The Climate Alarm Industry

On May 22nd, 2009, in the Wall Street Journal there is a commentary by Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg entitled “The Climate-Industrial Complex,” and that description says it all. One would think Lomborg is pointing out the obvious – that climate alarm is the pretext to orchestrate a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich – but sadly, this observation is still obscured by overwhelming and terrifying visions of planetary meltdown.

Lomborg has never said global warming isn’t a reality. Like most skeptics, he acknowledges there has been about a 1.0 degree (centigrade) increase in the average temperature of the planet in the past 150 years. Lomborg doesn’t even question the latest and greatest climate models, which, despite the disastrous worst case scenarios that are constantly emphasized, only predict minor sea level rise and moderate temperature increases over the next century. Lomborg’s primary mission has been to simply perform basic cost-benefit analysis on the measures being proposed to allegedly reverse global warming, such as it is. When you do these cost-benefit exercises (read “How Much for a Degree“), the rhetoric of those who think we can actually control climate quickly is seen for what it is – misguided and often misanthropic.

In his May 22nd commentary, however, for the first time, Lomborg went a step further, and exposed the agenda of the “climate-industrial complex.” He quoted U.S. President Eisenhower, who coined the phrase “military-industrial complex,” and said of it ”the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” and, ”there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties.”

In his commentary Lomborg cites several examples of the power of the rising climate-industrial complex – in short, the collusion of big business and politicians, with the enthusiastic support of journalists, to undertake the most “spectacular and costly action” in history. Rather than rewrite Lomborg’s article – I highly recommend you read the original – here are bullet points from an EcoWorld post of December 2007, “Global Warming Questions,” where I have listed the powerful special interests who benefit from global warming alarm:

– Insurance companies charge higher premiums
– Fossil fuel companies keep prices (and profits) high
– Politicians enact new taxes
– Public sector entities get new taxes to fund their pensions
– Environmental organizations get more funds
– Left wing activists get a new basis to attack private ownership
– More public sector funded jobs are created
– Lawyers have a new basis to file lawsuits
– CPA firms begin to audit carbon accounting
– Wall street gets to trade emissions credits
– Climate researchers get more grant requests funded
– United Nations bureaucrats get a guaranteed revenue stream

One can add to that list the incentive of massive subsidies that will flow into the coffers of major polluters to “sequester” their CO2 emissions. And the saddest example of a special interest who will benefit are the high tech entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley and elsewhere, who used to altruistically identify unmet needs, create products to fill those needs, and experience massive success in the competitive free market. These entrepreneurs created the information technology industry from scratch – and they could have done it without a dime of government subsidies or one shred of government regulation. Now this inspiring tradition is being tragically undermined, as “green” entrepreneurs turn to the government to coerce people into buying their products, to the taxpayers to fund their innovations, and to complicit journalists to foment diluvian panic that dovetails with their marketing strategy.

Every time I reveal to someone my belief there is not evidence of imminent and catastrophic climate change, nor that anthropogenic CO2 is the primary culprit, I am again struck by how incredulous they are. This point of view has successfully been cast as a grotesquely self-interested if not evil or psychotic perspective. And what happened to journalistic and scientific skepticism? It is amazing that for the first time in history, the people running around with signs saying “the world is coming to an end” are considered the sane ones, and those of us who are saying it is not are considered the lunatics.

As Lomborg pointed out, however, the reason for this inversion of logic is clear. Climate alarm is an industry, impelled by a critical mass of special interests that together quite accurately may be called the climate-industrial complex. Environmental challenges are real and require ongoing efforts to mitigate them. But to mingle special interests with environmental imperatives is to invite a public backlash. Environmentalists and entrepreneurs alike would do well to reflect on this possibility, particularly now that the global economic temperature has cooled considerably more than 1.0 degree centigrade.

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