I thought I would deviate from typical economics and market news today. I want to make a point that perception and optics can change policy and that policy can change the economic and financial landscape.
Yesterday the President unveiled his new energy plan. It is an aggressive policy to cut carbon and a regulatory shift to renewable energy. While I don’t want to go into the details of the plan, suffice to say that there are already critical reviews of the impact it will have on energy prices, jobs, shifts in technology, and even the markets.
For the Record-
Before I delve too deeply into this I would like to preface my position. First, I am a believer that the climate changes. Even without humans on this planet the climate of the earth has changed dramatically and will continue to do so. I also believe that man can/has/will have a significant impact on their environment.
On one hand I applaud the President bringing attention to science, the environment, and pollution. I strongly believe that we as a society have to take steps to protecting our environment.
However, my issue is when legitimate science and topics are turned into fear to either garner votes or change policy. Remember the Y2K issue, the government perpetuated the fear and spent 100s of millions preparing for disaster. Sometimes we just get it wrong – and that’s not always ok.
Let’s look at history:
In the 1970s the media and politicians were warning us about a global ice age. The earth was freezing over and we could have serious problems. New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, and every major paper in the English speaking world were warning us of this coming Ice Age. Documentaries, TV shows and even Walter Cronkite’s on the evening news warned us. There was no mention of global warming, the fear was cooling.
Yet most of us forget about the 1970s, we were either not born or if we were alive we were more interested in watching Saturday morning cartoons. Those that do remember the 1970s media fear of global cooling are over 60 and retired, or in a nursing home or dead. Those that do remember probably don’t give Global Warming too much credit, since they were fooled into the whole Global Cooling scare. Fooled me once….
I am NOT saying the Global Warming or Cooling for that matter isn’t something we should be concerned about, we probably should. My point is that scientist are not always correct and theories tend to change as new data is collected and lastly any long-term predictions are difficult at best to make. In fact I would argue the Global Warming fanatics and hype probably does the legitimate science more harm than good. All this fear mongering has raised concerns and much needed government grants for the scientist to do their work, however in 4 years unless there are serious problems – the scientist will be hard pressed to get more government grants and support. Remember – politicians are only thinking about the next election. If nothing happens in the next 4 years – it will be hard for a politician to play the global warming fear card to get votes and for scientist to get more grants.
The real catastrophe is the fear mongering, which only delegitimizes the concern and real need for scientist to do important work.
Headlines from the 1970s
U.S. and Soviet Press Studies of a Colder Arctic (July 18, 1970)
Climate Changes Called Ominous (January 19, 1975)
Scientists Ask Why World Climate Is Changing; Major Cooling May Be Ahead (May 21, 1975)
International Team of Specialists Finds No End in Sight to 30-Year Cooling Trend in Northern Hemisphere (January 5, 1978)
Colder Winters Held Dawn of New Ice Age – Scientists See Ice Age In the Future (January 11, 1970)
U.S. Scientist Sees New Ice Age Coming (July 9, 1971)
Science: Another Ice Age? (November 13, 1972)
Another Ice Age? (June 24, 1974)
The Big Freeze (January 31, 1977)
The Cooling World (April 28, 1975)
Is Mankind Manufacturing a New Ice Age for Itself? (January 15, 1970)
New Ice Age Coming – It’s Already Getting Colder (October 24, 1971)
Scientist Sees Chilling Signs of New Ice Age (September 24, 1972)
Ice Age Around the Corner (July 10, 1971)
Ice Age, worse food crisis seen (October 30, 1974)
B-r-r-r-r: New Ice Age on way soon? (March 2, 1975)
The Ice Age cometh: the system that controls our climate (April 13, 1975)
The Coming Ice Age:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana
We have heard the President and others repeat, ad nauseam, that 97% of scientist agree that Global Warming is a problem. It has been repeated so often that it must be true. Remember how many times Global Cooling was repeated or the fear of Y2K, both of which were issues – but the fear and hype did more harm than good.
So where did this 97% come from and is it correct?
The quote comes from the NASA website on Climate Change / Global Warming:
Courtesy of NASA
The quote is referenced from a study by J. Cook.
Let’s look at J. Cooks study.
We analyze the evolution of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11, 944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’.
What they found was the following:
66.4% (7930 scientific papers) had NO position (“Does not address or mention the cause of global warming”)
32.6% (3896 scientific papers) had Endorsed Global Warming (humans impact global warming to different degrees).
.7% (78 scientific papers) rejected Global Warming
.3% (40 scientific papers) was uncertain about Global Warming
Then of the 32.6% of those that Endorsed Global Warming, 97.1% agreed that it was human-caused. It is this 97.1% that is quoted on the NASA website and it is this quote the President and others have repeated often.
So in reality, if we are to properly quote J. Cook’s study:
“29.79% (97.1% of the 32.6%) of scientist believes Climate Change/Global Warming is a problem created by humans.”
The problem is a quote has been taken out of context from a study and has been repeated so often that not only do people believe it, we are now basing energy policies on this belief.
Again – I am not a climate change denier and I believe that there is climate change. Even the J. Cook study shows that scientist in general agrees in climate change. However, only a minority believe it is a problem and it is caused by humans.
Statistics are a funny thing, you can phrase a question or extrapolate an answer to justify your point.
You could say: “Less than 1% reject Global Warming”
You could say: “99% believe there is climate change”
On the other hand…
You could say: “Only 32.6% believe that humans have an impact on Global Warming.”
You could say: “66.4% have no position on Global Warming.”
All the above statements are true (using J. Cook’s study) and either side of the debate could quote from this study to support their view. The trick is to ASK the right question, rather than trying to “curve fit” and tailor the data to fit your hypothesis.
The question is – How many believe that Global Warming is created by humans? The answer is 29.79%.
Mark Twain popularized the phrase: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
The point which I am making is that we need to be objective and not automatically accept or deny anything. We should not convince people through fear or misrepresentations of the truth. We should also not turn policies upside down or create huge sweeping mandates because we have come to blindly accept something as fact, when it certainly is not substantiated.
Remember Global Cooling in the 1970s – the fear, rhetoric, and media hype reached a crescendo and then died off. Y2k was the same thing and now Global Warming. It only takes a few people with irrefutable credentials, the media to sell the fear, and our leaders to repeat it over and over again – to such an extent that we all believe it.
Climate Change is a problem, how big of problem and how much we (humans) contribute to it – is not certain. We need to continue to study it and take consideration of the impact we make to our environment. It is good and important to become aware of the impact we make and to make conscious changes to save our planet or limit our impact for the future.
However – peddling fear does more harm to legitimate science, when nothing radically happens in the next couple of years. When those scientists go back to the government for grants, foundations, and universities they will be hard pressed to make a convincing case after the hype dies down.
Today’s problems is making radical changes to energy policies believing in the fear and mischaracterizing the real science and data. Knee jerk reactions, adding more regulations, more fines, more committees, only burden the consumer and in most situations doesn’t not address the REAL problem.
It is time we, the people, take responsibility and accountability for our actions. Make changes in our decisions on how we impact the environment. We need to also know, read, and study the reports ourselves to understand what is REALLY going on, rather than trusting in a sound bite or a quote (which we find out is out of context).
Whether it is a president selling us on fears of weapons of mass destruction or a president selling us on fears that the oceans will rise – we need to take a breath before our government makes radical decisions that will impact us all.
Time to be objective and remove party politics from our decision process. Global Warming/Climate Change – while important – has become a political debate for election purposes and political favors, at the expense of science and the real issues.