About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Why do libertarians deny climate change?

Okay, not all libertarians deny the reality of partially human-caused climate change (I know personally at least one who doesn’t), but the trend is hard to miss. The libertarian think tank CATO Institute has been waging a media war against the very notion for years, and even prominent skeptics with libertarian leanings have pronounced themselves negatively on the matter (most famously Penn & Teller, and initially even Michael Shermer, though both — I count P&T as one — lately have taken a few steps back from their initial positions).
The question that I want to address is not whether climate change is real or not. It is, according to the best science available. Yes, even the best science can be wrong, but frankly the only people who can tell with any degree of reasonability are those belonging to the relevant community of experts, in this case climate scientists — certainly not magicians. (And please don’t get started with the recent hoopla about “climate gate”. That episode simply shows that individual scientists can be just as human as anyone else, meaning a bit petty and self-centered; it doesn’t in the least invalidate the overwhelming evidence for climate change.)
The question is particularly pertinent to libertarians and the ideologically close allied group of “objectivists,” i.e. followers of Ayn Rand (though there are significant differences between the two groups, as I mentioned before). These people often claim to be friends of science (as opposed to many radical conservatives like Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla), who called global warming the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” (perpetrated by whom? And to what end?)), and in the case of objectivists, whose whole approach to politics is allegedly based on rational considerations of the facts.
Well, then, since by far the best interpretation of said facts is that human beings have contributed significantly to climate change, and that such change is already substantially and negatively affecting the world’s ecosystem as well as human welfare, why are so many libertarians/objectivists dead set against the notion of global warming?
I mean, one would think that libertarians could make a distinction between evidence-based interpretation of reality (global warming is happening), and whatever policies we might want to enact to avoid catastrophe. Qua libertarians, they would obviously resist any government-led effort at clean up, especially if internationally coordinated, preferring instead a coalition of the willing within the private sector because — they claim — “the markets” will take care of pretty much everything, if we just leave them alone.
I think the latter contention is nonsense on stilts, something that ought to be painfully obvious given the recent BP-caused oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and particularly given the inane remarks of BP’s CEO Carl-Henric Svanberg. But whatever, there certainly is plenty of room for reasonable discussions and disagreements about how best to proceed in confronting the problem. On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be much room for reasonable disagreement about the very existence of the problem itself. So, what gives, my dear libertarians?
I suspect the answer lies along two parallel lines. In the case of major libertarian outlets, like the CATO Institute think tank, the rather unglamorous answer may simply be that they are in the pockets of the oil industry. A large amount of the funding for CATO comes from private corporations with obvious political agendas including, you guessed it, Exxon-Mobil (remember the Valdez?). No wonder CATO people trump the party line on this one.
The second reason, however, is more personal and widespread: libertarianism is committed to the high moral value of private enterprise, just read pretty much anything that Ayn Rand wrote if you have any doubt. Given that, it follows naturally (if irrationally) that libertarians cannot admit to themselves, and even less to the world at large, that the much vaunted private sector may be responsible — out of both greed and downright incompetence — for a major environmental catastrophe of planetary proportions. The industry is the good guy in their movie, how then could they possibly have done something so horrible?
That’s the problem with ideology in general (be it left, right, or libertarian), it provides us with thick blinders that very effectively shield us from reality. Of course, no one is actually free of bias, yours truly included. But a core principle of skepticism and critical thinking is that we do our best to be aware (and minimize) our own biases, and that we ought to open ourselves to honest criticism from different parties, in pursuit of the best approximation to the truth that we can muster. How about it, my libertarian friends?


  1. I certainly hope I'm one of your 'at least one' libertarian (OK, libertarian-leaning) friends who doesn't deny science.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with libertarian's moral emphasis on private enterprise. But I wouldn't call that denial of anything - just the belief that there's always a conflict between the moral and the practical, and the belief that government force isn't as practical a force for good as liberals tend to think.

  2. Repost, first one didn't work. Briefer this time, too.

    I'm not a libertarian but I know some; here are things to consider:

    1. Climate change in recent years has been higlighted and stressed by people libertarians consider untrustworthy and threatening.

    2. Climate change activists have consistently exaggerated the seriousness of the problem. Every effect of global warming is catastraphic, and everything bad that happens is because of global warming. How many times do you believe lies before you start tuning out everything on the subject?

    3. Global warming alarmists have adopted a toxic media/debating strategy that drives away anyone who questions any facet of orthodoxy. Libertarians pride themselves on being individualists and questioning everything.

    Look at your article, for instance.

    You start by equating all libertarians with holocaust deniers - don't try to play innocent, the term "denier" was coined specifically for that purpose.

    You then attempt to delegitimatize any questions about the severity of global warming with an appeal to authority. The only people entitled to an opinion are climate scientists?

    You further attempt to delegitimatize the libertarians by saying (not even insinuating) that it's because they're all in the pay of big oil. Which has got to be doubly insulting to people who see big oil standing foursquare behind global warming alarmism.

    I'm sure that's going to turn out to be a pretty effective way to reach out to them.

  3. My take is, for the libertarian, anything that calls out for significant state action and intervention is a negative. And addressing climate change certainly calls out for state action and intervention, whatever the specifics, and so they must deny it or be tempted to deny their core principles.

  4. No question about libertarian denialists. But on the matter of climategate:

    1. The "problem" CRU scientists where trying to hide is not whether climate change is real. It was a more convoluted methodological matter raised by various acute enquirers that put their mind to the matter, chiefly Steven McIntyre (www.climateaudit.org). This matter involves two different issues:

    1. The assertion that current temperature is unprecedented in many hundreds (or thousands) of years, as pictured in the famous 'hockey stick' graph. This in turn involves several other scientific questions: (a) the validity of tree rings to ascertain past temperatures; (b) how to account for the "decline" in temperatures shown by recent tree ring records (hence the urge to "hide the decline"); (c) the specific statistical techniques used to summarise tree-ring evidence and to calibrate it onto measured temperatures (apparently, the techniques end up with a hockey-stick curve even if fed with random data); (d) the accuracy of the global temperature index estimated by CRU/UEA, for which raw data and procedures have never been published; (e) the still unresolved issue of the accuracy of met-station temperature data, many of which may be affected by local circumstances (increase in asphalt or cement near the stations, etc.) not well accounted for and too-quickly dismissed in CRU literature (famously a paper by Phil Jones).
    The latter (e) would question whether the temp. increase is actually as large as claimed (tough few dispute temps have increased). The precedent points (a-d) are about the unprecedentedness of the increase (it appears that medieval temperatures were above the present level).
    These matters have not been openly discussed by CRU scientists, who have chosen to avoid responding to critics and refusing to disclose data and methods. The CRU emails just show that they were actively working backstage to accomplish these goals, but the fact of their misconduct was known from before (see e.g. Montford's book 'The hockey stick illusion').

    In my opinion this raises serious epistemological questions. In particular, the evolutionary epistemology view that scholarly filters (peer review etc) ensure that only good science gets through, a view that needs to incorporate the possibility of scientists colluding with journal editors and reviewers to get bad science through nonetheless. This in turn opens the question of how to ensure scientific institutions work the way they are supposed to work, even when evidence differs from prevailing wisdom.

  5. Duncan,

    following Shermer (a libertarian), I apply the term "denier" to anyone who denies significant pieces of human knowledge, including evolution (see my "Denying Evolution" book).

    The appeal to authority is a fallacy if one claims that authorities are always right no matter what. The way I used it is simply the common sense notion that people who don't know what they are talking about should listen to people who do.

    Environmentalists may have been guilty of exaggerated claims, not climate scientists, to my knowledge. It *is* a serious problem.

    Questioning everything for the sake of questioning everything is dumb and counterproductive.

    Re-read the post: I did not say that *all* libertarians are in the pockets of the industry, I referred specifically to the CATO Institute, which demonstrably is in the pockets of Exxon-Mobile and has no credibility whatsoever.

    My experience is that it is hard or next to impossible to reach out to libertarians (and even more so to objectivists), my post is aimed at reasonable people who don't question everything just to play independent thinker.

  6. Clarification:
    in my previous comment, point (e) should have been point number 2. It was in fact the second of the two issues mentioned at the beginning of the comment.

  7. You might be interested in:


    and, in particular, the reference to the Jacques et al. paper in _Environmental Politics_ in the first update near the bottom of the post. That paper found that of all English-language books skeptical of environmental regulation and climate ... See Morechange published between 1972 and 2005, 92% of them were published by conservative think tanks or authored by individuals affiliated with conservative think tanks.

    I'm working on a research proposal on climate change skepticism within the organized skeptical movement; I hypothesize that there is a strong correlation between libertarian or conservative political ideology and climate change skepticism, though that's not the central focus of the study. I'm more interested in broader issues of how contentions over credibility, authority, and trust get initiated and resolved.

    Shortcuts like "I don't have to pay attention to you because you don't share my political ideology" or "I don't have to pay attention to you because you are in conflict with 'scientific consensus' and are not an expert" are very common on the mainstream side, yet don't seem to fit well with the tenets of skepticism--they seem to resemble "thought-stopping cliches" generated by theologians for the use of their less-deeply-thinking followers. (And I say this despite the fact that in this case, I think the scientific near-consensus is correct and there's something right about those shortcuts--they do actually indicate reasons for skepticism about the AGW *skeptic*, but not necessarily about their arguments.)

  8. One more point:

    "I think the latter contention is nonsense on stilts, something that ought to be painfully obvious given the recent BP-caused oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico"

    This is a classic Straw Man. No libertarian thinks "'the markets' will take care of pretty much anything", they just think the markets will take care of things at least as well as government force.

    The BP oil spill is a perfect example. I see no reason to think that a nationalized oil-drilling program would be immune to disasters like this. In fact, I would think it more likely disasters would happen, as the responsibility would be more diffuse. And considering the libertarian position that (all else remaining equal) government force is a moral wrong, it is perfectly reasonable to put the burden of proof for safety/environmental improvement on those opposed to private enterprise.

    There are more extreme libertarians than me. I don't understand the logic behind privatizing roads, and I think our faux-private communications infrastructure is probably worse than a purely nationalized one, but on the whole I don't see a lot of evidence that bureaucrats run services better than private companies.

    [I think a reasonable place to draw the line would be services that are tied to the land that by their nature must cross private boundaries. Roads, train tracks, power lines, telecommunications infrastructure, and some natural formations like rivers. In all these cases when we try to make things private we inevitable get a mess of government meddling anyway.]

  9. 2 important points here about Cato specifically:

    1) They don't receive much money at all from oil/gas companies. This is obvious from even a cursory glance at their annual reports. It looks like approximately 1% of their funding comes from corporations, total (and only some portion of that 1% from oil/gas companies).

    2) The larger issue: I don't think that Cato does deny global warming. I think they would argue that the scientific evidence is real, but overstated, and I'm sure they would argue that government shouldn't be the solution. As you said in your post, those arguments may be ridiculous to you, but at least they are arguments on how best to proceed. I point you to this 2007 article from global warming "skeptic" Patrick J. Michaels: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=8651

    Look at his closing paragraph:
    So let's get real and give the politically incorrect answers to global warming's inconvenient questions. Global warming is real, but it does not portend immediate disaster, and there's currently no suite of technologies that can do much about it. The obvious solution is to forgo costs today on ineffective attempts to stop it, and to save our money for investment in future technologies and inevitable adaptation.

    That reads pretty clear to me that they don't deny its existence, but rather, challenge the conventional wisdom on how best to deal with it.

