A Free-Market Energy Blog

Why Do the Alarmists Feel Bad About Debates–and Debating?

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- January 25, 2009

Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute recently posted on the spat between environmental purist Joe Romm of Climate Progress and the environmental groups NRDC, EDF, and WRI in regard to a brokered cap-and-trade proposal with certain firms within the energy industry.

Taylor was actually nice to Mr. Romm, an intellectual foe who, after their online debate, said in a blog post at Grist that the Cato Institute was intellectually bankrupt. Stated Romm in his post "Greedwashing":

Over the years, I have debated one of their senior scholars, Jerry Taylor, many times. He is probably the craftiest debater that the delayer/inactivist side has. But since, like all delayers, his positions are frozen in stone by his ideology, those positions inevitably become farther and farther disengaged from the reality of a (climate) changing world and hence less and less compelling. That is most clearly evident in my latest debate with him, online at Google’s new Knol site (aka the would-be Wikipedia killer).

One can review their online exchange (Jerry did just fine), but Romm makes this summary argument against Taylor and Cato:

Either problems don’t exist or the all-powerful, all-knowing free market will fix them. Now you might think that recent events would cause Cato scholars to at least slightly temper their blind faith in the power of greed to set all things right. But you would be wrong.

Wait a minute. Markets are not perfect, but government intervention isn’t perfect either. Alarmists are worried stiff that politicians will not get it right. For example, James Hansen in his recent letter to Obama stated (emphasis added):

The President-elect himself needs to be well-informed about the climate problem and its relation to energy needs and economic policies. He cannot rely on political systems to bring him solutions – the political systems provide too many opportunities for special interests.

To which Robert Murphy posted on MasterResource:

We can only hope that in his next letter, Dr. Hansen explains how the leader of the U.S. political system will implement these suggestions without recourse to the political system. I don’t consider it too flippant to compare Hansen’s letter to a request that the Pope reform the Catholic mass without involving the Church.

And regarding the present financial crisis, does Mr. Romm really want to maintain: (1) that we have had a free market in money and banking, and (2) that we have had laissez-faire in mortgage lending, and (3) that those are what failed? Does he really want to say that the Fed, and Fannie, and Freddie were irrelevant? A good place to understand the current crisis is Lawrence H. White’s "What Really Happened," which was published by (you guessed it) the Cato Institute.

Mr. Romm has all but conceded that the skeptics of climate alarmism beat the alarmists in debate, posting about it here and here. He blames it on the dishonesty of the "deniers," but in fact they might have a much stronger intellectual and practical case. And I dare say that Romm does not feel he did particularly well against Taylor in their online debate and is not itching to debate him again, particularly in person.

But if I am wrong, I say: let’s get a big audience for it. Make the stakes high. Sell tickets. Poll the audience. It will be that entertaining!


  1. rbradley  

    [RLB: There is a cross post at NRO by Chris Horner, “Twenty Paces,” published on Monday, January 26: http://planetgore.nationalreview.com/%5D


  2. TokyoTom  

    Well Rob, Joe Romm isn’t ALL alarmists, but I’d say it’s rather clear that he’s saying that “scientists” are not good policy debaters – as it’s something that they’re not trained in. I suppose you would hardly disagree.

    On top of that, Joe Romm and others simply are not trained in public choice or Austrian perspectives on political economy issues, so he clearly doesn’t understand what Jerry patiently tries to explain. But there’s rather alot of that to go around – across the political spectrum and on many, many issues – and I rather fail to understand how mocking that who lack understanding is a good way to open their minds to how wealth creation occurs and to the perils of using the state.


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