What Climate Change Intevenionists Need to Prove

Advocates for radical government intervention to halt climate change claim that they have "proven" the case for limitations on CO2 emissions beyond the doubt of anyone except contemptible corporate greed-hounds.  As Todd Zwycki quotes Ellen Goodman:

The climate is equally apparent in the struggle over what the Bush
administration calls "climate change" "” and everyone else calls global warming.
The only way to justify doing nothing about global warming now is to
deliberately muddle the science.
It's not an accident that Philip Cooney,
the White House official caught editing reports on greenhouse gases, left for
Exxon Mobil, which has indeed funded doubts.

I have written on the burden of proof that is needed to justify Kyoto-like interventions a number of times, most recently here.  This is what I think has been "proven" sufficiently well.

  1. Proven: Man-made CO2 has increased the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere (best evidence from ice cores and samplings in Hawaii)
  2. Proven:  Temperatures in the world have risen since 1900. (though perhaps less than typicaly reported due to under-correction for urban heat-island effects).
  3. Proven:  The temperature rise in the first half of the 1900's was not man-made, having occured before substantial man-made CO2 production, and therefore is attributable to some other (disputed and/or unknown) effect.

Here is what is still in doubt, with no consensus:

  1. In Dispute:  How much of the world temperature rise since 1950 was due to man-made CO2 output?   Some unknown phenomena caused a pre-1950 rise, leaving open the question of how much this other phenomena raised temperatures in the latter half of the 1900's and how much was due to man-made CO2.
  2. In Dispute:  How much will the world's temperature rise in the future due to man-made CO2?  Climate is a complex animal, and no honest thinking climate scientist believes they have the right model yet, particularly since none of the most-used models explains history very well.  Also, beyond climate, the economic models that drive CO2 levels in the climate model are hugely flawed, causing the models to way over-estimate man-made CO2 production.
  3. In Dispute:  What are the positives and negatives of global warming for humans?  The negatives are dealt with all too casually, in the sort of unproven scare story day-after-tomorrow unscientific approach that makes good NY Times Sunday Edition reading but does little to introduce any facts.  The positives are never, ever mentioned. "Disinterested" climate scientists never mention that some parts of the world will benefit, in terms of longer growing seasons, or that most of the warming will occur in winter nights in the coldest regions, where warming would be welcome.  Its almost as if they weren't disinterested and had an interest in the answer coming out a certain way.

Wait, we are not done yet.  There is one critical questions that is never even addressed by global warming advocates:

  1. Not Even Addressed:  How do the costs of limiting CO2 emissions, including decreased economic growth and increased poverty, stand up against the dangers?  No one has done a good study of this, though people like Bjorn Lomburg have argued that the cost-benefit is much worse than solving some of the world's other problems.

Basically, the philosophy of environmentalists is that if man changed the world, its worth any cost to reverse it.  Sorry, but this is not sufficient evidence to trash the world economy with new taxes and output restrictions. 

Todd Zwycki, in the article linked above, has a nice analysis:

So the real question to ask here is whether on net, the costs of doing
something about global climate change outweigh the benefits of doing it. This is
the same question we ask (or should ask) about every other intervention into
nature--should we kill the parasites in water so that we can drink it, should we
drain a mosquito-infested swamp to eliminate the risk of malaria, should we
provide a vaccine to kill naturally-occurring smallpox. To imply that if the
science shows we are changing the climate we must do something about it is as
wrongheaded as it would be to say that if we are not contributing to global
warming we should not do anything about it.

On the question of whether global warming would be a net benefit or detriment
to the planet, the evidence I have seen to date suggests that it is
inconclusive. There will be impacts on crop yields, growing locations, forests,
energy consumption, etc., that cut in many different directions. The question of
whether the warming will occur equally throughout the world, or whether it will
occur more strongly in the coldest parts of the world appears to also be
unsettled, and has powerful normative implications for policy. To get bogged
down in the science, and especially in causal questions, seems to me to be
largely beside the point.


