Following up from Henry's latest thoughts on the Climate Change debate - and particularly the question of whether we should take precautionary action, we have an in-depth contribution from an engaged Henry Thornton reader - who challenges Don Aitkin's views - but with sympathy.
I feel sorry for Don Aitkin, like many other academics before him he has entered into a debate well intentioned but uncritically informed, dare I say unread. I respect his attempt to question orthodoxy and to posit the right to question current orthodoxy on Climate Change. I will admit that I do follow the issues carefully, have a moderate grasp of the underlying science and have I have done so for some time with increasing alarm. Why?
Personally there were a number of factors that caused me to question what was happening in the world about me. First, as a former professional aviator, I was perplexed by the changes in temp, wind and precipitation I was observing over a long period of time - higher temps, irregular lapse rates with altitude, erratic wind forces and minimal precipitation (the dry cloud phenomena I call it).
Secondly, now as a small rural producer reliant on off farm income, the records on our property clearly show a decadal long trend to decreased precipitation, elevated mean temperatures and variable weather phenomena - any ten year trend is no longer an aberration. So the evidence to me was clear; the climate has changed, it had become drier, more variable and less reliable in occurrence. Until you rely upon the weather as you make your living, you do not appreciate the immensity of the challenge bad weather or the wrong weather presents. I see absolutely to data that would suggest this trend is to be reversed, my lifestyle choices and farm planning choices are based on that assumption.
We are no longer in the market of trying to produce a surplus but are now in the market to survive and protect the land. The same evidence mirrored the data and findings of the CSIRO's climate change models for my local region and for what I saw Australia wide (allowing for local variability). The trigger for questioning my world came standing at the airport office at Macarthur River in the NT one day and looking at the graph of rain for that place over thirty years, remembering this is the wet tropics, the line ran left to right in a clear three decade long downward trend with a significant slope! And then spending the evening trapped by a cyclone while at Broome in WA with a highly intelligent young female who was a hydrologist from Scotland, and I might add of no radical bent, who patiently outlined for we the world's looming water crisis.
I admit to my prejudices here; I am a graduate of the arcane art of economics but have not practiced as an economist but have decades of experience of analysis in a variety of government settings, so I understand Aitkin's dilemma but not his reasoning or arguments. Don has missed a number of key factors in his deliberations. One is that the science he laments has developed into a new orthodoxy is no such thing, the orthodoxy to which he refers is simply a means of articulating the confusion evident in our physical world, GHG do appear to be the culprit and you cannot ignore the only available evidence for comparative prediction - the ice core analysis and paleo-climate research, that is, the last time the world had a major temperature spike was when CO2 levels spiked not far above where they are headed now, the last time that occurred was some 65 million years ago, not much that went before was around afterwards but a whole new world appeared.
The unpalatable orthodoxies that Don failed to question were; neo-classical economic theory, political orthodoxy and religious orthodoxy. How so you might ask? As an economist what are the great problems that we now consider to have solved in this golden age? Over population, distribution of wealth, unemployment and unintended consequences (Malthus, Marx, Keynes and Friedman). But we have deluded ourselves and our delusion is the very pragmatic outcomes and theories championed by politicians and bureaucrats today, good ideas that solved various dilemmas but in turn became their own orthodoxy, namely the Green revolution, dynamic capitalism, guided capitalism, market capitalism and, conveniently admitting the variables of externalities, excepting in risk and game theories.
But the critical reason Don and others fail to understand climate change of AGW is simple, they have not read and thus have not comprehend the truths hidden within the esoteric study of thermo-dynamics and the 3 laws thereof; simplified many years ago by C.P Snow they say; 'you have to play the game, you cannot break even, you cannot win, you cannot quit', such is the problem of entropy.
I am sufficiently a skeptic myself, possessing an inquiring mind, in a healthy way to say, yes, in all probability fossil fuels emissions are not the ogre they appear or would be were there less of everything and less of them as well; but fossil fuels are the foundation of the world and it's economies as we know them today. Thus, we have never been in a position before where we have the gross populations we do nor the indefinite increases in that population and thus the sheer resource demands we as a biological mass demand; of every living thing, of the Earth's minerals and liquids are therefore why we are not a sustainable entity. Fossil fuel, and their by-product gas emissions, are symptomatic, partly causative but not entirely responsible for our problems. I am sure a century back we probably could have all done nicely had we stayed at the population numbers we were but we did not.
Simply, there are not the resources of food, water, fuel and land to sustain the aggregate mass (approaching 9 Billion) we have now and the market signals and the science is clearly telling us this. It is our political delusions and the orthodoxy of success and of having conned ourselves into believing that we have solved the economic problem that we cling to at our peril. Chemist James Lovelock said as much in his attempt to synthesise some of these issues in his Gaia theory. Biologist Suzuki has said as much about the un-ravelling web of nature, Climatologist Jim Hansen says as much in his theories of the tipping points of CO2 and fossil fuels and Petroleum Geologist Hubert-King said as much about when alerting the world to the conceptual reality of Peak Oil. Richard Dawkins says as much in discussing our religious delusions and Raulston Saul says as much about our fetish for managerialism.
Western societies are in the grip of an ideology that was based on a romantic view of the world that existed two centuries ago, neo-classical economics. If we need to take on an orthodoxy it is the orthodoxy of modern economics, that having designed an engine not with a faulty magneto as described by Keynes, but with no OFF switch. The OFF switch was in the plans, it is called the production possibility curve but we felt we would not need it if ever so never gave it any more serious thought.
Some brave economists and social engineers have produced a construction diagram that tells us where the OFF switch should go, their diagram is called GPI not GDP. Only Charles Daly, an Ecological Economist in the US, has proposed a Wagnerian solution that recognises the reality of severely limited resources and actually begins to take those limitations into account. Stern had a stab at it, Ross Garnaut is having another stab at it, but they both still believe in the perpetual motion machine of Riccardian orthodoxy. Pity, seems the scientist may be right, we have run out of time. It is then I am reminded not of Pascal's proposition (which I understand affirmed God's existence) but that of Professor Jared Diamond, who said, of the Easter Islanders, 'what were they thinking when they cut down the last tree'.
Michael A Hart
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