Monday, 16 March 2020

On Externalities, Integrated Assessment Models, and UK climate policies

This is a follow-up to my recent essay, “On Cambridge University, post-modernism, climate change, Oppenheimer’s Razor, and the Re-Enlightenment.” As I said there about the economic impacts of global warming: “I’d expect that some probing by independent experts into the economic calculations, and the assumptions on which they are built, might bear fruit.” But where are these calculations, and who are the unbiased experts who have quality controlled them? I couldn’t find any such calculations, or the names of any such experts. Perhaps, I thought, I’d better take a look at this myself.

So, I set out to learn as much as I could about the economic calculations which – so we’re supposed to believe – justify the extreme measures proposed, all the way up to total de-carbonization of the UK economy, to avoid alleged catastrophic damage from global warming. This essay is the result of that exercise. If it reads like a cross between a layman’s guide to the economics of global warming and a political rant, that’s because it’s both!


Here are the main points of what I found out:

  1. In 2009, the UK government ceased to value carbon dioxide emissions according to their social cost [1], in favour of using numbers based on political commitments they had previously made. In effect, they abandoned doing cost versus benefit assessments on policies that are expected to increase or decrease CO2 emissions.
  2. Recent empirical estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), when run through assessment models like those used by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), suggest a considerably lower social cost of CO2 emissions than earlier estimates, such as the UK government’s Stern Review.
  3. When the beneficial side-effects of CO2 emissions, such as increased plant growth, are taken into account, it’s possible that the social cost of these emissions may even become negative. That is, CO2 emissions become a nett benefit not a nett cost.
  4. Calculations based on a 2017 paper by Dayaratna, McKitrick and Kreutzer suggest a social cost for all UK CO2 emissions as at 2020 of 0.05% of GDP (optimistic) or 0.31% of GDP (pessimistic). Using the social cost numbers for 2050 from the same paper, the figures are 0.08% and 0.52% respectively. All these numbers are substantially lower than the 1-2% of GDP put forward as the cost of “net zero” policies.
  5. There is a need for urgent action to prevent the imposition of costly, draconian and lifestyle-destroying policies on people in the UK in the name of a problem, which is far less serious (if it is a problem at all) than is claimed by the promoters of those policies.
What I did

I realized that I was going to have to delve into details, skim-read (at least) several scientific and policy papers, and form my own view on the matter. And quickly, too. Fortunately, I am fairly well equipped to do this, having done much the same in the field of toxicology with my 2017 paper on air pollution from cars in the UK.

But as a generalist, I always want to look at the wider perspective as well as at the detail. So, I’ll open with some thoughts on what economists call “externalities.” These are defined as consequences of an industrial or commercial activity which affect other parties, without this being reflected in market prices. And I’ll put forward some ideas on how these things ought to be dealt with in a sane world.

Social cost of externalities

When people do things, they sometimes cause damage or inconvenience to others. This is an inevitable consequence of living in a community. If the damage is willed, that’s a problem. We normally call these acts “crimes,” require the perpetrators to compensate the victim(s) for the damage caused, and punish them in addition. If the damage is unintended but significant, we (humans as a whole) have systems which can require the perpetrator to compensate the victim. The details differ from place to place and time to time, but they all point in the same direction: justice. If damage is done without anyone realizing what’s going on, that’s a third aspect of the problem; externalities that no-one at the time knew were there.

How to deal justly with such problems? Well, for me at least, the first step must be to find out how big the problem is. Until you know that reasonably accurately, there isn’t much you can do, without risking that whatever action you take will do a lot more harm than good.

A good way to assess an activity which may be causing a problem, is to calculate what is known as “social cost.” This is the total cost, to all those affected, of the activity. Economists often use this term to mean the total cost of the activity, both the “personal” costs to the producer and the “external” costs to third parties. But when they talk of the “social cost of carbon” (SCC), or more accurately the social cost of carbon dioxide emissions, it seems that what they mean is the cost of the externalities (both negative and positive) caused by CO2 emissions, which would not have happened had there been no such emissions. This is usually expressed as a cost per ton of CO2 emitted in a particular year.

As an aside, some tell us that negative externalities are caused by “market failure.” This is nonsense. They arise, in the first place, because it takes time for anyone, and most of all for the victims, to realize that there’s a problem, and who is responsible for it. They remain uncorrected because the legal system makes it hard for the victims to claim compensation from the perpetrators. In the US, class action suits can sometimes be used. But the UK equivalent (Group Litigation Orders) seems much less useful. There’s a common law tort of “nuisance,” but this applies mainly to “noisy neighbours” and similar cases. There have been attempts to bring nuisance cases against, for example, wind farms; but as far as I’m aware, none has got anywhere. Moreover, damages for nuisance tend to be low. It isn’t the market that has failed when externalities go uncorrected; it’s the legal system and the government.

Polluter pays

For externalities arising from human emissions of CO2, we’re into the “polluter pays” scenario. That is, those who cause an externality should be made to compensate those who were harmed by it. And where the activity raises significant risks of further damage in the future, these risks should be taken into account. But no payments should actually be made until the predicted bad effects have been shown to be real.

All this is only common sense. But it’s also common sense that no-one who has caused an externality should be made to pay any more than their own portion of the social cost, over the time frame in which they have been causing the externality. A government claiming to be democratic, if it mandated more than this, would be failing in its duty to act for the benefit of the governed – all the governed.

So, in a sane world, if you can first get a reasonably accurate measure of the social cost of an externality, you could apportion that cost in two ways. First, you could identify the perpetrators of the externality, and assess the damage caused by each perpetrator, in proportion to their contribution to it. And second, you could identify the victims, and assess the harm done to each, in proportion to the damage suffered. A government could then set up a system which takes compensation payments from the perpetrators, and routes them to the victims. This is an idea I’ve put forward before, in relation to air pollution from cars.

If a more accurate re-assessment of the social cost were to cause a change, either up or down, in the just level of these payments, the response would be to increase or decrease the payments, taking account of payments already made. Thus, as the social cost estimates become more and more accurate, the payments will more and more closely approach the just values. But notice – importantly – that in this process, once the apportionment is made, government acts only as a router, and itself takes no more from anyone than it needs to run the process. No “transformation of society” is required or attempted, no “carbon taxes” are levied, and nobody gets rich on the proceeds.

What the UK government has done

But this isn’t a sane world. Nothing touched by politics is ever sane. The US EPA has used the social cost approach for several years now, though its continued use is in doubt. But the UK has abandoned it. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also does not use a social cost approach, preferring “process based” models, which “analyse transformation pathways to mitigate climate change.”

Here is the UK government’s page on the matter: [2]. Prior to 2009, they used a social cost approach to valuing the effects of CO2 emissions (increases or decreases) when considering policies. The page says: “The SCC matters because it signals what society should, in theory, be willing to pay now to avoid the future damage caused by incremental carbon emissions.” Yes, indeed. In my terms, the SCC is the aggregate of what all individuals ought to be willing to pay, each according to his or her own share. And no proposed measure of damage costs, which is significantly different from the social cost, can provide any basis for objective and fair assessment of the costs of damage against the costs of taking steps to avoid that damage.

But in 2009, the UK government dropped any attempt or pretence at trying to work out how big the CO2 problem really was. Instead of evidence driving policy, they moved to policy driving the numbers. Paraphrased, their argument seems to have been: “We know we can’t do a credible cost-benefit analysis that justifies any political action on this. But we’ve already committed to political action. So, we’ll just make up numbers to match the commitments, and hope that no-one notices.” To me, this looks like politics masquerading as science; and extremely bad faith on the part of Gordon Brown’s government.

Go down to “Carbon valuation in policy appraisal: 2009 review” to see the money quotes. You can also take the link and read the executive summary of the report, if your stomach is strong enough. The following comment by reviewer Paul Johnson on the draft report is also most revealing [3]. “The problem is, of course, that the natural response of the economist to some of the arguments put forward here – that the SCC may be inconsistent with targets and international agreements – is that this just reveals the incoherence of the targets and agreements. I am not in that camp, but the paper needs more explicitly to rebut that view.” And, a little further down: “given a target, the consistent approach is to value carbon in such a way as to ensure we hit the target.”

So, now we know. This has nothing to do with rationally assessing costs versus benefits. It’s all politics. And the answer to my question “where are the economic calculations that justify the extreme measures proposed, and the assumptions on which they are built?” becomes clear. There aren’t any such calculations! Worse, any attempted cost-benefit calculation on “net zero” policies using UK government figures would be meaningless, because the “costs” and “benefits” would, ultimately, be based on the same numbers.

