A Free-Market Energy Blog

Richard Muller’s Climate-Science Six: Adding Political Economy

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- June 7, 2016

“Understanding government failure in the quest to address market failure could result in an optimal government policy of doing nothing in the face of a postulated negative externality from business-as-usual. But an activist policy expanding economic freedom in order to improve adaptation to climate change, natural or anthropogenic, qualifies as climate policy change too.”

Richard Mueller of the University of California at Berkeley is an important voice in the polarized climate-change debate. At the Huffington Post in mid-April, the physicist and philosopher posted “The Classifications of Climate Change Thinkers” with six categories (schools?) of thought.

His useful categories shortchange the political economy side where the scientist or citizen or politician must assess government failure along side market failure before deciding that the government should “do something,” as in pricing carbon dioxide or enacting a slew of surrogate regulation. Doing something, in fact, could be for the government to do less in other areas to increase wealth and the free flow of goods and people across sovereign boundaries–all to improve adaptation to whatever the future of weather and climate.

Mueller’s Six

Here are Richard Mueller’s six categories, reproduced verbatim.

Alarmists. They pay little attention to the details of the science. They are “unconvincibles.” They say the danger is imminent, so scare tactics are both necessary and appropriate, especially to counter the deniers. They implicitly assume that all global warming and human-caused global warming are identical.

Exaggerators. They know the science but exaggerate for the public good. They feel the public doesn’t find an 0.64°C change threatening, so they have to cherry-pick and distort a little—for a good cause.

Warmists. These people stick to the science. They may not know the answer to every complaint of the skeptics, but they have grown to trust the scientists who work on the issues. They are convinced the danger is serious and imminent.

Lukewarmists. They, too, stick to the science. They recognize there is a danger but feel it is uncertain. We should do something, but it can be measured. We have time.

Skeptics. They know the science but are bothered by the exaggerators, and they point to serious flaws in the theory and data analysis. They get annoyed when the warmists ignore their complaints, many of which are valid. This group includes auditors, scientists who carefully check the analysis of others.

Deniers.They pay little attention to the details of the science. They are “unconvincibles.” They consider the alarmists’ proposals dangerous threats to our economy, so exaggerations are both necessary and appropriate to counter them.

Notice that the happy middle includes ‘global lukewarming,’ a category populated by, among others, Patrick Michaels and Chip Knappenberger at the Cato Institute’s Center for the Study of Science, not to mention Judith Curry of Georgia Institute of Technology. But there is plenty of good room for the Skeptics who are poking big holes in the claims of Warmists and Exaggerators, not to mention the Alarmists.

Political Economy Addition

In the bottom four categories, the public policy position can include a position that government can or should do something, but that “something” should be removing existing intervention rather than adding to it.

There is no necessary jump from a human influence on climate to that influence being negative–and to a negative outcome necessarily requiring global government carbon-dioxide (CO2) rationing via direct taxation or indirect regulation, from cap-and-trade to renewable mandates to forced energy conservation.

Understanding government failure in the quest to address market failure could result in an optimal government policy of doing nothing in the face of a postulated negative externality. An activist policy expanding economic freedom in order to improve adaptation to climate change, natural or anthropogenic is a policy too.

Moving to a free market in energy would lower prices, improve efficiency, and add wealth to the private sector. Free mobility of labor and capital would be another strategy in the face of climate change.

Even “Warmists,” in other words, should carefully weigh costs against benefits of government carbon-dioxide rationing.

Regarding the “Exaggerators” and “Alarmists,” one can only urge them to be true to science and follow the evidence — and ask themselves whether political solutions can be solutions at all in the real world. A people-first policy surely includes improved access to plentiful, affordable, reliable energy for the masses.


  1. Harry Dale Huffman  

    Bottom line: Mueller’s categories are not valid, and he should not be “an important voice” for anyone looking for the truth. To say as he does that “warmists” stick to the science is a lie by omission, for they stick only to their “consensus” dogma, which has been shown, time and time again, to be utterly worthless.

    And his take on “deniers”–that as a group they “pay little attention to the details of the science”–is another lie; they are simply “skeptics” who have indeed studied the details presented by the “climate scientists”, and over time have assured themselves that the warmists–both “alarmists” and “lukewarmers”–refuse to let go of their dogma long enough to realize that the consensus “climate science” is no such thing, is in fact completely counter to the observable facts.

    Mueller is worthless to anyone other than lukewarmers, who are trying to stake out their “reasonable middle” position as the only valid alternative to the alarmists. Politically, of course, that may seem reasonable, but it only kicks the chance for the scientific truth to be faced and accepted in this (or even the next) generation further into the future.

