2017-11-08

No nation should be allowed to exit

DSC_6220 Anyone who has read my previous comments on Hansen will know that I find him somewhat over-excitable, and this one - Global Climate Justice: Making the Carbon Majors Pay for Climate Action - is no exception. It is I think a speech at COP-23. My title quote - that I find rather hard to parse - comes from
I have come to note that greenhouse gas climate forcings are accelerating, not decelerating, and sea level rise and ocean acidification are accelerating. We confront a mortal threat, now endangering, only at first, the very existence of island and low-lying nations in the Pacific and around the planet. Accordingly, ambition must be increased and enforced. No nation should be allowed to exit. Moreover, the unrequited provisions of the SUVA Declaration, Article 19, must be revived. Effective action must be undertaken not only to keep temperature rise below 1.5° C but, in my view, to return it to below 1° C to preserve island nations and global shorelines.
All fine sentiments, but what does "No nation should be allowed to exit" mean? It might mean that no nation should be allowed to exit the Paris agreement. Which would be a splendid sentiment until you came to think of how a recalcitrant state - perhaps a powerful one, like the USA - might be "persuaded" against it's well. Never mind; that's the dull interpretation. The more interesting interpretation is "No nation should be allowed to [cease to] exi[s]t". That's interesting, and I'll talk around it lower down; but first I need to fly off the handle about various crapness from Hansen.

The main of which is "Funding is required. As a matter of justice it should be extracted from those who benefitted most from fossil fuel burning -- the so-called Carbon Majors". This isn't true, as previously discussed. We had some debate about whether consumers deserved all or just most of the blame; but I don't think anyone believed that oil companies deserved all of the blame. But Hansen does. Why? Is he... totally economically illiterate? Or just propagandising? It's hard to know. He also appears to believe that the Carbon Majors have somehow extracted all this profit and piled it up in a big heap somewhere untouched, all ready for Hansen to expropriate. But of course it isn't sitting around. The carbon companies have paid it out to their shareholders. Sue all the carbon companies to death if you like and you can; you still won't get the money; it isn't there.

But Hansen wants Moah Litigation - how very Libertarian of him :-):  more effective legal action is needed... Legislators around the world could clarify the law related to liability for climate change, but courts are able now to assert jurisdiction to require fossil fuel polluters to pay their fair share. Legal scholars have outlined the path forward, and one of them is with me here today. And links to Atmospheric recovery litigation: making the fossil fuel industry pay to restore a viable climate system; Wood and Galpern. That feels somehow familiar but I find no references in my past. However, that purportedly scholarly article says "the primary responsible parties are the major fossil fuel corporations", which is clearly just more of the same drivel (and, incidentally, name-checks Hansen, so this is all going round in circles).

Hansen ends with The period of consequence requires honesty and courage. Nothing less will do. These are stirring words! But is (self-assessed) honesty and courage enough? No. It also necessary to be correct, and to have a clue what you're talking about.

No nation should be allowed to [cease to] exi[s]t


A fine sentiment: but is it true? I'm sure we'd all be happy to agree that no individual person should be killed (absent suitable exclusions for those who like the death penalty, and wars, and whatever else you need to find exclusions for). But should nations have similar rights to life? Obviously it is no defence to say that this or that nation has been killed in the past; that wouldn't establish it was all right to kill them. And nor would saying that the international order has decided it would be politically expedient to not extinguish nations make it not-right now. Somewhat belatedly bothering to look for prior art I find Right to Exist on wiki. As that says, that tends to get wrapped up in Palestine-Israel wars, so (invoking an analogue of Godwin's law) I'm not going to talk about it in that context and any comments that do so will get deleted. Meh, but apart from that there is little there, so I'll go back to making things up.

My point is that - in moral terms - we don't apply cost-benefit to individual lives; it is considered reasonable to regard them as infinitely precious. Obviously in the real world governments don't actually do that, they use value-of-life in cost-benefit all the time; but that's not morality.

Should we regard nations as also, individually, infinitely precious? I don't see why we should. One island nation (we're talking about nation-death-risk from SLR, so it's an obvious example) is much like the next island nation. Many of them are smaller than English counties, and English counties are not regarded as worthy of special protection against individual extinction.

Hansen kinda sources himself to "the SUVA Declaration, Article 19". Article one notes "existential threats to our very survival". It isn't clear what "our" means. It might mean "the nation"; that would be consistent with Hansen. Or it might mean the individual people; in which case it is somewhat dubious - they could move.

I'm expecting a certain measure of disagreement to my view from readers. If you comment, it would be nice if you could distinguish moral outrage from facts or logic or theory.

