Climate Change – Is Human Made Global Warming A Problem?

In part one I explained why I think the climate science is not settled. I don’t think that we are able to predict the future temperature of the planet with any satisfying accuracy. But let us for now, for the sake of the argument, assume that we are going to see a lot of warming. Would that be a problem?

One major assumption in the whole debate about global warming is that the earth currently has an optimal temperature. Any deviation too far from it will lead to huge problems, maybe even an outright catastrophe. In particular, it is assumed that a warmer planet is a more dangerous one. But why should we assume that we are at an optimum, and that warmer is worst? I can see why 100°C more would be a disaster, but what is so bad about 5°C or even 10°C more?

If every degree more counts, then we should have already seen a negative effect from the 1°C increase we got in the last century. So, let us have a look at how much damage that 1°C has caused. One way to measure the negative impact of the warming is to look at how many people are now negatively effected by the weather compared to a century ago. There are statistics about this. For example, we can have a look at how climate related deaths have developed during the last century. This should give us an indication whether warmer is really worst.

Alex Epstein has crunched the numbers for his excellent book “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels”. The surprising result is that not only are casualties not up, they are down. And they are down by an impressive 98%. That does not seem to support the thesis that a warmer planet is more dangerous. Of course a correlation is not a causation. This statistic is not saying that people are now more save because it got 1°C warmer. But there is an indirect correlation. The major reason behind the large decrease is that humans have started to consume fossil fuels on a massive scale during that time period. We will get back to that in part 3.

This statistic definitely does not suggest that warmer is worse. What could be reasons to believe that to be true? Certainly there are regions on this planet which are already quite hot. In places like India, norther Africa or the middle east, we can already witness heatwaves of over 50°C. Personally, I like warm weather, but even I admit that temperatures that high are suffering. They are more than suffering, they are dangerous. These heatwaves kill a lot of people. Needless to say that if we add another 5°C or 10°C things will only get worse.

But this is a local problem. There are many regions which have the opposite problem. They are too cold. In Europe alone, tens of thousands of people die every winter from a weakened immune system, thanks to the cold weather. And Europe is not even the coldest place. The distance from the equator to the pole is about 10 000km. In the first hotter 6000km we find most of human civilization. Very few people, however, live north of the 6000km line. Those few that do, usually live within the next 1000km of it. North of that, we essentially do not find much human life. And there is only one reason for that: it is too cold.

That means that, just looking at the earth’s landmass, we find huge amounts of land being empty and unusable thanks to too cold weather. Humans have conquered almost the whole planet. The only exceptions are cold places, not hot ones. The earliest civilizations were in the hottest regions. The regions that reach these extreme 50°C heat waves, like India, are often very densely populated. The only continent that humans never really settled on is Antartica.

In the last 50 years, traveling has become significantly easier. How do we find people use this new won freedom? Do they escape the warm places and settle for the cold? Not really. Short of economic migration, people are not flocking into Alaska, but rather move to California or Florida. And that although Alaska has a good economy, and is even paying people for being residents, via an oil financed basic income. Humans are tropical animals. We do much better in warm weather rather than cold.

This does not make the problem of extreme heat waves go away. Even for tropical animals, 50+°C is a bit much. But it does show that there is another side to that story. Yes, we have local heat problems. But it is difficult to argue that human kind as a whole would not benefit from a planet that is a few degrees warmer. A lot of the landmasses that are too cold at the moment, would become available on a warmer planet.

And this is not just theory. As a recent study has shown, we have already won about 7% of green land thanks to the 1°C of warming that we got in the last century. So from that perspective, global warming looks more attractive than dangerous.

Btw., note that the above article in the independent is suggesting that this extra won green is not so good, because it was caused by global warming. This is typical for out debate about the subject. Effects of global warming are by definition bad, even when they are objectively not.

Are there other reasons, why we might fear a warmer planet? The biggest concern seems to be that we currently have huge land ice masses in Greenland and Antartica. If the planet warms, some, or all, of that ice might melt. It would find its way into the oceans and cause a massive sea level rise. If the ice in Greenland were to fully melt, we would get a 6-7m increase in sea levels.

That, indeed, looks like a problem. Humans like to settle along the coasts. Some of the biggest cities are located there. If we get a 7m sea level increase, Manhattan, for example, would be under water. Even that would, of course, not be anywhere near an apocalypse, but it is a huge problem. The economic damage from it would be significant.

But let us look into this problem a little bit closer. Greenland is currently covered by over 3km of ice. At the moment, temperatures on the ice shield are just around freezing during the warmest month of June to August. That means, if we get a temperature increase, the ice would start to melt during the brief summers.

Even if we had solid above freezing temperatures the whole year around, it would take at least decades for 3km of ice to melt. Obviously the speed would depend on how warm it really gets. It would also take at least decades for that water to distribute equally in the oceans. But, no one is really talking about Greenland becoming that warm anytime soon. Winters will almost certainly remain way below freezing.

That means that whether the ice will melt of not, will depends on whether more ice melts during the summers than increases during the winters. Even if that rate was positive, and we would see an overall decrease of the ice, it is clear that this would be a very slow process. It would take centuries at worst, but realistically millennia for all the ice to melt.

During the last interglacial, temperatures are believed to have been about 5°C higher than today. The ice in Greenland did not fully melt during the over 10 000 years of that warm period.

If that is true than we are looking at a sea level rise of 6-7m within a few thousand years. That suddenly does not look like such a huge problem anymore. That is enough time to build dykes, and slowly move buildings inland. At worst, it would mean maybe a foot or so of sea level rises during a century. This is about twice the rate of the sea level rise we have already seen in many previous centuries. No one seems to think that that was a huge problem in the past. In fact, the phenomenon is so slow that hardly anyone noticed that it exists at all.

I hope it is clear by now that the question of whether a warmer planet is a problem or not is a lot more complex than the public debate we currently have. Sure, whenever the climate changes, we might see local problems. People will have to adjust to the new conditions. This will be easier in some regions rather than in others. But it is not clear what exactly the most desirable temperature of the planet should be.

