By far, the most talked about environmental issue of our time is climate change, or global warming. It is critically important to separate the political and the scientific elements of the global warming hypothesis. Unfortunately, almost nobody does this. Instead, the typical narrative is something along the lines of:
- Anthropogenic (man-made) global warming (AGW) is happening due to carbon emissions, and the science is settled.
- Therefore, the government must act to curb carbon emissions, thereby saving humanity.
That’s roughly what the majority of leftists think. Here’s what most conservatives would say:
- AGW is false.
- Therefore, government need not do anything.
In other words, the political debate is mostly about the science – is the AGW hypothesis true or not? Consider that none of the politicians who actually have some sway over environmental policy are experts in climate science. Consider that very few of the random people who claim that “the science is settled” know even the basics of how science works. On what basis are these people determining that AGW is true or false?
The answer, of course, is that there is no basis. Conservatives think the science has a different conclusion than liberals do. This is a huge red flag; science ought to be non-partisan.
But here’s the rub: for both sides of the debate, if AGW is true, this automatically implies that government action is necessary to mitigate its effects. This is logically fallacious. There are many reasons why government action would not be appropriate in this situation, which I will detail in the remainder of this post.
I am not a climate science expert myself. However, I am a nerd, and have done significant amounts of research on the subject. I will remain agnostic on the science of AGW – it’s certainly possible and plausible, but it is not certain. My argument for anarchy being superior for the environment does not hinge on any scientific arguments. However, since the majority of people who I would be attempting to persuade with this post are most likely those who believe AGW to be true, I will present some of the arguments for why scientists do not believe humans are causing catastrophic global warming.
The climate narrative presented above is very far from complete. Liberals say AGW is true, so government must act. But here are a few things that must be demonstrated in order to complete this narrative, most of which have yet to be shown conclusively:
- It must be proven that global warming is occurring.
- This global warming must be caused by human action.
- If AGW is true, it must still be shown that this will definitively lead to particular changes in climate over the next 100 years or so.
- These changes must be drastic rather than “lukewarm.” In other words, the climate must change to a degree that matters in a practical rather than just academic sense.
- It must be shown that global warming is a bad thing. In other words, the effects of global warming must on the whole be destructive rather than helpful. The economic costs of this harm would then need to be estimated with some precision.
- It must be shown that it is not too late to stop the destructive global warming; human action must be capable of slowing or stopping it. The cost of stopping/slowing global warming must be estimated with some precision.
- It must be shown that the costs of attempting to stop or slow global warming are less than that of trying to adapt to it.
- It must be shown that the (cost-effective) method used to attempt to stop or slow global warming is feasible and politically workable. In other words, it must be possible to actually implement whatever reforms would be necessary.
As you can see, the mainstream narrative is sorely lacking. Each of the above points needs to be studied and verified before drawing the conclusion that government action is necessary. For the remainder of this article, I will attempt to pick these points apart in order to demonstrate that AGW is not a sufficient reason to justify government action.
The Alleged “Consensus”
The first thing that nearly any layperson will say about anthropogenic global warming is that “the science is settled.” It boggles my mind that even scientists who ostensibly are familiar with the scientific method can say this. What matters in science isn’t how many people believe a theory, but rather how successful that theory is in predicting real life events. If that weren’t the relevant metric, then the Earth would still be flat and the sun would still be revolving around us.
The idea of a scientific theory being “settled” is anathema to the scientific process itself. In any empirical science, climate science included, our knowledge is always just a theory subject to being disproven. Some theories are far more established than others; for instance, the theory of gravitation is pretty damn well-established. But even gravity has its challengers (see this and this). AGW is a theory that is only a few decades old, and runs counter to climate science’s global cooling orthodoxy during the 1970s. To claim that the science is “settled” is to have incredible hubris, particularly given the numerous scientists who would argue otherwise.
I have no doubt that many climate scientists today support the idea that humans are causing global warming. A commonly cited study claims that 97% of scientists agree that humans are causing global warming, but the study says no such thing. However, peer-reviewed research has shown that the majority of geoscientists and meteorologists do not think that there is catastrophic, man-made global warming. The Petition Project also has the signatures of nearly 32,000 scientists in relevant disciplines who disagree with the hypothesis. You can find here over 1300 peer-reviewed papers that are skeptical of AGW. Even the founder of Greenpeace, the radical environmental organization, thinks that carbon dioxide emissions are more likely to save humanity than to doom it!
Richard Lindzen, former MIT professor and contributor to IPCC reports on climate change, is one of the more prominent climate skeptics. He questions the odd attempts to characterize climate scientists as universally agreeing on AGW.
