Arnold Kling  

The Climate Skeptic

Dexter and Dostoyevsky... Against Moneyball Medicine...

I'm not sure why I never came across this site before. It expresses views that are quite close to mine. For example,

The modelers begin with certain assumptions about climate that they build into the model. For example, the computers themselves don’t somehow decide if CO2 is a more important forcing on the climate than solar activity – the modelers, by the assumptions the feed into the model, decide these things. The models return the result that CO2 is the most important driver of climate in the coming century because their programmers built them with that assumption, not because the model somehow sorts through different inputs and comes up with the key drivers on its own.

There are conservatives and libertarians who believe in CO2-caused global warming. As far as I know, there are no liberals who are skeptics. I wonder why this is the case. Possibilities:

1. Nobody has good information, so they choose the belief with the least psychic costs. The psychic cost of skepticism is high for a liberal, because your friends are all believers. The psychic costs are not so high for libertarians and conservatives, because some of your friends are skeptics.

2. If you are liberal, you tend to hate oil companies, car companies, and (other people's) high-carbon lifestyles, anyway. You tend to like government exercising its authority over markets. So if you were wrong about AGW, you would not be particularly sorry about having made a mistake. If you are a libertarian or a conservative, you prefer free markets, so you are more receptive to skeptical arguments about global warming.

3. Climate skeptics have been bought off by Big Hydrocarbon. That seems to me to be the least plausible hypothesis. The best strategy for Big Hydrocarbon would be to buy off a diverse set of pundits on the left and the right. My guess is that the author of the Climate Skeptic blog is not being paid by Big Hydrocarbon. Neither am I.

4. Libertarians and conservatives have some sort of genetic defect that makes us unable to understand/accept climate science. I'm not sure what that would be, exactly. But in economics the belief in the macro-econometric models of the 1960's tends (or tended) to be higher among liberals than among conservatives. I think that liberals have a genetic defect that allows them to believe that they can model complex systems effectively, while conservatives and especially libertarians see limits to knowledge.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (45 to date)
TGGP writes:

I'm a libertarian non-skeptic. I think that anthropocentric global warming is true, liberals were inclined to believe it anyway, so they generally all fall in line. Conservatives and libertarians are inclined to believe it's false, but only some of them are firm in their precommitment to skepticism while others think the scientific case is persuasive. My question is, why is their asymmetry in the friends held by liberals vs conservatives and libertarians? Why is it the former travel in ideologically homogenous circles and the latter are fish out of water? Do you have evidence to back up that assumption?

FS writes:

I was an environmental studies major at Upenn, and that department has a bunch of climate-skeptic liberals, and they rubbed off on me. I think that would be the case in any academic department with real climatologists.

it's not partisan skepticism, or a belief that we can all still drive hummers and whatnot without any consequences. It's the fact that predicting is really hard, and the climate is an incredibly complex system. are CO2 emissions and global temperature related? sure, but we don't know how much or in what direction. Scientists know this, and will tell you readily. The problem is that politicians still control the purse strings of academia, and NSF grants in climatology all go to the proposals that involve taking anthropogenic climate change as a given.

it's really ashame that scientific rigor has been left in the lurch, but i really don't think it's a liberal/conservative issue. it's a screamer/thinker issue, and as always the screamers are winning.

Don Lloyd writes:


I think that anthropocentric global warming is true

That's not really a useful belief because it lacks any magnitude of belief or consequence.

You can claim an absolute faith in an intervening God, but until you specify how many lanes of freeway traffic you are willing to cross blindfolded, why should anyone care?

Regards, Don

steven writes:

I think conservatives and libertarians dislike the environmental movement much more than liberals do, and so are more likely to assume that it's wrong on any specific point of contention.

Personally I think the dislike is warranted, but I think the environmentalists happen to be right on AGW being real.

molinarilibertarian writes:

Arnold Kling: I know of at least one prominent left-wing global warming skeptic: Alexander Cockburn. He kicked up a lot of dust in the left-wing blogosphere with this (gated) essay in The Nation, summarized in the following links:

By and large, I think liberals are quite stupid in their faith in the global warming story. For one thing, I think the science behind it is junk; largely based on modelling assumptions. Furthermore, even if we accept warming, they haven't proven causality. There have been significant climate changes throughout the Earth's history. At one time, the Arctic was a giant swamp, filled with algae and whatnot. The causes could be changes in algae (which change CO2), changes in the sun's radiation, or changes in the sun's shielding from extra-solar radiation. But even if we accept that global warming is caused by human activity, George Reisman has a very good response for that: because vicarious liability is non-sense, and we cannot trace liability for warming to any specific person or corporation and divide up blame, we simply have to consider it a natural consequence of economic development. People will appropriately alter their lifestyles and whereabouts when climates change.

