Tom Hurst writes on liberty, free markets, private property rights, government and the Constitution from Nevada, USA
Home | Archive | Quotes | Links | About


Global Warming Irrationality

By Tom Hurst, 17 April 2007

Despite the title, this article is not about climate change per se. What I will discuss are some very basic tenets of climatology, science, economics and government as they pertain to verifying and dealing with any possible climate change. These are all things which have far more bearing on that issue than is generally granted, and are all things that in the furor of the day are nearly always ignored by climate commentators, no matter their viewpoint. I'm hopeful that after you see the nature of these issues, you will come to agree that all rational people should seriously consider them before they come down advocating this position or that on climate change. As an aside, just so you know that I'm not full of hot air on the science aspects here, I have studied climatology at the graduate level and, though I'm not an expert per se, I do follow the issue and can certainly read and understand scientific journal articles on the topic. But, again, my views on whether any particular research is convincing, whether climate change is happening any differently now than in the past, or whether any change is anthropogenic (caused by man) are not the point of this article and will not be discussed. I'll start off with scientific concerns and proceed to the issues of economics, government and, yes, a general solution.

To begin, one needs to understand a few fundamentals of the science of climatology. First is the technical distinction between climate and weather, and that deals with statistics, trends and time. One bad hurricane season, or even several in a row, let alone a single bad hurricane, do not climate make. Nor do long droughts, a fragmented, short, or indirect record of past conditions, or anecdotal stories of how weather seems to have changed in one's lifetime. Ironically, these are the very things that politicians and the media parade before us as evidence of climate change. Instead, climate is, by definition, a very long term trend that has little or nothing to do with perceived climate or short term weather per se. As to whether any climate change is anthropogenic, one must realize that changing climate - sometimes quite dramatic change - is the norm, not the exception, throughout earth's history. In fact, Mother Earth herself and her place in space are huge, always-operating, uncontrollable drivers of such change. And, make no mistake, earth's climate is a VERY complex system: the sun, oceans, continents, atmosphere, vegetation, animals, and even volcanoes and comets all interact in so many ways and on so many scales that any honest scientist would admit that climate change is far beyond our understanding at this time, supercomputer or not. So, even though we all, in a sense, experience climate every day, let's be humble and rational and accept the fact that science simply does not understand anything but the very basic workings of climate, nor is it likely to in the near future.

Of course, predictions of future climatic conditions decades or even centuries from now are the result of putting various data into mathematical models and letting computers crunch the numbers. In light of the previous discussion of the complexities of climate, however, one obvious problem is that the models are not very sophisticated compared to the systems they supposedly model, especially when looking far into the future. Further, in addition to heavily discounting the inherent complexity of climate systems, these models rely on the input of data - real, estimated, or made-up, and often sketchy - to both predict future events and to test their validity. And then there's the human factor: in good faith, choose to include or exclude a variable, change the value of a variable a bit, or add a "fudge factor" to make things work out better (as is commonly done), and the end result 50 years out can often be changed dramatically. The reality is that computers do only what we tell them to do. So, the bottom line is that no matter how good the scientists say their models are, there are three sure things one knows about ALL climate models: 1) they are primitive and simply cannot accurately model the hyper-complex system we call earth, 2) they are the quintessential example of "crap in, crap out" - and the data going in is just not very good, and 3) they can be tweaked endlessly to show any result one wants. In light of these truths of modeling, a rational person should not worship at the alter of climate models and take as gospel any predictions they make.

My next point has to do with the basic principles of research and process of science. We all know the ideal of the more or less methodical, unbiased search for the truth (validated facts) we call science, and thus most people have faith that everything scientific that they read is true. Unfortunately, such integrity exists only rarely in this era where most scientists are rabid socialists who not only support explicitly left environmental and social dogmas, but sometimes let their personal philosophic persuasions intrude upon their research. Compounding this predisposition to certain conclusions is the fact that every scientist is on someone's payroll, and it is therefore only rational to expect that at least some of the results they produce will somehow support the positions of their employers. I'm not saying that they outright fake data or such (at least not very often), but as any scientist knows, experiments can easily be designed and data collected or interpreted in a way such that subtle (and not so subtle) biases are introduced. Massage things one way a bit and you support one outcome; massage it another way to reverse the outcome. To expect that scientists paid by the United Nations, governments, or environmental advocacy groups are any more or less biased in this than scientists paid by tobacco or oil companies is foolish and naive. So, in the end, all are suspect to some degree simply because they are research grant whores being paid by entities with pre-conceived notions of what the results should be - and should the "results" not be those desired, future funding will likely disappear. Truly, we are in a corrupt and evil age where science serves money, instead of the noble ideal wherein money would serve science. A rational person should consider this sad reality when evaluating climate change research.