“Why, one might wonder, is there such insistence on scientific unanimity on the warming issue? After all, unanimity in science is virtually nonexistent on far less complex matters. Unanimity on an issue as uncertain as “global warming” would be surprising and suspicious. Moreover, why are the opinions of scientists sought regardless of their field of expertise? Biologists and physicians are rarely asked to endorse some theory in high energy physics. Apparently, when one comes to “global warming,” any scientist’s agreement will do.
…The answer almost certainly lies in politics. For example, at the Earth Summit in Rio, attempts were made to negotiate international carbon emission agreements. The potential costs and implications of such agreements are likely to be profound for both industrial and developing countries. Under the circumstances, it would be very risky for politicians to undertake such agreements unless scientists “insisted.””
It is political realities that make the supposed “consensus” so critically important. Few things would give the government such power and supposed “legitimacy” as saving the world from destruction by controlling nearly all human behavior. And then there is the big money involved.
“U.S. companies and interest groups involved with climate change hired 2,430 lobbyists just last year, up 300% from five years ago. Fifty of the biggest U.S. electric utilities…spent $51 million on lobbyists in just six months.”
Climate skeptics are routinely vilified for not disclosing their funding sources, but climate alarmists seem to be held to a different standard. The reality is that there is a lot of money on both sides corrupting the narrative, making it difficult to know what to believe.
But for most people, it does seem that the choice of what to believe is primarily partisan and has nothing to do with science. That might be why people seem to care so much about this issue (some even advocate that climate skeptics be thrown in jail). As Lindzen said, “Rarely has such meager science provoked such an outpouring of popularization by individuals who do not understand the subject in the first place.”
The supposed consensus is purely a political concept, not a reality.
There’s Reason To Be Skeptical
Despite what many ignorant people will tell you, there are many reasons why one might be skeptical of the idea of man-made global warming. Unfortunately, I cannot speak to the climate science itself, but there are enough questions about the theory to at least make it worth, well, questioning. More importantly, there are theoretical reasons why one ought to be skeptical of the claims made by AGW supporters.
Scientists generally agree that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere directly increases the temperature. Most of the climate models’ predicted increase in temperature is due to feedback mechanisms. Those who believe in AGW think that there is a positive feedback loop that will exacerbate that temperature increase. But there are also some reasons to believe that there would be negative feedback that might dampen the effects of global warming. There are thousands of feedback mechanisms, most that are not well-understood or even known, each with its own positive or negative effects. The only way to check is through gathering data and testing the hypothesis – and climate change models have almost universally overstated the effects of global warming thus far.
For a more thorough defense of global warming skepticism, I suggest reading this paper by William Irwin and Brian Williams. Among other arguments, they bring up the fact that
- The increase in global temperature from 1980 to 2010 is similar to that of the increase in 1910-1940, which is typically not attributed to human activity. And from 1940-1980, temperatures did not increase the way AGW climate models would predict.
- Recent changes in global temperature are insignificant compared to historical changes that were not caused by humans, such as the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. In fact, we’re just coming out of the Little Ice Age now, which could explain the warming.
They also call attention to what appears to be a flaw in climate alarmists’ reasoning.
“Everyone acknowledges that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Skeptics, however, believe that human contributions will likely not result in catastrophic warming, since combinations of other forces play a larger role in heating and cooling the planet. When proponents of AGW theory assert that the warming may be occurring beneath the cooling, this amounts to admitting the skeptic‘s position that there are other, more powerful factors that affect temperature and control the climate. It is inconsistent to say that anthropogenic infusions of CO2 will control the climate and cause catastrophic warming one minute and the next minute to say that the influence of this same CO2 is masked beneath larger factors.”
Despite far lower CO2 levels, it was significantly hotter during the Middle Ages than it is today. And there are historical periods with vastly higher CO2 levels where the Earth was covered in glaciers.
For those of you interested in an overview of the scientific arguments, I suggest spending some time reading this article, written by David Siegel, an environmentalist who formerly believed in AGW but has since then done his research and changed his mind. I particularly suggest you read this if you are a liberal or consider yourself an environmentalist, because this is the perspective that he is coming from.
It’s certainly possible that supporters of AGW have answers to each of these. Again, I’m not a scientist and I don’t want to debate the merits of the specific scientific positions of each side. My point here is to show that there are reasons why the claims of AGW supporters shouldn’t be accepted uncritically. More importantly, there are structural and institutional reasons to question the climate orthodoxy, which will be covered in the next sections.
Chaos Theory, Or Why We Can’t Trust Climate Models
“In climate research and modelling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.” – IPCC 2007
What makes a scientific theory a theory? There are three conditions, and AGW fails them:
“Is the theory testable? Can we formulate hypotheses grounded in the theory, then figure out a way to test the hypotheses?
Is the theory falsifiable? Is there evidence that could call the theory into question? What evidence would exclude the theory?
