Roger Bates Speech on Climate Change

Thank you very much, Ron. It appears I’ve been promoted up the batting order. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a benefit to you or me, or our later speakers. I’ve been charged with presenting a public choice perspective on the climate debate, and especially that related to science. Really, this will try and be an explanation of why rhetoric does not always equate with reality, although in some instances it does. And, in fact, it’s heavily reinforced.

The reason what we have to do to understand a public choice approach is to look at the motivations, the motives behind the various actors in the debate. Dr. Spencer earlier today discussed a lot of the motivations that scientists face, and I shall dwell on those a little later. But, basically, the premise of public choice, economics public choice theory, is that most people, most of the time, cannot argue against or debate against their manifest interests.

Now, the public choice model as it applies to the public policy world is of four groups. We’re looking at voters, politicians, bureaucrats and interest groups. There may be a fifth in terms of the media, which I might have mentioned but, of course, David Murray is going to talk about the media, so I probably won’t.

They all want something from the political system. Voters want better government. Politicians want votes. Bureaucrats want job security and increased budgets. And interest groups want income. The climate change game, as I’m going to call it, presents all these actors vying in this game of competing interests. However, and this is a key point to all the public choice analysis, there is an asymmetry of information. Unlike the politicians, bureaucrats, interest groups, all the specialists in the field, the voters are usually ignorant of most of the details of the debates. This is true in things — in issues like employment, but it’s even more true in cases like climate change where the substance of the debate is even more difficult to define.

And, because of that, the political process gears the benefits to the other three players in the game. And this often leads to, as one economist has called it, myth making and suppression and distortion of information, stimulation of hatred and envy, and the promotion of excessive hope. And this is all in a rational game. Climate change is, as I say, a policy game like in any other. But, because of the increased voter ignorance, it’s even more subject to the kind of rent seeking that occurs within most other policy arrangements.

And I assure you that when Fran Smith said that 90 percent of voters in this country were completely unaware of climate change policies, that is probably the case, certainly across the United Kingdom, and almost certainly across Western Europe. So I doubt if you go further afield than that, that you’re going to have any smaller number than 90 percent.

Basically, the political entrepreneurs in this game have serious problems at home. Most politicians around the world find that they come up against a variety of problems ranging from economic policies through to things like the Whitewater scandal. At home, in my country, we have recently had the unfortunate situation of politics slipping to a discussion of sleaze, and the allegations of cash for questions asked in the House of Commons, and the unfortunate situation which we’re now in where, although the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom have been in power for more time this century than the Communists were in Soviet Russia, they are probably not electable for the next nine or 10 years, given the problems that they have brought on themselves.

Where their interests, where the individual interests of the politicians coincide with the national or perceived national interest, you tend to have very, very powerful voices on this international arena. Now, remember, on the international level, politicians are less accountable for their actions. And we’ve witnessed recently in New York, a few weeks ago, Herr Kohl and Mr. Blair coming over here and finger-wagging rather excessively, I thought, at your president, although he seems to need some kind of finger-wagging, but probably this was the wrong issue on which it was done.

There are a couple of reasons why Mr. Blair and Herr Kohl, and Angela Merkel, the environment minister in Germany and John Gummer or rather now the new labor minister, whose name escapes me for a second — thank you. And that’s not the name of the environment minister, just a time warning. Although, I was going to be very, very impressed, Ron, if you had been able to get it to me that quickly.

The two reasons are, and it is incredibly ironic that the two countries outside of the United States that do a lot of climate scientific research are the United Kingdom and Germany, and as both our Australian guests today have already pointed out, the reasons that these two countries will be the only ones in Europe, and which certainly that hit their implied Rio commitments, it is because of the demise of the coal industry in the UK, and the reunification within Germany. And these were for reasons which had nothing to do with climate change. So, you’ve got politicians who can act in their own interest, who can act in the national interest, and can be seen to be green. It’s a wonderful position for Herr Kohl and Mr. Blair to be in.

