Hilton Ratcliffe



Paleface Speak With Forked Tongue

It’s going on 6am, I’m on my third cup of tea spiced with, shall we say, analgesia naturalis, while we – the civilised world, that is – wait patiently for the cricket ODI against New Zealand to commence (the match in Hamilton is delayed by rain, as if nobody saw THAT coming, hahahaha). I had no electricity, no Telkom connectivity, and quarter-pressure water yesterday, so I’ve been channel-hopping this morning, catching up on current affairs through the thick haze of TV channels’ partisan persuasions. I’m kinda getting used to to the partisanship of just about everyone who’s got anything to say, so I’m developing neural filters to get the information elephant to lean my way so that I can deal with things rationally. One of the global effects of Trumpalism is an intense exaggeration of partisan brinkmanship – let’s face it, hardly a soul on Earth is neutral about geopolitics these days.

I’ve got some time on my hands, so I’d like to comment on the speeches that have dominated the Northern hemisphere news in the last few days. I listened to Mike Pence’s speech, and I was, I found, way more impressed than I suppose I should have been. He said all the right things, clearly and without fear, and he sounded to me as if he really understood what he was saying and meant it. It occurred to me that I was admiring Pence’s oratory rather too much, simply because I am always drawing mental comparison with the unhinged diatribes of Donald Trump.


When President Trump makes a speech, I am quite frankly embarrassed for him and for the American people. I belong to that sub-group of political animals who hold unashamed conservative values, think the political left is dangerously idealistic, who like to promote many of the policies being put to the people by the Trump administration, but who think that Trump is not a president’s arse. His media briefing the other other day was even worse than usual. What did he say about the pressing political issues that landed on his desk and our tvs recently? Nothing. He just rambled on about one thing – Donald Trump and the media. His overwhelming concern, it appears to me, is ratings. He takes political showbusiness to a whole new level. Good grief, how did the free world end up with this? Is Trump the price we have to pay to swing the world towards natural conservatism? All I can hope for, I suppose is that Trump will let his cabinet actually run the show while he develops narcissism as “finely-tuned” as his coiffure.


Back to Vice President Pence. I think a great many people who heard his speech yesterday breathed a collective sigh of relief. We really needed to hear that, Mike, thank you. Our lingering uneasiness though stems from uncertainty about whether what Pence says truly represents Trump’s political policies. That’s what worries me more than anything about the 2017 US presidency.


From Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate:
“Until recently the intuitive concept of the soul served us pretty well. Living people had souls, which come into existence at the moment of conception and leave their bodies when they die. Animals, plants, and inanimate objects do not have souls at all. But science is showing that what we call the soul – the locus of sentience, reason, and will – consists of the information-processing activity of the brain, an organ governed by the laws of biology. In an individual person it comes into being gradually through the differentiation of tissues growing from a single cell. In species it came into existence gradually as the forces of evolution modified the brains of simpler animals. And though our concept of souls used to fit pretty well with natural phenomena – a woman was either pregnant or not, a person was either dead or alive – biomedical research is now presenting us with cases where the two are out of register. These cases are not just scientific curiosities but are intertwined with pressing issues such as contraception, abortion, infanticide, animal rights, cloning, euthanasia, and research involving human embryos, especially the harvesting of stem cells.”

I have long maintained that the liberal left’s conception of what the needs of poor people should be is based on unforgivable intellectual arrogance. The entire Green movement is based, I believe, on this type of socialist fantasy, and is not a little bit hypocritical. Top-down socialism rests on the premise that some or other elite (and implicitly moral, incorruptible) leadership bureau can best decide what’s good for you and me, and if we object, we ought to be ideologically restructured so that we see that the state and its government is the sole arbiter of what our needs are and how many of them should be ignored because they are simply manifestations of materialist greed. Co-founder of Greenpeace and now green sceptic, Canadian environmentalist Patrick Moore, is worth reading on the subject. He saw the direct Marxist transformation of proper environmental organisations like Greenpeace from the inside. The sequential demise of Soviet-led communism and rise of green socialism is not a freakish coincidence. It’s a case of the devil finding work for idle hands.

From Peter Foster’s Why We Bite The Invisible Hand, chapter 15: Global Salvationism –

“Sustainability had profound conceptual and practical problems quite beyond its implicit denial of any ‘natural order’ that might both create wealth and protect the environment. How could anybody possibly know the ‘needs of the present’, let alone the needs of the future? Indeed, how could anybody gauge the ‘needs’ of even a single individual, or compare those of any two? Moreover, although there is no way of measuring needs, we could be sure that not all present needs were being met, so why should those of the future? In fact, the sustainable developers believed that assessing needs wasn’t a problem; they would tell humanity what its needs should be.
“The word ‘sustainable’ was an Orwellian term designed not to clarify thinking but to block it. After all, who could support unsustainability? Friedrich Hayek had once identified ‘social’ as the ultimate ‘weasel word’ that sucked the life from nouns to which it was attached, often reversing their meaning. Hence ‘social democracy’ was a cover for a non-democratic agenda, ‘social justice’ a code for forced redistribution and ‘social market economy’ a term for an economy with crippled markets. Similarly, sustainable development essentially meant stopping – or severely constraining – development, at least in the advanced countries, while pursuing socialist-style, top-down programs in poor nations.”