25 comments:

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

I guess that I'm gratified that you are talking about an issue or two of substance. I might even agree that there is no way to ensure that those who benefitted from fossil fuels, or their remote descendants, pay for the cost of remediation.

When you wander into "should a nation be permitted to cease to exist" though, both your logic and rhetoric stumble into the swamp of obscurity. Let's start with your weird choice of language to describe killing a nation, as if the question was whether or not to permit island nations to commit seppuku. I think it's obvious that choosing to kill a nation, and thus destroy and disrupt the lives of all of the inhabitants is immoral, and only justifiable for the gravest of reasons.

Is it possible to punish a powerful nation for failing to follow a climate agreement? Sure, and the obvious way is to impose carbon taxes on its exports. Is it practical, if, as in the relation between much of Europe and the US, if the offending nation is the only thing keeping the Russian wolf from your door? Maybe not.

William Connolley said...

> obvious that choosing to kill a nation, and thus destroy and disrupt the lives of all of the inhabitants is immoral

I was trying to draw a distinction between the nation and the individual people. Causing a nation to no longer exist does not "destroy" the lives of the people, though it will disrupt them.

To be more explicit, though I was fairly explicit, are lives-of-nations subject to cost benefit? Suppose continued CO2 emissions will flood one or more small island nations, but will have substantial benefits for other nations. Can those other nations atone by accepting on reasonable terms the inhabitants of the flooded nations?

Carbon taxes: yes, an excellent idea. But if you're doing it as border taxes, you need (if you're being equitable) to be sure you're not over-punishing the malefactor. See-also A proportionate response to Trump’s climate plans? and even more A response to a response to a proportionate response.

Hank Roberts said...

> We don't apply cost-benefit ...

What do you mean "we" Kemo Sabe?

https://www.google.com/search?q="cost-benefit"+"public+health"

and if you want to narrow the focus:

https://www.google.com/search?q=%22cost-benefit%22+%22public+health%22+%22coal%20pollution%22

Russell Seitz / Bright Water said...

Me no mean Biafra, the Northern Areas of Pakistan, Portugese Guinea, or the Condominium of the New Hebrides, all of which are gone from the map , but no more existenially threatened than the other social constructs and diplomatic fictions I've visited

angech said...

No nation should be allowed to emit.

David B Benson said...

So-called renewables don't solve the problem:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/business/climate-carbon-renewables.html

Good recognition that we are in a bing of a heap of ...

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

W - Suppose continued CO2 emissions will flood one or more small island nations, but will have substantial benefits for other nations.

Suppose X will drown a small number of people, but have substantial benefits for others.

William Connolley said...

> Suppose X will drown a small number of people

You're missing the distinction: between drowning people (clearly bad) and drowning nations and allowing their people to move (not so clearly bad).

Anonymous said...

I think you are missing the major point. Sea level rise is incremental. At no point any nation or county or city will decide to evacuate all of its people permanently. Suppose New York City is in danger of drowning due to sea level rise, the chances of flooding increase every day. Will it be evacuated completely? No. It might get permanently evacuated after thousands of people died and it's absolutely clear that it cannot be defended at reasonable costs. That clearity will only be achieved after a lot of people died. The same is true for all the other risks of climate change, e.g. heat waves, fires, famines, spread of tropical diseases. The WHO estimates that net effects of climate change equal 50 000 deaths worldwide per year right now (2000-2020). That's considered to be small. The median net death toll estimate rises by several orders of magnitude for the end of this century at a business as usual scenario.

I do agree though, that fossil fuel companys are not the only ones to blame. High carbon taxes seem to me one of the most reasonable things to prevent devastating warming, though.

crandles said...

Different islands do have different cultures. Submerging islands would disrupt those cultures and could lead to their disappearance. Out of preference we should try to protect the existence of different cultures, it would be a boring world if there was only one culture. I would imagine that different people would place greatly different values on this.

Are you looking for ways to value diversity of cultures or are you wondering about nations right to exist as something separate from loss of culture?

From business/economics POV supporting welsh language seems madness, all those extra translation costs etc. But to some people, it is really important. So you can certainly have conflicting views on importance and also conflicting issues complicating matters.

.

If Hanson meant this, why would he use the 'exit' word as opposed to saying no nation should be allowed to be submerged or cease to exist or something like that?

John Bowles said...

What about all of us, me, the readers and commenters, you WC, we all use carbon energy, we fly on jets, drive cars, heat our homes, use electricity, are we all free from guilt? What penalty shall we pay?

William Connolley said...

> Different islands do have different cultures

Of course. But so do any set of humans. England has many different cultures.

> Out of preference we should try to protect the existence of different cultures

Probably, though it may be a bit strong. But it isn't useful here, since "out of preference" is very weak.

