Sampson and the Temple of Economic Dinosaurs
To mark the first anniversary of this blog, last Friday, I re-posted the first ever item on this blog, which summarised the inspiration for my MA dissertation on climate change scepticism in the UK; and the results of my research into one of the groups studied – namely economists. At the end of the re-posted piece, I said that this (economics and/or “sceptical” economists) was a subject to which I would return this week. This is primarily because the last two of the six pillars of climate change denial are proving the hardest to demolish. For ease of reference, these six pillars are as follows (with their most common sound bytes in brackets):
1. Global warming is not happening (a.k.a. “global warming stopped in 1998”).
2. Global warming is not man-made (a.k.a. “the climate has always changed”).
3. Global warming is not significant (a.k.a. “less than 1oC after 250 years is no big deal”).
4. Global warming is not necessarily bad (a.k.a. “CO2 is plant food”).
5. Global warming is not a problem (a.k.a. “we will adapt” / “technology will save us”).
6. Global warming is not worth fixing (a.k.a. “we cannot afford to fix it” / “we cannot stop it”).
Most of the economists I researched for my MA were associated with the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA); with the most notable exception being co-Founder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), Lord Lawson. For those that are interested (and/or not familiar with the early days of this blog), I posted quite a bit in the latter months of 2011 about both the IEA and GWPF and, therefore, do not propose to re-post it all now. However, as intimated at the end of last Friday’s post, I would like to draw attention to the list of names on the GWPF’s Academic Advisory Council:
Professor David Henderson (IEA economist)
Adrian Berry (Journalist – science)
Sir Samuel Brittan (Journalist – economics)
Sir Ian Byatt (Economist/Civil Servant)
Professor Robert Carter (contrarian Geologist)
Professor Vincent Courtillot (contrarian Geologist)
Professor Freeman Dyson (contrarian Physicist)
Christian Gerondeau (Economist)
Dr Indur Goklany (Economist)
Professor William Happer (contrarian Physicist)
Dr Terence Kealey (Biochemist)
Professor Anthony Kelly (Metallurgist)
Professor Deepak Lal (Economist)
Professor Richard Lindzen (contrarian Physicist)
Professor Ross McKitrick (Economist)
Professor Robert Mendelsohn (Economist)
Professor Sir Alan Peacock (Economist/Civil Servant)
Professor Ian Plimer (contrarian Geologist)
So, of these 18 advisors… 8 are economists, 3 are physicists, 3 are geologists, 2 are journalists, 1 is a biochemist and 1 is a metallurgist. Indeed, Lindzen is the only one who could claim to be anything close to a genuine climate scientist. Furthermore, in defence of my use of the term “contrarian”, I would defy anyone to prove that these individuals hold views that are anything other than those of an extreme minority within their respective professions.
Of course, this invites “sceptics” to claim that they are like Galileo but, fortunately, science has moved on from the Middle Ages; and it is no longer controlled by the Church of Rome. Furthermore, the only obscurantist and anti-intellectual entity today is the fossil fuel lobby – which now pays PR firms (such as Hill and Knowlton) to peddle misinformation and perpetuate doubt (just as it did for the tobacco industry).
As has been noted elsewhere on this blog, the GWPF was founded by economist Lord Lawson and social anthropologist Benny Peiser and – as is very clear from the above – it is focussed on economic arguments for inaction. However, along with the IEA, it is beginning to look increasingly anachronistic. Whist other similar think-tanks with an economic focus such as the Adam Smith Institute and the Taxpayers’ Alliance have conceded that climate change is happening, the IEA and GWPF continue to stick to the hardcore conspiracy theory that it is a politically-convenient false alarm.
Thankfully, I think the World is moving on and leaving dinosaurs like the IEA and GWPF behind. Most readers will probably be aware by now of the “we will adapt” position statement of Rex Tillerson (CEO of Exxon Mobil). Clearly, Tillerson has conceded defeat on the demolition of Pillars 1 to 4 and, therefore, stands between Pillars 5 and 6 – like the Old Testament anti-hero Sampson – trying desperately to prevent the Temple of Denial from collapsing around him.
This is indeed encouraging but, all the same, I wish that someone like Tillerson could bring himself to see and/or admit that fossil fuels are history; renewable energy is the future and, as such, investment in it should be seen as affirmative action. Of course, as Bill McKibben recently highlighted in Rolling Stone magazine, there is one very good reason why Tillerson cannot do this: Fossil fuel companies are already trading on their future profits from burning all of the Earth’s fossil fuels. If they announced tomorrow that they were going to cease all exploration for unconventional sources (deep sea oil, shale gas, and tar sands), their share price would plummet even faster than that of a “rogue institution” such as Standard Chartered Bank.
I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and offer the World a definitive solution; but I can’t. All I can say is that I am not comfortable with the idea of gambling the future habitability of planet Earth on our ability to find a way to safely and permanently remove CO2 from the atmosphere and artificially lock it away underground. This carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology may well prove essential but, it is simply not acceptable to use CCS as an excuse for not phasing out the use of fossil fuels in all forms of heating, cooling, power and transportation (with the reluctant exception of aviation where no obvious substitute exists).
The phase-out of fossil fuel use (wherever it can be substituted using existing technology) is something G20 Nations agreed to do 3 years ago (in Pittsburgh, PA) and, with every year that passes, the need to act becomes progressively more urgent. Despite the fanciful claims of the “sceptics”, it is no longer just supposed “alarmists” like James Hansen that say this: The International Energy Agency agrees; as do economists like Nicholas Stern and William Nordhaus.