Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Being economical with your scepticism

with 12 comments

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.

12 Responses

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  1. I’d hate to put a damper on such a great blog but ….😦

    634,896,081,081.08 tonnes of coal; That is the total amount of Coal we have burned since 1750 ….. fantastically large figures …they are available to anyone willing to look it up ….. go ahead, add the cumulative CO2 to that, just multiple the figure by 2.93 tonnes of CO2 per ton of Coal!

    If the CO2 figures were to be real we’d all be choking to death from it by now 😦

    How much heat have we pumped into the atmosphere from Coal alone since then? 1,523,750,594,594.60 Mega-joules of heat …. no, that’s right, “MEGA-Joules” 😦

    So why is the world warming up? …. HEAT


    3 October 2011 at 02:27

    • Like I keep saying to you (or so it seems), if you want your HEAT ideas taken seriously, you must get them published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Posting them online is not good enough (however much detail you provide).

      However, with regard to carbon in the atmosphere (in any form), I am sure I do not need to remind you that, particulates do not stay in the atmosphere more than a few days and, whereas CO2 may remain in the atmosphere for 100s if not 1000s of years, a significant proportion is absorbed into the oceans. Therefore, only a (growing) proportion of what we emit is still up there, but it is enough to have an observable affect (as per Tyndall, Arrhenius, etc).

      One more thing about the carbon cycle (i.e. CO2 gas => sea shells => limestone, etc), this is a very long-term dynamic equillibrium that we have now upset completely by burning fossil fuels. Therefore, hopefully you would agree that, when the bath is already completely full of water it is not a good idea to turn the effing tap on!

      P.S. Isn’t “damper” just Australian unleavened bread?:-)


      3 October 2011 at 08:16

  2. 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.

    …couldn’t agree more. The psychology and the politics of limits is easily of more practical consequence than its relatively straightforward logic. By advocating limits to growth, we are essentially telling elites in the developed world that their growth fetish demonstrates a philosophical error and operational incompetence. Is it any wonder there is resistance? Humans are not rational beings.

    Ben Habib

    3 October 2011 at 11:58

    • Cheers Ben. I love your phrase “philosophical error and operational incompetence“… It reminds me of the classic put-down, “they couldn’t find their way out of a paper bag!”


      3 October 2011 at 12:39

  3. Economists following the dogma of the current paradigm (“We Need Growth! We Need Growth!”) who rail at AGW being ‘simply an unproven theory’ seem blind to the irony that their own economic mantras are based upon theories that are set upon even more unstable foundations. It is this, more than anything, that makes me so very mad.
    HM the Queen famously asked how it was that nobody — not even the highly-paid best of the best Economics Minds of Our Generation — saw the ‘Credit Crunch’ coming in advance. Yes, it was easy to see — in retrospect — that the near-collapse of the banks was inevitable; but when even a non-expert such as myself was able to see at the time that nothing will change, and that we’ll be facing more of the same by-and-by, well, to me that’s clear proof that these self-professed experts are, quite simply, no better than the Marketing Division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.


    7 October 2011 at 15:35

    • Ahh but, you have struck the nail on the head, some like Raghuram Rajan did see it coming [go here to find my link to his Has Financial Development Made The World Riskier? 2005 paper] but no-one wanted to listen. (N.B. I have only discovered this myself in the last week.)

      Excellent use made of The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy… Clearly you are a fan of it too !:-)


      7 October 2011 at 15:56

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