Last updated: June 21, 2007 1:01 pm

Global warming: truth or propaganda?

Vaclav Klaus Q&A

Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, argues in the Financial Times that ambitious environmentalism is the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity.

Mr Klaus writes that “global warming hysteria has become a prime example of the truth versus propaganda problem” and the issue “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.”

Do you agree? Or do small climate changes demand far-reaching restrictive measures?

Following an overwhelming response from readers, Mr Klaus has answered a selection of questions from the hundreds that were submitted.

Vaclav Klaus: What is at risk is not the climate, but freedom

............................................................................................................................................

Does President Klaus really believe that it is a good risk management strategy to ignore the summary report on climate change science by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, approved by the Czech Republic and other countries in February, concluding that continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century?
Bob Ward, London, UK

Vaclav Klaus: I think it is a very bad risk management strategy to follow the summary report on climate change of the IPCC. To do it would be a giving up of risk management rules and of standard cost-benefit analysis techniques in favour of environmentalists’ “precautionary principle” which totally discredits risk management and comparison of costs and benefits. I suppose that you don’t insure your house (or car) when the danger is small and the insurance is too expensive. That’s all.

............................................................................................................................................

Mr. Klaus, I believe, has asked the wrong question, and in doing so, is in danger of under-cutting his main point, which is the danger to personal freedom of a top-down, single-government approach to managing the problem of global warming. Instead of trying to ask, is global warming a REAL problem?, Mr Klaus should ask - and then provide his answer - the question: Assuming global warming is a REAL, global issue, how can we manage this problem on a global scale while also expanding personal freedom and economic welfare? I would be very interested in hearing his response to this question.
Robert Bruegel, Denver, Colorado

Vaclav Klaus: I ask myself several questions. Let’s put them in the proper sequence:

• Is global warming a reality?

If it is a reality, is it man-made?

• If it is a reality, is it a problem? Will the people in the world, and now I have to say “globally”, better-off or worse-off due to small increases of global temperature?

• If it is a reality, and if it is a problem, can men prevent it or stop it? Can any reasonable cost-benefit analysis justify anything – within the range of current proposals – to be done just now?

Surprisingly, we can say yes – with some degree of probability – only to the first question. To the remaining three my answer is no. And I am not alone in saying that. We are, however, still more or less the silent or silenced majority.

............................................................................................................................................

Because of the incredible complexity of variables controlling climate, programs based on empirical data cannot predict weather for a fortnight; so how can programs based on far less finite information accurately predict global warming?
William Bluhm, Bella Vista, AR

Vaclav Klaus: This is exactly my argument. It is impossible to seriously predict global weather, not to speak about climate. But my argument is less about eventual variations in global climate. My doubts are mostly about the impact of human activities on global climate. This connection seems to me – after having read hundreds of books, articles and studies – very weak. This weakness is a problem. Because of this weakness, we should not make drastic, far-reaching measures.

............................................................................................................................................

Why do you disbelieve the science when every serious national scientific establishment appears to support it? And why do you suppose it to be a threat to freedom when both EU and UK essentially support market mechanisms as the primary policy instrument to deal with it?
John Rhys, UK

Vaclav Klaus: I do not disbelieve the science, but I see a big difference between science and “national scientific establishments”. To believe in scientific establishment is impossible, this is just another powerful rent-seeking group. Seeking rent for themselves, not for the mankind.

You suggest that both the EU and the UK support market mechanisms as the primary policy instrument to deal with climate change. We probably live on a different planet. I don’t see it happening.

At a somewhat deeper methodological level, I have to say that market mechanism is nobody’s policy instrument. It reminds me of the old communist days again. The issue was: market or central planning. The central planners, however, wanted to have market – in their hands – as a policy instrument. Do we have to live under communism to understand that?

............................................................................................................................................

