The End (of Nick Stern's Credibility) is Nigh!

Think Progress is a misnomer for a site devoid of thought or sensible conception of ‘progress’. It’s currently running a series of crass, pointless, sub-tabloid mini interviews with climate alarmist, Nicholas Stern. In the first interview, Stern expounds some views that mirror the site’s problems with thinking about progress.

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Nicholas — now Lord — Stern is a pillar of the climate change establishment. He is perhaps even more respected a commentator on matters climate-related than most climate scientists. He authored the 2006 report on climate change that still determines UK policy today, and which NGOs and other organisations draw from to set and further their own self-serving agendas. Since authoring the report, Stern has shot to climate stardom, being sought by carbon finance firms, keen to cash in on his connections to government and his insider policy-making knowledge, by the media, and by billionaire philanthropists wishing to have him set up and manage climate research organisations that bear the benefactors’ names.

But why? Anybody could invent the argument in the video above, in which Stern claims that increases in temperature will make some areas inhospitable, driving the population away, causing war. It’s a what-if-join-the-dots kind of bogus thought experiment, which only carries any weight because of Stern’s authority, not because of the quality of any research or theoretical ground behind it. In order to take Stern’s word for it, we have to trust that authority. It goes without saying that I don’t.

And so shame on Brad Johnson, the author of the piece, whose idea of an ‘interview’ is merely to repeat, verbatim, what the interviewee told him, without subjecting the claim to any criticism whatsoever. That’s not interviewing, Brad, that’s flattery.

Stern, who advises politicians the world over, gets to sit on influential panels that dictate national and international policies, and who does the bidding of billionaire ‘philanthropists’ seems particularly reluctant to face criticism. He has strong views about what the world should do, but has yet (as far as I am aware) to face, let alone answer, a single critic or criticism of his work. The closest Stern ever seems to get to defending himself is to send the idiot climate bulldog, Bob Ward, out to harass any editor that dares publish anything that dissents from the orthodoxy.

So much for Stern’s authority then. Since he is incapable of defending them, his arguments and research can carry no authority. The authority he has then, lies only in the fact that he repeats the mantras that politicians and others engaged in the climate change agenda want and need to hear. For instance, I had the misfortune of attending a lecture by luvvie-turned-planet-saver Lord David Puttnam a few years ago. (They’re all Lords — unelected, unaccountable feudal relics — these people; Lord Stern, Lord Puttnam, Lord May, Lord Turner.)  During the lecture Puttnam claimed

To read much of the media, you simply wouldn’t know that there’s a ninety-nine per cent scientific consensus on this issue. In some cases we’re even led to believe that the whole idea of man-made climate change has been put about by a bunch of self-promoting scientists in flapping white coats in some vast conspiracy. If anyone ever tries to pull that on you, I beg you; ask them a few very very simple questions. Where has this conspiracy come from? Who is financing it? How is anything in this disorganised world so brilliantly organised as to make this possible? And most important of all, consider this. If Crispin Tickell, myself, and others are wrong, and if ninety-nine per cent of the world’s scientists are wrong, to what degree will we have damaged your lives and life chances? […] On the other hand, if the climate change deniers are wrong, if you’re stupid enough anyway to believe them, the net effect of that could be to devastate your entire life, and more important than that, your children’s’ lives, your grandchildren’s lives and your great grandchildren’s lives. You cannot afford to give them that much credibility. Everything I said about the BNP, I feel just as strongly about intelligent climate deniers. They are living on another planet. I wish they’d go there.

Puttnam’s own contribution to scientific knowledge is limited to his role producing films such as Bugsy Malone and The Mission. These remarkable achievements, nonetheless, qualify him to make pronouncements about who in this debate are reckless and stupid.

I asked Puttnam where the 99% figure came from. The figure is widely cited, he told me… And after some hesitation, ‘from Stern’. All that it took for Puttnam — who chaired the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Draft Climate Change Bill — to have such confidence in the figure was for Stern to have uttered it. I asked him precisely where the figure had come from. He promised to reply to my email, asking him. I sent him three. He never replied. Meanwhile, anyone who disagreed with Puttnam, was, by proxy, disagreeing with Stern, and 99% of the world’s scientists. Now we can see how Stern’s authority exists at the end of a chain of circular reasoning. This must be what is meant by ‘peer review’.

