There was an extraordinary article in the Australian yesterday (here) by Vaclav Klaus.
In his article, which is a condensation of a speech for a conference of climate sceptics, Vaclav makes mince meat out of the climate alarmists and accuses them of having bad intentions. He doesnt just say that they are wrong and misguided when they, on the basis of very uncertain science, call for a radical change in our lives, but he accuses them of having ‘megalomaniacal ambitions’, putting mankind ‘on the road to serfdom’, that they falsely believe in ‘their own omnipotency’ and are guilty of ‘fatal conceit’. He furthermore accuses those social scientists and climatologists who are not climate alarmist of not standing up sufficiently to the alarmists. That’s quite an accusation!
Vaclav’s argumentation is simple. He notes that current carbon consumption is increasing unchecked in Europe despite decades of investments in cleaner energy (which implicitly means Kyoto is not being implemented). He notes there is no indication at all that the carbon efficiency of energy is improving nor that there is any hope for such a dramatic improvement in efficiency from the economic literature on technological innovation. Hence he deducts that the only real way to reduce emissions is to have contracting economies or reduced human population levels, and he notes to his horror that there are indeed people calling for these changes, though he doesnt name them.
I really sat up and took notice of this article, though I initially misread the name and was rightfully alerted to it (oops!). If Vaclav is claiming a new totalitarian regime is around the corner and that egotistical would-be tyrants are using climate phantoms to get us there, then one should perhaps worry.
My first problem is that I dont know who he means when he says climate alarmist? Is this Al Gore and the IPCC? Yes, Al Gore’s video was a fraud, but he is just one person and the IPCC hedged its bets by presenting many different scenarios. There might have been megalomaniacs on its board but I cant recall reading anything about the IPCC calling us to cull the population or halt economic growth. The IPCC just put forth exceedingly vague and unrealistic proposals for changes in people’s lives. Is that enough to see new totalitarian rulers in them? I dont know. More close to home, does Vaclav include the social scientists whose arguments are derivatives of the IPCC reports, such as Nicholas Stern (who just copied the IPCC) and Ross Garnaut (who copied Nicholas Stern and the IPCC). What about local ‘alarmist climate commentators’ such as John Quiggin or Geoff Davies. Davies is perhaps on the fringes because he notes that Garnaut copies the IPCC but thinks that Ross is not alarmist enough by half and greatly underestimates the true risks (see here)? Hence of all these, Geoff Davies seems to fit Vaclav’s description best because he indeed calls for dramatic actions curtailing individual choice and economic growth though he seems to stop short of advocating mass slaughter of surplus humanity. So are we now to believe Geoff is engaged in some kind of egoistic domination fantasy that threatens to put Australia on the road to serfdom?
Whilst I tend to agree with Vaclav’s basic contention that reducing emissions would require a culling of humanity or a reversion of economic growth, I nevertheless have to dismiss Vaclav’s argument. He is too dogmatic in his own way. He lived under a totalitarian regime and might hence be overly sensitive for the dangers inherent in constraints to mankinds’ actions. For one, he goes over the top when he juxtaposes the current position as ‘freedom’ and concerted climate action as ‘serfdom’. The reality is that modern society, including Vaclav’s own country, is full of constraints on individual freedom, ranging from compulsory seatbelts and taxation to a prohibition on whether individuals can own nuclear weapons. Any large group of people living together and sharing common resources sets rules upon each other and the question is not one of totalitarianism or freedom but that of degrees, i.e. whether the benefit of constraints outweighs the costs. Only blind fools think society can function without constraints or that one can meaningfully speak of the current situation as ‘freedom’. The real question is whether the climate threat is sufficiently imminent and the necessary response sufficiently dirigist to warrant a further encroachment on individual liberties. Since Vaclav doesnt debate the basic climate science he is a little vulnerable to the accusation that he doesnt know the degree to which climate change is happening or avertable by other means than concerted world action. One could for instance alternatively believe that there is some kind of engineering solution to climate change that could be implemented by a single sufficiently worried country, which wouldnt require human culling or reductions in growth at all. I have predicted for some time (see here) that engineering is where the debate will steer towards if climate change should really start to materialise with the speed and the consequences that the alarmists predict.
My main reason for dismissing Vaclav though is that he misreads what is going on in the political economy of climate change. He himself notes that countries are not serious about curtailing emissions and that the politicians promising these reduction live in ‘a dream’. Hence he should wake up to what is actually going on, which is that politicians and the ruling elite are not really curtailing emissions at all and are merely allowing the alarmists to dominate the public debate and play with carbon trading schemes in order to satisfy the need of the population for symbolic sacrifices to (real or perceived) climate threats. Whilst the rain dance is in full swing, the growth of energy and carbon consumption still rule in the background. Just like Christians seem to enjoy listening to the pope when he tells the Catholics not to engage in materialism but yet these same Christians choose to engage in materialism anyway when it comes to their own lives and their political voting patterns, populations now seem to enjoy paying lip-service to the notion that they should worry about carbon emissions whilst in reality buying more 4-wheel drives than ever before and voting for the politician that promises them more growth.
Vaclav seems worried that the alarmists might actually start having some effect and that concerted world action against climate change might actually occur. For me, that shows Vaclav is not on top of the basic insights of social science. The idea that the majority of the countries in the world are going to give up their sovereignty to some kind of world climate ministry (even if they believed the IPCC), or that they would sacrifice their own country’s economic growth for the ‘good’ of the world, reckons without the basic greed and will for self-determination of populations and their governments. No politician going against growth would survive in office and the competition between nations makes it hard to imagine them coming together over something as hard to model and predict as climate, let alone to agree upon population culling to avert climate change. Vaclav might be right when he claims the climate alarmists have delusions of grandeur and are indulging in a private fantasy, but at the end of the day his worries about the effect of those dreams seem unwarranted. He confuses people’s need for religion and sacrifice with what they actually are willing to give up when push comes to shove.
NOTE: I originally thought this article was written by Vaclav Havel, but didnt pay enough attention to the name following Vaclav. He is still a well-known politician, but not quite as well-known or as respected. Mea Culpa.
As to those who cling to the Gore movie An Inconvenient Truth as the absolute gospel, see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/7037671.stm
for the nine errors in it, handed down no less than by a judge who had to see whether it should be played at school or not.