I'm not that convinced that global warming would be a bad thing. I'd much rather have that than another ice-age; if anything, I'd argue any insignificant heating caused by human CO2 production (in comparison with climate change caused by volcanic eruption), is beneficial in possibly delaying the next ice-age. At one point in time, there were actually cows in Greenland; taht's during the middle ages. What a horrible thing that would be.

David J. Heinrich writes:

Consider this: could these greenie commie environmentalist nutcases -- the same types who are for Zero Population Growth, or want to reduce world population to 100,000 people, or who are grateful for malaria's population-control effect -- prove the various individuals or corporations are guilty of causing global warming in a court of law? Could they meet the standard of proof to inflict a damage on these companies?

We are talking about punishing companies and individuals with any regulations. Of course, the way regulation works is you don't have to prove anything, you can destroy anything or anyone with regulations. But consider, could they meet a legal burden of proof that would be needed in a court of law? I highly doubt it.

You don't get to try "corporate America" broadly, because there are many companies not contributing to the alleged global warming effect. Nor is there really a legitimate principle for even isolating all those contributing in some way to pollution; as they didn't act in collaboration.

Really, what all of this enviro-whining comes down to is childish temper-tantrums. These socialists have some concern, something dear to their tree-hugging hearts: maybe it's saving some swamp, or some spotted owl, or getting two pandas to procreate. Fine, good. But do they use their own money to deal with it? Do go out and earn enough money to address their concern, or rally people to voluntarily contribute to it? No. That would be too much work. They call for force, theft, and robbery to accomplish their goal. They want to force people who don't agree with them, or who have other priorities, to contribute resources for their cause.

Michael H. writes:

Climate Skeptic is Warren Meyer of Coyote Blog. He is probably one of the five best libertarian bloggers out there so I guess I am surprised you had not found him before.

Lots of people have notices that liberals are already inclined to be sympathetic to Global Warming because it fits nicely into their worldview and libertarians to dismiss it for the same reason. I don't think it is wise to make beliefs on scientific subjects based on political bias.

I respect the climate modelers - I think that they are true scientists and probably make predictions in good faith. But nothing I have read sound all that ominous. If I had to bet on the worst event of the 21st century, I would bet on world war or infectious disease. Those two always top the list century after century.

Gary Rogers writes:

There are Libertarians who believe in anthropogenic global warming, but most recognize the senselessness of confiscating billions of dollars from our economy to make ineffective changes in our lifestyle. If the AGW folks have their way, the next topic of discussion may be anthropogenic poverty.

David J. Heinrich writes:

I think it is dangerous to assume that the progression in any field is upward and onward always. It is always possible for retrogression. And science being funded by the government, it is indeed politically affected. Michael Crichton has written somewhat on this. So did Murray Rothbard. Furthermore, there is always cause for concern when scientists and politicians especially claim there is "scientific consensus" on something, which then becomes unchallengeable without losing credibility. Yet, any discipline relies on dissenters not being humiliated to progress.

In the 70s, climatologists thought the big danger was the next ice-age. Now it's global warming. Perhaps when they can get their stories straight for more than a few decades, I'll take them seriously.

In the meanwhile, if we did what the enviro-nutcases want us to do -- which would effectively mean the end of capital accumulation, technological progress, and increasing standards of living -- we wouldn't ever develop the technology to deal with eventual "armagaddon" scenarios having to do with metiorites that would produce explosive impacts trillions of times that of Hiroshima.

Gary Rogers indeed makes an excellent observation regarding AGW folks.

Mike writes:

I am a libertarian but have a slightly different take on global warming. It all strikes me as a hidden agenda of anti-industrialization bias of the Luddite variety. Notice that all the global warming crowd are academic types, either professorial, students, or those who think of themselves in a like manner. It is all group think on a massive scale.

That having been said you may find this to be a surprise but I am a supporter of there efforts. Not because I believe in the global warming case but because it motivates and inspires people to do something about our dependence on petroleum based energy which forces us to finance those who wish us ill will. We, as a country, have it within our power to do just about anything we set our minds to do and its time we set our minds to dealing with energy independence. Therefore, I am a global warming cynic but ironically a silent global warming cheerleader.

Morgan writes:

Wow. I wonder how you would feel if this same argument was made at yourselves?