The other players in this game are, some of them are as obvious, business, of course. Business is not — does not have one defining interest, though. If you’re a solar power executive, you really do want climate change to be an issue. If you’re an oil or a coal company executive, you’d rather it went away. And, of course, then you have the more difficult to define interest in-between, such as in financial services, and in the insurance industry, which I’m going to talk about a bit later.

And then we have the environmental organizations who can gain from the promotion of things like solar power, and from gaining kudos in pushing forward this as their agenda. And, of course, also, and this is the point that Deepak Lal I think was making, to stop population growth in less developed countries, which I actually think is the aim of quite a lot of these environmental organizations.

Then, of course, we come to the main topic that I want to talk about, which is the scientists themselves. Dr. Spencer mentioned, and when I was talking to Alan Robock earlier, that scientists on the whole do, I think, honestly search for the truth. But in my humble opinion, they are also subject to incentives. They have remained, fortunately for them, and I think with some reason, above ridicule in most countries of the world, especially in Europe. There were jokes about lawyers which go back as far as Shakespeare. There are — doctors and accountants are being sued for malpractice even in Europe on a more regular basis than has ever occurred before. But academic scientists have remained objective, apparently objective, and above all this. And this is down to a couple of issues. One which is, of course, peer review.

Now, if you look at the climate change issue, there are many, many scientific disciplines that make it up. We took geochemistry, biochemistry, crystallography, botany, paleo-botany, there are probably 200, 300, 400 more. But most of the money, and this, as Alan pointed out to me earlier, is because it is very expensive, is heading towards dynamic modeling. Now, I would argue that one of the reasons for that is, it is not necessarily as or more scientifically important, but it is vitally important politically. It is unusual, especially in the United Kingdom, for scientists to think of their work as being relevant, but relevance is very, very useful in terms of getting dollars for research.

The Hadley Center in the United Kingdom, which is part of the UK Meteorological Office, gets about $20 million a year and that is going up, primarily — and it was set up because of climate change. Should climate change disappear as an issue, that government-funded body should probably wind up, although it will probably find a new mandate. The Max Planck Institute in Germany, and the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom as well, would probably lose tens of — maybe 20, 30, 40, even 50 researchers.

Big science needs big money, and climate change now in the UK gets more money than cancer research. Careers do depend on climate change as an issue. This, I would argue if I had longer, leads to distortions in funding, even in peer review, and there is certainly a publication bias.

There are a few documented, and probably many more, examples of scientists who are put under pressure not to stand up against the consensus. There’s a nice example of an oceanographer in Miami who was told by his professor that if he questioned the climate consensus, he may be in endangering his department’s funding. The more skeptical members of the meteorological office don’t seem to be in charge of publicity anymore, although they were in the early stages.

And so, my point, and I haven’t been able to defend it fully, is that scientists, along with the rest of the political players, have conflicting interests. And this is why rules of procedure are so important. From a constitution down to peer review, it’s important that rules are adhered to. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, is alleged to have broken some of their own rules last year. And I’m not going to dwell on this too long, because it has been discussed at length, and I haven’t the time. But it should come as no surprise that these alterations were made. If you look, and I’ll quote you, from the defining article of 1988, in the setting up of the Intergovernmental Panel and Climate Change, it says that the IPCC is a mechanism aimed at providing the basis for the development of a realistic and effective internationally accepted strategy for addressing climate change. Note the assumption that climate change was treated as a given even then.

Now, the IPCC reputation, like that of science, really hangs on the peer review process, and in open debate. Now, remember, objectivity is not from the word of a particular scientist. Objectivity arises from open debate. Now, peer review is a good case in point. There are 22 papers in Chapter 6 of the IPCC’s second scientific assessment report which were not peer reviewed at the time of publication, although it is seen by the media as being a truly scientific, truly scientific in terms of all peer reviewed papers in its bibliography.

I debated John Houghton, who is the head of one of the scientific advisory groups, and he said that, “these papers were available to reviewers who could request them,” but I didn’t have the chance at the time, but it begs the question. Firstly, they had to know that they existed. And, secondly, that anybody in a wider potential for review were not able to get a hold of these documents.

