‘Tis the season for Christmas parties, and meeting people who you might not otherwise bump into. On Saturday I spoke with a senior civil servant who plays a role in financial policy (I’ve kept it vague to keep them anonymous.) He was saying his right-wing political master is, if not quite a climate sceptic, then someone who wants to keep it a low priority. During our conversation, I realised I had about series of arguments for right-of-centre climate sceptics. Below are my main lines of argument. They are still a work-in-progress (hence the [WIP] in the title) – some are too confrontational, and I haven’t got all the right references in others. If I wait until I’ve got them all perfect then I’d never post them. Do let me know your arguments, or ways to improve these.
1. The climate science is strong. “That humans are causing global warming is the position of the Academies of Science from 19 countries plus many scientific organizations that study climate science. More specifically, around 95% of active climate researchers actively publishing climate papers endorse the consensus position.” See here for more detail.
The various ‘scandals’ of the last few years are the equivalent of deleting two sentences from the massive four volumes of the IPCC report (as explained here). Remember, the IPCC volumes have been picked over for years. The minor quibbles are the biggest errors the sceptics have found. All in all, the volumes have as low an error-rate as humanly possible. We’d all love to have our local hospital as accurate.
2. Struggling for who to believe? Try the Ministry of Defence or the US Department of Defence. Both organisations have to deal with the world as it is, not they might hope it should be. And both take climate change seriously. Here in the UK, the Met Office is a “Trading Fund within the Ministry of Defence”. You can find their climate change publications here, including the eye-opening pair on Informing Choices.
Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.
The U.S. Global Change Research Program, composed of 13 federal agencies, reported in 2009 that climate-related changes are already being observed in every region of the world including the United States and its coastal waters. Among these physical changes are increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the oceans and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows.
3. Just like with smoking causing cancer, vested interests have sown doubt to delay action.The strength of the climate science is as good as the strength for smoking causing cancer. Tobacco companies were successful in delaying change by sowing doubt; we’re part way through the same process on climate change. The climate change deniers have used the same tactics, and even the same PR firms (see this post on a book called Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming – here on Amazon).
This is one of the arguments that may be too confrontational. I only use it when people can’t understand why there can be scientific consensus but popular doubt. What I like about the argument is the sense of inevitability: there’s popular consensus on secondary smoke.
4. Inaction in the face of doubt creates greater risk. There are massive risks of inaction that come from waiting until the science is perfect. The science will never be perfect (and if people are not convinced by the current consensus when will they be?). Crucially, the science says that emissions today will have a global warming effect for decades to come. Waiting for some future crisis to prompt action will lock-in a great deal of climate change.
5. Ignore the anti-capitalists who were first to talk about it, and look at the business leaders who are convinced now. The first to draw your attention were anti-business left-wingers, and you might question their motives. But look at these senior business leaders who are calling for action on climate change like Rupert Murdoch and GE CEO Jeff Immelt. Some 400 companies – including Anglo American, EDF, Vodafone, WPP and many more – have signed the Cancun Communique, where businesses call for an ambitious, robust and equitable deal on climate change. You can’t doubt their commitment to a market economy.
6. If you believe in markets and democracy, use them now or governments will have to step in massively later. Governments had to buy up the banks and companies in the financial crisis. Governments will have to step in ten times more if people fear for their future because of the effects of climate change. Taking from a report I was involved in called Climate Futures:
Some of the strongest objections to addressing climate change have been that we will constrain markets, and hence our freedom, at too high a cost. People have feared that climate change was a cover for rolling back the market reforms of the last decades. But in our scenarios, liberal market-based solutions seem much less attractive as time goes on than statist responses. This puts a different light on how to defend freedoms from market reforms. Advocates of liberal markets should act as soon as possible, pushing for a global agreement with teeth, national measures that use financial incentives, and the removal of market distortions that encourage unsustainable and wasteful resource use. The result may be a more constrained market system than today, but the long-term alternative could be a desperate turn to big government and protectionism.