Integrated Assessment Models

To a more technical interlude. The computer programs, which are (or have been) used to try to assess the validity, or otherwise, of claims of economic catastrophe caused by human CO2 emissions, are called Integrated Assessment Models; IAMs for short. There are three major IAMs: DICE (William Nordhaus), FUND (Richard Tol et al.) and PAGE (Chris Hope).

In many ways, IAMs are like climate models. They take dubious data, whirl it round and round through various mathematical equations, then spit out results that may or may not make sense. There are lots of parameters that can be adjusted, and the effects of adjustments can vary hugely.

Robert Pindyck’s view

Economist Robert Pindyck has slammed IAMs in this paper: [4]. He makes four main points. Myself, I agree with one, and disagree with the other three.

His first point is that the models allow a huge choice of, essentially arbitrary, parameters. He’s correct. To quote John von Neumann: “With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.” But the same criticism applies to the climate models too. What’s sauce for the IAM is sauce for the AOGCM [5]. It can only be the honesty of the researcher which determines the best choice of the parameters.

Pindyck’s second point is that we know very little about climate sensitivity. Here, he has been overtaken by events. A 2018 paper by Lewis and Curry [6] gives much tighter bounds on the equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) – that is, how much the global temperature will, eventually, rise as a result of a doubling of atmospheric CO2 – than were available before. So, Pindyck’s second criticism is now far less of an issue.

His third point is that, at the core of an IAM, there is a “damage function,” which calculates economic damage as a function of temperature change and perhaps other factors. And this function is chosen quite arbitrarily. This is, indeed, a criticism of DICE, and maybe of PAGE too; but not so much of FUND. But later in the same paper, he suggests that instead of using IAMs, SCC calculations should rely merely on “expert opinion.” Instead of attempting to make an objective assessment of the social cost, he wants a bunch of “experts” to wave wet fingers in the air, and come out with numbers that (surely) will be based on no more than the political preferences of those experts? No, thanks.

His fourth point is that the IAMs don’t take into account “tail risk” – a tiny chance of a catastrophic outcome. Now, if you have known risks of very small but uncertain probability, you should of course devote effort to narrow down the error bars on the size of those risks. But often, in the real world, you just have to take the risk anyway. For example, if there’s coronavirus out there, and you don’t have any symptoms, should you just shut yourself away at home, and not go out even to the shops to buy food? Surely not.

Besides which, what precisely are the risks, arising from CO2 emissions and consequent global warming, which genuinely might be catastrophic inside a few centuries? I don’t think you can even answer that question, without listing some possibles and trying to assess the risks of each!

Discount rate

One particular economic assumption in an IAM has an especially large impact on the results. This is the “discount rate.” It’s a percentage, which indicates how much lower a benefit or cost next year is to be valued, compared with a same sized benefit or cost this year. There are two schools of thought among economists. One favours a very low discount rate. In effect, they consider the interests of future generations as more important than the interests of those alive today. This approach leads to very high estimates of social costs. The other school favours a discount rate based on how individuals make investment decisions. This gives discount rates usually between 3 and 7 per cent, and much lower social cost estimates.

I’ll go with the second school. After all, those that say “we should sacrifice ourselves for the sake of future generations” don’t practise what they preach – do they? So why should we take any notice of what they say?

Moreover, the ethicist in me worries about the whole notion of balancing interests of future generations against interests of those alive today. For each of us, surely, has obligations to others, which come from our nature as human beings. Such as: Truthfulness. Honesty. Integrity. Good faith. Respecting others’ rights. Tolerance of difference – but not of wrongdoing, of course. Striving to be economically productive. Taking responsibility for the effects of willed actions on others. And for those who choose to have children, bringing them up well. These obligations, of course, include repaying to the victims our share of the social cost of any externalities we cause. But to me, it makes no sense to worry about obligations to people I can never meet, and who may never even get born. To meet my obligations to everyone who shares the planet with me, and who meets their corresponding obligations to me in return, should, and must, be sufficient.


Historically, DICE was the first of the three IAMs. Its genesis goes back at least to the 1980s, and its developer was 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics winner William Nordhaus. There’s a social cost calculation using DICE at [7]. You can see Nordhaus’s quadratic damage function at Equation 3. This study “estimates that the SCC is $31 per ton of CO2 in 2010 US$ for the current period (2015).” And “the real SCC grows at 3% per year over the period to 2050.” The discount rate used is roughly 4¼%.

PAGE is the model produced by Chris Hope of the Judge Business School in Cambridge. There is some documentation on it here: [8]. It does not state a damage function, but another source describes the PAGE damage function as “Power function, uncertain exponent (1 to 3).” The possibility of the damage function being steeper than quadratic may well explain why PAGE is known to produce “fat tailed” distributions, and higher social costs than DICE.

The UK government’s “Stern Review” of 2006 used the PAGE model. This, combined with selecting a very low discount rate, resulted in an extremely high estimate of the social cost. Economist Martin Weitzman commented: “the Review's radical policy recommendations depend upon controversial extreme assumptions and unconventional discount rates that most mainstream economists would consider much too low.”

The third model, FUND, comes from Richard Tol of the University of Sussex and his colleague David Anthoff. This looks to be the most complex of the three. The technically minded can find documentation here: [9]. FUND has no single damage function. Rather, it divides the possible sources of damage into a number of areas – such as agriculture, forestry, sea level rise, storms, effects on human health – and assesses each separately. Unlike the other IAMs, it includes positive side-effects of CO2, such as on plant growth. Each of the equations used is based on the results of earlier published studies, mostly from the 1990s.

Some recent experiments

I came across two recent papers on experiments with IAMs. The first is Dayaratna, McKitrick and Kreutzer 2017. The abstract is here: [10], and a pre-print version here: [11].

They used versions of DICE and FUND, which had been modified by the US EPA to accept estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) as a probability density function, rather than from the outputs of an internal climate model. First, they ran DICE using a relatively old (2007) density function, coming from the climate model which had been used by the EPA. They checked that the results were consistent with the EPA’s social cost figures. Then they plugged in a function from the empirical ECS estimate made by Nic Lewis and Judith Curry in 2015. Lastly, they repeated the whole exercise using FUND.

The results were startling. At a 3% discount rate, with DICE, the social cost per ton of CO2 as at 2020 reduced from $38 per ton to $19.66 when the modelled ECS was replaced by the empirical one. With FUND, it came down from $19.33 to a piffling $3.33. The big difference between the two models, presumably, is that FUND includes the beneficial effects of more CO2 and higher temperatures on agricultural productivity, while DICE doesn’t. If I look out all the way to 2050, the figures are $32.51 from DICE and $5.09 from FUND. There’s many a slip, but I couldn’t find any reply to this paper from the alarmist side, let alone a “rebuttal.”

The second paper is very recent: Dayaratna, McKitrick and Michaels 2020 [12]. The message, as you’ll see from the abstract, is: “It’s better than we thought!” Not only because there may be good reason to change some of the FUND parameters, which relate to plant growth, in the direction of extra benefits from more CO2. But even more, because updated ECS estimates by Lewis and Curry (2018) are now available. Based on these, they say that at 3% discount rate the social cost per ton of CO2 as at 2020 is down to just $1.61. By 2050, it goes up a bit, to $4.21. But that is still minuscule compared to the estimates by Nordhaus or Stern.

And if you factor in the extra benefits of CO2 to plant growth, the social cost of CO2 may go negative! As the authors of the 2017 paper wryly observed, “A negative value implies that carbon dioxide emissions are a positive externality, so that an optimal policy would require subsidizing emissions.” If this work stands up to scrutiny, it could be a game-changer.

A ball-park calculation

On the rare occasions I do any mathematics these days, it’s usually on the metaphorical back of an envelope. So, I thought that at this point I’d do a simple order of magnitude calculation of the social cost per year of CO2 emissions in the UK. In fact, I’ll do four calculations. For 2020 and 2050. And optimistic using FUND, and pessimistic using DICE.

For the optimistic calculation for 2020, I decided to use the social cost of $3.33 per ton from Dayaratna, McKitrick and Kreutzer 2017, using FUND and a 3% discount rate (Table 4). I chose not to use figures from the new paper, because it hasn’t yet been critiqued by other scientists. For the pessimistic calculation, I took the social cost of $19.66 a ton using DICE from the 2017 paper, with the same discount rate (Table 2).

