“Today’s debate about global warming is essentially a debate about freedom. The environmentalists would like to mastermind each and every possible (and impossible) aspect of our lives.”
Blue Planet in Green Shackles
August 10, 2009
Should we believe (all) scientists?
Some may say it ill behoves an economist to pass judgement on scientists: after all economists are obviously to blame for the current recession.
But reflecting on 28 years in Treasury (and subsequently), I conclude that many proposals by both economists and scientists do not warrant government intervention to “save” the economy and/or society. Modest expertise helped me, but my most important methodology is common sense questions – such as “how exactly will society (rather than a particular group) benefit if this proposal is implemented?”
I confess to having started with the belief that proposals by scientists should generally be accepted. After all, look at the improved living standards from the innumerable machines and medicines that scientific advances have allowed.
But when in 1972 I wrote a paper at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London on “Limits on the Supply of Resources”, I soon realised that even the best scientists need to be challenged. Worryingly, most pay little regard to either the continued upward trend in beneficial technology, or to the natural propensity for markets to encourage such developments through changes in prices. The combination of science and economics, I concluded, meant that we humans would not run out of resources even for the growing world population.
This, of course, contrasted starkly with the four Club of Rome scientists, who postulated in “The Limits to Growth” that a developing shortage of resources required population to be “stabilized”. A similar theme was advanced in “A Blueprint for Survival”, a 1972 document signed by many eminent scientists, including five Fellows of the Royal Society and sixteen holders of science chairs in British universities. This Blueprint was described as a “major contribution to the current debate” in a letter to The Times signed by another 150 scientists, including nine more fellows of the Royal Society and 20 more university science professors.
Such calls by “expert” scientists for government intervention to stop the world reaching some imagined tipping point, leading to poverty, famines and wars, have continued right up to today. They underlie the present political thesis that, unless governments adopt policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures will rise to levels that, eventually, threaten survival.
Yet climatology is a relatively new science that relies importantly on the same kind of adjustment of modelling variables that economists use in making their oft incorrect predictions of economic growth; viz, regularly adjust the model to take account of the latest changes in the climate (economic) situation.
Worth referencing here, too, is the 1704 explanation by world renowned scientist Sir Isaac Newton of his reason for predicting the end of the world in 2060. This, he said, was “not to assert when the time of the end shall be” but “to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by so doing bring the sacred prophecies into discredit as often as their predictions fail”.
Today, fanciful scientists and economists offer different perspectives on global warming predictions. Modelling by the former puts the dangerous “tipping point” around 2050, when a further 2 degrees rise in temperatures is projected, while economists’ modelling suggests that even if no “remedial” action is taken GDP would be only slightly lower than otherwise in 2100 – some tipping point!
Given the enormous technological (and economic) developments that have occurred over time, such use of times beyond which “engines” cannot be reversed are not only extreme dubious but also absurd - reasoning that humanity must act now because the future can confidently be predicted over a century ahead is nonsense that qualifies for a Newton award.
But there is a laundry list of other more specific reasons that question the validity of various analyses by the IPCC and its supporters. Space permits only brief references.
The main question is whether there is any credible relationship between emissions of carbon dioxide and temperature increases. The following suggests there is none and that IPCC specifics to the contrary have no credibility.
Since 1940 emissions of CO2 have increased strongly but measured temperatures did not increase or fell for about 40 per cent of the time. Further, although satellite measurements used since 1978 have substantially improved global temperature coverage by including oceans, the IPCC erroneously concludes that urban heating effects have no effect on their preferred thermometer ground temperature record;
Temperatures were not infrequently higher than today in earlier past periods, when only limited emissions of greenhouse gases occurred. The IPCC's fallibility is shown by its failure to explain the withdrawal from recent reports of its earlier presentations acknowledging this for the Medieval Warming period; and of its “hockey stick” temperature analysis that shows (wrongly) no increases prior to industrialisation;
The IPCC projection of the “very likely” average temperature increase to 2100 has a range of uncertainty that is so wide (50-60 per cent) as to make it meaningless for policy decision-making;
Although IPCC reports acknowledge that the supposed warming effects from increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere diminish progressively as concentration levels grow, the IPCC's policy recommendations offset this diminishing effect by amplifying other dubious temperature influences;
Historical analyses of ice cores indicate that past periods of temperature increases occurred hundreds of years before their parallel carbon dioxide increases.
Examination of many other specifics relating to possible indirect evidence of “dangerous” warming confirm that, as of now, that the changes observed are all in line with natural planetary variations. These include data relating to sea levels (recently falling), Arctic sea-ice meltings (now reversed), and Antarctic sea-ice area (actually increased).
Recently, the Science director of the Heartland Institute, Dr Jay Lehr, described the IPCC’s dangerous, human-caused warming thesis as a scam in his presentation in my conference room.
One of my guests then commented:
It makes one wonder how on earth greenhouse theory could have been so readily accepted by scientists, and thence by the public generally, at least in the developed world. The huge cost of abatement of the supposed problem is widely accepted nonchalantly, or in ignorance. As Lehr said, it is all about politics, power and money.
The German call for an independent, non-ideological audit of the IPCC science should be repeated here, as indeed Senator Fielding’s scientific advisors have started to provide, and urge to be continued through the mechanism of a Royal Commission.
Des Moore is the Director of the Institute for Private Enterprise.
The Quadrant Book of Poetry: 2001 - 2010
edited by Les Murray