    Bottom line: I agree with you on a lot of what you say, and I'm certainly no apologist for Cato, but I think the premise of this post is flawed.

  10. It is the same with Mont Pelerin Society vis-a-vis the Icelandic fiasco, i.e. the financial collapse the admirers of von Hayek, Friedman et al. had contributed so massively.

    John Quiggin, that very sharp-witted (Social Democratic) economist was not slow to challenge the "free market" libertarians (as he had challenged the orthodox Marxists in an analogous situation):

    "I’ll agree that a perfectly free market would be perfect in every way, and that any criticism of actual institutions offered here refers only to the imperfect possibilities of the real world. If you accept this offer, you agree not to make any claims about the relative merits of any one imperfect system, real or possible, as against any other."

    Chess and mate!

    As for the Climategate, the deeply frustrating aspect here was the failure of the governments and climate scientists to understand that the exceptional institutional role of the scientists would have demanded the introduction of the usual division of powers, checks and balances arrangement which all sound political systems must include. (Do not put all eggs in the same basket!) By failing to establish them, the scientists became vulnerable to attacks of all sorts, including attacks from vested interests and demagogues.
    Not only the authority of climate science but the authority of science general in public debates suffered. We cannot afford that to happen, really: the global problems cannot be solved without sound scientific research and advise.

  11. BJ,

    your position stems from the fact that you are a quasi-libertarian, not a core one. As a matter of fact, the best safety record of any oil drilling operation belongs to Scandinavian countries, where it is government-operated...

    And yes, many libertarians will argue that the markets are the ultimate solution to pretty much any problem. As I said, you're just not libertarian enough - fortunately.

  12. Andrew,

    interesting quote, and good point about the relatively low amount of funding coming directly from Exxon. However, see the link I embedded in the article for additional quotes from and information about funding of CATO.

    I have also noticed that even many "skeptics" of climate change, beginning with Lomborg, have changed their tune in recent years, going from denial to grudging acceptance accompanied by minimization. I suppose that's progress...

  13. It has been my experience that libertarians simply do not get the tragedy of the commons. That is ironic since American libertarians are all about ownership and the tragedy of the commons is a powerful argument for ownership. The tragedy happens because there is no controlling owner to maximize the value of the grazing land.

    Issues like global warming happen because there is no controlling owner to maximize the value of an asset. When libertarians deny global warming they are muddying the ownership issue and effectively trying to steal property rights.

    Until libertarians figure out how to resolve these tragedy of the commons issues they are dangerous to themselves and others.

  14. Massimo,
    I think you conflate 'skeptical' with 'denier' in matters climatological. I disagree.

    Deniers are mostly libertarian and conservative, more doctrinarian than scientific, and as you say, impossible to reach to because of their irrational beliefs are not shaken by evidence (just as extremist environmentalists are more doctrinarian than scientific and not easily shaken by evidence).

    Libertarian conservative deniers are not particularly skeptical: they look completely certain that climate change is not happening, or is entirely due to non-human causes. They are untroubled by doubt, and will not suffer tedious scientific procedures.

    Skepticism is different, and you know it because you are a distinguished author in the skeptical camp. Rational skeptics rely on scientific evidence and rational methods, and submit all claims to the rigor of logic and facts.

    So, Cato is a doctrinarian think-tank which voices conservative ideology in a lot of policy subjects, while, for instante, Steven McIntyre is a PhD (not an academic, though) who raises specific methodological points without denying climate change. He is quite rational, unfailingly polite, and his arguments about the Urban Heat Island effect on station data and on the Hockey Stick chart have been altogether impeachable, even if one feels not obliged to concur with him on everything.

    All in all, I am not sure McIntyre would agree with my depiction of him as a skeptic. He has only raised specific methodological questions about specific claims, and asked for the original data, methods and computer code used to obtain some results published in scholarly journals.

    If you want to discuss libertarian or conservative attitudes towards climate change, then analyze Cato and their ilk. If you want to discuss skepticism about climate change, and with the caveat above, you should discuss McIntyre. I do not see this distinction addressed in your post.

  15. The fact that much of the scientific debate on climate change has occurred in blogs (Climate Audit, RealClimate and others) while Climategate mails show concerted action to keep critics out of peer-reviewed journals, raises also the question of the solidity of peer-reviewed literature as the touchstone of science. Montford insists that one of the reasons for Climategate is that the core team of CRU/UPENN scientists behind the Hockey Stick chart were slow to recognize the democratization of scientific debate entailed by the Web (especially Web 2.0). This is another interesting epistemological issue, not addressed in Massimo's post who concentrate on libertarian-conservative think tanks with no patience for science. We know Cato and Heartland institutes are not scientific bodies, just as Greenpeace isn't. That is not a difficult idea to understand: they are ideology-driven. The main problem is the openness of climate science to scientific debate, and the apparent shift of some climate scientists away from scientific prudence and into defending a preordained cause no matter what.

  16. AGW certainly has its share of crank magnetism. However, one denier that I can't figure out where he's coming from is Walter Russel Mead, who is (amazingly) the Kissinger Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. His latest post is pure snark, but go back a ways and see his denialism, especially his vehemence at the NYT and the important guy involved in the Himalayan glaciers melting thing.

    Now, I don't think WRM is anything special, but he surely isn't libertarian or a crank.

  17. In my comment of 11:02 (fifth para) I intended to write "unimpeachable", but it turned out I mistakenly wrote "impeachable". Sorry.

  18. Massimo:

    I would hesitate to say that the much vaunted private sector may be responsible. We are all responsible, not only companies, and it has to be added that the ecological footprint of Eastern Bloc command economies was even bigger in relation to their economic power than that of free market societies. I guess my point on the issue is that if you have a strong, regulating state, you can screw up through negligence or steering in the wrong direction, or you can solve such a big problem by steering in the right direction. If you rely on market forces, negligence is all you will ever get, and you have already lost, as markets always externalize environmental damage given the choice.

    hoax perpetrated by whom? And to what end?

    IMO this is a core issue of the whole discussion. So far I have never heard a plausible explanation that would rise above "evolutionary biologists work for Satan" levels of plausibility. On the one hand you have all the car manufacturers and oil companies of the world, crucial employers and campaign financiers in many developed countries, on the other hand you have a bunch of university professors, and the AGW denialists think that the latter have the greater motivation to distort the truth? Like, to keep their tenure instead of just keeping their tenure, or what? This is the kind of pain-inducing idiocy that makes your brain want to shut down once you try to parse it. Heck, AIDS denialists, anti-vacs and 9/11 truthers have more coherent cases for their conspiracy theories, and that is saying something.


    The BP oil spill is a perfect example. I see no reason to think that a nationalized oil-drilling program would be immune to disasters like this. In fact, I would think it more likely disasters would happen, as the responsibility would be more diffuse. And considering the libertarian position that (all else remaining equal) government force is a moral wrong, it is perfectly reasonable to put the burden of proof for safety/environmental improvement on those opposed to private enterprise.

    First of all, all else is never equal, as Massimo has already pointed out with reference to Scandinavia: some things are simply better organized privately, some are simply better organized by the community, as you already admit yourself. The libertarian everything-is-better-when-private is just as much an example of the pathological "one big idea syndrome" as the communist everything-is-better-when-socialized.

    The weird blind spot of libertarians is to see only the government as a potential source of evil but never the free companies, no matter how big and powerful they have become. But tracing back to my point above, the government can do good (e.g., being careful with oil extraction, shifting to renewable energies) or evil depending on how it is used, depending on what is decided; companies in a free market, on the contrary, are always, without exception, forced through the infamous invisible hand of the market to cut corners as much as they can get away with (e.g., neglecting expensive safety measure in oil extraction, avoiding clean but expensive alternative energy sources) simply because if they don't cut those corners but their competitor does they will go broke. And that's why we need to regulate the markets; seriously, this is not rocket science.

  19. I think the key issue issue is that if anthropogenic climate change is true - then collective action is necessary. The idea of regulation and collective action rubs some people the wrong way so they look for reasons not to act. If there were no requirement for changing peoples' behaviour, the objections to the science would not be so prominent.

    For example, if scientists concluded that the earth was heating up due to something happening with the sun which was beyond our ability to change, I doubt we would see many objections to the science.

  20. Massimo, I'm a new reader who has been generally impressed with your blog, but this article was very disappointing.

    (My bias: I am a person whom you would probably consider "not libertarian enough", like BJ, though I do read quite a few libertarians due to my interest in economics. I consider myself 95% sure that AGW has occurred, and 95% sure that future-predicting climate models are not worth the transistors they're printed on. I am a computer science-trained professional programmer.)

    1) The American Physical Society disagrees strongly with you on the value of Climategate:

    > What has this to do with APS? In 2007 the APS Council adopted a Statement on global warming (also reproduced at the tinyurl site mentioned above) that was based largely on the scientific work that is now revealed to have been corrupted. (The principals in this escapade have not denied what they did, but have sought to dismiss it by saying that it is normal practice among scientists. You know and we know that that is simply untrue. Physicists are not expected to cheat.)

    via Steve Hsu, professor of physics at U of Oregon.

    (The letter goes on to recommend Lindzen's famous WSJ article; Lindzen is (was?) a Cato "contributing expert".)

    Is the APS exhibiting denialism here, or how else would you explain their statement?

    2) Andrew Gelman's blog (example) has done a bang-up job of discussing climate change, denialism, skepticism, and rationalism.

    3) It has not been my experience that Libertarians are generally deniers.

    Here's Ron Bailey, editor of Reason and former editor of "Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths" who changed his mind, obviously:

    "Details like sea level rise will continue to be debated by researchers, but if the debate over whether or not humanity is contributing to global warming wasn't over before, it is now."

    Here's Alex Tabarrok in 2005; please just note that he takes climate change as a given, I don't post it due to his policy recommendation:

    For the developing world the effects of climate change are most likely negative but not so negative that further development... is not the best solution.

    All of Tyler Cowen's posts that I can find take global warming as a given, so I can't get a good quote for you.

    Patrick J. Michaels in the "Cato handbook for the 108th congress", whatever that is:

    No credible argument counters the notion that the planetary average surface temperature is warmer than it was 100 years ago.

    In fact, all of the stuff I can find on the Cato site, while opposed to what they see as overly drastic action, accepts at the least that global warming is happening, and seems implicitly to accept humans' role in it.

    Please note that I'm not a Cato fanboy, I do occasionally find them solid and I also sometimes find them ridiculous; my point is merely that they don't seem to me to be the denialists that you paint them as.

    And even if they were, I don't think to that points to the general libertarian denialism that you fail to have any further evidence for. Your only other examples, P&T and Michael Shermer, you point out yourself have both changed their minds recently. Hardly seems the stuff of a massive libertarian denialism epidemic.

  21. One of the obvious answers is how the party on the left has latched onto global warming to accomplish their political agenda. Bills like cap and trade have far less to do with a solution to global warming then to level the economic playing field. You can argue the benifits of cap and trade or the lack there of as to its overall effect on CO2 emission (i personally think it would be negligable), But the bottom line is it completely contaminates the benifits of the free market system, thus giving liberals a reason to question the integrity of the promoters of global warming.
    One thing I think you may be wrong on is that the percentage of Libertarians that reject man made global warming is higher than just the general public. Many people alive are older than 45 or 50 and remember that not too long ago it was man made global cooling that was catastrophic to the environment. When the general publics appeal to authority is betrayed with false information, the trust soon dissolves. I am not saying this is intentional by the scientific community, just a fact. The guy that remembers the impending doom and gloom of global cooling is perhaps not about to take global warming too seriously. you can argue that global cooling did not have the same support in the scietific community as global warming does, but to the average joe, it doesnt matter.
    Not to mention the media's over exaggeration of global warming for 20 years contradicts personal observation of what was predicted, then it just gets ignored. By now the ice caps were supposed to be gone and I thought I would have webbed feet like kevin Costner.

