Carl Bildt, the former Swedish Prime Minister, wrote recently, “The pandemic offers important lessons for managing future challenges, particularly climate change” which “warrants urgent attention”’. There are at least eight common elements linking the two agendas.
When the world’s top leaders met at the G7 summit in Cornwall last year, they copped a lot of merited criticism for hypocrisy. They social distanced and masked up for photo-ops but hobnobbed in close proximity sans masks in partylike atmosphere in private: one law for me, a member of the entitled elite, and another law for thee of the deplorable plebs. Last week the party-gate scandal continued to dog Boris Johnson. The upsetting aspect of this was not the trivial details of partying after work with colleagues. Rather, it is proof that the very people who wrote draconian rules and gave the police full licence to indulge their inner bully in a brutal crackdown that brooked no excuse, even for the most absurd, unhealthy, cruel and heartless rules, knew the rules to be nonsense. The photos of Johnson and aides partying are politically toxic because of the searing images of a masked Queen sitting alone at her husband’s funeral. Similarly, in the U.S. any number of photos show former president Barack Obama, California Governor Gavin Newsom and progressives’ darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez living it up on glittering occasions sans mask while the serving staff had to be masked.
There was a second example of hypocrisy from a British politician last week. Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees was the U.K.’s first city mayor to declare a climate crisis. On May 28th the BBC reported he had flown over 7,000km each way for nine hours to Vancouver to deliver a 14-minute TED talk calling for urgent climate action, creating over 2,000kg of CO2. This followed reports from Davos of large numbers of captains of industry and Hollywood glitterati arriving by private jets to lecture the rest of us on the climate emergency. At the UN climate talkfest in Glasgow last year, they could not accommodate all the private jets at one airport. Not to forget footage of Joe Biden’s gas-guzzling planes and limousines in Europe last year.
There are multiple examples of the disconnect between what the ‘progressive’ elites preach and practise. Harry and Meghan have been widely mocked for jetting around the world to warn people about global warming. When Harry traveled to Sicily in July 2019 for an A-list climate gathering organised by Google, he was among 114 delegates who put on a “hypocritical display of mega yachts, private jets and conspicuous consumption while billions live in energy poverty”, Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney tweeted. Swedish child-prophet Greta Thunberg’s highly publicised sea voyage to New York from Europe in 2019 raised questions on the carbon footprint in the construction of the “zero-carbon” carbon-fibre racing yacht. Some members of her sailing crew returned to Europe by plane, while others flew across the Atlantic to sail the vessel back.
A second common element between Covid and climate change is the mismatch between models that inform policy and data that contradict the models. Professor Neil Ferguson’s long track record of abysmally wrong catastrophist predictions on infectious diseases is if anything exceeded by the failures of climate change alarmist predictions. Atmospheric scientists and former IPCC members Richard McNider and John Christy note that climate modelling forecasts have “always overstated the degree to which the Earth is warming compared with what we see in the real climate”. One of the real signals of possibly CO2-induced warming is in the deep atmosphere at 75,000 feet. Satellite data had shown only one-third the warming (0.7°C) predicted by climate models.
Calls for urgent climate action based on the language of edging towards ‘tipping points’ have been made over many years. In 1982, UNEP Executive Director Mostafa Tolba warned of an irreversible environmental catastrophe by 2000 without immediate urgent action. This was repeated by another senior UNEP official in 1989. In 2004, a Pentagon report warned that by 2020, major European cities would be submerged by rising seas, Britain would be facing a Siberian climate and the world would be caught up in mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting. In 2007, IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri declared, “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late”. He added ahead of the Bali climate meeting, “This is the defining moment”. In 2009, NASA scientist Jim Hansen said President Barack Obama had only four years (i.e., his first term) to save the world from climate catastrophe. In Montana, the Glacier National Park installed “Goodbye to the glaciers” plaques, warning, “Computer models indicate the glaciers will all be gone by the year 2020”. Come 2020, all 29 glaciers were still there but the signs were gone, taken down by embarrassed park authorities. It’s hard to overstate the damage such failed predictions have caused to the climate change narrative. Used as a tactic to grab policymakers’ attention, over time it gets trapped in the crying wolf syndrome. In January 2019, Ocasio-Cortez warned the world will end in twelve years if we fail to address climate change. Don’t be surprised if around 2030, the point of no return is stretched out a bit farther once again.
The frequency of natural disasters has increased steeply since 1900, but the death tolls have plummeted dramatically, especially from floods and droughts and as a proportion of the total population. The deadly natural disasters in more recent times have been earthquakes and tsunamis that are unrelated to global warming. Around four million people (about 13% of the population) died in the great Ukrainian famine of 1932–33. The primary blame for it rests with Stalin’s policies. Mao’s farming policies contributed to the great China famine that killed tens of millions in 1959–61. Today China and Russia are among the biggest polluters and, like putting healthy populations under mass house arrest as a weird but futile policy to protect vulnerable elderly people from Covid, pressure on the little guys on the global warming block may make us feel good but will fail to do good for the climate.
Third, an important reason for both Covid and climate catastrophism is to spread fear and panic in the population as a means to spur drastic political action. Both agendas have been astonishingly successful. Polls have consistently shown the hugely exaggerated beliefs about the scale of the Covid threat. On climate change, the gap between the stringent actions required, the commitments made and the actual record thus far is used to create panic. The notion that we are already doomed promotes a culture of hopelessness and despair perhaps best epitomised in recent times by Thunberg’s cry of “How dare you” steal my dreams and childhood with empty words.
