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Medhi Hasan is ill-advised

Medhi Hasan, former editor of the New Statesman and now political director of the Huffington Post, writes,

Depressingly, you can draw no other conclusion from these facts than that the conspiracy theorists are winning. The deniers of global warming have come in from the cold. The “merchants of doubt”, to borrow a phrase from the science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, seem to have perfected the dark art of “keeping the controversy alive”, sowing seeds of doubt and confusion in the minds of politicians, journalists and voters, in spite of the scientific consensus.

Thus, I use both the terms “denier” (rather than “sceptic”) and “conspiracy theorist” advisedly.

If so, Mr Hasan, you are getting bad advice. As it happens I am a “lukewarmer” but if I were as anxious about anthropogenic global warming as Mr Hasan is, the last thing I would do is make a habit of directing public insult upon the heads of people who disbelieve in it.

Not just because it is nasty to compare people to Holocaust deniers, though it is, but because you will make people wonder whether the famous consensus is based on scientific judgement or fear. As I said in 2006 and still say seven years later:

The consensus convinces because there is no good reason to suppose that so many eminent scientists are lying or deceiving themselves when they say climate change is happening. But if you give me cause to believe that departure from the consensus gets a person ostracised, then there is a good reason.

I was rather prescient, wasn’t I? I supplied in advance the answer to Mr Hasan’s next point:

As for the “conspiracy theorist” tag, let me be blunt: climate-change deniers are the biggest conspiracy theorists of all. In order to embrace the delusions of the deniers, you have to adopt the belief that tens of thousands of researchers, some of them awardwinning scientists, from across the world (not to mention the political spectrum) have conducted behind the scenes, undetected by the media, a campaign of peer-reviewed deceit in defiance of empirical data.

One does not have to believe that tens of thousands of researchers consciously carried out an organized deceit in order to become a “denier”. One only has to believe the much more likely scenario that tens of thousands of researchers separately looked around them, noted that opposing the consensus gets you compared to a Nazi and duly – and quite possibly unconsciously – followed the proverbial advice “don’t stick your neck out”.

59 comments to Medhi Hasan is ill-advised

  • To paraphrase Medhi Hasan:

    Be a good Nazi…

  • Chip

    The ‘consensus’ does not hold that man is the primary determinant of warming, that any warming will irreversible and catastrophic, of that it can be mitigated by trillions in spending.

    These beliefs are of the radical minority, the ideologues and fools. I suspect he is a bit of all three.

    The general consensus is that CO2 contributes to warming, humans produce CO2, some warming is a net benefit and, increasingly, that its impossible to model climate change.

    People who ignore these subtleties in what is a very complex subject are simply idiots.

  • SC

    >The ‘consensus’ does not hold that man is the primary determinant of warming, that any warming will irreversible and catastrophic, of that it can be mitigated by trillions in spending.

    Correct.

    And, of course, there aren’t “tens of thousands of scientists” all working at the coal face of global warming. There are a few dozen, and almost all of them are green activists, and all of them carefully guard their data to prevent it being properly examined.

  • The general consensus is that CO2 contributes to warming, humans produce CO2, some warming is a net benefit and, increasingly, that its impossible to model climate change.

    Are you fucking kidding me? This is the argument of an 8-year old. X + Y = Z?

    We are being propagandised that Warble Gloaming is anthropogenic (i.e. primarily human oriented), yet science tells us that climate change (real, ongoing and eternal), is primarily driven by environmental factors outside of our control (solar variability, oceanic factors, volcanic events, cloud dynamics, etc) and if anything that CO2 has a non-linear and insensitive relationship to increasing global temperatures.

    Who are you trying to kid?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    John Galt, in line with the point of this post, could I suggest that scientific debate has the best chance of arriving at the truth if carried out in a calm and non-hostile manner?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    That last comment doesn’t only go for John Galt, either.

    OK, back to our scheduled programming.

  • Patrick Crozier

    A used car salesman talks up a car because his livelihood is dependent on its sale.

    A climate “scientist” talks up global warming because his livelihood is dependent on its sale.

    Why should we trust the scientist any more than the salesman?