Here is a theory, obviously way too off to have been considered:

5. Economists who claim to be Libertarian, yet have an extremely limited and gerrymandered view of property rights, see that if Global Warming is true, it will require concerted action to avert possible disaster. Since these economists want more than anything else for there to exist their strange and logically inconsistent version of the 'free market system', any reality or fact which might preclude that possibility is automatically wrong.

They philosophically want it to be wrong. That they are willing to bend and twist facts to suit their preference shows that they are bad economists.

An economist, if he wants to be useful, has to recognize reality, not try to use statistics and models to distort reality for their own convenience. Frankly, someone who will distort facts to suit their preference in global warming can't be trusted in anything he does.

Science is suppose to be the pursuit of the truth and in economics, that means sometimes selecting the best bad choice. Economists who let their philosophical preferences dictate their conclusions aren't scientists at all. They are just academic cocktail hour blowhards.

Variable writes:


Your (5) is just an expanded version of the second half of Kling's (2), with added sneer. Unproductive.

Mike writes:

Morgan argues nicely. Once again it is disappointing to see the arrogant and teenage-like type of argument on this blog. In my (European) country, the climate-skeptics are almost all conservative right-wing types. Why is that? One hypothesis is obviously that they see this as another way in which environmentalist and left-wingers try to oppose the free-market. Hence, whatever their argument, they must be wrong. Is that a rational approach to the science?

Compared to the macro-econometric models of the 60s, there is actually a valid theory here why CO2 should cause global warming. There may be counter-effects and so on that we don’t know about, but there’s an underlying theory. The big-computer-models of macroeconomists do not have anything remotely close to this.

Obviously none of us can be certain about the true possibilities of primarily man-made global warming, I think a cautionary principle is the way to go here. Cost-Benefit Analysis, as often argued as the appropriate decision-making tool by economists, is not valid in the climate discussion. To begin with, it is not even consistent with economic theory in normal circumstances. But for climate policy and effects that will be of major concern for future generations, cost-benefit analysis based on the preferences of individuals living today is useless (we have no clue about the preferences about the next generation).

Finally, as “molinarilibertarian” writes, global warming may not become a disaster in the US or Western Europe. However, it will most likely be a disaster for coastal truly poor countries in the developing world. What moral right do Europe, or the US, have to continue with business as usual, when our actions will harm those that have the least? Further, it has recently been suggested (and given evidence for), that international violence and wars are closely correlated and caused by international climate crises…hence, a potential global-warming disaster would spill over problems to all parts of the world.

ed writes:

I'm a global warming skeptic skeptic.

If there is even, say, a 10% chance of catastrophic damage due to global warming, then I think we should worry a lot about that and probably take some action. Many skeptics implicitly claim that the chances are much lower than 10%, or even zero. This seems like over-confidence to me, so I'm skeptical of these skeptics, just like I'm skeptical of anyone who claims they can predict the effects of CO2 on climate with a high degree of certainty.

david writes:

The paragraph from the site you quote is wrong and gives a wrong impression how modelers work. Here is how it works: You come up with a hypothesis how things work (and this mainly consists in assuming that certain equations express certain laws of nature, and then estimating parameters of these equations from past data you got). Then, and this is an important step, you take that model and TEST it against other past data. In the case of climate change, this is actually often done by different groups. If someone else comes up with a different set of equations and estimates for parameters that explain the test data better, ta da, you would reject the first model and pick the second one. It seems that all these people that for example come up with the solar cycle criticism assume that no one has ever tried to run these climate models with a set of equations and paramters calibrated towards that explanation. But this really only shows a lack of knowledge of the literature. Of course the models have been modified to test that, but guess what, you get a worse fit to the past data we have with that. So we reject it. For someone who claims that what we are discussing in terms of climate change today can be explained by solar cylces, there is a very simple challenge: Come up with a model and parameters that explain past climate data we got. Others have tried and have not succeeded. If you think they were wrong, do it better. To suggest that the rejection of the solar explanation is purely an assumption by modeleres is just silly, it is rejected because researchers have not been able to fit such a model to observed phenomenon.

Amcguinn writes:

I tried to answer this once, in terms of relative fears.

Humankind has always faced environmental threats and problems, and has a good and improving record of coping with them. We have no such comforting record in dealing with overreaching government and tyranny - as Milton Friedman said in the old TV interview that has been going around recently, tyranny and serfdom are the normal state of mankind, and freedom is the rare and precious exception.