    Did you know that the reason Disney World is so expensive is because of global warming?

  22. hoax perpetrated by whom? And to what end?

    i was going to save myself from being called the conspiracy theorist, but what the hey.

    Obama was a board member of the Joyce foundation which started the Chicago Climate Exchange. The CCX could stand to make a lot of money from a cap and trade system. Without global warming you obviously dont have cap and trade. One of Obamas good buddies Franklin Raines was using Fanny Mae to file for patents related to CO2 measuring technology. Not sure why a mortgage lender is filing patents for CO2 measuring devices? Just seems a strange cooincidence that Franklin Raines was on Obamas Cabinet and he also uses a Mortgage Co to file for these patents. Two of these patents have to do with individual consumer use of energy not just buisiness. BTW, did I forget to mention to tell you that Franklin got away with massive fraud while overstating Fannys earnings so he could get millions in bonus money. Nice to have friends in high places.

    For some crazy reason Obama is giving Goldman Sachs the brunt of the credit for Amercia's need of financial reform. He was beating up on them pretty bad. Not sure what makes goldman any worse than the other Co's? Goldman Sachs, just happens to own 10% of the CCX. Take the fall and we'll let you in on the deal?
    Another 10% owner of the CCX is Al Gores Generation Investment Management. Might be a good idea to not make money of global warming if you want people to believe it, eh Al? Also in Al's GIM group is David Blood, Mark Ferguson and Peter Harris who are all Goldman Sachs executives.
    I am sure its all coincidnece

    Now I am the silly nut, but hey someones gotta do it!

  23. As a libertarian I take umbrage to your holding the status quo over our heads.

    It is quite clear that global warming is a damnable lie. The entire scientific community has been corrupted by it.

    Who's responsible you ask?


    We libertarians have been fighting their machinations for years, but do you lefties care?

    Of course not.

  24. Jim Fisher:

    And that would hypothetically explain the scientific consensus being fabricated how? Remember, you don't need a conspiracy theory that explains why Obama would support a different partisan interest than Cheney; you need a conspiracy theory why thousands of scientists whose idea of lasting fame is to be known as the guy/gal who presented convincing evidence that shattered an established theory would all unanimously say that global warming happens and is man-made if it weren't.

    Quite apart from that, the only issue that could ever be reasonably discussed anyway is the A of AGW, because that the GW happens is shown by just comparing photos of glaciers from 100 years ago with those glaciers today.

  25. "A political ideology is a very handy thing to have. It's a real time-saver, because it tells you what you think about things you know nothing about." - Hendrik Hertzberg

    I've noticed for some time now the remarkable parallel thinking involved with creationism and global warming denialism. Both groups of pseudoskeptics consider the scientific consensus and community to be part of a communist/atheist conspiracy to deny the authority of their most cherished belief, i.e. God and The Market. Both use the same intellectual dishonest tactics such as quotemining and the useage of bogus lists of "scientific" dissent.

    Where as creationists disbeive evolution because they undermines belief in God, a.g.w denialists believe that global warming undermines the infallibity of "the market" which can do no wrong ... By definition, anything that turns a profit is good.

  26. I think Steven Colbert (in character, of course) most accurately portrays what would logically be the libertarian position on climate change, which is that he "believes that global warming is real because Al Gore's movie made money".

    It's a joke, of course, but more on point with libertarian philosophy than the complete and utter denial of something, just because it's a hard truth to swallow.

    If these guys like to postulate about being "free-market capitalists", then doesn't the massive private and public monetary investment into greener technologies have to inform their position?

  27. As one of those Massimo friends who is not only a libertarian (lower case), an Objectivist (I organize NYC's Ayn Rand's meetup), and also believe in the "theory" of anthropogenic climate change (ACC) and its dire predictions, I feel eminently qualified to comment on this post. Massimo is correct on the basic facts: libertarians tend to not believe in ACC, and even less so Objectivists. Here are the points he gets wrong:

    1. Even though some libertarians may claim that they are friends of science, the libertarian ideology has no more to do with critical thinking than liberalism does. It is only an ideology that deals with the role of government. A libertarian is probably no less likely to believe in Homeopathy than a liberal (I would love to see the data on this though.)

    2. Objectivists are a different thing altogether. Objectivism is a philosophy based on reason. Why most of them don't believe in ACC is beyond me too. I have suggested a hypothesis (based on actual science) to Massimo, but he chose to ignore it, using the opportunity instead to trash Ayn Rand, again.

    3. The Cato Institute is not in the "pocket" of big bad industry. The implication being, of course, that "industry" pays these think tank guys to fake research so that it favors them. The people that write for Cato are already committed to the views they write about. They wouldn't work for the Center for American Progress any more than Massimo would work for Cato (although, I guess everybody has a price. Massimo?)

    3. As far as morality. Again mixing libertarianism with Objectivism. Libertarianism is not committed to any moral value, high or low. It just wants government out of the way. Objectivism on the other hand is committed to a high moral value. However, contrary to the picture Massimo is trying to paint (successfully I guess, based on the responses I see for this post) harming others is not a moral act.

    The question then remains: why do people who believe in small government don't believe in ACC? It's very simple. Take 2 opposing ideas: government is there to solve big problems, and there is no big problem that only big government can solve. This would imply that there is no role for government here. But you REALLY like big government. So, as a liberal, how do you resolve this cognitive dissonance? You invent the "theory" of ACC and sleep well at night knowing that big government is there taking care of it. Wait! I got it backwards, didn't I. Oh well, you get the idea.

    How do I deal with the cognitive dissonance? I don't have one, I just don't care!

  28. Libertarians have their own doomsday ideology called Austrian economics. They've invoked Austrian economics for generations to predict the imminent collapse of the American economy. You can read an example here from nearly 30 years ago.

    Yet, despite their track record of nonsensical economic forecasts, they dismiss global warming as Chicken Little stuff. They believe in a Capital-A Apocalypse, but they want it to support their beliefs, dammit!, not those other guys' crazy notions.

  29. "common sense notion that people who don't know what they are talking about should listen to people who do."

    So if I'm an expert in cameras and I tell you that you must stop taking pictures with that camera because it will break, using your logic I should stop taking pictures no matter if I'm trying to document some atrocity happening right in front of me?

    Big picture Mr. Piglucci. The consequences of "doing something" might just be greater than "doing nothing"... Doing nothing forcibly anyway.

    There's a reasonably good chance that climate change is happening and there's a reasonably good chance that it's happening because of us. Will it be a negative or a positive to humans if the earth is warmer (or is it colder)? That's definitely up in the air in my book. Then again, I'm not a climate scientist. Then again, why would a climate scientist know if that's good or not for society? Why do you think you know? I know I don't.

    I hope if it's happening it is us, because that means that we can fix it. We can actively fix it with technology. Less carbon, introducing something else into the atmosphere to balance the temperatures, voluntary population control, etc.

    However, the last thing you want to do is introduce costs that will wreck economies and reduce freedom.

    Libertarians will oppose most any sort of central planning to the solution because it's audaciously elitist to believe that you or any expert has the best solution for everyone.

    Many people fear libertarians because they are anti authoritarian. Those authoritarians know what's best for us and how dare libertarians get in the way. Many libertarians will simply ask you to think a little harder for a solution that maximizes personal freedom.

    "Thou shall not lie" could be seen as sort of extremist ideology. Why have the goal if we're going to lie at all might be your logic? It's best to aim high even if we're not going to reach it. And so it is with many libertarians. Aim for maximum personal freedom. When and if a solution to global warming is needed, someone will come up with one.

  30. @Duncan There are a lot of points you make that are really stretching but I will just touch on one. It is hardly saying that the only people entitled to an opinion are climate scientists, but an obvious problem with the whole debate is opinions from people without expertise are given equal weighting in the public arena. And a lot of said people are politicians influenced by voters/lobby groups or people corrupted by money from biased industries. It is a sad state of affairs when the actual experts seem to be fighting a losing press battle against people with clearly conflicted/corrupted agendas and ideologies.

  31. Lencyclopedie writes,

    "It is the same with Mont Pelerin Society vis-a-vis the Icelandic fiasco, i.e. the financial collapse the admirers of von Hayek, Friedman et al. had contributed so massively."

    Von Hayek and Friedman contributed to the collapse??? I'd like to hear how.

    Massimo writes,

    "Well, then, since by far the best interpretation of said facts is that human beings have contributed significantly to climate change, and that such change is already substantially and negatively affecting the world’s ecosystem as well as human welfare, why are so many libertarians/objectivists dead set against the notion of global warming?"

    Libertarians and Objectivists deny the truth of the antecedent in this claim (its form is similar to a hypothetical proposition). Sure, IF AGW's conclusions follow from the facts, then libertarian and Objectivist opposition to AGW is puzzling. If the antecedent is true, then the consequent is true. However, many libertarians and Objectivists reject the idea that the antecedent is true to begin with.

    With regard to CATO funding, my simple response is that one ought to be careful not to commit the vested interest fallacy. CATO could be completely bankrolled by Exxon-Mobil and such a fact, were it a fact, still would not provide sufficient grounds, by itself, for a refuting counter-argument against CATO claims.

    Mark Plus writes,

    "Libertarians have their own doomsday ideology called Austrian economics. They've invoked Austrian economics for generations to predict the imminent collapse of the American economy. You can read an example here from nearly 30 years ago."

    Your Times "example" doesn't even mention the Austrian school or any uniquely Austrian claims. It hardly constitutes as a blemish upon Austrian economics. Its important to make distinctions here. Some libertarians are Austrians; some are not. Have you examined Austrian economics, particularly Austrian business cycle theory, at length? If you have, what flaws have you discovered? If you have found some, do they ruin the theory wholesale or allow for minor revisions?

    Its true, the Austrian school comes to many gloomy, bearish conclusions. However, its your job to demonstrate that such gloominess and bearishness is unjustified. In my opinion, such melancholy is entirely justified. With a central bank that insists upon reducing interest rates for loanable funds formed by currency that can be manufactured at will and electronically by the government, I think a bit of pessimism is in order. The result, after all and in accordance with the laws of supply and demand, are: an increase in the quantity of loanable funds demanded (credit bubble) and a decrease in the price of money or the purchasing power of money (price inflation).

    I'm intimately familiar with Austrian economics and have actually expounded upon it within earlier posts on this site.

  32. Massimo,

    I hate to bash Shermer, a skeptic whom I respect, but I will point out that he holds bizarre unskeptical beliefs about other issues dear to libertarians, too. For example he has claimed that it is financially impossible to have a welfare state -- even at the anemic American standard -- because it will inevitably cause the country to go bankrupt. And he's supported that claim with utterly bogus, misrepresented evidence, as I documented here.

  33. Massimo writes,

    "That’s the problem with ideology in general (be it left, right, or libertarian), it provides us with thick blinders that very effectively shield us from reality."

    This is particularly true, with regard to false ideologies (ideologies that work for false premises). However, just because many ideologies (political, economic, etc.) have been demonstrated to be false doesn't mean that ideology per se is no good.

    We must examine an ideology, especially its methodology, in order to determine if its false or not. For example, scrupulous scientific research and study in the field of, say, biology can still yield false conclusions because of the method of biology: scientific induction. Induction, as we know, can lead only to probabilistic conclusions.

