"He's a snake in the grass, I tell ya guys; he may look dumb but that's just a disguise; he's a mastermind in the ways of espionage." Charlie Daniels, "Uneasy Rider" The Road Not Taken II: Austrians strive for a self-comforting irrelevancy on climate change, the greatest commons problem / rent-seeking game of our age - TT's Lost in Tokyo

The Road Not Taken II: Austrians strive for a self-comforting irrelevancy on climate change, the greatest commons problem / rent-seeking game of our age

[Update: Readers may wish to note the latest developments, as I note in these follow-up posts.]

Stephan Kinsella - whom I have engaged before on the ramifications of the decidedly non-libertarian state grant of limited liabiility to corporations - has a new post up on the Mises Blog on global warming;  his first on this subject, as far as I know.

The post is surprisingly short, and consists of a simple introduction by Stephan a copy of letter to the EPA (which he has appended) that one Howard Hayden, a retired physicist, one whom Stephan assures us is "a staunch advocate of sound energy policy" - whatever that means (hey, me too!) - submitted in connection with the EPA`s Supreme Court-mandated consideration of whether to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Stephan also refers to Dr. Hayden`s letter as a "one-letter disproof of global warming claims."

I welcome Stephan to this discussion, which has taken place at the Mises Blog in fits and starts over the past few years. However, the absence of any commentary by Stephan leaves me scratching my head. Where`s the beef? Are this person`s scientific views on climate so convincing or obviously correct, and are the policy implication so straightforward, and correct, that we should all "get it" and agree, without any commentary by Stephan? Or Is Stephan simply playing with our credulity, and his own?

In any case, given both (1) the focus of Austrian economics on productively addressing conflicts between people with conflicting preferences (and the frequently negative role that governments play in resource tussles, generally to the benefit of entrenched insiders and to government itself) and (2) the recent Nobel prize award to Elinor Ostrom regarding the ways that humans work together successfully or not) to address common resources, I am simply disappointed. Is this all that Stephan has to offer?

Observing that Stephan fits within a grand tradition at Mises of shallow thought on climate and other "environmental" issues, I felt compelled to post a few thoughts at Stephan`s post, which I copy below:



Thanks for bringing your post to my attention.

My short response? Remember "Thank you, Prof. Block, for feeding our confirmation biases"?

But since I can`t resist doing what nobody else seems inclined to - I suppose it is, after all, why you invited me to this feast - let me make a few comments on matters that would apparently not otherwise occur to you or to the rest of the community. The fact that most of the contents of Dr. Hayden`s letter is confused twaddle that has been explained in detail countless times (and personally by me, ad nauseum, to the extreme annoyance of most of the blog over the years 2006-2008) aside, it puzzles me that you and others prefer to treat the pages of the Mises Blog as a forum to dismiss - through drive-by postings like this (a la Walter Block) of a particular piece of "skepticism" that caught your fancy - extremely widespread scientific views (held by EVERY major national academy of science, including China and India), rather than engaging in a discussion of preferences, institutions and policies.

As I`ve asked Jeffrey Tucker previously, is science the forte of the Mises Blog, or its readers?

Even if those who believe that man`s rising emissions of CO2 have nothing to do with an observably rapidly changing world and pose no threat whatsoever - and that those who disagree are all deluded and/or evil - turn out, after we play our little massive and irreversible game with the Earth for another few centuries, to be absolutely right, is engaging with them by dismissing their concerns an approach that holds even the slightest prospect of success?

It`s as if Austrians were determined to ignore their own principles, stampede themselves into irrelevancy, and to make sure that we get the WORST policy outcomes possible. Why not, if you think others all wrong, deluded or evil, play along with their game, and actually seek policy changes that might not only address the expressed concerns of others in a meaningful way, while also advancing a libertarian, freedom-seeking agenda?

As I have noted in a litany of posts at my blog, most recently one addressed to Bob Murphy, such pro-freedom regulatory changes might include:

  • accelerating cleaner power investments by eliminating corporate income taxes or allowing immediate amortization of capital investment,
  • eliminating antitrust immunity for public utility monopolies (to allow consumer choice, peak pricing and "smart metering" that will rapidly push efficiency gains),
  • ending Clean Air Act handouts to the worst utilities (or otherwise unwinding burdensome regulations and moving to lighter and more common-law dependent approaches),
  • ending energy subsidies generally (including federal liability caps for nuclear power (and allowing states to license),
  • speeding economic growth and adaptation in the poorer countries most threatened by climate change by rolling back domestic agricultural corporate welfare programs (ethanol and sugar), and
  • if there is to be any type of carbon pricing at all, insisting that it is a per capita, fully-rebated carbon tax (puts the revenues in the hands of those with the best claim to it, eliminates regressive impact and price volatility, least new bureaucracy, most transparent, and least susceptible to pork).

Other policy changes could also be put on the table, such as an insistence that government resource management be improved by requiring that half of all royalties be rebated to citizens (with a slice to the administering agency).

As Rob Bradley once reluctantly acknowledged to me (in the halcyon days before he banned me from the "free-market" Master Resource blog), "a free-market approach is not about “do nothing” but implementing a whole new energy approach to remove myriad regulation and subsidies that have built up over a century or more." But unfortunately the wheels of this principled concern have never hit the ground at MR [persistently pointing this out it, and questioning whether his blog was a front for fossil fuel interests, appears to be what earned me the boot].

There have been occasional   libertarian  climate  proposals floated over the past few years, but they have never graced the Mises Blog, instead falling gently to the ground unnoticed - apparently, except for me - like the proverbial unstrained koala tea of Mercy.

Austrians seem to act as if the love of reason requires a surrender of it in favor of the comforting distraction of a self-satisfied echo chamber of a type that would warm the cockles of any like-minded religious "alarmist" cult.

