In addition to hypocrisy, models-data mismatch and fear-porn, a fourth common theme in Covid and climate change policies is the invocation of The Science. For the appeal to scientific authority to work better, scientific consensus is very helpful. Yet, driven by intellectual curiosity, questioning existing knowledge is the essence of the scientific enterprise. For the claim to scientific consensus to be accepted, therefore, supporting evidence must be exaggerated, contrary evidence discredited, sceptical voices stilled and dissenters ridiculed and marginalised.
Climate systems are complex owing to non-linear equations and dynamic linkages among multiple sub-systems like the atmosphere, land surface, oceans, glaciers, permafrost, solar variability, volcanic eruptions, cycles of planetary orbital variations, etc. The fabled 97 per cent scientific consensus was in relation to the simple and trivial proposition that ‘the earth is warming due to human activity’. That doesn’t tell us how dominant human activity is as a cause of global warming relative to natural variability over long time cycles; the rise in temperature that will mark a point of no return for the stability of the earth’s environment; and ‘tipping points’ that will push the ecosystem into a self-exacerbating cycle of rapid collapse. Gradually The Science was captured by climate activists who acted as gatekeepers to restrict entry to climate science departments to the faithful and used peer review to reject contrarian articles. By this means the claim of ‘consensus’ became self-validating.
This has proven harder with Covid, not least because the policy interventions defied settled science. We now know that Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins, from their perches atop the infectious diseases research funding agencies, orchestrated the takedown of the Great Barrington Declaration and smeared its three credentialled authors from Harvard, Oxford and Stanford universities as ‘fringe’ epidemiologists. Yet, as of last week, the Declaration had been signed by 930,000 people worldwide, including 63,000 medical practitioners and public health scientists. In addition, there is now a flood of articles being published that show the lack of demonstrable public health outcomes from lockdowns against measurable collateral health, mental health, educational, social and economic damage; and the inefficacy of other measures like masks and vaccines alongside possible long-term harms from them as well. This has produced a palpable lessening of confidence in the authority of scientific experts across the board.
A fifth shared element is the enormous expansion of powers for the nanny state that bosses citizens and businesses because governments know best and can pick winners and losers. The beneficial effects of interventions are exaggerated, optimistic forecasts made and potential costs and downsides discounted. In both agendas, policy interventions have over-promised and under-delivered. For how many years have we been promised that renewables are getting less expensive, energy will get cheaper and more plentiful, yet increased subsidies are needed for just a few more years? Just like lockdowns were supposedly required for only two or three weeks to flatten the curve and vaccines would help us return to pre-Covid normality without being mandatory. Moreover, in both cases growing state control over private activities is justified by being framed as minor inconveniences in the moral crusade to save the world and save granny.
Sixth, the moral framing has also been used to discount massive economic self-harm. The world has never been healthier, wealthier, better educated and more connected. Energy intensity played a critical role in driving agricultural and industrial production that underpins the health infrastructure and living standards for large numbers of people worldwide. High-income countries enjoy incomparably better health standards and outcomes because of their national wealth. Alongside cancelled screenings and delayed treatments of other serious conditions, substantial and lasting economic damage caused by savage lockdowns to businesses and the long-term consequences of a massive printing of money, is therefore tantamount to collective public health self-harm.
Seventh, in both Covid and climate change, government policies have served to greatly widen economic inequalities within and among nations with fat profits for Big Pharma and rent-seeking renewable industries. In a biting but accurate comment, Sarojini Naidu said it required a lot of money to keep Gandhi in the style of poverty he demanded. Similarly, a lot of money is required to support Covid and climate policy magical thinking where governments can solve all problems by throwing more money that must neither be earned nor repaid. Lockdowns led to the rise of the laptop class that could work from home because the working classes kept essential services like food distribution and garbage collection going. Teal MPs perfectly encapsulate the triumph of luxury politics where the costs of the rich suffused in the golden glow of virtue are borne mostly by the poor. I am looking forward to the new government bringing an end to cycles of droughts, bushfires and floods.
For post-industrial societies, climate action will require cutbacks to living standards as power prices go up, reliability comes down and jobs are lost. Poor countries will have to scale back ambitions to climb out of poverty. Should China, the world’s biggest emitter today, apologise for achieving the fastest poverty reduction rate for the biggest number of people in history? Should a billion more Chinese, Indians and others have stayed poor and destitute over the last four decades, so Westerners could feel virtuous?
Attempts to assess the balance of costs and benefits of Covid and climate policies are shouted down as immoral and evil, putting dollars before lives. But neither health nor climate policy can dictate economic, development, energy and other policies. All governments work to balance multiple competing policy priorities. What is the sweet spot that ensures reliable, affordable and clean energy security without big job losses? The ideological exclusion of nuclear helps the push for renewables just like the rejection of cheap repurposed pills helps the vaccine push. Or the sweet spot of affordable, accessible and efficient public health delivery that does not compromise the nation’s ability to educate its young, look after the elderly and vulnerable and ensure decent jobs and life opportunities for families?
The final common element is the subordination of state-based decision-making to international technocrats. This is best exemplified in the proliferation of the global climate change bureaucracies and the promise (or threat?) of a new global pandemic treaty whose custodian will be a more powerful World Health Organisation. Despite some resistance from Africa and third world countries, including China and Russia, the push for the treaty is well underway.
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