I had a weird reference sheet that I carried around forever, one that represented a chink in the armour of academia. It was a photocopy of a page from a manufacturing cost accounting textbook I kept from university days. The page contained a cost-volume-profit problem about a washing machine manufacturer. If the manufacturer used a cheaper component, profit margin would increase by a certain percent, but sales would go down because the machines were less reliable. It was a simple profit vs. sales margin comparison, and the ‘correct’ answer, based on the percentage changes given, was that the manufacturer should use the cheaper components because profits would be higher than if more high-quality product was sold at a lower margin. What was memorable about this was how indicative it was of the short-term, dull-witted thinking that caused the North American auto industry to get eaten alive by the Japanese several decades ago. And this is what we were being taught.
I also had a memorable professor that taught a first-year education class. This guy was memorable because he, a full tenured PhD, spent about the first third of the year teaching us about Marxism and how critical it was to understand that doctrine before we could understand education.
These two experiences were vital to my education process, because I learned firsthand, in a conclusive manner, that there was sometimes a considerable gulf between the towers of academia and good advice.
A monolithic display of this gulf was recently on display in South Korea, when the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) released a report last week. It was intended as a policy documents for governments to rely on. Let us sincerely hope that they don’t.
First off, let’s be clear. The world has had enough of bureaucrats bristling with Ivy League pedigrees who try to scare us into behaving differently. The road to hell is paved with half-million-dollar PhDs that are writing global policies for us. These groups have their place in the social sciences, where I wish them nothing but the best, but when they tie social engineering projects to hard science, it’s not even funny.
The IPCC’s recent document attempts to wed the study of a changing climate, which is scientific in nature, with sociological objectives. As they put it, the document is presented “in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty. “
By making such a statement, the IPCC has abdicated any claims to be speaking scientifically about climate change. True science would perhaps document that it is their scientific opinion that the climate may be warming, that sea levels may rise, that weather patterns may change, etc. They might speculate on how it would unfold regionally, or what indeed would happen to ocean temperatures or currents if the ice caps melted. It is a game of theory and probability, but if treated properly, is most certainly a scientific exercise.
It is not science to, for example, make the eradication of poverty part of the equation. There is no theoretical framework by which both of those can be under the same umbrella. The notion of eradicating poverty is not science. It is wishful thinking. If you equalized the entire world’s wealth so that everyone had a million dollars, in two years there would be rich people and poor people. It is insanity to believe otherwise. Some would invest in businesses, some would buy crack, some would give it all away, and some would put in a mattress. Some will buy boats, BMWs, or booze, based on what the last oil boom looked like. We can see how this all unfolds by looking at lottery winners a few years down the road; they are not all basking in wealth.
No true scientist would ever put out a report like the one the IPCC just did. It is full of dire warnings about how we are doomed by climate change unless urgent action is taken, and then points out in an utterly brainless manner how preventing a rise in global temperatures would happen. To quote: “Pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems (high confidence). These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options.”
What does that even mean? How is that scientific, and even if anyone chooses to listen, how is that any sort of blueprint for how to do it? Can we say we can rid the world of illicit drugs in 15 years, simply by “requiring rapid and far-reaching transitions that are unprecedented in terms of scale?” The only saving grace of the whole fiasco was the panel’s dejected aura, which indicated that they have no idea how this would ever happen either. If that is their point, that it is impossible, then why not provide us with a plan B?
Here’s a cold dose of reality. Last week, a relatively small natural gas pipeline blew up in northern British Columbia. This resulted in all-time record-high gasoline prices in Vancouver because refineries require natural gas, and impacted industrial customers as far south as Washington state. Industrial activity was curtailed for four days for some customers.
Imagine if that explosion had occurred in the dead of winter. Not only would gasoline prices and industrial activity been impacted, but so would the heat source for hundreds of thousands of people as well. And this from a single pipeline. That is the razor’s edge we walk on, that the IPCC and its legions of supporters refuse to talk about. That is reality.
Is it scientific to chastise the world that it needs to stop using fossil fuels within 15 years or we are doomed to a possibly erratic climate? The IPCC admits that it has no clue how to bring about this transition, and in that absence, would it not be more helpful to start with what is realistic and possible?
Sadly and perplexingly, from the report again, here is their solution: “Cooperation on strengthened accountable multilevel governance that includes non-state actors such as industry, civil society and scientific institutions, coordinated sectoral and cross-sectoral policies at various governance levels, gender-sensitive policies, finance including innovative financing and cooperation on technology development and transfer can ensure participation, transparency, capacity building, and learning among different players.”
The IPCC has been on the sidelines of objectivity for a while, but has now clearly thrown in the towel on any attempt to add value. It is unfathomable that even its supporters could make sense out of this pile of compost.
Whatever the world decides to do about climate change, or global warming, or moving towards green energy, the answer isn’t going to come from this pile of highly-pedigreed bureaucrats.