Bishop Hill points to a paper by Ross McKitrick. The Bishop himself points to the following passage, a thought experiment in which an Intergovernmental Panel on Economics, analogous to the IPCC is imagined.
Suppose the International Monetary Fund (IMF) created an economics version of the IPCC, which proceeded to issue an Assessment Report and Summary for Policymakers every five years that was promoted as the consensus view of what “every mainstream economist believes.” Suppose further that the IMF was committed to one particular school of economic thought, such as New Keynesianism, that they ensured that all the lead authors of the IMF report were dedicated New Keynesians, and that the report inevitably concluded the New Keynesians are right and their critics are wrong (or do not even exist). And finally, suppose that the IMF report was sponsored and endorsed by government departments who benefited by promotion of New Keynesian ideas, and that major funding agencies and university oversight agencies also began to endorse, support and promulgate the views in the IMF report.It should be obvious that all of this would, over time, degrade the intellectual climate in the economics profession. It would do so even if New Keynesianism is true—and moreso otherwise. Members of the research community would be forced to respond to the warped incentives created by such a dominant institution by embracing, or at least paying lip service to, New Keynesianism. Over time it would be costlier and costlier to be publicly identified as a critic of New Keynesianism, and as critics became marginalized by political forces the IMF’s declaration of a “consensus” would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But how hard do we have to try to imagine such an institution, premised on such an orthodoxy?
The World Commission on Environment and Development, was established in 1983, and chaired by then Norwegian Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland. In 1987, the group published its report, “Our Common Future”. The blurb on the back of the report proclaimed:
Our Common Future serves notice that the time has come for a marriage of economy and ecology, so that governments and their people can take responsibility not just for environmental damage, but for the policies that cause the damage. Some of these policies threaten the survival of the human race. They can be changed. But we must act now.
It was here that “sustainable development” became part of the global political and economic agenda. According to the report:
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present wihtout compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
- the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
- the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organisation on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.
It’s interesting to note how concern for the world’s poor quickly turns into a prison for them. ‘Sustainability’ in the first instance promises to prioritise their development, but with the caveat that any development is ecologically ‘sustainable’. Nobody, anywhere, gets to decide what kind of development is appropriate for themselves; Brudtland decides for them. She gets to define everybody’s needs, present and future. She gets to decide what’s an appropriate speed and form of development.
This blog argues that, as important as it is to look at and criticise climate science, the real substance of the debate should be about the politics. If I understand McKitrick’s point correctly, it is that we wouldn’t accept an orthodoxy in an economic organisation such as the IMF. I would suggest that an orthodoxy has already been established, long before the IPCC was even established. The reason it doesn’t get noticed as such is that it appears as though the argument for sustainability is premised on ‘the science’. I suggest that much of the science is in fact premised on the orthodoxy. That is to say that the IPCC, presupposing the orthodoxy’s rectitude, imagines society to be as vulnerable to climate as climate is sensitive to CO2.
McKitrick points out that, ‘the IMF’s declaration of a “consensus” would become a self-fulfilling prophecy’; but worse than this, so to would be the object of the prophecy/consensus. The more we believe that society is vulnerable to climate, the more vulnerable it becomes. Imposing the limit of ‘sustainability’ over the development of the poor precludes an economy which can withstand the elements — it’s climate resistance — sustaining only that economy’s vulnerability. Sustainability make people more vulnerable to climate.