    However, the Austrian school (which has been belittled a few times already), unlike other schools of economics, primary adopts deduction from axioms as their methodology. Thus, as long as their axioms are true (they are very rudimentary) and their deductive reasoning is valid, i.e., the forms of the arguments ensure that the conclusions will be necessarily true if the premises are true, then their conclusions will indeed be necessarily true. For example, Austrian business cycle theory is chiefly a deductive theory. Austrian economics proceeds much like math.

  34. I almost forgot..

    If the federal government allowed oil drilling within the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), within the oil shale/tar sands region in the Midwest, within ANWR in Alaska, AND allowed for the construction of oil refineries, then enterprises like BP either would not have to drill as much in deep water or wouldn't drill in deep water at all - for two reasons:

    1.) Drilling on land and in shallow water (OCS) is typically easier than drilling in deep water, i.e., the costs of production for the first two are less than the costs of production for the latter. Oil corporations, greedy as they are, will gladly opt for the first two courses of action IF they are available...IF...

    2.) Allowing greater oil drilling on land and in shallow water as well as allowing for the construction of additional oil refineries would serve to increase the supply of oil. As the supply of oil increases, the price of oil falls. As the price of oil falls, the quantity of oil supplied will fall as well, i.e., the production of oil for sale at the lower price will fall, i.e., the need to drill in the middle of the *bleeping* ocean will be non-existent.

    All this however is contingent upon government cooperation.

  35. Why do libertarians deny climate change?

    Because there is no way to tackle it within their system of values. So they prefer to deny it, or say it's not really much of a problem.

  36. The Cato Institute is not in the "pocket" of big bad industry. The implication being, of course, that "industry" pays these think tank guys to fake research so that it favors them. The people that write for Cato are already committed to the views they write about. They wouldn't work for the Center for American Progress any more than Massimo would work for Cato (although, I guess everybody has a price. Massimo?)

    Both things can be true. It's easier to believe something when your check at the end of the month depends on you believing it. We are humans after all, masters of self delusion.

  37. Austrian economics proceeds much like math.

    And if this last crisis has taught as something, it's that economists who base their work mostly on math always get things right. Oh, wait a minute...

    You even illustrate the failings of this merely deductive method with an example:

    Allowing greater oil drilling on land and in shallow water as well as allowing for the construction of additional oil refineries would serve to increase the supply of oil. As the supply of oil increases, the price of oil falls. As the price of oil falls, the quantity of oil supplied will fall as well, i.e., the production of oil for sale at the lower price will fall, i.e., the need to drill in the middle of the *bleeping* ocean will be non-existent.

    Makes perfect sense... if you ignore the empirical data that shows why this won't work. 1) Oil is finite. Drill, drill, drill... and sooner or later the prize will go up anyway, not down, because it's not infinite. 2) Protected places are protected for a reason. Drilling there can harm sensible ecosystems, or cause other problems. You would just be moving the catastrophe from one place to another.

  38. Following up on Mark Plus's post. I read recently that in Hayek's Road to Serfdom that he predicted that the social democratic policies of Britain's labor governments would be a slippery slope to full totalitarian communism. Yep, that obviously happened. :)

  39. Duncan said:
    "2. Climate change activists have consistently exaggerated the seriousness of the problem. Every effect of global warming is catastraphic, and everything bad that happens is because of global warming. How many times do you believe lies before you start tuning out everything on the subject?"

    This is quite rich, blaming environmentalists for their alarmism and catastrophism while we are witnessing one of the largest environmental disasters of all time unfolding in front of our eyes. The climate change catastrophe also is occurring right in front or our eyes, but is only doing so along longer time scale horizon.

  40. I was wondering if I was going to agree with your discussion and I believe that your latter point hits the nail on the head. I also notice this point in the Rand Paul discussions that have been making the news. Paul has been getting into some controversy for making what is the libertarian argument against the Civil Rights Act. I notice libertarians make two lines of arguments and they somehow always align. The first would be a moral argument about rights (as in the government does not have the right to regulate businesses). The second states that everything works superior (or as well) under a libertarian society. It is their second argument that usually leads them to take controversial stances. If libertarians were to accept that global warming exists then their first argument comes under fire. The same could be said if they accepted that racial problems could not be resolved (in some manner, not completely) by the free market. In both manners (and many others) their ideology leads them to accept controversial stances because accepting the conventional stance calls into question their beliefs (usually the belief that the first and second argument always align).

    Most libertarians I know are computer techs so I like to challenge them on net neutrality.

  41. Benny,

    as usual, I'm not sure what the two of us actually disagree about. I think you should finally realize that you are neither a libertarian nor an objectivist, you're smarter than that... As for objectivists basing their politics on reason, if you believe that, my friend, I've got a beautiful bridge in Brooklyn that I can sell you really cheap.


    sometimes I'm really baffled by the logic of some of the comments posted here. Your example of the camera makes no sense: no expert would tell you such a silly thing, and there is no logical connection between the alleged technical advice and the moral decision you would be facing. And the fact that something is "up in the air" in your book has very little connection with the reality out there, which is precisely the point of this post.


    of course libertarians and objectivists deny the antecedent in my statement. But that's the point: why do they do that, considering that the most reasonable interpretation of the data is that such antecedent is, in fact, true?

  42. Massimo,

    I think you raise some interesting points in this post. Rather than generalizing about the views of all libertarians, though, I think it would be more productive to emphasize that there's something self-defeating about a libertarianism that denies climate change on an ideological basis.

    Surely a robust libertarianism would insist that if there has been Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), then the free market will deal with it more effectively than the government could. But libertarians who refuse to acknowledge the preponderance of evidence for AGW unintentionally imply that AGW is a problem that the free market could not possibly deal with. So not only does such denial erode the scientific credibility of libertarianism, it erodes the internal consistency of the ideology.

    In other words, the very fact that libertarians see the notion of AGW as a political threat suggests that libertarianism is a flawed ideology.

  43. I posted several comments above distinguishing ideological deniers from scientific skeptics as regards climate change. Massimo or others have not commented upon it.

    I think the distinction is important because much of the recent Climategate scandal was related to serious skeptical criticisms of CRU conclusions and procedures when ascertaining past temperatures (and thus when showing that temperatures have sharply risen in the 20th century and that the rise was unprecedented). The main skeptical author in that regard was Steven McIntyre, not a denier at all. Conflating this with denialism is unfounded and misleading.

    Ideological think tanks may (and will surely) have their opinions: opinions do not constitute scientific evidence. The fact that such opinions are derived from prior ideological commitments is no great news. Why (most)libertarians deny climate change is an interesting question, but it does not impinge upon skeptical AND scientifically informed views about current climate science.

  44. Ed Menendez:
    When and if a solution to global warming is needed, someone will come up with one.

    Although it looks quite innocent at first sight compared to some religious apologetics I have read here, this may well be the sentence with the highest concentration of inanity ever posted on Rationally Speaking. In an extremely short space, it showcases both willful ignorance of any kind of danger that has to be avoided pro-actively ("when and if we have crashed into the wall with 80 mph, someone will think about using the brake") and the total confidence of the cornucopian in the possibility to find a solution to any imaginable problem. To cite Jared Diamond at length, when he gives the most brilliant summary of AGW denialist and cornucopian positions I have ever read: What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree [on the entire island] say while he was doing it? Like modern loggers, did he shout: "Jobs, not trees"? Or: "Technology will solve our problems, never fear, we will find a substitute for wood"? Or: "We don't have proof that there aren't palms somewhere else on Easter, we need more research, your proposed ban on logging is premature and driven by fear-mongering"?

    Michael Labeit:
    For example, Austrian business cycle theory is chiefly a deductive theory. Austrian economics proceeds much like math.

    Wow. So human nature and actual evidence about how economies work in real life do not necessarily enter? That actually explains a great deal...

  45. Two points.
    1. The science is too complex for us laymen, so the question we ask is not, "Is the evidence overwhelming?" but rather, "Should we trust the scientists who say it's overwhelming?"
    Libertarians who deny climate science tend to think that it's heavily politicized and its goal is just to push Communism, so they don't trust the science.

    2. Libertarians would say, "Extraordinary intervention requires extraordinary evidence." So even if the evidence supports climate change, it needs to be extraordinary to justify regulations which, according to Libertarians, are terrible for the economy.

  46. A few points...
    (1) I'm a libertarian, and I believe in partially human-caused climate change.
    (2) Just as you've raised the question why do libertarians overwhelmingly deny climate change, one could ask the question why do liberals/progressives overwhelmingly accept it.
    (3) Libertarians (except for the fringe anarchists) don't believe the market can do everything by itself. Government has an important role to play. I would point out, though, that government has failed its role in the recent environmental oil disaster. Officials at the agency that oversees offshore drilling took various bribes and free gifts from the oil and gas companies they were inspecting. The dysfunctional relationship between corporations and government is at least as much government's fault as industry's.

  47. I think that it is natural to be somewhat skeptical of--or at least annoyed by--the kind of claims being made by the likes of Al Gore and other politicos and pundits regarding climate change. For me, they are almost always shrill and tiresome. This may contribute to the position of those who "deny" climate change.

    But I wonder just how many would maintain that humanity has had absolutely no effect on climate. I think the majority of those classified as deniers would be more likely to be skeptical of specific claims, e.g. the polar ice caps will be gone in 50 years.

    Regarding the BP disaster, I question whether the government would be any better at stopping the flow of oil, myself. Whether more regulation would have prevented the explosion, I don't know.

  48. Jeffey Ellis:
    (2) Because that is what the evidence says, perhaps? I mean, doing that should be the general assumption no matter what the ideology, no?
    (3) Of course it is a government failure, but what do you conclude from that? See what I wrote above: the government can fail to regulate well or it can regulate well; but if the government does not regulate, then the mess is guaranteed. The trick is to get a non-corrupt government, not to throw your hands up into the air, give up and simply let an arrogant corporation do whatever it considers profitable.

  49. Mintman,

    You are correct this does not explain scientific consensus. But that is not the question. It is why do Libetarians reject GW or CC. Massive corruption withing the government system of responding to GW can certainly lead someone (especially those that hate big government) to want to reject GW.

  50. Nacho writes,

    "And if this last crisis has taught as something, it's that economists who base their work mostly on math always get things right. Oh, wait a minute..."

    This remark has the distinction of being both sarcastic and false. I wrote that Austrian economics PROCEEDS like math, not that it INVOLVES much math (in fact, Austrians tend to shun mathematics when it comes to expounding on economic theory). Austrians don't "base their work mostly on math," their work involves the same methodology as that of mathematics, that being deductive reasoning.

    With regard to your assertion that my proposals for greater oil production and refinement won't work, you assert that oil is finite and, therefore, if we "drill, drill, drill," eventually the supply of oil will be exhausted, "sooner or later." This is obviously tautological. But which is it: sooner or later? While its true that the supply of oil is finite, I'm willing to wager you don't know HOW finite it is. Neither do I. However, I can tell you that peak oil predictions are as old as recovered crude oil itself. Technological advances have enabled energy firms to drill further underground only to find more deposits of oil, coal, and natural gas - at the dismay of peak oil forecasters.

    Furthermore, if you want less ecological damage, why force oil drillers into deep water. Did you read what I wrote?

    So, if enumerative induction is of any value, one can reject peak oil predictions and argue that technological advances will enable further hydrocarbon production.

    Mintman writes,

    "Wow. So human nature and actual evidence about how economies work in real life do not necessarily enter? That actually explains a great deal..."

