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'Man-made' climate change: the world's multi-trillion dollar moral panic

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Friday, 22 February 2019


One of my abiding memories relates to a flight with my family, departing Manila for London at 11.30 PM on 31 December 1999. The wide-bodied plane was only 10 per cent occupied because potential air travellers had been scared witless about potential Y2K-related mishaps. Anyhow, the plane did not fall out of the sky at midnight. Instead the flight was memorable because economy passengers could make a bed from a row of empty seats of their choosing. More broadly, as the first day of January 2000 dawned, it became apparent that the likely incidence of Y2K failure had been greatly exaggerated.

The Y2K scare was nevertheless a boon for consultants and IT specialists. It is estimated that US$300 billion (that's right, billion!) was spent worldwide (and $A12 billion in Australia) to audit and upgrade computers. A University of Queensland study concluded that most of this expenditure was "unproductive or at least misdirected". Some studies cited, even claimed that "the whole problem had been grossly overstated", and most of the money "wasted".

The "man-made" global warming scare has a lot in common with the Y2K incident, except that the scale of the scare is massively higher.

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These scares or "moral panics" (fear spread that some evil threatens the well-being of society) have been promoted by "experts", who in some cases had a financial or ideological interest in measures to address the scare. Attitudes to "man-made" global warming ("the great moral challenge of our generation" requiring us to "save the planet") are, however, far more emotional. A recent ACF-sponsored survey even reported that "33.4 per cent of women aged under 30 were having second thoughts about starting or expanding a family because of (climate change) fears".

While the Y2K scare had no identified folk devil because the bug itself was an abstraction, the "man-made"global warming panic (mainly promoted by the green-left) does have tangible and named villains. The identified villains are "deniers", the coal industry, and non-renewable electricity providers.

Bloomberg NEF has estimated that (by mid 2018) US$2.3 trillion had been spent world-wide to deploy the wind and solar farms operating today. If the "man-made" global warming hypothesis turns out to be substantially untrue, or if most countries are unwilling to do much to solve the declared problem, a lot of money will have been wasted. For Germany alone, its transition to renewable energy is set to cost up to 1 trillion Euros (US$1.34 trillion) in the next two decades. In Australia, the rush a decade ago to spend over $10 billion on (subsequently largely unused) desalination plants was also part of the climate change scare.

The green-left lobby already has "form" as a (barely credible) moral entrepreneur. It has acted over many decades as a (self-identified morally superior) crusader demanding action on a range of perceived environmental and other problems, only some of which were real. Previous embarrassments included the Club of Rome scare of the early 1970s (that the world faced limits to growth because it wouldsoon run out of resources) and the later Peak Oil predictions. There has also been a campaign to recycle (at great cost) all manner of consumables (even materials that nobody wants or items that are uneconomic to recycle), as well as protests against almost every proposed resource or heavy industry project.

These scares and campaigns usually lost credibility because subsequent events failed to validate them, and many were seen as simply "anti-business". The green-left also runs a scare (based on arguable safety concerns) about nuclear power, which has been put completely off the agenda in Australia, despite being an obvious energy source that does not generate greenhouse emissions.

Climate change per se is not controversial. Historically, people have believed that climate and the weather are determined by Nature. There is also a lot of clear, observable, and recorded evidence of past climate change cycles (involving both far colder and much warmer weather than now), that clearly were natural phenomena. These natural influences have included changes in solar activity, the earth's orbit, volcanic eruptions, astronomic phenomena, and continental drift.

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There is no issue in accepting the reality of climate change, including warming and reduced rainfall in southern Australia in recent decades. Blaming "man-made" global warming for most weather extremes or claiming that these are unprecedented is another matter.

The current drought is not unusual by Australian standards. The Federation drought early last century was far worse, and the first half of the twentieth century was much drier than the second half. There is also no evidence that cyclonic activity is getting more severe or that recent drought-related fish kills are unusual. [The (shallow) Menindee lakes in the past regularly dried out, and the Darling has always been an ephemeral river, drying to waterholes on no fewer than forty-five occasions between 1885 and 1960.]

According to proponents of the "man-made" climate change thesis, however, "the debate is over". The argument is that "97 per cent" of scientists believe that recent climate change is human-induced. An international panel of hundreds of scientists (the IPCC) issued its fifth assessment of what scientists "now know". Its central conclusion was "certain and unequivocal, - human beings are altering the climate" (burning fossil fuels), with "only a handful of scientists who like to take slightly contrarian positions".

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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