  • John Galt, in line with the point of this post, could I suggest that scientific debate has the best chance of arriving at the truth if carried out in a calm and non-hostile manner?

    In fairness we’ve been around this circle time and again, the warmists propagandise their message while ignoring reality.

    I have spent 20-years arguing that the actual numbers do not reflect their numbers and we are at the point where the reality of global temperatures is dropping out of the bottom of the IPCC models and yet their confidence is increasing to 95% that the origin of this non-existent global warming is anthropogenic?

    I’ve spent 20-years being cast as a denier in the face of all genuine scientific evidence and you expect me to hold my tongue and let it slide while those who have misled the public, distorted the truth and as a reward have been showered with danegeld walk free?

    Give me a fucking break, people should be going to jail for this fraud of the public treasury…

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Patrick, while I strongly agree with your main point, I think it’s worth pointing out that when the system – be that science or a used car dealership – is working properly, the salesman has strong incentives not to go too far. It’s human nature to talk up your product, and to avoid loud disagreement with the higher-ups, but in a healthy work environment the staff know that the long term reputation of their business is built on honesty both to customers and to bosses.

    I think that the use of terms such as “denier” has made climate science into an unhealthy work environment.

  • ‘Scientific consensus’ is an oxymoron. What Warmists mean when they use that term is ‘consensus in the scientific establishment’. Of course, brevity is not the main reason why that shorthand is being used.

  • Common Sense

    This would be Mehdi “Mohammed flew to Heaven on a Winged Horse” Hasan talking about conspiracy theories and fantasies… I’ll give him some credit, he’s got some brass balls…

  • RickC

    Don’t forget the funding. To work on these very expensive research project scientists need lots of cash. Governments are the cash cows. Government and all those who love government want more governmental control (does this need defending?). No single issue has ever been more conducive to growth of governmental and extra-governmental control than climate change. Government and extra-governmental bodies would like it to be true, or true enough to grab more power. A couple of well placed true believers at NASA, Hadley, etc. with the wherewithal to disseminate information widely and loudly, backed up by a largely scientifically illiterate press/media, control the discussion for years. Group think and bias rules the day in self-reinforcing organizational structures, ie. peer reviewed journals contolled by an in crowd of AGW advocates, which smack down the occasional critic or questioner. Government funding goes almost exclusively (to my knowledge) to those trying to prove the existence of AGW. Doubters and skeptics need not apply. Egos, even those claiming scientific objectivity, want to work, be published and gain recognition so they tailor their research to fit the precast mold

    It’s a form of symbiotic relationship with no need of a full blown conspiracy, although I’ve read too many quotes from people at or near the top of the AGW power structure, built up since the advent of the movement, to be blind to their desires.

    Also, it is my understanding that the amount of funding paid out by big oil, coal, etc. for research on the AGW theory is a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to the funding dished out by governments. You have to ask yourself, while both sides have their agendas, which one clearly has the advantage in developing and disseminating its propaganda ?

  • Tedd

    The conspiracy accusation is risible. In almost every case, the very first argument against any scientist who contradicts the supposed consensus is that he or she is in the pocket of “big oil,” or some other such conspiracy theory. If not the primary line of defense, it is certainly the most common.

    But the debate over the science is actually not particularly relevant to the political issue. Even if you accept the CAGW “consensus,” what even that interpretation of the science tells us is that Kyoto (and its step children) aren’t the right strategy. That’s the inconvenient truth that its supporters want the skeptics to forget about while they’re busy with the minutia of the science.

  • Tedd

    Alisa:

    Scientific consensus is more properly called engineering. When climate scientists can control and direct the atmosphere with the same precision and reliability that we can control and direct airplanes then they will be climate engineers, and we can say with some precision that the science is settled. Prior to that it is science and therefore, by definition, all its explanations are conditional.

  • Tedd, I tend to disagree: science and engineering are two different, if closely related, disciplines. The latter makes extensive use of the former, but has no need of the former being settled – at least not in the sense that word is thrown around by the warmist crowd.