It fact, it is clear that this broad question does not make much sense. The earth has very different local climates, with much bigger differences between them than we could ever get from a warming planet. It does not make much sense to talk about problems or benefits in general. But if we want to be very general, good arguments can be made that a warmer planet would actually be overall quite desirable.

In part three, I am going to look at how to deal with potential problems of a changing climate.

Climate Change – Problems With The Science

Climate change has been a hot political topic of debate. Many people think that it is the most important issue of our time. We have to reduce our fossil fuel consumption now, otherwise we will soon face very negative, maybe even catastrophic, consequences from a warming planet. This, in a nutshell, is the official narrative we hear everywhere. Only nutters would think that there is anything wrong with it.

I am one of those nutters. I don’t think this narrative has as much substance as most people think it has. In fact, I will argue, most of the climate change narrative just does not make much sense. I have been a critic of this movement for a long time. From the moment I started to look deeper into the issue, I immediately could see problems with the science. This was about 20 years ago. Now, two decades later, my skepticism has only deepened. There are too many things that just do not add up.

In the following, I will argue in detail, what I think is wrong with the official narrative. I am going to start by laying out my concerns with the science. I will then continue to argue that no matter what the climate is going to do, the future will be bright. In other words, I am going to make a case for hope. And I am going to do this from a layman’s perspective. I am not a climate scientist. I am not even a professional scientist of any kind. I edit and mix film sound for a living.

And yet, I don’t think that one has to be an expert in order to be a critic. There are simple, easy to understand, arguments why there is no reason to panic. If you don’t believe me, then please just continue reading, and judge the arguments for yourself. All I am asking is to be open minded.

That is not to say that I have not done any research on the subject. To the contrary, I have extensively listened to both sides of the debate. Of course, it is possible that I am wrong. It is possible that I am simply missing something. But so far, I have not heard any refutations of my arguments for hope. If you can find any flaws in my reasoning, I would love to hear from you!

As far as I can tell, the public debate is centered around three major assumptions. These assumptions were stated by the IPCC in the early 1990th. They are:

1) Human made global warming is real
2) Human made global warming is a problem
3) We therefore need to prevent human made global warming from happening

It is important to understand that these are three separate thesis, each of which could be true or false independent of each other. Even if there is a human made global warming, this does not necessarily have to be a problem. On the other hand, if there is no global warming than that could be a problem. And whatever the problem is, it is not a given that the only way to deal with it is to prevent it from happening.

In the following three parts, I am going to take on each of these thesis one by one. I am going to show for each of them, why I think that the official narrative is, at the very least, one sided, if not outright wrong.

Is human made global warming real?

Let me start with the science. Are humans warming the planet? Science should ideally be a neutral. It is seeking the most accurate description of reality. It is, therefore, about rationally examining the arguments to come to the most reasonable conclusions. This, however, is not quite the state of the public debate about climate science. As soon as the temperature of the atmosphere is debated, I have found time and time again that people can get very emotional. Why is that? One might argue it is because so much is at stake. We don’t have time to let critics distract us from solving one of the biggest problems of our time.

But is this really how we usually react to discussing problems? Say someone goes to a doctor, and gets diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer. Life expectancy, according to that doctor is max. another 6 month. How would the average person react to that?

Personally, I would believe the doctor that the problem is real. It seems like a good starting point. After all, he is an expert and knows much more about the subject than I do. It therefore seems reasonable to take him seriously.

But what if a critic came along and told me that he had good reason to believe that my doctor was wrong. The diagnosis was flawed, and my chances of survival actually quite good. How would I treat this critic? Of course the guy might be a nutter who does not know what he is talking about. But given that I am facing a huge problem, would I not be very interested to at least hear what he has to say?

More than once have I seen people with deadly diseases desperately listening to any alternative theory, in the hope to find some crack in the official diagnoses, or maybe at least find an alternative treatment. A dogmatic believe in an authority seems like the least rational approach, when we face a huge problem.

This, however, is not the reaction I get from most people who see climate change as a big problem. Far from it. The most common reaction to skeptics is not interest, or even joy, but outright anger. For some reason, the very idea that climate change might not be a problem, terrifies a lot of them. In fact, I am willing to bet that if you, dear reader, are a believer in the theory of catastrophic climate change, and you have made it till this point, I got your blood pressure up, just by stating that I am going to make arguments against the official narrative. I got your blood pressure up, even though I have not yet made any real arguments at all. Chances are even higher though that I have already lost most believers at this point.

Even though climate change is a scientific subject, we don’t have a very rational debate about it. Critics are often immediately attacked ad hominem, as deniers who must have evil motives. Calling someone a denier implies that he knows better. He knows that what he says is not true, but, to advance some evil agenda, decides to publicly go against the truth. It also creates associations with holocaust deniers. They too go against, what they must know, is the truth, in order to justify evil politics.

The bad agenda when it comes to climate change skeptics is clear: critics are working for the evil fossil fuel industry. Sources for that claim, however, are rarely checked. I have yet to find any convincing evidence that there is a systematic financing of critics by the big oil companies. This seems to be more of an internet roomer than a fact.

But as so many things in this debate, facts are never really checked. They are willfully copied from one internet blog to another, because, weirdly, a lot of people seem to outright like the climate disaster narrative. Another thing that is weird about it is that it is assumed that no one could possible be right who got funded by the oil industry. On the other hand, this whole argument also assumes that government funding is completely neutral. Both seem like very questionable assumptions to me.

While there are undeniably a lot of very intelligent and knowledgable people, who support the common narrative on climate change, I more often than not meet supporters, who know very little about the subject. That however, does not stop them from being very passionate about the issue. Here is a summery of the, in my experience, average knowledge of the enthusiastic believer:

CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Enriching the atmosphere with it will lead to warming due to the greenhouse effect. The burning of fossil fuels frees up CO2 which has not been in the atmosphere for a very long time. This extra CO2 will therefore lead to a warming of the planet. Since life on this planet is tuned to the current climate, any deviation from it will have catastrophic consequences for humans in the not too distant future. How do we know that all of this is true? Answer: there is a consensus among the scientists.