Does the theory unify? Does the theory unify seemingly unrelated phenomena under a single explanatory framework?”
Many natural phenomena are not testable, so I will not consider this as a strike against AGW. However, AGW is not falsifiable; when the evidence doesn’t match the conclusion, climate alarmists can simply say that the time scale of the investigation is not wide enough. This is telling, because the predictions of AGW supporters and their climate models are routinely wrong and overstate the observed warming effects. AGW purportedly explains all sorts of environmental phenomena in a unifying way – except that again, most of these phenomena (ocean acidification, melting ice) either have not occurred as predicted, or there are alternative explanations that are also plausible.
The primary reason why these models are failing at prediction and should be dismissed is due to the nonlinear dynamics of climate systems. Nonlinear dynamics, or “complex” or “chaotic” systems show sensitive dependence on initial conditions. This means that the data used as inputs in any model, if even trivially different from the “real” values, could potentially lead to huge changes in the behavior that would be predicted by the model. Given the issues with data collection in climate science (placement of temperature sensors, changes in the microenvironment near the sensors, deliberate fudging of data), this is a huge limitation.
But that assumes that we know the appropriate model for the climate in the first place. If we did know the complete model, then in order to accurately predict future climate, we would need to be able to measure present conditions of every variable precisely. Rounding off a single piece of data could result in wildly different predictions. We don’t have the means to precisely measure our environment, and we most likely never will.
The reality is that we don’t know the correct model of the climate. These models are developed by looking at real-world (imprecise) data, and don’t reflect all determinants of the climate. In other words, we are using imprecise data to formulate imprecise models to feed that imprecise data back into. Mathematical modeling is certainly valuable as a tool for comprehending the climate, but it is simply unsuitable for making predictions, which is exactly what the debate over what to do about climate change is about!
Policy makers and the more wonky among us routinely misuse mathematics this way when dealing with chaotic systems, as Ralph Abraham documents in a fascinating paper. Even qualitative predictions are unreliable, making climate forecasts practically useless.
“The interpretation of nearly all dynamical models has to be carried out cautiously due to the likelihood of structural instability. This means that the behavior of the model might change drastically due to a small change in the model. It would be nice if a given model could be simply tested for structural stability, but there is no such test. Thus, the goal of modeling is pedagogic, not predictive in the long term. For example, global climate models cannot tell us how much sea level will rise, nor how long a given rise will take, and not even, if the current rise will be followed by an ice age, or a permanent interglacial climate.
“In summary, we have this conundrum: yes, climate is warming, as it periodically does. Even if this warming tops all prior warmings due to human-produced greenhouse gas emissions, we still cannot predict, on the basis of a mathematical model, whether the climate will stay warm, or rather, cool down again in a new ice age, as it has eight times in the past 650,000 years.”
I don’t doubt that the models that climate scientists have come up with have valuable lessons to teach us. These models can help clarify our understanding of how the climate works and to formulate more hypotheses about it. But there are very real uncertainties regarding these models, which the more honest among AGW supporters will acknowledge. For a look at some of these uncertainties from someone sympathetic to AGW, see this paper. An even better paper written by an AGW supporter describing sources of uncertainty concludes:
“The severity of model inadequacy suggests a more qualitative interpretation than one might wish. In particular, it is not at all clear that weighted combinations of results from today’s complex climate models based on their ability to reproduce a set of observations can provide decision-relevant probabilities. Furthermore, they are liable to be misleading because the conclusions, usually in the form of PDFs [probability density functions], imply much greater confidence than the underlying assumptions justify; we know our current models are inadequate and we know many of the reasons why they are so.”
Even if the weight of the evidence from modeling the climate suggests that AGW is true, this doesn’t imply anything about our ability to predict how much warming we will see or what its effects will be. This means that it is impossible for governments to rationally determine how to respond to climate change.
Politics And Science Don’t Mix
An additional reason to be skeptical of AGW is the institutional framework that much of the relevant research is being conducted in and influenced by. This is largely due to the influence of government funding, but the structure of our scientific institutions is also a factor. The most notorious example (dubbed “Climategate”) can be read about here and here, where pro-AGW insiders at the IPCC were caught manipulating the scientific process to suit their agenda.
Richard Lindzen discusses numerous reasons why climate science today is ill-suited to answer scientific questions. Here are a few:
- Prominent members of the environmentalist movement hold important positions within scientific administration organizations, despite oftentimes not being scientists themselves.
- Small executive councils speak on behalf of thousands of scientists who don’t necessarily agree. These councils control access to funding and can sanction those who don’t get in line behind the official opinion.
- Global warming has become a core issue of political correctness. Questioning the orthodoxy often leads to ostracism.
- Data is regularly manipulated in order to more adequately fit with models that support the AGW hypothesis. For examples, see this and this.