But what of the argument itself. The climate changes where people can be, claims Stern. This is true to an extent, of course. But who could have imagined Phoenix, Arizona, before it was possible to divert entire rivers? The extent to which human populations are forced to move, then, is determined by our ability to transport sources of water to where they are needed. Leaving aside the matter ‘is climate change happening, the question here, then, should divide the debate between those who think that, in the 21st century, this is no impossible challenge, and those who think it is. Stern must presuppose it is impossible. We can see for ourselves that it is possible, and it should be more possible between the years 2011 and 2022 than it was when those first huge dams were constructed in the early part of the last century. We can now see how it is Stern’s presuppositions which influence his understanding of climate, not his understanding of climate which informs his economics.

But let us assume, anyway, that it is not possible for humans to respond positively to climate change, and that, a century from now, climate change has caused the displacement of a billion people? Is this likely to be the cause of World War III, as he claims?

No. The movement of a billion people over the course of a century amounts to the movement of 10 million people a year. This is no exodus. It is 0.143% of the world’s population.  In other words, it’s the equivalent of 87,000 people leaving the UK (population 60 million) each year. That’s fewer people than would fit into the new Wembley stadium. It’s less than half the number of people who pass through Heathrow airport each day.  The resettlement of a billion people throughout the world over the course of a century presents absolutely no technical challenge whatsoever. Again, Stern must presuppose a political problem with such a movement of people in order to demonstrate that a climate problem exists. Why is ‘Think Progress’ — seemingly a ‘liberal’ organ — so convinced that immigration is such a problem that it could create a world war? So much for liberal values. In fact, we might point out that, if the problems of climate change are problems of poverty, the world might well cope with climate change — anthropogenic or not — by migration. Isn’t that how early man survived the ice age, after all? It shouldn’t need pointing out: as a race, we’ve survived climate change before. And we survived it with far less technology and resources than we now posses.

So, in order to take Stern seriously, we must presuppose too much. We can only arrive at a position in which we trust Stern after too much circular reasoning. We can trust Stern because of his authority, or we trust him because we presuppose the bleak things he presupposes. But we can’t trust him for having made a sound argument.

As the political ambitions of Stern and Co have failed, so they have escalated the drama in their depiction of the future. As Stern finds it harder to make convincing and coherent arguments, so the worse the future becomes in his view. What Stern expresses then, is not ‘science’, nor even coherent economics. It is just the ravings of a lunatic, the same as any religious nut-case in a sandwich board bearing the words, REPENT: the end is nigh! The man in the sandwich board, and Lord Nicholas Stern say more about themselves than they say about the end.

26 thoughts on “The End (of Nick Stern's Credibility) is Nigh!”

  1. It is indeed fortunate for Lord Stern that his services are so keenly sought as a climate commentator, because he has caused himself irreparable professional damage in the eyes of his fellow economists with the publication of his famed 2006 report. No economist can hear the words “zero point one percent social discount rate”, and ever take the utterer seriously again – if our consumption preferences were indeed thus, we would save 97% of our income, leading to starvation for all but the wealthiest of us. As an economist, his credibility is gone.

    The fact that this ludicrous bill of goods was adopted so credulously by the world governments and media speaks volumes to the gullibility expected of us in regard to AGW.

  2. If you click on Brad Johnson at top right of the interview, you get to part two, in which starts (in Brad’s very approxmate transcription):
    “We essentially, if we’re to give us say any reasonable chance, call it fifty-fifty, for two degrees centigrade as the limit on the temperature increase — of course, it’s only a probability. Nothing is certain in risk management. If we were to try to do that — it’s a bit ambitious from where we are. If we were to try to do that, and I think we should, we would see emissions having to fall from close to fifty billion tons of CO2 equivalent down to below twenty over forty years, between now and 2050”.