DEMOCRACY IN THE MARKETPLACE (c Hilton Ratcliffe, 2016)


Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. — Lord Acton

Thus is born the idea of the “philosopher-king”, the wise person who accepts the power thrust upon him by people who are wise enough to choose a good master. This is the main thesis of Socrates in the Republic, that the most wisdom the masses can muster is the wise choice of a ruler. — Wikipedia, Plato.

Let’s start at the beginning. What are the first principles? We are trying to put together a template of democratic governance for which we pinched a 17th century title: Political economy. The successful economic system must best meet the population’s realistic expectations and aspirations. It’s all about people.

The essential principle of democracy is this: It is a systematic reflection of the will of an identifiable group of people in a particular territory. Democracy comes in a variety of flavours, but they all start from there. Ideally, the ballot should inform rulers, and their style of government should reflect the aggregate opinion of citizens.

If a leader imposes on his people that which they desire, it is not tyranny; it is the opposite. If a system provides infrastructure for the electorate to sell their labour so that they can in return improve their lot in life, it is not slavery; it is the opposite. If an enterprise employs people for two dollars a day who prior to that employment had only one dollar a day, it is not a pittance; it is a 100% improvement in their material circumstances.

All good so far. Then we factor in human nature and it starts to go haywire.

If we were to devolve power down to grass roots, the corruption unfortunately passes with it. When human nature has the muscle to unilaterally impose its will, the result is seldom pretty. We are in that age right now; disproportionately effective power vests in the hands of mere individuals, commoners in the herd. It’s just a short hop from zealous activism to über-violent terrorism, where deadly forces that formerly belonged exclusively to the leaders of nations now empower ordinary citizens. The anonymous, skulking ideological foot soldier is now master of all he surveys, and he makes mockery of our dearest democratic principles.

Confluence 2017

It’s ironical that as I become decrepit, I experience also the most exciting intellectual era of my life. Stephen Hawking Smoked My Socks is published, my mindset declared, and now I’m exposed to powerful streams of thought that marry with the Socks thesis and move it forward. New ways of thinking about human behaviour and the relationships between science and belief, and economics and morality build a tide of understanding that I could never have foreseen.

Once it had become clear that we are only marginally more civilised than chimps (Robert Ardrey); that we have genetically imprinted human nature, including morals (Stephen Pinker); that our rational minds are spin doctors for the genome, and that our beliefs are expressions of an innately righteous morality (Jonathan Haidt); and finally and more specifically, that the market of exchanged values enables an extended social order far wider than kinship (FA Hayek), I had the novel task of pulling it all together into a confluence of principles that might reveal a workable social model. The rather startling discovery for me was the fact that one of the fibres that makes up human nature is economics. It’s as important to our species as territory and grouping.

The only way I could achieve that sort of inclusive vision is by stepping back several layers and using a wide angle lens. Now, what I have come to realise is that stepping backwards moves one towards objectivity and in turn, that means departing, albeit momentarily, from my own genetic purpose as an animal. I would from time to time be compelled to challenge my own beliefs and moral bias, without necessarily losing them.

To illustrate the journey I have embarked upon, let me go back to the start of this phase of my journey, which had to deal with the frustration that science had become a political creature quite devoid of the guidelines laid out by Newton, Kuhn, and Popper. All my books, on reflection, are actually not about physics or space science per se, but rather, if I may label them briefly, about the unseemly haste with which scientists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries adopt and canonise hypotheses. We are in the age of Standard Models, with vast implications for empirical science. If we are to understand this phenomenon, we are just going to have to become sociologists, ethologists, evolutionists, and moral psychologists. It makes doing physics properly inordinately difficult, but we have no choice, I’m afraid.

In Socks, I laid out the following propositions for review by my peers:

·        Human behaviour is the outcome of three influences: Instinct, belief, and free will.

·        Belief and instinct are two sides of the same coin; belief is instinctual.

·        Instinct matures as we evolve as organisms.

·        Free will, such as it may be, including rational thought, plays a very small part in what we ultimately do, both individually and socially.

·        Our whole social construct and tribalism are produced by evolution to enhance the survival of our species, and are written into a genetic template in our cells.

·        Homo sapiens is a highly socialised, territorial species, and inter-tribal conflict and warfare are natural consequences of this.

·        The more natural our social model, that is, the more closely aligned to our instinctual character, the more successful it will be, and vice versa.

·        Beliefs are promulgated from a self-perceived moral high ground.

·        Beliefs always precede our articulated reasons for believing; justification and rationalisation of our point of view are invariably post hoc.

·        Models are hypo-stacks (hierarchical stacks of hypotheses).

·        Reality and truth are independent of any observer.

·        Truth is obtained by matching pure reason to physical reality.

