Moron Economists and Global Warming

There are many different takes on global warming, many of them moronic. At the high end of the moronitude scale come the straightforward denialists. Never mind that all warming predictions so far have come true, or that glaciers and ice caps are visibly receding, or that extreme weather conditions have increased (as predicted) or that computer models based on different methods all predict warming; the true denialist doesn’t need facts, because there’s always an oil-funded pundit to reassure him that it’s still OK to drive a Hummer.But denialists still have a problem: despite large amounts of funding for their cause, there’s a distinct shortage of experts they can call on. Climate scientists themselves have reached a near-unanimous consensus on the issue, as have scientific bodies around the world. Favourite spokespeople of the denial movement such as Christopher Monckton have been caught lying so many times that they have no remaining credibility beyond their hardcore base of believers.

Enter the Economists. Now don’t get me wrong – I think Economics is a wonderful field with some of the world’s brightest people finding elegant explanations and proposed solutions for a plethora of issues. On the other hand, while blue-sky thinking is valuable, it tends to create far more dead-ends than real answers. Then bring in the denialists, and the combined result is a recipe for inaction: “No need to cut carbon usage because Doctor Fred Smith of Hastings University says we’ll find a solution”.

Today’s example of nicely-argued economical moronitude comes from David Friedman, and is provocatively-titled What is Wrong With Global Warming Anyway? In a nutshell, he argues that while warming has obvious downsides, it also has obvious upsides (primarily the ability to grow crops and live further away from the equator). He then states (erroneously) that it’s not possible to estimate the costs or the benefits, and so decides (erroneously again) that we can’t say whether the net effect of global warming is good or bad for humans. He is therefore led to the conclusion that there’s no point investing in CO2 reduction, as we can’t provide a cost/benefit analysis to justify the spending.

You may have already spotted that this argument is moronic, pretty much from start to end. His base assumption (that we can’t try to cost the pros and cons) is clearly wrong, and would have many of his fellow economists up in arms – after all, costing such things is how they earn their living – and we’re approaching the fifth anniversary of the review by the economist Nicholas Stern which did exactly this.

Friedman points out that warming will lead to more habitable areas in places such as Siberia and Canada, which could lead to economic gains – as could the opening of new sea routes previously blocked by ice. This is of course true. Let’s assume for a moment that as much new fertile and habitable land appears as vanishes elsewhere (this assumption is highly unlikely to be true anyway, but bear with me). So we end up with large parts of Africa, Asia, the Southern US and other places less fertile and habitable, while equivalent areas of northern Canada, Greenland and Siberia open up to human habitation.

That’s great, problem solved! The only minor problem is how to relocate several billion people several thousand miles from the world’s poorest regions, replace cities, electricity and water infrastructure, road and rail, deal with the huge social upheavals and wars that would inevitably result, and hey presto! A brand new, stable and happy (not to mention warmer) world.

Now, given that our societies have taken around 13,000 years to reach their current states, forgive me for being a little cynical that this may all be achievable in a few decades. Oh, and let’s not forget that warming can only help the spread of disease, with associated costs – there’s no loss/gain trade-off when it comes to more malaria. And let’s also remember that with rising sea levels, there is a net loss of land; and low-lying coastal land just happens to accommodate a large part of the global population, along with the greatest cities.

Friedman’s “don’t worry, we’ll find a solution” attitude is hilarious when contrasted with recent events. If you consider the pain caused by sub-prime mortgage disaster, does anyone believe a global evacuation and resettlement could be achieved? Friedman’s solution only works if a genocidal approach is taken (assumed but unmentioned by Friedman) – allow people in the Horn of Africa (for example) to die from famine, while allowing the Europeans and North Americans to expand and relocate northwards.

I have little doubt homo sapiens will survive this century of warming, and the centuries of disruption that will follow. But can we survive in our current numbers, and maintain the complex societies we live in today? That seems unlikely. We’re inevitably entering the greatest period of instability our civilisation has been through in its 13,000-year history. The next few decades (or more likely centuries) will be tough – and the last thing we need is more complacency brought on by moronic arguments like Friedman’s.