    Professor Sir Nicholas Lord Stern could give Nurse some lessons in long distance waffling. The manner is of an avuncular GP transmitting the bad news from the specialists back at the pathology lab. The content is zero. Stern tells us to prepare for WW3, while Lucas tells us to preserve the memory of WW2. Anything not to face the present.
    After following this farce for three years or more, I’m losing interest in where the story comes from (the IPCC) and getting more interested in where it goes next. It seems to run into the sand in a million green blogs and Guardian articles which have minimum impact on the beliefs of ordinary voters, yet it is the binding theme running through what passes for intellectual discourse in our world. An idea can be born in the lab, pass via universities to think tanks to G20 summits and never touch the real world, picking up trillions of dollars on the way. How do they do it?

  3. Peter Wilson

    The Stern Review has indeed earned its author some well-deserved scorn.

    The core problems with Stern’s thinking are carefully set out by Cambridge economist Sir Partha Dasgupta, if anyone wants the (dry) detail:

    http://www.econ.cam.ac.uk/faculty/dasgupta/STERN.pdf

    geoffchambers

    Where this story goes next is economic damage and reduced security of energy supply caused by the forced march toward renewables. Throw in starvation and rocketing maize prices caused by 40% of US production going into bioethanol, and you start to get the idea.

    Damage. Cost. Suffering. Death.

    If only it really did just run into the sand in all those green blogs and the constant spew of bilge from the Graun.

    The influence of the ‘climate concerned’ on energy (climate) policy has been an unmitigated disaster. From the Climate Change Act to empowering the US EPA to treat CO2 as a dangerous pollutant, they’ve got everything wrong.

    This does not imply that the science is necessarily wrong, rather that the advocacy and noise has done much harm and no discernible good.

  4. “So much for Stern’s authority then. Since he is incapable of defending them, his arguments and research can carry no authority. The authority he has then, lies only in the fact that he repeats the mantras that politicians and others engaged in the climate change agenda want and need to hear.”

    So it’s not just “politics before the science”, it’s also politics pretending to be science too. And the debate ends up looking like a very bad episode of Question Period. Nobody will answer the questions, but they’re more than happy to denigrate the opinions of others.

    “But what of the argument itself. The climate changes where people can be, claims Stern. This is true to an extent, of course. But who could have imagined Phoenix, Arizona, before it was possible to divert entire rivers? The extent to which human populations are forced to move, then, is determined by our ability to transport sources of water to where they are needed. Leaving aside the matter ‘is climate change happening, the question here, then, should divide the debate between those who think that, in the 21st century, this is no impossible challenge, and those who think it is. Stern must presuppose it is impossible. We can see for ourselves that it is possible, and it should be more possible between the years 2011 and 2022 than it was when those first huge dams were constructed in the early part of the last century. We can now see how it is Stern’s presuppositions which influence his understanding of climate, not his understanding of climate which informs his economics.”

    Or for something more recent, the glaring differences between the earthquakes in Haiti [that reduced an entire country to rubble] and in Japan [where the biggest concern is over the nuclear reactors] should make it clear that humanity’s vulnerability towards the climate and the environment is not predetermined at the start but determined by the attitudes people have towards how they meet the challenges presented to them when they choose where to live.

    Whether we survive or not is limited by our imagination and ingenuity.

    Stern doesn’t seem to think we have enough of either. No surprise then that his prophecies [and those of his think-alikes] only foresee doom, the extent of which can only be mitigated, not avoided.

    Wonder what the engineers who built Phoenix and Japan would say to someone like Stern…

  5. My son and I discuss these matters.

    He tells me that nation-building and peace-making do not succeed in a degraded ecology (he has served five combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a US Marine).

    I tell him that the science of global warming is sound (I’m a systems engineer).

    He and I agree that the still-unfolding disaster in Japan at TEPCO’s nuclear reactors is reflecting the toxic consequences of a blend of physics ignorance, engineering ignorance, and ideology-driven political ignorance … a pattern of ignorance that is distressingly similar to ignorance of global warming.

    How many high-level conservative politicians are showing a realistic grasp of the sobering strategic realities of global warming?

    Well … just ask yourself … how many of TEPCO’s high-level corporate officials are showing a realistic grasp of reactor core cooling?

    Well … just ask yourself … how many senior Bush administration officials showed a realistic grasp of the challenges of nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan?