After completing Socks, my thinking turned to social organisation, and the crucial role played by economics in our evolution. In the process of attempted a dialogue on economics with my good friend and advisor Ian Campbell-Gillies, he pointed out that economics, or any other social system for that matter, without morality makes no meaningful contribution to the improvement of our species. Instinctively, I felt he was right, but that led me forthwith to the whole notion of morality and how it affects us. I was disturbed to discover that I knew very little about morality; I didn’t really understand what it was, where it came from, and how it affects us.

It was economics that pointed me in the right direction. Economic systems are in fact sets of morals. The father of capitalism, Adam Smith, was an 18th century moralist whose first book was entitled The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Only after that did he write his magnum opus, On the Wealth of Nations. Suddenly I had a glimmer of understanding. I knew I was looking in the right place, but it was a moral psychologist who let it all click into place, and illustrated to me where the glaring deficiencies of Socks lay.

Free-market capitalism bought further clarification to the table of arguments, and added support to the following principles put forward rather too timidly in Socks:


·        The populants of any animal species are never equal. Inequality is a natural and inviolable property of natural procreation and evolution.

·        The direct consequence of inequality is intra-special competition and, in humans, specialisation of labour.

·        Free market commerce and the investment of capital evolved naturally from pre-historic trade and barter; socialism, by contrast, is an intellectually derived, artificial model. Free market capitalism aligns with human nature, warts and all; socialism is diametrically opposed to human nature.

·        Competition naturally determines rewards, sets values, and punishes misfits. It also balances varying individual abilities by trade (the exchanging of units of value).

·        Human beings are not primarily rational animals. Irrationally-derived motivations drive us and determine our behaviour.

·        Human beings are uniquely able to create and sustain an “extended order”, that is, to form groups of common purpose beyond that defined by primitive kinship, and this has been achieved without weakening competition, groups, or territoriality.

·        The uninhibited market place is the most embracing and relevant expression of democracy, and consequently, of moralities. It is the backbone of the extended order.

Peter Foster, in his at-times over-zealous book, Why We Bite the Invisible Hand, quotes quite liberally from Jonathan Haidt, and although Haidt is too “progressive” for him, the cited passages did enough to prompt me to buy Haidt’s masterpiece, The Righteous Mind. The missing piece in the Ardrey/Climate/Friedmann/Marx/Mohammed jigsaw puzzle suddenly fell into place. Morals are a primary evolutionary instinct, and contain, define, and sustain beliefs. Beliefs are simply expressions of moral precepts. Morals, beliefs, and indeed instincts, are as much outcomes of evolutionary maturations as the mind itself. To be honest, it’s so clear in hindsight but I would not in a million years have realised it on my own. I owe Dr Haidt a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Moral psychology and evolutionary psychology, both empirical fields of study with an extensive and rigorous experimental base, added these vital illuminations to ideas put rather clumsily in Socks, or in some cases, corrected conceptual errors in Socks. Most of the following passages are quoted verbatim from Jonathan Haidt, without express permission; I cite them in terms of fair usage to promote the readership of his works.


·        Intuition first, strategic reasoning second.

·        Beliefs, points-of-view, and convictions are held in righteousness; we preach always from a moral high ground.

·        Morals bind and blind; when a group of people makes something sacred, the members of the cult lose their ability to think clearly about it. Sacredness binds people together, and then blinds them to the arbitrariness of the practice.

·        The evolutionary purpose of morality is to cement our membership of social groups; the extended order is our higher goal.

·        Morality differs around the world, even within societies; it is the first step toward understanding your righteous mind.

·        Human social behaviour is analogous to an elephant and a rider, where the rider is our mind and the elephant our intuitive, instinctive self. The purpose of the rider is to serve the elephant.

·        The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.

·        Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason; you can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments.

·        Groups create supernatural beings not to explain the universe but to order their societies.

·        The very ritual practices that atheists tend to dismiss as costly, inefficient and irrational turn out to be a solution to one of the hardest problems humans face: cooperation without kinship.

·        People who devote their lives to studying something often come to believe that the object of their fascination is the key to understanding everything.

·        Moral matrices bind people together and blind them to the coherence, or even existence, of other matrices. This makes it very difficult for people to consider the possibility that there might really be more than one form of moral truth, or more than one valid framework for judging people or running a society.

·        Everyone cares about fairness, but there are two major kinds. On the left, fairness often implies equality, but on the right it means proportionality —people should be rewarded in proportion to what they contribute, even if that guarantees unequal outcomes.

·        We are obsessively concerned about what others think of us, although much of that concern is unconscious and invisible to us.

·        Conscious reasoning functions like a press secretary who automatically justifies any position taken by the president.

·        In moral and political matters we are often groupish, rather than selfish. We deploy our reasoning skills to support our team, and to demonstrate commitment to our team.

·        Can, want and must: When we want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe it?” Then we search for supporting evidence, and even if we find a single piece of supporting pseudo-evidence, we have permission to believe. We have a justification, in case anyone asks. In contrast, when we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Must I believe it?” Then we search for contrary evidence, and if we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it.

·        Intuitively, we behave more like politicians seeking votes than scientists seeking truth. Scientists tend to behave this way too, despite their claim of objectivity.

