At The Chilling Effect, we like to discuss some of the issues
surrounding the potential warming of our planet, and what (if anything)
should be done about it. One way to do that is to get the issue
straight from an expert with a strong point of view. This week’s guest
interview is with Iain Murray, Senior Fellow in Energy at the
Competitive Enterprise Institute. His impressive policy and blogging
resume can be found here. He is author of The Really Inconvenient
Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Don’t Want You to
Know About–Because They Helped Cause Them.
Effect: We ran into you at the Americans For Prosperity/RightOnline
event, where you were on speaking a panel regarding global warming.
Some in the audience were certain that global warming is a hoax, while
others were agnostic on the science. Given your review of the issue,
what’s your best guess on climate change?
Iain S. Murray: I
think it’s pretty conclusive that, all other things being equal, more
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere leads to a warmer atmosphere.
However, it’s clear from the recent plateau in temperatures, while GHGs
have continued to accumulate, that all other things are not equal. We
really don’t know very much about the other “forcings,” as they call
them, that go in to deciding the global temperature, and clearly need
more research on them. We also don’t know very much at all about the
history of climate beyond 400 years ago. We need to know not just what
regulates the atmosphere, but whether temperature swings are unusual or
TCE: What frustrates you most, then, about the current debate over climate change?
There are a lot of things we can do – the so-called “no regrets”
policies – that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or create a
global economy more resilient to change that would be beneficial even
if global warming doesn’t turn out to be a problem. However, these
policies are ignored by the global warming industry because they
require a little lateral thinking and don’t create massive
bureaucracies and central control. Meanwhile, there are many who deride
such policies because they see global warming as a hoax. The truth is
it isn’t a hoax, not is it a crisis. It’s a risk to be managed. So
let’s manage it!
TCE: It doesn’t
take long to understand the thesis of your book, since the title does a
great job of summing it up. One of the most interesting arguments you
make is that “Gore’s vision of greater state control over the economy
has already produced some of the greatest environmental disasters in
history.” Can you give our readers a quick idea of what you mean?
The central insight of free-market environmentalism is that people with
an ownership stake in the environment generally take care of their
asset. Yet the Goreite approach to the environment seeks to take
control out of the hand of the owner and give it to the commons either
by regulation (forcing or even “nudging” the owner to do something he
wouldn’t otherwise) or by direct public ownership. This leads to what
ecologist Garret Hardin called “The Tragedy of the Commons,” as far
back as 1968. So it was nationalization of the nation’s waterways that
led to the Cuyahoga catching on fire, biofuel subsidies and mandates
that have led to food crises and deforestation, public management of
forests that led to Yellowstone almost burning down 20 years ago, the
de facto ban on DDT that led to the failure
to control malaria in Africa and, worst of all, the Soviet direct
management of waterways in Asia that led to the destruction of the Aral
TCE: When you get feedback
from people who have read your book, what is the most common thing that
they mention? What strikes or surprises them most, or what pushback
have you gotten from critics?
The people I thought would criticize the book have largely ignored it,
which seems to be the liberal environmentalist approach these days to
things they don’t like. They regard such arguments as literally
unspeakable. Of those open-minded enough to read the book, the thing
that has gotten the most attention is the revelation of the
environmental movement’s silence over a number of issues that plainly
affect the environment by their own lights – the effects of the
contraceptive pill on the nation’s freshwater fish, the encouragement
of mass immigration to the US and so on. And, of course, everyone wants
to know about global warming. In fact, if I’d written my book purely on
global warming I’m sure it would have sold more copies, but there are
plenty of other books out there doing that. I wanted to stress how
global warming alarmism is just the latest in a series of
environmentally-based power grabs.
There are a lot of us who want to keep the world in good order but
think the evidence just isn’t there on global warming. For someone who
cares about the environment, what are the best practical ways to keep
our world clean and improve energy for the future?
The best practical steps, I think, are to exercize traditional virtues
of thrift and conservation. Turn you lights off when you’re not using
them. Don’t drive too far for something that isn’t really worth it.
Spend time with your children rather than leaving them in front of a TV
or video game. All these activities will lower your bills and lower
emissions. Better sources of energy will come as the market responds to
them. If people are willing to pay more for “cleaner” energy, the
market will respond. However, we must recognize that this is a luxury
purchase. So were TVs 30 years ago. We must allow people to get richer,
around the world, so that such energy sources cease to be luxuries.
However, that, ironically, requires access to affordable energy. So the
last thing we should do is seek to raise the price of energy for
TCE: Do you have any pet
projects or quirky arguments/ideas that you wish policymakers or the
think tank community would latch onto when it comes to the global
warming and energy debate?
Reform the Air Traffic Control system! The current system is based on a
1920s system of beacons and is ridiculously labor-intensive in the days
of GPS navigation. Simple reforms could
reduce the amount of fuel used – and emissions generated – by 0.4
million barrels of oil per day.
That’s a great example of
the sort of no regrets policy I mentioned earlier. Oh, and we need to
remove all the regulatory barriers we have put in the way of energy
innovation, but that’s a longer argument for another day.