    That the time-scale of the global warming disaster is decades, rather than years (as in Iraq and Afghanistan), and rather than hours (as in Japan), does not alter these fundamental similarities

    Too evident in American conservatism nowadays, is a reflexively defensive, toxic echo-chamber of several varieties of willful ignorance.

    Is it any wonder that America’s mathematicians, scientists, and engineers have largely ceased to have any respect, for the modern brand of willfully ignorant conservatism?

    Is short, what Stern is saying is basically correct … and it’s time for conservatism to face-up to these sobering realities.

  6. How many high-level conservative politicians are showing a realistic grasp of the sobering strategic realities of global warming?

    Well … just ask yourself … how many of TEPCO’s high-level corporate officials are showing a realistic grasp of reactor core cooling?

    Well … just ask yourself … how many senior Bush administration officials showed a realistic grasp of the challenges of nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan?

    I would expect a systems engineer, typically, to ask for, or present a better like-with-like-with-like comparison.

    … what Stern is saying is basically correct …

    Well … just ask yourself … how many systems engineers have a realistic grasp of economics? Just ask yourself … how many systems engineers have a realistic grasp of the social and political antecedents to conflict?

    How many high-level systems engineers have completely missed the point of everything written on this blog?

  7. He tells me that nation-building and peace-making do not succeed in a degraded ecology (he has served five combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a US Marine).

    I’m also surprised to learn that marines — and US marines!! — are experts in ‘ecology’ and ‘nation-building’…

  8. A Systems Engineer

    I am not sure I saw Stern say anything at all coherent in that clip, let alone see him mention what conservatism has done.

    Nor do I see conservatism been mentioned of approvingly in this article. I do think you help make the authors point about preaching from “authority”. You appear to think you have some authority although I am not sure what a soldier and a systems engineer can tell us about those subjects you linked togther. If you haven’t noticed it, I suggest you read the next post from Ben Pile pointing out the media articles witha “nakedly anti-nuclear agenda” making opportunist points out of the Japanese tragedy

    Maybe you give us some of your system engineer insights on that article?

  9. Sire, may I ask for a link where you’ve outlined how you come to your 16 Statements in the “About”-Section; especially Number 4: “The scientific consensus on climate change as widely reported inaccurately reflects the true state of scientific knowledge.”
    To be honest, this is BS. How can the consensus of the ones working in the field be NOT the true state of scientific knowledge???

  10. Sire?! What century do you think this is, Docfalcon?

    may I ask for a link where you’ve outlined how you come to your 16 Statements in the “About”-Section;

    Cor blimey. That’s a toughie, and make no mistake…

    Okay… I’ve found something… More can be learned about the position outlined on the About page by following this link.

    Okay, in all seriousness…

    especially Number 4: “The scientific consensus on climate change as widely reported inaccurately reflects the true state of scientific knowledge.”
    To be honest, this is BS. How can the consensus of the ones working in the field be NOT the true state of scientific knowledge???

    Let’s go through it step-by-step, Doc…

    1: “The scientific consensus on climate change”… I think you understood this bit.

    2. “… as widely reported …” … I think you started to lose the point here.

    3. “… inaccurately reflects the true state of scientific knowledge. ” … It’s clear that you didn’t follow this far.

    So you ask, “How can the consensus of the ones working in the field be NOT the true state of scientific knowledge???”

    You seem to be holding two, distinct things as one, namely,

    1. “The scientific consensus on climate change”

    and

    2. “The scientific consensus on climate change as widely reported”.

    The point being that 2 (“The scientific consensus on climate change as widely reported”) inaccurately reflects 1 (“The scientific consensus on climate change”)

  11. Thanks for the link, Bob. You might want to study up on how complex systems respond to forcings that exceed tolerance limits.

  12. My pleasure, Bill. Oh, and Bert, I’m unimpressed by the complex-forcings-that-exceed-tolerance get-out-of-jail-free-for-having-produced-a-duff-interview card… Stern doesn’t discuss ‘complex forcings that exceed tolerances’, as far as I’m aware. He talks about the movement of a billion people over the course of a century causing WWIII. That’s just silly, isn’t it, Brett?

