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18 Oct, 2019 13:38

Greta Thunberg's dream world would cause 'a human tragedy of disastrous proportions' – economist to RT

Greta Thunberg's dream world would cause 'a human tragedy of disastrous proportions' – economist to RT

If you are inspired by Greta Thunberg's emotional speech at the UN and care about our planet, you might not realize how much your everyday life could change should the world follow the advice of climate activists.

RT spoke to economists to find out how the proposed changes could affect the global economy and the daily lives of people around the world.

Fossil fuels

The first thing that comes to mind to stop reported global warming is to impose a carbon tax and divest from the fossil fuel industry, as this sector is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

"A carbon tax and/or forced divestiture from fossil fuels would ultimately make the kind of cheap, varied and efficient transportation that people around the world are accustomed to extremely expensive and more limited," warns Peter C. Earle, an economist at the American Institute for Economic Research.

Apart from public transport, cars could also become less accessible to most individuals. So if you drive to work without a second thought, the carbon tax could suddenly double or triple the cost of your daily trip, leaving tens of millions of people cut off from their livelihoods, according to the analyst.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions can have much more serious economic implications, Dr Pierre Noël, Senior Fellow in Economic and Energy Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), told RT.

"It supposes to reorient consumption and investment choices away from what people and businesses would spontaneously do," he said. While switching to renewable energy could be seen as a welcome change, the ultimate reduction of emissions can take years and would lead to major economic challenges.

"Reducing emissions to zero will require a near-complete overhaul of capital stock across the economy," Noël wrote. "'Listening to the science', as Miss Thunberg advises, would mean doing it quickly, in a few decades at most. It will be very costly."

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The energy sector is an obvious target for ecologists, but another critical sector is not usually mentioned. Agriculture is considered another major polluter, responsible for around 15 percent of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Apart from carbon dioxide (CO2), which is what comes to mind when people talk about greenhouse gases, livestock produce methane (CH4), which is even worse for the ozone layer, and nitrous oxide (N2O). According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the comparative impact of CH4 is more than 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period, while 1 pound of N2O on warming the atmosphere is almost 300 times that of 1 pound of carbon dioxide.

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However, the global population is increasing rapidly and there is a need to increase agricultural output to feed everyone. This makes cutting emissions caused by farming all the more difficult.

Developing nations

Most of the talk about divestment is coming from and focused upon the developed world, but developing countries would be the first to feel the impact of the ecological protectionism, Earle noted.

"In many once poverty-stricken regions, industrial activities with large carbon footprints are what account for major improvements in standards of living, longevity, reductions in infant mortality, better health care, literacy and increased consumer choice over the last few decades," he wrote. "Take those away, and there would be a human tragedy of disastrous proportions."

Developed countries may also not be eager to impose any measures to tackle climate change, Noël points out.

"Recently, in France, the most violent mass protests in fifty years were triggered by an increase in a carbon tax, eventually reversed. A few years ago, also in France, a road-charging scheme for lorries had to be cancelled just before it went live as small businesses revolted."

So while a significant number of rich countries are legislating the complete elimination of their emissions by 2050, it does not mean that there will be no political implications for their choices, Noël believes. Governments will have to adjust the tax system "to alleviate the distributive implications and avoid a disproportionate impact on lower-income families," and also prevent "what is left of their industry" from moving offshore.

"All of this will be difficult, messy, imperfect and will involve nasty confrontations between and within countries," Noël said. "These confrontations might end up in a level of emissions reduction less than what was originally envisaged."

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