TCS Daily

Is the Dogma Unravelling?

By Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen - February 9, 2004 12:00 AM

This smallish volume, "Man-Made Global Warming: Unravelling a Dogma" by Hans Labohm, Simon Rozendahl and Dick Thoenes is dedicated to "debunking the man-made global warming scare" (p.vii). It is published in the UK but written by three Dutch authors (two chemists and one International Relations scholar with training in economics) in the context of the Netherlands and its ambitious climate protection policy.

The book is as accessible as it is biased against Dutch conventional wisdom. It deliberately gives (with many references) climate sceptics a voice and while by no means unkind to the IPCC's bench scientists, the authors reject the global "authority" of that august if nebulous institution.

Sceptical science voices are employed by the authors to support policy recommendations. For example, they suggest that the Kyoto Protocol should be put on ice "until there is sufficient understanding of the factors that determine climate variability." The authors believe that science can and should contribute to better policy. They recognize that scientific uncertainty remains too great for mandatory national -- not to mention global -- policy-making that will seriously effect so many policy realms, most of all energy.

They also recognise that there is no scientific consensus on the nature, degree and causation of climatic change beyond that which is constructed by selection and negotiation inside IPCC networks of interlinked government, UN, EU and research bureaucracies, skilfully disseminated with the help of green lobbies by a small number of leading IPCC figures.

This book comes from the outside this network and will likely be dismissed as irrelevant by it. But for how much longer?

As Kyoto fades and the EU fails to deliver promised emission cuts, sceptical arguments of the kind collected here are likely to become more attractive not necessarily because they are more true -- which they are, in my opinion -- but because they will be needed "to authorise" failure. While the authors do not say so, comparisons with the early stages of Atoms for Peace project might be further explored.

The authors reveal what disturbs them most about the Kyoto agenda: its huge potential for social engineering, if not full scale planning. The authors simply warn that, should Dutch leaders remain impervious to rational analysis and continue "wasteful policies to impose extra burdens" with "no detectable influence of global climate" (p.183).

What are the real objectives of these extra burdens? How much longer will climate alarmism attract research funding? More questions are raised than answered, but that the research agenda may prosper for a very long time seems to be demonstrated by the new interest of the Pentagon in future climate scares[1]. Unless of course authors like these are being listened to and traditional dividing lines between right and left dissolve and a political regrouping takes place in Europe as well as North America.

I was most intrigued by information about the workings of the Dutch government where the environment minister actually invited climate sceptics to discuss their views with him -- an event that did not take place until late 2002 with five critics from the fields of geology, chemical engineering, astrophysics and paleo-climatology. The minister listened respectfully, agreed to continue the exchange and apparently left his eager scientists with the deflating joke that politics uses science "the way a drunkard uses a lamp post: for support rather than illumination." The minister soon announced extra efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the tiny Netherlands, a major supporter, by the way, of IPCC-linked research, the Kyoto Protocol and EU emission trading.

To the best of my knowledge no equivalent meeting has taken place in the UK where the official view is that these critics can safely be ignored because they are funded by the oil companies. UK officials talk about science being on tap not top and make a firm distinction between sound, which they define as supportive, and other science.

The authors are less concerned with what policies based on Greenpeace beliefs might mean for the future of science in Europe than what Kyoto is likely to mean for the EU economy. Here "aggravated Eurosclerosis" is their warning, a situation in which governments (and the EU Commission) hand out special favours not as is traditional and surely often necessary, to research, but increasingly to industry, turning market participants into rent-seekers. They see Kyoto as a mechanism serving just this purpose, rather than technological innovation. Perhaps here the jury is still out. If the authors are right, then competitors should certainly encourage the EU to "combat climate change" rather than, well... the list is endless.

A section hurriedly added just before publication lists questions and answers from the Moscow World Climate Conference of last year when Prof. Bolin of IPCC fame was asked uncomfortable questions by the Russian government. It is a pity that the Russian position could not be explained more fully, and that the book lacks an index.

I also regret a common but readily understood phenomenon, a tendency to associate support for the IPCC and Kyoto with "left-wing" politics. This may become an outdated perspective in need of revision. Those whose rhetoric has succumbed for reasons of rent-seeking or political correctness, including some of those in the fossil fuel industries, the pro-nuclear lobby and the research enterprise, might like to jump off before the bandwagon they've joined is derailed.

"Unravelling a Dogma" is readable, deals fairly with scientific uncertainty and puts sufficient emphasis, as far as policy drivers go, on the "secular religion" of environmentalism to which the Western World has succumbed and which it is now trying to globalise against growing resistance.

The author is Editor of the journal Energy & Environment.


1. Fortune Magazine, February 2004,15114,582584,00.html


TCS Daily Archives