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Dr Muriel Newman

A Climate of Irrational Assumptions

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Carbon_taxIn 2007, Lord Nigel Lawson, a Member of the British House of Lords and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, visited New Zealand to present the Business Roundtable’s Sir Ron Trotter Lecture. In his speech, A Cool Look at Global Warming, Lord Lawson explained that learning to live with global warming would be more cost-effective than trying to prevent it. The NZCPR featured the speech as a Guest Commentary at the time, and the issues were discussed in our weekly newsletter, Global Adaptation or Mitigation.

That speech led Lord Lawson to write a book, An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming. Even though his three earlier books had been published in the UK – with arrangements in place before the books were even completed – when it came to An Appeal to Reason, British publishers wouldn’t touch it. They felt the topic of global warming was too controversial. In the end, an American publisher took it on, and the book became a best seller.

The response to the book led Lord Lawson to team up with the founder of the CCNet climate policy network, Dr Benny Peiser, a fellow of the University of Buckingham, to establish a new think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation. The Foundation is deeply concerned about the costs and other implications of global warming policies, and their focus is on present-day observational evidence and understanding, rather than computer modelling that tries to predict the state of the planet in the far distant future.

Last week, Lord Lawson delivered a lecture to the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment at the University of Bath in the UK, and given it is seven years since we last featured his analysis of the state of climate change, we wanted to provide NZCPR readers with an update.

Lord Lawson began his speech by commenting on the vitriolic attacks he receives whenever he speaks out about global warming: “There is something odd about the global warming debate — or the climate change debate, as we are now expected to call it, since global warming has for the time being come to a halt. I have never shied away from controversy, nor — for example, as Chancellor — worried about being unpopular if I believed that what I was saying and doing was in the public interest. But I have never in my life experienced the extremes of personal hostility, vituperation and vilification which I — along with other dissenters, of course — have received for my views on global warming and global warming policies.”

Lord Lawson reasons, that because of these and other factors, this is no longer a scientific issue: “That is to say, the issue is not climate change but climate change alarmism, and the hugely damaging policies that are advocated, and in some cases put in place, in its name. And alarmism is a feature not of the physical world, which is what climate scientists study, but of human behaviour; the province, in other words, of economists, historians, sociologists, psychologists and — dare I say it — politicians.”

In his lecture, Lord Lawson provided the latest facts: “According to the temperature records kept by the UK Met Office (and other series are much the same), over the past 150 years (that is, from the very beginnings of the Industrial Revolution), mean global temperature has increased by a little under a degree centigrade — according to the Met Office, 0.8ºC. This has happened in fits and starts, which are not fully understood. To begin with, to the extent that anyone noticed, it was seen as a welcome and natural recovery from the rigours of the Little Ice Age. But the great bulk of it — 0.5ºC out of the 0.8ºC — occurred during the last quarter of the 20th century. It was then that global warming alarmism was born.”

He then outlines the latest predictions from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): “But since then, and wholly contrary to the expectations of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, who confidently predicted that global warming would not merely continue but would accelerate, given the unprecedented growth of global carbon emissions, as China’s coal-based economy has grown by leaps and bounds, there has been no further warming at all. To be precise, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a deeply flawed body whose non-scientist chairman is a committed climate alarmist, reckons that global warming has latterly been occurring at the rate of – wait for it – 0.05ºC per decade, plus or minus 0.1ºC. Their figures, not mine. In other words, the observed rate of warming is less than the margin of error.”

Looking at it rationally, such a minimal rate of warming is hardly a sound basis for the scary predictions that are continually being reported in the media. It is surely time for some common sense. Looking at it statistically, to have a variance twice the mean shows the model is unstable, and therefore of little or no value as a predictor.

There is another critical point about underlying assumptions that needs to be made when considering the IPCC’s modelling – it fails to take into account important technological and demographic change. It assumes, for example, that the 50-year decline in world population growth will stop, that there will be little advancement in technology, not much improvement in energy efficiency, and only a moderate increase in global wealth.[1]

This irrational assumption that mankind’s progress will be virtually frozen in some sort of bizarre time warp, where the exponential changes created by technology – that are improving our lives every minute of every day – are somehow put on hold, is ludicrous. But it bears a strong resemblance to the modus operandi of the Club of Rome, an influential body established in the late sixties that also aimed to control human behaviour by using long term computer modelling to cast dire predictions about the future:

“In searching for a common enemy against whom we can unite, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like, would fit the bill. All these dangers are caused by human intervention in natural processes, and it is only through changed attitudes and behaviour that they can be overcome. The real enemy then is humanity itself.”[2]

The Club of Rome published its groundbreaking report, The Limits of Growth, in 1972, selling over 12 million copies. Schools and universities lapped it up and expounded their view that the world was on track for a “global economic collapse” and “precipitous population decline” – if people continued to consume the world’s resources at the current rate.