Here’s the optimistic calculation:

  • UK CO2 emissions (2018) = 366 million tons [13].
  • Social cost of a ton of CO2 (2020) = $3.33 (see above).
  • I believe that figure is in 2010 $. As a rough conversion to 2020 $, I multiplied by the US consumer price index for Jan 2020 (roughly 258) and divided by that for Jan 2010 (roughly 218) [14] to give $3.94.
  • Exchange rate, 11 March 2020: $1.29 = £1. $3.94 @ 1.29 = £3.055.
  • Total social cost as at 2020 of a year’s UK CO2 emissions = £1,118 million. To put that in perspective, it’s about 0.053% of the 2018 UK GDP of £2.11 trillion.
  • UK population (2018) = 66.44 million.
  • Social cost of UK CO2 emissions per head per year, as at 2020 = £16.83.
I could be out by an order of magnitude, of course. Either way! But to destroy the UK economy and kill our lifestyles and freedoms, for the sake of avoiding damage costing only £17 per head per year, would be lunacy. Even if I use the 2050 figure of $5.09 per ton, then just by simple multiplication, I get only 0.081% of GDP and £25.72 per head.

As to the pessimistic calculation, using the DICE number for 2020 ($19.66), the social cost of UK emissions per head per year would still only be £99. That’s 0.31% of GDP. To put that figure in context, it’s less than half the 0.7% of GDP for “foreign aid” that the politicians committed to make us all pay way back in 1980, and which we’re still paying. Even looking out to the 2050 figure, it comes to only £164 per head or 0.52% of GDP.

How can a “saving” of maximum 0.31% of 2020 GDP – probably far less – and maximum 0.52% out to 2050 – justify forcing on to everyone draconian measures like banning petrol and diesel cars, closing all airports, and banning all commercial shipping?

Net Zero

In my earlier essay, I left unanswered the question of what event in 2019, specifically, caused UK politicians suddenly to shift into panic mode. In my research for this essay, I found the answer. It’s here: [15]. This report comes from the Committee for Climate Change (CCC). The report date – May 2019 – is the same month, at the beginning of which the UK parliament declared a “climate emergency.”

There are mugshots and bios of eight CCC members at the beginning of the report. When you put these together, and supplement them with a few morsels from Wikipedia, they tell a story. I’ll let you, dear readers, fill in the details for yourselves; but I will point out that one of the eight is an economist called Paul Johnson. And that there may well be conflicts of interest for several of them between their outside careers and investments, and being on a supposedly independent advisory board.

Now, I don’t advise you to read this report, unless you’re a masochist. I tried to read several different bits, and on each occasion had to give up in less than a page. It reads like nothing more than a gigantic exercise in virtue signalling, and I can’t understand why any sane person could believe anything in it. All I gleaned from it is that they reckon the cost of “net zero” measures might be 1-2% of UK GDP in 2050. But, as we know, government projects always cost more and take longer. So, I think one to two pinches of salt are in order.

There’s a backstory here, too. In reply to a Freedom of Information request from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the CCC admitted that they didn’t have any accurate estimates of these costs for the years 2020 to 2049. Amazing – and, again, bad faith.

Politicker pays?

Earlier, I spoke of “polluter pays.” This is a special case of the more general principle, that every individual is responsible for the effects on others of his or her willed actions. And for providing compensation, where appropriate. Why then, I ask, should there not be a corresponding principle in politics, which I’ll call “politicker pays?” If a political policy causes harm or inconvenience to an innocent person, or if it causes harm out of proportion to the trouble it’s supposed to be correcting, then should not those, that have promoted or supported the policy, be required to compensate those unjustly harmed by it?

If we accept this principle – and in a democracy that’s supposed to work for the benefit of everyone, rather than only for an élite ruling class, why shouldn’t we? – then we should apply it to the global warming issue, no? If forcing us out of their cars, stopping us flying, forcing us to eat less meat, and other restrictions on our freedoms supposedly to reduce global warming, cause damage to us above the social cost to others of the CO2 emissions we are responsible for, should we not be entitled to compensation? Moreover, if the promoters and supporters of the policies did anything underhanded – like scientific misconduct, lying or misleading, denying the accused the right to be heard, or inverting the burden of proof – shouldn’t there be criminal penalties against them in addition?

As I said in my earlier essay, those pushing the global warming agenda are seeking to take a wrecking-ball to our civilization. The arrogance and inhumanity of their policies make them look uncomfortably like what Stalin did to cause the Holodomor famine in Ukraine, or Mao did during the Great Leap Forward. Indeed, to point up the resemblance to the latter, I have dubbed the zero-carbon policy proposals the Great Leap Backward.

And ethically, those pushing this agenda are failing to satisfy the obligations which all human beings have to others. I’ll re-state some from the list I made earlier: Truthfulness. Honesty. Integrity. Good faith. Respecting others’ rights. Taking responsibility for the effects of willed actions on others. No; they aren’t displaying these characteristics, are they? Deliberately, even gladly, they are seeking to use political power to bring about huge damage to the lives of millions of people. Only criminal psychopaths would do such things.

Any government worth its salt ought to be defending the people it is supposed to serve against these criminals and their machinations. Should it not? And yet, the current political system fails to protect us from the green zealots. Worse, it actively invites them to interfere in its deliberations, and lets them move the levers of power in the direction they desire. And five successive UK prime ministers have let them do this; no, they’ve encouraged them! Six, if you count Thatcher. (Boris Johnson, I have not yet judged). That’s a big problem.

If I ruled the world…

…or, at least, if I had the power and a mandate to sort out the global warming issue in the UK, here are some of the things I’d do:

  1. I’d scrap the method of valuing CO2 emissions that has been used in the UK since 2009. I’d order a return to using the social cost of carbon. I’d also scrap their 2002 perversion of the precautionary principle, which has been used to allow government to act, even when there is no scientific or economic certainty that a problem is real.
  2. I’d commission an initial best estimate of the SCC, using the DICE model (simply on the grounds that it’s the middle of the three) and the ECS estimates from Lewis and Curry 2018. Based on that, I’d commission a first-order cost versus benefit analysis of emissions reductions. If this comes out, as I’d expect, showing that the “net zero” proposals are of negative utility, I’d scrap them and the CCC that made them, and de-fund all work towards them.
  3. I’d order an independent technical audit of FUND. If it shows promise, I’d fund (no pun intended) further development to make it into a more accurate tool than DICE for re-assessing SCC in the future.
  4. I’d order an unbiased audit of how the UK government has conducted itself since the 1980s in dealing with the global warming issue. If I had the resources, I’d extend the audit to cover air pollution too. Any politician, official or advisor, that worked dishonestly or in bad faith against the interests of the people they were supposed to serve, ought to be identified, assessed and brought to justice.
  5. I’d abrogate all commitments to the Paris agreement (and the Rio agreements and Gothenburg protocol, too), on the grounds that the commitments had not been rigorously cost-benefit justified, so should never have been asked for or agreed to.
Where we are today

In the UK, the fight-back against the civilization-wreckers is just beginning. Sir Christopher Chope MP, one of the “Famous Five” in the lobby voting against the climate change bill back in 2008, is raising a private member’s bill to commission an independent audit of the costs and benefits of the zero-carbon policies. The Association of British Drivers has started a petition for a referendum to scrap the policies – here [16]. People like me are writing essays like this. But these things are not enough. We’re going to have to build a popular movement to save our civilization.

A Sky News poll in early May 2019, right after “climate emergency” was declared, showed that a majority of the people sampled were unwilling to significantly reduce the amount they drive, fly or eat meat. Just as they did over Brexit, the political élites and their hangers-on are showing total disdain for the views and interests of ordinary people. And the stakes are even higher this time. We can’t let them destroy our lifestyles and wreck our civilization for the sake of nothing but lies and hype. Gilets jaunes, here we come.

It’s conceivable, I suppose, that Boris Johnson may have a moment of sanity, and order an independent and unbiased audit, as suggested by Sir Christopher Chope. Or better, my far wider-ranging audit, including the history of the matter and the conduct of the parties involved. Conceivable; but, I fear, unlikely. He’s a politician, after all. And there are skeletons in that closet, which none of the mainstream parties want uncovered.

But unless those who are supposed to “represent” the good people of the UK wake up and stop this green madness, I can’t see this ending in anything other than floods of tears. It looks like 1642 all over again. But this time, it won’t be the monarch whose head ends up on the chopping block. It will be the politicians and their hangers-on, that did these things to us.

[1] The social cost of an activity is the total cost, to all those affected by it, of that activity.




[5] Atmosphere-Ocean Global Climate Model.












Thursday, 27 February 2020

On Cambridge University, post-modernism, climate change, Oppenheimer’s Razor, and the Re-Enlightenment

In the early 1970s, I studied mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge. I enjoyed it at the time, but was left with a feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Although I scraped a First, and was offered a place on Part III of the Tripos, I decided to go out into the real world instead. Never did I make a better life decision.