- To get published or supported in peer review, many papers are adding irrelevant comments in support of AGW, despite being unrelated to the point of the paper.
- Climate skeptics are being depicted as having retracted their beliefs on their deathbeds in obituaries, which is a disturbing development.
Environmentalists will manipulate the public into thinking that their information is scientific, even though they are just activist organizations (I wouldn’t be surprised if this is true for some skeptical organizations as well).
“For example, the environmental movement often cloaks its propaganda in scientific garb without the aid of any existing scientific body. One technique is simply to give a name to an environmental advocacy group that will suggest to the public, that the group is a scientific rather than an environmental group. Two obvious examples are the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Woods Hole Research Center. The former conducted an intensive advertising campaign about ten years ago in which they urged people to look to them for authoritative information on global warming.”
Papers that are skeptical of AGW are routinely attacked in unfair ways, creating a double-standard for scientists studying climate change.
“Even in the present unhealthy state of science, papers that are overtly contradictory to the catastrophic warming scenario do get published (though not without generally being substantially watered down during the review process). They are then often subject to the remarkable process of ‘discreditation.’ This process consists in immediately soliciting attack papers that are published quickly as independent articles rather than comments. The importance of this procedure is as follows. Normally such criticisms are published as comments, and the original authors are able to respond immediately following the comment. Both the comment and reply are published together. By publishing the criticism as an article, the reply is published as a correspondence, which is usually delayed by several months, and the critics are permitted an immediate reply. As a rule, the reply of the original authors is ignored in subsequent references.”
In addition, the most highly respected organizations discussing climate change are political bodies rather than scientific ones. These political organizations have their own agendas.
“The charge to the IPCC is not simply to summarize, but rather to provide the science with which to support the negotiating process whose aim is to control greenhouse gas levels. This is a political rather than a scientific charge. That said, the participating scientists have some leeway in which to reasonably describe matters, since the primary document that the public associates with the IPCC is not the extensive report prepared by the scientists, but rather the Summary for Policymakers which is written by an assemblage of representative from governments and NGO’s, with only a small scientific representation.”
Another way in which the scientific deck is stacked in favor of AGW is the influence of government funding. State-funded scientific research tends to corrupt the conclusions. A working paper by David Wojick and Patrick Michaels describes ways in which this corruption might occur. Government funding introduces biases (commercial funding does as well, of course) which can alter results, even without any dishonesty being involved. These biases are then amplified when, for instance, the hype present in a press release is then further exaggerated in the media, often without including the qualifications that the researchers included.
“1) An agency receives biased funding for research from Congress. 2) They issue multiple biased Requests for Proposals (RFPs), and 3) multiple biased projects are selected for each RFP. 4) Many projects produce multiple biased articles, press releases, etc, 5) many of these articles and releases generate multiple biased news stories, and 6) the resulting amplified bias is communicated to the public on a large scale.”
But what are these biases in the first place? Funding for scientific projects is often directed towards research related to an existing policy or developing a specific new policy. In other words, the mission of the funding agency may result in asking the wrong questions.
“In the climate debate an example of this sort of bias might be the heavy funding of carbon cycle research compared to sun-climate research in the USGCRP budget. The government’s policy on climate change is based on the hypothesis that carbon dioxide emissions are the principal driver. That climate change is driven by solar activity is a competing hypothesis.”
Biased peer review of research proposals may lead to rejecting research that doesn’t fit with the reigning paradigm. Similarly, there could be biases in the actual peer review of the articles themselves. Funding agencies may choose reviewers who will be more inclined to favor the government’s interest.
There may be biased preferences for models that support the reigning paradigm or have biased assumptions. Meta-analyses can be biased. For instance, the selection of articles used by the IPCC in their meta-analyses is based on political goals rather than scientific objectivity. Bias can also be introduced from the failure to report negative results.
“Journals are not normally federally funded, but they may well be involved in or sensitive to Federal policies. This is likely to be especially true in the applied fields. An example might be renewable energy research. There is also the case of open access or hybrid journals where author publication charges are paid out of Federal grants.”
Data can be manipulated to bias results (and as mentioned earlier, it often has been). Climate data is routinely adjusted, and seems to be regularly adjusted in ways that support the AGW hypothesis. Similarly, there can be a tendency to refuse to share data with potential critics.
“There are several prominent examples of researchers refusing to share important climate data with skeptics. One of the best known involves the University of East Anglia.”
Federal funding can lead to false confidence in tentative findings.
“A more recent example might be the numerous studies (or reports thereof) which claim to have explained why there has been no statistically significant warming for over two decades. This is sometimes called the problem of the pause, or the hiatus in global warming. Various inconsistent explanations have been offered, so it is likely that most are incorrect, yet each is often presented as though it solved the problem.”
