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Alan Carlin (USA)

Reprinted from

VOLUME 24 No. 6 2013

5 Wates Way, Brentwood, Essex CM15 9TB, United Kingdom


Alan Carlin
Carlin Economics and Science, Fairfax, VA 22031, USA; E-Mail:

Modern environmentalists and particularly their academic supporters are
attempting to change a number of economic and scientific ideas and principles
fundamental to Western Civilization that have helped humans to achieve much of
our dramatic progress in living standards in recent centuries, and, as a result, in
environmental protection more recently. In the longer run this may well do more
damage than even the wasted investments in inefficient and soon-to-be abandoned
solar and wind farms. Even limited application of their ideology on energy would
result in decreased consumer choice, economic growth, and living standards.
Without an economic and scientific basis, modern environmentalism cannot
rationally claim that its proposed climate policies would make the world better off.
It is just another ideology trying to pretend that it has a scientific and economic
basis; these pretensions lead to many of the problems discussed here. Objective
scientific and economic analysis is needed of past and present policy proposals by
modern environmentalists to correct errors and avoid future ones.

The modern environmental movement and particularly their academic supporters are
not just guilty of manipulating science for political advocacy and promoting bad
science and unachievable solutions to exaggerated problems. They are also attempting
to change a number of the ideas and principles (to be detailed in Section 2 below) that
have allowed humans to achieve such dramatic progress in living standards in recent
centuries, and as a result, in environmental protection in recent decades. The results
are two-fold. The first is that it makes it easier for them to try to justify past, present,
and potential future doubtful policy goals economically and scientifically. The second
is that it corrupts both economics and science in general with unknown but potentially
widespread effects in many other areas where the same principles and ideas may need
to be applied.
As explained in Section 4, the climate issue may not be the first or last time
something like this has occurred as a result of the environmental movement’s efforts.
A continuing series of environmental issues based on similar changes in ideas and
principles is very likely to prove even more damaging than the huge and growing


Energy & Environment · Vol. 24, No. 6, 2013

wasted investments in soon to be abandoned solar and wind farms it has managed to
get others to build using other people’s money. Whether the environmentalists and
their academic supporters intended to change these ideas and principles is unclear. It
is possible that they just got in their way and had to be sacrificed on an ad hoc basis
in their attempts to “save the world.” It is clear that in many cases the principles made
it hard for them to claim scientific validity and economic merit for their proposals. In
any case, it is these pretensions that appear to have given rise to many of their
unfortunate attempts to corrupt these principles and ideas.
But regardless of their motivation, it is important to defend these tried and true
principles and ideas before still more damage is done to what may be the very heart of
the success of Western Civilization. It is important to note that the damage will
initially occur whenever and wherever modern environmental ideology is applied
without conformance with the general principles and ideas, which is currently largely
in the Western developed countries. But there is a significant risk that they will spread
more widely to other unrelated issues and areas of the world due to the influence of
and the example set by the Western world. It is hard to quantify the effects of
corrupting science and economics, but it is likely to be enormous over the longer term.
There are a number of these fundamental principles and ideas, but the two most
fundamental ones are reliance on relatively free, competitive markets to allocate
resources and the use of the Scientific Method (SM) to determine what the nature of
the world is. These are fundamental to much of neo-classical economics and modern
science. And there are interactions between them in that I believe that economists
should not count effects that cannot be verified as scientifically valid as economic
benefits of environmental controls. I should explain that by free, competitive markets
I refer to markets that are predominantly free of governmental interference without
economic justification and competitive in their structure since there are varying
degrees of freedom and competition in each market and few are totally free of
government interference or influence of some sort and thus purely competitive.
Further, relatively free markets can exist even when there is government intervention
to correct clear externalities, as explained in Section 2 below.
Unfortunately, freedom from government interference and competition in energy
distribution are more the exception than the rule in many countries in part because of
the long noted added cost of duplicating distribution facilities (a legitimate reason for
government intervention).
Energy production has increasingly had more
governmental interference than is likely to result in efficient decisions perhaps because
of the difficult time politicians have in keeping their hands off decisions with so much
attention from special interests. In an earlier era energy use decisions were
considerably freer in developed Western countries, but environmentalists are trying
desperately to change that.
The SM has made possible much of civilization’s scientific progress in recent
centuries by making it possible to distinguish between valid and invalid science.
Without it, it would be very difficult for civilization to make much scientific progress
since it would be unclear which hypotheses were incorrect and should be abandoned.
Unless it is allowed to fully operate, there is a very real threat that objective scientific
inquiry will give way to scientific fads and political ideologies.

