Climate Depot Exclusive
The Climate Caper by Garth Paltridge, published by Taylor Trade Publishing. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. Foreward by Lord Christopher Monckton.
Exclusive excerpt of Chapter 1 called “Overview.”
CHAPTER 1 OVERVIEW
“Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” — From President Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation January 17, 1961
The greenhouse global-warming issue has run much faster and further than a lot of scientists expected two decades ago when the first report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the IPCC for short—was being written. Normally there is a cycle of public and scientific interest in environmental issues, and we guessed at the time that the concern with global warming was already past its peak. The point we all missed was that the global warming issue could be manipulated into the ultimate example of the politically correct. The need to do something about the problem plays to the agendas of virtually all branches of modern social activism.
Suffice it to say that the science behind the issue, and particularly the uncertainty of the science behind the issue, was irrelevant even before the so-called ‘IPCC process’ got off the ground.
The organizers of the IPCC set up a report-producing mechanism involving three separate international working groups. The first dealt with the science behind the actual predictions of climatic warming.
The second concerned the potential impact of that warming on human society and its welfare. The third was the only group that really mattered. It was designed right from the outset to examine and recommend options for international action to avert a climatic disaster.
The groups did their work in parallel. There was no pretence by the semi-political international negotiators of the third working group of waiting for outcome from the deliberations of the scientists within the other two groups. There was no need. They could develop their arguments quite independently because they knew, more-or-less, what the scientists would say. In fact all they really needed to know was that the other two working groups would not come out with a categorical statement to the effect that greenhouse warming is a load of nonsense. In this respect the third working group was betting on an absolute certainty. Even if the science pointed towards the load-of-nonsense theory—which it didn’t and doesn’t—no scientist worth his or her salt would make a categorical statement to that effect. After all, the basic difficulty with the climate-change issue is that it is a conglomeration of uncertainties.
And so the die was cast and the climate-change juggernaut began to roll in earnest. The central thesis was, and still is, that the burning of fossil fuel increases the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This increase will induce a warming of the world because it ‘acts like an extra blanket’ and reduces the loss of radiant heat to space. The thesis goes on to say that the change to a warmer climate will alter the future circumstances of man to some degree as yet unknown. Some people may benefit and others may be disadvantaged. We cannot yet determine whether the world as a whole will benefit or be disadvantaged by climate change, and we certainly cannot yet determine who might be the specific winners or losers in the altered environment. Therefore humans should quickly limit those of their activities that contribute to the problem. In practice this means that we should massively reduce our consumption of fossil fuel.
This is something of a tall order in a world where the economic welfare of all nations is governed almost entirely by access to cheap energy. Over the years since those first moves by the IPCC, we have been subjected to an ever-increasing number of high-level international conferences and meetings designed specifically to raise the consciousness of the world to the potential for climatic disaster. We have seen enormous sums of money appearing out of nowhere to support the efforts of environmental lobby groups in their efforts to influence governments away from dependence on fossil fuels. We have seen a deliberately fostered change of public opinion from one in which there was a possibility of detrimental climate change for some people to one of absolute certainty that there will be climatic disaster for everyone.
The campaign has been remarkably successful, and the nations of the world are now in the middle of developing their expensive strategies for dealing with the matter. It is difficult now to question either the policies or the premises on which those strategies are based. Scientists are told quite bluntly that it is completely inappropriate for them to speak on matters of policy—unless of course they support it. Non-scientists are assumed to be technically ignorant and thereby incapable of speaking with authority on the issue. The machine, in other words, has it both ways and can run free.
Well, not entirely free. There is still a need to keep the issue before the public because nations are getting to that awkward stage where real upheavals of national economies have to be contemplated if more than lip service is to be paid to the activists’ desire for international action. For this purpose the scientists are inveigled into producing more reports, into holding more conferences, into doing more research. The IPCC has become a permanent feature on the landscape, with its own bureaucracy spawning a continuing series of detailed reports.