Finally, the importance of findings by researchers and funding agencies is often exaggerated.
“Researcher and agency press releases sometimes claim that results are very important when they merely suggest an important possibility, which may actually turn out to be a dead end. Such claims may tend to bias the science in question, including future funding decisions.”
None of this is to disprove AGW – however, it should be clear by now that there is reason to be critical of the hypothesis. At the very least, we should not just assume that AGW is the case and that “the science is settled.” Some degree of skepticism is warranted.
Would Proposed Policies Even Work?
Let’s assume AGW is completely true, and that there will be a significant temperature rise in the next century or so. Most people at this point would say that clearly the government must “do something” to stop global warming. But why should this be the case?
Some scientists think that no matter what we do, it’s too late to stop global warming. Oddly enough, some of them continue to advocate for governments to act; clearly, these people are not economists. If it is too late to stop global warming, then why would we want to destroy industrial civilization? If we’re all going to die fiery deaths anyways, I think I can speak for most people when I say that it would be preferable to do so with the amenities that western civilization has provided.
But let’s say we could stop global warming. Would we even want to? Perhaps rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere might even be beneficial. In fact, global warming has thus far been beneficial to mankind, and it likely will continue to be. Research by Richard Tol, reported on by respected science writer Matt Ridley, suggests that the benefits of global warming thus far have amounted to about 1.4% of global economic output, and that this reflects the scientific consensus of today.
“There are many likely effects of climate change: positive and negative, economic and ecological, humanitarian and financial. And if you aggregate them all, the overall effect is positive today — and likely to stay positive until around 2080. That was the conclusion of Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University after he reviewed 14 different studies of the effects of future climate trends.
To be precise, Prof Tol calculated that climate change would be beneficial up to 2.2˚C of warming from 2009 (when he wrote his paper). This means approximately 3˚C from pre-industrial levels, since about 0.8˚C of warming has happened in the last 150 years. The latest estimates of climate sensitivity suggest that such temperatures may not be reached till the end of the century — if at all. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose reports define the consensis [sic], is sticking to older assumptions, however, which would mean net benefits till about 2080. Either way, it’s a long way off.“
The benefits of global warming include lower energy costs, better agricultural yields, increased biodiversity, fewer droughts, and fewer winter deaths. Research by Indur Goklany corroborates this (it’s a very interesting paper, and I strongly recommend reading it if you are so inclined).
“Carbon dioxide levels have risen inexorably since the 1700s. Yet despite this, climate sensitive indicators of human and environmental wellbeing that carbon dioxide affects directly, such as crop yields, food production, prevalence of hunger, access to cleaner water and biological productivity, and those that it affects indirectly, such as living standards and life expectancies, have improved virtually everywhere. In most areas they have never been higher, nor do they show any sustained signs of reversing.”
To summarize his perspective,
“…the benefits of increasing carbon dioxide have been underestimated, that the risks from increasing carbon dioxide have been overestimated, and that carbon dioxide emission reduction policies will start to reduce the benefits of higher carbon dioxide concentrations immediately, without reducing climate change and its associated costs until much later, if at all.”
If anything, global warming ought to be welcomed, according to the bulk of the research out there.
But let’s say even that is wrong, and that the alarmist position is correct. Let’s assume that AGW is real, it will have negative consequences, and it is theoretically possible to stop it. Shouldn’t government act to stop global warming under these conditions?
Not necessarily. For that to make sense, the benefits of government action must outweigh the costs, and this is an analysis that most environmentalists completely ignore.
William Nordhaus, a leading researcher on the carbon tax, has calculated that the benefits of implementing this tax would outweigh the costs…under certain assumed conditions which are very unlikely to hold. There are reasons to believe that future greenhouse gas concentrations may be overstated, climate sensitivity to GHGs are overstated, and economic damages from a given temperature increase may be overstated. But even Nordhaus calculated that certain climate plans, like that proposed by Al Gore, would have a net loss of over $20 trillion. Yeah, let’s not do that.
Robert Murphy, Patrick Michaels, and Paul Knappenberger make a definitive case against a carbon tax from an economic perspective. Carbon taxes that have been implemented in Australia and British Columbia have not been nearly as successful as proponents claim, both in terms of emission reductions and economic harms.
“Ironically, the latest U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report indicated that a popular climate target cannot be justified in cost/benefit terms. Specifically, in the middle‐of‐the‐road scenarios, the economic compliance costs of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius would likely be higher than the climate change damages that such a cap would avoid. In other words, the U.N.’s own report shows that aggressive emission cutbacks—even if achieved through an “efficient” carbon tax—would probably cause more harm than good.”