The Club of Rome learned what many before had discovered, and many since, that scaremongering about the future can bring fame, influence, and wealth. What is particularly unusual, however, is that when their predictions turned out to be undeniably false, instead of being totally discredited, they were able to make up new prophecies, and carry on as before!

According to the Club of Rome, given that mankind did not collectively adopt their recommendations, by now, the world population should have collapsed, food supplies should have run out, oil supplies and most mineral resources should have been used up, and the atmosphere should have turned foul.

What they, like the IPCC, failed to recognise, is not only the wonderful innovative capacity of mankind, but the amazing regenerative capacity of nature.

There was no need to ‘control’ the world’s population through punitive global action – the rate of population increase has been slowing for over fifty years, largely as a result of economic progress. When health care improvements reduce child mortality, women will bear fewer children. With better fertility controls and rising incomes, families will often choose housing, education, or cars, over having more and more children.

Just as the fears of a population explosion were unfounded, so too were predictions that food supplies would run out. As long as growers are not incentivised by policy makers to switch from growing crops for food, to growing crops for biofuels – taking crucial fertile acreage out of food production – the yield from productive land continues to increase. As a result of mechanisation, fertiliser, irrigation, and improvements in plant science, it has been estimated that the amount of land used to grow a certain quantity of food has decreased by 65 percent over the last 50 years world-wide. And that does not take into account advances being brought about by bioengineering and genetic modification.

Then there were peak oil predictions – that the earth’s oil reserves were going to run out … by the mid-fifties, then, when it didn’t run out, the sixties, then the seventies, and so on. Again, thanks to technological advancements, oil reserves are now greater than ever, and oil usage continues to decrease as engines become more and more fuel-efficient. Fracking alone has revolutionised the availability of natural gas, enabling the US to become energy self-sufficient by 2030. In fact, it has been estimated that since the industrial revolution, mankind has used as little as 10 percent of the known reserves of fossil fuels.[3]

As society progresses, living standards rise, and greater wealth means less pollution and more conservation, leading to a cleaner and greener environment. If and when rare elements – like tellurium, which is used in solar panels – begin to run out (not any time soon, with reserves expected to last for another million years!) then prices would rise to the point where it would become economical to extract it from recycled solar panels.

Such advancements should make us optimistic about a future, where we place our trust in mankind’s ability to find solutions to the problems we face – but in doing so, we must make sure that irrational public policies do not get in the way.

Already in New Zealand, hundreds of millions of dollars are being thrown into the big black hole of climate change. Wouldn’t that money be better spent, say, on Kiwi researchers looking for the cure for cancer, or the next generation of medicines to replace antibiotics, rather than trying to find ways to stop cows and sheep belching methane, in order to reduce our man-made greenhouse gas emissions?

And why keep the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) going, when it has no impact at all on the environment, but costs the average family of four around $750 a year. Why not follow the lead of Australia, where Prime Minister Tony Abbott is scrapping what he calls their ‘toxic’ tax on carbon in order to reduce costs on households.

As it stands, if the Greens and Labour become the government in September, they will not only remove the subsidies on the ETS, causing the costs on households to double, but food prices will also escalate as agriculture is brought into the scheme.

The longevity of the Club of Rome and the IPCC, even though their dire predictions do not eventuate, shows that scaremongering works – it certainly sells news, and it enables politicians to justify their reason for being. With an election just around the corner, the public would do well to remember the words of the influential American writer H.L. Mencken, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed – and hence clamorous to be led to safety – by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”


In Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott is scrapping their tax on carbon; should our government follow their lead and scrap our ETS?

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1. Matt Ridley, Why most resources don’t run out
2. King and Schneider, The First Global Revolution (Club of Rome) 1993
3. Professor Michael Kelly, Technology Introductions