  • Tarrou

    One gigantic thing I think people miss on both sides is that even outside the debate over the science, policy is most certainly up for grabs. The AGW crowd assumes that if AGW is held scientifically valid, then their program of (shocker) more government spending and taxation is inevitable. AGW opponents make the same mistake sometimes, attacking science because they think it will result in X policy they don’t like. This is not written anywhere. Even if AGW is real, imminent and as catastrophic as Michael Mann believes, that is only a problem. There are many possible solutions. I am all for debating the science, it is not as “settled” as the political actors would like us all to believe. But remember, there is a scientific answer to the question, but it does not demand any particular policy response.

    IF AGW is real
    IF it is damaging
    IF it is human-driven
    IF it is reversible

    Then a carbon tax is only one of infinite policy responses, not the only one. Conduct the science, deal with the results, and always shun those who attempt to short-circuit debate by vilification or short time frames. “There’s no time!” can always be followed by “before people discover my fraud!”.

  • According to the advertising copy, 9 out of 10 doctors used to recommend Chesterfield cigarettes too. Today we have people with doctorates blowing smoke at our nether regions.

  • Stuck-Record

    Childish, purile nonsense from Mehdi, but we shouldn’t expect better from someone who thinks we are all cattle.

    Watch his ‘false choice’ argument: “In order to embrace the delusions of the deniers, you have to adopt the belief that tens of thousands of researchers, some of them award winning scientists, from across the world (not to mention the political spectrum)* have conducted behind the scenes, undetected by the media, a campaign of peer-reviewed deceit in defiance of empirical data.”

    Really? That’s the only reason they might be wrong? So, in order for Catholics to be wrong about Transubstantiation we would have to believe they are engaged in a mass conspiracy, undetected by the media? Or…

    …they could just be wrong and deluded about that fact. There! That was easy.

    Oh, and * HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Stuck-Record,

    While I oppose Mr Mehdi politically, I think people piled in on him too much over the “cattle” thing. I often hear people being called “sheep” or “sheeple” on the internet over ideological differences. I’ve heard it from all across the political spectrum. The very first time I came across “sheeple” was from a libertarian commenter here. It’s not respectful to call people sheep, but it is not necessarily a denial of their basic equal status either. Medhi Hasan comes from an Islamic background, so he goes for cattle rather than sheep as his metaphor of choice for “stupid people who don’t accept the truth that is obvious to me”. There are plenty worse insults in common use from all sides.

  • FrankS

    His comments on climate reveal Hasan to be just another media buffoon duped by the spinning in and around the despicable IPCC. Thank goodness for the NIPCC. See their recent ‘Climate Change Reconsidered II’ to dig more deeply into this topic.

  • Jim

    A simple test to ascertain whether a ‘scientist’ supporting AGW theory is a true one or not is to ask him or her to devise a test or scenario that would invalidate the theory. If they refuse, or give a scenario that is not reasonably determinable one way or the other you know that they are driven not by science but ideology. It is noticeable that many on the AGW side refuse to supply all data, keep secrets, refuse to speculate on matters for ‘fear of giving the sceptics more ammunition’. This would suggest they are more interested in keeping their theory alive, whether it is true or not, than seeking out the truth.

    I read the other day the Met Office refused to comment on how long global temperatures would have to flatline before they accepted there was a problem with their models. This is not the attitude one would expect from someone with a great deal of confidence in their theory, or indeed objective seekers of truth.

  • Paul Marks

    The New Statesman’s circulation is so low that they will not even say what it is.

    Mr Hasan is just the plaything of a millionaire who happens to want to finance a loss making socialist magazine.

    I wonder if he would try and pretend the above two paragraphs are a “conspiracy theory”.

  • A simple test to ascertain whether a ‘scientist’ supporting AGW theory is a true one or not is to ask him or her to devise a test or scenario that would invalidate the theory. If they refuse, or give a scenario that is not reasonably determinable one way or the other you know that they are driven not by science but ideology.

    A very good argument, with which I am in complete agreement…

  • The consensus convinces because there is no good reason to suppose that so many eminent scientists are lying or deceiving themselves when they say climate change is happening. But if you give me cause to believe that departure from the consensus gets a person ostracised, then there is a good reason.