·        The most important principle for designing an ethical society is to make sure everyone’s reputation is on the line all the time, so that bad behaviour will bring bad consequences all the time.

There is really much more to say, and the list of unpublished thoughts grows longer in bursts and then dies with my fading memory. But try I must. We are exposed to a wide array of clever thinkers, and some, I’m afraid, are too clever for their own good. How do we choose which path to follow so that we can build something meaningful and coherent in all this chaos? It occurs to me that my journey brought me to the current intersection with Jonathan Haidt in a very important way. Haidt refers to moral receptors as “tasting” the idea before we reject it or rationalise it. We encourage certain concepts more than others, and in that way build up a buttress of biases.

I was strongly influenced recently by Peter Foster’s book, Why We Bite the Invisible Hand, and the references contained therein. It was Foster who led me to Adam Smith and Milton Friedman on the plus side of economic theory, as well as to John Maynard Keynes on the negative. And along with Adam Smith, he brought me to the other unsung genius of centuries past, 18th century moral philosopher David Hume. But something unusual happened; I was going along with Foster quite nicely when he brought up the name of Jonathan Haidt, but in a condescending, somewhat critical way. That would normally cause an acolyte to reject the cited person too. But it didn’t. Quite the contrary.

I looked at the Haidt quotes with some puzzlement; what was Foster actually grumbling about? I called Haidt up on the Internet and found some critiques of his books, including the four-year-old The Righteous Mind. Despite a title that stuck in my craw, I bought the book and began to read it at the same time as the other two latest additions to my library, Ayaan Ali’s powerful work on Islam, Heretic, and Robert Spencer’s well-worked socio-political biography called simply The Truth About Muhammad. You can imagine what a bucketload of spicy ideas was being spooned into my head!

Before long, I was focussing on Haidt’s book to the exclusion of the others, which now lay at my bedside with forlorn book-markers pointing accusing fingers at me. It took me right up until chapter seven in The Righteous Mind to finally get what upset Peter Foster. Of that, more later. I am deeply impressed with Jonathan Haidt’s approach to the mysteries of human behaviour, and I’ll tell you why. Firstly, he is an empiricist who has conducted rigorous experiments to illuminate each point he makes in the book. He has done the hard yards himself, sometimes alone but more often in collaboration with other leading researchers in the field. He is not the least bit woo woo! Secondly, the book contains hundreds of footnotes and detailed references that the reader can check at his leisure. He lays it all out for us to look at. That’s the mark of a great scientist and a truly remarkable book.

Now, let’s get back to the irritation (it was no more than that) in which Peter Foster wrapped the Haidt quotes. Like me, Peter Foster is convinced of the virtues of free market capitalism as the socio-economic system best suited to human aspirations, such as they may be. Foster displays a clear grasp of Adam Smith’s invisible hand directing the flow of human endeavour, and to be quite frank, he’s one of the few human beings I’ve come across who does. Foster also understands the role of personal greed and selfishness in spreading the greatest good to the largest slice of humanity; but, in my opinion, he doesn’t totally get it. The reason, I think, is because he canonises the idea, and that blinds him to the more catholic view of Jonathan Haidt.

From The Righteous Mind, chapter seven – The Moral Foundations of Politics:

“Behind every act of altruism, hedonism, and human decency, you’ll find either selfishness or stupidity. That, at least, is the view long held by many social scientists who accepted the idea that Homo sapiens is really Homo economicus. ‘Economic man’ is a simple creature who makes all of life’s choices like a shopper in a supermarket with plenty of time to compare jars of apple sauce. If that’s your view of human nature, then it’s easy to create mathematical models of behaviour because there’s really just one principle at work: self-interest. People do whatever gets them the most benefit for the lowest cost.”

Neither Foster nor Haidt is wrong on this issue. It’s a matter of emphasis. In my view, Haidt has the better of it, because he takes a wider stance. Self-interest is certainly a fundamental motivator, as we would expect from success-based evolution, but it is not alone. Haidt goes on to illustrate just how wrong the total self-interest model is by showing us a ten question list he used in his research, where the answers can be materially manipulated by the inclusion of tweaks that introduce moral “flavours”. My own reaction as a reader confirms the results he got in the field: People are motivated by six prime moral precepts that very nearly dictate what our reactions will be. We get an intuitive flash from each of these six triggers that sets the agenda for the post hoc mental discussion we have with ourselves afterwards.

Arguably the most shocking realisation brought to me by these elite authors—Darwin, Ardrey, Haidt, Pinker, Foster, et al—is that there is no such thing as universal human rights. In fact, put to scale, there is no such thing as universal anything about Homo sapiens, certainly not amongst our rational concepts at any rate. No actual human rights! That rocked me back on my heels like I’d just been swatted by Mike Tyson. Now, in hindsight, it’s perfectly clear—of course there aren’t universal human rights, but it’s staggering how deeply etched into my psyche the notion was. Our intuitions, coming as they do from a swarm of double helixes manufacturing proteins in our cells, can and do fool us utterly. It felt as if the last vestige of liberal moral posture had been snatched from my soul and tossed into the furnace of natural contrition.

