At the start of the month, I suggested that Guy Pearse, author of High and Dry, a critique of the Howard governmet’s climate change policies, use his wesbite’s ‘Clarifications and corrections’ page to correct the claim that Greg Lindsay had any responsibility for the government’s policies.
My argument was based on the facts that Lindsay has had nothing to say on the topic (which Pearse admits), and that the CIS had published only a handful of articles on climate change, and none for several years. It seemed to me to be a wildly implausible notion of ‘influence’, that all you have to do is print a few pieces and – hey presto! – the government adopts your policy. Strangely, given this theory of influence, my dozens of articles on higher education reform over more than seven years, not to mention my prior role as the actual Ministerial adviser on higher education, have failed to secure the desired outcome. Ditto many CIS policy suggestions on tax, welfare, and other subjects.
Now Pearse has responded to my post, and though he does, near the end, back-pedal a bit, it is mostly a flimsy exercise in guilt by association.
Since Pearse can find so little on climate change actually published by the CIS – the most recent thing he cites dates from 2002 – he resorts to highlighting comments by people ‘closely associated’ with the CIS. These include Hugh Morgan, Roger Bate, John Stone, Alex Robson, Alan Wood, and Jennifer Marohasy. While all have had something to do with the CIS, in the case of Wood, Stone and Marohasy it is very minor – one or two articles on other subjects or being part of the (defunct) CIS Economic Freedom Network. The others have had more extensive contact, but only Bate and Robson have recent involvement.
But given the CIS cannot control any of these people, how can it be responsible for what they say? It’s no more plausible than saying the CIS can control the PM. And nor do I accept, as an editor, that I should not publish people simply because they have said (or will say) other controversial things.
In the second last paragraph, Pearse realises that the logic of his position isn’t that strong:
let’s also be clear about Greg Lindsay’s influence. His apparently willingness to stand by while a host of CIS people have publicly pedaled denial and delay doesn’t make him responsible for Howard’s policy, but it is arguably one of the preconditions for the ‘carbon capture’ of John Howard by our worst polluting industries. (emphasis added)
That ‘arguably’ is a weasel word in this context. In the sense that someone could make the argument (eg Pearse) it’s right, but in sense of this being a plausible argument, it isn’t. What intellectual authority does Greg Lindsay have on climate change science that would make him convincing to these people over all the others arguing for greenhouse action?
Pearse also has a go at this post of mine on the fuss back in February over the American Enterprise Institute offering to pay climate change sceptics for the research. But this wasn’t a post giving my actual view on the science of climate change. This is the key paragraph:
It really is hard to see what the fuss is about. There is a political consensus that something needs to be done about climate change, not because we are necessarily 100% certain about the science, but because policymakers cannot do nothing in the face of potentially catastrophic risks. Few decisions are made with perfect information. But I cannot see that there is anything to be lost from continuing to hear from the sceptics, and that the sponsoring body once took some money from Exxon or has staff that once worked for Bush tells us little that is useful.
It’s a comment on policy process and public debate, which would not be seen as controversial on any other topic. There are very few topics where the heretic-hunting has reached the point where even proposing research that departs from the official line is in itself seen as deplorable. I do think this is a bad development, and I would think so regardless of my views on the actual science.