Vloga ekonomskih konzultantov pri zavajanju glede potrebnih podnebnih politik

Odličen pregledni članek Benjamina Frante v Environmental Politics glede vloge, ki so jo odigrali plačani ekonomski svetovalci pri prepričevanju politikov in javnosti glede potrebnih podnebnih politik za omejevanje podnebnih sprememb. Tole ekonomski profesiji res ni v čast. Res pa je, da odraža stanje v konzultantskem poslu nasploh, ko naročnik plača, da se pogleda zgolj en, parcialni vidik nekega problema, ne pa celokupne problematike, ter nato za lastne potrebe promovira zgolj ta vidik. Ta parcialni vidik je bil lahko povsem korektno metodološko obdelan, vendar je brez upoštevanja širšega konteksta ali celokupne problematike zelo problematičen. Potem pa so tu še čisto navadna plačana zavajanja, javna izvajanja, za katerimi sploh ni poglobljenih analiz in zgolj predstavljajo (plačano) zasebno mnenje uglednih svetovalcev. In potem so tu še specializirane konzultantske hiše, kot je Charles River Associates, katerih poslovni model temelji na plačanem zavajanju, podprtem s “šoder metodologijami”.

What bothers me is that our analysis just talked about the costs; we didn’t talk about the whole problem of global warming. There are also consequences to doing nothing about climate change. In fact, it looks more and more like there are serious potential consequences of doing nothing.

I believe we conducted sound economic analyses of the costs of reducing emissions … but I regret not being in a position where I could tell what I feel is the whole story.

– Economic consultant Paul Bernstein1

The role of particular scientists in opposing policies to slow and halt global warming has been extensively documented. The role of economists, however, has received less attention. Here, I trace the history of an influential group of economic consultants hired by the petroleum industry from the 1990s to the 2010s to estimate the costs of various proposed climate policies. The economists used models that inflated predicted costs while ignoring policy benefits, and their results were often portrayed to the public as independent rather than industry-sponsored. Their work played a key role in undermining numerous major climate policy initiatives in the US over a span of decades, including carbon pricing and participation in international climate agreements. This study illustrates how the fossil fuel industry has funded biased economic analyses to oppose climate policy and highlights the need for greater attention on the role of economists and economic paradigms, doctrines, and models in climate policy delay.

Numerous industries under regulatory threat have used the language of science to defend their commercial interests. The tobacco industry, under Operation Whitecoat, cultivated and funded a worldwide network of scientists to act as spokespeople and convince the public that the harms of cigarettes remained unproved (U.S. v. Philip Morris USA, Inc.,  2006). The lead industry supported Harvard professor Joseph Aub to perform research ignoring the effects of lead on children (Markowitz and Rosner 2002). Chemical companies routinely hire scientific consulting firms such as Exponent, ChemRisk, Ramboll, and Gradient to produce studies disputing the hazards of products for lawmaking and litigation (Michaels 2020).

For some industries, science represents both a danger and an opportunity. Scientists make potent spokespeople, and rhetorical positions ostensibly backed by science are powerful, while misalignments between industry pronouncements and the scientific community can spell trouble. An early handbook written for regulated industries even has among its top recommendations, ‘Coopt the Experts’ (Owen and Braeutigam 1978). The handbook explains (p. 7):

“Regulatory policy is increasingly made with the participation of experts, especially academics. A regulated firm or industry should be prepared whenever possible to coopt these experts. This is most effectively done by identifying the leading experts in each relevant field and hiring them as consultants or advisors, or giving them research grants and the like. This activity requires a modicum of finesse; it must not be too blatant, for the experts themselves must not recognize that they have lost their objectivity and freedom of action. At a minimum, a program of this kind reduces the threat that the leading experts will be available to testify or write against the interests of the regulated firms. AT&T has made a major investment, for instance, in very high grade economic talent over the past decade. It is not entirely accidental that this group of economists has produced a formidable new theory of multiproduct natural monopoly that may serve as a powerful argument in favor of barriers to entry and the exclusion of competitors in AT&T markets.”

Economists, as the above quote indicates, are particularly relevant to industry efforts to influence regulation. In the context of climate change politics, much as been written about the use of scientists, often supported by fossil fuel or other antiregulatory interests, as spokespeople for policy delay (Oreskes and Conway 2011). Yet less attention has been paid to the role of economists.