Over the intervening decades, I have come more and more to question the value of universities. I would have expected the remit of a university to be (1) to seek, (2) to develop, and (3) to pass on, ideas and practices to improve the human condition, both today and in the future. There should be no dishonesties in their processes, no imposed orthodoxies, and no restrictions on the freedom to seek, or to tell, the truth. Yet, universities – not just at Cambridge, but world-wide – seem to have become bastions of political correctness. Anyone in the faculty, who doesn’t toe the party line and parrot the narrative of the moment, will find difficulties in funding or in getting papers published, or may even be in danger of dismissal. Peter Ridd in Australia and Susan Crockford in Canada are topical examples.


Today, Cambridge University seeks assiduously to cultivate its alumni; for the purpose of donations, no doubt. And they do this through a glossy called CAM (Cambridge Alumni Magazine), which they send out three times yearly. To a mailing list which includes me.

I confess that, for me, CAM has previous. In 2016 [1] it published what I can only describe as a full-page ad for nanny-statism. This article talked of: “increasing support for interventions – often by governments – to forcibly change environments to make easier the healthier behaviours that many of us prefer.” And of “how to increase public demand for such interventions.” Yet the author, Professor Theresa Marteau, stands high in the favour of the UK’s current ruling class. Even having, in 2017, been made a Dame Commander of the British Empire.

So, to the latest CAM: [2]. There are some good articles in this issue. But it also shows a more sinister side of Cambridge thought today; one which, indeed, makes Professor Marteau’s nanny-statism look a bit tame.

Technology and human rights

The article “Human Rights in a Digital Age” looks at how large companies like Facebook and Google threaten human rights by distilling, and selling on, the personal data they collect.

What I found remarkable here was the tone of the quotes from some of those interviewed. The recurring mention of surveillance capitalism suggests a desire to besmirch capitalism in general. Two of them talk, in a disapproving way, of a neoliberal idea of individual human rights. Another, a former colleague of Professor Marteau, is negative about the use of common sense in evaluating politics, describing it as “entrenched beliefs and familiar tropes.” Another seeks “collective protections… now,” wants to “affirm the collective good in our systems,” and talks appreciatively of a “Just Transition” (whatever that means) to zero carbon (which, I assume, is code for “zero nett carbon dioxide emissions.”)

Taking these together with Professor Marteau’s article, I detect, among some Cambridge academics at least, a top-down, collectivist mentality. This mentality favours big government, is hostile to business, industry and the free market, and disdains individual human beings and our rights and freedoms. But it isn’t, as some on the political right seem to think, a resurrection of Marxism. To me, it looks more like a cross-breed of Lysenkoism and fascism.

The post-modern connection?

At this point, I must tip my hat to writer Lucy Jolin for an aha moment. Early in her essay “How to be Modern,” she makes an approving reference to post-modernism. Cambridge University, indeed, sees enough value in post-modernism to have lent the kudos of its name to two Cambridge Introductions and a Cambridge Companion on the subject. So, what is this way of thinking, that seems to have taken over so much of academic Western philosophy and literature in the last few decades? To show that the hymn sheet I’m singing from isn’t all of my own composition, I refer you to Britannica’s very brief introduction to post-modernism: [3].

For those who didn’t take the link, I’ll paraphrase. Post-modernism denies the existence of objective reality and objective truth. Instead, it claims that these things can only be relative to a culture. It denies any basis on which to build up knowledge, and rejects as totalitarian any attempts to systematize knowledge. It denies that there are any objective moral values. It denies that reason and logic, science and technology, business and industry are tools to better the human condition. Instead, it paints them as instruments of oppression and destruction. And it denies that there is such a thing as human nature, independent of culture. Instead, it sees individuals as formed and moulded by the society they happen to live in.

Amazing, isn’t it? This is a mind-set that opposes, in almost every respect, the Enlightenment values which underpin our Western civilization. Such as: Reason. Science. Freedom of thought and rational enquiry. Religious and doctrinal tolerance. The idea that there is a moral core common to all humanity. Natural rights, and recognition of the worth and dignity of the individual. The rule of law and justice. Government for the benefit of the governed; that is, for the benefit of all the governed, real criminals excepted. A positive view of human progress, and a rational optimism for the future. And yet, Cambridge University, no less, sees much value in this anti-Enlightenment credo!

In its more extreme manifestations, and notably among those of the deep green persuasion, this dogma goes further yet, towards anti-humanism. It denies that humans are special, and capable of far more than mere animals. And it denies that the Earth is our planet, and that its resources are there for us to use wisely in order to build the best civilizations we can. So, this mind-set denies us the right to make our planet into what it should be: a comfortable home and a peaceful, beautiful garden, worthy of civilized humanity.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all, or even a majority of, Cambridge academics have let themselves be taken over by this post-modernist and anti-human creed. Particularly since, in academic circles, post-modernism seems now to be a was more than an is. But the damage has been done. I’m in no doubt that the collectivist mind-set, which I identified from the earlier CAM articles, has at its core ideas close to post-modernism.

And what a crazy bunch of ideas they are! No basis for knowledge? That means no reason at all to have universities, or indeed any institutions of learning. Reality is only relative to a culture? So, people from different cultures have no basis on which to agree on anything; a recipe for a Hobbesian war of all against all. Science, technology, business and industry are bad? That means prosperity is bad, and poverty desirable. Except for the élites, of course. Earth isn’t our planet? If you believe that, it surely isn’t your planet.

No objective truth? That means it’s OK to lie, deceive, mislead or make false accusations. Or to ignore or pooh-pooh facts that don’t support your narratives. No objective moral values? That means anything goes, as long as you can get away with it. Arrogance, selfishness, callousness, recklessness, dishonesty and hypocrisy become normal, and personal responsibility goes out of the window. In short, psychopathic behaviour becomes OK. Individuals are formed by the societies they live in? That leads to demands for more and more central power, to force everyone into the politically correct mould du jour.

Indeed, identity politics, a spin-off from post-modernism, goes further yet. It promotes the idea that any group of people – for example, feminists or Extinction Rebellion protesters – if they can get enough political clout, have a right to force others to kow-tow to their demands.

But this anti-Enlightenment and anti-human syndrome has spread far beyond academe. The political class, including all the mainstream UK political parties, seem to have swallowed the extremist, humanity-hating agenda whole. Virtually all the media, many celebrities, those that think they’re trendy, and a sizeable slice of the rich and the corporate élites have bought it too. And today, its foot-soldiers are desperately trying to spread it among the general population, with lies, hype and ever-repeated screams of “It’s worse than we thought!” Causing serious psychological damage to many young people, whose bullshit meters are not yet well enough developed to resist the assault.

Absolute Zero

To the final CAM article; on the university’s program to “de-carbonize” itself, and to soften people up for the de-carbonization of Western economies, which the current political élites want to force on us all. The title, “Absolute Zero,” echoes a joint report published last November by five UK universities, using the collective moniker “UK FIRES.” Its director is a professor in the Engineering department at Cambridge. For a summary, see [4].

I confess that, if I hadn’t been given the link by a reputable source, I would have thought this was merely a sick joke. But sadly, it’s real. And, after just a single pass through the diagram summarizing the proposals, I could see that the whole idea is a nightmare; dystopian for us, and Utopian for the élites, at the same time. The proposals read like the edicts of a crazed, ultra-conservative dictator; and they make Soviet five-year plans look like a cake-walk.

No new petrol- or diesel-engine cars from right now? That would kill the automotive industry, quickly. Moreover, how would people in rural and suburban areas be expected to get around? (If you answer “buses,” how many new buses would be needed?) And how would people, who need to carry loads from place to place, do so?

All UK airports closed, and all freight shipping stopped by 2049? What would happen to the people, like seamen, airline workers and airport workers, who would be forced out of their jobs? And to those in affected industries, like travel and tourism? What would happen to UK trade with the USA? India? China? South America? What would happen to time-critical trade, like fresh fruit from Spain or Morocco? And – just to pick one more from many things that obviously haven’t been thought through – if there is no new home construction but the population is still increasing, where will the new people live?

Oh, and more. Why no mention of nuclear energy? Where’s the cost/benefit analysis, with all the uncertainties? How do we know it’s feasible within the timescale? Where would the money for all this come from? And beyond that, my common sense asks: Where’s the proof that any of this is necessary?

Back to the CAM article. I gagged when I read: “It is clear that we are in a state of climate emergency.” Just because politicians like Michael Gove or Theresa May say there’s an emergency, doesn’t make it true. Indeed, my own take is that anything any politician says should be considered dishonest, or even a lie, until proven otherwise. And then there’s the question… why now? What, objectively, happened in the year 2019, that caused a sudden shift to emergency? Apart from a storm of scares and propaganda, of course.

