I was recently invited to participate in a workshop to discuss climate change. However, looking at the workshop’s website it became obvious that, despite the genuineness and warmth of the invitation, I would probably, soon after my arrival, become the most unpopular participant there. The following quotation taken from the workshop’s website was one of the many that I profoundly disagreed with: “The door is closing on our ability to keep climate change within safe levels.” The statement linked to a May 2012 Reuters article announcing that: “The chance of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius this century is getting slimmer and slimmer”. The problem with the Reuters’ statement is that the science has already changed since it was written. Just a few weeks ago climate scientists announced that they now believe global warming is occurring at a much slower rate than previously thought so the door is going to stay open for a while longer.
Now, I don’t want to quibble about rates of warming but there is in the global warming community a degree of certainty and unanimity about the future that belies the nature of the underlying science. In England where the weather is more variable than California, the inaccuracy of weather forecasts, even a few days out, is legendary. Almost in recognition of their inability to make accurate predictions, English weather forecasts cover as wide a range of possibilities as possible, like for example, “Monday will be cloudy with sunny intervals and the possibility of scattered showers.” Edward Lorenz, the father of chaos theory rightly saw climate as, “a complex, non-linear, chaotic object” that defies long-term prediction.
But, even if climate change is not kept within ‘safe’ levels, what is there to be afraid of? Why is global warming thought to be such a bad thing? Throughout mankind’s history it is cold that has been feared not warmth. Sea levels will not rise overnight. For the last 5,000 years the rate of rise has only been about seven inches per century. There will be more than enough time for coastal residents to adapt. Furthermore, there will be more, not less biodiversity as most trees, plants, birds, and animals extend their ranges. The northern plains in Canada and in Russia will become warmer and will produce more food to compensate for any loss in production in the Southern Hemisphere. Anyway, it’s high-tech farming, not climate that has governed world food production since the 17th century. As Fred Singer and Dennis Avery note in Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1,500 Years: “Any famines will be humanity’s fault, not the fault of the climate.”
In 1968 Paul Ehrlich said in his book The Population Bomb: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…” Unfortunately for Ehrlich the Green Revolution came along and spoiled his prophecy. So much for the prophets of environmental doom.
Climate change activists are unanimous that mankind is responsible for global warming and I certainly don’t deny that very real possibility, but let’s use some common sense here. Scientists can predict the motion of two bodies in space that interact with each other gravitationally. However, add a third body and the problem becomes so complex that it can only be solved in special cases. However, there are fifty or more factors involved in climate change ranging from ocean currents, magnetic fields and sun spot activity to cloud cover, cosmic rays and hothouse emissions. Complexity Theory as well as common sense tells us that where there are so many variables, the probability that one factor has a 90 percent responsibility for a particular action is extremely remote. Nevertheless, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claimed in 2007 that they were more than 90 percent confident that mankind is the main culprit for global warming. I am a great fan of science but when politics and science mix, generally good science goes out the window.
Another quotation taken from the workshop website was the following: “One of the ideas developed there was that if we are to stop people going in an unsustainable way from A to B then we have to offer them a better alternative C.” The phrase ‘sustainable development’ seems to on the lips of everyone today who wants to limit growth and reduce consumption, however you will not find it in any economics textbook because the concept is vacuous and lacks meaning in a market-based economy. We are not going to run out of natural resources because knowledge is a multiplier of resources allowing us to extract more value from the same amount of physical resource. To illustrate this point, Ramez Naam suggests in his book, The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet, that readers melt down their iPhones and try to sell the raw materials: “The accumulated knowledge of materials, computing, electromagnetism, product design, and all the rest that we’ve learned over the last several centuries converts a few ounces of raw materials worth mere pennies into a device with more computing power than the entire planet possessed fifty years ago,”
Finally, some more quotations from the climate change website:
“the current slowdown in funding, shows that a ‘bottom up’ solution to the crisis will not be easily delivered”
“We will be bringing together leading thinkers from politics, science, technology, business and culture to work on how we plan a new economy.”
On second thoughts my blood pressure is rising and it’s clear that the ideas behind these quotations require a post of their own. Watch this space.
“The pace of global warming is accelerating and the scale of the impact is devastating. The time for action is limited – we are approaching a tipping point beyond which the opportunity to reverse the damage of CO2 emissions will disappear.” Eliot Spitzer