    Crass sarcasm doesn't count for much.

    You insinuate that deductive reasoning exists in contrast to "human nature" and empirical economic data. The method of the natural sciences, i.e., scientific induction, is not the be all and end all of epistemology. Laws of nature can be described quantitatively in the form of equations. Conversely, the laws of economics (economics being a social science) are largely qualitative and do not possess quantitative constants. Different fields require different methods.

  51. Mintman writes,

    "See what I wrote above: the government can fail to regulate well or it can regulate well; but if the government does not regulate, then the mess is guaranteed. The trick is to get a non-corrupt government, not to throw your hands up into the air, give up and simply let an arrogant corporation do whatever it considers profitable."

    I dispute your claim that the government can regulate well (if by "regulate" you mean aggress against market participants to achieve certain socio-economic objectives). When it regulates prices, it usually causes either shortages (e.g., rent control) or surpluses (e.g., minimum wages). Taxation tends to reduce the productivity of labour. Subsidies sever the link between business performance and financial survival, causing moral hazards and incentivizing conduct that attracts subsidies to begin with.

    I would argue that the problem isn't with corrupt politicians - its almost with politicians per se. Government regulation per se causes economic mal-effects, regardless of the particular politicians in power. I stress this point to counter the claim made by many socialists that the socialist experiments (or communist experiments, though the differences are radically superficial) of the 20th century failed because of poor administration. Instead, the argument made by many libertarians, especially Austrians, and Objectivists is that government, by its nature, cannot guide the production and distribution of the majority of goods as well as the market can.

    It certainly is not the case that if the government fails to, say, regulate oil drilling, that therefore an oil spill is guaranteed. Not in a free market. In a free market, polluters must pay (100% liability) for transgressing upon or threatening the private property of others. BP doesn't want to cause an oil spill - its bad for business and its bad for its public image.

  52. Michael Labeit:
    History knows as many market failures as it knows failures of government regulation, from the tulip bubble to the housing crash. Now you could probably try to blame all of that, every runaway speculation, every bribe, every cartel and monopoly and price-fixing that emerged, on there not being a perfect, completely 100% free market - but then you really begin to sound like a communist: "no really, a command economy/free market would totally work, it was just never really tried."

    Apart from that, it cannot work in principle, because it is just as alien to human nature as a 100% perfect communism. Yes, we do get lazy if incentives are removed, but we also have an innate desire to put ourselves, personally, above market forces by building cartels, bribing, cheating etc. Human nature. Add to that objective facts and processes in the physical world and it becomes entirely hopeless. Yes, a command economy has its problems with efficiency and micromanagement, but a free market is blind to externalized costs and can never proactively avoid a problem, it can only react. If you do not constantly redistribute money and guard against the formation of oligo- and monopolies, resources will accumulate in the hands of fewer and fewer people and (1) the entire economic machine that depends on the circulation of money grinds to a crawl and (2) those few will get so powerful that they can basically buy the government and dictate their own rules, which usually include twisting the market in their favor and paying less and less taxes, leaving the middle class with the chore of financing infrastructure, services and army. Which is basically what has happened to the USA, by the way. Do you honestly think the solution to megalo-companies screwing the rest of the system is to have a weaker state? Only a strong one could keep this self-abolishment of the market in check.

    It certainly is not the case that if the government fails to, say, regulate oil drilling, that therefore an oil spill is guaranteed. Not in a free market. In a free market, polluters must pay (100% liability) for transgressing upon or threatening the private property of others. BP doesn't want to cause an oil spill - its bad for business and its bad for its public image.

    This is very optimistic. Of course they did not go out of their way to cause a spill - what they did is cut corners and gamble that it would not happen. Again, if they did not cut those corners but Shell does, guess who outcompetes who? And public image rarely helps in a significant way, because in a pinch, the vast majority of people want to and actually have to buy what is cheapest, and that's it. But the kicker here is, whose private property is transgressed on if you pollute the air? If you cause global warming? (Reminder: this is what this discussion was about.) If you lower groundwater levels through overuse? If you cause too much waste? What about all that oil that does not precisely damage the livelihood of fisher X but simply kills a threatened insect species or ends up in the food chain? That is not even in an economist's or judge's calculation, quite apart from the slight problem of BP very quickly not having enough money to pay for all the damage it caused. Imagine a privately run nuclear power plant blows up because too many corners were cut, and half the east coast has to be evacuated. So a company is going to have 100% liability, and that is the solution? Dream on. Seriously, environmental issues are the textbook case of where we need government regulation.

  53. Mintman writes,

    "Apart from that, it cannot work in principle, because it is just as alien to human nature as a 100% perfect communism...we also have an innate desire to put ourselves, personally, above market forces by building cartels, bribing, cheating etc."

    The market discourages cartelization by rewarding firms that jump ship and underbid the other cartelizing firms. The biggest, most ruthless cartels have always been government supported ones: the Federal Reserve, the IRS, etc. As a matter of fact, government is best equipped cartel, for it too possess monopoly power, it fixes prices, etc.

    The opportunity to bribe grows exponentially when government intervention becomes a possibility. Now government intervention is a variable that can be requested or discouraged via bribery. A bribe is a fee paid typically to a government official in exchange for permission to proceed with a transaction, e.g., drug merchants paying cops to leave them alone.

    Cheating, well - that will always exist. The question is under what system will it be discouraged the most: a system where the government extends special favors to politically connected firms or a system where such activity is prohibited.

    That a command economy "has its problems with efficiency and micromanagement" is a fantastic overstatement. A genuine command economy, one where the government owns all of the non-human factors of production, is completely incapable of engaging in any form of rational, long-term planning whatsoever because the government, by owning all of the non-human factors of production, eliminates the formation of market prices for non-human factors (land and capital goods) which therefore prevents a government enterprise from either:

    1.) Determining its costs of production and, therefore discerning whether its incurring profits or losses, i.e., whether its efficient or inefficient or

    2.) Comparing alternative production plans, since the costs of production for those plans are hidden too because of the lack of market prices

    So, the seminal conclusion of the Austrian school is that socialist governments are completely unable to plan or manage in any productive sense, at all.

    A free market is certainly NOT "blind to externalized costs." I've said on many occasions that if, within a free market, a polluter pollutes upon the private property of another without the victim's consent (pollution is a negative externality), the government ought to lay compensatory fines upon the polluter and force it to cleanse the victim's property. This cannot possibly be misconstrued as blindness to negative externalities. What makes so many people think that, under capitalism, companies have free reign to pollute upon the property of others?

  54. Your argument regarding the necessity of redistribution has been handled ad nauseum by free market economists.

    First of all, what's a monopoly? Is it a single seller within an industry?. If it is, then the worst perpetrator of monopolization is government, not the market since only the government has the power (indeed, the monopoly power) to employ the use of force. Historical attempts to monopolize industries by firms acting without government support have been spectacular failures (the Hunt brothers' silver scheme comes first to mind). If firm tries to become a monopolist by underselling its competitors, it'll have to eventually raise its prices to make up for the losses it incurs as part of its underselling/monopolizing plot. As soon as it raises its prices, it will encourage entry by new competitors seeking to take advantage of the new higher prices. As more competitors enter the market, the prices fall and the monopolizing firm will have incurred serious losses.

    By contrast, firms can only realistically maintain themselves as monopolizes if they receive support from government, in the form of subsidies or special grants, or laws prohibiting the entry of competing firms.

    The very few examples of free market monopolizes like Standard Oil became monopolies by drastically lowering their costs of production, enabling far-from-detrimental price reductions on consumer and producer goods.

    In summary, not to be insulting but the arguments you offer are so unsound and have been shown to be erroneous on so many occasions, that it would be best to recommend texts instead of rebut here. They seriously remind me of the tired cases made by religionists to prove the existence of God. I get the feeling that the majority of atheists challenge metaphysical norms but forget to apply the same skepticism to the assumptions of popular political economy.

    These books are all free and all available at mises.org:

    -Man, Economy, and State
    -Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles
    -Power and Market
    -Making Economic Sense
    -Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics

  55. No doubt some of what you say is true of some libertarians. However, you might find my analysis of the epistemic behaviour of some climate scientists from the perspective of epistemic ethics (in six parts, alas, starting here: http://www.practicalethicsnews.com/practicalethics/2009/11/climate-scientists-behaving-badly-part-1.html) helps to explain a certain wariness with respect to the claims about the climate.

  56. I scrolled down to the bottom without really reading the comments, so apologies in advance if I am repeating someone else.

    Why do libertarians want to deny climate change? Simple, they are hyper-individualists who don't like to be told what to do by the guvmint'. If global warming is true, then the government can make us change how we do things to reduce our carbon emissions.

    To acknowledge that global warming is happening would force them to concede that they would have to make some sacrifices in their lifestyles for the sake of the collective good of humanity.

  57. I get the feeling that the majority of atheists challenge metaphysical norms but forget to apply the same skepticism to the assumptions of popular political economy.

    I read here often and have never commented, but felt compelled after this. As an atheist and quasi-libertarian this puts an exclamation point on my view of AGW, politics, economics, and government-- and the lack, in some cases, of proper skepticism from people who are otherwise loyal skeptics.

    By the way, Massimo . . . kudos on a fantastic blog, from a fellow UTK alumnus.

  58. Michael Labeit:

    Your position is self-defeating. You tell me all the time how your completely free market dreamland would work, and then, to justify that claim, you keep slipping in things like "then the government just has to prohibit bribing and forces the company to clean up its mess". Don't you see that this is only possible if the government is strong enough to take on an opponent like BP in the first place? Don't you see that this is, well, regulation? And why not regulate in advance by penalizing an obvious evil like, say, pollution, instead of relying on your 100% liability scheme that, even under the best case scenario that a multinational company does not simply bribe its way out of the situation in a weak, toothless state, would only ever work once the child has already fallen down the well? Quite apart from the fact that you have cleverly avoided addressing the damages-beyond-a-company's-ability-to-pay problem I raised.


    Well, I must say I am a bit frustrated now about the principal reason for denial even many people who seem sympathetic to libertarian ideas have suggested: essentially that they consider liberals / environmentalists / climate scientists to be untrustworthy in principle and thus not worthy of being listened to at all. Well, if that is the answer to Massimo's question, then any discussion is already over, and they cannot be reached by rational argument anyway. Good to know for future reference. You could do that for every issue, by the way, and again the communist comes to mind who would not believe the science of an economist, not because he could demonstrate it to be unsound, but simply because that economist is part of the class enemy.

  59. Michael Labeit:
    Oh, and not to mention that you cleverly sidestepped the problem of damage that cannot be expressed in terms of somebody's property, but hey, that is par for the course, as that is one of the major blind spots of all libertarians, along with (2) their utopia being completely unworkable in reality and (3) there being other values worth pursuing apart from economic liberty.

  60. Michael Labeit:
    "First of all, what's a monopoly? Is it a single seller within an industry?. If it is, then the worst perpetrator of monopolization is government, not the market since only the government has the power (indeed, the monopoly power) to employ the use of force."

    What strange reasoning. The government is selling the use of force to people? Are you assuming the government has an incentive to 'sell' as much 'use of force' as it can to consumers, similarly how firms try to sell their products? Monopolies are disliked by economists not just because there is a centralization of power, but because those firms also have an incentive to keep prices above competitive levels, which means market failure will follow. Further, the government has some democratic legitimacy and checks and balances are in place, vis-a-vis companies acting relatively freely in a totally free market system. But, maybe you trust corporate governance more than you do the democratic process?