But, at the same time, it was immensely liberating. At last, I was free to grasp the nuances of the human moral matrix—the tribes, the conflicts, the superstitions, the kindness and the cruelty, all operate in equilibriums as definite and as beautiful as the ordering of galaxies. I must add that part of the relief I felt was the understanding that I’m as human as anyone else, and my elephant leans whither it will; there is no need me for to apologise for having opinions.

The danger I’m all too aware of in quoting passages selected from the Haidt thesis is that they lack the proper context. Haidt’s rigorous approach to citing and evaluating evidence is exemplary, and I must urge you to read the book before you decide how you’re going to judge human behaviour.

In summary then, we realise that morality is relative, not absolute. If we take a moral position in any political effort, we exert our own personal morality. This may conflict with the morals of those we seek to influence. What is required to solve this dilemma is a social system that seamlessly incorporates and expresses all individual morality, and allows the moral matrix most favoured by the social group to percolate to the top. Any attempt to force a particular moral standpoint at the expense of general consensus will ultimately fail.

Now what is left is for someone younger than I to pick up these disparate threads and weave them together into a coherent model of human behaviour, one that we can learn from to ultimately protect our species from suicide, or, if that’s not a good thing, at least to improve our behaviour to some significant degree.

Over to you.

Trump’s Secret Weapon To Reverse Obama’s Climate Policy


This calculation, known as the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC), serves as the linchpin for much of the climate-related rules imposed by the White House over the past eight years. From capping the carbon emissions of power plants to cutting down on the amount of electricity used by the digital clock on a microwave, the SCC has given the Obama administration the legal justification to argue that the benefits these rules provide to society outweigh the costs they impose on industry. It turns out that the same calculation used to justify so much of Obama’s climate agenda could be used by President-elect Donald Trump to undo a significant portion of it. As Trump nominates people who favor fossil fuels and oppose climate regulation to top positions in his cabinet, he already appears to be focusing on the SCC. —Bloomberg, 15 December 2016

December 12, 2016Catherine Rolfe

The First Word Energy team draws on Bloomberg’s worldwide resources to cover all aspects of energy policy. Learn how Bloomberg Government can help your energy lobbying or policy analysis—contact Peter Hsu at yhsu24@bloomberg.net or 202-416-3035.

If this all holds, the oil business is going to be well represented in the administration of President-elect Donald Trump. Exxon’s Rex Tillerson at State. Texas’ Rick Perry at Energy. Oklahoma’s Scott Pruitt at the EPA.

Each of these candidates has deep, long-lasting ties to the industry. Each can rattle off the benefits of the U.S. production boom without a moments delay. And each is going to bring that bone-deep understanding to their job. What exactly that will mean for policy, will not always be straightforward. We discuss one aspect below in a section about the always entertaining Social Cost of Carbon.

But here’s one other thing to think about:

Much is being made in the initial news stories about Tillerson’s ties to Russia. But, Tillerson is also an evangelist for fracking, horizontal drilling and U.S. production. And the U.S. fracking boom is not something beloved in Russia; Russian media has invested a lot of time investigating problems blamed on fracking. Low prices brought about by the U.S. shale gale is bad news for Moscow — and this talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in 2012 shows that Tillerson has a nuanced view of the foreign policy impacts of the U.S. production boom.

For more on how success in Russia helped make Tillerson’s career, see Joe Carroll’s story.


Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is Trump’s top choice to head the Energy Department, Jennifer Jacobs and Jennifer Dlouhy reported. Two Democratic senators from energy-producing states — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — are also in the mix, along with Ray Washburne, a Dallas investor and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, according to people familiar with his decision making. (Heitkamp also in the mix for Agriculture. Ahem.)

Jay Martin Cohen, a retired Rear Admiral of the U.S. Navy, is said to be Trump’s choice for under secretary for nuclear security, a position within the Energy Department.


As one of the top Republicans in the House, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, and supported efforts to expand offshore drilling. Now, as Trump’s likely choice to head the Interior Department, McMorris Rodgers would be in charge of those issues which are crucial to the oil and gas industry.

Under the Obama administration, the Interior Department has sought to further block the prospect of oil and gas drilling in ANWR, by making all of ANWR a wilderness area, a move that automatically classifies the land as a wildness study area and thereby off limits to oil and gas exploration. By some estimates ANWR contains nearly 15 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil.

The Trump administration could likely undo that, but undoing a ban on drilling there would take an act of Congress. Congress is gearing up to do just that, Alaska Rep. Don Young said in an interview earlier this month. “It’s a number one priority,” he said.

Fake News

Fake news – a new buzz term in a cowardly new world.
Aka acting on headlines.

Fake news – designed to deceive.

Real news is factual reporting; opinions are checked.

Facts do not depend on authority or consensus.

Fake news is not limited to social media. Both the current US President and the President-elect have spread fake news. In my experience, so have CNN, Sky News, and BBC World News. The President saying, “97% of scientists agree…” is fake news (they do not); CNN or someone on FB reporting that “The President said that 97% of scientists agree…” is technically not fake news (he did say that) but the spreaders share culpability for propagating the fake news meme.