  13. To be honest, this is BS. How can the consensus of the ones working in the field be NOT the true state of scientific knowledge???

    It depends greatly on how you read the word “true”. The state of “scientific knowledge” does not always bear much relationship with the actual state of the world.

    Science has had enough follies in its time where large numbers of scientists have agreed, but the world hasn’t had the decency to follow suit. Many have become famous — phrenololgy, lyshenkoism, phlogiston, ulcer theory prior to 1990, atoms being unsplittable and so on. While no branch of science is immune, the biggest stuff-ups tend to be early in their development. Climatology is a new science, and about the only thing predictable based on past experience is that most of it will be utterly wrong.

    So even if every scientist in the world agreed that CO2 was rising catastrophically it would not make it true. It will only be true, if it actually is true.

  14. Brad Johnson says:
    “You might want to study up on how complex systems respond to forcings that exceed tolerance limits”.
    No we don’t want to, thank you. We don’t need to. We know perfectly well how complex systems respond to forcings that exceed tolerance limits, without ever having to open a physics book. All we need is a knowledge of the meaning of ordinary words like “respond” “exceed” and “tolerance”. Thanks for the tautology though.
    Professor Sir Nicholas Stern could possibly benefit from a little study of the English language. Like his Delphic predessors, he’s long on oracular profundity, but short on sense.
    In Part 3 of the interview, which is now available (click Brad’s name at top right of the article) Stern says of an estimate of a 5% extra cost resulting from 6°C warming:
    “I think that’s ludicrous… That would be saying that living in conditions which we haven’t seen for 30 million years on this planet would involve just minor adjustments”.

    In Sternspeak, Climate Change has now become “changing living conditions”. With this degree of verbal elasticity, any fear is justified. What’s surprising is how Stern focusses obsessively on just the one – people moving about, causing wars as they go. He really should pop down the library and borrow some history books and widen his range of reference beyod the barbarian invasions.

  15. As a purveyor of speculative disaster fiction, I find Nicholas Stern rather dry, and for something to while away the hours at the airport, much prefer Gwynne Dyer. This is from his recent SF blockbuster “Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats” (Roland Emmerich is probably already at work on the screenplay):

    “Since the final collapse of the European Union in 2036, under the stress of mass migration from the southern to the northern members, the reconfigured Northern Union (France, Benelux, Germany, Scandinavia, Poland) has succeeded in closing its borders to any further refugees from the famine-stricken Mediterranean countries. Italy, south of Rome, has been largely overrun by refugees from even harder-hit North African countries and is no longer part of an organized state, but Spain, northern Italy and Turkey have all acquired nuclear weapons and are seeking to enforce food sharing on the better-fed countries of northern Europe. Britain, which has managed to make itself just about self-sufficient in food by dint of a great national effort, has withdrawn from the continent and shelters behind its enhanced nuclear deterrent.”

    And that was when the aliens chose their moment to attack…

  16. Alex Cull:
    “… And that was when the aliens chose their moment to attack…”

    which brings me to a favourite pet theory as to why the aliens (sorry, Greens) have taken over – it’s because of the decline of science fiction.
    Once upon a time there was a Golden Age of SciFi – a rich fantasy literature, loosely based on the latest science and technology, which gave full play to the whole range of attitudes to the future, from the most glorious technological fantasies of the conquest of the cosmos to the most dismal dystopic nightmares. Then bit by bit, the term became limited to the adolescent fantasies of tv and film producers (2001 a Space Odyssey, Dr Who.. ). The decent writers trailed off into psychological self-indulgence, and the plebs got E.T. and Matrix.
    No-one takes the future seriously any more. It was divided up between the stiff-jointed puppets of computer games and the stiff-jointed minds of the likes of Lord Stern. Instead of surfing on a thousand competing speculative visions of the future, we are ordered to follow the One True Graph leading inexorably to the Crack of Doom.
    At the risk of raising Ben’s hackles, and lighting a spark in the mind of some celibate physics student, has anyone else experienced the secret solitary pleasure of Larry Niven’s Ringworld Engineer series? The idea (old as Jules Verne, or maybe Plato) of a future built by human (and extraterrestrial) ingenuity?