UK Government Sabotages Green Investment

This week, with almost no comment in the British press, an industry was killed off. This wasn’t just any industry, but one that has recently created 17,000 jobs, and is tipped to be one of the world’s fastest-growing: Solar Photovoltaic (PV) power generation.

In April 2010, the UK belatedly adopted the idea of FITs (Feed-In Tariffs), a form of subsidy that was already widespread in Germany and other countries. FITs are a cost-effective subsidy that guarantee a fixed amount for energy generated from renewable sources. The introduction of FITs allowed entrepreneurs to create business plans for the creation of Solar PV businesses; they then approached green energy investors to raise the capital required to build solar farms (typically in Cornwall and elsewhere in South-West England). Initial investments were injected by angel investors – typically individuals investing relatively small amounts of their own cash.

Yet suddenly, the UK Government has announced a review of FITs for Solar PV. The effect on the industry has been instant; investment in Solar PV has been frozen, companies have laid off staff, and investments made to date are rendered potentially worthless. Land already allocated for solar farms now sits idle. Not only solar is affected: the result of the announcement is to create uncertainty for all green energy investment: why take the risk of following the Solar industry into the same hole?

The action is moronic at many levels:

  • There is no risk for government in FITs – all risk is taken by private entrepreneurs and investors.
  • Germany and China have already stolen a march in the green energy sector. This may be the UK’s last chance to lead in a sector that’s growing at a huge rate.
  • Without investment in green energy now, we expose ourselves to ever higher oil prices, and make ourselves more reliant on Russia as a gas provider.
  • The loss of 17,000 private-sector jobs comes at the worst possible time, when unemployment is already rising due to government cuts.

Whether the review announcement was simply done through incompetence, or whether the power of the fossil fuel industry was involved remains to be seen. Regardless, I name government ministers Chris Huhne and Greg Barker as Morons Of The Week.

British readers may want to write to Huhne or their own MPs using this open letter.

Lord Monckton Runs Away

Twitter can be a cruel place, as “climate expert” and laughing stock Lord Monckton found out yesterday to his cost. Monckton is a British climate change denier, and makes a very good living from it. He is largely ignored in his own country, but it seems America and Australia provide more fertile ground for his brand of “science”, and no doubt his posh accent and title give him added credibility in those places.

Monckton is very important to climate change denialists – they seem to think that he adds credibility to their cause. And he is widely celebrated in the right-wing blogosphere.

Yesterday (31st January) I was alerted to the fact that Monckton had arrived on Twitter. He’d clearly been ill-advised – unlike the rightwing press and blogosphere, Twitter is a place that can bite back. No doubt Monckton was expecting an adoring welcome from his fans – and no doubt he got one. But this would have been at least matched by those who are less friendly to his “cause”.

You see, the great Lord is renowned to be a twister of facts. Furthermore, he makes an extremely good living by being the mouthpiece for climate change denial; a living he protects fiercely. For example, he is reported to have earned $20,000 (Australian) for a recent Australian tour.

Which is good work if there are people dumb enough to pay for it. But more serious, from a factual point of view, are questions about whether money from the fossil fuel industry finds its way into Monckton’s wallet. reports that Monckton is listed by the “free-market” think-tank The Heartland Institute as a “Global Warming Expert”. The article points out that this organisation has received over $791,000 from ExxonMobil, and that sponsors of its 2009 “Climate Change Conference” had received over $47 million from oil and right-wing interests, making it anything but an impartial scientific body.

Now, Lord Monckton is renowned for silencing his critics by issuing libel writs, so let me make clear at this stage that I have no idea whether the allegations I’ve linked to above are true or false. So you can imagine my delight when I was informed that I could now question him publicly on Twitter, and find out for myself.

I began by warmly welcoming him aboard: It’s nice to see oil-funded climate “expert” @LordMonckton on Twitter. Welcome! More info here: – providing a link to a article about him.

To my great delight, he swiftly responded to me, stating: I am not, nor ever have been, funded by the fossil fuel industry. At last! A chance for Monckton to set the record straight. I realised that he was denying direct funding, so I wondered about indirect funding. I asked Have you ever worked for a body that is oil-funded?

