Well, at least George is right about this:
Of course, it\’s not a crime, and it\’s hard to see how, in a free society, it could or should become one.
If we are indeed to have free speech then that includes the right to say things which are wrong: yes, it also includes the right to lie. So there\’s no grounds whatsoever for arguing that those who argue against the existence of climate change (whether directly by fossil fuel companies, funded by them or from any other source) should be charged with a crime.*
However, there is a different problem:
The energy companies\’ propaganda campaign is amplified by scientific illiterates in the media, such as Melanie Phillips, Christopher Booker, Nigel Lawson, Alexander Cockburn and the television producer (who made Channel 4\’s documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle) Martin Durkin.
Take that accusation as you wish….but now think a little further about the matter.
Assume that the IPCC is correct. (No, really, start with that assumption.) So, what should we do next? Cut emissions immediately, clearly…..well, actually, maybe not.
For now we step away from matters of climate science and into the realm of economics. In two ways, the first being that as everyone insists, we want to change people\’s behaviour. Given that economics is, in part, the study of what people actually do given the constraints and incentives they face, if we want to change their behaviour, we\’d be well advised to pay attention to, to study, the way in which by changing the constraints and incentives they face their behaviour will change.
And in studying such we\’d be well advised to ignore the opinions of economic illiterates like George Monbiot or perhaps James Hansen. Certainly, the latter as a climate scientist has no particular insight and the former has yet to meet an economic idea he does not misunderstand.
The second is that how much we do is also an economic question. There\’s absolutely no one out there insisting that we "stop" climate change. Everyone agrees that it\’s all already gone too far for that: what we\’re actually trying to do is prevent disaster. In either direction in fact: either disaster from a high level of warming or disaster from attempting to stop a low level of it. (Disaster in that latter sense might include limiting the growth of the economy *too much* leading to yet more generations of billions of people living in absolute poverty.)
Now this attempt to decide upon the Goldilocks amount of warming is also something which will be worked out by the application of the economist\’s toolbox. What is the cost of this course of action? Of that? What\’s the appropriate discount rate? What are the benefits of this course of action?
There are also moral and ethical questions to be answered (that discount rate being one of them) and here economists don\’t particularly have much to add either: they are assumptions with which you start your work with that economist\’s toolbox.
So, even if we acccept Monbiot\’s argument in its entirety, that the IPCC is right, that only climate scientists are capable of speaking on climate science, this still leaves us in this situation. We shouldn\’t be listening to economic illiterates on what we do about it, for this is indeed specifically (ie, how do we arrange the carrots and sticks so as to change peoples\’ behaviour) an economic question and more generally (how much behaviour should we be trying to change) an economic question.
Another way of putting this. Thanks James, George, you\’ve brought a big problem to our attention. Thanks very much for the IPCC report and all. Now, in order to work out what to do we are going to listen to a different group of people: Nicholas Stern, Partha Dasgupta, Richard Tol, William Nordhaus,,,,even Nigel Lawson perhaps, for they are indeed literate in the science we now need, that of economics. And, sadly, you especially George, you ain\’t, so you\’ve nothing to add to the conversation now.
*Regular readers will know that I wrote for a couple of years (and was paid by!) TCS Daily, Techcentralstation as was, an organisation that some say was part of that obfuscation attempt. Thus perhaps my views have been bought and paid for: a reasonable enough accusation perhaps, except for the content of the pieces I did write for them. Which was pretty much that climate change (or global warming as we called it back in those dim and distant days) is happening, that humans are the cause of at least some of it and the only interesting question is what are we going to do about it? If I wasw indeed being bribed, rather than simply being paid as a freelancer, it\’s likely that those wouldn\’t be the views I would be bribed to put forward.