In addition to hypocrisy, model-data mismatch and fear-porn, a fourth common theme in Covid and climate change policies is the invocation of The Science. For the appeal to scientific authority to work better, scientific consensus is very helpful. Yet, driven by intellectual curiosity, questioning existing knowledge is the essence of the scientific enterprise. For the claim to scientific consensus to be accepted, therefore, supporting evidence must be exaggerated, contrary evidence discredited, sceptical voices stilled and dissenters ridiculed and marginalised.
Climate systems are complex owing to non-linear equations and dynamic linkages among multiple sub-systems like the atmosphere, land surface, oceans, glaciers, permafrost, solar variability, volcanic eruptions, cycles of planetary orbital variations, etc. The fabled 97% scientific consensus was in relation to the simple and trivial proposition that “the earth is warming due to human activity”. That doesn’t tell us how dominant human activity is as a cause of global warming relative to natural variability over long time cycles; the rise in temperature that will mark a point of no return for the stability of the Earth’s environment; and ‘tipping points’ that will push the ecosystem into a self-exacerbating cycle of rapid collapse. Gradually The Science was captured by climate activists who acted as gatekeepers to restrict entry to climate science departments to the faithful and used peer review to reject contrarian articles. By this means the claim of ‘consensus’ became self-validating.
This has proven harder with Covid, not least because the policy interventions defied settled science. We now know that Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins, from their perches atop the infectious diseases research funding agencies, orchestrated the takedown of the Great Barrington Declaration and smeared its three credentialled authors from Harvard, Oxford and Stanford universities as “fringe” epidemiologists. Yet, as of last week, the Declaration had been signed by 930,000 people worldwide, including 63,000 medical practitioners and public health scientists. In addition, there is now a flood of articles being published that show the lack of demonstrable public health outcomes from lockdowns against measurable collateral health, mental health, educational, social and economic damage; and the inefficacy of other measures like masks and vaccines alongside possible long-term harms from them as well. This has produced a palpable lessening of confidence in the authority of scientific experts across the board.
A fifth shared element is the enormous expansion of powers for the nanny state that bosses citizens and businesses because governments know best and can pick winners and losers. The beneficial effects of interventions are exaggerated, optimistic forecasts made and potential costs and downsides discounted. In both agendas, policy interventions have over-promised and under-delivered. For how many years have we been promised that renewables are getting less expensive, energy will get cheaper and more plentiful, yet increased subsidies are needed for just a few more years? Just like lockdowns were supposedly required for only two or three weeks to flatten the curve and vaccines would help us return to pre-Covid normality without being mandatory. Moreover, in both cases growing state control over private activities is justified by being framed as minor inconveniences in the moral crusade to save the world and save granny.
Sixth, the moral framing has also been used to discount massive economic self-harm. The world has never been healthier, wealthier, better educated and more connected. Energy intensity played a critical role in driving agricultural and industrial production that underpins the health infrastructure and living standards for large numbers of people worldwide. High-income countries enjoy incomparably better health standards and outcomes because of their national wealth. Alongside cancelled screenings and delayed treatments of other serious conditions, substantial and lasting economic damage caused by savage lockdowns to businesses and the long-term consequences of a massive printing of money, is therefore tantamount to collective public health self-harm.
Seventh, in both Covid and climate change, government policies have served to greatly widen economic inequalities within and among nations with fat profits for Big Pharma and rent-seeking renewable industries. In a biting but accurate comment, Sarojini Naidu said it required a lot of money to keep Gandhi in the style of poverty he demanded. Similarly, a lot of money is required to support Covid and climate policy magical thinking where governments can solve all problems by throwing more money that must neither be earned nor repaid. Lockdowns led to the rise of the laptop class that could work from home because the working classes kept essential services like food distribution and garbage collection going. ‘Teal’ MPs perfectly encapsulate the triumph of luxury politics where the costs of the rich suffused in the golden glow of virtue are borne mostly by the poor.
For post-industrial societies, climate action will require cutbacks to living standards as power prices go up, reliability comes down and jobs are lost. Poor countries will have to scale back ambitions to climb out of poverty. Should China, the world’s biggest emitter today, apologise for achieving the fastest poverty reduction rate for the biggest number of people in history? Should a billion more Chinese, Indians and others have stayed poor and destitute over the last four decades, so Westerners could feel virtuous?
Attempts to assess the balance of costs and benefits of Covid and climate policies are shouted down as immoral and evil, putting dollars before lives. But neither health nor climate policy can dictate economic, development, energy and other policies. All governments work to balance multiple competing policy priorities. What is the sweet spot that ensures reliable, affordable and clean energy security without big job losses? The ideological exclusion of nuclear in many countries including Australia helps the push for renewables just like the rejection of cheap repurposed pills helps the vaccine push. Or the sweet spot of affordable, accessible and efficient public health delivery that does not compromise the nation’s ability to educate its young, look after the elderly and vulnerable and ensure decent jobs and life opportunities for families?
The final common element is the subordination of state-based decision-making to international technocrats. This is best exemplified in the proliferation of the global climate change bureaucracies and the promise (or threat?) of a new global pandemic treaty whose custodian will be a more powerful World Health Organisation. Despite some resistance from Africa and some other countries, including China and Russia, the push for the treaty is well underway.
Ramesh Thakur is Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy and a former UN Assistant Secretary-General. This article originally appeared in Spectator Australia and is reproduced by kind permission.