Modern environmentalism: a longer term threat to Western civilization


This is already happening in the case of climate change/global warming in the
Western World and has happened on other issues in totalitarian countries. The United
Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) based its conclusions in
considerable part on their inability to think of any natural explanation for observed
global temperature changes. Despite the inability of their anthropogenic explanations
to satisfy the SM [1], they have ignored various promising natural explanations [2] of
climate change such as the chain of effects of solar system mechanics on solar
variability, solar variability on cosmic ray levels reaching Earth, cosmic ray variability
on cloud formation, and cloud formation variability on global temperatures, perhaps
because these explanations are inconsistent with the anthropogenic explanations they
were asked to investigate. Thus failure to abide by SM results holds back the
development of climate science by discouraging research on natural alternatives, and
has led to monumentally expensive proposed “solutions” that may well solve little or
Relatively free, competitive markets have resulted in consumer sovereignty and
freedom to select products that buyers believe will most meet their needs. Such
markets resulted in the rapid increase in the use of energy in recent centuries (as well
as the laptop computers, cell phones, and other electronic gadgets that seem sure to
further increase energy use). Together, the operation of relatively free, competitive
markets and increasing energy use have resulted in an explosion of technological
progress and living standards never before experienced by mankind. No person or
government planned or mandated the increased use of energy (at least prior to the
advent of communism); it rather evolved because humans found it useful and were
relatively free to exercise their choices through their purchase decisions in the free
market. But the result is that the economy generally serves the varied needs of
consumers in a timely and efficient manner by responding to what buyers want at
minimum cost, not what someone else thinks they should want based on ideology.
In the Twentieth Century various less democratic approaches to managing
economies were tried involving much greater degrees of government control,
particularly in the former Soviet Block and in countries sympathetic to their
centralized governmental approach to managing economies. The Soviet Union also
had some problems with using objective, SM-based science. These centralized
governmental approaches have been found wanting, however, usually because living
standards did not advance very rapidly or because the economies involved were
uncompetitive with economies that pursued a more free market-oriented approach.
I do not claim that it is impossible for a centrally-planned economy to achieve rapid
growth or considerable consumer satisfaction—just that this is unlikely to happen,
difficult to find historically, and is quite unlikely to result in optimally meeting
consumer demand. One reason is that central planners (or even those applying other
governmental interventions) are highly unlikely to manage to achieve exactly the
outcome that would be achieved under a freer, more competitive market since they do
not know what that outcome would be and probably have other goals in mind besides
consumer satisfaction. I also do not claim that capitalist economies have no faults.
One of the most obvious is economic cycles that result in periodic underemployed
resources. Attempts to create “green jobs” have thus far proved less than successful


