... The moral discourse on global warming starts from the attribution of blame, or, to return to the caricature of medieval Christian theology, of guilt. Industrial capitalism is guilty of polluting the world with carbon and must now pay for its sin. This morality tale is music to the ears of those in the rich world who hate industrial capitalism: an alliance of the anti-industrial values of the aristocracy, exemplified by Prince Charles, and the anti-capitalist values of Marxists. It is also seductive to the marginalized societies of the bottom billion, which aspire to industrial capitalism but have not achieved it. They sense the opportunity to refresh the guilt-ridden colonialist hangover: the West is responsible for their poverty. Global warming gives colonial guilt a new lease on life. Victimhood is back in business. Approaches to climate change are encumbered by such ethical baggage, much of it unhelpful.
Here is another thought experiment to cut through the thicket. Suppose scientists discovered that the reason why we in the North die before we reach the age of 150 is that cassava, a crop grown by poor peasant farmers in Africa, emitted ions which corroded the air in northern latitudes. Does this discovery give us all a claim for compensation from African farmers? The answer, obviously, is that it does not. Since the farmers did not know, they incur no liability. Now push this one step further. Once the science is accepted, what should happen? Clearly, African peasants should cease to grow cassava, but who should bear the cost? Should Africans simply recognize that killing us is an unacceptable price to pay for growing their favorite crop, or should we in the North compensate them for not killing us' Having decided who should pick up the liability for those deathly cassava ions, apply the same principle to global warming. The baggage encumbering climate change - sin and guilt - is not intrinsic to the structure of the problem, but imported from other agendas.
A further thought experiment. Suppose that the entire world had industrialized at the same time as the West. Carbon emissions would have built up beyond dangerous levels before scientific knowledge advanced sufficiently to understand it properly. Our understanding of climate change would still only really have become convincing around the millennium, by which time it would have been too late. Alternatively, if none of the world had industrialized, we would not now have the problem of global warming, but nor would we have the ability to deliver prosperity: The painful but reasonable conclusion is that it was fortuitous that only part of the world industrialized. This gave science the time to understand global warming in time for us to take preemptive action. The corollary of such a skewed pattern of global industrialization is that some societies have remained impoverished.
The case for helping the bottom billion, a case I believe is overwhelming, is that they are needy because they have been unlucky enough not to have had the opportunities open to the rest of us. The basis for helping them is not that they are victims of our industrial greed. Had no part of the world industrialized there would be no path to prosperity. Had every part of the world industrialized we would now be frying. As it is, we have learned that it will be entirely feasible for the world to industrialize and prosper as long as we all make the relatively modest adjustments involved in low-carbon growth. Nobody need feel guilty about past carbon emissions. Nobody is entitled to feel victimized. However, the lucky parts of the world should behave generously toward those that have been unlucky. ... (195-197)