The problem with climate change politics

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by Alasdair Macleod, GoldMoney:

Climate change bears all the hallmarks of a state-sponsored crisis, useful to shift attention from other political failures. But the absence of financial accountability which characterises government actions also introduces behavioural errors.

The absence of a profit motive in any state action exposes the relationship between governments and their electors to psychological factors. We all know that governments use propaganda and other tools to manage crowd psychology and influence their electorates. What is less understood is that governments themselves are misled by a crowd psychology in its own ranks which contributes to policy failure.

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This article does not question the climate change debate itself. Instead, it examines the debate in the context of the psychology driving it. The release of government-sponsored propaganda on climate change in the form of a unanimous IPCC report predicting the end of the world as we know it is the latest example of a political and bureaucratic phenomenon, making the timing of this article apposite.

Introduction

Western economies have moved on from free markets to the point where they hardly exist in the true meaning of the phrase. Yet the state continually claims that it is free markets that fail, not government.

The reason governments fail in economic terms is that economic calculation is never part of their brief, and nor can it be. By economic calculation, we mean taking positive actions aimed at a profitable outcome. To survive and prosper, businesses and individuals must do this all the time — the only exception being when they can rely on the state to underwrite their failures, which is why established businesses encourage statist regulation to place hurdles in the way of upstart competitors. And why at an individual level there is a ready demand for state welfare.

But political objectives cannot involve profit and therefore economic calculation. Instead of economic calculation, a responsible state can only manage its tax revenues efficiently to minimise its impact on the producers in the economy and to achieve affordable social outcomes in the context of a realistic consensus. The problem is deciding where the line is drawn between what is reasonable and what is not. It is also the line that determines who in the distant future will go down in history as a statesman or as a political flaneur.

Political objectives in the narrowest sense were the focus in America until the days of President Hoover, who broadened the political mandate into interventionism, followed by the modern-day hero for socialist economists, Franklin D Roosevelt. Nearly a century of increasing socialistic intervention since Hoover has led us into a socio-political system whose dubious achievements are not much more than monetary debasement and the repeated failure of statist ambitions.

It’s not just America; it’s all advanced nations. Regular readers of Goldmoney articles will be aware of the inflationary consequences of promoting neo-Keynesian interventionism and to where it all leads. But over the last thirty years and more we have seen the same state-sponsoring of self-serving scientists in fields other than just economics. Especially relevant today is climate change, because this highly politicised topic is now determining the course of capital investment in the commercial sector instead of profitable objectives.

Scientists, with no experience of climatology have been jumping on the global warming bandwagon for decades, milking state funds allocated for research aimed at proving that homo stultus is responsible for global warming. And when that didn’t arrive on frequently predicted schedules, global warming was renamed climate change.

Time for a reality check

It is time for a reality check, because on flimsy evidence climate policy is becoming overtly economically destructive, more so than any other statist intervention, outside monetary policy, in peacetime. The following quote from the popular Guido Fawkes website sums it up well:

The UN has been predicting planetary disaster for decades, usually scheduled to happen in about a decade’s time. In 1972 – half a century ago – Maurice Strong, the first UN Environment Programme director warned that the world “had just 10 years to avoid catastrophe”. In 1982 his successor, Mostafa Tolba, the then head of the UN Environment Programme told the world that it had just 18 years before “an environmental catastrophe as irreversible as any nuclear holocaust”. Yet 2000 came and went and we just partied like it was 1999…

As sea levels would rise, we were told that the Maldives islands would be under water over a decade ago, they’re building more luxury hotels. We were told the source of the great Ganges River in the Himalayas, the glaciers, would have melted long ago. The great Ganges River still flows, and the glaciers are still there. The Australian Great Barrier reef would be dead, it is alive and thriving. We were told by the UN Food Programme in the sixties that Earth could not feed a growing population and that the future was bleak with much of humanity facing starvation. The earth’s population has more than doubled since the sixties with fewer people in absolute poverty…[i]

Before Maurice Strong, predictions that the end is nigh were generally confined to lunatics bearing placards, believers in predictions contained in the Book of Revelations, and leftist CND marchers. Now it is eco-warriors.