Energy & Environment · Vol. 24, No. 6, 2013

in reducing overall unemployment and appear to offer little chance of future success,
however. It is worth noting that most of the Soviet-style economies have also
generally shown a worse environmental record than relatively free market economies.
There are a variety of intermediate approaches between centralized governmental
approaches to managing economies and relatively free, competitive markets. One of
these is sometimes referred to as (1) industrial policy, under which governments make
what they believe to be strategic investments using taxpayer funds to favor particular
sectors and firms in hopes that this will lead to whatever objectives the government
favors but the free market would not. Another approach (2) is “well intentioned” but
non-justifiable governmental regulations that do not involve formal central planning
but may end up strangling economic growth and living standards just as effectively. A
third (3) intermediate approach is direct government manipulation of prices (such as
cap and trade schemes) with the intention of favoring certain activities and
discouraging others.
Most Western economies influenced by modern
environmentalism such as the US and Europe have thought about or actually attempted
one or more of these intermediate approaches in the name of reducing climate change.
These do not involve totalitarian central planning and direct manipulation of science,
but the results may not be very different in terms of economic growth and scientific
freedom of inquiry.
US environmentalism started largely as an attempt to preserve the natural
environment through restrictions on land use, usually through proposing government
action to prevent development of areas with considerable natural values. Some freemarket economists have argued that these land use decisions are best left to the free
market too. The most prominent of these actions—creation of national parks and
similar preserves—appears to have been widely accepted and has been expanding to
larger areas and more countries.
In recent years, however, environmentalists (whom I will term modern to
distinguish them from the earlier, largely land use-oriented type) largely in developed
countries have increasingly advocated that governments impose major restrictions on
the prevailing (free) market economic system more generally, particularly on energy
production and use. The main similarities to their earlier efforts is that they continue
to try to make these changes through government action and further restrictions on the
free market, and that they attempt to use scientific arguments to advance their cause.
Their argument is presumably that these changes in the basis for much of Western
Civilization are necessary to avoid alleged alarming adverse effects of man’s activities
on the environment, particularly through climate change. The economic and scientific
basis for this has not been made.
Science and economics have evolved over a number of centuries a set of guidelines
for deciding how to determine what rules nature actually follows and what exceptions
should be made to a free market approach to resource allocation based on market
failures. Not surprisingly, many environmentalists and their academic supporters want
to disregard these guidelines while often pretending that what they are proposing
represents valid science and sound economics. In Section 2 I will suggest a number
of ways in which modern environmental proposals for governmental action violate
these guidelines.

Modern environmentalism: a longer term threat to Western civilization


I argue that alteration of these well founded guidelines is likely to have much more
adverse effects on human society than any of the alleged adverse climatic effects that
will actually occur as a result of ignoring the actions proposed by modern
environmentalists. I go beyond this by arguing in Section 3 that if modern
environmentalists truly want to improve the natural environment, they are actually
pursuing exactly the wrong basic approach towards economic development and energy
This Viewpoint thus raises the question of the compatibility of sound economics and
the SM with modern environmentalism. A careful definition of what I call modern
environmentalism would require more space than I have, but I propose to base this
discussion on what most modern environmentalists have actually advocated in recent
years. Here are a number of their economic/scientific guidelines/assumptions that are
Scientific issues:
1. Use of physical “science” which is not supported by application of the SM and
the most relevant observational data often on the basis of an alleged “consensus”
2. Use of “precautionary principle”
Economic issues:
3. Attempt to achieve “sustainability” rather than allowing relatively free,
competitive markets to function
4. Belief that people’s behavior should be changed by government
regulation/incentives when inconsistent with environmental ideology
5. Support of unreasonably low discount rates in determining economic feasibility
6. Support of government intervention on resource issues of interest when there is
no economic basis for it.
The following discussion will emphasize the energy aspects of these assumptions
since that is where the modern environmentalists have placed their emphasis.
(1) Use of Physical “Science” which Is Not Supported by Application of the SM
and the Most Relevant Observational Data Often on the Basis of an Alleged
Consensus—Modern environmentalists and their academic supporters are very
anxious to cloak their policy proposals as being dictated by science. But they do not
appear to want to have the underlying science judged on the basis of the SM, the
traditional arbiter of scientific validity. Today’s global warming alarmists and their
supporters in the IPCC largely act as if the SM does not exist. In fact, they appear to
be trying to substitute “consensus” for the SM. When discrepancies are pointed out
they accuse the authors of being paid by Big Oil or other supposedly environmental
“evil doers” or of being unqualified to judge rather than addressing the specific
discrepancies raised. They attempt to justify their views on the basis that there is an
alleged “consensus” among “qualified” experts, even though they are surely aware
that the relevant criterion is the SM. Then they just continue to make the same
“scientific” arguments which have just been shown to be invalid using the SM.