If AGW is both true and overwhelmingly important, then it totally falsifies a "pragmatic" libertarianism, like mine, which is based fundamentally on the idea that giving the individual a private scope not subject to approval from outside is a way (even the only really effective way?) of minimising conflict.

Perhaps the problem is the sheer perfection of the convenience of the theory for a particular political view. It is as if someone told me that God has announced that I should give him all my money.

AGW is a good issue for politicians, not because voters agree with the policies, but because it makes the politician look like a good person. The ideal course of action for a politician is to use the issue to show how concerned they are about everyone, do enough about it to show they are genuine, but not actually achieve any policy change that causes anyone the slightest inconvenience, like raising fuel taxes or building wind turbines. As soon as anyone is asked to make real sacrifices (rather than the "sacrifice" of having the policies they've always wanted implemented), their estimate of the seriousness of AGW goes sharply down.

Of course, once AGW has been used to defeat individualism as a political principle, its supporters might then find the further consequences quite alarming

But all the politics aside, I still find impossible to be convinced by the science.

Josh writes:


Please see the entry on Pascal's Wager:

Pascal's wager is about things with very high cost. He claims that even if the odds of them occuring are low, the high cost means you should act on them (expected cost = cost * probability). One major flaw in this argument is that implicit in it is the concept that you must know which way to act (in Pascal's case, you must know the true religion to choose).

Applied to your argument about AGW, you assume that humans can stop climate from changing even if AGW is real. Climate constantly changes and and reducing CO2 might just as well bring on another ice age. Or a warmer world might be better for everyone. Either way, even if we assume it does exist with a 100% probability, reducing carbon does not follow logically. In fact, given the lack of evidence, we may be as justified in pumping MORE carbon into the atmosphere.

Wojtek Grabski writes:

My take, hope some agree with it:

I'm not terribly concerned whether warming is caused by humans or not. But three issues jump out at me:

1) If warming is taking place, and everyone is so concerned about the negative consequences, why is noone investigating benefits? I find it very hard to believe that the net result of warming would be negative -- this would naturally lead to the conclusion that cooling would be a net positive, which seems highly unlikely. I have heard it said that it's not the direction so much as the 'change' that is bad, which brings me to point 2

2) If change is really afoot, i find the predictions strangely underwhelming. Let's say that sea level changes are significant -- a meter or two of the next century. A century is a REALLY long time. I've only lived a third of one, and I really don't even have a sense of how long an entire one is. I do know, however, that the coastal City in which I live, has moved at least a kilometer ONTO the water by dumping earth into it. I'm not going to debate the fine points of flood plains, etc., but I'm not concerned so much about human ability o handle change, especially since

3) Our ability to produce 'green' power is NOT a result of the environmental movement. Solar cell efficiency has everything to do with the electronics industry and our penchant for large televisions, and any notions about "directing" or "encouraging" green energy seem misguided. Even if warming had been predicted 40 years ago, I don't believe that pouring billions into solar cells would have produced a fraction of the result we have achieved through the convergence of so many completely unrelated industries; some of which are decidedly "un-green" -- think solid state production, glass deposition, materials sciences, etc.

Nobody can predict what innovation will lead to the next major advancement in green power, and it will most certainly NOT be helped by pouring money into green projects. It is true that investment into green power is necessary, but the optimal rate of that investment is best decided by the market, because only through such distributed risk and effort will it be best supported by the immense network of industry required to make it progress.

It's not a matter of whether warming is taking place that worries me; it's the horrific conviction that government can somehow make green advances happen more quickly by slowing investment in other sectors. The result can only be a net reduction in the pace of development, and a decrease in our ability to handle change.

Don't even get me started on the net flow of capital that would result by artificially increasing the cost of production in the west, and the impact that would have on the arsenal we possess to take creative ideas to market.

Dan Weber writes:

I'm skeptical of AGW, but I've even more skeptical of the skeptics.

For the first, the climate scientists seem more inclined to insult me for not believing them than willing to answer my questions. There's no law that says they must make me happy, but I'll vote and lobby appropriately.

But most "skeptics" are bozos to the Nth degree. I can't hang around them without wanting to claw my brain out through my eyes so that I don't have to hear their foolish arguments about how Mount Pinatubo put out more CO2 in one day than humankind has for a century. (Which is false, of course.)

(Also, what if humans aren't causing Global Warming, but we can still do something about it? Say, suck CO2 out of the air or apply some geo-engineering?)

Tom writes:

"For someone who claims that what we are discussing in terms of climate change today can be explained by solar cylces, there is a very simple challenge: Come up with a model and parameters that explain past climate data we got."

