Monday, September 14, 2009

Fairness – again

The World needs to plan massive cut backs in current and prospective greenhouse gas output. Most people agree that fairness demands an equal per capita share even as the details of history and prospective population need to be taken into account. On this basis, the United States gets about 5% of the world limit which means about a 90% cut from current levels. But there is another way to approach this issue. Pacala et al. (in PNAS)argue that we should look at who is currently exceeding their allocation on an individual basis and generate country obligations for cut backs on that basis. Doing things that way makes hardly any difference in the case of the U.S. But the approach makes a big difference for almost everyone else. For almost every country has SOME people who are using more than their fair share. Not unreasonably, Pacala et al. think that fairness is an individual matter and so that is where to locate the calculus – even though they are willing to also look at some sort of offsetting consideration for the very poor. So a country with rich people who are above their fair share, ought to be able to take into account the fact that it has lots of people who are far below their fair share and need to benefit from economic (and energy) growth to reach some minimum level of welfare. But once you recognize this fact, the logic of such an approach begins to dissolve. For there is a strong defense to be made about fairness assigned by way of national allocations – for better or worse, nation states are the units that enter into agreements on allocational issues globally. How they then divide their allocation internally is deeply relevant to different development strategies. One thing is clear though – all countries need some method of capital accumulation and that usually entails some inequities – be it robber barons or state capitalism. As with capital so with carbon usage.

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