    Yes that is a good reason but not the best reason.

    Follow the money… that is the best reason. The Global Warming Academic-Business Complex is vast. There is a fortune to be made in taxpayer money from academic grants and ‘green technology’ businesses that would never survive without The Powers that Be taxing people ‘to save the earth’. If an academic’s grant depends on AGW being true, then it unlikely his studies will poke holes in AGW. Indeed it does not need to be a conscious decision to lie as given where his interests manifestly lie, his mental meta-context will tend to take AGW as a ‘given’ and the data arranged upon that basis.

  • Every believer in the consensus I have met so far has been ill-informed. I have yet to find any compelling evidence for the hypothesis that anthropogenic CO2 causes climate change. It’s amazing how willing people are to believe without seeing the evidence for themselves.

    If I am wrong it should be trivially easy to convince me with the good evidence, but no-one has managed it yet.

  • The Global Warming issue had been a background noise that I paid little attention to for years until I first began to take an interest in it some four years ago when it started to be hyped in the news in the run-up to the Copenhagen meeting. I went to trusty google to see if I could find some websites to educate myself on the issue.

    I quickly found WUWT and RealClimate and was immediately struck by the difference in approach to dissent on these sites. On WUWT, anybody disagreeing with the topic at hand was, provided they were polite, immediately engaged with and an honest effort was made to help them understand the immediate topic and to provide logical answers to any objections raised. Anyone disagreeing with Gavin on RealClimate was shouted down, accused of being a ‘denier’ in the pay of Big Oil and generally abused and derided.

    Well now this, of course, is familiar territory to any libertarian. It was pretty obvious at this point what we were dealing with on this issue.

    A few short weeks later ClimateGate broke and I had a front row seat to Anthony Watts at WUWT saying “well this just came in, but let’s wait to see if we can get some confirmation before we start getting excited”. Very typical of Anthony and very much to his credit. As it became impossible to ignore the growing storm I went to RealClimate and after Gavin’s rare (never to be repeated) show of uncertainty, I praised his openness to doubt and respectfully challenged him begin to encourage dissent and debate on his site, as had not been previously the case. I was immediately banned.

    So not a seeker of truth then, but an enforcer of ideology. Right. Got it.

    Now here we are four years later and their premise is rapidly crumbling. We can in ten years time look back on this utterly failed statist end-run and we have a fail-safe response to the next time they invoke the ‘never waste a crisis’ meme.

    “I have two words for you – Global Warming”.

  • FrankS

    Rob Fisher, that is exactly my experience too. They typically have one layer of argument. Dig beneath it and they are lost. Inevitably, since the case is such a feeble one.

  • …since the case is such a feeble one.

    What you really means is the case is lost, destroyed by their models failing to model reality rather than CAGW fantasy. The latest IPCC report is still stuck in pre-production hell, like some over-egged Hollywood Blockbuster. They can’t explain either the 17-year pause in global warming or why temperatures in the real-world don’t match their Matrix version.

    They’ve been caught out by what Feynman would have called lots of nasty little facts, so now they are asking us to accept their latest tome on faith?

    Jonathan is quite correct – Cui bono? (“who benefits?”) tells you more about the warmists than anything else…

  • Eric

    What you really means is the case is lost, destroyed by their models failing to model reality rather than CAGW fantasy. The latest IPCC report is still stuck in pre-production hell, like some over-egged Hollywood Blockbuster. They can’t explain either the 17-year pause in global warming or why temperatures in the real-world don’t match their Matrix version.

    This. It’s not that skeptics believe there’s some over-arching conspiracy. It’s just that we look at the predictions, look at the record, and realize the models have no predictive value whatsoever. It’s clear climatologists are proceeding with a great deal if unsupported confidence when it comes to making predictions about the climate fifty years hence.

  • Regional

    Are you aware that Australia which has 0·003 of the world’s population is responsible for 1·5% of the world’s GHG emissions, we’re not trying hard enough and that Australian households which consume 8% of the electricity on the grid are responsible for icebergs melting in the Artic, again we’re not trying hard enough.