Again, the reason the carbon tax doesn’t work out economically is because of many of the assumptions built into the climate models. For instance, choice of parameter values in these models has a huge impact on the results. Reasonable people can disagree on what these parameters should be. For instance, and perhaps most importantly, the discount rate is an economic variable that changes the social cost of carbon (SCC) dramatically.
“To see just how significant some of the apparently innocuous assumptions can be, consider the latest estimates of the SCC put out by the Obama Administration’s Working Group. For an additional ton of emissions in the year 2015, using a 3% discount rate the SCC is $36. However, if we use a 2.5% discount rate, the SCC rises to $56/ton, while a 5% discount rate yields a SCC of only $11/ton. Note that this huge swing in the estimated “social cost” of carbon relies on the same underlying models of climate change and economic growth; the only change is in adjustments of the discount rate which are quite plausible. Indeed, the Administration’s Working Group came under harsh criticism because it ignored explicit OMB guidance to include a 7 percent discount rate in all federal cost/benefit analyses, presumably because the SCC at such a discount rate would be close to $0/ton or even negative.”
And, as argued by Graham Dawson,
“…a carbon tax will be effective only if it is internationally harmonised. Otherwise, firms in high-tax countries will be placed at a competitive disadvantage and might relocate to low-tax countries. This would reduce the effectiveness of the tax, which is intended to reduce carbon intensive activities rather than redistribute them across countries. Unfortunately, the four Scandinavian countries that introduced carbon taxes in the early 1990s ‘have not been able to harmonise their approaches— demonstrating the difficulty of co-ordinating tax policy internationally, even among a relatively small group of countries’. The US policy stance is not sympathetic to taxes, while the developing countries are unwilling to take action because they see climate change as the product of carbon emitted by industrial countries in the past. Harmonising a carbon tax on a global scale is achievable only in the very long term, if at all.”
In other words, not only is a carbon tax ineffective and destructive, but it is politically unfeasible as well. To see just how useless a carbon tax would be, use this calculator to see how minuscule an effect that a massive cut in carbon dioxide output would have on global temperature.
An alternative to a carbon tax is the so-called “cap and trade” scheme, where an emissions target is chosen and then a market in tradeable “pollution rights” is created. But this scheme would be highly regressive, harming the poor for the benefits of special interests.
“The combination of baseline and credit approach and free distribution of permits can have unwelcome effects on the distribution of income. For example, firms such as electricity generators may increase prices in anticipation of receiving insufficient permits and having to purchase extra permits at the predicted market price. If the quota is sufficient to cover actual emissions for most firms, the carbon price (the price of permits) will collapse and the funds raised for purchasing will become windfall profits. The distributive effects on society as a whole are likely to be regressive, with money being redistributed from electricity customers, many of whom will be on low incomes, to shareholders who may be expected on average to be more affluent.”
And, as with the carbon tax, this kind of scheme would require global collaboration on a scale that is inconceivable.
Finally, neither of these proposed policies mean much if the wrong climate “goal” is chosen by policy makers. There can be enormous net costs if policies reduce emissions by too much or too little. If the goal is too drastic, the world will be made massively poorer unnecessarily. If the goal isn’t drastic enough, the economy will be weakened and we might still see runaway global warming and the alleged catastrophes that would result.
There’s got to be a better solution.
The Solution To Global Warming
“Although climate change can lead to a deterioration of many human health and environmental metrics, that does not tell us what we really want to know. What we want to know is this: Will human health and environmental quality be better under richer but warmer scenarios than under poorer but cooler scenarios? That’s primarily because wealth creation, human capital, and new or improved technologies often reduce the extent of the human health and environmental “bads” associated with climate change more than temperature increases exacerbate them.” – Indur Goklany
The best way to deal with global warming is to allow economic growth to help humanity adapt. Once again, anarchism and free markets are a viable solution to this environmental problem. Having governments attempt to mitigate global warming, as we have already seen, would be fraught with difficulty, the benefits wouldn’t be noticeable until decades in the future, the costs would be immediate and enormous, and there’s no guarantees that it would even be effective. In fact, mitigation would prevent humanity from reaping the benefits of global warming and increased CO2, whereas adapting will allow us to experience those benefits and selectively reduce the harms.
A fantastic paper written by Indur Goklany in 2008 compares the costs and benefits of mitigation vs adaptation to climate change under assumptions generous to the global warming alarmists. He brings up a crucial point: climate change is hardly the most significant environmental issue of today.
“Data from the WHO…indicates that climate change doesn’t even make the top 10 global health risk factors related to food, nutrition, and environmental and occupational exposure. Specifically, the WHO attributes
- 1.12 million deaths in 2001 to malaria;
- 3.24 million deaths to malnutrition;
- 1.73 million deaths to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and hygiene;
- 1.62 million deaths to indoor air pollution from indoor heating and cooking with wood, coal, and dung; • 0.8 million deaths to urban air pollution; and
- 0.23 million deaths to lead exposure.
