Vaclav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic, is a climate change skeptic. He believes that what we are doing here is advancing a dangerous ideology, essentially a reworking of Soviet communism with high-sounding motivations, and freedom-quashing collectivist impulses.
My own family experienced the same oppressive communist regime in Czechoslovakia as did Klaus, so for what it is worth I have no sympathy for Stalinism. I have no choice but to acknowledge that an increase in collective power over individual power is necessitated by anthropogenic climate forcing as well as other global change issues. The question, really is whether the evidence for the necessity is real. That question should be decided independent of politics, and society’s failure to do so cannot be said to speak well of us or our prospects.
Klaus had an interesting speech to the Cato Institute about all this some months ago, which I linked to, wherein he treats environmentalism and climate concerns in particular to distasteful political movements. I don’t agree with his points but I think it’s worth considering the worldview which finds them plausible.
Klaus’ book “What is Endangered: Climate or Freedom” has been translated into English and his presentation to the National Press Club on that occasion is also interesting.
Here, I’d like to draw attention to what seems to me the core of his argument, in which he quickly brushes by its fundamental weakness:
The book was written by an economist who happens to be in a high political position. I don’t deny my basic paradigm, which is the “economic way of thinking”, because I consider it an advantage, not a disadvantage. By stressing that, I want to say that the Climate Change Debate in a wider and the only relevant sense should be neither about several tenths of a degree of Fahrenheit or Celsius, about the up or down movements of sea level, about the depths of ice at North and Southern Pole, nor about the variations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The real debate should be about costs and benefits of alternative human actions, about how to rationally deal with the unknown future, about what kind and size of solidarity with much wealthier future generations is justified, about the size of externalities and their eventual appropriate “internalization”, about how much to trust the impersonal functioning of the markets in solving any human problem, including global warming and how much to distrust the very visible hand of very human politicians and their bureaucrats. Some of these questions are touched upon in my book.
I agree in two respects: 1) there is a standard “economic way of thinking” about the problem which concludes it does not rise to a level worthy of a contemporary collective solution and 2) it depends crucially on the presumption that future generations will be “much wealthier”.
The second point ties into the whole question of sustainability, neatly sweeping it under a rug by fiat. We observe growth over two centuries, arguably three or even four, therefore growth is considered inevitable and permanent unless actively interfered with. Consequently governing best is governing least. Anything which promotes growth is natural and anything that restrains growth isn’t….
I don’t buy it. The common outcome of exponential growth processes in nature is a logistic curve, asymptoting to a constant, non-growth pattern. Slightly more complex scenarios are asymptoting to wild oscillations, and crashing. Indefinite growth is not sustained in the real world.
Have we reached the point of inflection in the logistic curve? There are so many arguments that this is the case that it is surely pointless to recount them all. Presumably you have spent some time in the last week being concerned by energy prices, to pick an obvious example.
So the crucial idea in the economists’ argument, that future generations will be wealthier (“much wealthier”) than the present generation, is in no way certain. The very problems we are discussing are the ones that are most likely to cause that pattern to fail.
Conventional economic thinking as defined by a prominent economist, then, systematically ignores sustainability as an issue. A keystone of the argument crumbles, and the whole approach that economists from Stern to Lomborg advocate falls apart.