  • Regional

    John Galt,
    Ethics is a county in England.

  • Regional

    In Australia each household is whacked with a surcharge of about $500 a year to fund clean green electricity, stuff that, I’d rather spend the money on alcohol.

  • Eric Tavenner

    As for the “conspiracy theorist” tag, let me be blunt: climate-change deniers are the biggest conspiracy theorists of all. In order to embrace the delusions of the deniers, you have to adopt the belief that tens of thousands of researchers, some of them awardwinning scientists, from across the world (not to mention the political spectrum) have conducted behind the scenes, undetected by the media, a campaign of peer-reviewed deceit in defiance of empirical data.

    But there is evidence of just that happening.
    Also, co2 levels lag temeperature changes by an average of 500 years.

  • co2 levels lag temperature changes by an average of 500 years.

    But that sort of timeframe doesn’t play well with the politico’s who can’t see past the next election or the warmist climate change pondlife who need to fill their rice bowls.

  • Chip

    “Are you fucking kidding me? This is the argument of an 8-year old. X + Y = Z?”

    John Galt, your reading lacks comprehension. I stated several facts that are indeed considered true by the consensus.

    But they don’t add up like A + Z to = AGW as you seem to think.

  • I stated several facts that are indeed considered true by the consensus.

    When the “consensus” includes an overwhelming proportion of members who aren’t qualified climate scientists, then I have to point out that any “consensus” is illusory.

    Even the pure climate scientists don’t agree with each other.

  • Chip

    Here’s what I said:

    “The general consensus is that CO2 contributes to warming, humans produce CO2, some warming is a net benefit and, increasingly, that its impossible to model climate change.”

    None of this is disputed by most scientists.

    And none of this means we will have catastrophic warming that requires economic transformation, which is what the radical minority have led the media – and by extention the public – to believe.

  • Saxon

    Natalie,

    ” … undetected by the media, …” you have more faith in the “media” than they deserve; most of them are pretty illiterate in scientific subjects and desparately want to support the cause.

  • Regional

    Correct me if I’m wrong but increasing CO2 from say 500 ppm to 1000 ppm still leaves CO2 at One part per thousand of the atmosphere and this is going to turn the atmosphere into a thermal blanket, what drugs are these people on and wouldn’t more CO2 mean more food for the world’s population through photosynthesis, I know I’m a dumb redneck so prove to me I’m in error, it shouldn’t be hard as the science is settled?

  • Tedd

    Alisa:

    You misunderstand me. What I mean is that the only sensible way you can describe science as being settled is when its explanations are close enough to reality that they can be used for engineering. It has nothing to do with consensus.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    There have been a few of these toddler tantrum foot stamping articles since the Australian election. I can’t help but be amused.

    The practical upshot for me is that in a period of unemployment I’m seriously considering getting winter tyres fitted, even if it means using my savings, because the evidence of my own eyes over the last few years tells me I’m gonna need it.

    The whole CAGW thing never made any sense to me. The earth,like many systems, tends toward self correcting homeostasis, whereas the warmists seem to think the earth tends toward runaway disequilibrium.

    If that were really true humanity would have been wiped out several times over already.

  • The only think I have ever said on this subject is that the atmosphere oceans etc or the earth are a highly complex, highly nonlinear system, and that the best possible model that modern science is capable of creating is therefore going to produce predictions that contain a high level of uncertainty, to the extent that the size of the uncertainty is possibly of more interest to us than the actual prediction. I am therefore sceptical of models that do not at least acknowledge this.

    This statement is itself enough to get me screamed down by some people, too. (It will get me screamed down by relatively few actual scientists though).

    A thought occurs, though, about what I would be doing if I expressed doubts about the evolution in the same way. (I don’t actually do that. There is vast evidence of evolution). If I expressed scepticism about the methodology behind it, and that I had problems with the methodology, that would not itself make me a Creationist. To be sceptical about A does not make someone a believer in B, however.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Well indeed Michael, but were you to express doubts, about any component of evolutionary theory, you would find yourself the victim of exactly the kind of pariah status currently reserved for climate skeptics. Out would be an offence against modern orthodoxy.

