Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The incentives for climate-change doom and gloom

I subscribe to a global climate change news feed. In it, I get stories such as this one, that is, stories that treat global warming as a self-evident tale of impending death and despair. Yet I wonder what the spin would be if it was alleged that human existence was leading to global cooling instead of global warming (as it was maintained as recently as the 1970's).

Would we be hearing tales of an impeding ice age? Would we be hearing tales of cooling that will lead to subsequent warming (the inverse of what I recently saw on a climate change TV special on the Discovery Channel)? Would anyone argue that the weather is the weather, it changes, and we should treat it as a metaphysically given?

Of the three options, it's the last scenario that is the most implausible. After all, what incentive is there to publish research that says that the sky is not falling? Honesty? Integrity? One would hope, but it would be interesting to track which climatologists receive the most government funding: those who predict disaster, or those who say the evidence argues against disaster.

After all, government is by-and-far the prime supporter of climate research. If the motives of anyone who speaks from a pro-technology perspective can be questioned, why can't we equally examine the motives of someone whose lifeblood depends on government largess? Shouldn't we understand how these researchers respond to incentives that they have been given—and how those incentives might skew their focus and findings? In fact, when has there ever been massive government funding of science, and a verdict of "nothing to see here, please go about your business"? Science demands independence and objectivity, yet that is precisely what science lacks today.

The same can be said for economics. Consider this report, paid for by Shell Oil, that argues that climate-control regulation will be a boon to business.

Combating global warming won't bankrupt Britain's economy and could be worth billions for business, says an oil company-sponsored report released Thursday.

The cost of action will amount to 0.3 percent of Britain's economic output, but that works out to business opportunities worth $55 billion over the next decade, said the report published by Shell UK, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, as part of its Springboard project to encourage business action on global warming.

Globally, the report said the market could be worth a trillion dollars in the next five years, the report said.

The report said business opportunities were mainly in developing products and systems to comply with regulations designed to cut energy use. That includes tighter building standards, supplying biofuels for road transport and renewable energy generation.

"The cost-benefit equation of action to tackle climate change is favorable. That's true not just for the U.K. but internationally as well," Shell UK Chairman James Smith said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

To encourage innovation, the report proposed that the government offer prizes -- as it did in 1714 when it offered a reward to the person who solved the problem of measuring longitude. [AP]
Let's make sure we have this right. The expense of climate-control regulation will be offset by all the profits to be had from developing pro-green technologies. Sure, the same way all the devastation of Hurricane Katrina was offset by the profits to be had in post-hurricane reconstruction. Shell UK is trying to spin a regulatory disaster—rather then admit the hard truth that regulations do not create wealth. After all, why does Shell call for a "government prize" to the creator of pro-green technologies? Aren't these innovators going to get wealthy enough on their own, without a handout or a government imprimatur?

At root, we are faced with the mind-numbing philosophic conformity that simply declares that the market is broken and that human beings are a blight on this Earth. If the climate changes on its own, so be it-but if our existence changes it, then that existence must be regulated and squelched. Again, how much funding and support goes to those who see the free human mind as the "ultimate resource," in contrast to those who favor a coerced reduction of the "footprint" of humanity?

I expect highly skewed numbers in favor of man's destroyers-and that, my friends, is the crisis of our age.

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