By the early 1980s, at least some economists were already counteracting calls for policies that would help prevent and minimize global warming. In 1983, the US National Academy of Sciences published Changing Climate, a report presenting an overview of contemporary climate science and policy thinking (National Research Council 1983). The portions by scientists, for the most part, warned that continued fossil fuel use would have dire consequences. Oceanographer Roger Revelle discussed the potential disintegration of the West Antarctic Sheet, warning that such a development would ‘flood all existing port facilities and other low-lying coastal structures, extensive sections of the heavily farmed and densely populated river deltas of the world … and large areas of many of the world’s major cities’ (p. 442).

The economists, in contrast, counseled against policy action, suggesting that global warming might not be that bad. Thomas Schelling of Harvard University argued that migration and adaptation would be preferable to reducing fossil fuel emissions. ‘It would be wrong to commit ourselves to the principle,’ he wrote, ‘that if fossil fuels and carbon dioxide are where the problem arises, that must also be where the solution lies’ (p. 449). William Nordhaus of Yale University agreed, writing that although a fossil fuel tax would reduce emissions, ‘[t]he strategies suggested … by Schelling … climate modification or simply adaptation to a high CO2 and high temperature world – are likely to be more economical ways of adjusting’ (p. 151). Yet neither economist provided a detailed analysis to support his conclusions.

The report’s summary, written by physicist William Nierenberg, adopted the economists’ position, stating (p. 61–62):

[I]t could be that emissions will be low, or that concentrations will rise slowly, or that climatic effects will be small, or that environmental and societal impacts will be mild … It is probably wiser not to act aggressively to ‘solve the CO2 problem’ right now, when we really do not know the future consequences or context of CO2 increase. In trying to consider the world of 50 or 100 years from now, we cannot be sure that we can tell the difference between solutions and problems.

While the scientists’ warnings were supported by decades of research, the economists’ reassurances were closer to hopeful guesses. Although it was possible that global warming would be less severe than expected, by the same logic it could also be worse. Coastal flooding worldwide would presumably pose a serious problem in any century, and without an understanding of the damage global warming would cause, it was impossible for the economists to know whether adaptation or prevention would be more economical. Yet the economists’ arguments, though speculative, were given credibility by the National Academies report, which was used by the Reagan administration to promote further coal use (Oreskes and Conway 2011, p. 182).

Scientists had been warning of global warming increasingly since the 1950s (Franta 2018), and by the early 1980s, even Exxon privately acknowledged that prompt action would be required to avoid severe damage (Knisely 1979). Despite the scientific consensus, the Changing Climate report demonstrated how economic rhetoric could be used to delay policy action, reflecting a broader trend since the 1970s of industries deploying economic arguments against regulatory efforts (Waterhouse 2014). The year after the report was published, its chairman, William Nierenberg, co-founded the George C. Marshall Institute, which went on to oppose climate policy for decades through a combination of science denial and anti-regulatory economic talking points (Oreskes and Conway 2011).

Thus, as pressure grew in the late 1980s to prevent severe global warming, it may not be surprising that the fossil fuel industry turned to economists to help influence public policy. Important among these economists were those at Charles River Associates, a US-based consulting firm that played a key role in weakening, delaying, or defeating a wide range of climate policies over the following years, including US carbon pricing proposals and international climate agreements. These economic consultants helped convince the public and policymakers that climate policy would be costly, global warming would be relatively unimportant, and there would be little harm in delaying action. Their work was paid for by the fossil fuel industry, a fact often concealed from the public, and their methodologies were incomplete in favor of the industry. Yet their results were only occasionally challenged and eventually formed a significant part of conventional economic thinking.2 The history of Charles River Associates illustrates how the fossil fuel industry has used biased economic analyses to weaken and defeat climate policy and highlights the need for greater attention on the role of economists and economic paradigms, doctrines, and models in climate policy delay.

Vir: Benjamin Franta, Environmental Politics

One response

  1. Članek Frante sem prebral in ne vem, če si tako pisanje sploh zasluži oznako znanstveni članek. Gre za političen pamflet.

    Hvala Bogu obstajajo še trezni ljudje, ki so sposobni kritičnega mišljenja, poleg cele vrste znanstvenikov (“Petition project” – podpisano s strani več kot 11 tisoč znanstvenikov in nekaj nobelovcev), ob vrsti ekonomistov, ki so ta globalni nateg, ki se imenuje “Man made Climate Change” pravočasno spregledali.

    Gre za glas razuma proti okoljski talibanski norosti. Da so ekonomisti (vsaj tisti iz realnega sveta, iz akedemskega malo manj) v prvi vrsti boja proti tej norosti je povsem normalno.

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