    Regardless, a monopoly usually means a single seller but in many industries the problem is not that there is simply one seller, but few enough that they can exercise market power, being able to keep prices above competitive levels. And firms are succeeding in doing this, all the time. One strategy is when companies merge. Economies of scale and barriers to entry are very well established in economics and these surely allow firms to keep their market/monopoly power - these are not 'government granted'.

    In fact a whole body of law and all kinds of government organizations are devoted to making sure firms are not able to attain monopoly power: competition/antitrust policy!

    (One example of behavior monitored by antitrust agencies is predatory pricing, as you mentioned, but you are actually right to dismiss that one (it does not make rational sense for firms to behave in such a way, its almost always impossible for firms to recoup their losses after the price-drop period)

  61. Regarding Massimo's claim that state-owned oil companies are safer than private ones, Mexico's state-owned oil company, Pemex, had an oil spill in the gulf in 1979 that went on for 9 months and was comparable to BP's. See here. Interestingly, the Mexican government did not pay for any of the cleanup of the affected Texan coastline, citing "sovereign immunity".

  62. That's a disingenuous comment: I said that the best safety record belongs to the public companies in Scandinavia, not that *all* public companies are better. Unlike libertarians, I try to stay away from obviously false sweeping generalizations.

  63. My Position:

    I'd like to make my position clear: I am a very moderate libertarian, and have been for many years, so I think I understand why so many libertarians are climate skeptics. It is not just libertarians, but also conservatives, who are skeptical of AGW. Massimo doesn't talk about the conservatives so much, probably because he never talks to conservatives. I believe in AGW, and believe it is a very serious problem.

    My Solution:

    What I think we should do about it is shift a large part of the revenue burden of the government from sales and income taxes to taxes on carbon emissions. Coal would be taxed more than gasoline, gasoline more than natural gas. If this change were done in a revenue-neutral manner, it would be more politically feasible than just adding a tax, which conservatives will always oppose. It would be much simpler to implement than cap-and-trade. This would provide a great incentive to develop energy conservation technologies, along with alternative energy solutions.

    The government should also do what it can to develop an efficient nationwide energy grid for transporting alternative energy from the areas where it is feasible to where it is needed, which was begun as part of last year's stimulus package.

    We should also move forward with more nuclear energy.

    The Technological Difficulty of Understanding the Problem:

    Global Warming is a really complicated subject. It is much more complicated that the evolution-creationism debate. I read an article about a survey of lay evolutionists and lay creationists, and they found that both camps understood the theory equally well, which is badly. Most people have never taken the time to really get to the bottom of the evolution-creationism debate, yet most people have opinions. What determines their opinions is a matter of who they listen to: the authority of their clergy, or the authority of the scientific establishment.

    It is much harder to get to the bottom of the global warming debate. Almost no one has time to do climate modeling. Yet most people have opinions on global warming, and again, it is a matter of which authorities they defer to. And the authorities that are raising the alarm about global warming have done a lot to undermine their credibility in the eyes of conservatives and businesspeople.

  64. "In The Pocket of the Oil Companies":

    It is ridiculous to say that Michael Shermer, Penn & Teller, and John Stossel are all "In the Pocket of the Oil Companies". Many libertarians are AGW skeptics and clearly aren't receiving payments from anybody. That was really a low blow.

    The Libertarian Conundrum on Global Warning:

    Many Libertarians and Objectivists believe that government regulation, taxation, and interference in the economy is the most evil thing in the world. When it happens, if it usually misguided and counterproductive at best, and it generally makes a bad situation worse.

    AGW is a problem that cannot be solved without massive government intervention. To some Libertarians, this is such an awful proposition that it's too horrible to be true. So some deny the science, which is coming from sources they consider suspect anyway. One could argue that this is irresponsible, given what's at stake.

    I see it as similar to the liberal conundrum on immigration. I was recently discussing immigration with a liberal who felt that "discrimination" is the most horrible, evil thing in the world, and if it's tolerated in any form it will inevitably lead to awful things like someone getting gassed. Refusing any would-be immigrant entry into the country, being a form of discrimination, was so repugnant to her that she advocated allowing anyone who wanted to immigrate to this country, and immediately making welfare available to them upon their arrival.

    The consequences of such a policy would be more disastrous to this country, in the short term, than global warming. People over 65 years old living in distant lands on less than $5 a day (there are hundreds of millions of such people) could come here and immediately start collecting social security. Banks would lend them money for their plane tickets, confident the immigrants could quickly pay it back, with hefty interest, from their social security checks. We would quadruple the country's population in a few years, with people speaking a huge variety of languages, many of them illiterate. The government would be bankrupt. This liberal denialism of the threat of too much immigration is just as morally irresponsible, and quite similar in nature, to the libertarian denial of the threat of AGW.

  65. The Credibility of the Environmental Movement:

    The environment movement has done a lot to undermine its credibility during my lifetime. They tend to be alarmist and to advocate radical economic change without any regard to feasibility or cost.

    I remember when I was a kid in the 70's, reading an environmental magazine that said we'd be out of natural gas in 20 years (that would have been 1993), out of oil in 30 years (2003). I remember reading a scenario by Isaac Asimov predicting that in the year 2000 we would all be riding bicycles through the rain.

    Many leftists go into the environmental movement as an excuse to give shit to corporations, particularly oil companies. Many Luddites go into the environmental movement to retard technological progress. Conservatives and businessmen are very aware of this and view the entire environmental movement with antagonism, and consequently, skepticism.

    The Credibility of the Alternative Energy Movement:

    In the '70's, liberals were advocating solar energy as the solution to our problems. This was ludicrous. Solar energy was in its infancy at the time. It wasn't until after 2000 that we were able to create photo voltaic cells that would generate more energy in their lifetimes than was required to make them. Photo voltaic costs are rapidly dropping, but they are still much, much more expensive per kilowatt/hour than coal. And coal burns day or night, rain or shine.

    I'm in the alternative energy meetup and am enthusiastic about it, but it still has a ways to go before it's ready to take over from fossil fuels. Major technological problems, such as storage of electrical energy, remain to be resolved. I gave a speech at the alternative energy meetup (see slide show at here), during which I showed a couple of calculations: the per capita cost of getting 10% of our electrical energy from photo voltaics, assuming transport and storage of the energy were free (it was pretty expensive), and the amount of land that would have to be covered with windmills to meet the current electrical demands of the US (the size of South Dakota). These calculations were met with considerable hostility by some of the other members of the meetup (who hadn't done ANY calculations).

    Liberals and environmentalists have been singing the praises of immature energy solutions for so long that conservatives are rightfully skeptical of them.

    The Credibility of Academia:

    Academs are, for the most part, people who have chosen not to be in the private sector. This introduces a bias right there. Conservatives and Libertarians, for example, believing that the private sector is where it's at, tend to leave academia for the private sector as soon as they have acquired marketable skills, and they tend to major in subjects that give them marketable skills pretty quickly.

    While tenure does, in theory, give a professor the right to say anything he wants, in practice a professor who says unpopular things faces a lot of harassment by the other professors and students. If a professor starts saying "I don't think the oil companies are so bad" it's going to cause some friction with his colleagues. While tenure may make him secure where he is, conservative opinions could make it hard to get new positions at other universities if he wants.

    Conservatives generally perceive a bias in academia, which is why they created think tanks in the first place. So conservatives are not going to accept extremely unpleasant news from academia without some skepticism.

  66. lalawawa,

    more sweeping disingenuous statements: where did I say that Michael Shermer, P&T and John Stossel (whom I've never even mentioned) are all in the pockets of oil companies?

    *This* is precisely why I think libertarianism is an ideology essentially impervious to reason.

  67. I think Massimo has hit the nail on the head, as a recent pro-market book by science writer Matt Ridley demonstrates how libertarian thinking can colour peoples world views.

    Reviewed in glowing terms by Shermer in SciAm I read "The rational optimist: how prosperity evolves" with dismay.

    The chapter on climate change is very bad. It is a text book example of "denial" by a pro-market ideologue. Ridley accepts "climate change" as a reality, but denies its seriousness and even think it will be a good thing. He makes claims usually found emanating from the denial movement:

    1. Mann hockey stick is "broken" - he acutally cites Climate Audit as a source, and disregards all other evidence
    2. He claims polar bear populations are steady/growing despite recent evidence to the contrary
    3. Claims the concept of ocean acidification "sounds acidification like plot" by environmentalists
    4. No recorded loss of species extinction due to climate change

    He then goes on to reproduce economic arguments against climate change. See here


    I carefully examined his claims, and looked at his references. They are mostly from blogs, the dubious journal Energy and Environment, Watts up with that?, Lomborg and other well known "denialist" sources. Actually, I was shocked as his previous works on genetics and evolution were well sourced and written. If one goes the Rational Optimist blog, one will see links to prominent denialist blogs and websites.

    Sadly, his "optimism" is built on very shaky grounds.

    Ridley, a former director of the failed Northern Rock bank (nationalised by UK government), wears his pro-market views on his sleave and waves away any concerns about global warming. Indeed, the whole section is an attempt to minimise any concerns and argue against government intervention.

  68. Prof, the reference to "climate science" as a specific domain of expertise is itself problematic. Climate science encompasses a whole range of natural science diciplines and inter-disciplines, including such disparate areas as geo-chemistry and paleontology. You could certainly refer to a "community of climate science experts" but the bounds of such a community, i.e. who you can rationally include and exclude, are likely to be so elastic as to make the concept less than effective. At any rate why should the view of climate scientists matter more than climate sociologists or climate economists? There is more than a hint of technocratic dictatorship in your framing of the options. A libertarian such as myself, in no way beholden to ideology for ideology sake, shall find it hard to relate positively to your perspectives on this matter, however hard I tried.

  69. It was something I learnt very quickly when I first started posting on atheist boards. Pretty much every libertarian I came across (there may have been those who weren't but cognitive bias could be clouding my memory) would argue against human-induced climate change. And these were people who called themselves pro-science!

    What I could gather from the interactions is that it wasn't the science but that climate change was seen as a political ideology of the left. Reject the "socialist" (that word came up a lot), reject the socialist propaganda. That ultimately it's a scientific issue seldom came into it. It's just an argumentum ad verecundiam and can be dismissed without consideration.

  70. Kel is right when describing libertarian opposition to climate change theories as 'socialist' or 'leftist'.
    Libertarians' opposition to the idea of anthropogenic climate change (ACC) is certainly ideological and a priori, with no regard to scientific evidence. Let us say, moreover, that much of libertarianism is an a priori doctrine without regard for scientific evidence. But this is normal with ideologies of every stripe.

    On the other hand, many scientists have advanced doubts and objections of a scientific nature to different aspects of the view of ACC that informs the IPCC reports, and these scientists are not mostly libertarians, and it doesn't matter if they were, though they may find themselves in uneasy bedfellowship with libertarians.

    Distinguish between the two is important.

  71. I agree mostly with Ken, but disagree that "many scientists" have advanced doubts about global warming. The "many" is a handful as opposed to the hundreds who have pusblished papers on the topic over the past years.

    Whatever about the Cato Institute, the Heartland Institute and the Marshall Institute were two "libertarian" think tanks using the tactics used to deny that tobacco caused cancer to spread doubt about CO2 and climate change.

    Naomi Oreskes is an historian who has worked extensively on these two topics I mentioned above. To quote her, "multiple lines of converging evidence" are leading to an inescapable conclusion: AGW is real.

    Here is a good video of her presentation.


