Does the World
Benefit from Being Deceived?
By Lykke E. Andersen*,
“A good lie
will have travelled half way around the world
while the truth is putting on her boots”
As regular readers of this newsletter will
have discovered, I believe the threat of Climate Change is being
vastly exaggerated not only by the media and certain individuals,
but also by big international institutions, such as the United
Nations and WWF.
One might defend such exaggeration if one believes that it would
benefit the World if people get scared into taking some actions
that they would not otherwise take. For many people, the fight
against Global Warming is a symbol of a broader and higher
objective: promoting environmental awareness, sustainability,
and fairness instead of greed, pollution, environmental
destruction, and ever increasing consumption. One might argue
that these noble causes justify misleading the population.
I don’t think deception is a good strategy, even if it is done
for noble reasons.
First of all, wild exaggerations are likely to backfire and bite
you in the end, as your exaggerated claims will be easier to
prove wrong. For example, it won’t take much more data
generation and scientific research to prove that a 4ºC increase
in global temperatures this century is extremely unlikely,
whereas a 1ºC increase really can’t be ruled out until very
close to year 2100. A sea-level rise of 20 feet this century has
already been ruled out, whereas a 1-2 feet increase will remain
plausible for a long time. By exaggerating, you make yourself
vulnerable to being proven wrong faster, and thus to losing
credibility and effectiveness in promoting your objectives.
Second, exaggerating a distant, uncertain threat seems to be a
very inefficient way of promoting your higher goals. We all want
clean water to drink, pure air to breathe, healthy food to eat,
spectacular natural areas to visit, world peace, and less
disease and suffering, but caps on carbon emissions sure seem
like a very roundabout way of achieving those objectives (or any
other objectives you might have, except for making money from
carbon trading). There may be some positive side-effects of the
policies implemented to fight climate change, but one would
expect considerably better results if the money was spent
directly targeting a well-specified set of goals through well-understood
relationships between cause and effect. The current approach is
a bit like shooting wildly in the dark with a machine gun in the
hope of hitting a target, instead of turning on the light, aim,
and shoot a few carefully selected targets and avoid hitting
innocent bystanders in the process.
Third, scaring people and institutions into taking certain
actions will necessarily divert attention and money away from
other actions, which might be more worthwhile. It is often
claimed that the poor will suffer most from climate change, so
for the sake of world justice we have to limit carbon emissions.
However, there are certainly more direct and immediate ways of
benefitting the poor. It seems unethical to trick governments
into spending incredible amounts of money on fighting a distant,
uncertain threat when there are huge, immediate problems that
could be tackled instead. It seems particularly unethical if you
claim to do it for the benefit of the poor.
Good policies and good actions require a good understanding of
causes, effects, and side-effects. At the moment our
understanding of how we affect the climate and how the climate
affects us is extremely limited, and the best thing that can be
said about the Global Warming hype is that it has prompted a lot
of interesting research. A lot more is still needed for us to be
able to implement good policies, so postulating that “the debate
is over” and that there is a “scientific consensus” is both counterproductive
Hollywood and Greenpeace are allowed to lie and exaggerate all
they want. That is anticipated by the audience and easily
compensated for in people's minds. But scientists, Nobel Prize
Laureates and international development institutions ought to be
more responsible and live up to the trust that society has
placed with them.