Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Its not even Climate Science!

With the gathering of tens of thousands of politically-correct scientists, journalists, politicians, tourists, and other assorted groupies in Copenhagen this week, the relatively new religion of Green (God is Green!) has reached a new peak in ostentation. Even as it does so, however, the struggling voices of heresy and dissent have recently been given an important boost with the publication of emails strongly suggesting that the high priests of Global Warming are more interested in prestige, power and money, than in scientific truth. In the short run this will not deter them. The show must go on – more show than substance! But that is the nature of religion after all – the show is the important part. The established religions are honest about this – ritual is important, is essential. But the Global Warming Greens do not realize that they are part of a religion, so they find themselves acting out a particularly distasteful type of hypocrisy. Mouthing the language of disinterested science, they are really dogmatic believers who refuse to be confused by the facts or by the logic.

And just this week, as if to counter the force of the discovered emails, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared its intention to act on an existing finding of the agency that carbon dioxide is a pollutant. This finding is based on its alleged affect on the global climate. In itself this is a ludicrous idea (see here), but when adopted by the EPA as a basis for action, it portends massive interference in the economy and in the private lives of Americans.

The good news is that the conference is unlikely to come to any far-reaching agreement and the EPA is likely to encounter resistance from Congress when the constituents of the affected states make their indignation known to their representatives. Let us hope so.

In the meantime we should consider once again the basic logic exposing this fa├žade. Its not rocket science, its not even climate science.

In order to make a case for government policy to mitigate Global Warming all of the following questions have to be answered in the affirmative:

  1. Is the global climate warming?
  2. If yes, is this (partially) caused by CO2 emissions?
  3. If yes, is there anything we can do to significantly slow this down or even reverse global warming?
  4. If yes, is it worth the effort?

Ponder these four questions. They are sequential. You cannot move to the next one unless the answer is “yes.” Answer “no” to any one of them and the case for climate activism is dead. The first three have to be addressed by climate experts, but the last is something about which climate scientists have no expertise. This has not deterred them from giving an affirmative answer. They presume not only to divine natural causes and consequence but also to pronounce on their value to those affected. This is typical arrogance – the arrogance of the social engineer promising a better world.

Considered in an economic framework, the policies proffered by the climate gurus are not worth considering; they are outrageously expensive, way beyond the cost of adapting to the climate change. To be sure, such estimates are notoriously difficult to make, mostly because they almost always underestimate the costs involved and the ability of average people to adapt. Given the extent of the interventions proposed, the climate alarmists ought to have to shoulder a very heavy burden of proof, to show that they are right beyond a very small degree of doubt. They propose to interfere in people’s lifestyles on a grand scale and if they are wrong we will have paid a heavy price for nothing. Why are they not being held to account on this?

Regarding the first three questions there is considerable doubt about all of them. There is mounting evidence that the climate may actually not be warming. We certainly can’t be sure. Many qualified observers are not sure. There are also those who doubt the connection between CO2 and global warming. But, most importantly, there is widespread acknowledgement that even if there is global warming and it is caused by CO2 emissions the amount of difference that we humans could actually make is insignificant. In order to make any real difference we would have to dismantle fortunes of productive activities all over the planet. It would be insanity – and even then it might not work. This is not science, it is more like non-science (aka non-sense and other nouns not suitable for polite conversation).

There are so many real problems facing the world, it is almost criminal to focus so much attention on this charade. HIV/AIDS prevention, property rights for water, eradication of malaria, opening markets for developing countries agricultural products, stopping genocide in Africa, the list is long. All of these are causing more certain and more remediable damage than any alleged climate change.

Let's get real.


Ayush said...

An extremely enlightening view about the impending Copenhagen meet and how it will affect us. I have been a student of yours in the past and am majoring in Supply Chain Management. I also write a blog about relevant issues pertaining to supply chain management.

Making companies accountable for their Carbon Footprint certainly makes for some extra work. But I feel this is more like investing in a programmable thermostat for your home. It costs $50 the first time you install it and then gives you steady (even if low) savings of $60 every year for the next 15 years.

Also more often then not, the resulting efficiencies and a significant cut in costs are generally overlooked in companies struggling to drive sales. Companies are yet to even start thinking about the effect of these efficiencies (which by the way could be realized even without accounting for the carbon footprint) on their entire supply chain (upstream and downstream).

I feel the climate legislation (if passed anytime soon) will mandate companies to look into their emissions (something they would never do otherwise) which may - just by the nature of the economy - result in lower costs and will certainly result in improved efficiencies for a whole slew of companies. Also, this will create new jobs - thousands of them.

I do not see any harm if the proposed emission caps directly affect consumers choices. As long as the end consumer decision is not part of the legislation, the money we spend in implementing this will only result in more choices, more jobs and leaner (and hopefully greener) companies.

I am certainly not anywhere close to an expert. But I'm a fan of economics and look for leading indicators to how the supply chain world might be affected. This is just my 2 cents...

Peter Lewin said...

Thanks Ayush,

Your comment assumes that it has been proven that CO2 emissions are harmful and that the cost of regulating them falls short of the benefits. Neither of these has been proven and they remain doubtful.

The cost of the regulations proposed are far from trivial. Think of a large tax. As you know from my classes taxes can have devastating consequences.

The other part of your comment assumes that regulation can introduce efficiencies that have been overlooked by investors in the market, and, thus, create jobs. This is a dangerous myth. Regulators are in a much worse position to identify efficiencies than are private entrepreneurs - remember the knowledge problems and the incentive problems that plague all regulation. Companies do not "overlook" efficiencies that regulators can somehow see.