Then of course, we have our own  home-grown libertarians who are happy to participate actively in the debate (with many excellent points, naturally), but carefully skirt for the purposes of maximum effectiveness (and felicitously, for their own consciences) the fact that their views are funded by the dirtiest class of rent-seekers. Plus we have a few who are happy to regurgitate for us "heroic" "grassroots" efforts that are transparent corporate PR ploys.

Finally, since no one else seems to be remotely interesting in scratching the surface of Dr. Hayden`s letter, here is what a little due diligence turns up:

- sure, the solubility of CO2 in water decreases as water warms, and increases as water cools. Some skeptics use this to suggest that rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations are due not to man, but to a naturally warming. That`s why it`s so interesting that, despite a warming ocean, ocean pH is rising [oops, I meant pH is "falling", as I`ve noted in a previous comment about rapidly changing ocean pH]  because dissolved CO2 is also rising (because man`s CO2 emissions are forcing more CO2 to be dissolved in water).

- You ask sarcastically, if the melting point of ice is 0 ºC in Antarctica, just as it is everywhere else, how will a putative few degrees of warming melt all the ice and inundate Florida, as is claimed by the warming alarmists? The answer is, simply, that (1) the warming oceans melt and undermine the coastal ice, and (2) as coastal buttresses are removed, gravity brings the continental ice down more rapidly. This process is well underway and apparently accelerating, as described in a study just published in Nature. Note also that not all of Antarctica lies precisely at the South Pole, and that some parts are melting directly as the atmosphere warms.

- finally, not all men are dinosaurs, nor is the rest of extant Creation (save birds, of course). Why should we feel comforted by the fact that we may, in the blink of an eye in geologic time (decades/centuries), be terra-forming the Earth for creatures that no longer exist, while stressing it for the rest of Creation? Do we have no right of preference in climate or in the life we share the Earth with, or have the investors in fossil fuel firms homesteaded the right to modify environmental matters willy nilly, come what may?

Thanks for providing the soapbox, Stephan.


I note that Stephan closes his introduction to Dr. Hayden`s letter with the following:

"I love Hayden's email sign-off, "People will do anything to save the world ... except take a course in science.""

Would that problems of governance of shared resources were so easy as taking a science course! Then ALL of us Austrians, and not merely our leading lights at the Mises Blog, could simply pack up and go home, and leave everything to a few philosopher-king scientists!


# re: The Road Not Taken II: Austrians strive for a self-comforting irrelevancy on climate change, the greatest commons problem / rent-seeking game of our age

Friday, October 30, 2009 9:52 AM by nskinsella

Tom, what exactly are you jabbering about?

Cheers, Stephan

# The Road Not Taken III: Stephan Kinsella plugs his ears on the Austrians` obstinate, willful irrelevancy in the climate debate

Monday, November 2, 2009 12:53 AM by TT`s Lost in Tokyo

In my preceding post I commented on Austrian (dis)engagement on climate issues, as exemplified by Stephan

# The Road Not Taken IV: My other hysterical comments on climate science & how Austrians hamstring themselves

Monday, November 2, 2009 2:00 AM by TT`s Lost in Tokyo

In my preceding two posts, on how Austrians strive for a self-comforting irrelevancy on climate change

# A libertarian immodestly summarizes a few modest climate policy proposals

Tuesday, November 3, 2009 11:52 AM by TT`s Lost in Tokyo

[Folks, I hope you do a better job than I do at saving draft posts before they`re finalized; I just lost

# John Quiggin plays Pin-the-tail-on-the-Donkey with "Libertarians and delusionism"

Tuesday, November 3, 2009 3:57 PM by TT`s Lost in Tokyo

J ohn Quiggin , a left-leaning Australian economist and professor at the University of Queensland, has

# re: The Road Not Taken II: Austrians strive for a self-comforting irrelevancy on climate change, the greatest commons problem / rent-seeking game of our age

Tuesday, November 3, 2009 7:34 PM by Keith Ackermann

Hayden's letter was outrageous.

Nothing chaps my hide worse than someone thinking they spoon-fed me garbage and I was too stupid to know it.

It's one thing to lay out some facts and then spin it in full daylight for all to see, but it's something else to to actually get paid by big oil and only scratch up a few feeble-minded and wrong subjective sentences.

Exxon/Mobil should drop him and at least try to find a better adversary. Someone not so terribly lazy.

# re: The Road Not Taken II: Austrians strive for a self-comforting irrelevancy on climate change, the greatest commons problem / rent-seeking game of our age

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 2:44 AM by TokyoTom

Keith, thanks for your comment; I`m glad somebody agrees! But not simply Hayden`s letter; it`s the penchant of Mises Bloggers and readers to post and swallow this nonsense that is so amazing and appalling.

FWIW, you might note that Exxon appears to have changed its tune (if not its stripes) and is expressly advocating carbon taxes:


# My Climate Confession; or, Do "Climate Change Emails Stop Glaciers From Melting"?

Friday, December 4, 2009 10:46 AM by TT`s Lost in Tokyo

Aaah, the Great Climate Hack ("GCH")! I`m flattered by a back-handed request to weigh in -

# A note to Lew Rockwell regarding the reflexive irrelevancy of libertarians on the climate/big government morass

Sunday, December 20, 2009 3:38 AM by TT`s Lost in Tokyo

# Towards a productive libertarian approach on climate, energy and environmental issues

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 8:01 PM by TT's Lost in Tokyo

[This is a work in progress and largely taken from previous posts, but readers might find some value

# Are Hayek's essential "market morals" breaking down? Hmm ... Is peace breaking out, or are things getting ugly?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011 7:07 AM by TT's Lost in Tokyo

I wanted to post a few additional and somewhat scattered thoughts I have had relating to the 1986 essay