It’s a great honour and pleasure for me that I have been invited to say a few words about the new book of Václav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic. The title of the book is: ‘Blue Planet in Green Shackles.’
It is a title, which raises curiosity and which promises a refreshing perspective on many environmental, societal, political and economic issues. It also promises to be a perspective which is quite different from mainstream thinking.
The author hardly needs any introduction. We know him as an important politician of his country and, more generally, of Central and Eastern Europe. After the demise of communism, he played a remarkable role in the transformation process and the modernisation of Czechoslovakia (which subsequently was peacefully divided into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic). He was minister of finance, prime minister, chairman of parliament en head of state. What is less well-known is that Václav Klaus was also a full-fledged economist before entering politics. That gives him an edge over his colleagues, when dealing with the economics of environmentalism and climate change, which is one of the main topics of this book.
I should stress that Václav Klaus is a staunch supporter of classical liberalism, which is not only rooted in the theoretical insight he acquired, but also in his personal experience of living under the yoke of communism.
From an intellectual point of view, his book is of course fascinating. But we should not stick to l’art pour l’art, or la science pour la science. There are also very practical, down-to-earth implications of the views which the author exposes in the ‘Blue Planet’. As a matter of fact, from a societal point of view, his message is of paramount importance. Where are our societies heading? Have we taken the right track by putting so much emphasis on environment and climate? Is the science settled? And do all scientists agree? … as we so often hear. Those are the questions on which this book focuses.
Let me make my own position on the subject matter clear. I do not claim to possess any particular knowledge on the issues at hand. I am not in a position to take sides. But I believe that in an open and free society these matters should be frankly and openly discussed. I have been following the debate for some time now, and unfortunately, I can’t escape the feeling that this is not the case to date. As an outsider, one gets the impression that the present discussion – insofar as there is one, which merits that name – is dominated by passions, emotions and mutual recriminations. That is most unfortunate because it prevents an even-handed, sober and thorough assessment of the situation.
Why is this book so particular?
First of all, it has been written by a President: the President of the Czech Republic. There are more presidents and politicians at large, who write books. But Václav Klaus is a very prolific writer. He has published over 20 books on general social, political and economic themes.
Secondly, the message of the book takes issue with the official policy of – at least part – of the government of his own country, as well as many other countries of the world. Could they all be wrong, while he is right?
Thirdly, it’s about an issue, which – in the traditional distinction which is being made by political scientists – is considered to belong to ‘low politics’, as opposed to ‘high politics’, which includes issues like security policy, foreign policy etc. Perhaps we should rethink the appropriateness of such a distinction. Does the notion ‘low politics’ – which sounds a little bit pejorative – really do justice to the importance of the subject matter? I believe that Václav Klaus has convincingly proved that the issue he has been dealing with, is of vital importance, because, whatever we decide, it has a profound impact on our societies in all its dimensions, both nationally and internationally.
Fourthly, his angle of dealing with environmentalism, including climate change, is quite unique. Václav Klaus approaches today’s environmentalism from a totally different perspective from that of most authors. As someone, who has spent a great deal of his life under communism, he is hypersensitive to any measure which encroaches upon human freedom. In his view, at the beginning of the 21st century, communism or one of its more benign variants, does not constitute the greatest threat to freedom, democracy and the free market system any more.
This threat has been substituted by another ‘ism’, that of dogmatic environmentalism. It is an ideology which preaches the primacy of nature and the earth. Like the gospel of erstwhile Marxism, it aims at the suppression of the spontaneous evolution of mankind and wants to replace it by some sort of worldwide central planning of society. Klaus is convinced that, paradoxically, this will be damaging to nature and the earth, just like the introduction of Marxism has resulted in the exploitation, not only of workers, but of the population at large as well.
At the climate summit in New York, in September 2007, Václav Klaus was the only speaker who voiced doubts about the man-made global warming hypothesis (the hypothesis - it is not more than that – that mankind has a substantial impact on global warming and that this will have disastrous consequences). Most experts agree that there has been some warming over the past 150 years, but this warming is almost insignificant. Moreover, this warming lies within the limits of natural variability.
On several occasions Václav Klaus has emphasised that he has dealt with the issue from the perspective of a non-expert. There I had some difficulty in following him. I consider myself also as a non-expert. But apparently there are different classes of non-experts. For instance, I should not have been able to produce such a vast list of literature on the issue as Václav Klaus has done. And on top of that, he gives his reader the impression that he read it all and has digested it to such an extent that he can pass an authoritative judgement on the matter.
From the point of view of methodology there are similarities between climatology and economics. Both disciplines use computer models. From his previous life as an economist, Václav Klaus possesses an intimate knowledge of their possibilities and limits. Although the use of models is indispensable for exploring complex systems, one should be aware of the fact the they do not offer a reliable basis for predictions. Both climatologists and economists simply know too little of the factors which are influencing the systems which they investigate.
It struck me that two Dutchmen are playing some role in his book. As a matter of fact, already in his introduction Václav Klaus approvingly referred to the views of Henk Tennekes, a former research director of our own Netherlands Royal Meteorological Institute (KNMI).
What is worrying Henk Tennekes?
Let me quote Henk Tennekes: ‘Seventeen years ago, I wrote a column for Weather magazine, expressing my concerns about the lack of honesty, integrity and humility of many climate scientists. (…) This was early 1990. It is 2007 now, and I want to ring the alarm bell again. There is a difference, though: then I was worried, now I am angry. I am angry about the Climate Doomsday hype that politicians and scientists engage in. I am angry at Al Gore. I am angry at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists for resetting its Doomsday clock. I am angry at Lord Martin Rees for using the full weight of the British Royal Society in support of the Doomsday hype. I am angry at Paul Crutzen for his speculations about yet another technological fix. I am angry at the staff of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for their preoccupation with carbon dioxide emissions, and I am angry at Jim Hansen for his efforts to sell a Greenland Ice Sheet Meltdown Catastrophe.’