Sounds a lot like the CO2 proponents. They cannot duplicate the past either, so they take all the studies available and average them out.

I don't believe solar cycles are the only answer, only a smaller part actually. But if we go by your statement CO2 is even a smaller component.

I am a skeptic because of the fraud necessary to make the case for AGW. From Mann's hockeystick - proven to be false - to Hansen's temperature data - also mistaken. These two men would not release their data or methods for scrutiny. With good reason as it turns out.

Another problem I have is that all the hype about record hurricanes is opposite what the hurricane experts predict. The IPCC report with the warnings was issued before any of its own research was done. When the actual answer was not within what was wanted - the research was ignored, and the researcher quit the process.

The message is ALWAYS more important than the science.

Sam Carson writes:

I think its quite interesting how important the Atlantic has become in this equation.

In Europe climate change is pretty much agreed upon (barring Czech Republic's Vaclav Klaus, whose take on the issue is rather confusing/misleading anyway) - to the point where the Confederation of British Industry has released a report asking for environmental regulation and government oversight on this issue. The CBI, along with the Stern Review, the Prince of Wales' "Bali Communique", recent report by law firm Clifford Chance, as examples, all understand that climate change is both a risk to be mitigated and an opportunity to expand the energy sector, and therefore the economy - create new jobs and more local and efficient energy services.

North America still seems convinced that environmentalism means a return to the stone age. Nobody has yet convinced me why expecting industry to become more energy efficient is the same as wanting the fall of capitalism. Nor do I understand why it is so important that the oil industry's corporations dominate the economy so profoundly. On the political front, why is it so inherently wrong to think our actions in this regard how we treat our environment might require some scrutiny? Especially after we, mankind, made that rather large hole in the ozone above Antarctica - which resulted in global regulation on CFCs... yet somehow we are not serfs yet.

So, if anyone can help me with how the environmentalism = serfdom argument works, I would be grateful.

I'm with Ed, there is a chance this is a pretty serious issue, and worth acting on. Particularly when it is also an opportunity to decrease our reliance on oil, and the states and corporations that produce it, while expanding the energy market and the services within it.

Floccina writes:

I am tending more and more to believe in AGW but I am cautious having been burned by the "population bomb" and the "energy crisis". Also all the diet realted advice/research that has and is falling through lately (salt/ the CDC on being fat) adds to my doubt. So although the evidence seems to be stronger for AGW than against I think it could fall through at any minute leaving us looking like fools to have believed.

8 writes:

There are benefits from AGW that offset many of the costs, leaving aside the costs of combatting the warming. At the end, what people usually fall back on is people in Bangladesh might lose their homes. The warming itself is not a problem, it's the secondary effects, whereas CFCs were believed (some scientists have a preliminary result that challenges the conclusion) to cause the ozone hole—a direct relationship. The proper response to AGW is to compensate Bangladeshis for their losses when they materialize.

opportunity to expand the energy sector, and therefore the economy - create new jobs and more local and efficient energy services

By magic? Too many people, liberal and conservative, believe that "new jobs" equals "more jobs". There will be fewer jobs because people will have to spend more time and work on meeting their basic energy needs.

Dan Weber writes:
North America still seems convinced that environmentalism means a return to the stone age. Nobody has yet convinced me why expecting industry to become more energy efficient is the same as wanting the fall of capitalism.
Well, because lots of proposed solutions are very detrimental to the economy.

Kyoto, for example, would be a massive wealth transfer from the United States to Russia, China, and India.

However, there are lots of economy-neutral steps we could take to address the environment. For example, we could tax consumption rather than production. Imagine replacing the income tax with a carbon tax. That's where a lot of "environmentalists" suddenly become not; the carbon tax would definitely clamp down on (domestic) emissions, but since it's happening with a consumption tax, they lose their ability to soak the rich.

Mike Moffatt writes:

Devil's advocate position:

(5) People on *all* portions of the ideological spectrum are willing to throw out the findings of science when it goes against their pre-conceived notions. I suspect the correlation between "climate change skeptic" and "evolution skeptic" is quite high. (Note: this says nothing about how valid the respective positions are).

Similarly, I suspect a lot of people on the left would disbelieve the idea that corporate income taxes are largely borne by labor, despite the extensive evidence showing exactly that.


"For example, we could tax consumption rather than production. Imagine replacing the income tax with a carbon tax. That's where a lot of "environmentalists" suddenly become not"

If by "a lot" you mean "a small vocal minority". The Green Party of Canada, for instance, has taken this very position. I don't understand where people get this idea that the environmental movement is *against* the green tax-shift.