  72. Here is the Naomi Oreskes video:


  73. Toby, on the really critical issues of disagreement there are hundreds of dissenting papers. Examples include discussions about sea level rise, Greenland, Antarctica, the future rainfall regime over the Amazon basin, the expectation of a rapid savannisation of the Amazon forest, the economic assessment of climate change impacts and the main climate-change mitigation policies, and many others.

    There are some subjects in which only a handful of scientists have presented results, with many others following their conclusions without independent proof. Critics have been also few, because the matter is rather arcane and neither data nor methods have been published in manners suitable for replication.
    For instance, this includes paleoreconstructions of past climate based on tree rings, or the selection of met stations and adjustment of their data for non-climate noise such as urban heat islands, changes in station location, etc. These estimates, both instrumental and dendroclimatological, were made by the very narrow circle of core scientists known as "the Team" that both hold the data and computer routines, published the estimates, peer-reviewed each other, and evaluated the estimates as IPCC authors and editors. Those estimates, in turn, are crucial to prove that (a) measured temperatures have risen by certain specific amounts in the latest 50 years over 1850-2000, and that (b) such temperature rise is unprecedented at least over the last one or two millennia. Those estimates were the object of criticism by various authors, chiefly S. McIntyre and Ross McKittrick, asnd were also the cause of anguished inner debate between members of the Team, as evinced by the thousands of emails that created Climategate. This is a serious matter, and the critics are not facing a real "consensus" or the "convergence of many independent studies", but a series of interconnected publications by a small number of interrelated scientists, that also were the main editors and authors of the respective chapters of IPCC's 2001 and 2007 reports.

    This is the authentic debate about climate change science, within the boundaries of science. Ideological positions of every stripe, from deniers to enthusiasts (say, from the Cato Institute to Greenpeace) have little importance for the advancement of our understanding of climate change.
    However, analyzing beliefs is an interesting subject for researchers in the social sciences. This includes research into why libertarians tend to deny anthropogenic global warming, or why liberals tend to emphasize it. This kind of research is on a par with similar subjects like why so many people are superstitious, why many Americans believe Obama is a communist, or again why Americans chose G.W. Bush for president, at least once (2004) and possibly twice if one includes the weird 2000 election. Such research may throw light on the ways people think or believe, but not on the many issues posed by recent climate change research.

  74. Hmmm... I used to worry greatly that my scepticism towards significant human-caused warming was ideologically driven by my libertarianism. However, I have since utterly abandoned libertarianism, and become much more sympathetic to strong, competent government and collective action. And I still find AGW not merely unproven, but implausible. So on that point, I'm reassured.

  75. There is denial and uninformed skepticism, and there is scientifically informed skepticism grown on finding the scantiness of proof of some assertions, or the lack of transparence of the scientific process leading to certain conclusions.
    For instance, when Steven McIntyre first read about the Hockey Stick chart showing that 1998 was the single warmest year in a millennium, he didn't react by saying 'Bah, stupid bullshit'. He just asked 'How exactly do they know that?', and wrote to the authors seeking details. The answers did not satisfy him, so he kept asking (for about eight years), only to find obfuscation, equivocation and plain denial on the other side. The Climategate emails show how worried the Team was about his questions, and the extremes they went to avoid showing their data and software, to keep McIntyre papers unpublished, to destroy evidence of their exchanges, and other such behavior.
    The story makes fascinating reading, especially for one with scientific training and a penchant for epistemology (especially for "naturalized" epistemology a la David Hull: see his "Science as process" for similar stories in the field of zoological systematics). I'd like very much to see Massimo looking into this matter (as distinct from libertarian denialism): he seems the perfect person for that endeavor. No such luck so far.

  76. As a person who has read Hull´s book, I fully agree with you on this point. The fierce "quasi-political" fights among systematicists on access to leading scientific journals are a telling reminder of the difference between the idealised and simplified ideas of science and the "real thing".

    In consequence, I think that the usual "quasi-political" checks and balances should have been introduced in the process from the very beginning: a "division of powers" between data collection, scientific modelling, scientific reporting and policy making.

    Unfortunately, too many eggs were put in the same basket which created a situation where the leading climate scientists, knowingly or unknowingly, began to see themselves as persons with a mission, with all the moral obligations such a mission brings with it.

    Under such circumstances the boundaries between well-informed and quite legitimate scientific criticism and criticism motivated by ideological dogmas and business interests inevitably became blurred.

    This has been most unfortunate as it is absolutely vital to defend the central importance of scientific knowledge in public policy on many global questions.

  77. Andrew: You write that the Cato Institute doesn't get much money from oil and gas interests. But you don't mention that Charles Koch co-founded Cato and his brother David Koch sits on its board of directors. They are both executives at and owners of Koch Industries, one of the largest private companies in the U.S. with extensive coal, oil, and gas interests.

    Hector: You write that Stephen McIntyre of Climate Audit has a Ph.D. I don't believe that's correct. He has a B.Sc. in mathematics from the University of Toronto, and also writes that he "graduated" from Corpus Christi College at Oxford University after studying philosophy, politics, and economics, but doesn't say what degree he earned. I don't see any evidence that he claims to have a Ph.D.

  78. Jim,
    I stand corrected on McIntyre's degrees (I was thinking of his co-author McKittrick actually). But that point is not of the essence. What I remarked is that the Mc & Mc criticisms are about quite specific technical points (mainly on data choice and statistical procedures in reconstructions of past temperatures, without advancing any view on anthropogenic climate change as such). Their kind of criticism is the normal stuff of scientific debate. They are quite different from ideological rants of libertarian climate change deniers, and should not be conflated with them. The whole point of climategate was about the efforts of CRU and UPenn scientists to refuse release of their data and procedures, and to try and impede publication of the critics' articles in scientific journals or have them considered by the IPCC, "even if we have to redefine peer review" as Phil Jones put it in one of the climategate emails. In another message he complains that McIntyre mathematics seemed good, and therefore it would be difficult to get rid of him with an outright dismissal. These efforts to silence debate and dismiss scientific criticisms is the essence of the matter.

  79. This is exactly why I no longer consider myself a liberal. Their arguments are all based on emotion. Note when Penn Jillette argues he says we are conflating the issue into one whole issue, rather than separately. He asks to be pragmatic about the environment, not nutty! Also, no news outlet, including Al Gore, has ever addressed the global cooling magazines of the 1970s. Who knows if global warming will be the same? It could be forgotten about and the same issue could appear 30 years from now. I know adults who don't believe global warming on the basis that they were afraid of the cooling period 30 years ago.
    1) Is global warming real?
    2) How bad is it?
    3) Is it man-made?
    4) Is government the best solution to the problem?

    A true skeptic should ask all those questions. Most people I know have accepted at least one if not all four.

    also, people should ask about global cooling.

    1) How big was the scare?
    2) Aren't we seeing the same exact language as was posted in Newsweek and Time in the 1970s (food shortages, all experts agree, etc, etc)

    This is why I am no longer a liberal. Rather than real skepticism, liberals choose to act purely on emotion all the time and spend billions of our dollars as if it were monopoly money. Private investors already spend billions of their own dollars, such as T Boone Pickens and Richard Branson, but governments still insist on creating the broken window fallacy over and over and over again. Liberals have no real arguments. No real statistics. Just name calling. "Deniers," "In the pockets of big oil," "Climategate - just a scandal, nothing big, let's not look into it, it's just right-wing propaganda." Please. Global warming may be real and a threat. But it's not going to be solved by the kindergarteners in Washington that's for sure.

    Oh, and for another side of the BP story, see Reason TV's take on it. http://reason.tv/video/show/3-reasons-why-obama-should-kic. That is, if you are truly open minded. Or maybe you'd rather talk to yourself as usual and pretend you know what the other side thinks.

    "Liberals are great at seeing both sides of the same side."

  80. Scepticism puppy -

    You ask some questions about global cooling in the 1970s but don't bother to do some basic research. Check out Science journalist Potholer54's very good summary here:


    Or do a 5 minute google search.

    The bottom line is that there was a cooling trend earlier in the 20th Century that was reversed by greenhouse gases. There was no scientific consensus of a 'coming ice age' and the magazine articles were unsubstantiated hype.

    Your quote "all experts agree" is pure fabrication on your part, so I assume that not only did you not do any research in general on the topic, you didn't even read the Time and Newsweek articles in question, but feel free to characterize what they said.

    A skeptic proportions belief to the available evidence. If you can't be bothered to look at the evidence you are not being skeptical, you are being a denialist.

  81. In my last post, I linked to the wrong video from Potholer54 on the 1970s global cooling issue.

    This is the correct video link:


  82. Wow, I just stumbled upon this article and more generally this blog. Well, said. I have to say that I am an Independent with small "l" libertarian leanings. You call out the Cato Institute very well. One of the things that concerns me about the Cato Institute is that they seem to be giving up their Libertarianism in favor of the Tea Party. Unfortunately, I see little in common between the two other than anger, the wish for a smaller government, and wanting lower taxes. There is far more to the Libertarian philosophy than just these things.

    So where does that leave a classical liberal such as myself who believes in science AND in global warming but not in the nanny state the modern D's and R's have been creating? I think this article from "The Econimist" may be a start in that line of thinking:


    Love the blog. I'll be back.

  83. why do so many Atheists who claim to be skeptical of religion fall hook line and sinker for statist socialist global warming claims? libertarians propose solving the problem through private property rights. but maybe more libertarians would believe in climate change if it didn't involve statists trying to shove a gun down a throat to force me to pay for their values. does skype ever get praised for video conferences cutting down airplane travel and thus pollution? no. how about online mail? no. you environmentalists are tools of the ruling class. as far as BP goes, they engaged in 150 regulations before their oil spill occured and were big donors to the Obama campaign, not to mention they drilled on PUBLIC property. Statheists are skeptical of God, but if you insult the God of the state, they become the most irrational people. Seriously, there are more theists who are more rational than these knee-jerk Atheist liberals.

  84. @jamaican
    here here! I'm an atheist and I'm an AGW skeptic. I think it's possible, but I really see as much evidence against as for - 2000's cooler than 90's, for example. Temperature stations in cities - higher temps. Phony world-ending scare tactics. Cap-n-Trade multi-trillion $$ control schemes that won't lower any CO2 - just move it around and make some people very rich. An attack on CO2 vs methane or H2O, both of which are many, many times more greenhousey than CO2.

    This article, like most on this blog, (excepting the biology, which is valid) avoids the issue. Instead of looking at the actual skeptical concerns, raised by valid voices, the post just names libertarians as woo-woo deniers.

    This is 'skepticism' at its absolute worst. Shameful.

  85. Kelly, I looked at the evidence, and in this case libertarians are indeed acting like reality deniers.

  86. Massimo,
    that was not Kelly's concern. I think she agrees (as I do) that many libertarians act as stubborn deniers out of non-scientific concerns. But Kelly's point (which coincides with mine, that I have expressed before in your blog) is that such deniers are not representative of the skeptical camp, which contains a large number of thoughtful scientists making detailed investigations and posing interesting questions. Some of them actually question the warming effect of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. Others (probably most) question just the finer print (how much, at what time, under what assumptions, is it unprecedented, is it all man-made, what are the actual feedbacks, what is the urban-island effect on instrumental measurements, etc.).
    By concentrating on fringe deniers one cannot dodge such questions, which merit a more direct discussion.
    This does not (er) deny the importance of explaining, as you attempt, why libertarians have such views. That is a valid sociological or psychological question, worth investigating. The existing internal debate within the evangelical camp about their position regarding climate change is also worth looking at. But all that does not impinge on the validity (or lack thereof) of scientific skeptic questions, just as the right-wing warmongerish ideology of physicist Edward Teller does not affect the validity of his work on anti-matter or nuclear fission.