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

Alex Epstein
I’ve had this book in my to-read stack for about a year now, and I’m reading it seriously only now. I was put off by the title—“the moral case for fossil fuels” sounds as absurd as “the benefits of cutting” or “the virtue of selfishness.” Despite the entire hoo-ha surrounding climate, surely there couldn’t be a moral case for fossil fuels? It turns out there can be; a very strong one. But first I had to get off the pulpit.

I’ve selected the following piece as a representative sample of the stream of thought behind Epstein’s thesis. As ever, there is an inherent trip wire in doing this: You don’t get the wider context of his arguments. Please read the book if you want to find out more about the world we live in; if you’re happy to stick where you are, then don’t. No skin off my back.

I have inserted in square brackets […] my own comments on Epstein’s text.
Alex Epstein: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

Chapter 4: The Greenhouse Effect and the Fertiliser Effect

A huge source of confusion in our public discussion is the separation of people (including scientists) into “climate change believers” and “climate change deniers”—the latter a not-so-subtle comparison to Holocaust deniers. “Deniers” are ridiculed for denying the existence of the greenhouse effect, an effect by which certain molecules, including CO2, take infrared light waves that the Earth reflects back towards space and then reflect them back toward the Earth, creating a warming effect. But this is a straw man. Every “climate change denier” I know of recognizes the existence of the greenhouse effect, and many if not most think that man has had some noticeable impact on climate. What they deny is that there is evidence of a catastrophic impact from CO2’s warming effect. That is, they are expressing a different opinion about how fossil fuels affect climate—particularly about the nature and magnitude of their impact.

[Note: Certain questions need to be asked, including whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and more importantly, how an open gaseous system like the Earth’s atmosphere can act as a greenhouse, analogous to artificial glass greenhouses. I believe that heat can be trapped, and that our atmosphere can do this, but not in the way that is being postulated by the standard climate model. When we stop asking questions, and say “the science is settled”, we depart from science and enter politics.]

Once I was clear on how unclear the questions we were asking were, I could ask better questions and get better answers. And once I got clearer on how to use experts as advisors, not authorities, and how to always keep in mind the big picture, I had a much better chance of getting the right answers to the right questions.

Here’s how I put the right questions now, from a human standard of value.

The first is: How does fossil fuel use affect climate livability? When we burn fossil fuels, what are all the climate-related risks and all the benefits that result?

Given that our standard is human life—we want the climate we live in to be as liveable as possible—there are two types of impacts we need to study and weigh. The first is the impact of CO2 on climate itself. CO2 affects climate in at least two ways: as a greenhouse gas with warming impact, but also as plant food with a fertilizing impact (plants are a major part of the climate system as well as a benefit of a liveable climate)…The second impact of CO2, which is rarely mentioned, is the tendency of cheap, plentiful, reliable energy from fossil fuels to amplify our ability to adapt to climate—to maximize the benefits we get from good weather and ample rainfall and minimize the risks from heat waves, cold snaps, and droughts…

[Note: (i) The selected excerpts are necessarily brief; environmental impacts and sustainability are dealt with elsewhere in this book and the other books I have referred to. (ii) That alternative energy sources may become economically viable and practicable in the future cannot be a morally justified as a reason to deprive the needy of the cheapest source of energy now. This is especially true if we, the arbiters of who gets what, use fossil fuels and their associated benefits for ourselves. It is a shameful hypocrisy if we do.]

Discussion of climate change often assumes that any man-made climate change is large if not catastrophic and that our ability to adapt is not all that important. This is unacceptable. It is prejudicial to assume that anything is big or small, positive or negative, before we see the evidence. We have to actually investigate the facts. It might be that the greenhouse effect leads to a tiny, beneficial amount of warming or that having or not having fossil fuels to build sturdy infrastructure is the difference between two hundred and two hundred thousand people dying in a hurricane.

[Note: There are currently seven billion people sharing the terrestrial biosphere. In the wink of an eye there will be twenty billion people. That’s what all social models have to deal with. It is a well established and demonstrable fact that the higher people are on the socio-economic ladder, the fewer children they tend to have. It is part of the moral case for fossil fuels that the basis of raising the standard of living of any people is cheap energy. I do not discuss genocide, although I think about it a lot.]

Granted, acquiring evidence is often hard because of so many conflicting reports, which is why it’s so important to get experts to explain what they know and what they don’t know clearly and precisely.

The bottom line: For the three major climate impacts of fossil fuels—the greenhouse, fertilizer, and energy effects—we want to know how they work and how they affect us, all the while asking, “How do we know?”

Climate Morals Tuesday 13 December 2016

My exposure on Facebook these days is restrained; just a few minutes when I get to work each morning, during which I must publish whatever I’ve put onto a flash drive the night before, and also answer the serious comments and questions from my friends on previous threads.