Energy & Environment · Vol. 24, No. 6, 2013

The heart of the SM is to make inferences from the hypothesis being examined and
then to determine whether these inferences are supported by real world observations.
To my knowledge, no alarmist study has attempted to make their case using the SM.
Surprisingly few “skeptic” studies have explicitly done this, but the results are not
supportive of some of the basic hypotheses concerning the alarmists’ “solution.”1 The
alarmists have rather largely relied on elaborate but unvalidated computer models of
the atmosphere, as if they proved scientific validity. A recent paper [1] by the author
concluded that excluding some of the effects not supported by the SM results in
drastically reduced economic benefits of control, with the result that net benefits are
highly unlikely to be positive.
If that were not enough, prominent alarmists have recently intensified their
continuing not-so-subtle attempt to substitute “consensus” for the SM by trying to
show that a very high percentage of published climate papers support an unusual
definition of their alleged “consensus” [5] despite the fact that a number of the skeptic
authors of the papers they reviewed disagree with their AGW classifications [6].
Unfortunately, this alleged “consensus” has even been publicly cited by President
Obama [7] as a justification for his climate plan, as if it proved something.
(2) “Precautionary Principle”—Many modern environmentalists support the use
of the “precautionary principle.” In their view this justifies making assumptions as to
the risks posed by various alleged environmental problems even though there is no real
data to judge what the risks might be. They believe that the “principle” exempts any
need to await the development of such data and justifies their rush to governmental
intervention. This shows mainly arrogance rather than rationality [8]. Suspicion of an
environmental problem is not sufficient in my view to justify governmental action to
correct such alleged problems when detailed study might show that there is no need
for the proposed action.
(3) “Sustainability”—If there is a central (but very vague) concept in modern
environmentalism, it is probably “sustainability.” Many modern environmentalists
and their academic supporters believe that environmental decisions should be based on
this nebulous concept rather than on the decisions of a relatively free market corrected
for any clear negative externalities whose correction can be economically justified.
Modern environmentalists appear to think that “sustainability” leads to better
decisions than what the operation of predominantly free markets does. They often
assume that since the total supply of non-renewable resources is fixed in physical
terms, human demands must ultimately exceed the supply, usually with allegedly
disastrous consequences. This ignores the important role of prices in free market
economies in spurring supply from sources that are more difficult to extract and the
use of alternatives, and in decreasing demand when demand begins to exceed supply.
It also ignores the increasing technical sophistication and decreasing costs of locating
and extracting less concentrated or more difficult to obtain finite resources.

I am the author of perhaps the most systematic such article in the refereed literature [1]. The published
literature contains a variety of relevant input analyses, of course, some of which I used. But I am aware of
only two reports [3,4] which specifically emphasize this approach even in the gray literature, although both
concentrate on only one hypothesis test and [4] is written for a popular rather than a scientific audience.