Floccina writes:

Also “liberals” seem to me to be more cautious than others. For example they seem more likely to buy organic foods even though the science that other foods are just as health is very, very strong. They tend to not trust nuclear scientists of nuclear power even though nuclear power has a great track record (it has been safer than all but natural gas for making electricity). They tend to be big advocates of the safety net and socialized medicine. All are indication of aversion to risk.

Dan Weber writes:

Mr. Moffat,

Thanks for the pointer to the Green Party of Canada's tax platform. That is awesome to learn about.

I mostly get the idea from the environmentalists I talk to. I suggest a consumption tax and lots of them blanch. Others are fine with it, just like quite a few of them are cool with nuclear power.

R. Richard Schweitzer writes:

Perhaps you are approaching the correlation from the wrong direction.

There is a large body of persons whose perceptions and thinking processes would put them in the classification of "skeptics." By observations, those persons seem to be inclined to many of the conclusions and opinions that are classed as "Libertarian," socially and economically (if there is a distinction).

Put more simplistically, "skeptics" tend to have a "Libertarian" outlook.

R. Richard Schweitzer

Barkley Rosser writes:

Hmmm. I put up a long comment on this that I thought took, but does not seem to be here now. Will not repeat all of it.

Very briefly, I have looked over climate skpetic's site, and there are a lot of problems with many of his arguments. A general problem with "skeptics" is that there is no agreed upon alternative to the IPCC story of AGW. Some just question if warming is happening, some say it is but it is due to other things, with a long list of possibilities being posed, CS favoring supposedly increased solar radiation.

More generally, it is not clear what it means to be a "skeptic" or not anymore. Thus, many people who have been labeled "skeptics" have changed their views, such as Patrick Michaels of Cato and Fred Singer of George Mason. Both were denying global warming was happening. Now they say it is, but we should not do anything about it, one (Michaels) on libertarian grounds that it will cost too much and involve too much government, the other on the grounds that we cannot do much about it because it is probably not very anthropogenic. Michaels agrees with projections that match the lower end of the IPCC ranges and agrees that some portion of it is human-produced. Is he still a "skeptic"?

It is clearly true that people often like to believe things that fit more easily with their ideological prejudices, and Arnold is right approximately about how this plays out broadly. However, I would agree with those who point out that there are scientific AGW "skeptics" (or at least have been identified as such) who are political "liberals" (another term whose meaning has become pretty fuzzy), more or less. However, I shall not name names in order to avoid implicating the guilty...

Ben Kalafut writes:

By "skeptic" you seem to mean "doubter"; most skeptics, and most of the most highly qualified skeptics believe that the AGW hypothesis is valid.

As for "complex systems", there's a tendency among libertarians to substitute rhetoric for reasoning, and this is a prime example. Just what do you mean by "complex system" and why *in this particular case* do you feel that the models are inadequate? If you were to dig deeper into the scientific literature rather than lazing and poking around "climate skeptic" sites you might find that climatologists are not the dunces you would have them be.

Note, BTW, that the sensitivities to various feedbacks and forcings are not chosen ahead of time with a particular result in mind--this is what the excerpt you posted implies is going on, and it's one of the denialists' dirtiest lies.

As for the tendency among libertarians to be climate denialists or soi-disant "skeptics", that's an interesting question. I'd guess a lot of it has to do with inertia; the libertarian-on-the-street has been told for years that AGW is either a dunce's silly mistake or a "socialist" deliberate hoax. A few other factors might come into play:

(1) Libertarians tend to overestimate their ability to solve problems through mere talking. Witness their tolerance for the Austrian School, for example, whose economic methodology is mere rhetoric. Hence libertarians are more easily swayed than most by the flim-flam being shopped around by the denialists. Moreover they tend to arrogate to themselves the ability to have a valid opinion on everything. So what if the experts believe X, I think Y and I'm just as qualified as them. Or not, but they're all a bunch of commie pinko socialist libururls....

(2) Wishful thinking comes into play. Ronald Bailey admits that he initially chose his position because he'd have liked for Man to not have to deal with such a difficult issue. From my perspective, as a (libertarian) scientist, that's both the stupidest and most dishonest way anyone could every approach a scientific question, but libertarians' scientific training is about as lousy as the general public's. Many libertarians still believe that "noninitiation of force" is a reasonable criterion for just government, that there is One True System of Property Rights (which looks a lot like the status quo), and that anything that looks like an expansion of government is bad. (They rather conveniently forget about the success of the Montreal Protocol.) Global warming is one issue for which vulgar or "pop" libertarianism has no answer. (Ocean acidification and antibiotic resistance are two others.) Hence one who wants to defend one's belief in vulgar libertarianism is left to attack the premise of AGW. "Well yeah, but that problem that my One True Property Rights can't solve doesn't really exist, so there!"

