Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Politicized Science Leads to Impoverishment

by Pater Tenebrarum

Let's Destroy Some More Wealth Because 'We Can'

We recently came across an article entitled “Obama to unveil climate change plan with sweeping emissions cuts”. Evidently, president Obama urgently wants to do something about altering the recently rechristened 'global warming'. It has been rechristened mainly because the earth has stopped getting warmer 15 years ago. As such, 'climate change' is actually the perfect promotion for extending political control of the economy further: since the climate is always changing, there is now always a reason to curb property rights further, extend the sphere of central economic planning by the State, increase taxation and subsidize one's political cronies. It's perfect. And yet, from the point of view of an imperialistic State, it is really a very bad idea. This is so because it will lead to more capital decumulation and thus will over time reduce the State's ability to wage successful wars. Increased regulation does not increase anyone's income – including that of the government. It simply leads to impoverishment. Of course we cannot expect Obama to understand this. He is a lawyer specialized in constitutional law, not an economist. In fact, he is actually better described as a lawyer specialized in the subversion of constitutional law as we have recently learned. The military-industrial complex however should be duly alarmed. There will be far fewer resources available to it in the future.

But isn't it a good idea to 'curb emissions'? Aren't all emissions inherently bad? According to the article, Obama plans to outflank the democratic process by means of administrative law, which does not require any further input on the part of elected representatives. He will instead direct the EPA to issue wide-ranging rules in order to specifically cut down emissions of CO2. This is not only a disturbing process from a legal and economic point of view (someone should really curb the power of this bureaucracy before its meddling destroys civilization as we know it), but it is not exactly the brightest idea in light of current scientific knowledge either (or rather, the evident lack of such knowledge).

“Recognizing that Congress is unlikely to pass significant climate change legislation during his second term,President Obama will take some of the most sweeping measures available to him to unilaterally combat global warming.

The new plan, which Mr. Obama will unveil Tuesday at Georgetown University, is expected to include a ramping up of energy efficiency and renewable energy in addition to national preparations to deal with the meteorological and financial impacts of climate change. But by far the strongest element of the plan is a set of new regulations intended to slash greenhouse-gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants – not just power plants built in the future.

Obama intends to issue a presidential memorandum directing the Environmental Protection Agency to implement new regulations of greenhouse-gas emissions under the authority of the Clean Air Act. The president's plan is an attempt to deliver on his promise to cut carbon emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, White House officials told reporters in a conference call Monday.

The move has the potential to cut annually hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) – a potent greenhouse gas – and far overshadow any carbon-emissions cuts the Obama administration has achieved so far through improved fuel-efficiency standards. But it could also accelerate the closure of many existing older coal-fired power plants across the country, which are already struggling to meet current standards.

"Nothing on this scale in the Clean Air Act has ever been attempted before," says Kevin Book, an energy analyst with ClearView Partners, an energy economics consulting firm in Washington. "This step will be the catalyst for the next wave of coal-fired power plant retirements. It's almost certainly going to get hung up in the courts for years."

Obama seeks to combat global warming in a variety of ways in the new plan. Among the highlights:

  • Create new energy-efficiency standards for federal buildings and appliances.
  • Ramp up enough clean-energy production on public lands to power 6 million homes by 2020.
  • Extend $8 billion in loan-guarantee authority to accelerate investment in advanced fossil-energy and efficiency projects.
  • End public financing of coal-fired plants overseas and push for free trade in clean-energy technologies.

But a concrete plan to reach a 17 percent cut in carbon emissions is seen as the cornerstone of Obama's move. That figure is widely considered a requirement for the US to be taken seriously in ongoing international climate talks. Obama wants to reinvigorate US efforts to lead in those talks, White House officials said.

They said the plan to address existing-power-plant emissions has a firm timeline – adding credibility to the effort. The goal is to finalize power plant emissions regulations by June 2015, long enough before Mr. Obama leaves office to be solidly in force before the next administration takes over.

"We know that we have to get to work quickly in order to not only propose, but finalize the rule," said a senior White House official. "The president will be directing the EPA to start that work."

(emphasis added)

Of course many of these proposals don't make economic sense. 'Alternative energy' projects could not exist without subsidies, which ipso facto proves that they are not economically viable (apparently Mr. Obama has yet to learn any lessons from the countless bankruptcies of alternative energy companies his administration has subsidized. This is to say, their business was so atrociously bad that they could not even survive with subsidies. Solyndra was one of the more prominent examples, but by far not the only one). It also means that the overall wealth of society will decline due to their implementation, as scarce resources are employed and misdirected in a sub-optimal manner against the wishes of consumers.