Most people exclusively rely on authorities for their confidence of knowing the truth. The scientists agree, therefore, who am I, or anyone else, to question this theory? The idea here is clearly that truth is a matter of majority believe.

But scientific truth is completely independent of majorities. A theory either accurately describes reality or not. Would the earth be any more flat if more people believed it was? The history of knowledge is full of examples where the consensus got it wrong. From a believe in a flat earth, to eugenics, racism, and the believe in all kinds of gods, the majority of experts got it wrong many many times throughout history. And it was usually lone outsiders who changed that consensus.

The most impressive example of a mistaken scientific consensus is probably the falsification of Newton’s physics by Einstein. Newton’s physics was not just accepted among scientists. Until Einstein came along, there were literally zero critics of it, meaning the consensus was 100%. People were fascinated how complete and beautiful his theories were.

And then Einstein came along. Einstein was not a professor at a major university. He worked at a patent office in Bern when he developed his blow to Newton’s physics. But he showed, very successfully, that Newton’s theory was wrong on a very fundamental level. He faced significant opposition from the scientific community. Today, however, the consensus has changed towards Einstein’s theory. Time will tell, whether this consensus is any more true.

Science is not about a consensus. It is about good arguments. It is about checking theories against observations. And, in a strict sense, science cannot ever really be settled. As the philosopher Karl Popper pointed out, there is always a possibility that any scientific theory, no matter how well documented, is wrong.

Relying on a consensus can certainly be a rational strategy to form a first opinion. But it cannot be an argument in a scientific debate. And yet, when it comes to climate change, not only is this an argument often used against critics, it has turned into the most important argument for the case of catastrophic global warming. It is the argument used to essentially shut down any critics, before the criticism can even be voiced. That is not science, that is cult like dogmatism.

The irony is that the consensus is not even as clear as most people assume it is. The number often quoted is a 97% consensus among scientists about a catastrophic man made global warming. The first thing to note is that even that number suggests that 3 in 100 scientists disagree. That is not nothing. It is far more than one would expect from other “settled” scientific theories. If we asked scientists whether the earth is flat, or whether it is possible to travel faster than the speed of light, we would get a far better consensus than 97%.

But even the 97% consensus number in the climate debate is questionable. These studies are quite dubious. Some, for example, do not ask scientists directly about their opinion, they simply infer what the authors of published papers probably believe.

The 2013 John Cook survey, which came up with a 97% consensus, did not even ask a representative sample of scientists. It only examined papers of scientists “taking a position”. Meaning, the group of scientists, whose opinions made it into the survey, was pre selected by a bias. And those biased scientists then, surprise surprise, agreed.

Other studies simply did not ask about a consensus of the catastrophic global warming narrative, but instead examined the opinions on much more trivial parts of the theory, on which there is indeed a huge agreement. I will get into that in a moment.

The best way to challenge the consensus narrative, however, is to simply look at who the critics are. And there are many. In 1998, and then again in 2007, a petition, now known as the Oregon petition was signed by over 31000 scientists (not just climate scientists to be fair), urging the US government to not take action against global warming. These scientists clearly do not agree that we are facing a catastrophic man made problem. And 31000 is not a small number.

Among the critics are very renown scientists, like Richard Lindzen – atmospheric physicist at MIT, William Happer – physicist at Princeton or Freeman Dyson – theoretical physicist and mathematician at Princeton. These are Ivy league professors who are openly declaring their disagreement with the official narrative. So if one cares about being in good company, there is certainly no shortage of that on the critic’s side.

But then again, it should not be about whose company one is in, but about the arguments itself. When it comes to the actual science, there is indeed an almost consensus about certain aspects of the official theory. So far, I have not heard good argument against the following three assumptions. I will therefore assume that these assumption are true.

1) The greenhouse effect is real. Certain gases in the atmosphere will keep energy from escaping the planet. On its own, more energy is equivalent to higher temperatures. The greenhouse effect has been known for almost 200 years. It is basic physics and can be measured in a laboratory.

2) CO2 is such a greenhouse gas. Burning fossil fuels will add extra CO2 to the atmosphere. Therefore, by consuming fossil fuels, we are enriching the atmosphere with a greenhouse gas. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased from 280ppm before the industrial revolution to 400ppm today.

3) In the last 150 years, the temperature of the earth has warmed by about 1°C.

The last one is actually the least certain of the three. It is not so easy to measure the temperature of the earth. Especially not to the precision of tenth of degrees. When scientists, at the end of the 19th century, started to keep temperature records, they did not have the means, nor did they care too much, about tenth of degrees temperature differences. They where interested in the weather. And when it comes to the weather it is not important whether it is 20.4C or 20.6C warm.

It also matters where the thermometer is places. Nearer, or further away, from a building, or the ground, might give us different temperatures. It is not clear where exactly to put the thermometer to measure the temperature of the earth. It is also questionable what value such an average has. A changing climate will look very differently in different places of the planet. Leaving all these concerns aside, we always need to form our opinions on the basis of the best data available. And the best data seems to suggest that the earth has warmed by 1°C since the end of what is know as the little ice age.

These three assumptions are indeed assumed to be true by the vast majority of scientists. I have no reason to doubt them. That means, asking scientists about them will result in an impressive consensus. But there is a problem: from this does not follow that any of the original three IPCC thesis are true.

How can that be? This must be a mistake. If the greenhouse effect is real, and we are enriching the atmosphere with a greenhouse gas, then surely, the atmosphere has to warm up. Everything else seems illogical. Whenever people publicly argue about the science beyond mentioning the consensus, it is usually this simple reasoning that is presented. But it is here, where my skepticism started 20 years ago.

