Being economical with your scepticism
The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) claims that it is “the UK’s original free-market think-tank…” but, is it the best, or the most sensible? This would appear to be debatable because, as Tim Worstall has kindly pointed out, the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) [which claims to be “the UK's leading libertarian think-tank...”] accepts that climate change “is happening, it’s a problem, it’s anthropogenic and we ought to do something about it”. Furthermore, this is the position adopted by the Policy Exchange [see Moselle and Moore (2011) p.6] and the Taxpayers’ Alliance [see Sinclair (2009) pp.3-5].
Needless to say, they all disagree with many of the methods of mitigation currently being pursued, but so do I. That is not the point. The point is that the IEA seems doggedly committed to promoting the view that anthropogenic climate change (AGW) is either a fantasy, a scam, or a problem that is not worth the economic cost of fixing. I mean, they are seriously behind the curve on this one…
The remainder of what I have to say here is based on my reading of the IEA’s 2008 publication, Climate Change Policy: Challenging the Activists, (still for sale on their website), compiled and contributed to by Colin Robinson.
– Ian Byatt’s contribution is simply a (Nordhausian) critique of the very low discount rate used in the Stern Review, which Byatt claims results in gross underestimation of the real costs of proposed actions to mitigate AGW (page 92-113).
– David Henderson appears to concede that the climate is changing (as it has done before); but that the magnitude of the problem has been overstated (i.e. conspiracy theory); and that no radical action is therefore required (page 72-5).
– Russell Lewis is clearly a fan of the argument that AGW is a false alarm; considers that current concern is as flawed as that in the 1970s over an approaching ice age (page 5-7); and believes that prominent theologians, politicians, and philosophical scientists have all been duped by what he cites author Michael Crichton has having termed “a kind of fundamentalist religion” (page 40).
– Julian Morris uses classic denialist arguments that CO2 is not a pollutant and that climate change is natural to dispute the reality of a legitimate scientific consensus view that AGW is actually happening; and to support the view that environmentalism is a new religion (page 132).
– Alan Peacock, however, uses religious-sounding rhetoric to reach the conclusion that AGW is an anti-libertarian conspiracy (pages 114 and 130 respectively).
– Colin Robinson agrees that “environmental alarmism” has some of the characteristics of a new religion in his Introduction, which he considers to be dangerous precisely because it challenges the status quo and the sensibility of business as usual. In his second contribution to the collection of essays, he also criticises modelling/forecasting as inherently unreliable; and says any predictions must be treated with scepticism in the light of previous false alarms (pages 42 and 66 respectively).
These guys are unquestionably all extremely well-respected economists and/or businessmen, but they seem to have allowed this to cloud their judgement: Because of their absence of any scientific expertise, rather than engage in rational debate over the highly-probable scientific reality of AGW or the equally-likely political necessity of taking mitigating action to avoid unprecedented environmental changes, they prefer to invoke the supposed irrationality of concern over AGW.
This would appear to lend weight to the argument of those that have suggested that it is Capitalist economics and/or consumerism that is/are the problem; what Daly calls “growthmania” and Hamilton “growth fetishism”. Whatever you want to call it, some economists (at the IEA at least) appear to have decided that they cannot afford the IPCC to be right; and are therefore willing to grasp hold of any evidence they can find (or that other conservative think tanks feed to them) that may confirm this view. In other words, this is cognitive dissonance leading to confirmation bias; being dressed-up as economic rationalism.
Moselle, B. & Moore, S. (2011), ‘Climate Change Policy – Time for Plan B’, Policy Exchange.
Sinclair, M. (2009), ‘Ending the Green Rip-off: Reforming climate change policy to reduce the burden on families’, Taxpayers’ Alliance.