My state of health did not improve when I read: “We need to transform our whole society over the next couple of decades. Because the science is very clear. Time is running out.” “How do we spark individual behaviour change?” And achieve the “transition to a zero-carbon future… in a way that works for all sectors of society?” Further: “How do we put in place policies that will accelerate transition to a green future?”

That checks a lot of the post-modernist boxes, doesn’t it? The deceit of claiming there’s an emergency, without showing any hard evidence of one. The lie that the science is clear, when it’s about as clear as a hippo in a mud-bath. The arrogance of seeking to “transform” whole societies, without reference to those affected. And of seeking to use government force to facilitate the process. The recklessness of doing such a “transformation” all at once, and in a ridiculously short timescale. The collectivism of lumping us together into “sectors of society.” The clear sense of hostility to the ordinary human being, and the palpable desire to control us and to hurt us.

Moreover, nothing in this article provides or links to any hard, objective evidence that human emissions of carbon dioxide are responsible for any of the claimed effects of climate change. Nor, indeed, that those effects are in any way terrifying. Why not? Why have today’s Cambridge academics seemingly rejected the sage advice of Bertrand Russell, himself a Cambridge man? “When you are studying any matter or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed, but look only, and solely, at what are the facts.”

Where is the proof of guilt?

Now, these proposals would without doubt cause a lot of harm to a lot of people. So, where’s the justification for them? What have we done, to deserve such treatment? Why should any of us accept any restrictions or inconveniences, without first seeing hard, conclusive evidence of what it is that we are supposed to have done wrong, and why it was wrong?

In a country like the UK, supposedly based on the rule of law, a charge such as causing catastrophic global climate change ought to be tried under due process of law. Ought it not? With all sides telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And in due process of law, human rights come into play. If accused of a murder, for example, each of us would have rights to assure us fair treatment. We must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. That is, it is up to the accusers to substantiate their case beyond reasonable doubt. We must also have the right to fair judgement by an independent and impartial tribunal. Each of us must have the right to speak up in our own defence, and to call whatever witnesses, including experts, we find necessary for our defence. And objective records of the trial should be accessible to all who wish to scrutinize them.

Moreover, if those accused of murder should have all these rights (and they should), how much stronger should the safeguards be, when the future of our entire civilization is at stake? Should not the charge be debated and assessed, objectively and rationally, in open and honest court, free from all political, emotional or media bias? Should not those involved in the assessment, on all sides, be required to give their evidence under oath, on penalty of perjury or worse if they lie or mislead? Should not the charge itself, and the conduct of those promoting it, first undergo a thorough audit by independent, honest, unbiased parties? And if the case is not proven beyond reasonable doubt, or if there has been any misconduct at all by the accusers in the case, should the charge not be dismissed with prejudice?

The first right of anyone accused, though, must be to a clear statement of the allegations. As far as I can make out, the charge sheet in this case reads: CO2 emissions by humans are causing catastrophic change in the climate on a global scale. And therefore, governments must take action – immediate action – to limit, or even to eliminate, these emissions.

And yet, I for one see no hard, objective, incontrovertible evidence being put forward that we humans are in any way guilty on this charge. Where is the evidence? Not theories, not computer models, not what-ifs, not guesstimates with huge error bounds and uncertainties. Just evidence: facts, and rational deductions from them, which can be independently verified.

Where, for example, are the millions of climate refugees? The thousands of dead polar bears, and the hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of dead coral reefs, that would have been still living without human-caused global warming? Where is the proof, beyond reasonable doubt, that weather is getting worse on a global scale, and that the cause is human emissions of CO2? And where is the proof, beyond reasonable doubt, that global sea level rise is accelerating abnormally, and for that same reason?

Is there a case to answer at all?

When I look at the supposed case against us, I wonder whether there’s actually any substantive allegation to counter at all. To put their case, the accusers would need to elucidate, using only hard evidence and logical deductions, answers to four questions. (1) Is it warming on a global scale, and if so, by how much? (2) If there is significant global warming, how much of it is caused by human emissions of CO2? (3) If human CO2 is causing significant warming, what would be the likely consequences for human civilization? (4) If there are significant likely negative consequences to civilization of human caused warming, what are the costs and benefits (to all the parties involved) of (a) reacting to problems only as they arise, or (b) putting in place preventive schemes to abate some of the problems?

I’m not going to argue the science in detail here, as that might turn off many of my potential audience. So, what I’ll try to do is be Socratic; that is, ask questions. Here are some of the questions, which any prosecutor seeking to prove the case, and any independent auditor seeking to assess it, would need to address.

To the first question: is it warming? Yes – it’s been warming since the 17th century. But how much is it warming? Which raises questions like: how accurate and reliable are the various sets of temperature data? How global are they? How far back do they reliably go? How affected are they by local influences, like urban heat islands? Is there hard evidence of anything unusual, above and beyond past variability, in recent decades? Where adjustments or in-filling have been necessary to raw data, how well are they justified and documented? Are their effects neutral with regard to trends, as you would expect if they were being done honestly? And, what are the uncertainties? Hint: they’re bigger than you probably think.

As to the second question, how much of this warming is caused by human CO2? This raises questions like: What caused earlier warming periods, like the Minoan, Roman and mediaeval warm periods? What caused the warming out of the Little Ice Age? What factors, like solar activity, might affect warming today, and how have they been accounted for? How much human-emitted CO2 stays in the atmosphere, and for how long? How much warming would be expected in theory from these levels of human CO2? How sure are we that the theory is quantitatively accurate? What happens to the warming afterwards, for example what are the knock-on effects of changes in cloud cover? Have the climate models got the underlying physics correct? And – as always – what are the uncertainties? Hint: they’re a lot bigger than alarmists let on.

The third question – what would be the consequences of warming for our civilization – is, I think, the crucial weak link in the accusation. For historically, human civilization has tended to flourish during warmer periods. So, the assertion that the effects of two, or even 5 or 10, degrees Celsius of global warming will be negative needs serious justification. Indeed, the only credible threat I can see to our civilization from any such warming is sea level rise. And sea level data is… Accurate? Reliable? Global? Properly adjusted for local effects like rising and falling coastlines? Consistent between tide gauges and satellite measurements? Showing anything unusual in recent decades, when considered objectively and as a whole? Moreover, how much, of the sea level rise there has been, has been caused by human emissions of CO2?

Then, there are the economic models, that alarmists have used to loudly proclaim that It’s Worse than We Thought. I don’t claim skills in that area, but I’d expect that some probing by independent experts into the economic calculations, and the assumptions on which they are built, might bear fruit. But in any case, we’re now into such a tower of economic models on assumptions on carbon cycle models on emissions models on climate models on dubious data, that the uncertainties will have grown to monstrous proportions.

As to the fourth question: As any mathematician or businessman knows, if you subtract one uncertain number from another uncertain number, particularly if the two are close together, the uncertainty is likely to become so large that no sane cost-benefit decision can be made. If I remember right, the UK’s 2008 climate change bill had a factor of 7 uncertainty in the estimated costs, and a factor of 12 in the “benefits.” Anyone offering such figures ought to have been told to go away, and not to come back until they had some numbers fit for purpose.

The conduct of the accusers

Next, I’ll ask: How well have those on the accusers’ side behaved? How well has the conduct of the whole process, scientific and political, measured up to the reasonable expectations of those who are being subjected to its consequences? My one-word answer is: atrociously.

What about the scientists? We’ve seen doctoring of data, to make it look more alarming. Hockey stick, anyone? We’ve seen data, that doesn’t support the alarmist narrative, airbrushed out. We’ve seen refusal to release data. We’ve seen suggestions that data should be deleted to forestall Freedom of Information requests. We’ve seen suppression of dissenting scientific views, and even attempts to get journal editors sacked.

Now science, if it is truly to be science, must be conducted in an entirely honest way. If it isn’t honest, it isn’t science. So, if someone took taxpayer money to do science, and what they did using that money was dishonest, is that not fraud against taxpayers?

What about the politicians? We’ve seen politicians making costly green commitments on behalf of the people they are supposed to represent, without any attempt at rigorous justification. We’ve seen political interference in the science, as with the 1995/6 IPCC report. We’ve seen goalposts moved arbitrarily, like lowering some supposed temperature limit from 2 to 1.5 degrees C above historical levels. We’ve seen government whitewashing misconduct by scientists and others, as in the Climategate inquiries.