There is a fundamental error in it. The argument assumes that the relationship between CO2 and the temperature of the atmosphere is linear. That means, for every CO2 increase there is a certain amount of warming as an output. But the Atmosphere is definitely not a linear system. It is one of the most complex systems we know, complex to the point of being chaotic. In fact chaos theory has its origins in the prediction of the weather.

What is the difference between a complex and a linear system? In a complex system the relationship between a variable and the output can be highly complicated. It can be so complicated that it becomes impossible to predict. That is to say, impossible to predict within a certain rage.

To be sure, the outcome of every system can be predicted with a limited precision. For example, if I drop a glass onto the floor so that it breaks, I can predict the whereabouts and size of the pieces within a clearly defined range. With pretty much 100% certainty, the pieces will be somewhere on the floor of the room, and every single piece will be smaller than the glass itself. The smaller I make the range of my predictions, the more likely I will be wrong, until the point where my predictions are not better than chance.

Even though this looks like a fairly simple system, it will be practically impossible to predict the exact size and location of all the individual glass pieces. That is because, for this type of precision, the system is simply too complex. Every little variation, from tiny imperfection of the structure of the glass, to air movements and the structure of the floor, everything will influence the outcome significantly. And we cannot know the parameters of the system to the precision we need.

It is important to understand that the reason we cannot predict this system precisely is not because we do not understand the physics involved. We have a pretty good understanding of the physics. And yet, despite that, it is in practice not possible to predict this seemingly simple system. That means that we cannot really hope to make significantly better predictions in the future. The nature of the system is fundamentally unpredictable if we wanted to predict it very precisely.

With almost 100% certainly, I can predict that air temperatures in London in July will be somewhere between 0-40°C. That is where they historically have been. This does not look like a precise prediction. It is definitely not precise enough to plan outdoor activities ahead on every given July day. However, if we consider that the theoretically possible temperature range goes from -273.15°C to tens of millions °C the system actually looks remarkably stable. The more precisely I want to predict the weather on any given day, the more likely my prediction will fail. And we all know this, since weather predictions are often no where near as accurate as we like them to be.

The atmosphere is a complex system, with many factors influencing the outcome. From the sun to clouds, oceans, winds etc, how all these factors influence each other needs to be understood precisely, in order to make exact predictions. But even if we did understand all these complex interactions in the atmosphere very well, that is not to say that we would be able to predict the earth temperature precisely. There is a distinct possibility that we will never be able to predict the climate within the temperature range that we would like to.

One cannot simply look at one factor and determine that this factor will influence the outcome linearly. There might very well be other factors in the system that either weaken or amplify the outcome. And yes, weakening is a real possibility.

Take our body temperature. Our bodies are certainly also very complex systems. If we heat up the environment, and therefore add energy to our body, can we assume that our body temperature will rise linearly with the temperature of the environment? Of cause not. If it gets hotter, we start to sweat. Conversely, if it gets cooler, our bodies start to actively produce more heat. These are build in mechanism to regulate the temperature. It prevents a linear relationship between outside and body temperature. These mechanisms keep our bodies at a stable temperature.

That is the reason why our body’s temperature is fairly predicable. But even it various within a very small range. Very precise predictions of tenth of °C would be a very difficult.

This is the key to my skepticism about the official climate change science. We are trying to predict a highly complex system within a temperature range in which it has historically not been stable. That, in principle, should be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do. And yet, I see politicians, people who have trouble organizing a good mail delivery service, meeting at fancy conferences to discuss, which temperature the planet should have. They are seriously debating, how to limit the increase of temperatures to 2°C. One does not need to understand much about climate science to understand that this is outright ridiculous.

The temperature range of the earth in the last 20 000 years alone, has varied by at least 7°C. Humans had nothing to do with that, and survived the changes without major problems. In fact, we only really started to flourish in the warmest periods. We will get back to that a little later. In order for us to have any chance of making predictions based on the greenhouse effect alone, one needs to assume that the greenhouse effect of CO2 is somehow such a strong factor that it will dominate the temperature in the future.

Even more than that, one would need to argue that CO2 will somehow trigger some other warming mechanism within the atmosphere that will amplify the warming. That is because the greenhouse effect of CO2, which, as mentioned, we do understand, does not give us much warming on its own. The increase of temperatures from this effect is roughly logarithmic. That is to say, for every doubling of CO2, we get the same amount of warming, which is about 1°C.

Let us do the calculation. We start with 280ppm before the industrial revolution and are currently at 400ppm. In order to double the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, we would need to get to 560ppm. Absence of any positive or negative feedback, that would give us about 1°C of warming. To get another 1°C, we would need to double that again to 1120ppm. And for another 1°C, we would need to get to 2240ppm. What that means is that, just with the greenhouse effect on its own, to get to only 3°C increase in temperature, we would need to octuple the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. We haven’t even doubled it since the industrial revolution.

Yes, the greenhouse effect of CO2 is real, but on its own, it is actually not that scary. Since it is logarithmic, most of the warming happens at the beginning. That means we have already seen the majority of the warming from it. To get more warming we need to assume some kind of positive feedback mechanism of the CO2 greenhouse effect in the atmosphere. In other words, a feedback that would amplify the warming significantly.

Does such a feedback mechanism exists? It is certainly possible. This is where the complexity of the atmosphere comes in. In order for us to understand such a feedback, we would really need to understand the climate very precisely. And we simply don’t. Even the IPCC report itself lists lots of unknowns within the climate models. And of course we cannot be certain that there are no unknown unknowns. This is exactly where there is a very active debate among scientists, and no consensus at all. We do not understand how sensitive the climate is to CO2. And without such an understanding, precise predictions of the earth’s temperature are simply not possible.

As I said at the beginning, I am not a climate scientist. I do not understand the details of climate models, but I do understand the problem of trying to predict complex systems. And there is something else I understand: Any good scientific theory needs to be able to predict the future. In other words, any scientific theory needs to be testable. If a theory fails to make accurate predictions, there must be something wrong with it.