My assumption would be that the costs to implement the initial phases of the 50 per cent reduction idea would be measured in trillions of dollars to just the US. My question to you is what would it cost a country such as the Czech Republic, and what about opportunity costs associated with such reductions? That never seems to be discussed.
William Danielson, Hayward, Wisconsin US

Vaclav Klaus: As an economist (Professor of Finance at the Prague School of Economics) and as a former Minister of Finance I have to admit that I don’t know the answer to your question. I am not ashamed of this ignorance of mine. On the contrary, I am ashamed of the confidence of those who claim to know the answer.

At least two points should be made:

• the costs will not be only financial ones because the main costs will be the negative impact upon human beings, their lives, their welfare, their freedom, their opportunities, their behaviour;

• to calculate “the costs” for the next fifty years is ridiculous. We do not know the prices in the year 2050 and we do not know how important one million dollars (or euros) will be in the year 2050. Therefore, any “calculation” is meaningless. The more absurd it is, the easier it is to make such an announcement at the G8 summit.

............................................................................................................................................

All that environmentalists demand is responsibility. Responsibility of those who cause damage to others to pay for that damage, and to do their utmost to stop inflicting it. I had the impression that responsibility was supposed to be a conservative virtue, and a necessary complement to the great freedom we have in our open market economies. But more and more I see the supporters of capitalism demand that they be free to dump their waste on their neighbours lawns without consequence. What happened?
Nanne Zwagerman

Vaclav Klaus: Environmentalists do not demand responsibility. Responsibility is not their idea, it is a basic, elementary aspect of human behaviour – on condition government policies do not give wrong incentives. The idea of responsibility for damage done to others is not the environmentalists’ copyright. It is a standard of human behaviour. Environmentalists – especially in the case of global warming – artificially created “a damage” (higher temperature) and made all of us responsible for it. I don’t believe in this “damage” and I am not ready to pay for it. The role of men in slightly higher global temperature (0.6°C in the last century) is only marginal, if any.

To say that “the supporters of capitalism demand that they are free to dump their waste on their neighbours lawns without consequence” has the beauty of communist propaganda I had a chance to “enjoy” during the first 48 years of my life.

............................................................................................................................................

With the Czech Republic being a mid-sized European country, do you see a threat to your people and land from the climate change decisions and limitations being made by larger world powers? If so, what can the majority of the world do to mitigate harmful policies being forced by these powers?
William A. Warner, Tacoma, WA, US

Vaclav Klaus: It is very popular but cheap to blame “large world powers”. I don’t do it. I know many, very small European “powers” which are more environmentalist than most “large world powers”. The problem is that some politicians – of both large and small countries – are victims of environmentalism and use it for their own personal benefits.

............................................................................................................................................

Years ago I heard people talking about how environmentalism would be used as the lever to usher in global (socialistic) government, because the environment affects everyone. Do you think this is what we are now seeing with the climate issue?
Mark, Lake Charles, US

Vaclav Klaus: Environmentalism is indeed a vehicle for bringing us socialist government at the global level. Again, my life in communism makes me oversensitive in this respect. The argumentation of various environmentalists is very similar to what we used to know in the past.

............................................................................................................................................

Do you feel that the global warming is being used as a rallying point for the forces of globalisation? It is much like the Avian flu propaganda don’t you agree? Problem, reaction, solution. The trillionaires, that want to rule the world, are going to save us... that’s what I’m getting. What is your view?
Mark Lemmon

Vaclav Klaus: I don’t think that the environmentalists are “the trillionaires who want to rule the world”. I am afraid the environmentalists want to rule the world without being capable to earn those trillions because it requires to work very hard. The global warming propaganda is, I agree, similar to the Avian flu propaganda, the Y2K propaganda, the end of resources propaganda, the overpopulation propaganda, etc. Their proposals will not increase the globalisation of human activities, they are in favour of global governance only. This is something very different. I am in favour of the first globalisation, not of the second one.

...........................................................................................................................................

