A Bad Argument?

I’m not sure if this makes sense or not. Global oil production is not going to rise substantially anytime in the near future–in fact it will probably level off or fall soon. Everything that’s being produced is getting consumed, thanks to the rapidly growing economies of China and India. So even if the United States reduces its consumption of oil, it will have no impact on global warming. A sensible environmentalism would focus on our electricity consumption and food consumption, and would impact our driving habits only as a byproduct of general policies such as a carbon tax. Since coal will last well over a hundred years at present rates of consumption, we have a real opportunity to reduce carbon emissions by not burning that coal. There’s also a pragmatic issue, in that we’ll eventually have to get ourselves around without consuming much oil, and now’s a good time to start.

Ways this argument could go wrong:

  1. The supply of oil could be much more price-responsive than is believed.
  2. A suitably aggressive American oil policy could reduce consumption enough to offset growth in China and India.
  3. If China and India get religion, we might eventually reduce oil consumption enough to lower demand faster than total production sometime in the future.
  4. Reducing our oil use would help bring the United States into compliance with interational agreements, so even if it didn’t directly reduce emissions, it might help push action in general.

I think 1 is obviously crap, 2 is probably not much better. 3 seems like a long shot, but isn’t impossible–(we’d better hope China decides to reduce its emissions if we’re to have any hope). 4 is cynical, but don’t underestimate the importance of cooperation.

This argument has been bouncing around my skull for a few days now. When I thought it was my own creation, I assumed it was fallacious. Having at least found it in “print“, I’m less sure. But you should correct me if I’m wrong.

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One response to “A Bad Argument?

  1. Maybe the best thing for activists to do is to find ways to live as independent from oil consumption as possible. Growing our own food instead of relying on imports is a big step in the right direction.