A lot is often made of the fact that the developed economies of the US and Europe are responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere and should therefore bear a disproportionate share of the cost for dealing with the problem, even though the major developing economies of China and India will be the major carbon emitters of the 21st century. The theory is that “we made the mess, and we should clean it up”.
But consider the broader history. University of Rochester economics professor Steven Landsburg wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial:
Modern humans first emerged about 100,000 years ago. For the next 99,800 years or so, nothing happened. Well, not quite nothing. There were wars, political intrigue, the invention of agriculture — but none of that stuff had much effect on the quality of people’s lives. Almost everyone lived on the modern equivalent of $400 to $600 a year, just above the subsistence level. True, there were always tiny aristocracies who lived far better, but numerically they were quite insignificant.
Then — just a couple of hundred years ago, maybe 10 generations — people started getting richer. And richer and richer …
This process was started by the West (i.e., the historical polluters). Europe and the US didn’t “steal” this wealth from oppressed colonies; they invented a new way of organizing society that allows new wealth to be created. Consider the accumulated carbon emissions as part of the R&D cost.
Along with all that CO2 the West put in the air, it also put the MMR vaccine, the limited liability corporation, the high-efficiency power turbine and so on. The West invented the basic tools for increasing wealth that the successful parts of the developing world are now using to escape poverty and incidentally emit more carbon.
I’ll be all for making US and European taxpayers bear a disproportionate share of the load for the cost of carbon when the governments of China and India agree to payments to me in perpetuity for every useful invention created by the Western world that is deployed in those countries to drive growth.