President Klaus, I agree with you but how can we stop the argument being seen as one of the “Right” versus the “Left”? It seems to me that this one issue brings more confusion to the debate.
Anon, London

Vaclav Klaus: I am not afraid of right-left argument, even if I know that some people innocently hope that the right-left dilemma is over. It is not. Without going into nuances, we can say that the “right” people are in favour of individual freedom, whereas the “left” people believe in collectivist wisdom. Environmentalism, not preservation of nature (and of environment), is a leftist ideology. Some people, who pretend to be on the right, bought into it as well – to my great regret.

............................................................................................................................................

What is the financial and/or economic incentive for those governments and organisations who go along with, and even support environmentalism?
Justin Kelly

Vaclav Klaus: There are huge material (very pecuniary) and even bigger psychological incentives for politicians and their bureaucratic fellow-travellers to support environmentalism. It gives them power. This is exactly what they are searching for. It gives them power to organise, regulate, manipulate the rest of us. There is nothing altruistic in their environmentalist stances.

............................................................................................................................................

While I applaud your commitment to freedom, I ask you this: Will we live in freedom if the decisions of a portion of the globe’s population (the government and corporate leaders who refuse to halt the increase of greenhouse gas emissions) condemn the rest of us to face whatever consequences global climate change eventually wreaks?
Respectfully, Arielle K. Botter

Vaclav Klaus: I don’t believe that there is a world-wide conspiracy of government and corporate leaders to halt the increase of greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, I am not convinced about the strong connection between greenhouse gas emissions and the global climate. This connection can’t be taken for granted.

............................................................................................................................................

President Klaus, I agree, so how do rational libertarians prevent the destruction of our culture by environmentalists? What’s the answer?
Nicholas Horvath

Vaclav Klaus: The “rational libertarians” (I don’t mind being called classical liberal) should stop being just a silent majority. They should speak out, as well as speak up. They should reveal the real dangers connected with environmentalism. As the subtitle of my recent book “What is Endangered: Climate or Freedom?” suggests, I believe that it is freedom which is endangered. And freedom is more than eventual, relatively mild climate changes.

............................................................................................................................................

Why are so many people willing to embrace junk science and its dire predictions? What can each of us do to inspire people to think critically, and rationally? Is there a way to assemble multitudes of clear-thinkers, to push back against irrational, over-wrought fear-mongering?
Larry Jordan, US

Vaclav Klaus: Some people believe in irrational things and events – some of them in UFOs, some in witches, some in fairy-tales, some in omnipotent governments, some in global warming.

Some people believe in themselves, not in others. They suppose they know better than the rest of us what is good for us.

Some people are sufficiently motivated to spread the global warming hysteria. It gives them funding (especially for science connected with this issue), it gives them jobs in well-paid government positions, it gives them government subsidies for producing products which are – supposedly – in favour of global cooling, etc.

What to do? I take my positions on global warming as normal. It surprises me how many people tell me how courageous I am for taking them. Let’s all of us speak out.

............................................................................................................................................

Why view conservation of energy as an attack on freedom? Do you believe wasting energy strengthens freedom? The US, with only 6 per cent of world population, produces 25 per cent of world CO2 emissions because of government programs encouraging high energy use. Excessive tax subsidies for road building and oil production push energy waste, not the free market. The US political process is dominated by road building and oil interests. I pray that doesn’t happen to the Czech Republic.
John Norquist, Chicago, US

Vaclav Klaus: Let’s be fair. Attacking environmentalism and its mythology is not attacking nature, the environment we live in, the conservation of energy. It’s a classical spin to do it.

To save energy (as anything else) is the only rational behaviour. The more we save, the better. The economy of energy consumption is a must, not to save energy is irrational. The problem is who should make the decision about energy saving or conservation? Free individuals or omnipotent governments? That is the only problem. Free individuals in a free market climate (and only this “climate” is crucial) behave much more rationally than their governments.