Ben Kalafut writes:

Look above, too, to "Floccina" the irrational voter. People who don't understand science can't distinguish meaningfully between AGW and the "population bomb" or newspaper diet advice. They're thus left superstitious, worried that it's all really whimsy and the science will "fall out" at any moment, this worry being out of proportion with the confidence justified by the underlying physics and the simplifying assumptions.

(On that note: The author of "Exploding population myths", for one, has been an irrational moving-target on the AGW issue and tends to write it off, if pressed to reveal his irrationality, as the same as the "population bomb scare")

Wondering why libertarians tend to be doubters or soi-disant "skeptics" more than most? Ignorance and categorical thinking work well. "I don't understand this enough to have a valid opinion, but it sounds like the population bomb, so I'll treat it as such."

Daublin writes:

On Arnold's question, I lean to explanation #2: CO2 emissions control is a proxy for slowing technology, equalizing wealth, and starting up massive global projects. People who really think global warming is a big deal would not limit themselves to the impractical strategy of controlling CO2 emissions. They would look for ways to sequester CO2, and they would look for non-CO2 ways to cool the earth back down. Instead, they make a beeline for the strategy that causes deindustrialization, hurts the wealthiest countries, and requires global coordination.

On the science, true believers, nobody has answered Arnold's question from a few days ago. It is a scientific fact that CO2 alone will not cause 4-5 degrees of warming in this century. Where do the extra 3-4 degrees come from on top of the 1 from the greenhouse effect?

Skeptics, many of you are freaking me out. The strongest argument is about costs and benefits and about our ability to deal with any climate change that does occur. A salient example in my mind is that recent natural disasters killed 50,000 in Indonesia but only 1,000 in New Orleans. If we are ever offered a trillion dollars in exchange for one extra hurricane per year, we should take it.

Barkley Rosser writes:


Excuse me, but just where did you get the "scientific fact" that CO2 cannot cause 3-4 degrees of warming over the next century? It is one thing to say that we do not know how much extra CO2 from human sources could cause such warming (or how much warming will result from given increases in CO2). It is quite another to make such a baseless remark.

If you got it from "Climate Skeptic," this site is full of errors and misinformation, too much for me to go on about here and now, but plenty. Arnold should have been more careful about recommending the site. It would appear that he did so because it sort of looks impressive, and maybe because of the libertarian credentials of its master. But it is a minefield of garbage.

Regarding the business of "complex systems" and chaos theory, this cuts several ways. Sure, this puts severe limits on our understanding and ability to predict. However, it does not guarantee any sort of stability or reduction of scary fat tails or anything of the sort, if anything quite the contrary. After all, chaos theory is all about "sensitive dependence on intial conditions" or "butterfly effects," and all those nonlinear feedbacks that the IPCC is plugging in are out there, if not well understood and possibly overstated, but also possibly understated.

Note: the original example by the climatologist Lorenz for the butterfly effect was that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could cause hurricanes in Texas, and it is pretty widely accepted that the global climate system is fraught with chaotic dynamics.

Also, the historical record reinforces such instabilities. I remember from back in the 1970s when I was working with climatologists who were worrying about the possibility of global cooling, that the geological record shows that the temperature changes that brought on the ice ages occurred within very short periods of time geologically, a century or so. Of course it took longer than that for the ice to actually form and extend down to its ultimate extent. But the basic temp change occurred far more rapidly, and the positive nonlinear feedback effect of the associated albedo is for real.

Actually, in the past Arnold has been more careful in all this, noting that the big issue is what should we be doing, if anything (and, of course, a libertarian position might well be, "nothing by any government," no matter what), about the fairly small possibilities of really bad fat tails at the upper ends of the range of possible temperature outcomes.

Jim writes:

Speaking as a 'liberal', I would be overjoyed if the AGW theory was false, because it would mean I could spend as much time as I could afford jetting around the world without being keenly aware of my own disproportionate contribution to the greenhouse effect. And I think this thread demonstrates just how much 'skepticism' really consists of projecting onto Those Awful Liberals a whole lot of your own irrationalities. Anyone who takes a serious look at the science on this subject - and sadly, that doesn't appear to include Arnold Kling, who instead spends his time looking for new blogs to reinforce his existing beliefts - should be left in very little doubt.