Modern environmentalism: a longer term threat to Western civilization


Petroleum from large underground reservoirs was substituted for whale oil;
petroleum, in turn, can be obtained from higher cost sources and even created from
coal or even natural gas as oil becomes more expensive from large reservoirs; natural
gas can and will be substituted for some uses of petroleum; natural gas and oil can be
obtained from very widely located shale deposits as they becomes more expensive to
extract from large reservoirs. Ironically, current efforts by many governments to
promote “green” energy sources have coincided with a natural gas revolution that has
made available vast quantities in many areas of the world and are a splendid example
of governments’ propensity for picking losers that cannot and should not survive in a
market-based economy.
Sustainability is an abstract concept irrelevant in terms of deciding how to meet
human needs except in open-access biological systems, particularly fisheries, where
the concept originated. There is no current basis for arguing that human needs cannot
be met now and for the indefinite future assuming that human ingenuity and markets
are allowed to work with minimal government interference. The real danger is that
markets will not be allowed to work.
In the case of energy use, modern environmentalists have usually argued that
energy must be obtained only from wind and solar sources since fossil fuel sources are
not “sustainable,” nuclear is too dangerous, and hydro has adverse environmental
effects (even though “sustainable”). Lack of “sustainability” is often an excuse for
interfering with the operation of a free market, which usually results in supply-demand
imbalances rather than being a solution to them.
(4) People’s Behavior Should Be Changed by Government
Regulation/Incentives When Inconsistent with Environmental Ideology—Modern
environmentalists appear to believe that when people’s behavior is not consistent with
their environmental ideology, that the people’s behavior can and should be changed by
government action rather than allowing consumer preferences to determine the
outcome through the actions of a relatively free market. They appear to believe that
while persuasion may be useful in this regard and that taxpayer funds should be used
to spread their ideology, it is often not sufficient, and behavior should be subjected to
government regulations and incentives in order for their ideologically determined
outcomes to be achieved. This is roughly the opposite of a free market approach and
a direct threat against the democratic ideals of Western Civilization.
(5) Ultra-low Discount Rates—Many academic alarmists and presumably modern
environmentalists believe that one of the cornerstones of economics, use of discount
rates that have some reasonable relationship to the rate of return on capital found in
the free market for similar risks, should not apply to cost-benefit analyses of their
proposed environmental policy proposals. The result is to assume that future
(presumably richer) generations should gain at the expense of the current generation.
When pushed to show the economic feasibility of their proposals, their supporters
(think Stern and Garnaut) have reduced the discount rates they use close to zero [1] so
as to try to economically “justify” what they cannot do in any other way given their
(6) Government Intervention in Free Markets without Any Economic Basis—
Most economists have long argued that government intervention in free markets is best


Energy & Environment · Vol. 24, No. 6, 2013

limited to cases where there are clear market failures (in which case the free market
may not provide optimal solutions) and where the governmental interventions
proposed have economic benefits that exceed their costs (so as to avoid reducing the
economic welfare of society). Such interventions can take many forms, a number of
which were discussed in Section 1 above. Others include denial of access to
government-owned resources that the market would otherwise develop if they were
privately owned, subsidies, and taxes. Government regulation is expensive for all
concerned and almost invariably leads to a variety of unintended adverse
consequences. It should be emphasized that direct government investment is often not
successful and ends up being a net loss to taxpayers due to the use of political or
ideological rather than economic criteria [9].
Some US modern environmentalists have even argued that cost-benefit analysis has
inherent problems, was being administered with an anti-environmental bias by the US
Office of Management and Budget prior to the Obama Administration, and that it
largely only helps the regulated industries by delaying and weakening new regulations
[10]. I have argued strongly against these allegations [11].
The less developed world is largely unwilling to undertake CO2 emission reduction
measures unless paid to do so, which the developed countries are happily unlikely to
fund. But modern environmentalists and their academic supporters are nevertheless
pushing their ideology ahead despite the obvious fact that even if a few nations’
emissions were decreased this would have no measurable effect on global
Many modern environmentalists appear to believe that the two sensible
“guidelines” on governmental action discussed above should not apply to their
proposals. The result is that attempts to pursue many of their objectives would result
in making society worse off rather than better as they so fervently believe. This is
almost certain to result in lower growth than otherwise would be the case, and an
increased tendency towards economic stagnation. It is far from certain that the
proposed environmentalist “solution,” a major reduction in CO2 emissions, would
achieve its stated objective, to reduce global temperatures to the extent that has been
hypothesized [12]. Unfortunately, very few economists have taken a public stand
against alarmist doctrine, even though it deserves to be opposed by economists as
being incompatible with their economic worldview.
The apparent basic strategy of modern environmentalists to slow or even stop the
development process resulting from the operation of a relatively free market may not
be the best way to achieve their stated environmental improvement objectives. The
Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC) literature suggests that improvements in the
standard of living are correlated with improvements of many environmental indicators
at higher levels of development. It is true that the EKC does imply a decrease in
environmental conditions early in the development process, but even the modern
environmentalists appear to believe that this is necessary and reasonable—in fact they
want the developed countries to provide huge subsidies to the less developed
countries, some of which would presumably end up being used to promote economic