However, these projects do not make any ecological sense either. As an example, a recent study shows that electric cars are not one iota 'greener' than gasoline driven cars. It is almost certain that studies of other 'alternative energy' projects would come to similar conclusions. After all, the energy to produce the means of alternative energy production must come from somewhere in the first place. Many (probably most) of these items are not only unprofitable without subsidies, they also have a negative net energy equation, i.e., it costs more energy to produce them than they will in turn produce during their lifetime.

However, the subsidization of such schemes is certainly an excellent method of rewarding political cronies and successful lobbyists, while simultaneously landing a PR coup with the deluded masses (who will pay through the nose for it all without even realizing it). So there are plenty of motives for instituting such policies, none of which have anything to do with 'saving the planet'.

And while the US may be 'taken seriously in ongoing international climate talks', it runs the danger of being laughed off future battlefields if it over-regulates its economy and begins to fall behind in military prowess as a result. The wealth required to support the giant US military machinery simply won't be created anymore if too much regulation suffocates the economy. It is certainly not that we are personally particularly concerned with the well-being of the military-industrial complex, we are merely establishing a fact here.

There are a few initiatives mentioned in the article above that we have no problem with: for example, we weren't aware that there was 'public financing of coal-fired plants overseas', and we would certainly agree it should be stopped – just as public financing of 'alternative energy' projects should be stopped. As for 'free trade in alternative energy products', we are in favor of free trade no matter what items it concerns, as free trade is always economically beneficial. Of course, since very few tradable 'alternative energy' products would exist without subsidies, this demand is probably superfluous (it should simply be replaced with: let us have free trade, period).

There can be no objection in principle to making things more 'energy efficient'. In the marketplace, this is constantly done; since economic activity is generally aimed at doing more with less, increasing energy efficiency over time is essentially a given. To the extent that a change in energy efficiency standards for federal buildings would lower government spending in the future, it is certainly not objectionable either.

Lastly, employing administrative law as a means of subverting or sidestepping the democratic process has become par for the course in modern-day regulatory democracies, but that doesn't mean one should accept it without demur. Political rule – as bad as it is – is step by step being replaced by something even worse: outright bureaucratic rule.

The Greenhouse Gas Bogeyman

Now let us briefly return to the question whether it makes sense to curb CO2 emissions specifically. This is an important question because it involves large costs, and the question is whether these can be justified by the expected improvements. In a state-less contractual society based on private property rights, one would not simply be allowed to pollute the air either, since this would clearly interfere with the property rights of others (for an in-depth discussion of the topic see Murray Rothbard's “Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution”).

However, even though CO2 has been legally declared to be a 'pollutant' that falls under the 'jurisdiction' of the EPA bureaucracy, this is not what it represents from a strictly scientific standpoint. In fact, to declare CO2 a pollutant that needs to be regulated by a bureaucracy is ultimately legal nonsense as well if one thinks it through to its logical conclusion. Every human being exhales the stuff, and every plant needs it to survive. Does this mean the EPA is going to ban breathing?

Obviously, the only way to stop CO2 production by humans altogether would be to make breathing illegal. There are a few radical environmentalists who would welcome this idea, but they are not representative of humanity at large. See as an example the so-called 'Voluntary Human Extinction Movement', whose credo is that “Phasing out the human race by voluntarily ceasing to breed will allow Earth’s biosphere to return to good health.” Here is their web site. They are not even the worst moonbats out there actually – a few environmental radicals are in favor of an involuntary extinction process. Oddly enough, none of them have committed suicide yet, so as to lead by example. We already mentioned the academic demanding the death penalty for 'climate change deniers'.

Up until fairly recently, the debate over CO2 and its 'greenhouse gas' effect was in a way a bit abstract. Scientists who were and are not supporting the conclusions of AGW theory pointed out that: a rise in the atmosphere's CO2 level in the past tended to follow rather than lead warming periods; there have been much warmer periods than today long before any industrial activity by humans produced extra CO2; in a time when CO2 production increased rapidly (1940 to 1975), the earth cooled down so much that the scientific community was in the grip of a 'global cooling' hysteria; the most important greenhouse effect is produced by water vapor, i.e. clouds – the effect of CO2 is negligible by comparison; and lastly, the main causative agent in never-ceasing climate change is the sun, not human activity.

The proponents of AGW could always rely on one thing though: the earth was getting warmer since about 1980. This was an invaluable fact in terms of propaganda, even though it proved absolutely nothing per se. It supported the assertion that their 'GIGO' models actually 'worked' (garbage in, garbage out). No longer. Here is a recent assessment of the situation by a prominent supporter of the 'CO2 AGW' theory in Germany, Professor Hans von Storch:

SPIEGEL: Just since the turn of the millennium, humanity has emitted another 400 billion metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, yet temperatures haven't risen in nearly 15 years. What can explain this?