Morgan writes:

I am very much reassured to see so much rational thought on this blog concerning this subject finally.

What annoys me the most about 'doubters', a much better term than 'skeptics' though I would offer 'deniers' as well, is that they are betting the lives of my children and grandchildren on an ideological tenet.

Libertarian economists should spend more time trying to figure out how to minimize economic losses and assure personal freedom in the face of a global threat, and less time pining for a utopia that doesn't, and cannot technologically exist at this time.

A good place to start is with this question: How much pollution is someone allowed to put on my land?

Finally, when it comes to the question of 'How do we know that Global Warming won't be good for us?' We evolved on this planet and prospered with the the environment as it was. When you consider the populations of animals, plants and bacteria and how they interact with each other in an incredibly complex way, we have no idea what could happen if the average global temperature goes up just a few degrees. We do know that a warm spell in the first half of the last millennium led to the Black Death and wiped out half the human population of the earth.

Here is a bit of advice for those of you not use to working in dangerous environments, if you don't know what it does, don't f*ck with it.

Barkley Rosser writes:

Global warming is good for some of us (especially those countries in colder climates) and bad for others of us. It is near a wash for the two biggest carbon emitters, the US and China, which is one reason it is hard to organize the world into doing anything about it, although clearly the libertarian position is that this is fine, even if one is not a "skeptic" or "denier" or whatever.

Of course, the countries scheduled to be the biggest losers are mostly poor tropical, or sub-tropical, like Bangladesh. But, tough, you losers, stop the whining and temper tantrums!

Floccina writes:

Finally, when it comes to the question of 'How do we know that Global Warming won't be good for us?' We evolved on this planet and prospered with the environment as it was.

Ok so how do know that the invention of the air conditioner did make it so that we would be better off in a warmer climate that we evolved in?

Floccina writes:

BTW If you are worried about AGW google biochar. Biochar might make removing co2 from the air cheaper that we think.

Michael Bush writes:

Politicians want to win elections. The press wants sound bites, not essays. The electorate votes its fears, not its aspirations. A scared electorate is a motivated electorate. Whether we bomb Iran, embrace a carbon tax, or dismantle government, the effect is the same. Chaos. Those eagar to change the world never understand it. Understanding takes work, disipline, commitment. It requires maturity. "Liberals have a genetic defect" is a great sound bite--a bullet in some political arsenal--just more of the same.

Morgan writes:

I'm astonished to see that some people think that it is just a question of the air temperature. Libertarian Economics is suppose to be about understanding that markets are way too complicated to try to micro-manage, that any attempt to interfere leads to unforeseen and unintended consequences.

So it is with the environment, except the bad things that can happen with the environment can kill us all.

Tell me, if someone came up to us and told us that we should raise the temperature of the planet 10 degrees because it would help America, would you think it a good idea?

dizmal writes:

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Morgan writes:

Re: Dizmal


dizmal writes:

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Floccina writes:

What annoys me the most about 'doubters', a much better term than 'skeptics' though I would offer 'deniers' as well, is that they are betting the lives of my children and grandchildren on an ideological tenet.

Are you willing to bet the lives of your children and grandchildren on a long drive when over 40,000 people die on US roads each year? How about a long drive to school each day? How about the many dangers of being poorer.

jb writes:

I believe that there is some AGW going on. I'm almost certain of it. But I also believe that the greatest "advocates" of AGW are significantly over-hyping the threat, the level of consensus and the immediacy of the problem.

Essentially, from a right wing perspective, AGW provides left-wingers with ammunition to justify why markets should be centrally managed. It's very convenient, then, for those people to overreach and over-react, because the end result is more government control of the market.

It could turn out that their science is overwhelmingly correct, which will essentially spell the end of free markets (because avoiding externalities will become a religious crusade). I happen to think that other threats, such as asteroids and super-volcanoes are as serious as AGW, and the best solution to those problems is the innovation and growth that a free market brings.

So I am resistant - deliberately refusing to get worked up about the catastrophic threat of AGW, because I think that the "cure" for AGW is going to significantly decrease our ability as a species to deal with other catastrophic threats.

Because at the end of the day, the asteroid that will eventually hit the Earth and extinguish 95% of all life will not care whether we live in harmony with nature, or how clean our air is, or how "zero impact" our lives are on the planet. If we cannot stop it, or we cannot live off planet, we will have done ourselves no favors by castrating the free market upon the holy altar of carbon reduction.

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