> are you wondering about nations right to exist as something separate from loss of culture?

Gosh, this is terribly difficult, isn't it? You and CIP both seem to have problems understanding. No. I'm wondering about the ethics of death-of-nations vs death-of-individuals. Is that for some reason an unaskable question? Everyone's mind seems to be bouncing off it.

> If Hanson meant this

I don't really understand that. Do you think you understand what Hansen meant? If so, what was it?

> are we all free from guilt?

No

> What penalty shall we pay?

The appropriate carbon tax.

crandles said...

>"Gosh, this is terribly difficult, isn't it?"

I am saying I don't see the ethics of death of nations as anything much more significant than loss of diversity of culture.

I thought I was agreeing with you that it wasn't very useful because of huge differences in values that different people may think should apply. Whether that means we should stick to economics and ignore ethics is possibly pushing it too far and instead we should mainly stick to economic but with add on that there are also various ethical issues which mean the easily identified economics alone probably do not push for enough action. I would agree with you that leading on the ethics and continually harping on about the ethics seems a bad plan.

But maybe I am jumping to conclusions about what you are going to say, and you do genuinely want a discussion on the ethics.

.

>"Do you think you understand what Hansen meant? If so, what was it?"

As it follows "Accordingly, ambition must be increased and enforced." and uses 'exit' I think it clearly refers to Paris Accord ambition and enforcement and exit from Paris Accord even if that isn't helpful for getting US to join again if they do leave. (I would take 'Accordingly' to signify new paragraph and link exit only to ambition and enforecment in previous sentence and not to island nations which occurred earlier.) Sorry, if that is the dull answer, but you did ask me.

rconnor said...

> “I was trying to draw a distinction between the nation and the individual people.”

Individual people make up the nation and the nation, in a way, makes the people who they are. Culture and identity are two central parts to who people are. A nation fosters and cultivates, in part, culture and identity. Strip the nation away from the people and there is a loss of identity and a weakening of the culture. So I don’t believe you can so cleanly draw the distinction.

> “Causing a nation to no longer exist does not "destroy" the lives of the people”

If a nation ceases to exist, then there is a large loss to the people of that nation. The result is decades of cultural, political and economic struggle. Look at any example of a forced mass migration or occupation. Look at the damage that forcibly relocating and systematically destroying the culture of indigenous people of Canada has had, and continues to have, on Canada.

This is not the first time you’ve showed zero care towards the importance that “nationality” has on people’s identity - see your post “The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression”. There you cavalierly suggested that rich countries (ex. Germany) could just buy out economically trouble countries (ex. Greece), or parts of those countries. You were perplexed when I suggested that the forced loss or change of one’s nationality may be problematic. Your response was, “I think that would be just tough”.

> “To be more explicit, though I was fairly explicit, are lives-of-nations subject to cost benefit?”

Sure. What is the cost of having to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees due to forced mass migration? What is the cost of the deaths for those that cannot migrate (or die during migration)? What is the cost of the loss of one’s national identity and sense of self-determination that comes with the “death” of a nation?

> “I'm wondering about the ethics of death-of-nations vs death-of-individuals”

Gosh, this is terribly difficult, isn’t it? You seem to have problems understanding. You cannot completely divorce the two.

William Connolley said...

> I thought I was agreeing with you

Oh, sorry. I'm so used to people disagreeing that I automatically read it in :-)

> if that is the dull answer, but you did ask me

I suspect it is also correct. I also think that it is unreasonable, but the kind of thing I'd expect Hansen or suchlike to say, to an audience that wouldn't really think "oh hold on how would we enforce that".

> This is not the first time you’ve showed zero care towards the importance that “nationality” has on people’s identity

Correct. Because I tend to regard it as a "bad" not a "good". Not an unmixed bad; there are good aspects. But when people pointlessly cling to a dead culture, that's bad. Generally because it means their current life isn't good; but sometimes it causes their current life to be not good.

> “I think that would be just tough”

Yes. You appear to be under the illusion that we can design out all nasty things in the world. We can't. We are faced with a choice of different tough things, some of them tougher than others. Nationalism is one of the bad things of present day politics; why people would want to encourage it I don't know (I'm in favour of self-determination, though).

crandles said...

>"To be more explicit, though I was fairly explicit, are lives-of-nations subject to cost benefit?"

Is there any difference between asking if lives-of-nations are subject to cost benefit or asking if diversity of culture is subject to cost benefit?

You could try, for example, take Wales add up turnover of all English Welsh translation services, cost of having signs in two languages instead of one, something for impediments to communications and all the other things you can think of. Then say this (per capita amount?) is a price we demonstrably consider is worth paying to preserve culture.