    The truth will out, but only those who know there is no valid climate science and no competent climate scientists today are actually on the side of true science.


    • rbradley  

      You say “The truth will out, but only those who know there is no valid climate science and no competent climate scientists today are actually on the side of true science.”

      Are you saying that nonscientists are really the scientists, or are there scientists who support your position?


      • Billy Ethridge  

        Apparently Harry Dale Huffman is a “denier”. Mr. Huffman chooses to reject the work of a first-rate scientist who is known for his healthy scepticism and rigorous scientific research.


  2. Ron C.  

    More typically, a Warmist is someone who believes future temperatures can only be warmer than present as long as CO2 is rising. That is an opinion, not scientific fact, since warming from CO2 IR activity has not be measured apart from H2O IR activity in the troposphere, nor separated from large-scale heat transfers such as evaporation and convection.

    A Luke-Warmist is someone who believes rising CO2 directly warms the climate slightly, but other factors such as clouds and oceanic cycles counteract to some degree the CO2 effect. Thus rising CO2 is not catastrophic.

    Skeptics are mostly people who don’t find the claims of warmists convincing, and don’t necessarily have alternative explanations. They may have various theories, but not a lot of certainty about those either. As John Christy has said, it is a young, immature science that can not tells us definitely what will happen to the climate from burning fossil fuels.


  3. Paul Funkhouser  

    I cannot find myself in any of those six categories. I am in agreement that the earth’s climate is currently warming. We are in the midst of an interglacial period, just like many in the past. These interglacial periods are times of warming, by definition, until the next glacial period commences. I am not convinced that CO2 levels contribute anything more than marginally to a naturally warming period. The fact that this Alarmist sanctioned “poison” is actually the elixir of life through both the greening of plants and the emission of oxygen through the process of photosynthesis, troubles me. Also troubling is the notion that global warming is bad for humanity. During the last 13,000 years of the current interglacial period, humanity has thrived during periods of relative warming and been decimated during relative periods of cooling (examine the history of Greenland for examples of both phenomena). For millennia before the industrial revolution, humanity in general had a life expectancy of somewhere between 20 and 30 years. Roughly 200 years ago, life expectancy started to dramatically increase to around 80 years currently. To what is this anomaly attributable? I am sure that there are many complementary reasons for this almost three-fold increase in human life expectancy. It just so happens that most of the period in which humanity has thrived with increased longevity is also the period described by Mann’s hockey stick misdirection. The last 200+ years of warming, since the Little Ice Age, has corresponded with the most successful period of human existence. How, again, is global warming harmful to humanity? Since I find some elements of my understanding, beliefs and positions in the last three categories (Lukewarmist, Skeptic and Denier), I choose to label my status as LSD…


    • rbradley  

      Dear LSD:

      Global lukewarming could have a temperature sensitivity range below 1.0 C (the current IPCC range is 1.5C at the bottom).

      I do not know enough about the literature to know whether the ‘lukewarming’ school can be divided into two camps, with a range that you are comfortable in.


  4. Mark  

    I fall between the “L and S” categories in Dr. Mueller’s classification system. I just documented that our little PV system, installed 10 years ago, is working as designed and at 1728 this evening our PG&E billing meter stated our instantaneous energy as 0.00 watts. Our digital meter does not have communication capabilities. We keep track of our usage and generation details the old fashioned way- pen and paper.

    Since 5:55 this morning our PV system has generated 32 kWh, the Total kWh reading on our billing meter is -14kWh for the day so far. As we have an E-6 TOU rate schedule we know that 7 kWh were sent to the grid during our morning “part peak” time period, and 6kWh have been sent to the grid during “peak time”, 1 kWh was sent to the grid before 10 am. It is extremely unlikely that the powers that are developing the “complementary measures” noted in Dr. Fowlie’s current post will allow me to figure out the best way to reduce our carbon footprint.


    …”Here in California, the GHG emissions trading program (covering 85 percent of the state’s GHG emissions) has been cast in a supporting role. The updated scoping plan projects that over 70 percent of emissions abatement required under the 2020 target will be driven by “complementary measures” (e.g. mandated investments in low carbon technologies) rather than the permit price. Once you factor in offsets and the potential for emissions leakage and reshuffling, there’s not much work left for the carbon market to do”….

    ….”Prescriptive policies come at a cost
    This preference for using prescriptive policies –rather than market mechanisms- to coordinate abatement helps explain why carbon prices are so low. Some simple graphs summarize the basics behind this cause and effect….”


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