This morning, a statement from an old mate on climate change challenged me. This friend seldom uses FB, and had clearly not been following the development of ideas from the earliest stages of the debate. The post was so basic, so go-directly-to-jail that I was stymied. What to do? I wasn’t having difficulty because I had no facts readily at hand, but rather because there were so many!

Regurgitating the whole story from the beginning was out of the question. Ignoring the post would have been rude to a dear friend. This dilemma has ridden on my back the entire day, and now it’s time for me to sleep. But I am compelled to say something first because it such an important principle.

I don’t have to retell the story or trot out all the evidence for the umpteenth time. Both pro- and anti-AGW stances are moral defences of a belief paradigm, shaped by which of one’s moral receptors is being pinged by the overall “feel” or “taste” or ‘smell” of the climate change issue. All the evidence is out there, just a Google click away. But remember, we are beholden to the Google Effect, all of us.

It occurs to me that in an expression of Left-Right conflict, which is what climate change really is, the net result of arguing the case in abbreviated snaps of online chat will just lose me friends, and convince not one person whose elephant leans the other way.

The AGW model is a political construct, managed and shaped by the IPCC and its sponsors and provosts; the IPCC is an agency of the United Nations; the United Nations is a left wing phenomenon, part of the globalisation tide which tries by all means fair and foul to erase the territorial imperative and national identities, and establish itself as a kind of consensual world government.

If we listen to the intelligentsia, the universities and their academics, the poets, the painters, politicians desperately seeking votes, and Hollywood celebrities on their glittering podia, we are all too easily seduced by the strident moral flavour they bring to their arguments. They are people gifted with expression after all. And what’s more, they are going to save the world. DiCaprio and Affleck are going to redesign society for our benefit.

These artless, clueless showbiz heroes think that their time has come, but the news broadcasts are piddling on their batteries, I’m afraid. Cloaked in progressively-cut moral suits, they have held sway for decades. What they refuse to countenance is that nature works in cycles, and we are part of nature. It is a primary polarity in our societies, a pendulum that balances the vocal moral Left with the restless moral Right.

What is happening now in the world is straight out of the Socks dream – people are moving back into line with their instincts and realising, at last, that one man’s moral is another man’s poison. The shackle of liberal idealism is breaking, falling away, and we, the ones who lived this history, are rubbing our eyes and wondering what comes next.

All this gives me hope and grim satisfaction; for many of my friends it’s a nightmare. What is clear now is that the world doesn’t need me on a soap box trying to convince anyone that reverting to our deeper selves is a good thing. Nature will have her way no matter what I do, and I think many of us will be left bleeding in the Great Google War.

Amen. So be it.

Peter Foster: Climate Change As A Moral Issue

Date: 24/03/15 Peter Foster

Talk in the House of Lords, Committee Room 3 – London 24 March 2015

Thomas Kuhn, in his classic book on the structure of scientific revolutions, points out how difficult scientific paradigms are to shift. He suggests they become even more so when there is a moral element involved. I will suggest that projected catastrophic man-made climate change is less a scientific theory with a moral element than a moral crusade that has recruited a scientific theory.

The great global warming fandango is – at root — the latest example of politically expedient demonization of the capitalist system. First let me provide some background on how I came to this issue, and pay tribute to a very important academic advisor to the GWPF: David Henderson. Two of David’s works — his Reith lectures, Innocence and Design, and his book, The Role of Business in the Modern World – were both inspirational for my own recent book: Why We Bite the Invisible Hand.

I became particularly fascinated by what David calls “Do It Yourself Economics.” This consists of a set of common, but erroneous, assumptions about the way economies work. These include “Unreflecting centralism,” the notion that things are always best planned from the top. A firm faith in local preference and national champions. And the conviction that new technology creates long-term unemployment.

I was inspired to probe exactly why people should not just get economics wrong, but all tend to get it wrong in the same way. There seems to be a structure to human economic ignorance. Where does it come from? For a long time before I read Innocence and Design, I had been puzzled by how people seemed to take for granted the stunning benefits of capitalism, benefits that seemed to me to be “right in front of their eyes”?

Eventually I realized that I was being naïve. What is in front of our eyes is entirely a function of what is behind them: that is, our minds. I eventually became convinced that to understand our minds — and in particular their quirks and limitations — we have to understand in what circumstances those minds were formed. I believe that the answer to the conundrum of Do It Yourself Economics lies in the controversial field of evolutionary psychology. What we see – both physically and conceptually – is determined, and constrained, not merely by biological but social evolution. Indeed, we have to talk about coevolution.

The crux of the issue is that in recent millennia, and in particular the past two or three centuries, society has been evolving at light speed relative to biology. People are inclined to believe that there is a world “out there,” but it is a world that is peculiar to us. For example, there are no “colours” in nature. Colours are our brain’s interpretations of different wavelengths. Our perceptions of people and social relations can also be subject to quirky assumptions.

I approach this issue in my book via an old joke. A man goes to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist shows him a series of Rorschach ink blots. The man interprets each ink blot as some form of sexual perversion. At the end of the session, the psychiatrist tells the man, “You have a sex problem.” “Me?” says the man indignantly. “You’re the one who’s showing all the dirty pictures!”