The next reply was somewhat puzzling. Rather than a straight “No”, he said: I have never “worked” (by which I assume u mean f/t employment) for an #oil funded body

This is an interesting definition of the word “worked”. In other words, he could work weekends and evenings, or even four days a week, for an oil-funded body. But so long as he isn’t working full-time for them, he considers that not worth mentioning. My question had clearly not been precise enough, and I decided to clarify: Wow – that was an evasive response. Have you ever done any work for an oil-funded body?

Amazingly, this great researcher, debater and spreader-of-truth didn’t answer! I was stunned. Could Lord Monckton be trying to hide something? Of course, some of his supporters did come to his aid:

@gopthinking said: @LordMonckton Don’t reply to that fool called @Moronwatch, he is a worthless communist!! Not worthy of ur time I assure you!!). Which gave me a warm feeling in my heart – I’m known and loved throughout the Twitterverse! But enough about me – back to Monckton.

He tweeted publicly: I grow more concerned by events in Egpt (sic) so I decided to restart the conversation, and said: You could always deny it’s happening. Works for global warming. This approach didn’t start the productive conversation I’d hoped for.

Next, at 00:32(GMT) @ionstp tweeted: hey @LordMonckton has blocked his tweets! What’s with that? Now we can’t laugh at them or him. Bummer!

I was amazed: this fighter for truth, this great and noble Lord who defends the persecuted and maligned fossil fuel business against accusations that it’s destroying the world, has shunned open debate!

And finally at 08:23(GMT) @NemesisRepublic tweeted: Oh! @LordMonckton seems to have vanished from Twitter! Should I now treasure for posterity the Tweets we exchanged?

And that was it: in a virtual puff of smoke, Monckton had vanished just as quickly as he’d arrived. No doubt, I was one of many who tried to engage in open discussion, and failed. But I’d like to think that I played some small part in the story of what must be one of the shortest-lived Twitter accounts ever.

Looking Ahead: Morons in 2011

At this time in a new year, you can expect political pundits, economists and “futurologists” to give their predictions for the next 12 months. As the world’s leading Moronologist (self-appointed), I’ve decided to share my predictions for the coming 12 months. Where will be the hotspots of moron activity? Who are the morons to watch? What will morons be doing and saying in 2011?

Prediction 1: Winter will be colder than summer

OK – that’s obvious. However, this simple fact takes morons by surprise every year, and provides their small minds with “evidence” that man-made global warming is a myth. Meanwhile, the oil, coal, gas, motor, road and aviation industries will continue to fund denialist organisations in order to keep millions of morons confused.

Morons to watch: in the absence of any actual scientists who deny climate change, the serial climate liar Christopher Monckton is likely to again be wheeled out by deniers. It doesn’t matter that he’s been repeatedly discredited; morons don’t check facts anyway.

Probability: 100%

Prediction 2: The Tea Party will become increasingly confused

Given the extreme levels of confusion already existing within these moronic groups, this is a braver prediction. The Tea Party is a loose-knit collection of assorted morons, who believe they are part of an “anti-elite” movement, but who in fact are funded and nurtured by some fairly “elite” types. As activists realise they’ve been primarily used as a tool to win lower taxes and looser regulation for the super rich and big business, many will drift away, disillusioned.

Morons to watch: this may be a make-or-break year for Sarah Palin, the Moron Queen of Morondom. Her chances of becoming 2012 presidential candidate seem to be slipping, and she’s likely to end 2011 by drifting further from politics towards lucrative celebrity deals.

Probability: 75%

Prediction 3: Islamaphobia to rise in Europe/Israel, peak in US/UK

This is a complex one; since 9/11, morons have been inciting even dumber morons to believe that Islam poses a threat to life, the universe and everything. Islamaphobia has helped fuel the growth of neo-fascist movements across Europe, that were already in recovery as collective memories of the Holocaust faded away. Xenophobia is at the core of European identity, though Europe plays well at being “tolerant” in between the odd genocide. Neo-fascists have been making electoral gains for some time in places like France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and across the old Soviet bloc. Israel has also seen a long rise of neo-fascists being elected – something that has deeply disturbed Holocaust survivors.