Only this week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change produced the latest salvo, as a warm-up to the mega-conference on climate change in Glasgow. It was “written by hundreds of scientists and approved of by 195 countries” (Daily Telegraph, 10 August). Let’s restate that another way: “Hundreds of scientists have been paid by leading Western governments to write a report supporting these governments’ pre-agreed policies on climate change. All other governments have been corralled into approval either for fear of being dubbed deniers or fear of being left out of the subsidies they have reason to expect for supporting it from the Western nations promoting it”.

The psychology of government action, which emerges in the absence of the profit motive, is less about saving the world than about the inherent flaws in governments. The psychology of politics and bureaucracy has evolved to blind the executive to the consequences of their actions. It is a lesson in why government objectives run contra to economic progress.

Forget the argument, examine the psychology

A prejudice which is little examined is why establishments frequently stick to conviction while denying reasonable debate. There are many fields of government where this is demonstrably true, climate change being one of them.

Leadership is too often based on prevailing beliefs, with minds firmly closed to any evidence it might be wrong. Even Galileo was forced by the Inquisition in 1633 to recant his scientific evidence that the earth revolved around the sun – a thoroughly reasonable and logical though novel proposition, rejected by the Catholic establishment. But it wasn’t until 1992 that the religious establishment at the Vatican forgave him for being right. That was 359 years later and long after it mattered to Galileo.

Fortunately, when the establishment view departs from the facts it rarely survives as long. Socialism, economics, climate change and now wokeness in turn have become established in the state psyche and show the same static opinions insulated from inconvenient contradictions. This is not to say the establishment need be judgemental. Democratic government at its best tries to remain neutral and reflect a balance of opinion. But there are times when it loses sight of firm ground and becomes subverted by the psychology of its own established but unfounded beliefs.

The debate over Brexit was a classic illustration of psychology over reason, where few Remainers or Brexiteers changed their views following the referendum in 2016. Influential Remainers were, by and large, those who worked in government during the forty-five years of Britain’s increasing transfer of political power to Brussels. There are others who vehemently believe that being part of a larger economic unit is more secure than exposure to free markets. There are also those who believed Brexit would directly affect their lives and fear the uncertainty. Whatever their reasoning, their subconscious instinct is to seek protection in a guardian establishment rather than risk a commercially based proposition.

This article examines the psychology of that systemic consensus in the context of the climate debate. Climate change is only one example of a wider phenomenon and serves as a topical example. We revisit the scope of the work of Pierre Desrochers and Joanna Szurmak, both of Toronto University, who examined the longstanding link between theories of overpopulation and climate change.[ii]

Six psychological factors

Denial of something that is increasingly obvious must be down to human psychology. In Chapter 6 of Desrochers & Szurmak’s work, they identify six distinct psychoogical factors which we will take in turn to enhance our understanding of the psychology of climate change. I list them under the following headings:

  • The iron triangle of crisis
  • The psychology of entrenched arguments
  • Motivated reasoning
  • The core theoretical theme
  • The anointed elite and
  • Optimism and pessimism

 

The iron triangle of crisis

Even from before the time of Malthus, there have been political influencers and activists who have promoted pessimistic assumptions about uncontrolled population expansion, and the ability of the planet’s resources to feed them. Despite these fears being subsequently proved to be unfounded they continue to prevail among those who don’t need to pursue profits for a living. It is a bias to which politicians and their advisers are especially vulnerable.

The public naturally expects its elected representatives’ unbiased endeavours when bringing national threats to its attention. After all, it is arguably a primary function of government to protect its population from dangers, real and potential. There are government departments tasked with assessing dangers to society, their likelihood, and in their event how government should respond. These are tasks that require unbiased research. But political guidance from the top is rarely neutral, seeking to influence outcomes.

And we now find that climate change science has become heavily politicised.

Climate change is the gift that goes on giving to politicians. It creates an impression of tackling the big issue of our times. And it is a source of crisis giving cover for failings over lesser priorities. Observing how Boris Johnson maintains his popularity through a combination of leading the world in the battle against climate change while seeking every photo opportunity possible and at the same time presiding over the Covid disaster has been a masterclass in practical politics. One is left wondering how vacuous his politics would appear without the prop of climate change.

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