  1. Scott in SF:

    Actually, I'm still waiting for anyone to demonstrate why no heating or cooling would be expected going forward, when all of the earth's history has been warming periods followed by cooling periods. Mother Nature does not lie still, waiting for man to roust her. I can guarantee we will either have global warming or global cooling. Just can't tell you which.

  2. Duane Gran:

    "Basically, the philosophy of environmentalists is that if man changed the world, its worth any cost to reverse it. Sorry, but this is not sufficient evidence to trash the world economy with new taxes and output restrictions."

    This borders on a straw man, as I don't think environmentalists are asking to trash the world economy -- they ask that we curb activity that is known to be harmful. Ask most scientists who aren't on the take and they will express concern over CO2 emissions. Is it a little odd that nearly every scientist working in industry claim the opposite? When you suggest that environmentalists must prove something, which set of distinguished scientists do you listen to? From what I've seen, this a priori question defines the debate.

    Based on what I read here, the marketplace is the ultimate good. Why stop at CO2. Go for the big tent and make it legal to dump poison into drinking water as long as it saves a buck. I'm sure there is a scientist somewhere who will stake his reputation on saying that poison doesn't harm people.

    While you claim the burden of proof lies on people who want a healthy environment, I think it lies on the marketplace. The environment was here well before we invented capitalism, and I dare say, it will be here after we get over our market-worship. What remains is a murky time where our quality of life, and that our our children to come, may be endangered. Is it such an odd thing, in this world of great wealth and ability, that we hold industry to be accountable?

  3. Matt:

    They don't ask to curb activity known to be harmful...they demand that we utterly stop any activity we can't conclusively prove in advance to be utterly harmless to everything and everybody, and damn the costs and the suffering that result.

    Millions of humans dying of malaria? Hey, no biggie, as long as we might or might not have saved a couple of birds.

    A forced return to the technology level (and consequent poverty level) of the dark ages? No problem at all...just as long as a computer model that can't even predict the past says that our great great grandkids will be two degrees cooler than they otherwise would.

    Environmentalism is the religion that begins and ends with the presumption that humans are inherently and irredeemably evil by nature. I believe in freedom of religion...you have every right to believe that, if you really want to. But don't try and pass it off as the One True Source of good policy decisions.

  4. TJIT:


    The market is not an abstract thing, in this case it is the ability of people to have a decent quality of life. China and India are going to burn a lot of energy moving their people from second and third world status to first world status. I am not sure it is possible to reduce the amount of CO2 emissions given that condition. And I am not willing to tell the Chinese and Indian people they have to stay in third world conditions to reduce CO2 emissions.

    Free market economies have done the best job of preserving and protecting the environment. Most of the really environmentally destructive activities in the US were government sponsored not free market. For example the Corp of Engineers draining the Florida Everglades. And for world class environmental destruction take a look at what the non free market Soviet Union left behind. If you are sincerely interested in environmental preservation and protection you should support more free market policies.

  5. Tony Harvey:

    I believe any hope that the problem of climate change can be solved within the existing economic framework of Neo-liberal capitalism will prove to be utterly unfounded. To try to put this right without rectifying the clapped out global financial system won’t work and environmentalists doing so will carry on coming up against a brick wall. They need to look at the way this system works and intellectually grow beyond the conditioning that economics and finance can only be understood by economists and financiers. Of course its true that they are doing something very useful in highlighting to the unaware the “elephant standing in the corner” but we’re all locked in to an international economic system that blocks substantial change. **New Para**