Meanwhile in Britain, which has always been less fertile ground for fascism than most of Europe, the BNP (British National Party) appears to be heading for collapse amidst electoral failure and financial meltdown. The EDL (English Defence League), perhaps Britain’s dumbest organisation, has gained somewhat as a result, but I predict that they too will splinter and decline during 2011, largely because they don’t seem to have any member who can read or write.

And in America, where mainstream politics are further to the right, the far-right have always found a home within the Republican Party, which ironically seems to rein in their more extreme elements.

Morons to watch: Publicity-seeking Pamela Geller will keep ranting to ever-smaller crowds before vanishing from public view. BNP Leader and British eyesore Nick Griffin may well be ousted as BNP leader. Creepy-looking Dutch MP and inciter of hatred Geert Wilders will continue to be the rallying point for Nazis across Europe.

Probability: 50% – very much depends on whether Islamist terrorist morons (or people pretending to be Islamist terrorist morons) succeed in any major attacks in the West during this year. Also depends on unemployment levels across Europe.

Prediction 4: US economy will gain strength as UK weakens

2011 will provide the results of the big test: stimulus spending (as tried by the Obama administration and by the outgoing Labour government in the UK until May) and government spending cuts (as favoured by the UK’s new Conservative leaders). UK consumers are already reacting badly to VAT rises and government jobs cuts… which is likely to lead to lower tax revenues, and the need for even more cuts (as already demonstrated in Ireland).

Morons to watch: the new Republican speaker John “Crybaby” Boehner needs to help derail the recovery if the Republicans are to have a good chance of winning the 2012 presidential elections. UK Prime Minister David “Rich Boy” Cameron will announce that the recovery is weaker than expected (without taking the blame) and “regretfully” announce further spending cuts.

Probability: 60% – depends on many factors including Prediction 5…

Prediction 5: Oil price rises, morons draw wrong conclusions

Upwards pressure on oil prices continues for simple reasons: the easiest-to-reach supplies are dwindling, pushing oil companies to exploit more expensive sources like oil sands and deep-sea wells. America uses in excess of a quarter of the world’s oil supplies, but developing countries are growing much faster than the West, and use more oil each day.

If your friend was addicted to a substance that is becoming increasingly expensive and hard to come by, which of the following advice would you give them?

  1. Try to use less of it, or
  2. Keep using more, and spend more time and money looking for new supplies.

The oil industry runs the Republican Party, and the Republican Party now runs the House of Representatives, so America will try 2) the moron approach. Being chronically addicted to oil, the moron approach is to spend huge amounts of money to find more oil, and deepen the addiction in the process, leading to an even deeper crash when global oil supplies finally peak. At the time of writing, the oil price is $89 per barrel, and will probably be significantly higher at the end of 2011.

Being so deeply in the grip of oil morons, America’s choices are a painful adjustment now, or an even more painful adjustment later. “Kicking the can down the road” is the moronic choice, and no doubt the approach America will take. Meanwhile China, apparently less in awe of everything the oil industry says, is investing heavily in green energy alternatives.

Morons to watch: The newly-empowered Republicans will stall attempts to invest in green energy, and try to kill rail investment (which would cut transport energy usage). The oil industry will continue to claim that there are centuries of oil supplies left, despite all the evidence. Morons will complain that the price of gas keeps rising, but keep on driving their SUVs anyway.

Probability: 80%

And finally… Predictions 6 and 7: Jesus won’t return and the world won’t end

And now for some morons we can all laugh at (well, almost all of us anyway).

A group calling itself We Can Know ran posters last year in Nashville, Tennessee to advertise their web site. They claim that Jesus will return on May 21 2011, and the world will end on October 21 2011. Their campaign was reported in The Tennessean, but the story was later removed (original link). Meanwhile, many other groups have settled on December 21 2012 as the true date.

For those who believe in the Rapture, and are worried about their pets’ wellbeing after they float up to heaven, a kindly group of atheists have set up a pet care service.

Morons to watch: look out for religious nuts acting even angrier than usual when they wake up on May 22 and find they shouldn’t have sold all their worldly belongings on eBay for a dollar.

Probability: 100% (actually, make that 99%… just in case)