To say that government programs encourage high energy use in the US is ridiculous. To say that “the US political process is dominated by road building and oil interests” is ridiculous as well. High energy use in the US is caused not by the US government but by the enormous wealth of US citizens (together with specific US natural endowments). The other, abundance-approaching countries will do the same. Wealth is – at the beginning – a problem but when it grows, it is a solution. The so-called Environmental Kuznets Curves demonstrate that quite clearly and convincingly.

............................................................................................................................................

The relatively small changes in global temperature in the last forty years have set in motion some deeply worrying trends, such rapid growth in deserts, falls in agricultural productivity in some parts of the world and increased flow rates of Greenland glaciers. Would the president please tell us just how much of a rise in sea level, a fall in agricultural production and a displacement of migrants he thinks we should accept before taking action to reduce GHG emissions? It would be good to see some numbers.
Chris Goodall, Oxford

Vaclav Klaus: I can’t go into details, I suggest that you read the book by S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery with the title Unstoppable Global Warming, every 1,500 years and the book by J. P. Michaels called Meltdown: the Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians and the Media. Or many others.

To give one example: the very debatable 2007 IPCC report suggests a rise in sea level between 14–43 centimetres for the whole 21st century. Is it a scary size? Not to me.

............................................................................................................................................

It strikes me as puzzling that you place your weight behind the projection of a long-term positive impact of the economy, compared to your rejection of Stern’s projection of long-term negative impact on the economy. Favouring one truth above another is, as you might say, a prime example of the truth versus propaganda problem. Your bet that positive economic impact will renounce us of any possible climatic change is as singularly unconvincing as the stock-broker who is whistling on his way to Wall Street on the morning of October 29, 1929.
B. Dankert, Johannesburg

Vaclav Klaus: My criticism of Stern Report’s conclusions – and I am not alone in it – is based on serious economic arguments, not on aprioristic statements. I will give just one example. When you mention Wall Street in your question, you probably understand the concept of the discount rate. It is one of the crucial variables of any economy and its importance grows the more we go into inter-temporal analysis. Analysing the whole 21st century, as Mr Stern does, suggests that the significance of the proper level of chosen discount rate is fatal. Many economists strongly oppose the very low level of discount rate Mr Stern uses for his modelling simulations.

The low level of discount rate means that the future is as big as the present or that anything existing now will be as big in the year 2100 as now. This is ridiculous. Will the banknote of 1000 nomination (in your South African rands or in US dollars) be as big, as relevant, as important in the year 2100 as it is now? I am sorry to say that Mr Stern assumes exactly that.

............................................................................................................................................

There is no doubt that modern human society can adversely impact our living environment. This manifests itself from city air quality and industrial spills to deforestation and overfishing. Overwhelming evidence points to that when human beings find the condition too unpleasant to tolerate, the opportunity to stop or reverse the trend requires extreme action. How much evidence for environmental damage do you need to see before you are willing to advocate collective action in order to prevent the need for later extreme action?
Oddi Aasheim, London

Vaclav Klaus: You ask how much environmental damage I need to see before I am willing to do anything? My problem is that I do not “see” sufficient and persuasive evidence for environmental damage you have – probably – in mind, and I wonder whether you see it yourself, or whether you just read about it.

Do you really “see” any damage caused by current warming? I do not. I would prefer more snow for skiing during this winter but we are – in Central Europe – enjoying warm evenings this May and June, which is very pleasant. Do you see meltdown of glaciers and icebergs? You may see some retreating of continental glaciers, but they represent only 0.6 per cent of the planet’s ice. There is no meltdown either in Greenland or the Antarctic just now.

When I study and analyse environmental indicators concerning my own country and when I compare them with the situation in the communist era, there is an incredible improvement. The improvement is not because of “collective action” you advocate (it existed in the communist era), but because of freedom and of free markets. That’s my main message.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

NEWS BY EMAIL

Sign up for email briefings to stay up to date on topics you are interested in

SHARE THIS QUOTE