TCS Daily


Kyoto and the Art of Political Backtracking

By Hans H.J. Labohm - June 24, 2005 12:00 AM

Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity. And I am not sure about the former.
-- Albert Einstein

Why should the Kyoto Protocol (the UN agreement to reduce man-made emissions of CO2 in order to counter global warming) be canceled as soon as possible? The answer is that its underlying science is fatally flawed; it costs a fortune; it will have almost no cooling effect (0.02 degree Celsius in 2050); and, finally, it will play havoc with our economic system, with dire implications for our prosperity and freedom.

But not everybody agrees with this point of view. On the contrary, British Prime Minister Tony Blair wanted to put climate change high on the agenda of the G8 meeting which will be held shortly in Gleneagles, Scotland. During his recent visit to Washington, in preparation for the summit, Blair urged President Bush to change tack on Kyoto and to join the countries which have already ratified it. But Bush stood firm and refused to do so. According to the US administration climate is not an issue. This means that, together with a few associated countries, Europe is now stuck with a European mini-Kyoto.

The accord has always been presented as a modest first step in a long process that would have to encompass as many as 30 follow-up efforts. This perspective has been shattered now. And there is even growing uneasiness within the European ranks. Italy has already announced it will drop out of Kyoto when the first phase expires in 2012. Russia has been dissatisfied with the accord all along and will undoubtedly follow. And according to the German edition of the Financial Times, Angela Merkel, who is likely to become chancellor if her conservative party sweeps into power in the forthcoming elections, has serious doubts about the Kyoto Protocol and promises a radical change in energy policy.

These developments will not go unnoticed in other European capitals, and will probably spur a fundamental overhaul of past policies. The question then arises of how to make a u-turn, which will inflict the least damage on both political and scientific elites, who have backed Kyoto for such a long time. In short, damage control! What about using new scientific insights as a perfect alibi and an elegant way out?

As Tim Patterson notes: "Policy is increasingly disconnected from science, as science advances." He does so in a video, which has recently been released by the Canadian Friends of Science. This video features prominent climate skeptics, including Patterson, Ian Clarck, Tim Ball, Sallie Baliunas, Tad Murty, Vincent Gray, Steve McIntyre, and Ross McKitrick. After the introduction, the video opens with shots of emotional Parliamentary statements by Canadian politicians, like Jean Chr├ętien, David Anderson, Bob Mills, Jack Layton and Stephan Dion -- all urging prompt action to avoid catastrophe. Then it continues with new scientific insights debunking the man-made global warming myth, addressing variety of issues, including the incorrect reconstruction of historical temperatures (the hockey stick), the reverse causal relationship between CO2 and temperatures, sea level rise and the frequency and intensity of exceptional weather events. In doing so, the video might serve as an effective antidote to the persistent government-sponsored global warming indoctrination which has gone on for almost 20 years now.

Today's climate models are not able to match reality. They have not been validated. Therefore, they cannot serve as a basis for predictions. On the website of Warwick Hughes one may find a scorecard that presents some of the predictions climate models have made and compares them to actual observation as would be done in any normal scientific endeavor. The results are shocking.

Adherents of the man-made global warming paradigm and climate skeptics agree that the models are far from perfect. Many from both camps also suggest that one day -- say within ten years -- modeling might be so advanced as to be able to capture the essential features of the climate system. I disagree.

It is tempting to draw a comparison with the experience of mathematical models in economics. Their use was the subject of discussion in the first half of the last century between pro-market economists on the one side and pro-planning economists on the other. It was one of the most crucial debates that has ever taken place in economic science. It was conducted between Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek of the so-called Austrian school on the one hand and Oskar Lange and Abba Lerner on the other. The central question was whether it was possible to make economic calculations in a socialist-planned economy. Lange was a proponent of market socialism with state ownership of the means of production, as embodied in the Soviet planned economy.

Using mathematical models and computers, the planned economy was supposed to be able to imitate the market and thereby solve the problem of economic calculation, according to Lange. Mises and Hayek believed that such a system could never function satisfactorily. They emphasized the importance of private ownership, in particular of the means of production, as a necessary precondition for price formation. Without personal property, there are no markets. If there are no markets, there is no price formation. And if there is no price formation, people lack the information to act in an economically rational way, with large-scale waste of resources as a result.

Thanks to the collapse of communism with its central planned economy, the debate was settled in the late 1980s in favor of Mises and Hayek. But, before that time, even many western economists had great confidence in the forecasting value of economic models. They recognized that these were not yet perfect, but believed that the shortcomings at that time could be remedied through further development of statistics, econometrics and the use of powerful computers. However, especially during the stagflation of the 1970s, economic models demonstrated that they were less and less able to explain and predict economic reality. This made economists increasingly aware of the fundamental limitations of the model-based approach to the economy. Will climatologists eventually also come to the same conclusion?

More fundamentally, however, it should be borne in mind that climate models are sets of linear equations. But climate is a complex, non-linear, stochastic system. For these systems another chapter of mathematics would apply: the so-called Lorenz equations (named after the American MIT meteorologist Edward Lorenz). Unfortunately, with Lorenz equations one enters the field of "predictable unpredictability", which is not very helpful either. So the uncertainty remains, though at a higher level of scientific sophistication.

It remains puzzling why the man-made global warming myth has become so powerful. David Henderson, former chief economist of the OECD, attributes it to what he calls: global salvationism. According to Henderson the salvationist doctrine has two main strands, which originally were separate but have long since come together to form an influential world-wide consensus. The first strand is developmental salvationism, and relates to the economic fortunes of poor countries. The second strand is environmental salvationism.

In both strands, two elements are combined. One is a relentlessly dark -- not to say alarmist -- picture of recent trends, the present state of the world (or "the planet"), and prospects for the future unless prompt and far-reaching changes are made in official policies. The second is a conviction that known effective remedies exist for the various ills and threats thus identified, remedies which require action on the part of governments and "the international community". "Solutions" are at hand, given wise collective resolves and actions. Global salvationism thus combines alarmist visions and diagnoses with confidently radical collectivist prescriptions for the world.

Henderson believes that in the salvationist picture of the world, the record, sources and lessons of economic progress go unrecognized. Poor countries, whose relative poverty is typically overstated, are portrayed as victims whose progress chiefly depends on empowerment and deliverance from above, while environmental issues are treated almost exclusively with reference to problems, threats, and potential or even imminent disasters.

He concludes:

        "Classical liberals are few and far between, while most of today's social 
        democrats and democratic conservatives, while not to be counted among the 
        anti-market activists, are well disposed towards, or ready to acquiesce in, 
        much of the thinking that enters into new millennium collectivism. Not many of 
        them would wish to question the status of such plausible and generally 
        accepted notions as sustainable development, positive human rights, 
        corporate social responsibility, socially responsible investment, anti-
        discrimination, equal opportunity, diversity, social justice, social exclusion, 
        global social governance, the precautionary principle, or participatory 
        democracy. As currently interpreted, however, all these guiding principles find 
        expression in anti-liberal measures and programs. A continuing threat to 
        economic freedom thus arises, not just from anti-capitalist groups and movements 
        on the periphery, but also, and principally, from representative opinion of 
        various kinds in conjunction with a wide range of interest group pressures 
        old and new."

I could only add: don't forget climate change.

Categories:
|

TCS Daily Archives