Peter Foster: IPCC Emergency! Send In The Philosophers
The IPCC climate brigade has a new secret climate weapon up its sleeve: philosophy. Call it “anything but the science”
The kerfuffle over the obvious flaws in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s computer models ahead of its Fifth Assessment Report has led to a cranking up of strategies that might be collectively described as “anything but the science.”
The British Royal Society has supported attacks on the alleged psychopathology of skeptics. I wrote here last week of an academic paper that suggested that skeptical climate movies might have mysterious power to cloud (that is, clarify) the debate. EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hildegaard has suggested that the science really doesn’t matter. Despite the bitter experience of history, more government control of the economy is obviously a “good thing.”
Now the IPCC has a new secret weapon up its sleeve: philosophy. One of the lead authors for the IPCC’s Working Group III, which looks at mitigation, is Oxford Professor of Moral Philosophy John Broome.
It is unlikely that you have heard of Professor Broome. However, you will have heard of the 2006 Stern Review. Some of that review’s most controversial calculations appear to have been rooted in the ethical assumptions of Professor Broome.
Professor Broome’s thinking can be seen in an article he wrote for Scientific American in 2008. In it, he praised Lord Stern’s reasoning. But in fact the reasoning seems to have been his own, since he was acknowledged as a contributor to the Review, and wrote a study for it.
Was that ethical?
Professor Broome made clear in his article is that he is less of a moral philosopher than a moralist looking for sophistic rationalizations — a David Suzuki or George Monbiot in a toga. Mr. Broome is an expert at masking socialist principles behind conceptual flim flam such as “prioritarianism,” a God-like weighing by “society” of benefits to rich and poor. (When Maggie Thatcher said there was “no such thing as society,” this is what she was talking about).
Such weighing is actually done, of course, not by “society” but by “experts” such as Professor Broome, without whom, according to Professor Broome, “our choices will be uninformed and almost worthless.”
Mr. Broome’s expertise is on abundant display in the Stern Review. Its fantastic conclusion was that the return on the climate policies his masters had ordered him to justify was between 500% and 2000%. What a bargain! However, these claims — which should immediately have been identified as patently ridiculous — fell apart on examination, because they were based on assumptions that had a lot to do with the thinking of Professor Broome.
The most flagrant way in which the review cooked the economic books was by using an artificially low discount rate to exaggerate the present costs of assumed distant catastrophe. The review noted that “[A] high [that is, the actual] rate of discounting the future will favour avoiding the costs of reducing emissions now.” It failed to note that an artificially low rate would favour political intervention.
The Review’s ethical, Broome-based, trump card was that the market allegedly had no way of accounting for the fate of people a hundred or two hundred years hence. “Are there any persuasive ethical arguments,” asked the Review, “for discrimination by birth date?” Here was embedded a piece of sophistry known as “temporal impartiality,” the wacky notion that non-existent people of the future deserve equal rights to the living.
In reality, humans are designed to “pay it forward” via their love and concern for their children. And we don’t cheapen the lives of the unborn via the money market discount rate, as Professor Broome claims.
Stern’s use of an artificially low discount rate meant that the current “value” of potential disasters a century hence was a hundred times that calculated by one of the world’s leading environmental economists, William Nordhaus. Dr. Richard Tol, perhaps the world’s other most respected environmental economist, described Stern’s prophecies as “preposterous,” and concluded that the review was “alarmist and incompetent.” [...]