As to the media, the BBC [5] has likened allowing climate change realists to speak to “letting someone deny last week’s football scores.” Even though their own guidelines [6] say: “We are committed to reflecting a wide range of subject matter and perspectives… so that no significant strand of thought is under-represented or omitted.” In the murder trial analogy, this amounts to denying us the right to speak up in our own defence, and to have our witnesses – including experts – heard at all.

The precautionary principle

But for me, the most egregious act of bad faith by the accusers is their perversion, indeed inversion, of the precautionary principle. Which, at its root, is “Look before you leap,” or even “First, do no harm.” The 2002 UK government report “The Precautionary Principle: Policy and Application” is here: [7]. Here are a few quotes:

  • The purpose of the precautionary principle is to create an impetus to take a decision notwithstanding scientific uncertainty about the nature and extent of the risk.
  • Although there is no universally accepted definition, the Government is committed to using the precautionary principle, which is included in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.
  • Applying the precautionary principle is essentially a matter of making assumptions about consequences and likelihoods to establish credible scenarios…
  • ‘Absence of evidence of risk’ should never be confused with, or taken as, ‘evidence of absence of risk.’
  • …invocation and application of the precautionary principle carries a general presumption that the burden of proof shifts away from the regulator having to demonstrate potential for harm towards the hazard creator having to demonstrate an acceptable level of safety.
Do you see what they did there? Not only have they abandoned all pretence of presumption of innocence; but they have also inverted the burden of proof. They demand that we, the accused, must show that everything we’re doing is safe. They require us to prove a negative, that we’re not causing a problem. Which, in general, is impossible. And even if we’re not actually causing any risk at all, they can use the ‘absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence’ trick to find us guilty anyway! In a murder trial, such bad faith ought to lead to immediate dismissal of the case, and prosecution for perverting the course of justice. How much worse, then, is conduct of this kind when our whole human civilization is on the line?

Would a zero-carbon economy be sustainable?

Oh, and there’s more. In this case, it isn’t anything the accusers have done. Rather, it’s something they ought to have done, but haven’t.

From the start, one of the major green buzz-words has been “sustainability.” Now, my dictionary defines sustainable as “capable of being sustained,” or, otherwise said, able to endure into the future. And sustainable development, according to the UN: “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Supposedly, the rationale for all the fuss about global warming is that the alarmists think the current world economic system isn’t sustainable.

So, I ask: Would the zero-carbon future, which the politicians, academics and activists think is so important and urgent, actually be sustainable? Would it meet the needs of the present? Would it be able to endure into the future? Or would it, if put into practice, fail; for example, leading to widespread starvation, or people freezing to death? More generally, should not any contemplated political action, on the kind of scale the zero-carbonistas (as I dub them) seek, first be tried out on a smaller scale, to check that it wouldn’t have any negative effects? And would not failure to prototype the effects of such a proposed action be an egregious violation of the true precautionary principle, “Look before you leap?”

The solution is obvious. Isn’t it? Set up a zone, in which those committed to the zero-carbon project can indulge their fantasy without harming anyone else. Let all those, that have promoted or supported the project, go live in that area. Starry-eyed fanatics, that actually think it might work. Academics, that have lived off taxpayers while seeking to drum up support for an agenda that harms us. Corrupt bureaucrats and “scientists,” that have done the agenda’s dirty work. Empty-headed celebrities, that like to virtue-signal their green credentials. Cynical company bosses, that profit and have profited from the agenda. Activists, that hate human civilization and prosperity, and have a yen to destroy them. Media figures, that have trumpeted and hyped the agenda. Politicians that should have done their duty to the people they are supposed to serve, by strongly opposing the agenda; but failed to do so.

We might think, perhaps, of siting this zone in Cambridge. But Cambridge is too valuable as a tourist draw. Better, I think, to find a suitably sized parcel of fen not far away. I’m sure Trinity College will have acreage to let! Then, let the zero-carbonistas all go there to build their very own Shangri-La. As to those that have promoted or supported the agenda, but refuse to go, we’ll call them out as the hypocrites they are, and no human being will ever take any of them seriously again.

The purpose of the exercise, of course, is to find if a zero-carbon economy is sustainable, or not. To that end, we’ll require that the zone doesn’t emit any more CO2 than comes in. And though we’ll allow them to trade with people outside the bounds of their zone, we’ll require the zone as a whole to be economically self-sufficient. They have to show that a zero-carbon economy can survive and prosper without subsidies, grants, or gifts of money or goods from outside – including from government. (Especially from government!)

All this having been set up, we’ll leave them there for – say – fifty years. By then, the planet itself will probably have shown us that their accusations about human CO2 emissions causing catastrophe were pure crapola. Either that, or their sustainability experiment will have ended in failure; a failure which would both prove them wrong and serve them right, and which all human beings worth the name would greet with cries of “good riddance.”

The war we’re in

Now, let’s face it; we’re in a war. A war of a kind that, in England, hasn’t happened since the 17th century. Just as Charles I and James II sought to impose on the people the autocratic “divine right of kings,” so today an establishment cadre of anti-human politicians, bureaucrats, activists, academics, corporate bosses and other vested interests want to use the “climate change” scare to take dictatorial control over all of us. If you doubt that, look at this document from 2009: [8]. That one ticks all the post-modernist and anti-human boxes, too. And the organization that produced it, the “UK Energy Research Centre,” is still a major academic player in the “war on carbon.”

How do we defend ourselves against these enemies of humanity? We’ve tried arguing the science. That doesn’t work, because our enemies don’t care about either science or truth. Those, who think it worthwhile, might try forming an overtly climate realist political party, like the Forum voor Democratie in Holland. Though there are practical difficulties, like making sure such a party doesn’t degenerate into far-right nationalism or social conservatism. Civil disobedience is a third possibility. But that can only be a last resort.

No: for me, there is only one way forward. That is, to change hearts and minds. We need to create some climate change, for the better! To do this, I think we must seek to address three main audiences. First, the sizeable portion of the general population who, as polls show, aren’t convinced by the alarmist rhetoric, and aren’t willing to make sacrifices for a cause they don’t believe in. Second, academics at Cambridge and elsewhere, who are concerned that what their activist colleagues are doing is likely to alienate the public, and who want to avoid themselves being brought into disrepute as a result. Third, and probably most important in the short run, those few who have some degree of political influence, but are either new to politics, or have managed to remain uncorrupted by the system. And who are, therefore, willing to look at, and act on, the facts instead of toeing the establishment line.

Oppenheimer’s Razor

So, how do we create climate change, for the better, in hearts and minds? The first step, at any rate, is simple. It is to know who, and what, our enemies are.

Here’s a tool I use to separate the “sheep” – friends and neutrals – from the “goats” – enemies and likely enemies. I call it Oppenheimer’s Razor, after Franz Oppenheimer, the German Jewish sociologist who lived from 1864 to 1943. Here are some quotes from his master-work, The State, first published (in German) in 1908; English edition, 1922 [9].

  • The State may be defined as an organisation of one class dominating over the other classes.
  • There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one's own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others.
  • I propose in the following discussion to call one's own labor and the equivalent exchange of one's own labor for the labor of others, the “economic means” for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the “political means.”
  • The industrial city is directly opposed to the state. As the state is the developed political means, so the industrial city is the developed economic means.
The blade of the razor is easily visible. To mis-quote George Orwell: Economic means good, political means bad. Even a beginning student of moral philosophy should be able to see, that those who strive always to use the economic means are civilized human beings; whereas those, that use the political means for their own profit, are crooks and villains. And that description applies to all those that take taxpayer money, and use it otherwise than for the benefit of those taxpayers. Such a student should also be able to see, that societies based on the political means rather than the economic means cannot be sustainable in the long term.

But, with the hindsight of more than a century, we can see that Oppenheimer’s optimism, in foreseeing swift victory of the economic means over the political, was premature. For, even in republics and democracies, the state is very much still there. In fact, its size, its power and its overreach have expanded hugely, to the detriment of all of us. And the users of the political means today do far more, and far worse, things to us than merely feathering their own nests. They have agendas and ideologies, that they want to force on all of us, whether we like them or not. And to those ends, they promote, make, support and enforce bad laws.

Bad laws, as Edmund Burke told us 250 years ago this year, are the worst sort of tyranny. You can see the truth of this, by looking at the atrocities committed by fascist and communist governments in the 20th century. But those that promote the zero-carbon agenda today seek to go further than Hitler or Stalin did. They aim at no less than the liquidation of Western industrial civilization, and of everything we human beings have, so laboriously, done to build it up over the last two centuries and more. Contrary to greens’ stated objectives of conserving species habitats, they aim to destroy our habitat, and our rights and freedoms as civilized human beings.