The man who sees the dirty pictures would be routinely considered an example of “abnormal psychology,” but increasingly psychologists have come to realize that “normal” psychology is filled with misinterpretations of the way the world works. One of the big problems of capitalism — as an emergent natural order that has appeared in the biological blink of an eye — is that people can have their cake and condemn it too. Or perhaps condemn their cake and eat it too.

We don’t have to understand how markets work to thrive within them any more than we need to memorize Gray’s Anatomy in order to stay alive. The question is why we might not just fail to appreciate the workings and results of capitalism, but be inclined to condemn it. According to evolutionary psychology, our minds were mostly formed in that very very long period when we lived as hunter-gatherers, in groups of perhaps at most 150 people, when there was no extensive commerce, little division of labour, and no voluntary employment; when working for others meant literally being a slave. And when there was no technological advance, no money, and no economic growth.

I believe that we are still haunted by the assumptions of such a world, and thus easily confuse employment with exploitation, income and wealth inequality with inequity, and the command of economic resources with dangerous political power. These aren’t so much economic perceptions as moral ones, since morality is significantly rooted in the sharing of, and struggle for, resources; in tribal solidarity, but also in predation and the demonization of outsiders. Morality is fundamentally collectivist and groupish, and is inclined to condemn economics as being hard-hearted because it is based on personal preferences, which are easily parodied as the rule of individualistic greed. Morality is certainly about right and wrong, good and bad, but it’s also about the irresistible urge to tell other people how to live their lives, and to condemn – even kill – outsiders.

The most moral people in the world are suicide bombers.

When it comes to the assumed depredations and dangers of those who command economic resources — that is, “the rich” — it’s as if people can’t tell the difference between Bill Gates and Genghis Khan. Or between the Forbes 400 and the court of Louis XIV. The big difference is that the Forbes 400 created their wealth, and countless millions of jobs in the process. They didn’t steal it (Unless, of course, they got rich through government favours or bail-outs, which really was the old-fashioned way).

Do It Yourself economics is the economics of the small self-reliant tribe, which of course is nothing like the extended order of commerce on which modern economics is based. I believe that the insight that we are essentially hunter-gatherer moralists with cell phones makes it easier to understand persistent convictions about corporate conspiracy. It also helps explain naïve Do It Yourself Economic beliefs in grand, centrally-planned solutions to allegedly global problems.

But there is also another critical factor in the equation: the exploitation of economic ignorance and moral misapprehension in pursuit of power. Capitalism has been seen since before Marx as a “dirty picture.” That dirty picture has been extraordinarily useful in political terms.


I should note that when opponents of the Alberta oil sands – including President Obama — talk about “dirty oil,” they are not talking about any need for soap and water. They are using dirty in the “dirty picture” sense, as morally reprehensible. Which brings me specifically to climate as a moral issue.


Two recent Global Warming Policy Foundation papers have touched on climate and morality, one by Peter Lee and one by Andrew Montford. Professor Lee differentiates between those who regard the environment in an Eden-like sense, as a pristine system which is corrupted by man, and those who believe that Nature is here for man’s use.

(The elevation of pristine Nature is in fact often synonymous with hatred of man, which goes with the desire to control him, and his wicked ways. That hatred is particularly strong towards the parody of capitalist man – homo economicus – as a short-sighted, rational maximizer with no concern for his environment or other people beyond their commercial use to him).

Professor Lee acknowledges that pragmatic approaches to poverty, and adaptationists approaches to climate “will not satisfy those… who have unstated ideological ambitions such as anti-capitalism or wealth redistribution enmeshed with their ideas for the mitigation of climate change.”

I would suggest that those ideological ambitions may not just be unstated. Those in their grip may be either unaware of them, or at least reject the notion that they are in any way ideological. It is a peculiarity of the liberal left since Marx to believe that ideology is for others. They, by contrast, are motivated by nothing but “inconvenient truth.” When Professor Lee concludes with “a plea for balance, transparency, honesty and achievability” in climate policy, I suspect that he realizes that his plea is falling on deaf ears. But then deaf ears are in fact an aspect of evolved moral psychology. I’ll get back to that shortly.

Andrew Montford’s latest paper notes how the “sanctimonious slogans” of “intergenerational justice” don’t seem to fit with the realities of inefficient, bird-mangling windmills, and biofuel policies that starve the poor. Andrew rightly suggests that “A public debate on the damage being done by climate change policy is long overdue.”

The problem is that the Church of Climate has no interest in such a debate. Indeed, from its perspective, even to listen to opponents is to dignify wicked people. In my book I tell how, In 2009, I attended a conference in New York City organized by the Heartland Institute. At the end of one of the sessions — on the unfolding disaster of European “green” energy policies (Benny Peiser was on the panel) — a young man spoke up from the back of the room, declaring that he had never witnessed “such hypocrisy.” How, he asked, could the panellists sleep at night? Benny – obviously puzzled — asked the young man with which parts of their presentations he disagreed.

“Oh,” said the young man. “I didn’t come here to listen to the presentations.”

And that is very significant.