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Why I support Climate Change investment

  • October 17th, 2019

An article in Forbes magazine reports on George Shultz recounting how Ronald Reagan gained a consensus to support the Montreal Protocol to combat the fluorocarbons that were thought to be creating the hole in the ozone layer. He refers to the problem of persuading people who felt there was too much uncertainty in the science.

“And then he [Reagan] did something that nobody ever does anymore,” Shultz said. “He went to the scientists who didn’t agree and put his arm around them and said, ‘We respect you, but you do agree that if it happens it’s a catastrophe, so let’s take out an insurance policy.’”

For 20 years I’ve used the same analogy in trying to counsel people who trap themselves into claiming more confidence in the “denialist” case than they can possibly justify, just because they can’t stomach the religious fervour and anti-human callousness of many climate campaigners.

I see precautionary investment against climate change as equivalent in political decision-making, to expenditure on defence. Both require spending for highly uncertain benefit. No one can know whether we genuinely have an enemy who will attack. No one can know if our precautions will be effective. Hopefully the investment will be untested. We can’t know until afterwards whether it is wasted. Yet it is rational to try, because the catastrophe could be so overwhelming if the risk matures without resilience or mitigation precautions.

But such investment remains foolish if it is unlikely reduce CO2 levels materially, or to improve New Zealand’s ability to cope if change happens nevertheless. Given NZ’s inability to affect the first, an insurance investment should focus primarily on resilience. The Zero Carbon Bill does neither. So my government is wasting the elite political consensus that ‘something must be done”. Instead they’re conspicuously trumpeting their “belief” in climate change, and their intentions to act. If the law is enforced it will likely increase emissions overseas, and not influence foreign governments to mitigate the risk, who can affect the outcome.

I’m reminded of the Manchu Empire’s last few decades. They raised money to buy a modern military, like Japan’s, to defend against  European gunboats. Then spent much of it on vast marble additions to the Summer Palace, monuments to the glory of the Emperor. It included artistic versions of military assets, to persuade the gods to defeat the Europeans with the Empire’s outdated technology .

We’re being lead by that religious impulse to renounce treasures as a bargain with the gods. NZ government posturing offers up our first born (agriculture) on the altars of sacrifice.

The anti-dairying climate change moves seem designed to be maximum “hair shirt” as well as useless in reducing world carbon emissions. The proponents may judge effectiveness by the volume of complaint from the productive section of our society. They just ‘know’ what they command must be virtuous, because the unworthy are complaining. Our child rulers genuinely believe that they are showing moral leadership (to a world that will not even bother to scoff, so irrelevant are we). They are, of course, reassured by attention from the Colberts of the entertainment elite.

Effete Manchu officials demonstrated their piety by suppressing the advisers and merchant classes who called for realistic responses to European technology and aggression. That is a common reaction in failing societies. As Spain lost its dominance in Europe, the Inquisition was sustained. The Spanish ruling classes consoled themselves with ever more rigorous insistence on cultural orthodoxy.

And so we have in NZ a closing of ranks against climate “denialism”. Our elite hunts for heretics. We should instead respect those who are suspicious of compulsory ‘scientific consensus’ but ask them to join in working out what is likely to be most efficient (given we are going to spend on ‘insurance’ anyway).

It is wicked to take steps just for expansive show. The Zero Carbon Bill approach will actually increase world CO2 emissions, just not here.  So we are posturing to an indifferent global class, impoverishing ourselves (reducing resilience) and achieving as much against climate change as the Summer Palace did for the Qing dynasty and China.



[…] Stephen Franks explains why he supports climate change investment: […]

  • Hilary TAYLOR
  • October 31st, 2019
  • 4:40 pm

Now that’s a thoughtful piece I can go along with. Well done.

  • Philob
  • November 4th, 2019
  • 8:11 pm

Thank you Stephen. Helpful thinking.
Can you suggest a reliable source of science-led climate information? The Economist’s recent climate issue did not tackle the question of how much warming is caused by man-made GHGs. The Science section was about how difficult it is to measure global warming.


A pedantic quibble, if one can be tolerated. The insurance analogy confuses risk sharing/pooling with risk reduction. The insurance industry pools risks, and increases them to the degree that it is accompanied by some moral hazard. In contrast we use locks and burglar alarms to reduce risk.
Mitigation is not about pooling or sharing risks. It is about spending real resources, and the test of its value is whether the benefits to the community exceed the costs of the real resources thus diverted. The important point is that to call mitigation insurance does nothing to make the case that therefore the benefits exceed the costs. They may or they may not.

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