What is to be done?

Just as they were for him, these words of Lenin – no less! – are for us a key question. As I said earlier, arguing the science won’t work. Though I do think it’s valuable to have a repository of the best scientific arguments against the green agenda in general, and the zero-carbon agenda in particular. But arguing the wider case, including the economic and moral aspects, I think may well be more productive. For most people don’t like being ripped off. Nor do they enjoy being on the wrong end of injustice.

There has already been for many years a rising tide of discontent, in the UK at least, against the political class and their cronies. Shown, for example, by the Brexit vote, and people’s reactions to the subsequent fiasco. I’ve no reason to believe this tide doesn’t exist also in the USA and other places too. So, what will happen, as more and more people become aware of the lies and misconduct by the promoters of the green agenda? Of their arrogance, callousness, recklessness and hypocrisy? Of their failure to observe due process, and their trashing of our rights such as presumption of innocence? I expect that people will come more and more to feel contempt, not just for specific politicians and their hangers-on, but for politics as a whole, as it’s practiced today; and for all those that practice it.

Polls tell us that most people really don’t bother much, if at all, about the climate change issue. But as the restrictions on our lives, made in the name of combating climate change, become tighter and more and more onerous, I think there will come a tipping point. At which, many people will come to see the green activists, and those that have promoted and supported them, as the criminals they are.

Ask yourselves: Is it not our right to defend our economy, and the business and industry which has given us so much, against those that want to trash it? And is it not the duty of every human being worth the name, to do what we can to Save Our Civilization?

Should we not respond to our enemies’ “Absolute Zero” with our own Absolute Zero? A studied and contemptuous rejection of political arrogance, selfishness, callousness, recklessness, dishonesty and hypocrisy? And of all those, that use and have used them? Moreover, do not those that have sought to swing a wrecking ball through our human civilization deserve in return to be expelled from our civilization, and denied all its benefits?

The Re-Enlightenment

But to win a war like this, we’ll need something more. We need positives that people can hang on to, and say “yes, I’m with that.” And we have one right there, in our past: The Enlightenment! Is it not time to get the ideas and values that fuelled that revolutionary period in our history, on both sides of the pond, out of the cupboard, dust them off, and polish them up? Is it not time to spark a Re-Enlightenment? Is it not time to re-introduce these ideas into the common parlance of ordinary people? As I listed them earlier: Reason. Science. Freedom of thought and rational enquiry. Religious and doctrinal tolerance. The idea that there is a moral core common to all humanity. Natural rights, and recognition of the worth and dignity of the individual. The rule of law and justice. Government for the benefit of the governed; that is, for the benefit of all the governed, real criminals excepted. A positive view of human progress, and a rational optimism for the future.

We need to re-activate some deeper ideas, too. That we human beings are special. That the Earth is our planet. And that it is our nature to build the best civilizations – plural – we possibly can. For in order to flourish, human beings need an environment of diversity; in which every individual has free choice among many options. That is why good people must utterly oppose any idea of a world government, and reject all attempts towards creating such a thing, like the United Nations and the European Union.

We also need a more concrete and down-to-earth vision for the future, which ordinary people can easily buy into. That future, I think, must be one in which Franz Oppenheimer’s economic means will have superseded, and entirely replaced, the political means as the defining way in which we human beings do things. The future, I foresee, will be one of trade-trade, not raid-raid. Peace, justice and personal responsibility; not wars, bad laws and “sovereign immunity.”

Is it not through our economic activities, that we human beings take control of our environment, and so fulfil our nature? And – monkeys grooming each other notwithstanding – are not business and trade the characteristics which separate us from mere animals? No other species, to my knowledge, has developed a system which allows diverse individuals each to develop their own skills, do what they can for others, and reap in return the rewards they have earned. So, let’s go at it!

Let’s Change the Climate!

Our enemies are right in one thing. Substantial transformations are necessary, to take us human beings and our civilization beyond the failed political system under which we all suffer today. But in a totally opposite direction from what our enemies seek, of course.

The essence of the change I am looking for is something like the humanism of the Renaissance. Which, at the same time, looked back to ancient Greece and Rome, and forward to new developments, spurred on by the technologies of the time, like new aids to navigation. Those humanists were the progressives of their times. So am I; and so, I hope, are you!

Let’s look back to the Enlightenment, and at the same time forward to a better future. Let the climate change begin!

[1] (“The force is not with you,” page 13)









Sunday, 19 January 2020


I've been really quiet on the writing for the last two and a half months; so have most of my friends. It feels as if I've been in some kind of "warp," that took away my creativity for a while. But in the last week or two, I've felt something of a release. So, this:


By the Darn-Poor Rhymer

Up on the moral high ground,
Spring is coming soon.
Small blocks of ice are falling,
“Little” people are becoming angry
As politics impoverishes all
Except the rich and the connected.
Businesses are in trouble, because
Their customers no longer have money.
But snow and ideas, melting and re-freezing,
Are poising themselves over precipices.
Now it is winter, and there’s discontent;
Avalanches come often in the spring.
Do the élites, down there in their valley,
Know what will happen if they dally?

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

A Christmas Carol (2019)

The BBC's yearly Christmas carol composing competition has just closed to entries, so it's time for me to release the score of my offering for this year. The words were provided by Imtiaz Dharker.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Ik sta achter de boeren

Recently, Dutch farmers have – rightly – started protesting against demands of “their” government that they cull their herds of cattle and pigs in order to comply with some idiot EU/UN rule about limiting emissions of ammonia and nitrogen oxides.

Now, isn’t government supposed to be for the benefit of the governed? All the governed? So, what benefit is there to ordinary Dutch people from these limits? None at all, I’d say. Where is the science which, objectively and without political bias, quantifies the bad (or good) effects of these emissions? And what is the loss to ordinary Dutch people (and the rest of us) if their supposedly “liberal” government is allowed to pursue these policies? Biefstuk, ossehaas, spek… I don’t need to go on.

Let’s fast backward to 1984, and Margaret Thatcher’s campaign against the UK coal miners. At the time, I confess, I was so naïve that I supported Thatcher. I did so because the miners’ union had gone beyond reasonable bounds of behaviour; and because the trade unions had run the country for most of the previous 20 years, and I was sick of it.

Just two week-ends ago, I played the tuba in my brass band in four performances of “Brassed Off.” (The stage version of a UK film set in a mining community in 1994, in the aftermath of Thatcher’s purges.) Our performances were a great success, and we, cast and band, enjoyed a standing ovation from 300+ people on the Saturday evening – only the third time I have ever experienced that.

And there’s a speech, given by the main character (Danny Ormondroyd) at the end of the play. I’ll quote two excerpts:

“Over last ten years, this government has systematically destroyed an entire industry, our industry. Communities. Homes. Lives. All in the name of progress and a few lousy bob…

“Point is, if this lot were bloody seals, or bloody whales or summat, you’d be up in bloody arms – but they’re not. They’re just men. Honest, decent, fallible men and women. And not one on ‘em with an ounce of hope left. Oh ay, they can knock out a good tune, but what the fuck does that matter? Unless they matter. Unless we matter.”

I’ll adapt Danny’s speech to where we are today. Actually, apart from replacing “progress” by “sustainability,” I don’t need to change anything but the first sentence. The second excerpt is spot on, even today. Whoever wrote it deserves a Knobble Prize for Witterature. So, here’s my opener:

“Over last thirty years and more, political governments, and the EU and the UN, have actively sought to destroy our industries and our civilization.”

Back to my Dutch farmer friends. Like the French gilets jaunes, they are under assault by the corrupt criminal gangs endemic in politics today, and they don’t like it. As yet, unfortunately, like the gilets jaunes they don’t seem to have any real idea of what they want. I have a hint for them: what they should want is for people to matter. You matter; I matter; we matter. Op mij; op ons; op jullie.

I lived in Holland for three years, 40 years ago. While my Dutch may be remedial these days, I have enjoyed the company of many fine Dutch people. And I stand with the Dutch farmers in their struggle against those that would destroy our civilization. Ik sta achter de boeren.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

On How to Pay for Convivial Governance

This is the last of four essays which, taken together, outline my proposed system of minimal governance, called convivial governance. Today, it’s time to ask the thorny question: how should all this be paid for? Again, while I aim to make the general principles of how convivial governance should be paid for as clear as I can, the details may end up being very different from what I have envisaged.

Payment for protection

How to pay for government has been an issue for centuries. John Locke, in his Second Treatise of Government, wrote: “It is true governments cannot be supported without great charge, and it is fit everyone who enjoys his share of the protection should pay out of his estate his proportion for the maintenance of it.”