If a scientist predicts that B follows A, and then we observe that C follows A, we can be certain that there is something wrong with that theory. That is true, even if we know nothing else about the theory, at least if we assume that the scientist used his theory correctly.

If I am right with my skepticism, I would expect predictions of climate models to be overall fairly bad. After about three decades of global warming theory, enough time has past to take a look at some predictions climate models have made. How do they hold up against actual measured temperatures so far?

This is a chart from John Christy, a climate scientist of the University of Alabama. It shows a mean of all the prediction of all the existing climate models, as compared to the actually measured temperatures. As we see, just as I predicted, the predictions do not match the real temperatures we have measured. And it is interesting to see that all of them overestimate the warming. The actually measured temperatures have gone sideways since the late 1990th.

This is the reason why we now talk about climate change rather than global warming. The warming just did not happen, and so talking about global warming became increasingly embarrassing. Climate change, on the other hand, cannot be falsified, since the climate is always changing.

It is also interesting to see that the models divert from each other at all. After all, we are constantly being told that the science is settled. The science is settled to the degree that we can make precise policy decisions. Why is it then that these models disagree even with each other, let alone with the actual measure temperatures? Clearly there must be lots of things in the climate that we do not understand. Or, worse, if that is the track record of models that do understand the climate, then predicting it seems hopeless.

I want to be clear here. There are a lot of critics who suggest that the lack of an increase in temperatures proofs that the atmosphere is not warming. That is not my own view. I think the inaccuracy of the models shows that we do not understand the climate. But it is perfectly possible that we will get a warmer climate in the future, caused by CO2. Complex systems can behave in very extreme ways. Nothing happens for a while and then suddenly we see huge moves.

A snow avalanche is a good example of that. Everything looks calm while the snow builds up, and then suddenly all hell breaks lose. Predicting the exact moment the avalanche will go off, however, is impossible.

I am not saying that we will get a lot of warming either, I am just saying it is possible. My real point is that we do not know what the future holds. The climate is difficult, if not impossible, to predict. Some theories even suggest that we will soon see a new ice age, since we appear to be in a interglacial warm period. So there we have another reasonable possibility.

Reasonable predictions, therefore, range from predicting a significantly cooler to a significantly warmer planet. That is not very useful. Only time will tell, who has got it right. As the record of climate predictions shows so far, we definitely do not understand the climate, and it is questionable, though not impossible, that we ever will.

Unpredictability, however, is very difficult for humans to accept. We are so desperate to know what is gong to happen that there has always been a market for bogus future predictions. Even today, psychics, horoscopes and tarot cards remain popular for precisely that reason. But these are just the most obvious charlatans selling nonsense future predictions. It is a big industry!

At this point many will point out that, yes maybe global warming is not as certain as portrait in the media. But, given that we know it is going to be a disaster if it happens, should we really risk it? Is it not wise to maybe panic a bit too much instead of being hit by an unexpected avalanche in the future? Playing it save is an argument that instinctively appeals to many people. But the question is how save is that play? To answer this question, we will have to examine the other two IPCC thesis, which is what I am going to do in part 2 and 3.

Does YouTube Have The Right To Ban Alex Jones?

Alex Jones’ Infowars got banned from Youtube, Apple and Facebook all in one day. His followers are outraged and scream censorship. His many enemies are celebrating the move as a victory for truth. What is going on? Is this just a perfectly legitimate example of free association by private companies, or are we dealing with something else?

Libertarians don’t tend to think of censorship by private institutions as a violation of freedom of speech. A private person, or company, should be free to ban or endorse any kind of opinion he or she likes. This is technically absolutely correct, and an important point to make. It is, however, questionable whether this argument holds when we are talking about big companies like Google or Facebook.

Could there be a legitimate reason to ban Alex Jones? I have known Infowars since the early 2000s. Back then, Jones was the only political commentator I knew off who was already publishing his opinions as videos online. This was years before youtube became popular, when the internet was still very slow and expensive. Jones deserves some credit for very early recognizing the full potential of the internet.

He seemed to have a more or less classical liberal mindset. His videos were hugely critical of the state. The 1993 massacre in Waco Texas was portrait by him as a clear sign that the government had declared war on its citizens. Inforwars, and its sister side Prison Planet, argued that we are going rapidly into a massive police state. Knowing the history of western states since, it is difficult to argue that he was completely wrong about that. Already back then, he clearly seem to have a very conspiratorial view of the world. The new world order, as he called it, was a conspiracy of a small elite of people to enslave the rest of us.

Although I was a lot more susceptible to this simplistic conspiratorial viewpoint back in the day, I always thought that Jones was slightly nuts. But at first I thought he was nuts in a good way. At least he saw the state as a big problem. This was something I did not hear from many people in Germany at the time. So, even if slightly wrong, he felt like a little bit of fresh air.

I particularly liked that Infowars was still asking critical questions about 911. Being the conspiracy theorist that he has always been, he openly advocated that it was the US government itself that was behind the attacks. Again, I was never fully convinced by that, and these theories have now long been debunked as complete nonsense, but at least the conspiracy theorists were still asking critical questions.

That was better than what I heart from most commentators, who had collectively lost their marvels, rallying blindly behind the US flag. Conspiracy or not, the inside job theorists were among the few people, who saw correctly that the government was abusing these terrorist attacks to massively infringe on our liberty. They also saw clearly that going to war against terrorism was a terrible idea.

Since that time, Infowars has of course become hugely successful. Alex now reaches millions of people regularly. He therefore has the power to influence the opinions of a significantly big crowd. But he clearly has not grown very much when it comes to his theories of how the world works. His view on politics is now more conspiratorial than ever, and the theories seem to have got more crazy rather than less.

In my view, he has gone from someone who I thought was valuable, because he was roughly advocating the right things for the wrong reasons, to somehow who is a real liability to people critical of statism. His crazy theories make critics of the status quo look bad. Especially since the rise of Donald Trump in politics, Infowars has become absolutely excruciating. Nowadays, I can never manage to view more than a minute or so of his crazy rants. And ranting is basically all he does. He seems to be one of those people who think that voicing an argument loudly somehow makes it better. He has also become an outright cheerleader of the a state run by Donald Trump.

