Debunking the Great Carbon Tax Hype
With global temperatures flat-lining for 15 years, climate alarmist arguments are looking far more fragile than the earth’s (actually robust) eco-system. Of late, climate activists of all ideological shades have thus attempted to posit a “third way” between the “extremes” of interminable left-right, alarmist-sceptic arguments.
Thus the new climate mantra is for a global carbon tax. It is, so we are told, is the best way to “incentivize” people to act on the “problem” and provide a “solution”. Step forward Tim Worstall of the UK’s Adam Smith Institute (ASI) and his “third way” contentions.
Now I like Tim Worstall (TW). Tim is a senior fellow at the excellent UK ASI free market think-tank. Generally speaking, Tim contributes a great deal of worthy economic analysis on public policy issues. But in his belief that “climate change is a problem and yes, we have to do something about it” TW has, quite simply, ‘lost it’.
Let’s be clear, TW is not, as he pithily puts it, a “tits up for humanity” doomsayer. Fine anti-alarmist publications such as The Register are happy to run his articles such as “Global warming is GOOD for the environment”. But even there the alarm bells begin to sound. In it TW hopes that the upcoming fifth IPCC report “will report honestly and openly” so that we can assess whether it”s worth “ditching industrial civilisation” or not. So whether the industrial revolution was a massive mistake, for TW, rests entirely on the integrity of a highly politicized body which has already proved to be involved in massive scientific and data tampering (the hockey stick fiasco, Climategate, to name but two).
Clearly TW has bought into the notion that man is able to ‘manipulate’ the climate both for ill and for good, the Warmist argument of Greenpeace and co. TW’s case is, therefore, that we need to act on climate change. To that end he purports to show that Britain already provides the blueprint for action having already imposed a raft of green taxes that amounts to carbon tax.
To make headway, Worstall first insists we must: “Put the [James] Delingpoles over here, the vileness that are Greenpeace, FoE and the rest of the forward-to-the-Middle-Ages crowd over there”. In other words, ditch what he perceives as ‘extreme’ positions. Unfortunately Worstall’s conveniently circumvents any need for empiricists actually to prove the scientific case against CO2 which they have still to do, bizarrely citing scientific “uncertainty” as grounds for acting. In a recent Forbes column TW thus agrees with the case made in a NY Times op-ed calling for the substitution of a carbon tax directly on emissions rather than green taxes on “good things” like consumer items. According to Worstall, “a carbon tax brings us the right amount of climate change” by pitching it at “whatever the ‘social cost’ of carbon is.” The goal: “to change people’s incentives and then see how they solve the problem.”
Worstall explains how, if we convert all the methane and associated gases into CO2 equivalents and add this to CO2 creating CO2-e, the effect would be to “a 0.7 degree rise in average temperature”. This “straight physics” he maintains is demonstrated “in all the IPCC reports”. But that is “not the end of the story”. For TW the key to action is “the feedbacks”, that is “processes started by that 0.7 degree warning”, which are then able to “amplify…the initial direct impact of CO2”. He admits that we don’t know whether these “feedbacks” are actually “positive or negative”. Indeed, “we don’t know where they will lead”.
So for clarity, let’s sum up. Even though a 0.7 degree warming would have all sorts of vegetation growing benefits, it isn’t actually happening, but, theoretically, it could. That in itself is not necessarily a problem but the possible “feedbacks” might be, even though we have no idea whether those “feedbacks” would be “positive or negative”. Equally, “The cumulative effect of all of these feedbacks is something we simply don’t know”. Is it me? Or, as a call to action, is it so shot through with wildly uncertain caveats that it is not worth getting out of bed for? TW ploughs on concerning how the UN IPCC – a political organisation already furiously back-peddling on previous alarmist claims – believes a global temperature rise could be “in the 2 to 4.5 degree range”. Again bemusingly, Worstall insists, “It is this ‘we don’t know’ that leads to needing to do something. Economists call this uncertainty, and the correct and reasonable reaction to uncertainty is insurance”. Bottom line: “The science tells us there is uncertainty; uncertainty is an economic problem to be solved through economic methods”. Strange, but I have always thought “uncertainty” called for caution before taking action – and that insurance policies are normally taken out in the face of proven threats. No matter, as Worstall’s ‘third way’ is merely the Warmists ‘precautionary principle’ dressed up as an ‘economic solution’; the same kind of ‘solution’ posited by the green lobbies for years.
The spurious nature of Worstall’s argument gets worse-still (pun intended). TW rightly identifies that we Brits are already paying the equivalent of a carbon tax via a raft of green taxes, which include levies on fuel, air travel, electricity bills, to be but a small number. He points out that while UK emissions stand at around the 500-million-ton mark Brits currently pay around $80 per tonne, a figure that could be a starting point for a new carbon tax. Unfortunately, TW omits to also point out that Britain’s extensive green tax regime is an abject failure. It has actually had zero impact on Britain’s carbon footprint which, during the tenure of green taxes, actually saw emissions increase by 20 percent. What it is has achieved is provide an unprecedented windfall for government coffers, some of which has subsidized Britain’s frivolous and costly renewable energy projects. In addition to making Britain’s domestic electricity bills(1) are now among the highest in Europe, badly skewing – something that should rankle with TW’s ASI think-tank associates – free market power costs.
Equally, as a recent US report Dissecting the Carbon Tax points out, globally speaking: “There would be virtually no environmental benefits to unilateral greenhouse gas emission reductions by developed countries … while developing countries are pouring out virtually every kind of pollutant with joyous abandon.” But if economics really is TW’s higher concern, he perhaps ought to read the recently published from the European Institute for Climate and Energy. In it EU Parliamentarian Herbet Reul states that computer models predict Germany’s green isolationist energy policy could cost a mammoth EUR2 trillion+ to achieve a mere 0.0003C impact on temperature. And even then, of course, any impact would be “uncertain” – that word again. With Berlin’s anti-carbon-renewable subsidy regime having helped 15 percent of Germans into fuel poverty, with households facing a further rise of EUR175 billion in fuel costs and Germany’s power grid teetering on collapse, it is no wonder German politicians fear a voter backlash. UK politicians too are aware of the ‘political risk‘ inherent in pushing anti-carbon measures. Precisely why some scientists now suggest ‘suspending democracy’ altogether – ah yes, tyranny – as the only realistic way of imposing a global carbon tax without governments being voted out of office.
Britain (and Germany’s) anti-carbon war has actually succeeded only in hiking taxes, providing a windfall for government, driving up energy costs, hobbling industry competitiveness, costing jobs and dumping half a million people into fuel poverty while having precisely zero impact on carbon emissions. Tim Worstall’s ‘solution’ proposes the assimilation of the pestilence of (failed and financially sapping) green taxes into a socially ubiquitous carbon ‘poll’ tax toward, as even Worstall admits, is an entirely “uncertain” end of ‘man-made’ climate manipulation.
Or put more succinctly: translate the unworkable into the unacceptable to achieve the delusional.
For a fuller debunking of the anti-science case against carbon dioxide read ‘Energy and Climate Wars’ (Continuum, 2011) by Peter C Glover and Michael J. Economides.
(1)Last time I had contact with him, TW was living in Portugal so their imposition may not even be troubling him.