Storch: So far, no one has been able to provide a compelling answer to why climate change seems to be taking a break. We're facing a puzzle. Recent CO2 emissions have actually risen even more steeply than we feared. As a result, according to most climate models, we should have seen temperatures rise by around 0.25 degrees Celsius (0.45 degrees Fahrenheit) over the past 10 years. That hasn't happened. In fact, the increase over the last 15 years was just 0.06 degrees Celsius (0.11 degrees Fahrenheit) — a value very close to zero. This is a serious scientific problem that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will have to confront when it presents its next Assessment Report late next year.

SPIEGEL: Do the computer models with which physicists simulate the future climate ever show the sort of long standstill in temperature change that we're observing right now?

Storch: Yes, but only extremely rarely. At my institute, we analyzed how often such a 15-year stagnation in global warming occurred in the simulations. The answer was: in under 2 percent of all the times we ran the simulation. In other words, over 98 percent of forecasts show CO2 emissions as high as we have had in recent years leading to more of a temperature increase.

SPIEGEL: How long will it still be possible to reconcile such a pause in global warming with established climate forecasts?

Storch: If things continue as they have been, in five years, at the latest, we will need to acknowledge that something is fundamentally wrong with our climate models. A 20-year pause in global warming does not occur in a single modeled scenario. But even today, we are finding it very difficult to reconcile actual temperature trends with our expectations.

SPIEGEL: What could be wrong with the models?

Storch: There are two conceivable explanations — and neither is very pleasant for us. The first possibility is that less global warming is occurring than expected because greenhouse gases, especially CO2, have less of an effect than we have assumed. This wouldn't mean that there is no man-made greenhouse effect, but simply that our effect on climate events is not as great as we have believed. The other possibility is that, in our simulations, we have underestimated how much the climate fluctuates owing to natural causes.

SPIEGEL: That sounds quite embarrassing for your profession, if you have to go back and adjust your models to fit with reality…

Storch: Why? That's how the process of scientific discovery works. There is no last word in research, and that includes climate research. It's never the truth that we offer, but only our best possible approximation of reality. But that often gets forgotten in the way the public perceives and describes our work.

SPIEGEL: But it has been climate researchers themselves who have feigned a degree of certainty even though it doesn't actually exist. For example, the IPCC announced with 95 percent certainty that humans contribute to climate change.

Storch: And there are good reasons for that statement. We could no longer explain the considerable rise in global temperatures observed between the early 1970s and the late 1990s with natural causes. My team at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, in Hamburg, was able to provide evidence in 1995 of humans' influence on climate events. Of course, that evidence presupposed that we had correctly assessed the amount of natural climate fluctuation. Now that we have a new development, we may need to make adjustments.

SPIEGEL: In which areas do you need to improve the models?

Storch: Among other things, there is evidence that the oceans have absorbed more heat than we initially calculated. Temperatures at depths greater than 700 meters (2,300 feet) appear to have increased more than ever before. The only unfortunate thing is that our simulations failed to predict this effect.

SPIEGEL:That doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

(emphasis added)

In spite of seeing his expectations shattered on the shoals of reality, Professor von Storch at least behaves precisely like a scientist should: he admits that the last  word is not spoken and that quite obviously, something is wrong with the current climate models. The process of scientific discovery continues and it is time to look for alternative explanations for what is actually happening. However, these now discredited models are the very same models Mr. Obama is basing his recent wide-ranging and costly decisions on.

Just consider for a moment: the developments of the past 15 years show that there is only a 2% chance that current climate models are correct. If the earth continues not to warm for another five years, the probability that any of these models are correct will be precisely zero.

Do we want extremely costly economic decisions to be made on the basis of what by now looks largely like a promotion no longer supported by scientific facts? Again, keep in mind that von Storch is by no means someone who rejects the 'AGW' theory. In fact, as you can see above, he is still desperately clinging to it, even though he is forced to admit that the evidence is beginning to look less and less convincing. Then again, we have little doubt that he would be prepared to change his mind completely if and when clear evidence contradicting his current beliefs presents itself.

This is more than can be said of many other AGW proponents unfortunately, who continue to promote an unmitigated scare story – presumably because it ensures the continued flow of grant money (we have discussed the related expenses here; a truly giant gravy train is at stake).

more and less
Greenhouse gases, climate models and climate reality, via Der Spiegel. Something is  wrong, and it is not reality.


In conclusion, we would also note that any large scale problems humanity may face in the future  – whether they concern the climate, or an asteroid hurtling toward us through space – are far more likely to be successfully tackled the more capital accumulation takes place in the meantime. It is therefore not immaterial whether or not economic progress is hindered by climate related 'just in case' legislation. As many supporters of such legislation argue: 'even if the chance that the models are correct is only 2%, we should rather opt to make the economy less efficient, if we can make 100% sure thereby that a catastrophic outcome is averted'.

This argument is utterly false and misleading. The exact opposite is true: by slowing down capital and wealth accumulation, humanity's chance to successfully face potentially catastrophic developments in the future is clearly diminished.

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