Ignoring the elephant
My piece in Thursday’s Fin noted the prevalence of delusional conspiracy theories about climate change on the political right, pointing in particular to Lord Monckton, Nick Minchin and the Lavoisier Institute as sources for the claim that the whole thing was a plot to destroy the economy and bring in a communist world government. Among other points on the silliness of this claim, I observed that all credible economists agreed that the cost of measures to stabilise global climate (less than 5 per cent of GDP) on all estimates, did not appear sufficient for the catastrophic destruction required by the conspiracy theorists.
The piece attracted a couple of responses, one from the Lavoisier Institute and one from Sinclair Davidson (who has given Monckton plenty of favorable treatment on his blog, and his pushed conspiracy-theoretic views of the IPCC). Curiously, neither of them mentioned the conspiracy theories that were the main subject of the piece, and which Lavoisier has pushed for years.
Rather they cavilled at the point that the economic costs of an ETS or carbon tax would be marginal. Lavoisier’s Ray Evans did not offer a counterargument, but simply claimed that economists had been wrong when they said the effects of Thatcher’s 1981 Budget would be disastrous. Davidson accepted the standard estimates, but said that, if you converted them into present values at a low discount rate, they looked really big. He also made a spurious personal attack on me (reply over the fold).
This is just silly. Although Australia got off relatively lightly from the GFC, our national income is several percentage points below where it would have been in the absence of the crisis and is likely to remain below trend for some years to come. Has anyone noticed the collapse of civilisation as we know it? Even in countries like the UK, where the impact of the GFC has been many times the size of the maximum estimates put forward by economists for the cost of climate stabilization, many observers believe that the threat of imminent communist dictatorship and a return to the Dark Ages may yet be staved off.
As I said in my original piece, it is tempting to dismiss all this as mere hyperbole. But, for delusionists, the only alternative to crazy conspiracy theories is the claim that thousands of professional scientists have fallen prey to errors that can easily be discerned by the average (scientifically untrained, innumerate, information derived from blogs) rightwing pundit. Now that’s really crazy.
My response to Sinclair Davidson’s letter (which is republished here)
Sinclair Davidson claims (Letters, 2 Feb) that I was unable to summon the courage to debate Monckton face-to-face when invited to do so by the prestigious Brisbane Institute. This claim is false, as Davidson knows. As I indicated in the reports on which Davidson relies, I received an invitation from the Brisbane Institute on 12 January. I responded, seeking to determine conditions under which this debate could focus on Monckton’s conspiracy-theoretic claims, rather on scientific questions on which neither of us have any expertise. I also mentioned the invitation on my blog, observing that debates with dishonest antagonists don’t add much to the sum of human knowledge. I then discovered that, on 13 January, and without advising me, the Institute had invited another speaker, who had accepted. This fact was reported on my blog and in Crikey. Davidson has publicly acknowledged that he was aware of it when writing his letter.
Davidson’s dishonesty in this matter only goes to confirm the point made in my article. No credible economist suggests the economic impact of the CPRS will be more than marginal.