The science discussed in these reports is interesting enough but has not really changed our basic knowledge (or our basic ignorance) of the problem. It may never do so, because there are many aspects of climate that are inherently unpredictable. In all probability, nothing much will change until the scientific community either provides categorical predictions as to who will be winners and who will be losers, or comes around to the extreme ‘load-of-nonsense’ theory.
Neither outcome is likely. The political point of the scientific activity is that it lends respectability to the social and political machinations. The scientists themselves are kept happy with money, and have in any event become extremely good players of the political game. Most of the good ones are in government research laboratories, and know exactly how their bread is buttered.
Let us accept for the sake of argument that the scientific consensus is for a change of climate in the direction of a global warming. The fact that ‘consensus’ is scarcely the way to run the railroad of science now seems unimportant to everyone except a few old-fashioned researchers who fear for the future of their profession. The most important question now about climate change is “will it be big enough to matter?” And the ultimate question is “if it matters, is it worth doing anything about?” The politically correct attitude to these questions is the same as before. Namely, if we don’t know what will be the outcome, then we should take action to stop it.
The trouble is that political correctness is not often a good guide either to common sense or to reasonable ethics. The ‘take action now’ argument is only completely valid if the possible outcomes of change are known to be disastrous for everyone. Provided one accepts that change of itself is not inherently bad, it is far more likely that the distribution of good versus evil to come out of climate change would be roughly fifty-fifty. So that an active program of altering our present behaviour so as to reduce potential climate change is as likely to cause harm as is a program of masterly inaction. Particularly if the active program costs money – and real money at that. Today’s dollars, and not those dollars discounted virtually to zero for the future.
It is in fact extremely difficult to sustain an argument for active limitation of greenhouse warming purely on economic grounds. If for no other reason, the standard rates of discount for the future make sure of that. Indeed, from the selfish viewpoint of the wealthier, geographically larger and economically more diverse nations, it is relatively easy to sustain an argument that such limitation would be economically stupid. For such nations the climate-susceptible industries such as agriculture account for a small and diminishing percentage of gross national product. It does not make selfish economic sense (we are being economically rational for the moment) for such countries to make major changes to the energy industries which underpin a large fraction of gross national product in order to limit an impact on industries that contribute a very much smaller fraction.
The real problem comes with defining a universally acceptable discount rate for those natural environmental things which we all appreciate but on which we cannot put a value in dollars. The concepts of economically sustainable development get in the way—in particular the concept that we should ‘behave in a way which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs’. Since it is difficult to predict what might be the needs of future generations as far as the natural environment is concerned, the problem inevitably boils down to defining a universally acceptable discount rate for the present state. At which point there is a further problem of logic. It is believed that no natural ecosystem (in Australia certainly) is in steady state. Ecosystems change naturally whatever we do. Since we have no particular expectation of what the ultimate steady state of an ecosystem might be, there is little point in getting upset because it might alter as a result of a change in climate. How then can we talk about a ‘discount rate for the present state’?
Where does all this get us? Not very far except to a general feeling that, from the point of view of countries like Australia, whether or not there might be significant greenhouse warming is probably not all that important in the overall scheme of things. If one is selfish enough to accept that, then it is possible also to accept two propositions. The first is a restatement of the obvious. If we are to do anything about restricting greenhouse gas emissions, then it should be done only if there are other compelling and shorter-term reasons for taking whatever might be the proposed action. Playing around with ‘clean coal technology’—a pseudonym for expensively burying in the ground the carbon emitted by coal-fired power stations—doesn’t fit that philosophy. The second is simply a statement of hardnosed international politics. If we are to spend resources on restricting our greenhouse gas emissions, then what is the rest of the world going to do in return? ‘Taking a lead’ with an expensive program to reduce carbon emission in the virtuous hope that other countries will be shamed into doing the same is not an obviously sensible procedure. Shame does not figure largely in the determination of national agendas.