Monday, June 08, 2009

The Climate Industrial Complex

Bjorn Lomborg notes there are a number of companies that are using worries about climate change to line their pockets.  (WSJ)

Some business leaders are cozying up with politicians and scientists to demand swift, drastic action on global warming. This is a new twist on a very old practice: companies using public policy to line their own pockets.

The tight relationship between the groups echoes the relationship among weapons makers, researchers and the U.S. military during the Cold War. President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned about the might of the "military-industrial complex," cautioning that "the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." He worried that "there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties."

This is certainly true of climate change. We are told that very expensive carbon regulations are the only way to respond to global warming, despite ample evidence that this approach does not pass a basic cost-benefit test. We must ask whether a "climate-industrial complex" is emerging, pressing taxpayers to fork over money to please those who stand to gain.


Naturally, many CEOs are genuinely concerned about global warming. But many of the most vocal stand to profit from carbon regulations. The term used by economists for their behavior is "rent-seeking."

The world's largest wind-turbine manufacturer, Copenhagen Climate Council member Vestas, urges governments to invest heavily in the wind market. It sponsors CNN's "Climate in Peril" segment, increasing support for policies that would increase Vestas's earnings. A fellow council member, Mr. Gore's green investment firm Generation Investment Management, warns of a significant risk to the U.S. economy unless a price is quickly placed on carbon.


The World Business Summit will hear from "science and public policy leaders" seemingly selected for their scary views of global warming. They include James Lovelock, who believes that much of Europe will be Saharan and London will be underwater within 30 years; Sir Crispin Tickell, who believes that the United Kingdom's population needs to be cut by two-thirds so the country can cope with global warming; and Timothy Flannery, who warns of sea level rises as high as "an eight-story building."

Free speech is important. But these visions of catastrophe are a long way outside of mainstream scientific opinion, and they go much further than the careful findings of the United Nations panel of climate change scientists. When it comes to sea-level rise, for example, the United Nations expects a rise of between seven and 23 inches by 2100 -- considerably less than a one-story building.

There would be an outcry -- and rightfully so -- if big oil organized a climate change conference and invited only climate-change deniers.

The partnership among self-interested businesses, grandstanding politicians and alarmist campaigners truly is an unholy alliance. The climate-industrial complex does not promote discussion on how to overcome this challenge in a way that will be best for everybody. We should not be surprised or impressed that those who stand to make a profit are among the loudest calling for politicians to act. Spending a fortune on global carbon regulations will benefit a few, but dearly cost everybody else.

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