Climate change is clearly not the most important environmental, let alone public health, problem facing the world today.”
Would it not make more sense to address these immediate environmental issues with significant human costs than to address the speculative issues caused by climate change? But even this is too generous to those who would suggest destroying industrial civilization to attempt to save humanity, since addressing environmental problems that are unrelated to climate change would subsequently resolve those same issues when caused by climate change. For example, developing a malaria vaccine would help reduce malaria cases in general, whether they would have been caused by global warming or something else.
In addition, adapting to climate change does not require knowledge of the impact of climate change. This is important considering the massive uncertainties with regards to whatever effects climate change might have.
“Significantly, work on focused adaptation measures can commence, and in some areas has already begun, without detailed knowledge of the impacts of climate change. Cases in point are the development of malaria vaccines, transferable property rights for water resources, development of early warning systems for climate-sensitive events ranging from storms to potential epidemics of various kinds, and elucidation of mechanisms that confer resistance in crops to drought, water logging, or saline soils. To the extent that such measures do not rely on the location-specific details of impacts analyses, focused adaptation reduces the risk of having wasted resources by pouring them into problems that may or may not occur at specific locations.”
As our understanding of global warming improves, we can then work on adapting to the specific threats that we uncover. But in the meantime, there are many ways that we can adapt to the risks that most global warming alarmists expect, all at a drastically lower cost than mitigation.
“…at a cost of less than $34 billion per year (for 2010–2015), focused adaptation would deliver far greater benefits than would even halting climate change. Moreover, it would do so at one fifth the cost of the ineffectual Kyoto Protocol.”
Not bad, huh? Let’s dive into the specifics, including rough costs and the kinds of adaptations that can be developed over the coming years and decades. Malaria:
“The UN Millennium project reports that the global death toll from malaria could be reduced by 75 percent at a cost of $3 billion per year. Adaptations focused on reducing current vulnerabilities to malaria include measures targeted specifically at malaria as well as measures that would generally enhance the capacity to respond to public health problems and deliver public health services more effectively and efficiently. Malaria-specific measures include indoor residual (home) spraying with insecticides, insecticide-treated bed nets, improved case management, more comprehensive antenatal care, and development of safe, effective, and cheap vaccines and therapies.”
Focusing on economic growth and adaptation would also be the appropriate strategy to counter world hunger:
“An additional $5 billion annual investment in agricultural R&D—approximately 15 percent of global funding of agricultural research and development during the 1990s—should raise productivity sufficiently to more than compensate for the estimated 0.02 percent annual shortfall in productivity caused by climate change…Current agricultural problems that could be exacerbated by warming and should be the focus of vulnerability-reduction measures include growing crops in poor climatic or soil conditions (e.g., low-soil moisture in some areas, too much water in others, or soils with high salinity, alkalinity, or acidity). Because of warming, such conditions could become more prevalent and agriculture might have to expand into areas with poorer soils, or both. Actions focused on increasing agricultural productivity under current marginal conditions would alleviate hunger in the future whether or not the climate changes.”
Another common fear is that global warming will cause the sea level to rise and threaten coastal communities with flooding.
“According to estimates in the latest IPCC (2007) report, the annual cost of protecting against a sea level rise of about 0.66 meters in 2100—equivalent to about 0.52 meters in 2085 compared with 0.34 meters under the warmest (A1FI) scenario—would vary from $2.6 to $10 billion during the 21st century. I will assume $10 billion for the purposes of this paper. Governments could, moreover, discourage maladaptation by refusing to subsidize insurance and/or protective measures that allow individuals to offload private risks to the broader public.”
Finally, proponents of AGW fear that global warming will lead to stress on water resources. Yet again, there are free-market ways to adapt to this threat.
“…there are many measures that would help societies cope with present and future water stress regardless of their cause. Among them are institutional reforms to treat water as an economic commodity by allowing market pricing and transferable property rights to water. Such reforms should stimulate widespread adoption of existing but underused conservation technologies and lead to more private-sector investment in R&D, which would reduce the demand for water by all sectors. For example, new or improved crops and techniques for more efficient use of water in agriculture could enhance agricultural productivity. That would provide numerous ancillary benefits, including reductions in the risk of hunger and pressures on freshwater biodiversity while also enhancing the opportunity for other in-stream uses (e.g., recreation). Notably, diversion of water to agricultural uses might be the largest current threat to freshwater biodiversity.”
Goklany’s research found that, even under assumptions very generous to AGW alarmists, humanity would be better off in warmer-but-wealthier scenarios than ones in which we attempt to mitigate global warming.
