A Story of Two Hysterias Half 2 – Watts Up With That?
Reposted from Forbes
Tilak Doshi Contributor
I analyze energy economics and related public policy issues.
Just over a year ago, I wrote in these pages an article noting the remarkable similarities in government policy responses to the impacts of the global Covid-19 pandemic and to those of climate change. Developments over the past year have only served to emphasize the resilient nature of these similarities. The striking parallels in government policy to mitigate perceived “existential threats” to humanity have become even more notable. They betray a range of critical defects in policy making, from an inordinate dependence on speculative models to the lack of transparency and the ideological corruption of science, selective reporting and group think, and the suppression of sceptics. Let’s revisit some of these parallels in government policy towards the Covid pandemic and climate change.
Two Recent Events
On the Covid-19 front, the most explosive development relates to the increasing plausibility of the view that the Sars-Cov-2 virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This occurred after over a year of outright denials by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the chief medical advisor to the president. This was accompanied by an onslaught of supportive articles by the mainstream media and the demonization of Senator Tom Cotton as a ‘conspiracy theorist’. He was among the first to raise the likelihood about the lab-release of the corona virus from the Wuhan institute. Newly released emails from Dr. Fauci now suggest that that he may have known that the Chinese research institute was carrying out dangerous gain-of-function research.
In the climate change wars, perhaps an equally important development is associated with the publication of Steve Koonin’s book “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters”. Professor Koonin is a leading climate scientist with degrees from Caltech and MIT with over 200 academic papers. He was previously provost at Caltech and chief scientist for BP. Most importantly, he was former President Obama’s science advisor who “takes an axe” to the “climate emergency” narrative after leaving his government job and re-joining academia. Despite his unimpeachable scientific credentials and his previous position with a Democrat administration, there have been no lack of attempts to ‘cancel’ Koonin and hatchet jobs on his book are rife (here, here and here).
The Use and Abuse of Models
The use of predictive models, often with highly disputed assumptions, has played an out-sized role in guiding government responses. In my previous article, I already pointed out how the not-fit-for-purpose model of Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, London panicked governments in the UK and the US into severe economic and social lockdowns with incalculable collateral damage on the lives and livelihoods of entire populations in many countries. This could be compared, as I previously pointed out, to the alarmist “hockey stick” global warming chart adopted by climate activists, mass media and politicians since its publication in 1999. This led to vast public resources being spent on subsidies and mandates over the past two decades in the US and Western Europe to push expensive and unreliable “renewable energy” technologies, ultimately with little impact on global dependence on fossil fuels.
My previous article suggested that lockdown policies are to the pandemic what decarbonization (“net zero by 2050”) is to climate change. There has been an increasing body of research that lockdowns – people forced to stay at home, small and medium-sized businesses forced to shut down – don’t work. There is no correlation between the severity of lockdowns and Covid mortality. A paper published last month by the NBER found no beneficial effect of “shelter in place” or lockdown policies on excess mortality. The effect of lockdown orders was assessed in 43 countries and all 50 US states. The key finding was that shelter-in-place orders not only did not reduce excess deaths but in fact led to excess deaths from all causes. Well documented collateral damage of lockdowns include widespread poverty, depression, bankruptcy, and unemployment (here, here and here). It has become increasingly apparent that the lockdowns had little basis in scientific research, and hysteria and groupthink were largely responsible for their adoption. The folly and hubris of central planners and favoured technocrats were on full display.MORE FOR YOUHighlighting Women Shattering Age And Gender NormsUncertainty 2020: Embrace Ambiguity Because No One Really Knows What’s NextCovid On The Street: Pandemic Graffiti From Around The World
The inordinate costs of “decarbonization” policies pursued in many countries have also been well documented. The German Federal Audit Office warned in a recent report that the drive to “net zero” has turned into an existential threat to the economy. The government auditor sees “sees the danger that the energy transition in this form will endanger Germany as a business location and overwhelm the financial strength of electricity-consuming companies and private households”. The report finds that decarbonization with escalating energy costs not only threatens the country with de-industrialization but it also sees an alarming threat to the country’s security of energy supply. California, with aggressive decarbonization policies akin to Germany’s, now face looming blackouts as electricity costs “explode”.
The path to “net zero by 2050”, pushed by the International Energy Agency, the European Union, and the UK and US governments, now threatens global inflation according to Roger Bootle, founder of Capital Economics Ltd and author of the 1996 book `The Death of Inflation’. He stated that “If I had to put my money on a single factor that was going to push up costs in the years to come, I would say it was the environmental emphasis and in particular the drive towards net zero… I think this is going to lead to a whole series of costs and price increases across the [global] economy.”
“Following the Science”
The “following the science” mantra endlessly cited by politicians to justify draconian lockdown and decarbonization policies has been used to exempt themselves from democratic constraints and the duty to exercise judgement. Relying on “The Science” is both foolish and dangerous, for science is neither consensual nor the “final answer” to any policy debate. Which scientists do you listen to? Science is a methodology constantly striving at plausible answers consistent with empirically-validated models, not some abstract end-state to ‘known knowns’. Epidemiological and climate models employed to predict outcomes of highly uncertain and only partially understood processes often yields results which are “sociological”, tuned to getting politically correct answers. These abstract predictive models, untethered to empirical validation, may well be “worse than nothing”.
Appeals to science and predictive models have dominated the advocacy of policies by the power triumvirate – lawmakers, bureaucrats and the mainstream media — to mitigate perceived threats to human welfare, be it the Covid pandemic or climate change. Yet such appeals are ultimately political. Perhaps the last word lies best with the towering American essayist H. L. Mencken, who wrote that “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary”.
Follow me on Twitter.