Compounding this, government sponsored science done by so-called "agency scientists" has long had a particularly bad reputation in the scientific community. Anyone who has spent time in the private sector, academia and government knows this only too well. In fact, government reports prepared by agency scientists are nearly always considered "gray literature", meaning that they are, frankly, crappy and suspect. Unfortunately, nearly all climate change research is either funded, managed or done by such folks, so the rational among us should know what to expect from that. Of course, this is nothing new, as this problem has continually escalated during the last 70 or so years as research once proudly funded privately has come to be almost totally supported by grants (of our tax money) made by government agencies. The only way to solve this problem is to return to a Constitutional government of enumerated powers which would mandate a free market of research done privately with private money.

Finally, one must realize that Ph.D.'s are not gods, and for that reason one should not worship their proclamations without due scrutiny. Yes, some are truly clever, but most are quite average and, believe it or not, more than a few are downright incompetent. And with institutes of higher education in the United States (and, to be fair, elsewhere) continually lowering academic standards, you can bet that this aspect of the "science" problem will only get worse. You see, the perverse incentive of giving government universities more tax moneys when they grow and/or are unsuccessful means that they are far more interested in admitting and graduating students than in educating students. They have largely become simple money machines designed to extract as much money from taxpayers as is possible. Because of this, for the forseeable future we will be saddled with ever more inferior "scientists" being graduated from increasingly inferior government universities. So, sadly, scientists of the past were generally more rigorously and broadly educated than those currently spewing from government diploma mills. This sad state of affairs will persist as long as government universities can enforce their quasi-monopoly on higher education by using their massive socialist tax subsidies to crush any private competition of consequence. Yes, it is irrational to throw money at the education problem and to continually promote failing government universities, but it is also our unfortunate political reality.

And, what of the non-scientists speaking publicly about climate change? We all suffer never-ending torrents of sensational tirades by politicians, bureaucrats, NGO spokes people, the media and virtually every man on the street. Is it possible that any significant number of these folks are even qualified to speak on the subject? Aside from having obvious agendas based only on getting re-elected, most politicians and bureaucrats seem to me to be morons, or at least greatly lacking in the integrity department, so let's just skip them and go on to consider the "media". You know, the writers with a big ax to grind, and the smiling drones with perfect voices and perfect hair that monopolize TV and radio. It's important to note that almost without exception these are people who have received (fraudulent, in the opinion of many) university degrees in such bullshit departments as "journalism" and "communications". For those of you not in the know, these departments (along with "public administration" and Colleges of Education, ironically) have for decades sported a well-earned reputation as being the academic slums of every college campus in America. So, despite their driving the debate on all aspects of the climate change discussion, I think it's clear that with very few exceptions the voices we hear know little or nothing of consequence. But then again, would rational people really expect these drones, whose only skills are reading a tele-prompter and writing and speaking at a 6th grade level, to know enough of science, technology, engineering, economics, history, law, and such, to espouse accurate and honest news concerning climate change? On top of this, realize that only the most sensational reporters and most extreme stories are presented by a media driven by ratings and sensationalism, not by truth and rationality. Enough said! Rational people should not believe them.

