My adaptation of ClimateHate is online at Comment is Free. It is substantially different from the first post, though the theme is broadly the same: the debate is all ad hominem,  and this makes a risk for the greens.

A point I had NOT made was to go on about how much disrepute the Greens can bring upon their own case, by packaging it up with all sorts of other causes.  Nef seem to exist to prove the existence of this problem, as their latest report shows.  It is not as dreadful as the previous one – but then, it couldn’t be, because it was arguably the worst think tank report ever written, amateurish, attention seeking and brazenly biased.

I don’t have the space in this cramped cafe to launch a full critique.  Much of the report is unobjectionable, setting out the parameters of global warming – how many ppm of CO2 we can afford to have -which is no doubt useful.   Where it fails, for me, is in its analysis of how GDP cannot rise without busting those C02 limits.  It gives almost no space to the idea that lifestyles, preferences and the shape of GDP will alter as prices alter.   If $300 oil happened, the preference for certain activities shifts to other directions.  There is no decent exploration of the elasticities of human behaviour in the face of different trade offs – which is clearly central to the debate.

As economies mature, the mix of their production and consumption changes.  Oil intensity per unit of GDP gets lower, and could get drastically lower.  For example, I bought a Wattson a few days ago.   This will be recorded as GDP, and also lower Co2.  If petrol doubled, I might drive to the theatre less, and pay more for home entertainment more.  And so on.  As economies mature, they shift from manufacture to services, and this can mean lower consumption of environmentally-limited items. Tim Worstall puts it well:

Economic growth is defined as the adding of value. No, really, it is. GDP measures the value added in an economy. It does not measure the resources required to produce that added value. It’s entirely possible to add more value while using fewer resources.

The other part of Nef’s report attempts to list a bunch of alternative energy ideas and prove, from here in 2010, that in 2030 they can’t deliver what they need to.  OFten with just a couple of citations.  This is socialist-planner-thinking gone mad.  Imagine if you had sat in say 1990 and tried to work out the potential of the internet in 2010 . ..

So, why do they do it?  Because nef have a broader, anti-consumption agenda.  As this programme makes clear, some greens want more than just the end of CO2 threatening our environment – they want to specify how this should happen. Read the transcript about this.  The point is made in this paragraph:

TOWNSEND: I was making a speech to nearly 200
really hard core, deep environmentalists and I played
a little thought game on them. I said imagine I am the
carbon fairy and I wave a magic wand. We can get rid
of all the carbon in the atmosphere, take it down to
two hundred fifty parts per million and I will ensure
with my little magic wand that we do not go above
two degrees of global warming. However, by waving
my magic wand I will be interfering with the laws of
physics not with people – they will be as selfish, they
will be as desiring of status. The cars will get bigger,
the houses will get bigger, the planes will fly all over
the place but there will be no climate change. And I
asked them, would you ask the fairy to wave its
magic wand? And about 2 people of the 200 raised
their hands

Now, I don’t know how typical this is.  I am certainly suspicious of nef, and of people who categorically rule out nuclear power, despite acknowledging the huge threat of global warming to billions of people.  But I think it is quite fair for the BBC to investigate this idea, which is why I was somewhat dismayed to read Sunny’s furious denouncement.  I am deeply impressed by what Sunny has done at LibCon.  But this sort of fury is the sort of thing my column today is expressing concern about.

UPDATE: Ca1eb writes a brilliant comment:

Can you imagine how dull it would be if everyone reasoned it out like adults:

Sceptic: “Well I’m just not convinced the warming is man made.”

Warmist: “Well even if it’s not, reducing carbon emissions is a good policy for the future.”

Sceptic: “Agreed”

But instead what happens is nut jobs from either side wade it using the same kind of reasoning that they must have used during the crusades:

Denier: “There is no global warming! It’s been made up by the loony left to tax the rich! In fact the planet’s getting colder and we need more pollution to stop it.”

Alarmist: “You’re killing the planet! All you care about is globalisation and living off the poor! We need to abandon cities now and all live in teepees!”

