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Jerry Taylor: Climate Change as ‘Political Theater’ (so why become an actor?)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- February 29, 2016

“Will Jerry Taylor speak truth to power by frontally questioning that carbon dioxide emissions is an unambiguous negative externality–a global market failure–that government, every government, must address? Or will he speak power to truth by assuming CO2 is a pollutant for which global government (really, an environmental Pope) can provide, as it were, a giant climate safety net.”

In 1998, then climate realist and energy libertarian Jerry Taylor wrote a piece, “Global Warming: The Anatomy of a Debate,” that piggybacked on the late, great Public Choice economist William Niskanen.

Taylor wrote:

The national debate over what to do, if anything, about the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has become less a debate about scientific or economic issues than an exercise in political theater. The reason is that the issue of global climate change is pregnant with far-reaching implications for human society and the kind of world our children will live in decades from now.

Introducing nuance and clear-headed reason to this debate is something of a struggle. As Cato Institute chairman William Niskanen has noted, for any international action to merit support, all of the following propositions must be proven true:

  • A continued increase in the emission of greenhouse gases will increase global temperature.
  • An increase in average temperature will generate more costs than benefits.
  • Emissions controls are the most efficient means to prevent an increase in global temperature.
  • Early measures to control emissions are superior to later measures.
  • Emissions controls can be effectively monitored and enforced.
  • Governments of the treaty countries will approve the necessary control measures.
  • Controlling emissions is compatible with a modern economy.

The case for any one of those statements is surprisingly weak. The case for a global warming treaty, which depends on the accuracy of all those statements, is shockingly weak….

From the vantage point of today, some 18 years later, point #1 is holding on (but barely, surprisingly), and points #2 through #7 remain problematic. (Additional points might be added, if anything.) Jerry Taylor was right, in retrospect.

Regarding point #1, 1998 would be the peak temperature year, driven by a strong El Nino–and not much warming since then (the so-called hiatus) of the last 15+ years. Yes, the climate models are running too hot, and sensitivity estimates of climate to the enhanced greenhouse effect are falling.

This would seem to be great news. It has given a lot of us critics of climate alarmism a I-told-you-so moment. Just another Malthusian episode, following the population bomb, mineral resource exhaustion, and even an (abbreviated) global cooling scare. (All of these scares, by the way, were  ‘mainstream’ science with, perhaps, a “97 percent” consensus.)

But the new Jerry Taylor–the libertarian turned anti-libertarian provocateur–is now establishment. He claims to have had a conversion experience. In a Real Clear Policy piece last week, Is There a Future for Libertarianism?, he urged libertarians (with particular reference to the global warming debate) to

give up on their blanket, dogmatic opposition to all regulation and market intervention (a perfect example is their remarkable hostility to mainstream climate science), [so that] they’d find a ticket to intellectual respectability. They would also find a ticket to political relevancy — something that is being well demonstrated by the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Dogmatic? .. all? …. Strange stuff full of straw… But regarding “mainstream climate science,” when did Jerry Taylor accept rather than debate “mainstream” anything? (Calling all colleagues, friends, and family of Jerry Taylor ….)

Does he mean consensus climate science? Does he mean “mainstream” climate models? Is James Hansen mainstream or not?

And how about the most recent example of swaying ‘mainstream’ science: one major study concluding that the global warming ‘hiatus’ was errant followed by another study that the pause in rising temperatures was real?

Is Jerry Taylor now an actor in the ‘political theater’ of climate change science, economics, and public policy? To those of us who have followed his output (and get his personality) for decades, his new leaf is from the theater of the absurd.

Taylor at RFF: This Wednesday

The founding head of the new Niskanen Center is speaking this Wednesday (March 2nd) at a seminar sponsored by Resources for the Future (RFF), titled “Tax or Trade: Revisiting the Trade-Offs in Climate Policy Options.”

Will Jerry Taylor speak truth to power by frontally questioning that carbon dioxide emissions is an unambiguous negative externality–a global market failure–that government, every government, must address?

Or will he speak power to truth by assuming CO2 is a pollutant for which global government (really, an environmental Pope) can provide, as it were, a giant climate safety net.

Tomorrow’s post will pose a series of specific questions for Taylor to address in his talk — or other members of the panel and members of the audience to address to him and all those interested.

3 Comments


  1. Ed Reid  

    Suggested question: Considering the $100+ billion already spent on climate science, why does climate science remain “science based on data that aren’t and models that don’t?”

    Reply

  2. Tom Tanton  

    another question to pose: why suggest intervention policies, like carbon taxes, when the free market (or at least freer markets) are demonstrating better performance in reducing emissions that places with heavier handed government?

    Reply

  3. Trump's NO to Climate Alarmism/Forced Energy Transformation (very good news from the campaign trail) - Master Resource  

    […] and left–CO2 emission taxation deserves a speedy burial at the (misnamed) Niskanen Institute, where libertarian scholarship seems to be missing. […]

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