From Science Matters
By Ron Clutz
A summary at The Telegraph of David Frost’s recent lecture, in italics with my bolds.
Some of the worst policies ever pursued in this country have been those which nearly all politicians supported at the time. Keeping Britain on the gold standard. Running down our Armed Forces in the 1930s. Demolishing our historic cities and replacing them with concrete. Joining the EU’s Exchange Rate Mechanism. Only a handful of free thinkers questioned these at the time. But when the disastrous results became clear, suddenly few people wanted to defend them.
Now, of course, consensuses can be correct, too. Most people agree that free trade is a good thing. But no one could say that that policy has been unchallenged. Indeed, although it is repeatedly attacked, both intellectual argument and real life keep proving it right.
That is why challenge and argument are so important. When everyone agrees on a policy, it is never seriously questioned. The arguments for it become ritualised. Zombie numbers get repeated from one document to another, however feeble their real underpinning – remember the three million jobs we were told for 20 years depended on EU membership? And its advocates don’t feel the need to invest any effort in defending it, because it’s easier just to smear its opponents.
So the cross-party agreement on the totemic policy of our time –
net zero 2050 – is troubling.
By all means accept the scientific consensus: it doesn’t seem to me to depict “climate catastrophe”. But net zero 2050 isn’t science. It’s a political goal enshrining a particular view of the trade-offs facing us as a result of climate change. It makes assumptions about how our economies and societies work which must be open to question. If no one ever does question it, we will inevitably end up with bad policy and bad results. That’s why I refuse to remain silent.
All these economic assumptions seem to me to be highly suspect. That’s partly because predicting the future is very difficult, and in this case we can prove that, because so many of the predictions in Labour’s Energy White Paper 20 years ago turned out to be wrong.
You might think, therefore, that the right thing for governments to do would be to invest in basic scientific research, to establish a simple regime for taxing the externality of carbon emissions at whatever level we think justified – and then stand back and let the market sort out how best to meet the policy goal.
You might think that, but you would be wrong. Governments have all decided
that they know best and can pick the technologies, the subsidies,
and the targets to get us to net zero.
That’s why you will be forced to buy ineffective boilers and expensive electric cars. That’s why you’re made to pay for windmills, a technology that was cutting-edge just after the Norman Conquest. That’s why our electricity grid is getting less reliable while at the same time energy bills go ever higher.
Some voters are clearly doubtful. So Western governments now go further, and argue that all these inferior technologies will actually improve economic growth – by a grand total of 2 per cent in 2050, according to reports quoted in Chris Skidmore’s Net Zero Review.
Sorry, but I don’t believe it. This whole area is riddled with economic fallacies:
counting benefits but not the costs; optimism bias;
illusory certainty and misplaced confidence in prediction.
There’s the belief that raising taxes to pay subsidies will not damage the wider economy. There’s the “broken windows fallacy”: just as repairing a broken window does not make you any better off, and you also lose the chance to spend the money on something more productive, so scrapping one system of energy production and replacing it with another does not make us richer – especially when the new system is worse than its predecessor.
There’s the faith that massive projects like insulating every house in the country can be undertaken simply and speedily with just an effort of will. And finally there’s the view that “green jobs”, many of them required to install all those less efficient technologies, are somehow a benefit rather than a cost. If you believe that, you must think we could make ourselves wealthier by sending everyone back into the fields to work the land.
Stop treating us like idiots. If we are told things will get better, and then they get worse, voters will in the end rebel against the policy. Look at the migration figures if you doubt that. I personally believe we will have to rethink the net zero methods and the timetable. Of course I might be wrong. But let’s have a proper debate and real honesty, not smears and cancellations.
One of Bob Dylan’s greatest songs, Not Dark Yet, is a reflection on his own waning powers and mortality. We need to make the same reflection about our society. Not only whether we literally go dark, because we can’t keep the lights on any more, but whether we in the West can actually summon the strength to resist degrowth, miserabilism and economic decline. “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.” Time to stop, and rethink.
The text of David Frost’s lecture ‘Not Dark Yet’ is available at GWPF