Why am I saying all this? I am saying it to make the point that I have very little motivation to defend Infowars. I am not a fan. I even think Alex Jones has become a real liability. I also find it hard to defend him with the notion that he is attacked, because the elite fears the truth. The risk that his crazy conspiracy theories about how the world works will become mainstream when people are exposed to them is rather slim.

But I am indeed concerned about his ban from social media. After all, he does reach enough people to at least disrupt the official narrative. I am concerned that Infowars might just be the first to go. Well, it is probably too late for that. But at least one of the first big ones to go. Much more reasonable commentators might be next. In fact, a lot of libertarians are already under attack. Defending these social media giants with the argument that they are private companies is quite wrong, or at the very least naive. There are two flaws in that argument.

Firstly, just because something is private does not mean that liberty minded people cannot have an opinion about it. This is the opposite of true. Capitalism works only as far as consumers make informed choices. It is not just acceptable to criticize private companies, it is important.

The reason why amazon works is, because they have a comprehensive review system build into the platform. Everyone is free to review products and sellers. Without this private review system, amazon would probably not be very save to use. The whole reason why capitalism works is, because it allows for quick corrections of mistakes via market feedback. If a company engages is unwanted policies, everyone has a right, and even a duty, to criticize it.

The second mistake in the reasoning that we don’t need to be worried about private censorship is that it is highly questionable how private these companies really are. The whole argument assumes that Apple, Google, Twitter and Facebook are completely free to choose their company’s policies. It assumes that everything we are witnessing is free from state interference.

But very few things are free from government interference these days. We do not have fully private property rights, in which owners can simply do as they please with their belongings. Most usage of property is highly regulated, making it a mix of private and public. And that is certainly true for companies like Facebook and Google.

We don’t know how much they are being bullied behind closed doors. But conspiracy theories are not necessary. What is out in the open is enough to see that there is a lot of pressure on them to comply with the interests of the government. The history of censorship on platforms like Facebook clearly shows that they only started editing political content once they got pressured by the state.

In Germany, Facebook was first attacked by the government when people started to criticize the wave of immigrants coming into the country. These attacks at question were undoubtedly degrading and aggressive. One would hope that a civilized society would naturally criticism, and even ostracize, extreme xenophobes like these people. The comments, however, were made on the private newsfeed of Facebook users.

Germany is not a free country. There are many restrictions on what can be expressed publicly, and even privately, to other people. Therefore, the government in Berlin wanted Facebook to stop users from making such comments. But when it first approached Facebook, and demanded for the company to became an enforcer of German censorship laws, Facebook reacted completely disinterested. As a result, nothing happened.

Being a US company, Zuckerberg was clearly confused by what the government expected him to do. Facebook at the time simply did not have any editorial unit, specialized in policing political opinions. Why would they spend money on something that would make their users less happy? The whole business model was to provide a social network for as many people as possible.

But Facebook was about to find out that you cannot just ignore a state. Politicians started to make sure that Facebook understood that it could not simply reject an offer from the mafia. They threatened Facebook with fines of millions of Euros for each and every single violation of a not deleted post in violation with German censorship laws. In other words the government threatened to destroy Facebook in Germany, if the company did not comply with whatever editorial wishes the state had. It was only after that threat that Facebook become an editor of political content.

This shows very clearly that these companies are not free to simply determine their own policies. It is very naive to believe that governments will just sit there and let a private organization challenge the foundations of their power. Ideas are very powerful. No one who wants to stay in power can afford to lose control over the narrative of public debate. Any state, no matter how liberal on the surface, has always had effective policies to influence, and outright control, the production and distribution of ideas.

Most states therefore still have outright speech prohibition. Most states also still have a media that is openly run by the government. No government currently allows a truly free education system. The difference between dictatorships and democracies is that the former are more overt in their attempt to control ideas. Democracies on the other hand have found ways to control opinions through the backdoor. Interventions are usually portrait as quality controls rather than outright censorship. Someone needs to make sure that schools and universities are “quality” institutions. Someone needs to make sure that citizens are not mislead by “fake news” from evil players.

Historically, laws have not been effective limits to the power of governments. If there ever was an idea that deserved the label naive than it is that governments can be controlled by laws, laws that have to be enforced by the state itself. What does put a lit on the power of governments is the popularity of certain policies. The physical force of compliance by the masses is very important to every state. In democracies, politicians are also at risk of not being re-elected. The reason why there is still free speech in the US is not because the government cannot break the constitution. If the first amendment to the US constitution was unpopular, it would be gone in a heart beat, or simply be ignored.

When faced with popular laws which cannot be ignored, governments often will prosecute opponents for the violation of other laws. The people in power tend to not care why an opponent is fined or goes to jail, as long as he is knocked out. Given the huge quantity of laws in existence, almost everyone is always in violation of some law. Does anyone believe that Julian Assange is trapped in the Ecuadorian Embassy because of rape allegations? Maybe, just maybe, his imprisonment has something to do with the fact that he was exposing the corruptions and criminality of western governments.

And does anyone believe that Zuckerberg really helped to rig the last US elections? The real reason why he was dragged before congress is, to intimidate him. The message was clear, we, meaning the US government, are not able to directly censor Facebook because of the first amendment. But make no mistake, if you don’t play ball with us, we will get you for something else.

It is very obvious, that the social media giants are not private in the sense that they can freely determine their policies. They are heavily bullied by governments to comply with the needs of the powerful. Sure, one might criticize them for not putting up too much of a fight. But the real villain is the government. Infowars being banned by independent companies on the very same day is hardly a coincidence. It serves as another evidence that these companies are not independent, private players.