    Let me try to explain. The two main cornerstones of Western economies are usury and speculation. Usury in that the vast majority of money in circulation has been electronically created by the commercial banks and is called by them “credit” and is lent to Governments and individuals for quick profit not for a particular motive of world betterment. Nothing moves when electronic money circulates when you use your debit card, direct debits, cheques etc and when Governments borrow money- all that happens is that the drawer’s account’s data entry is debited (decremented) and the payee’s is credited, (incremented). So this money can be created at negligible cost to the banks because it is created and exists only as a DATA entry in our electronic bank accounts and is exchanged between them as such only. The stuff in your wallet/purse created by the Royal Mint for the Bank of England (whose revenue DOES accrue to the state) represents a tiny fraction of the ‘money’ that exists, the vast majority originated as loans mostly created by the commercial banks under this “fractional reserve banking system”, circulates electronically and the vast profit (interest) accrues to bankers not Governments. For more information on how this amazing system has evolved (which one could be forgiven for thinking has been deliberately designed with a main aim to enrich private financial elites) in the UK and many, many countries I refer you to the expert writings & books at http://www.jamesrobertson.com. Even pretty low corporation tax is often avoided by the use of foreign tax havens, (At least £20 Billion total in the UK per annum avoided at 2003 figures- [War on Want pamphlet]). The need for the continuing increase of the assault on the world’s resources substantially stems from the imperative of “economic growth” which is necessary to keep up with the ever spiralling overall interest payments due on the explosion of different types of loans created by commercial banks and other private interests. I read that the exponential growth in private credit has been allowed to occur with all its wanton increase in the consumption of resources and debt hardship because of outsourcing by corporations of huge amounts of skilled & unskilled jobs to developing countries with cheap labour and minimal regulations under globalisation (“corporate flight”). With the generally decreasing availability therefore of properly paid quality jobs, to make ends meet governments and individuals in richer nations have had to be allowed to borrow more and more. I recommend the reading of the website and books by the US professor of economics Ravi Batra who has a lot of hard hitting and extremely interesting things to say on this matter, http://www.ravibatra.com. **New Para**

    I refer to the ‘cornerstone of Speculation’ in that National economies and their populations are utterly dependant on the $2 Trillion or so (equivalent) that changes hands electronically every DAY- untaxed- around the world on the “financial markets” in search of speculative quick profit unrelated to any exchange of real goods or services. Utterly dependant because National Governments create hardly any of the money that is in circulation at all as I have already explained and they need to compete internationally to keep on attracting this privately created & transmitted globally mobile electronic money which has become the lifeblood of all our economies. Financiers and corporations increasingly trade IN money not WITH money, since deregulation in the 1980s- eg Removal of foreign capital exchange controls (and credit controls) which happened then. Why did we multi-nationally cede so much control over our economies then to those which to many might seem like a load of locusts? Are the ones (IMF, WB?) who inspired our national leaders to do this still in positions of influence? In this “liberalised” regime why create, innovate and trade in cumbersome goods when one can make far more far quickly and with far less risk just by moving money (data) and money instruments between computers around the world? Almost all the global financial institutions and even many corporations are at it. A “monstrous global casino” in the words of sustainable economics columnist Hazel Henderson. Any government that even publicly SPEAKS of restricting it, or taxing it, or significantly environmentally regulating the stock market listed business that it invests in, or getting off the absurd merry-go-round of competing with other nations to clamp down on corporation tax so as to attract employment and capital, or creating their OWN electronic money, or even threatening tax havens, faces economically disastrous capital flight to nations NOT doing so within hours on the trading computers on the stock markets and the derivatives computers of the international corporations and banks. You see how the financier oligarchy has got us all over a barrel? No Government dare even publicly consider democratically demanded change to the status quo. No corporation dare significantly reduce the current quick profit return to its international capital investors by SIGNIFICANT investment in alternative forms of energy & transportation as to do so invites a declining share price and capital flight to corporations not doing so. The intellectual economist Lyndon LaRouche in Executive Intelligence Review (see below) actually uses the term “Financier Oligarchy” referring to the way our ‘democracies’ are going under the economic & corporate globalisation I have already described. If you think carefully about it you might realise that under neo-liberalism what we as nations are all having to do is compete to make often fabulously wealthy owners of international capital- grow even richer- for no effort. (Before anyone pulls the “pension funds” ‘old chestnut’ on me let me retort that I recently heard on a BBC money programme that only 20% of shares are owned by pension funds). A POSSIBLE SOLUTION to re-establish control over international capital and corporations by electorates and governments is proposed by “The Simultaneous Policy” at http://www.simpol.org and I believe progressives might feel their strategy warrants consideration. **New Para**