From which, I deduce two things about Locke’s view on this matter. First, an individual’s payment must be his proportion of the total. Second, it must come out of his estate. That is, from his wealth, not from his income, or from a cut on transactions he makes. What I think Locke is saying is that an individual’s payment for the “protection” functions of government should be in direct proportion to his wealth. That is similar to what happens with home buildings insurance, where (assuming the risk is constant) the price is in proportion to the amount insured for. And it seems very reasonable indeed, to me at least.

So, the amount each individual must pay each year for the “protection” elements of convivial governance ought to be a (small) percentage of the individual’s total wealth. Once this is achieved, to support these functions there will be no need for any taxes on income, or on transactions, or on anything else.

The services of convivial governance

Referring back to my previous essay, the services provided by convivial governance will be as follows:

At the neighbourhood level (NCG): A small set of functions concerned with neighbourhood matters, migration and representation at the community level.

At the community level (CCG): Military defence. First responders, including police. Setting of local rules as needed. Co-ordination of the provision of infrastructure. Maintenance of the local publicly accessible infrastructure, notably roads. And quality control. Of these, the first two come under the heading of protection, as might quality control too.

At the non-local level (SCG): Detective work on criminal cases. A justice and arbitration system, covering (at least) restitution for wrongs, punishment for crimes, and contract disputes. Together, of course, with its back-ups, such as prisons. Diplomacy, as required. And quality control. Of these, detectives and criminal justice come under the heading of protection. Diplomacy and quality control, too, might reasonably be included under that heading.

Payments for convivial governance

So, here are the various payments, which individuals or households might be expected to make each year, in order to support convivial governance.

First and foremost, payments to the CCG and SCG for those of their functions which come under the heading of protection. In a perfect world, these amounts should be in proportion to the total wealth of the individual or household being protected. Unfortunately, it’s hard to assess a person’s wealth accurately, without knowing so much about them that their privacy becomes compromised. So, at the start, I expect the system might work like home contents insurance, with the payer declaring how much wealth they want to insure, and a “cap” in proportion being placed on the level of protection. But for the longer term, I think there may be a better solution, which I’ll come to a little later.

Second, a payment for the NCG. This, I would expect, would be a small payment per head, just like a personal subscription to any other society.

Third, payments for infrastructure. It is only fair that the costs of infrastructure development and maintenance should be borne by the users of that infrastructure, in proportion to their use of it. For new infrastructure, this can be achieved through pay-as-you-go fees, such as tolls. These fees should include an allowance for the CCG’s work on co-ordinating the development.

As to maintenance, the only payments to convivial governance will be to the CCG for maintenance of local infrastructure in the public space, such as roads and parks. How this should best be paid for will vary from place to place and from asset to asset. In the particular case of roads, it might be achieved reasonably fairly by a small levy (far smaller than today’s fuel taxes!) on fuel sold in the CCG. For other types of infrastructure, the simplest and easiest option may be to include this, and the local rules function, along with the protection payments.

Fourth and last, civil courts would operate much as they do today, with court fees being paid by the loser of each case.

Some numbers – the current system

So, it’s time to start chucking around some ball-park numbers. I’ve been looking at figures for the UK, which ought to be fairly representative among Western countries.

According to Wikipedia, in 2017 the UK government spent about £34 billion on police and the criminal justice system combined, and £46 billion on the military. This is £80 billion out of a total spend of £772 billion, or just over 10% of total government spend. At the then UK population of 66 million, this amounts to £1,210 per head, or £2,900 per household.

The total government spend was £11,700 per head, or just over £28,000 per household. To put that in context, the government spend per household was almost exactly equal to the average worker’s gross pay in that year.

Of the 90% of government spend which did not go on police, military or criminal justice, part is accounted for by infrastructure development. This looks like around £50 billion, or 6.5% of total spend. Under convivial governance, this would be paid for by user fees for the new infrastructure.

Then there are things like welfare and pensions (looks like £270 billion, 35%), health care (£145 billion, 19%) and education (£102 billion, 13%). These, while vital, should never have been allowed to become politicized. In convivial governance, they would be provided by private actors operating in the free market, satisfying the needs and desires of individuals who know their own priorities and know what they need.

The rest of the spend looks to be things like vote-buying schemes, and subsidies to cronies. However, from a different source, I managed to find a figure of £4 billion for road maintenance in that year; a piffling 0.5% of total spend.

Some numbers – convivial governance

Let’s contrast this with how much convivial governance would cost us, shall we? The protection payments to CCG and SCG combined would be about £2,900 per household per year. The NCG annual subscription would be small, probably not much more than £25 per person. The road maintenance charge to the CCG would be of the order of £60 per year per person or (given that there are about 47 vehicles – cars and larger – in the UK per 100 people) £130 per vehicle. We’d also have to pay some tolls when using new infrastructure; add another £250 or so per year for that. Add it all up, put on an extra 15% for contingency, and you get £3,800 or so per year. Per household, not per person. And that’s it!

And that’s it. The rest of our earnings, we can use to buy the things we want, from the people we like to deal with. We can keep our money away from those we don’t like, and those that have treated us badly. For example: politicians, bureaucrats, psychopaths, crony “capitalists” and other rip-off merchants, bullies, killjoys, guilt-trippers, snoopers, bossy busybodies, meddlers, enviers, wasters, thieves, dirty-tricksters, troublemakers, obstructers, stop-the-worlders, peddlers of lies, bullshitters, the dishonest, assholes in general, and anyone that has or ever has had a political agenda. To hell with the damned lot of them. We, the good people of the world, will be able to live our own lives at last!


I mentioned above that there might be a better solution for collecting protection payments. In fact, for collecting any payment whose size should be in proportion to the total wealth of the payer. But it could only work in an ACG (Area of Convivial Governance – in concept, a group of allied CCGs) which is sufficiently large to have its own currency.

This solution is called demurrage. This word has several senses, but the one I mean here is a controlled, predictable inflation of the currency. With the proceeds being passed to CCGs and their SCGs, in proportion to the population of each CCG. This would spread the burden fairly, by in effect taxing fixed assets in the ACG, and other assets denominated in the ACG’s currency, at a rate in direct proportion to their value. It would also eliminate tax bureaucracy!

I envisage this demurrage would probably be done each month, to supply the month’s budget to each CCG and its SCG. And because these are non-profit organizations, any surplus remaining at the end of the month would be fed back to the people in the CCG, in the form of a per capita bonus.

More numbers

Now, let’s look at some numbers again. At 2017 prices, we need to raise £80 billion a year for protection services in a UK sized ACG. Add 15% for contingency, giving £92 billion. Now, the UK GDP (nominal) that year was £2.04 trillion, so the amount we need for the year is 4.5% of GDP. (In contrast to what the UK government actually took in 2017, which was 38% of GDP).

At the historical average wealth to GDP ratio, about 3.5, that would be 1.3% of total UK wealth. Though that ratio is currently higher than 3.5, meaning the demurrage required to cover all protection services is less than 1.3% per year. If we decided to go the whole way, and use demurrage to cover all activities of convivial governance – so no-one would ever have to pay any kind of “taxes” at all – then the inflation needed would still be less than 1.5% per year.

In wartime, there might be additional levies, or a higher demurrage, for an expanded militia. But once we have got rid of the last political states, there will be no rationale for anyone to try to make a war. For, with all individuals on the look-out for real wrongdoings, anyone planning a war would find it hard to avoid detection for long. And under convivial governance and its ideal of common sense justice, anyone seeking to start a war would be extremely harshly punished. So, once the last state has gone, we will be able to reduce, and eventually abolish, all militaries. Along, of course, with the costs that go with them.

A post-script

I won’t try to sum up this essay, or its three predecessors. Instead, I’ll offer a little ditty, to give an idea of what life might be like under convivial governance. It is modelled after the playground song “No more Latin, no more French.”

In a few years, how will things be,
When England is an ACG?

No more taxes, no more wars,
No more scheming behind closed doors.
No more lies or propaganda,
No more “justice” without candour.

No more politician prats,
No more bossy bureaucrats.
No more weasel words from moanies,
No more cushy jobs for cronies.

No more marxists, no more greens,
We all know that they’re has-beens.
No more fascists, no more tories,
We don’t listen to their stories.

No more barriers in the way
Of those who want to earn good pay.
No more taking of earned wealth,
Whether obvious or by stealth.

No more cameras all about,
Spying on us to catch us out.
No more tracking of our bytes,
No more trampling on our rights.

No more stops without good cause,
No more bad, politicized laws.
When England is an ACG,
Then all its people will be free.