    There is a remarkable degree of Puritanism associated with modern science, possibly something to do with it filing the role of religion for certain people.

  • IanH

    Hasan’s nasty spewings (intended for consumption by his ethnic fellows)are there for all to see on youtube. The fact that the MSM ignores this and continues to mold public opinion with his emissions tells much about the nature of our ruling class and their contempt for the ordinary europeans, echoing the formalised contempt that Hasan has for Dhimmis.

    If one opines that those who dont believe in, inter alia, magic white flying donkeys, are people of ‘no intelligence’, then why not also dismiss those who doubt the reality/human cause of an ongoing runaway catastrophic warming of climate?. (And the nonsense of a windmill powered zero carbon eco economy Britain)

    IMO Hasan is a symptom that flags up a truly rotten ruling class ethos. Short of Sean Gabb’s revolution I see no cure.

  • Mr Ed

    So where does one find the mechanism for global warming? All I have been told about is computer models and data that is not properly comparable from one year to the next, plus some almost pre-Colombian scallops.

    And why was there a whopping glacier over the Lake District of England long, long ago and what made it go away?

    And was it a good thing that the aforementioned glacier melted?

    And what is so good about current temperatures anyway?

  • Andrew Duffin

    “ask him or her to devise a test or scenario that would invalidate the theory.”

    My suggested scenario: we continue to allow CO2 emissions to rise for a while, let’s say fifteen years, and wait to see what happens to the temperature.

    If it doesn’t rise at all, we can consider the theory invalidated.

    Oh, wait…

  • Ljh

    I think we should rephrase the analogy. The position of scientists dependent on the approbation of their peers and government funding is knowing that to dissent from the thermogeddon narrative is as disastrous careerwise as that of the Islamic apostate’s future, and so keeps his silence as do the massed ranks of Muslims unenthusiastic about violent jihad but unwilling to draw the attention of Islamists to themselves by speaking out. I think Mehdi Hasan should understand that.

  • Tedd: sure, I’ll go with that.

  • PaulH

    @Andrew Duffin: “My suggested scenario: we continue to allow CO2 emissions to rise for a while, let’s say fifteen years, and wait to see what happens to the temperature. If it doesn’t rise at all, we can consider the theory invalidated.”

    I understand your point, but it’s not really a good test for two reasons:

    1. There have been several 15 year period in the last century where temperatures have gone up as CO2 levels have risen. They don’t prove that the theory is right, any more than the current 15 year trend shows it’s wrong.
    2. If you can wait another 3 months or so there’s a fair chance that the last 15 years will have seen an increase (though modest), in global temperatures. Again, that doesn’t mean the theory is wrong this year, but right next year.

    In general any argument about climate trends starts with a date. Always question why they picked that date as your first step. As a shortcut there have been a few particularly cold years that are bad places to start a defence of global warming unless there’s a specific reason to start then (e.g. it’s when a dataset was first started). Similarly any argument that starts with 1998 can (generally) be dismissed, as that was a particularly warm year.

  • […] a Samizdata blog post commenting on (yet-another) rear guard action on the collapsing AGW coup d’etat, comes a very […]

  • Tedd

    Alisa:

    I phrased it poorly. What I should have said was, “‘Settled” science is more properly called Engineering.” I didn’t realize at first that I was the one who brought the word “consensus” in. Sorry about that.

  • Yes Tedd, I figured that out – no problem:-) Still, and although I understand your point and essentially agree, what bothers me is this tendency to conflate science with engineering. I am not saying that this what you are doing in essence, but your phrasing, even when corrected as above, may still cause confusion in those who may not understand the distinction between the two disciplines. So to try and clarify all this, can we, er, settle on the following?:

    Engineering is the practical application of those aspects of science which are for the time being considered as settled for the narrow purposes of such practical applications.

    (Yes, I know: too wordy…:-O)

  • Andrew Duffin

    PaulH, you are completely right, of course, and my comment was more than a little tongue-in-cheek as I am sure you realised.