Now, I come to, I suppose, as far as I’m concerned, the key point of my talk, and that is that there are several people around the globe who pointed these things out, including myself in the UK and Dr. John Emsley, who is a fellow director at the European Science and Environment Forum. But, especially the climate inside the climate change kind of clique and the climate change scientists, let’s say, and probably the media as well in most instances, especially in Europe, reported only the complaints from industry lobby groups.

Now, one article, one comment was made in Nature at the beginning of the question about the alternations of the document, but they never returned to us, even though I tried to get through to the journalist in question on several occasions. Perhaps more worrying still is, there is a BBC program which was published — sorry, rather which aired about three months ago, where the only reason that they actually put people on the air, including here today, Fred Singer, and Pat Michaels, was to discredit them because, at some stage in their careers, they had taken funding, or their institutes had taken funding, from fossil fuel sources. I wasn’t deemed adequate, although I’ve been on many BBC programs, to go on that program because I’m funded by charitable sources. I did not get any funding directly from fossil fuel groups. And, because of that, I didn’t go onto the program.

Now, I think that we may have had a more ad hominem debate in the United States than perhaps many people here would like to have seen, but at least you had a debate. This issue just did not raise more than a few eyebrows within the European Union countries. And that, I think, comes down to because there’s a trust of — or more of a trust of authority there than perhaps there is here.

So, quickly moving on to the kind of predictions that had been made. Firstly, that coalitions would spring up in the climate debate. The most alarming, I think, is that of between the environmental organizations and the insurance industry, especially in Europe. The insurance industry worried about potential impacts are asking for the governments to underwrite their loans. The removal of the kind of act of God areas of their contracts, increasing premiums and, of course, in return, they will say that action is needed on climate change, which becomes sweet music to green ears.

Also, it was predicted that John Galmer, who is likely to lose his seat at the election, and formerly our environment minister, would be seeking pastures new and, in fact, I think he wanted the head job at the United Nations Environment Program, until he realized he’d have to move to Nairobi. And there’s one good thing to be said for Nairobi.

Public choice should also be able to help us predict things that may actually be sensible activities that may be contested by people in this room, but I think, and most economists, most interest groups, and probably most voters would agree as well, and that is the removal of subsidies to fossil fuel production around the globe. If the German miners had their funding cut, that would probably save the Vice Chancellery or whatever it is now, about 7 or 8 billion deutsche Marks a year. So, if we move on, quickly, to Kyoto, we have heard today some very interesting analysis of countries such as Australia and the United States who have serious reservations about either continuing with the planet treaty or may be looking towards not signing at Kyoto. I urge those people to speak to the Norwegian government. Norway is a country that produces all its electricity from hydropower. Yet, it is still asked to reduce its emissions by 15 percent, as are the rest of the EU. They will find it very, very difficult. And, as I am now moving, they are shifting on their feet worrying how they can get out of this deal.

So, to conclude, the ad hominem attacks on people’s funding and sources of income will continue, because I believe that a proper debate on this issue, a more open debate, would put it into better perspective. Obfuscation and myth making are flourishing. Consensus is equated with truth. Source of information is equated with quality. And, unfortunately, business is confused as to what it should do. As usual, business, when it’s confronted like this, often placates. It doesn’t actually attack things head on. Even now, and I may be alarming people when I say this, I think it’s gone as far as — I think many businesses have Fifth Columnists within their own companies. The environmental departments working on climate change, their jobs now depend, to a certain extent on environmental issues, and certainly on climate change.

But the debate will continue. The European Science Environment Forum, the Institute of Economic Affairs, which I represent, will attempt to keep the debate alive in Europe. Given that, my contention is, the pro- warming bias occur in funding, publication, presentation and policy, I think this is essential. There’s a leaflet outside which has got a Wall Street Journal Europe article that I wrote on the Earth Summit last month, and also an announcement of our continuing debate, which is the next book, which follows up to the first book of the European Science and Environment Forum, A Global Warming Debate.

I will end it there. Thank you very much for listening. And hopefully I can answer your questions later. Thanks.