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Tables turned: ‘The world owes U.S. climate reparations’

By James Taylor

Climate activists bemoaned the conclusion of the United Nations COP25 climate meetings last month without an enforceable obligation for Western democracies to send more “climate reparations” ( money to China, India, and other developing nations.

The 2015 Paris climate accord called for $100 billion per year ( in such payoffs, but apparently that is nowhere near enough reparations to satisfy the international climate class. Before recklessly throwing around the “r” word, however, activists should give closer thought to who should be paying reparations to whom. Given record global crop production (, a dramatic greening of the Earth (, fewer extreme weather events, and fewer people dying ( from temperature-related causes, any accurate accounting of positive as well as negative climate impacts would have low-emitting nations sending compensatory money to high-emitting nations.

A December 15 Vox article ( presents a typical argument for climate reparations. The article asserts, “At the heart of many of the meeting’s debates was the core of the injustice of climate change: That the people who have contributed least to the problem stand to suffer the most while those who have gained the most from emitting greenhouse gases will suffer the least.”

Climate activists and their media allies aim to make it beyond discussion that the warming of the past century that delivered us from the depths of the Little Ice Age must by definition must be harmful. But an objective look at the impacts of our modestly warming climate tells a completely different story. One hundred years ago, human lifespans were shorter, people were poorer, cold-related epidemics like influenza killed millions, and hurricanes, droughts, and other extreme weather events wreaked havoc.

As our climate warmed and fossil fuels stimulated economic prosperity, human life expectancy improved, living standards improved, climate-related deaths plummeted, crop production set new records, and extreme weather events became less frequent and severe. The world of 2019 is a much more healthy, prosperous, and climate-benign world than was the case in 1919. And yet, climate activists and their media allies react incredulously when anybody suggests that a warmer world is proving better for human health and welfare than a colder world.

Some may argue that although escaping the Little Ice Age, which was the coldest period of the past 10,000 years, may have been a good thing, we have gone too far in the other direction. Such an argument defies objective evidence. Long-term climate data tell us the Earth is still cooler than has been the case throughout most of the human civilization era. Moreover, even during recent decades the Earth has experienced a remarkable increase in vegetation, global crop production sets new records almost every year, cold climate conditions kill millions more people each year than warm climate conditions, and there has been no increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

It is natural to fear change, but relatively few people would trade the global living standards of today for the global living standards of 30, 50, or 100 years ago. Moreover. fossil fuel use and our improving, warming climate have played a significant role in such progress, especially regarding record food production, a greening planet, and a significant decline in climate-related deaths.

Which brings us back to the topic of climate reparations. The poorest people and the poorest nations of the world have disproportionately enjoyed the benefits of conventional energy use, more atmospheric carbon dioxide, and a warming climate. For example, remember the 1980s famine in Africa that inspired the song, We Are the World? During the past 30 years, as our climate warmed, grasslands have reclaimed much of the Sahara Desert, African soil moisture has improved, and crop yields throughout Africa have experienced astonishing growth. Crop yields in Egypt have nearly doubled since 1980. ( They have fully doubled in Libya since 1980. ( Crop yields in Chad are up more than 50 percent since 1990, while Ethiopian crop yields have nearly tripled since 1990. (

Poor nations outside Egypt have enjoyed similar benefits. Crop yields in India (, China, ( and Bangladesh ( have more than doubled since 1980.

Crop yields throughout Central America are also enjoying long-term improvement, with many nations setting records nearly every year. For example, crop yields in Mexico have nearly doubled since 1990. ( While climate activists attempt to claim Honduran refugees exist because of crop failures and global warming, Honduras is benefitting from record crop yields (

Global crop yields are up, climate-related deaths are down, extreme weather events are less frequent and severe, and the Earth is a greener place. If anybody owes anybody else climate reparations, nations that have been enjoying these benefits should be sending money to the nation whose carbon dioxide emissions have made much of this possible. Fortunately for the rest of the world, the United States and other nations that have emitted large amounts of carbon dioxide during recent decades have been kind enough to forego issuing a bill for services rendered.


  • James M. Taylor is an American lawyer, senior fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute and a CFACT contributor. James Taylor is a keen analyst of science and public policy and a competition level poker player.