What about the economic aspects of global warming? Few people talk about it, but economics do make the world go 'round. To buy a hybrid car or convert to flourescent lights makes sense economically in many cases, and for that reason rational people will do such things. But when environmental extremists advocate banning all new coal-fired and nuclear power plants, in a very real sense they are advocating that we return to caves - and that is irrational! So, like it or not, there is a substantial sacrifice involved. Let's do a quick cost-benefit analysis. For instance, I would argue that only the irrational would sign on to the Kyoto Protocol or similar bandwagons and thus condemn the developed world to waste trillions of dollars on something that very likely will have little or no discernable effect on future climate. Even global warming advocates admit that any effect would only be one of buying a few years of time far in the future. Of course, in a practical sense, we're already committed to whatever ride Mother Earth has in store for us, so, really, just feel-good propaganda would be served. Alternatively, some particularly clear thinking economists (such as Bjørn Lomborg) have rightly and eloquently argued that such a huge amount of money and effort would be much better spent on fueling the infrastructure and technological innovation that will allow us to adapt to climate change and at the same time increase everyone's (including poor countries) standard of living (which history shows will naturally and inevitably lead to lower birth rates and greener living). In any case, it's a fact that implementing the programs the green community is pushing would impoverish everyone on the planet. Energy and the economy are just too interdependent to expect any other outcome. Finally, imagine where we would be if our reaction to similar fears in the past had re-directed investment from productive endeavors to foolishness. We would have less infrastructure and technology, and especially less wealth, to deal with real problems - such as overpopulation, energy and resources - that we (via the free market) have a chance to solve. Truly, a rational response is a measured response based on facts, not fear-mongering. Rational people should not sacrifice their standard of living on the alter of climate change.

And, how does government fit into this con game? That's the real rub, of course, because it will determine whether we be free men or slaves in the future - and that is the very meaning of life itself. Unfortunately, as one might expect, all evidence shows that the United Nations, government at all levels in the United States, and government in other countries are, through propaganda and their monopoly on coercive power, directing the climate change issue to their advantage. And, make no mistake, they all have tyrannical, self-serving agendas that largely depend on eliminating free markets, private property rights and individual liberty. That every action they take, every treaty they promote, every tax they collect, every law they make, and every report they issue promotes socialism and socialist solutions to every ill should not surprise us because they are all - including, sadly, the United States - socialist at heart. Of course, one of the great flaws of socialist economics - and socialism's response to climate change is a good example of this - is that government cannot plan effectively because there is no way the planners can possibly know the things they claim to know. Because of this basic flaw their various decisions are, in fact, quite arbitrary - except in their consistent promotion of big government as our salvation. The real question, of course, is not "to plan or not plan", but "who plans"? For example, if climate change were deemed a problem to be dealt with, what mitigation technologies we might pursue and how much we should spend on them are absolute unknowns - with the only known being that arbitrary decisions by planners would preclude any better and cheaper solutions that would have been discovered by countless free people operating in a free market. Actually, considering the shocking inability of socialist governments to truly solve any problems, it's fortunate that there are few, if any, problems that actually require the mandatory cooperation of everyone on earth. In its stead, history has proven that the free market works to encourage individuals to take appropriate actions to solve such problems on their own. To do otherwise would be to endorse an economic and regulatory police state wherein every aspect of one's life is controlled by government for the "common good", in this case, a feeble attempt to manage climate change. We would be no doubt be told at what level to set our home thermostats, what kinds of food to eat (meat bad, veggies good), and we would be herded into public transport that controls where one can go, and even told where to live. So, adapting to climate change as necessary is in my view the rational approach of a free individual. After all, adaptation is how nature has for eons dealt with environmental changes far more drastic than anything global warming advocates could concoct. Science and economics - powered by liberty, free markets and property rights - will tell us what we can do, and in that context individuals themselves will decide what they ought to do. And history tells us that believing in such free market solutions is a rational thing to do - unleashing the market will not only over time reduce emissions and create new sources of energy, but will make our lives better.

So, while not advocating any explicit position on climate change with this article, I'm hopeful that you can see the importance of the topics I've explained. As a rational person, however, I must say that the combined effect of all of the above is to push me mightily towards great skepticism. And being a total cynic where government is involved - also, I believe, a relatively rational response in this state-worshiping age - it seems to me that there's just too much hype and political maneuvering, and too much power and money involved for global warming to be a reality. But I'll keep listening and thinking. After all, an open mind is also characteristic of a rational person.

[Other articles may be accessed via the Archive page.]

Home | Archive | Quotes | Links | About
Tom Hurst - Defender of liberty, free markets, private property rights, and the Constitution