    Most mainstream media outlets are owned by stock market listed corporations. Does anyone believe such a corporation will allow SERIOUS debate in its pages or TV stations, of reform to the international financial system when it is this system that is the investment hand that feeds it, both owning the shares and placing the corporate adverts? Does anyone seriously believe that one example tabloid and TV/news station owning international corporation that currently pays no corporation tax in the UK by the use of tax havens will seriously allow such debate in its media outlets? I’m not suggesting columnists and editors are directly told what to say and what not to, but they know there are limits which they must not cross if they are to retain their jobs which are mostly in the form of shortish term renewable (or not) contract posts. And most of them seem never to have asked themselves what money really is, who creates it, who administers its circulation, who profits from it and why no Government of left OR right credentials strangely refuses to reinstate fair corporate taxation and environmental regulations ONCE IN POWER despite the obvious dire financial state of our public services, worsening annually, and the developed countries still paltry overall help to the developing ones whose populations are starving to death in their millions monthly for the want of the huge surplus of food per capita that exists worldwide (Some 10%- look up UN Statistics). It should be surely obvious that there’s a CHRONIC lack of money for foreign aid and public services for all our government’s pathetic obfuscation that the latter still need “modernising”, ie. another round of cuts. The neo-liberal free movement of capital & corporations is leaving the competing nations’ governments with a chronic lack of cash for public spending on virtually everything- from palaces to prisons.**New Para**

    I believe that Planet Earth’s environment is in a sad and perilous state which each day brings it nearer to the critical, and that even the most dire prophecy falls short of the calamity facing the world today, (this quote from http://www.share-international.org). Anyone who seriously believes that humanity can burn off gigantic amounts of carbon into the atmosphere daily over some 200 years (in the form of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels) that had been gradually accumulated beneath the earth over hundreds of MILLIONS of years, and while annually cutting down tens of millions of acres of atmosphere purifying tropical forests- all of this without incurring MAJOR upheaval and destruction to the earth’s life supporting natural climate systems- is conditioned and deluded indeed. **New Para**

    I believe that only a total and systemic collapse of the world’s financial system will bring humanity to its senses and- (even though I know this itself would cause major trauma for a while because we have allowed stock market listed corporations to take over most food and energy production and distribution worldwide)- it is my belief and hope that this is coming to pass. (I refer again to the writings of economics professor Ravi Batra). The men of money’s selfish greed and competition is over-reaching itself at long last and the frantic efforts to prop up the system behind the scenes are at long last crumbling. “The REAL economy has fallen out from under the markets which have been artificially propped up by accounting tricks, enormous and unpayable debt loads, and mass delusion on the part of the markets and the public” (John Hoefle banking columnist, and refer also to the writings of economist’s Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review for more information, http://www.larouchepub.com). The signs of the oncoming collapse are obvious for those who look beyond their own narrow interests and look below the surface at powerful people’s MOTIVES- not what they SAY but what they DO and WHY that might be- with objectivity. People who bother to READ & STUDY widely. Anyone who thinks that substantially unrestrained powerful people in today’s out of democratic control globalised capital/corporate world will not try to manipulate to retain and enhance their own selfish interests, and who denounces those who highlight this as “conspiracy theorists”, is deluded and conditioned indeed. They have just not reflected seriously on the sad condition of greed and fear of loss as well as spiritual poverty and poverty of intellect that dominates the natures of many, many of our fellow human being financier oligarchs in power. We live in a competitive economic culture which makes a VIRTUE out of greed and it's essential we realise it, detach from it and peacefully protest against it. As a species we’ve got some major waking up to do if we are to survive.