A Vicious Circle of Meddling

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

There is an interesting profile of AGW skeptic Richard Lindzen in the Weekly Standard which includes the following contention on his part:

Lindzen also says that the "consensus"--the oft-heard contention that "virtually all" climate scientists believe in catastrophic, anthropogenic global warming--is overblown, primarily for structural reasons. "When you have an issue that is somewhat bogus, the opposition is always scattered and without resources," he explains. "But the environmental movement is highly organized. There are hundreds of NGOs. To coordinate these hundreds, they quickly organized the Climate Action Network, the central body on climate. There would be, I think, actual meetings to tell them what the party line is for the year, and so on." Skeptics, on the other hand, are more scattered across disciplines and continents. As such, they have a much harder time getting their message across.
There are hints about what "structural reasons" might be at play throughout the article. The primary one Lindzen himself has in mind is the fact that most scientists, funded as they are by the state, have a strong incentive to fan hysteria as a means of continuing to see their work funded.

There are others, a major one (although not the fundamental one) being the fact that we live in a mixed ecomomy. This becomes more obvious when the practical consequences of the anti-AGW politial agenda are considered.

Assuming that AGW is a real threat for the sake of argument, what is the one thing all the proposed energy use regulations, emissions "markets", government-gun-backed "incentives", and taxes -- anything but capitalism -- have in common? All involve the use of government force -- in violation of individual rights -- to enforce orders against individuals who would otherwise act on their own best judgement towards their best interests. Unlike legitimate cases of the government pursuing actual criminals or foreign belligerents, these acts would be justified based on what might happen in the future. This sets too a strong precedent for the government issuing orders to individuals (versus making it possible for them to act freely) for busybodies of any stripe to resist.

We currently already live in a mixed economy, where the government runs all manner of things without the propriety of that state of affairs being questioned often enough. This fact makes the goal of the government running practically everything much more realistic to all the little dictators out there than it would be under laissez-faire capitalism. Busibodies thus have a real chance of success motivating them to organize. (As for those who want to mind their own business, many are some combination of (1) too busy doing just that and (2) oblivious to the threat the mixed economy represents to bother organizing around a political goal.)

-- CAV


Steve D said...

Good post. Whether global warming is or is not occurring and if so is or is not a threat (consider that almost all major advances in human civilization have happened under warmer climates), someday a useful human activity may be proven to cause long range harm. Therefore, understanding the proper role of government and the moral way to deal with the question is not just an academic exercise. This issue is similar conceptually to the problem of funding government. We must agree first that the only moral way to do this is voluntary; however throwing out ideas on how this may be practically achieved is worthwhile. It may increase their comfort level and convince them to think about the deeper philosophical problem. Similarly, we must agree to address AGW (or whatever the problem is) while respecting individual rights and not destroying our economic base. Then, we can talk about the practical measures.

Unlike most issues (fake or real) that the government tries to solve; global warming, if proven will have real and measurable benefits and harm to individuals (not just theoretical harm to society). The issue is complex. If for example your beach front property is inundated by rising sea levels caused by global warming caused by those factories that produce products that every uses; that is a demonstratable not just a theoretical injury to you – however would you/could you sue all of mankind, including yourself for compensation? If your land in northern Manitoba suddenly becomes useful for growing crops and more valuable for the same reason, do you owe everyone part of your new profits?

One of the major reasons I distrust the CAGW theory is that too many people have a huge financial, personal or ideological stake in it. They want to believe it too badly for my comfort and so I suspect they have difficulty remaining objective.

The other problem is that the science is complex; natural cycles of climate variation caused by solar and orbital changes have occurred throughout history and even if AGW is correct in principle, the effects of carbon dioxide will interact with or be imposed atop these natural cycles. Consider a scenario where the cycles all reach a maximum (in terms of temperature) and begin to dip downwards with the potential to throw us into a mini (or real) ice age. Would the cooling of the earth be mitigated somewhat (or completely) by the increased carbon dioxide? How do you predict that? What happens when the cycles reverse yet again? This is exactly the scenario some climatologists suspect might happen.

Gus Van Horn said...



Interestingly, assuming AGW were really happening, the current crowd of believers are doing a great job of sounding like Chicken Little. They are making life difficult for anyone who may have solid reasons for believing this is happening and want to warn others against it.


Steve D said...

If CAGW is real, we're not going to save ourselves by trashing our economy and rights. From a practical standpoint, the best way to meet this issue would be with free minds and as much wealth and resources as we can muster and that means...capitalism.
If it turns out not to be as bad as expected, the wealth and free minds will still come in quite handy.
I am not sure people get this though. It seems that most people either do not trust or simply do not understand freedom. We need to dig deeper and teach the ethical issue first.
My best guess based on everything I’ve read is the CO2 will have some effect. However, certain unknown negative feedback mechanisms or known ones which have more clout than predicted will likely reduce its impact. Most complex systems have negative feedback mechanisms and this makes sense; they would self-destruct quickly if they didn’t. If increased CO2 leads to more and more water vapor and warming with increasing positive feedback – the end product would be a planet much like Venus. The Earth’s had much higher levels of CO2 in the past and this didn’t happen. Therefore, at some point along the line, something had to fight back.
The earth’s climate has been exceptionally stable for hundreds of millions of years. Why this is the case is a fascinating area of research.

Anonymous said...

Well, we know for a fact that all of the polar ice is now gone. Algore said it would be gone by 2014 and it's now 2014 and, huh, wait a minute.

We've seen this song and dance before. Ehrlich told us that 100's of millions of people would die of starvation in the 1980's. Never happened but didn't dint his credibility with "mainstream" scientists. In fact, the places where people WERE starving to death were under the control of the very Marxist economic regimes that Ehrlich and his ilk wanted to install.

I remember seeing a political cartoon where Obama schoolboy was at a chalkboard that had various questions on various subjects on it. 2+2 =, square root of 4 is, capital of Louisiana is, Population of the US is... To which the nascent president had answered all as, "More Government."

So it is with the climate guys. We were going to have a new ice age in 1974 based on the circumpolar vortex. What shall we do? More government. Now the New York Times, in almost a word for word repeat of that article and base cause - this time billed as merely the "polar vortex" argues for reversed polarity. It's now the basis for CAGW, not a new ice age. And what's the solution? More Government!

c. andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


For my part, I strongly suspect that negative feedback cancels out man's CO2 output.

Unfortunately, ignorance of and suspicion about freedom could well and ironically still lead us to disaster, as you also indicate.


Gus Van Horn said...


That is a great joke, and reminds me of a prank a friend of mine played on a sleeping classmate during a high school geometry class...

We were taking turns answering questions from the textbook when the sleeper's turn arose. My friend nudged him and whispered, "Blue," which the guy duly repeated, eliciting gales of laughter.

The answer was 4.