    But quite seriously, if a 15-year period of stasis does not invalidate a theory, then how much more true is it that a 15- or 20-year period of warming does not justify reversing the industrial revolution and sending us all back to the candle-lit Middle Ages.

    Because that, more or less, is the warmists’ wet dream and to some extent their real aim.

  • PaulH

    Andrew, yes, I spotted the humour!

    I believe the argument would be that it isn’t a 15 or 20 year period of warming, it’s the ~100 year pattern of warming. Clearly that can be taken too far – it means I believe that the earth is warming, just as if there was a ~100 year pattern of cooling I’d think that it’s cooling, but it doesn’t mean I believe that humans are causing it.

    As to the pre-industrial dream, my full disclaimer is that I’ve decided not to care whether AGW is true or not because the sort of sweeping changes implied won’t come even close to happen. We *might* scrape 5% of the changes that are ‘needed’ – e.g. if we assume for a moment that we need to stop burning all fossil fuels, we might actually get a modest carbon tax. I’d rather spend my energy trying to have that 5% be useful, whether or not it’s justified by climate change. So I think cap and trade is nonsense, but I’d take a carbon tax in exchange for the same amount of income tax in a heartbeat today. So I can’t bring myself to worry about the threat of sackcloth and ashes.

  • Laird

    PaulH, the only reason I disagree with you is that a carbon tax would not only be a new tax (whereas an increase in the income tax would merely be a little more of the same tax we already have) but it would be an indirect tax. A new tax adds to government coffers, which is inherently a bad thing as it certainly wouldn’t be offset by a reduction in any other tax, but would simply add to the amount available for government spending. Furthermore, an income tax is essentially a direct tax (yes, I know that it is ameliorated by such things as payroll withholding, various tax credits, etc., but it is still one that people see), but an indirect tax is hidden from popular view and thus not subject to the same public pressures. Indeed, it may start as a “modest” tax but most assuredly would not remain one.

    Also, taxes such as a carbon tax (and the corporate income tax) are the most economically destructive type of tax because they hit the production side. It is also the type most susceptible to political manipulation (rewarding friends and punishing enemies). If we were to have some form of carbon tax it should be levied upon the consumers, since that would be more likely to actually reduce consumption. Of course, we in the US already have something like that in the form of a gasoline tax, which could simply be increased. But no one talks about that because it would be a direct tax, which politicians don’t like as much as one which can be hidden from the voters.

    So I think we need to be spending our energies on preventing the implementation of any form of carbon tax. And that includes continuing the fight against the massive fraud that is CAGW.

  • PaulH

    Laird – I agree completely with the danger of a new tax being an addition rather than a (partial) replacement, so I guess there’s nothing to discuss there! And I agree about the dangers of manipulating taxes, though I don’t think a carbon tax is a particular danger there. No tax has been invented that couldn’t be manipulated, all for the good of the economy of course. I’d like to think that the simpler the idea behind a tax, the harder it is to manipulate (a tax on the consumption of carbon is easier to grasp than a tax on income, for example, because it’s easier to define carbon than income), but I don’t doubt that will fail in practice.

    The distinction between production and consumption is interesting. I agree that taxing the consumer is preferable, as they are in the best position to decide whether the marginal cost of the tax is warranted over carbon-free alternatives. That leaves the producer to decide whether they should shift into solar, thorium, or Soylent Green candles to meet demand. Taxing the producer risks fetishizing the avoidance of carbon over the many other factors they should be considering. In practice, of course, all that depends on a ‘reasonable’ level of taxation being set, which is a forlorn hope.

    I’m not clear why you think that taxes on production are the most economically destructive type of tax, though. In discussions with some other libertarians I’ve noticed a tendency for linearity (e.g. economic success starts with investment rather than consumption), whereas I’ve tended to think of things cyclically (investment drives consumption, but consumption is just as likely to drive investment, so there isn’t really a starting point. My apologies if I’m caricaturing your or their viewpoint, but if you could explain what you mean I’d find that valuable (or suggest a resource that goes into it).

    Oh, finally more agreement, this time on the political desirability of taxes that can be hidden!