Czech president Vaclav Klaus published a surprising and thoughtful piece on responses to climate change earlier this week (Freedom, not climate, is at risk, Vaclav Klaus, FT, June 13 2007). He wrote:
We are living in strange times. One exceptionally warm winter is enough – irrespective of the fact that in the course of the 20th century the global temperature increased only by 0.6 per cent – for the environmentalists and their followers to suggest radical measures to do something about the weather, and to do it right now... global warming hysteria has become a prime example of the truth versus propaganda problem. It requires courage to oppose the “established” truth... As someone who lived under communism for most of his life, I feel obliged to say that I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism. This ideology wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central (now global) planning... Due to advances in technology, increases in disposable wealth, the rationality of institutions and the ability of countries to organise themselves, the adaptability of human society has been radically increased
He goes on to quote Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT on how the current debates will be seen by future generations, and concludes that "The issue of global warming is more about social than natural sciences and more about man and his freedom than about tenths of a degree Celsius changes in average global temperature".
Klaus's article prompted a number of letters. Mr Tom A. Bruce-Jones wrote: "Would that we had ministers, politicians and senior industrialists with similar courage and vision to challenge the propaganda being force-fed to us by governments, scientists, environmentalists and the media" (Letter: Klaus is representing the silent majority, FT, June 18 2007). WWF Hong Kong chairman Markus Shaw took on Klaus, with a well-considered and pleasantly balanced letter (Letter: Our limited resources must be responsibly exploited, FT, June 18 2007). In his response to Klaus's call to allow the "spontaneous evolution of human society" Shaw argued that economic growth "has placed unprecedented demands on the planet's natural resources". My letter to the FT follows:
There is in fact no such thing as a 'natural' resource. There are products of nature that have no intrinsic use or value, and there are smart humans who discover uses -- and new uses -- for these things. How useful were semi-conducting metals before the integrated circuit? Glass fibre before the telephony and the Internet? Petroleum oil before the internal combustion engine? Or even grasses before agriculture and all its associated processes?
Mr Shaw believes that humans should "live within our means". Would he like to suggest what precise amounts of 'natural' resources will make up our ration? He will have a hard time, as man's ability to do more with less constantly surprises. Who imagined that silicon and glass would prove such a materially efficient improvement in information distribution over ink on paper? Our real problem is a lack of economic growth and innovation (both technical and social). The poor are quite the most inefficient users of resources, and the worst aspect of curtailing economic growth is the waste of human resources in poverty. If brought into the advanced world economy the resourcefulness of these billions of humans could make man's innovations to date pale by comparison.
I addressed some of these themes in a piece in Blueprint in some years ago. See Endstop: The great leap forward Nico Macdonald, Blueprint, September 2003.