Modern environmentalism: a longer term threat to Western civilization


development. This improvement in environmental conditions at higher levels of
development makes great sense since it is only with improved living standards that
people have the resources and interest for promoting environmental improvements.
The net result of economically destructive governmental regulations, which they often
advocate, is a slower increase in economic living standards. Accordingly it stands to
reason that from a larger viewpoint inefficient state regulation is likely to result in less,
not more, environmental improvements.
The corruption of science and economics may not be the only result of modern
environmentalism. There may also be a series of attempts to push through new
scientifically and economically dubious world “green” initiatives, particularly if the
campaign against CO2 should be successful in getting significant worldwide
reductions in emissions. The similarities between the current controversy and the
earlier campaign against emissions of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the
atmosphere are striking, and it may be that the proponents of CO2 emissions
reductions modeled their campaign on this earlier experience [13]. As in the climate
issue, some questions were and still are being raised concerning the science involved
[14]. It is clear that action was taken before there was clear scientific evidence that
CFC emissions were the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole, that cost-benefit analysis
played very little role in the Montreal Protocol, that the Protocol has resulted in
considerable expense for the developed world, and that the benefits of control have
been at best uncertain and possibly small. It may be difficult to determine whether
CFC emissions had a substantial effect on the Antarctic ozone hole, the major selling
point, since the hole may have been there all along even though humans did not look
for it until recently [15]. A careful study is warranted in my view but is unlikely to be
carried out by the institutions and people that put CFC controls into place. I believe
that an independent evaluation institution is needed using the same principles and
ideas advocated here. Otherwise we may be doomed to repeat the same errors in the
future, quite possibly at still higher costs.

Carlin, Alan, A Multidisciplinary, Science-Based Approach to the Economics of Climate
Change, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2011, 8(4),
985-1031, available online from


Carlin, Alan, The Increasing Need for Research on Geoengineering Approaches to
Reducing Potential Global Cooling, in Yu. A. Izrael, A. G. Ryaboshapko, and S. A.
Gromov, editors, Investigation of Possibilities of Climate Stabilization Using New
Technologies, Proceedings of International Scientific Conference, “Problems of
Adaptation to Climate Change” (Moscow, 7–9 November 2011), Russian Academy of
Sciences, Moscow, 2012, pp. 24-34, available online at


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Evans, D. The Missing Hotspot,, Perth, Australia, 18 September 2010;
available online at


Nova, Joanne, The Skeptic’s Handbook, 2009, available online at


Cook, John, Dana Nuccitelli, Sarah A Green, Mark Richardson, Bärbel Winkler, Rob
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K., Andrew, 97% Study Falsely Classifies Scientists’ Papers, According to the Scientists
that Published Them, May 21, 2013, available at


Obama, Barack, Remarks by the President on Climate Change, June 25, 2013,
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Lerner, Josh, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Princeton University Press, 2009.

[10] Ackerman, Frank, Lisa Heinzerling, and Rachel Masse, Applying Cost-Benefit Analysis
to Past Decisions: Was Protecting the Environment Ever a Good Idea? Center for
Progressive Regulation, July 2004, available online at
[11] Carlin, Alan, The New Challenge to Cost-Benefit Analysis, Regulation, Fall 2005, 18-23,
available from
[12] Carlin, Alan, Why a Different Approach Is Required if Global Climate Change Is to Be
Controlled Efficiently or Even at All, Environmental Law and Policy Review, Spring
2008, 32(2), 685-757, available online at
[13] D’Aleo, Joseph, ‘Ozone Hole’ Shenanigans Were the Warmup Act for ‘Global Warming,’, January 7, 2011, available at
[14] Schmeier, Quinn, Chemists Poke Holes in Ozone Theory, Nature, 449, September 27,
2007. 382-383.
[15] D’Aleo, Joseph, Ozone Holes in Antarctic and Arctic Relate to Cold Rebounds from
Warming Events,, October 18, 2011, available at