Tough Battles Ahead

I just came back from the Atlas Liberty Forum and arrived HK this morning at 6am. There are a lot of new ideas and thoughts of which I couldn't wait any longer to share with you.

For those of you not familiar with the global free market movement, Atlas Liberty Forum is the largest, and perhaps the most vibrant, of all free market gathering in the world. Hundreds of think tanks from more than 50 countries met and discussed the latest development in their respective countries.

This year nearly everyone was talking about the threat to global free society from the irrational and unnecessary panic as a result of the hype created by green groups all over the world. Many of the leading experts presented in the forum pointed out, the green is, and will continue to be, the most devastating force for bigger and more intrusive states globally. Prominence then dominance of the green, I fear, will be the new road to serfdom.

Al Gore, Hollywood's latest superstar and green's political warhead, liken the war against CO2 to the World War II. Yes, indeed, the mentality behind which sounds very much the same. During World War II, the statists controlled the economy by introducing rationing to consumer and nationalizing industries. The green wants to do the same, now, but with different commodities and different scale.

In Hong Kong, we also see the local green groups getting more vocal and active in the last 18 months or so. We might yet to feel the kind of statist pressure, as the green is yet to be as explicit as their counterparts overseas. But our friends working and running restaurants, supermarkets, real estates, even the administrative branch of the government, have been taken a lot of heats from environmentalism and their anti-development allies. It is clear that the mounting pressure will only be stronger and stronger, unless, to paraphrase Hayek, "only if we recognize the danger in time we hope to avert it".

As someone working at a news media, I must confess that perhaps we have helped the green and other new left gained the momentum. On global climate change media stories have been one-side. Never mentioned is the fact that solar effect might contribute more than the increased concentration of green house gases to the changes recently observed. Also, climate models are not an exact science and they can explain only in part of the changes. However, doomsdays are good headline stories and thus we get a lot of hot air hypothetically.

Indeed, the green always used seemingly authoritative sources, especially the so-called consensus of experts, to support their claim that global climate change is caused by human and should be dealt with by statist intervention. However, anyone trained in scientific method knows that scientific advancement is made by refutation of old theories and replace by the new ones. Moreover, when there is an overwhelming "consensus" to silence all other alternative views, we know there is a problem. In fact, even amongst the participants of the IPCC do not have any consensus on whether the climate change is caused by human. Certainly there is room for further debate. However, the green is using whatever tactics they have to silent all other views. Personally, I received hate letters from green group trying to coerce us to stop publishing an author who is particularly critical of the green rhetoric. In France, everyone critical of the green is labeled as denier, Nuremberg style.

So strong is the green conviction in global warming in the past twenty years, the green propaganda in the 70's was however, the coming of an ice age. Back then some even demanded spraying the South Pole black to increase absorption. In less a decade, they turned 180-degree change to talk about global warming. Lately, hardcore members of the green are using the term "global climate change", perhaps to avoid further change in language in near future. In fact, given the unreliable track record of climate models, the green is still coercing the rest of the world to rely on these untested mathematical hypotheses to make very drastic change in our way of life.

Even of global warming is truly underway, we must ask if catastrophic scenario the direct consequence of human action and further restricting development could really stop the trend. The green said we must act in precaution, i.e. even if we do not have any evidence of human-caused global warming, we must act now, regardless of the cost of such precaution.

We must point out, that not only claims and requests by the green are scientifically unsound, the green is not totally honest with what the consequences of their proposed actions entail. On the surface, the cost in suppressing carbon emission appears to be negligible, which the green claims would only be a few percentage point of global productivity each year. But the unspoken and inconvenient truth is the cost would be mostly born by the poor developing countries and a few percentage point of global productivity to them amount to the entire hope for acuminating the necessary capital and grow from developing countries to developed ones. The anti-development hypocrisy of the green on developing countries, morally speaking, is sinful.

I do not want to generalize every one in the green in a stereotype. However, the irrational phobia as a result of green advocacy harmed many in abject poverty. More than four decades ago, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, stirred up a phobia against the use of chemical in society and eventually lead to the use of DDT, which had been the reason for eradicating malaria in Europe and North America and widespread used due to its mild-toxicity nature. However, the blind ban as a result of Carson, caused more than 90 millions death in the developing world died, due to the lack of access to effective insecticide. The truth is DDT in extremely high concentration might be harmful to human, but no clinical case has yet to be established and Carson and the green call for international ban because of the perceived environmental damage, which the real effect is still unknown.

Even up to now, the green still insist that Rachel Carson did no harm. So, who is the denier? Or shall we say the green values human lives no more than that of other species?

Indeed, the free market camp is proactively looking for alternatives for global action. A group of economists, including a few Nobel Prize laureates, formed Copenhagen Consensus to explore the priority for global action and for best deployment of resources. Top priority projects are fight against the spread of HIV, increase availability of micronutrient, trade liberalization, and control malaria. Economists as policy makers put people first and find the best way to help the most people.

Free market has nothing to be apologetic. However, the political pressure mounting from the green is coercing us to be apologetic to progress humanity made in the 20th century. Look at the past century, technological advances made miracles possible. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was estimated that resources on earth could sustain no more than 6 billion in total population; and the number is now more than 20 billion, with the life expectancy more than double at the same time. Even if everything the green said about global temperature change is correct, the cost in terms of global warming is only 0.6 degree. I would say that is a fair trade off as an economist.

The left at the turn of the century believed technology can change life and end poverty. Now, the left distrust technology and established an anti-growth agenda. I would say both strands of socialism are equally militant, damaging, and dangerous.

But in light of the green statist activitism, we must act now, take a fair share of opinion in public sphere, and lead the discussion before the debate degenerates into a kind quasi-religious belief.

By educating the public on the economics as well as the rationality in environmental policy, exposing the reality and hysteria of the green, promoting truly sustainable, just and growth promoting policy, I am confident that reason will triumph.

This is a tough battle to fight.