“If future well-being is measured by per capita income adjusted for welfare losses due to climate change, the surprising conclusion using the Stern Review’s own estimates is that future generations will be better off in the richest but warmest world (A1FI). This suggests that, if protecting future well-being is the objective of public policy, governmental intervention to address climate change ought to be aimed at maximizing wealth creation, not minimizing CO2 emissions.”
And the best way to maximize wealth creation is to let the market do its thing, rather than having significant government intervention. Let’s discuss a few of the ways that market anarchism would address the potential threat of climate change in a far superior way to that of government efforts.
For starters, the government has historically supported and continues to subsidize fossil fuel usage. Gene Callahan writes:
“The U.S. government has subsidized many activities that burn carbon: it has seized land through eminent domain to build highways, funded rural electrification projects, and fought wars to ensure Americans’ access to oil. After World War II it played a key role in the mass exodus of the middle class from urban centers to the suburbs, chiefly through encouraging mortgage lending.”
In addition, the government has gotten in the way of preventing emissions.
“While myriad government policies have thus encouraged carbon emissions, at the same time the government has restricted activities that would have reduced them. For example, there would probably be far more reliance on nuclear power were it not for the overblown regulations of this energy source. For a different example, imagine the reduction in emissions if the government would merely allow market-clearing pricing for the nation’s major roads, thereby eliminating traffic jams! The pollution from vehicles in major urban areas could be drastically cut overnight if the government set tolls to whatever the market could bear—or better yet, sold bridges and highways to private owners.”
In other words, without government, we could have had far fewer emissions than we have thus far, and would likely have fewer in the future as well. Under an anarchist system with private roadways, driving cars that cause pollution would no longer be subsidized.
The anarchist system would also address the issues relating to coastal flooding more directly than government action. Insurers would have to take the threat of global warming into account when setting prices for policies. If the threat of flooding is legitimate, then the areas most threatened would also be the most costly to live, naturally reducing the issue of mass migration that global warming might cause. And since global warming would also make some locations more hospitable, people will naturally migrate from the least hospitable to most hospitable areas.
“Private insurers have a strong incentive to assess the potential effects of global warming without bias in order to price their policies optimally—if they overestimate the risk, they will lose business to lower-priced rivals; if they are too sanguine about the dangers, they will lose money once the claims start rolling in. Individuals finding their homes or businesses threatened by rising sea levels will find it easier to relocate to the extent that unfettered markets have made them wealthier.”
In fact, markets would generally allow a superior way of aggregating information about global warming and how to respond to it through the development of various financial products.
“For example, the financial industry, by creating new securities and derivative markets, could crystallize the “dispersed knowledge” that many different experts held in order to coordinate and mobilize mankind’s total response to global warming. For instance, weather futures can serve to spread the risk of bad weather beyond the local area affected. Perhaps there could arise a market betting on the areas most likely to be permanently flooded. That may seem ghoulish, but by betting on their own area, inhabitants could offset the cost of relocating should the flooding occur.”
This would provide a vastly more fair response to the costs of global warming.
Let’s say that, despite the many reasons to suspect that things will be fine, the global warming alarmists are correct. Then we can use the extra wealth that humanity has accumulated in the next several decades to come up with exotic “geoengineering” solutions to climate change. Maybe we’ll place mirrors in space, fill the atmosphere with aerosols that reflect sunlight, develop technologies to suck carbon out of the atmosphere, or even colonize outer space!
None of this requires government involvement in any way. If AGW is true, then insurance companies in an anarchist system will have a strong incentive to mitigate it or adapt to it – just as described earlier in the “mass collective pollution” section above. In addition, social pressures can effectively address the negative externalities of global warming without resorting to coercion by the state. Large companies and wealthy individuals are rather sensitive to these types of campaigns, as evidenced by the PR successes of the global warming alarmists and the “green” movement today.
What do you think would be better: destroying civilization in the name of what is only an uncertain threat, or continuing to lift billions out of poverty while addressing that threat anyways?
“The alternative offered by the proponents of global warming regulation – pushing much of the developing world back into abject poverty – would be sure to bring something far worse, such as endless civil wars among populations where had a middle-class lifestyle within sight, but was then ripped away by the global elites in the name of saving the world. So, if global warming is indeed on our horizon, it would appear that perfecting technologies like water desalinization, aqueducts, improved agricultural practices, and lowering the costs of basic staples such as housing and labor-saving appliances would be essential. Much of the world has already been working on these problems, and global warming has had nothing to do with it. The Israelis have been developing better and better water and agriculture systems for decades. Many desert countries (including the western United States) have been working on better water filtration and delivery systems. Many societies, such as The Netherlands and Singapore already deal with various issues related to dense populations.”
The modern environmentalist movement is almost universally made up of collectivists who support central planning. However, as we have seen, it need not be this way. In fact, people who truly want to protect the environment ought to be supporters of private property, free markets, and anarchy.