  87. Hector, you will always find scientists questioning the fine printing of everything, and often for good reasons. But that's not the problem. The problem here are the "fringe" people who are actually making a lot of noise and effectively blocking any action, for which we are all going to pay dearly, one of these days.

  88. Massimo,
    1. The fringe libertarian deniers are somewhat important politically in the US, but not much in other countries where the opposite position prevails. They may block policy decisions through their parliamentary representatives, especially from the Republican Party's right wing, just as they push other parts of their agenda from drilling offshore to abolishing affirmative action to ask for school prayer. But a blog like this, I surmise, should not concern itself so much with that crazy fringe, and focus instead on the rational, scientific aspects of climate science.
    2. It is true that "you will always find scientists questioning the fine printing of everything". But as regards climate change there are issues that merit enlightened examination. One is the process whereby scientific investigation of climate has acquired an advocacy quality. Another is the way in which this has affected the peer review process and the selection of scientific evidence to highlight in IPCC reports. Many of the "skeptical" serious questions are not nitpicking. Questioning whether the 1970-1998 warming trend was unprecedented (which involves questioning paleo-reconstructions of climate such as those advanced by Michael Mann in his (in)famous Hockey Stick), or asking whether indeed the urban island effect is negligible (as claimed in 1990 by Phil Jones on the basis of very questionable data and assumptions, and on evidence that could never been actually produced for revision), or asking about the actual sign of the cloud feedback effect that must be added or subtracted from the direct emission of greenhouse gases (where the IPCC and most scientists agree that cloud dynamics and feedbacks are not yet understood in their effect on climate), those are not the result of marginal concerns by a few nitpicking scientists, but very valid questions. Not to mention the embarrassing fact that actual warming in 1975-98 was systematically used as "evidence" of global warming, but the interruption of such trend in 1998-2010 is not explained by climate science, not predicted by climate models, though sometimes "explained" away just as "weather variability" or even as a manifestation of ... global warming itself!

    "But nobody denies the warming effect of greenhouse gases", is a frequent reply to these arguments. Of course, nobody seriously denies that ceteris paribus, more GHG means more temperature. But again, mind the ceteris paribus condition, and be prepared to be asked the natural questions: how much, when, with what feedbacks, based on what instrumental evidence, and so on.
    One can discuss whatever else is on one's mind, but aiming at understanding current climate science projections without addressing such questions is not acceptable, rationally speaking.

  89. This comment has been removed by the author.

  90. Timely statement from Defend Science on this. Recommended read.

    Corrected and short link: http://rny.me/fKorRy

  91. I think this article fails to see the point. The problem with climate change is not "incompetent industries". The industries are being very competent actually; they are playing by market rules.

    The problem is the unregulated market. Everybody has an interest in polluting more than his neighbor, since the costs of polluting are distributed on everybody, while the benefits are only for the polluter (and to some degree, his clients). For example, someone who makes a point of not polluting has to spend much more (electric cars, house insulation, etc.) but is still as vulnerable as anybody else to climate change and ambient pollution.

    Thus the unregulated market leads to everybody being worse off than if public action was taken against polluters.

    Of course this is contrary to libertarian/"objectivist" ideology.

  92. jamaicanmecraz3: but maybe more libertarians would believe in climate change if it didn't involve statists trying to shove a gun down a throat to force me to pay for their values.

    How is that remotely rational? Either AGW is true or it isn't. Can I make cancer fictional by pointing a gun at you and insisting you contribute to a cancer research fund?

    Hector M: Not to mention the embarrassing fact that actual warming in 1975-98 was systematically used as "evidence" of global warming, but the interruption of such trend in 1998-2010 is not explained by climate science, not predicted by climate models, though sometimes "explained" away just as "weather variability" or even as a manifestation of ... global warming itself!

    That paragraph was reasonable until this point. The 1998 argument is awful. A short rebuttal: Yes, 1998 happened to be a peak year (thanks in part to El Niño), but that doesn't mean that temperatures have been steadily dropping since then (as you imply). They've been rising since 1999, and the last ten years are all the hottest ones on record if you discount 1998. There's no reason whatsoever to think of 1998 as a problem unless you distort the info.

  93. Lennoxus,
    1998 was a high temperature year, mostly due to the strong El Niño that year. But even including that year, the trend in global temperatures since 1995 to 2011 is essentially flat. No warming trend during those 16 years (or at best a nearly flat non-significant trend not distinguishable from noise). There is, so far, no explanation for this sudden "interruption" of the warming trend reported by measurements since about 1970 up to the nineties. Moreover, the heat budget of the Earth, calculated as per the climate models used for the previous periods, shows a huge gap in recent years, i.e. an enormous amount of heat that nobody knows where it has gone ("and it is travesty that we don't know", says --more or less-- the eminent climatologist Dr Kevin Trenberth in one of the notorious Climategate emails).
    So forget about 1998. It is of course true that due to the well known phenomenon of statistical drag, the average temperature of 2000-2011 is still a bit higher than the average temperature of 1990-2000, a decade in which temperatures were rising and thence its average was lower than in the past decade. But this does not negate that the rising trend stopped in the second half of the 1990s, in spite of the El Niño high of 1998, and is still flat with no sign of rekindling.
    This does not deny that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, or that it would warm the earth (as well as water vapour or other gases). It only shows that perhaps the models used so far have been oversimplistic, or that they lacked a good understanding of certain processes (such as the cooling effect of clouds, or other factors). Much progress is being done in these matters, but the conclusions remain highly uncertain.

  94. Hector,

    you do realize that climategate was an invention of the right, yes? Several inqueries have completely cleared the scientists involved.

  95. Massimo,
    the right has certainly hyped its own goals based on Climategate, but the inquiries into Climategate were mostly whitewasging exercises, that did not actually investigate the matters involved (this includes the inquiries conducted by the Universities of East Anglia and Penn State, and the one conducted under the House of Commons). Lots of analyses have been made of the omissions of those enquiries (which failed to investigate the scientific issues involved, failed to interview the relevant people, failed even to read the emails). I am quite unsatisfied with those inquiries. I highly recommend reading in this regard the highly technical and painstakingly detailed analyses produced about this matter in the Climate Audit blog. As you know, most of the Climategate emails concern the issues raised at that blog, from years before, about proxy reconstructions of past temperatures and other related matters, and about the limited willingness of climate scientists at UEA and Penn State to share raw data and computer code related to those reconstructions; none of it was about "denying" climate change or global warming or the warming effect of CO2.

  96. In fact, a totally new batch of emails linked to the 2009 Climategate have now been made available through FOIA. See http://climateaudit.org/2011/11/22/new-climategate-emails/. A big file of emails can be downloaded, but for those with little time for a detailed analysis there are some of the most notorious in one of the first comments in the thread. McIntyre will apparently produce a more detailed analysis later.

    I am very far from being a libertarian right-wing sympathizer. I have no personal commitment to one or another "cause" in matters climatological. I look at the discussions mostly as an illustration of "science as a process" (to use David Hull's phrase), and find it fascinating. As for my personal research related to these matters, my latest book on the impact of climate change on agriculture and food security entirely relies on the IPCC climate projections, even if express some reservations about the demographic and economic assumptions of the SRES scenarios.

  97. Hector,

    well, I on the other hand am satisfied with the investigation, and pissed off at the ludicrous political exploitation of the whole affair. See these two links for a perspective similar to mine:


  98. Massimo,
    I am totally with you at the political exploitation of climate affairs (in both directions). But I do not agree that the inquiries on Climategate were anything but whitewashes. The real scientific issues on which the whole Climategate flurry of emails arose (i.e. technical questions posed by S.McIntyre and others about the hockey stick reconstruction of past temperatures based on proxies, and the resistance on the part of established climate science to discuss those objections in public) were not examined in any of the inquiries.
    The new batch of emails recently made public reveal that many of the climate scientists involved acknowledged (in private) that most of the objections were valid, but that admitting that would be "bad for the cause". Even the attitude of some respected scientists to engage the "skeptics" in their scientific claims, such as Dr Judith Curry, are regarded as "not helping the cause".
    As one without a "cause" in this matter, or at least without a cause to defend while I investigate the Earth climate and its implications, I think all this is quite interesting as an illustration of the mixture of politics and science. It all makes for fascinating reading for anyone interested in climate science as such, in the use of climate science to guide climate policy, or in the conduct of science in general.

  99. Libertarians forget that the EPA was created in 1970 BECAUSE the "free market" had proved itself incapable of having a real conscience about nature over profits. A good deal of general laziness and procrastination was to blame, also. It takes effort to control effluent.

    Pollution problems had become so obviously bad that even a guy like Nixon was OK with forming the EPA. Nixon was less anti-environmental than many of today's Republicans, and he shouldn't be cited as proof that most Republicans actually respect nature. They clearly don't, especially when resource extraction profits, wildlife sport killing or motorized recreation is at stake. They typically fall on the side of avarice and indifference to nature. Creationism has a lot to do with that.

    Now, the original EPA regulations (like the Clean Air & Water acts) have been in place so long that they're taken for granted as the inevitable result of the private sector. Aside from certain forward-thinking companies, that's still largely false and greed prevails. After Reagan was elected, the piss-on-nature train went full speed ahead and the legacy remains.

    With regard to environmental problems, Libertarians and Republicans haven't learned much from history, and don't seem interested in doing so. I think most of them are just self-centered, which is exactly what you'd expect AGW deniers to be. That's putting it kindly.

  100. I think a huge part of it is about the fact that they(libertarians climate change deniers) know that the planet is in dire straits is destructive to their whole agenda. Think about it. The oceans are quickly becoming more and more barren as we fish far more than the ocean is capable of regenerating. We've made parts of the ocean uninhabitable by draging nets along the bottom, ruining reefs and natural habitats.

    With a no-government system there would be no regulation of fishing or hunting AT ALL. The private sector wouldn't give a crap about it, they'd deplete the oceans, we've seen them do it under regulation, why wouldn't they go ahead without regulation? After all, libertarians tend to believe the planet is invulnerable for some reason..

    If the need for conservation of species and cut down of emissions becomes a big issue -- (which it is, just not inside fringe bubbles(smaller more extreme political groups whose ideology leans FAR to the right or left) where people tend to believe in a doctrine put down by some leader figure. Very hive mind oriented even though they consistently call everyone else sheep/dummies etc. Fringe groups are, in essence, hive minds.) -- their whole ideology goes straight down the crapper. It's already clear that the right wing + libertarians + some other riff raff don't take climate change or flora/fauna seriously, which means the whole task of keeping the planet going would fall to the center and left, and seeing as we now live under the rule of megacorporations (which we kinda do right now, only not directly) there's not a whole lot that the left and center can do.. We'd already spend most our time working 12 hour shifts earning 2 bucks an hour cause minimum wage was removed.

    I have no idea how people get suckered into thinking Libertarianism would work, but I suspect their adoration for the elite makes them believe the elite is actually out there to do good, much the same way really far left people think the government is out there to do good. Both are wrong, only one side wants to be able to vote every 4 years. The other think they'll reach the upper class and be immune to the slave labor camps that Libertarianism will bring from china to the US.

    I think the people who believe libertarianism would be better for all people have a really poor understanding of how to exploit systems. I can see an almost endless stream of oportunities for just vicious and brutal exploitation of humans in an unregulated system. Removing minimum wage alone would allow for inhumane treatment of people. Take away all other regulations and you're free to open your own slave camp. Good times.. Good times.


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