And Václav Klaus shares this anger.
Let me stress that Henk Tenneks is one of the foremost climatologists of our country, who has a worldwide reputation, and – I repeat – is a former director scientific research of our Netherlands Royal Met. Office. If a person with such qualifications is angry, it should carry some weight.
I was also surprised to find a reference to the late Dutch economist and Nobel laureate, Jan Tinbergen, in the ‘Blue Planet’. What is the link between this outstanding economist and the subject matter of the ‘Blue Planet’? This needs some clarification.
On Climate Change we often hear: ‘The science is settled’ and ‘All scientists agree’. But over the years, various head-counts have been made of scientists who do not adhere to the man-made global warming hypothesis. There appear to be tens of thousands of bona fide scientists in various disciplines, including some 70 Nobel laureates, who are sceptical. One of the first initiatives to take stock of the opponents was the ‘Heidelberger Appeal’ in 1992. It has initially been signed by 425 scientists. Today more than 4000 have signed. This Appeal refers to radical environmentalism at large, but it also includes global warming.
Let me quote some paragraphs from the Heidelberger Appeal.
‘We contend that a Natural State, sometimes idealized by movements with a tendency to look toward the past, does not exist and has probably never existed since man's first appearance in the biosphere, insofar as humanity has always progressed by increasingly harnessing Nature to its needs and not the reverse.
‘We fully subscribe to the objectives of a scientific ecology for a universe whose resources must be taken stock of, monitored and preserved. But we herewith demand that this stock-taking, monitoring and preservation be founded on scientific criteria and not on irrational preconceptions.
‘We do forewarn the authorities in charge of our planet’s destiny against decisions which are supported by pseudoscientific arguments or false and non-relevant data.
‘The greatest evils which stalk our Earth are ignorance and oppression, and not Science, Technology, and Industry, whose instruments, when adequately managed, are indispensable tools of a future shaped by Humanity, by itself and for itself, overcoming major problems like overpopulation, starvation and worldwide diseases.’
It is this Appeal which also carries the signature of Jan Tinbergen.
Let me now say a few words about nuclear energy, an issue which has also been addressed by Václav Klaus in his ‘Blue Planet’. In one of the annexes of his book he has presented a calculation of the number of windmills, which would be needed to replace the nuclear plant of Temelin in the Czech Republic. It would require almost 5,000 windmills. If one would put them in one straight line, they would cover a distance of 665 kilometers, from Temelin to Brussels.
But this is not all. Since the wind does not blow at a constant speed, one needs extra back-up capacity in order to secure the stability of electricity supply. And for this back-up capacity, one needs the sort of plants which have served us so well until now. It goes without saying that the costs of such a replacement of nuclear power by wind power would be staggering. All this implies that this is not a realistic proposition.
There are various approaches to nuclear energy. Some people say clearly ‘no’ … over my dead body. Other people say ‘yes’, mainly because of the fact that nuclear energy does not emit CO2, which, in their view, is responsible for putative climate change of catastrophic proportions. This is for instance the view of Sir David King, chief scientific adviser to the British government. He is of the opinion that Britain will need to revive its nuclear power industry in the face of a looming energy crisis and the threat of global warming. He believes the public debate on nuclear power needs to focus on the environmental benefits.
A third category of people says ‘yes’, because of the fact that – irrespective of CO2 – nuclear energy is a relatively clean, reliable and cheap way to meet our energy requirements in the decades to come and cannot be excluded from our energy mix.
I belong to the third category. This group deeply deplores the policy paralysis under which our governments are labouring in this field for so many years already. Fortunately, however, there are exceptions to the rule, such as France, which, throughout the years has stuck to its nuclear energy programme. A couple of years ago, also Finland has opted for an extension of its nuclear capacity, which is now well under way. The most recent and most surprising example is of course the UK, which some month ago has decided to build a couple of new nuclear reactors.
It should be underlined that Václav Klaus does not oppose policies which aim at careful husbandry of the environment. On the contrary. He shares that attitude with other critics of dogmatic environmentalism and climate sceptics. But he resists absolutism and fundamentalism, which are so rampant in this field and which ignore the costs and benefits of the various policies.
Václav Klaus is particularly concerned about the way environmental issues are being exploited by some political and interest groups for an attack on the basic tenets of a free society. In his view it has become increasingly clear that the current climate debate is not about a controversy about environment as about human freedom.
Dogmatic environmentalists will most probably not be inclined to adjust their views in the light of the arguments advanced by Václav Klaus. But for those who do not pretend to be omniscient and who – like Klaus – are in favour of a healthy environment, but who – in addition – also attach importance to other values and priorities, his analysis constitutes an eye-opener.
Finally, I want to congratulate Johann Grünbauer, an Amsterdam entrepreneur, who took the initiative to translate the ‘Blue Planet’ by Václav Klaus into Dutch. He was, moreover, actively engaged in the practical work which such a translation entails, since he has a excellent command of the Czech language. There are various ways in which entrepreneurs can give substance to corporate social responsibility. I believe the way he did it in this particular case, is most commendable.
Let me end with the recommendation that all of you should read this book very carefully and with an open mind.
For more information on Václav Klaus please see here.