.

See Bjorn Lomborg, “The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the True State of the World”, Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 182.

Stabilizing atmospheric CO2 levels is not even vaguely possible unless developing countries curtail their use of carbon-based energy.

See European Union, Action on Climate Change Post 2012: A Stakeholder Consultation on the EU’s Contribution to Shaping the Future Global Climate Change Regime, October 13, 2004, p. 7.

This will mean that far more stringent restrictions on fossil fuel use will be required as time goes by. The global economy however is moving in precisely the opposite direction. The demand for fossil energy is growing, especially in developing countries. The Energy Information Administration projects that global energy consumption will increase over two-thirds in the next quarter of a century with developing countries accounting for three-quarters of this. The kicker is that fossil fuels will account for the majority of this increase.

See Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2006, Chapter 1: World Energy and Economic Outlook 2006.

No one yet knows how to meet current energy needs, much less future global energy needs with low CO2 emitting technology.

See Hoffert, M.I., K. Caldeira, G. Benford., D.R. Criswell, C. Green, H. Herzog, A.K. Jain, H.S. Kheshgi, K.S. Lackner, J.S. Leis, H.D. Lightfoot, W. Manheimer, J.C. Mankins, M.E. Mauel, L.J. Perkins, M.E. Schlesinger, T. Volk, T.M.L. Wigley. 2002. Advanced Technology Paths to Global Climate Stability: Energy for a Greenhouse Planet, Science298: 981-987.

Should we discount the interests of future generations?

If you answer no, as most of us are won’t to do, you will get some pretty wacky results when you try to calculate future costs. And the further into the future you project then wackier the results become. If you answer yes then the question becomes by how much? i.e. What should the discount rate be?

This is well known in economics it is standard practice to provide a discount rate in order to calculate the future value of money and the practice is uncontroversial. However when applying discount rates to almost any public infrastructure project a difficult question arises. How much should we spend today in order that future, and inevitably richer, generations should benefit? A controversy arises because now it becomes a moral issue.

The U.K. government recently commissioned a study of the Economic Costs of Climate Change by a renowned economist Sir Nicholas Stern. Whether or not you agree with his conclusions will depend on the moral analysis of his choice of discount rates. His time frame of reference was very long – 100 years - which makes the calculations particularly sensitive to the choice of discount rate. Sir Nicholas chose a very small discount rate of 0.1%. Although this discount rate is very small he did at least use one. So the question becomes not should we discount the interests of future generations? But by how much should we discount the interests of future generations?

See “Shots Across The Stern.”, The Economist, Dec 13th,2006

A good discussion of this topic can be found in the following reference

See Kenneth J. Arrow, “Discounting Climate Change Planning For An Uncertain Future”, Universite des Sciences Sociales, Toulouse, April 24th, 1995.

The entire Stern Review on the economics of climate change.

and more particularly the Stern Review on the economics of climate change. PAPER B: ‘Value judgements, welfare weights and discounting: issues and evidence’