IEA declines the Guardian’s invitation to delete books
This in the context of an article the Guardian intends to publish in a series about the “climate crisis”, accusing us of having an “unbalanced slant”.
We have declined the Guardian’s invitation to delete books, reject their polemical assertions, and are publishing this piece in response. We regard their inquiry and improper suggestion as both an attempt to mislead their readers, and as strong evidence of a growing and dangerous trend in public discourse on climate change to stifle debate, delegitimise dissent, and wilfully confuse matters of science with matters of policy, by denying uncertainty and trade-offs.
We find their approach ideological, and entirely unworthy of the paper’s proud history of inquiry and fair treatment of opponents.
IEA staff and authors hold a range of views on climate issues, but the organisation itself does not have a corporate position. We do, however, collectively regard freedom of expression as an institution of our free society worth defending. Not just for ourselves, but for newspapers like the Guardian to assert contrary views, however much we might disagree.
That ‘battle of ideas’ is hugely important to improving public policy, which includes educating the public and decision makers about alternative points of view. It is vital that we challenge the kind of wooly thinking that can lead to adverse outcomes.
In respect of the specific allegation of ‘climate denial’, a polemical expression intended to equate disagreement on these matters with ‘holocaust denial’, or making excuses for Nazism, the Guardian appears confused as to what ‘thought crimes’ it believes IEA authors to have committed. Their heavily spun short summaries of our back catalogue do not suggest that any of their journalists have actually read the work, and it is mindlessly offensive to invoke Godwin’s law over matters no more sinister than thinking cheap holidays are nice and airport expansion is not evil.
In respect of the science, the impact of increasing concentrations of CO2 on atmospheric gases and then applying sunlight can be trivially demonstrated in a laboratory – temperature rises. Dissent on that point is unusual, and at any rate is not the business of the IEA, which looks at how market mechanisms can be used to address the challenges that follow.
Scientific disagreement on exactly how (and how fast) increases in emissions of CO2 impact global temperatures remains a reality that the Guardian seems keen to dispute. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports are not theological texts – they indeed refer to areas of ongoing debate between scientists, for example describing an ocean sensitivity as “hotly contested” only last year.
Again that is not the primary interest and expertise of the IEA. We simply note that to frame the debate as ‘settled’ and the certain outcome as a ‘climate crisis’ or ‘climate emergency’ is a political view, not science.
If we turn instead to matters of policy, which is our remit, there are a huge range of views on how governments should address climate change, if indeed they should, and this applies as much within the free market school of thought as is does within other points of view.
It is not a matter of ‘climate denial’ to point out that Hinkley Point is likely to be a very expensive way of generating low carbon power, or that Governments are generally bad at picking winners in this field, as much as any other.
It is not a matter of ‘climate denial’ to highlight that if the worst-case climate science scenarios are correct, adaptation is more likely to preserve life and living standards than mitigation or attempting to shut down all economic activity still dependent on fossil fuels.
It is not a matter of ‘climate denial’ to be concerned about the opportunity costs or consequences of heavy-handed interventions on liberty and living standards. Or to question the motives of those making such calls, whether for reasons of corporate rent-seeking, or ideological opportunism.
In short, the Guardian would benefit from engaging with our authors as serious, sensible, and thoughtful contributors to addressing this global challenge, rather than demanding we delete thought. That is a position with which no serious proponent of the free press should be flirting, however much they believe their own assertions about a crisis.
For the IEA, which over the past year fended off a smear campaign from a militant green group, had a book banned (and then unbanned), and seems to feature regularly in spider chart diagrams on conspiracy theory websites, these ‘no platform’ attacks are regrettably familiar. But we deal with them, and will continue to publish thoughtful, well researched pieces on free market solutions to environmental challenges.
On that note we feel the best response to the Guardian’s call to retract papers, books and thought is to invite more contributions to this blog on that theme. So if you have 500-1,000 words you’d like to see published, that meet our standards, please do submit to us.
We’re calling our own series ‘climate solutions’. It’s not as catchy, but we recognise that these complex issues can’t be addressed just by screaming ‘crisis’ and ‘denial’ at anyone who disagrees with us.