I don't think it gets you very far. Some people would say it is a vast underestimate of an infinite value and others would say heck let the cultures disappear and new cultures will arise naturally so the sensible value is nil.

crandles said...

>"Because I tend to regard it as a "bad" not a "good". Not an unmixed bad; there are good aspects. But when people pointlessly cling to a dead culture, that's bad."

Does this have similarity to me saying I don't like tatoos, I think they impair people's beauty. So I would assign a personal negative value to tatoos. However I accept that people who get tatoos are willing to pay money to get them and obviously therefore value them. So while my personal value is negative I accept that a sensible objective value to use would be positive.

Does this in any way persuade you that though you personally assign a negative to nationality effects on peoples' identity, this is not a sensible objective value to use?

rconnor said...

WC,

Don’t confuse the importance a nation has on the identity of people with Nationalism (particularly, of the Trumpian variety). I agree with you the latter is by-and-large a negative thing, but we are discussing the former.

Losing one’s national identity, through forced migration or occupation, is different than aggressively attempting to define and protect a singular national identity through the disempowering of subcultures. The plight of indigenous peoples of Canada or Syrian refugees and the “plight” of MAGAers are quite different. Again, losing one’s nation due to climate change is more analogous to the former, not the latter.

Hank Roberts said...

Hm.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Nations

and, of course, Doggerland ...

Raymond Arritt said...

A little game I like to play when thinking about questions like this is "What if it was me?" What if the rest of the world decided the U.S. wasn't worth the trouble and decided we should be resettled elsewhere? Quite possibly in a place not of my choosing, and quite possibly without full compensation.

What about you? Would you be willing to have your household resettled in, say, Moldova? After all, one European nation is much like the next European nation, just as one island nation is much like the next island nation.

Russell Seitz / Bright Water said...

In Canada, all Nations are created first, but some are created firster than others.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

I'm pretty sure that I understand you just fine - I just don't share your radical individualism which seems to assume that only individual lives have essential value. I believe that there are other entities, like families, cultures and nations that have intrinsic value.

Also, I don't see much sign that high and dry nations are prepared to take in hordes of climate refugees and provide for them. Mostly likely, the residents will mostly live on their islands until some predictable catastrophe like a hurricane drowns them all.

William Connolley said...

> only individual lives have essential value. I believe that there are other entities, like families, cultures and nations that have intrinsic value.

But we are not in disagreement about that. I believe the same. What we disagree about is the relative weight. You place a much higher value on tribe-identity and appear reluctant to concede it's downsides.

> What if it was me?

Good question. But there are two versions of it; this is similar to Rawl's "veil of ignorance" if you like (which I think he gets wrong, BTW). Anyway, version 1 is "would I like it to happen to me?" and the answer to this is no. But that's not really terribly interesting, because it is obvious. The more interesting version is "would I like to live in a world where the rules are designed such that cost-benefit calculations are applied in situations like this, or absolute morality?".

An example: Nation A has a population of 100M and each citizen gains utility $1000 from (global) activity Z. Nation B has a population of 1M and each citizen loses utility $100k from Z occurring or perhaps, to extend the idea, only $10k is natin A cooperates in helping / resettling. If you're a citizen of nation B, you clearly prefer activity Z not to occur. But if you're a random person told that you will randomly assigned to either nation A or nation B, and asked before that assignment happens: would you like activity Z to be (globally) allowed. Then you might well say yes. Your expected gain is positive.

Tom C said...

Hansen writes like a 12 year old and his meanings are always unclear. The sentence before that one was:

"Accordingly, ambition must be increased and enforced"

Which would not have made it past my junior high school English teacher.

Christopher H said...

The Paris agreement is between nations. It is non-binding: that is, it has no enforcement mechanisms.

Hansen says no nation should be allowed to leave. It can't be the Paris agreement itself that stops a nation from leaving. It must be something else; my candidate is the people of that nation. And I would agree that every nation's people should prevent their nation from leaving the Paris agreement.

Maybe there should be consequences of leaving, or breaking, a nation's Paris agreement commitment. I don't think that's part of Hansen's comment. Certainly there will be consequences if even the inadequate Paris agreement commitments are not met: physical consequences, that is.

The post goes off at the tangent of discussing ending a nation. That wasn't what Hansen was talking about. And it has nothing to do with talking about nations leaving the Paris agreement.

People matter. People act through institutions, all the way from loose associations to formal government, corporate, trust and other structures, nationally and internationally. There are arguments for, and against, different institutions and for, and against, particular sorts of action through particular institutions. But calling for an important agreement between nations to be maintained and not abandoned is not a call for maintaining nations rather than people.