Climate Confusion in Hong Kong

A reader pointed me to a letter in the South China Morning Post, “Cold water on the warming debate” (subs. req’d). The writer, a senior research fellow of the HK Institute of Economics and Business, rehashes a number of mistaken argument I hear all too often:

Many people fail to knit together these two strands — climate change and the exhaustion of fossil fuels. If they did, they would see that the energy crisis, which is predicted as a result of the exhaustion of fossil fuel reserves, contains the seeds of the resolution of the global warming crisis. As fossil fuels become scarcer, their price is sure to rise. We see this already. Under market forces, this will accelerate substitution, largely towards nuclear energy. This will, in turn, redress the climatic concerns.

No. Conventional oil may be peaking, but the world has plenty of affordable coal, far more than is needed to destroy the climate (which is Hansen’s point). The climate problem is not self-resolving. Indeed, peak oil may drive us to liquid coal, a climate disaster. The article continues:

The timescales are, of course, unclear. The process may not be without some pain — with, for example, pollution persisting in some places and famine in others. But, at the end of the day, market forces are a more dependable mechanism than government diktat.

But why would market forces lead to reduced carbon dioxide emissions until carbon dioxide has a price? There’s more:

We should be particularly vigilant not to allow catastrophic forecasts justify far-reaching interference in our lives. To paraphrase Mr Klaus: beware any proclaimed “scientific consensus”, as it is more often the product of the vocal minority than the silent majority.

Silly. Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, has said: “The global warming hysteria has become a prime example of the truth versus propaganda problem.” Problem is, he’s not a scientist. Nor is he terribly well informed — though I guess to use the adverb correctly he is terribly informed.The scientific consensus is not more often the product of a vocal minority — and there is no “silent majority” in science, there is really only the published peer-reviewed literature. Those who remain silent on an issue in science are either not expert in that field or unable to disprove the consensus. So much recognition is given to people who are able to overturn a dominant theory, that scientists have a huge incentive to do so if it’s possible.