“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.
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.