And if governments think, they cannot yet get away with outright banning an unwanted commentator, they will secretly ban the opinions by making sure that posts do not appear in the newsfeed of followers. They also often sabotage the funding of unwanted organizations. Libertarians like the Ron Paul Institute, Anti-war.com or Scott Horton are already targeted like that. All have seen the views of their posts on social media deteriorate recently without formerly loosing any followers.

So no, what we are dealing with is not simply private companies using their right to free association. What we are dealing with is a classic attempt by governments to win control over the distribution of ideas.

The solution to all of this can therefore not be to demand more government interference. This would assumes that the problem is the social media companies themselves. But all the evidence points to the fact that it is the government bullying of these companies that is the real problem. And this is not going to change, no matter who the most popular social media platform is going to be.

Any company, with a headquarters and centralized servers, will get under enormous government pressure if it actually becomes big enough to make a difference. The only solution seems to be to create more decentralized platforms for the distribution of ideas. In that case, the state would need to go after everyone individually, which is much more difficult to do. Decentralization is therefore the only way to escape the bullying. But it is easier said than done. States are a hard problem.

Answering Jordan Peterson on low IQ productivity

Jordan Peterson is surfing on a wave of popularity. Within a very short time, the Canadian professor has managed to create a cult like following. This is not something he intended. All he did was to stand up for his own liberty in Canada. Nothing suggested that he would be very successful when he started protesting. In fact, he took some great personal risks. His timing, however, turned out to be very good. He evoked a silent mass, which, just like him, thought that political correctness had gone way too far.

I have a great deal of respect for someone who is fighting for his believes at the risk of personal costs. Not surprisingly, I also happen to agree with his fight for liberty. But since he is now an authority for so many people, he also deserves to be criticized whenever he gets somethings wrong. As an advocate of open debate, I am sure Peterson would agree with that.

And he does seem to get quite a few things wrong. His popularity puts him under a lot of pressure to always have an answer to everything. Because he was protesting against political correctness, he is now often interviewed about politics in general. Peterson, however, does not strike me to be particularly interested in politics. His real passion clearly is psychology and religion. This is something he shares with many of his followers. The major cause for his huge popularity appears to be his personal development advise rather than his political philosophy.

It is not necessarily a good idea to take someone as an authority on every subject, just because he is clearly smart. Like everyone else, Peterson is only an expert in things that he has spend enough time thinking about. Listening to him, I get the impression that one of the areas he knows little about is economics. I recently came across a video of an interview, in which he discusses the importance of IQ for productivity. His thesis is that people with a too low IQ are unable to contribute to the economy. This, according to Peterson, is a significant problem, because the group of people with relevantly low IQs is quite large.

This opinion is based on common misconceptions. In order to understand the mistakes in his reasoning, let us go through his argument systematically. He starts out by quoting a number of studies which show a clear correlation between IQ and success in life. In fact, Peterson claims that IQ is the most important predictor for long term success known to us. Consequently, people with a too low IQ seem to be doomed to failure.

Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist, so it is reasonable to assume that he knows what he is talking about. That is not to say that IQ is the only factor important for success – personality traits like high conscientiousness and low neuroticism are also important. But apparently, none of these can compensate for a low IQ. This is not just true for personal success, but is particularly true for economic success. People with low IQs apparently struggle to be productive.

Let us look at the relationship between productivity and IQ. The argument that people with low IQs struggle to succeed in a modern economy is based on the observation that intelligence helps us to complete complex tasks. In fact that is exactly what IQ test questions are all about. That means, the more complex a task, the more IQ is needed to complete it. Peterson claims that modern economies have already become very complex, with simple task being automated. And it is reasonably to assume that the trend towards more complexity is going to continue in the future. Therefore, people with low IQs will increasingly not be able to add value to such an economy. In other words “there is not a job for everyone”, as he puts it.

It is certainly true that there is not a job for everyone. Some people clearly find it difficult to produce wealth. Examples of these would be certain drug addicts or those with a mental disease like Schizophrenia. The latter distorts the view of reality and makes a person dysfunctional in the real world. However, is Peterson right that a low IQ on its own prevents people from adding value to the economy?

As proof that this is indeed the case, Peterson quotes a policy of the armed forces, to not allow recruits with an IQ lower than 83 to join. This threshold is based on long term internal studies which have apparently shown that people with such low IQs simply are incapable of performing any needed task in the military.

The reason why Peterson things this is relevant is because the military is in constant shortage of bodies, and has jobs that require very few skills. He also mentions that one of the purposes of the military is to lift people out of poverty, by giving them a good education. Therefore, he concludes, if the military isn’t capable of employing them, no one is. Having established these facts, he points out that about 10% of society have an IQ that low, clearly suggesting that 10% of society will therefore not be employable. If all of this were true, it would be a grim outlook indeed.

But there are a number of fallacies in this argument. First of all, it is questionable to take a centrally planned bureaucracy, like the military, as a good indicator of who can and who cannot be productive. For some reason, intellectuals love hierarchical bureaucratic structures, and even Peterson, who is not a socialist, does not seem to be able to resist that temptation. The real testing ground, however, should be the actual private economy. No central planner can know what is and what is not productive work. This is of course the fundamental flaw in socialism, and the reason why it can never work. Ludwig von Mises famously pointed this out in his groundbreaking 1920 article “Economic Calculation in the Social Commonwealth”.

The real economy often gives us surprising answers as to what is and what is not productive. And looking at real world economic data, we find that the free market does seem to find productive tasks for low IQ people. If it were true that people with an IQ below 83 are unproductive, and those are 10% of society, then we would not expect to find unemployment rates in any free market economy to be under 10%.

Unfortunately, we do not have any economies that are totally free of state intervention to test this. However, we can at least have a look at some of the most free and advanced economies. Two good examples for these are Singapore and Switzerland. Both, according to the Heritage Index of Economic Freedom, have been among the most advanced and productive economies in the world for a very long time. They are also two of the most free and unregulated. Singapore, a city state, even has hardly any welfare state at all. As far as I can tell, neither of these two economies has had an unemployment rate even close to 10% in the last three decades. In fact, during that period of time, the highest unemployment rate has been a little over 5%. Today it is 2% in Singapore, and 3% in Switzerland.

