Posted by: bmeverett | April 25, 2014

The Newest Dumb Climate Change Comment


In a January, 2010 post, I conferred on former Congresswoman Jane Harmon my award for dumbest climate change comment for claiming that CIA satellites should be tasked with studying climate change because that could show us where al-Qaeda is moving next. My standards for the dumb climate change comment award are pretty high, but I am pleased to announce a second winner – Chris Hayes of MSNBC.

On April 22, Mr. Hayes wrote an article for The Nation entitled “The New Abolitionism” which you can find at http://www.thenation.com/article/179461/new-abolitionism#. The piece draws a strange comparison between the abolition of slavery and the fight against climate change. Mr. Hayes’ thesis goes as follows: (1) the main obstacle to the abolition of slavery in the 1860s was the asset value of the slaves, estimated at $10 trillion (in today’s dollars) or 16% of total US household assets at the time, (2) the slaveholders were not going to give up this asset without a fight, (3) saving the planet from global warming requires the nearly cessation of fossil fuel production, (4) like slave-owners, the shareholders of fossil fuel companies, like ExxonMobil, will never give up their assets, which he estimates at $20 trillion, without a fight, and (5) we must therefore starve the industry of the investment capital it needs to continue growth. (The dumbest comment he makes is not, in fact, central to his argument, so I’m going to keep you in suspense a while longer while I address his main points.)

Mr. Hayes’ thesis is confused, and he alternates between making the slavery-fossil fuels analogy and claiming that the analogy is not really valid. Let me help him out by noting that the latter point is correct. Slavery was a purely moral question with no unresolved factual issues. We knew precisely how many slaves there were, since, prior to adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, 60% of the slave population could be counted for purposes of the apportionment of seats in Congress. We knew precisely which states and in which counties the slaves lived. We knew precisely the value of slaves since there was an active market. We knew precisely the value of the labor stolen from the slaves and, despite southern propaganda, we as a nation understood fully the deplorable conditions under which slaves lived. Mr. Hayes is correct in saying that the slave-owners vehemently resisted the loss of their “property”, but the drive for abolition was based entirely on the utter immorality of robbing a human being of his liberty. Although slavery was legal under the US Constitution before the Civil War, the US was a country steeped in “natural law” – the inherent rights of human beings which could not be taken away by government. Abolitionists saw slavery as a violation of natural law and were rightly unconcerned with the costs or practical implications of eliminating this horror.

Climate change, on the other hand, is entirely a debate over the facts. Like most warmists, Mr. Hayes glibly states that “The scientific consensus is that human civilization cannot survive in any recognizable form a temperature increase this century more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).” This claim and the associated claim that the atmosphere cannot tolerate more than 350 parts per million of carbon are utterly meaningless. As discussed often in my posts, science tells us only that increasing carbon concentrations imply continued modest warming. The catastrophic scenarios and the numbers that accompany them are political fictions designed solely to frighten people into accepting a massive increase in government economic planning and severe limitations on their lifestyles.

Only fossil fuels provide the combination of scale, cost and performance required to support a mobile industrial economy. To deprive people of that form of society is in essence to impoverish them. According to our basic principles, abolitionism could not be morally wrong. If, on the other hand, the warmist view of science proves to be wrong, shutting down the fossil fuel industry would be a moral outrage. The analogy with slavery thus fails completely, and Mr. Hayes’ article simply illustrates the arrogance of people who cannot even imagine that they might be wrong and are therefore quite happy to coerce (dare I say enslave?) everyone else in the service of their supposedly infallible opinions.

Mr. Hayes’ slavery analogy continues. He notes that Southern slave-owners offered an increasingly passionate defense of slavery as the abolitionist movement grew and threatened their way of life. By analogy, he claims that Republican support for fossil fuel production is an increasingly desperate attempt to hold off the forces of climate activism. He notes that George W. Bush, Dan Quayle, John McCain and Newt Gingrich once worried about climate change and supported climate action. Isn’t it just possible that the increasingly obvious weaknesses of warmist science and the declining public concern with climate change have some role in the Republican view?

Mr. Hayes then tries to sound an optimistic note (at least for him). They key to eliminating fossil fuels is the decapitalization of the industry accomplished by convincing investors to shun fossil fuel stocks. Mr. Hayes trumpets that “The divestment movement is pushing colleges, universities, municipalities, pension funds and others to remove their investment from fossil fuel companies. So far, eighteen foundations, twenty-seven religious institutions, twenty-two cities, and eleven colleges and universities have committed themselves to divestment. Together, they have pledged to divest hundreds of millions of dollars from the fossil fuel companies so far.” The international oil industry has an annual turnover of $4-5 trillion, so Mr. Hayes needs to restrain his enthusiasm a bit.

Which takes us, finally, to his truly dumb comment. Mr. Hayes is placing a lot of faith in “sovereign wealth funds” to help decapitalize the fossil fuel industry. In particular, he claims that “The largest such fund belongs to Norway, which is seriously considering divesting from fossil fuels.” Mr. Hayes might wish to note that Norway’s sovereign wealth fund is the repository for the country’s oil and gas revenue. Now it makes sense from a portfolio diversification standpoint not to invest these funds in ExxonMobil, since Norway’s economy is already highly exposed to the oil and gas industry. On the other hand, Norway is investing massively in its own oil and gas industry. In addition to the taxes Norway imposes on foreign oil and gas companies, the government owns 67% of Statoil, one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world. By the way, the next largest sovereign wealth funds are Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, China and Kuwait. Are these really the people Mr. Hayes is relying on to shut down the fossil fuel industry? Good luck with that. Anyway, congratulations to Mr. Hayes for besting Congresswoman Harmon. The award is well-deserved.

I am in absolute agreement with Mr. Hayes’ final statement in his article: “What the climate justice movement is demanding is the ultimate abolition of fossil fuels. And our fates all depend on whether they succeed.” How true. Their success would be one of the worst disasters ever to befall mankind.

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