  17. I’ve been convinced for a long time now that Environmentalism is a trojan horse for the Left or any ‘progressive’ movement.
    Put this way: does the ‘Left’ apart from a wee bit of pandering to the larger unions even have any alignment with labor any more? How many blogs that claim to be on the ‘Left’ address growing income and wealth disparity on a regular basis (within, NOT between countries), or the continued squeeze on the middle class?
    This year in particular – if you watch what is going on in the US – appears to be a make-or-break for workers’ rights on top of a steady 30-year decline in employees’ share of productivity, union participation, workers rights and taxes that favor capital over employment income. There’s been an ideological war waged during this entire financial crisis and the rich and super-rich are winning hands down. In the US in particular the Greenies are losing any popular support they may have had when times were better and people seem to be cluing into the elitism of it all.

  18. I think the article “Anything but Marxism” explained what has caused the Left to decline so badly.

    Too many left-wingers remained attached to outdated forms — one of these outdated forms is Social Democracy. Social democracy was a strong force in the periods 1870-1914 and 1945-1970, but that required two conditions: firstly a serious and credible threat to capitalism (in other words a “bad cop” to the social democratic “good cop”: the Soviet Union served this role during the Cold War), and secondly an economic situation where capitalists could make concessions to the workers and still make good profits (this was true 1870-1914 due to colonialism, and 1945-1970 due to America’s benign economic hegemony).

    Today these conditions no longer hold — Western countries are suffering fierce competition for resources, especially from China and India, and the Soviet Union is no longer around to serve as a “bad cop”. Hence the lying hypocrisy of Blairism and its foreign equivalents.

    The other of these outdated forms was Stalinism: a system which murdered millions of people, and when all was said and done led only back to capitalism.

    Following from this, it seems that two conditions are required if the working classes are to have a better life:

    1) Workers need to fall back on the old Marxist nostrum “Workers of the world, unite!” Since capital is now globalized, trade unions need to globalize too, or they will simply be divided and conquered.
    2) We need cheap energy. Even the most militant unions are powerless if we are forced into a Malthusian struggle for inherently scarce resources.

  19. Lord Nicholas Baccendo-Aboat, lost all credibility a long time ago. In fact you give them too much credence perhaps, when you say that Lord David Puttnam, Lord Stern, Lord Puttnam, Lord May, and Lord Turner et al, are feudal relics.

    Unelected, unaccountable they may be, but they are far worse than any Hereditary Peer. They are lackys of “The Establishment” who have taken a “Bag o’ Gowd” and wear their Peerages as a badge of office, like some latter day Sheriff of Nottingham. They are most likely shameless scoundrels, rather than hapless dupes, but whatever the case they do not deserve either the offices or the positions which they hold. Public patronage should be reserved for those who have a true professional expertise, or who have served the Country in some actual meaningful and extraordinary fashion. Ex Civil Servants, who merely did the job they were paid to do, or retired film directors and the like do not merit such honours, or the right to make and enact Laws which affect us all.

    Read more about the dirty deeds of that coterie of rogues and charlatans.

    See literally hundreds of lectures and documentaries and other arcane videos.

    Go to the website linked to the name “Axel” above.

    or click here – The Fraudulent Climate of Hokum Science

    Thank you for your time and attention.

  20. Geoff, just to say that Larry Niven’s novels, such as Ringworld, have an underlying confidence and hopefulness about humanity’s future completely at odds with the sort of mindset Douglas Adams (another SF favourite of mine) was thinking about about when he wrote the following:

    “Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.”

  21. Alex
    Agreed about the optimism of Larry Niven. It’s the typical American attitude which builds railroads and trashes third world countries with equal energy. Lord Stern’s big problem is not having read science fiction at an impressionable age. He doesn’t understand that the future is something to speculate about, for fun. It’s not real – yet.
    Stern is the arithmetical equivalent of those Tolkien fans who compile dictionaries of Elvish. Except they don’t get made professors at major universities, and he did.
    I hadn’t heard of Gwynne Dyer. Very sensible, I thought, on everything except the weather. What is it with lefties that they can see through Netanyahu but not Mann, while with the libertarian right it’s the opposite?

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