From this alone, it is save to conclude that, if a low IQ is a growing problem in increasingly complex societies, then, at least at the moment, the economy is clearly not complex enough for this to have a significant effect. In fact, as far as I am aware, even people with seriously low IQs can be trained to be somewhat productive. People with Down Syndrome, for example, who have an average IQ of around 50, can be trained to fulfill productive tasks. And luckily they are often exempt from damaging protective policies like the minimum wage.

But to be fair, at such low levels, the productivity is indeed strongly reduced. This does suggest that Peterson is not completely wrong. There is some relationship between IQ and productivity. But at least at the IQ 83 level, this does not seem to be significant enough to make a person unable to contribute to a modern economy.

The next question is, is this going to change in the future? Will people with low IQs increasingly struggle to be productive as the economy becomes more complex? It sure looks like strong reasoning to suggest so. The argument, however, rests on a very questionable assumption. Is the economy really getting increasingly complex? Do we therefore need better skills to handle complexity in order to be productive in the future? What is the evidence that we are witnessing such a development?

I think this is a fallacy. The exact opposite appears to be happening. Sure, being able to handle complexity, unquestionably makes people currently more productive. That is why managers and engineers have a higher salary than cleaners or garbage collectors. But this is not a new development. Managers and engineers have always earned more than workers doing simple tasks.

In order for there to be a problem one would need to argue that simple tasks are disappearing completely. And in fact, many people would argue that we have seen a shift away from simple jobs to more complex ones. Historically, the majority of people worked in farm jobs, which mainly required physical strength, and were repetitive. Whipped, uneducated slaves were able to do these jobs. Nowadays, however, we have clearly moved towards thinking office jobs.

It is true that most people have stopped making a living through physical labour. This change came with the rise of machines which were able to do the physical for us. Throughout history, whenever we saw new technology been introduced, the assumption of most people, at all times, has been that this would lead to a rise in unemployment.

Yet, people have always been wrong to assume so. As we have seen with the unemployment rates of modern economies, their concerns have so far not materialized. There are still an enormous amount of very simple jobs left. That is as long as the government does not regulate these jobs out of existence. Almost every human being, even people with low IQs, have skills that machines are unable to perform. These skills include things like common sense or the enormous fine motor skills of the human hand. The latter is still unmatched by robotics.

Has all this new technology made our work more complex? Why would it? Technology is a tool. And the better these tools are, the easier it is to use them. Usually, technology is only complex in its early development stages. This is the stage when it is not widely used yet. A simplification for the user is usually a necessary condition for a technology to spread widely.

When computers first were invented, only the most highly trained engineers could use them. Today, my three year old niece can operate an iPad. The latter, of course, is orders of magnitude more complex than the first computers that needed to be operated by experts. Advanced tools do not make things more complex, they make them easier.

There does not seem to be much evidence that our jobs have become more complex. Sure, we now have more office jobs. But thanks to increasingly sophisticated tools, we also have more idiots doing office jobs. And there is absolutely no reason to expect the situation to get worse.

A lot of people are worried about the advent of AI and robotics. These, so they think, will create machines that will be able to beat us in any skill we have. Therefore, there will be no more jobs left for us to do. No more jobs, except for the highly complex task of coordinating these machines. This will lead to a society in which there is a great divide between a small elite in control on the one hand, and all the rest of us on the other, who will be left out of the economy.

This is an absolute fallacy that I have written about before. Machines are tools and not competitors. They are not competitors, because they do not have any interests on their own. Every tool makes us more productive, and most tools are even superior to us in some way. That is why we use them. Even a very simple tool, like a hammer, is used by us, because it is superior in certain ways to our hand. It is therefore misguided to thing that machines who are better than us are a problem. We cannot have too good tools!

And the better the tools, the simpler they will make jobs. Tools help us to complete tasks more quickly, and to a higher standard. That is another way of saying, they make us more productive. The more intelligent machines get, the more they can handle complexity themselves. That is why my niece can operate a highly complex iPad. The complexity of the computer is reduced to a very simple interface. Consequently, if machines are able to handle complexity, they can be used as a tool by people, who are bad in handling complexity. And those are the people for whom these machines will be most useful.

Think about it – when machines were invented to replace our physical labour, was it clever to argue that this was a disaster for the weak? Was it clever to argue that now only the strongest would be able to compete with these machines? Of course not. The exact opposite was the case. With the advent of strong machines, it was particularly weaker people who became more productive, because machines are not competitors, they are tools.

Just like a calculator has the biggest use for people who are bad at calculating in their head, and strong machines are best for weak people, intelligent machines will be best for the not so intelligent. If anyone will get to be disrupted by intelligent machines, it will be intelligent people, who will lose their advantage to produce. They will lose their advantage, because the economy will get a lot more simple rather than complex.

It is also a fallacy that the production of wealth can be concentrated in the hands of a few. This cannot happen, at least not without the use of force. Who would the minority of producers sell their products to? Already in the early 19th century, the economist Jean-Baptiste Say famously figured out that supply creates its own demand. There will always be an advantage of having a division of labour, no matter how advanced machines get. And it will always be better that more people produce rather than fewer, no matter which tools they use.

That means there will always be an economy, and we are not going to all become self-sufficient individuals. The only difference will be, that the more tools we have, the more everyone can potentially fulfill every part of that division. Peterson says that “not everyone can be trained to do everything”. That is true. But in the future, maybe everyone can have a tool which can do everything for them.

Life will not become more complex, but it will become easier, at least economically. That is not to say that it will necessarily be easier to find a purpose in life and be happy. That, however, is a different question from productivity. Economically, technology will be a great equalizer rather than a divider. So there is no need to worry about people with low IQs. The evidence shows that, if the state lets them, they are able to produce now, and they will be even more so in the future.