Guess whom the Guardian then employs to write articles on the subject?

Tim Worstall’s other comment is also well worth reading through; it’s about 20 times as long as his typical blogpost . . .


14 thoughts on “Problems with Greens

  1. It wouldn’t even be interfering with the laws of physics since a mass nuclear build would indeed reduce CO2 emissions by as much as desired while not producing poverty,. Indeed it would be about 1/4 the price of what we have now.

    The eco-fascist & indeed LibDem reaction to nuclear strongly suggests that the the 2 out of 200 who raised their hands were lying.

  2. Really good re-write.

    I think Tim’s comment is a bit misleading: yes, there are potential solutions via the market – indeed he is quite right about that, and quite right to be infuriated by the wilful ignorance of much of the green lobby – but Tim seems to be arguing that simply bumping up taxes to curb certain forms of behaviour will be enough. And I’m fairly sure that it wont; that we’ll need to use those taxes that have already bumped behaviour in different directions to remodel our energy supply systems quite drastically (and quite possibly use the revenues to help the people in developing parts of the world who are already starting to suffer).

    sorry I’m being a bit incoherent, but let’s say that the social cost of a tonne of carbone is $80. Does it follow that an $80-per-tonne tax rate offsets the carbon emission? Well now, because the carbon is still going into the atmosphere. Yes, the central planner may have $80 to play with to try and offset the social costs of a bit more warming – but the problem with continued warming is that, well, it threatens to totally fuck up everything. So there’s no straight process of moving from identifying the tax-rate imposed on a certain level of emissions matching it’s projected “social costs”, imposing that cost, and saying “job done”. Because the problem is carbon emission per se and its global cumulative effectcs – not the specific “social cost” of each incramental extra tonne.

    OK sorry that’s pretty badly expressed. But hopefully the point i’m making can somehow be discerned. And again, Tim is right to point out that market solutions are available and need to be pursued – indeed, on something like this the innovation of the market is FAR more likely to find solutions than a central state planner, even if the market needs to be orientated by the state planner in the first place.

    Also, Giles, re NEF: yes, quite right on the annoying inability to keep issues separate. A common phenomenon on the left, I’m sad to say. And you are right about much of the green movement. Unbelievably irritating people, most of them.

    1. Thanks for the kind comment. Agree with you that a carbon tax alone will not deal with it. Particularly because the costs are ill-distributed between nations and groups. Liberal admits: central planning needed here.

      Are you as surprised as I am with Sunny’s reaction to that Radio programme?

  3. I’m sure some greens relish the prospect of using global warming as a means to achieve other political ends, but I’m very sceptical of this rather common device of standing up at a meeting and shouting a question and then drawing conclusions from the lack of hands. I think Martin Amis is a past master – if in general you don’t trust someone and they ask a complicated question in a meeting and then demand an answer my default position is to not put my hand up.

    1. I agree that this single sample is not enough evidence to prove, say, that only 1% of environmentalists care about the ends rather than the means. But evidence from other areas – like the nef report – suggest the figure is not necessarily over 50% either . ..

  4. Yeah, but this is an almost universal issue. If you told Tim Worstall that you could wave a magic wand and the State would be a much better allocator of resources than the market, would he’d be happy, he’d say no. And rightly so, it’s absolutely correct to be skeptical of someone offering a magic wand, and that skepticism is always going to be enough to not immediately asset to their proposal when offered it.

    1. In a way, from a freedom-aholic point of view, I agree with Hypothetical Tim Worstall there. Amatya Sen in his latest book contrasts people choosing what to do and people being forced to do what they might have chosen, and it is IMHO an important distinction. Happy sheep versus striving Socrates. I don’t want magic wands to remove my autonomy.

    2. This ignores the fact that we have such a “magic wand” than can remove excess human CO2 from the atmosphere (we wouldn’t want to remove “all” because we would have no plants to eat). It is therefore not a theoretical question & the “rnvironmentalists” & indeed “liberal democrats” have resoundingly answered that they oppose it.

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