Monday, February 27, 2023

The climate change debate: lessons from evolutionary psychology

One of the many perplexities of life is how some new scientific discoveries and insights quickly find their way into popular culture, yet others go largely unnoticed.

Freud’s theories about the human psyche rapidly entered public awareness, as did Einstein’s E= MC2, as often do the latest scientific claims on health or diet. On the other hand, the public and political debate seems oblivious to the many new findings and insights over recent decades from the intersection of evolutionary science and psychology.

Yet these insights have dramatic implications for our approach to public policy and debate, as just three examples will show.

Firstly, humans have been shown generally to form their views on normative issues in emotionally driven snap judgments, shaped by evolution and culture. People then adhere dogmatically to those views while coming up with conscious rationalisations to justify them. We tend to do this because evolutionary survival required our ancestors to make a multitude of behavioural judgments in everyday life with far greater speed and less effort than conscious deliberation would allow.

Secondly, humans are deeply tribal in their behaviour, supportive of fellow tribe members yet readily hostile to outsiders. We seek to feel part of a group in many different facets of our lives, be it around sporting teams, brand loyalties, states or nations or, increasingly, political alignments. Our ancestors also needed to be part of a tribe or troop and to defend it, in order to survive.

Thirdly, humans have deeply ingrained patterns of behaviour that we adhere to and expect of others. These patterns, often regarded as ‘human nature’, are a mix shaped both by evolution and by inherited cultural norms developed and transmitted over generations. This mix is difficult to change quickly in fundamental respects and can have unexpected and deleterious consequences when rapid change is imposed. This is a key reason why intellectually constructed political utopias usually fail – either they are incompatible with evolved human nature and/or their proponents haven’t mapped a viable transition path from current behaviours.

At one level, these insights simply confirm what unfortunately has become clear to many from bitter experience already, namely that rational political argument often fails to persuade, and that the dark arts of political manipulation can have a far higher political payoff than well-researched and carefully argued policy formulation.

However, rather than go over to the dark side, well-intentioned political and public policy actors can and should use the insights of evolutionary psychology to gain a better understanding both of themselves and of their fellow human beings. In doing so, they will be able to better deploy conscious reasoning to validate or override their own snap judgments, to better assess the likely benefits or detriments of particular policy initiatives, and to better understand how their political and policy propositions are likely to be received by others.

The current public debate about human-induced climate change is a stark illustration of all this. It’s easy to conclude that, for some, the climate change movement fulfils an instinctive longing for a religious substitute or for purity from contamination. It’s easy to deplore the distortions of scientific research caused by the pressures for conformity and the quest for ‘climate action’ at all costs. It’s easy to decry the virtue signalling and empty gestures, and the expensive and poorly considered measures that governments seem prone to rush into so they can be seen to be doing something.

However, some of the response to climate change concerns seems itself driven by emotion more than by reason, and especially to be driven by tribalism. It would be unbearably humiliating if those insufferable, Woke, politically correct leftists were actually right about something. Surely it’s simply another of their periodic doomsday obsessions, just like the Club of Rome global starvation scare or the 1970s global cooling scare? We’ve caught them rigging the data in the past, and they must be doing the same now, even if we can’t figure out how. They attack and denigrate us personally, so we must do the same to them. We must unite together and not concede an inch.

Instead of all this, if we want to get the best outcome for humanity on the climate change issue, we need to put aside both the quasi-religious zealotry and the tribalism.

The evolutionary record shows that, while fundamental human behaviours change slowly, humans can adapt rapidly to changes in the world around them and to changes in their knowledge of the world. Humanity’s discovery over recent centuries of the potential benefits of technological invention, and the development of the scientific method that underpins it, have provided a rapid and massive improvement in human wellbeing unprecedented in evolutionary history.

Even though it is now under attack by some, we should defend the scientific method and apply it rigorously to the issue of climate change – to gather and assess the evidence without fear or favour, including its uncertainties and risks. Sceptics have been urged in the past to accept the truth even if inconvenient. Zealots and sceptics alike must also avoid propagating untruth, even if convenient.

One of the many harmful consequences of the tribalism that has developed over climate change is that the devising of solutions has been dominated by the passionate. By definition, the passionate see climate change as the overarching imperative of the era, and thus understandably give priority to solving that perceived problem and to be less mindful of potentially adverse consequences of their solutions.

As well, climate change tribalism has meant that most of the solutions have tended to come from the left of politics, and thus to be based on extensive government involvement in both spending and prescriptive regulation.

An invaluable contribution that could be made by more of those who are sceptical of some or all climate change concerns is to take part in a ‘what if’ exercise. Assume – if you like, only for the sake of the exercise – that human CO2 and other emissions are in fact causing an unacceptable level of climate change. What then should be done about it? What level of emissions reductions are required and how should they be achieved? What are the trade-offs between using and foregoing resources to achieve emissions reductions compared with other desirable uses for those resources? Is there a ‘light touch’ regulatory framework that will maximise the likelihood of free enterprise human ingenuity developing new or improved technologies that will allow the problem to be solved for good, as has been achieved previously for so many pollution problems?

Further, if the best available climate change solution involves emission reductions that require a burden of cost or reduction in living standards, who should bear what amounts of that burden? What principles should apply in allocating the burden between nations and between individuals within nations? Instead of the current ‘moral suasion’ approach of volunteered Nationally Determined Contributions, should a maximum amount of permitted per capita emissions be agreed upon, to be the same for everyone worldwide?

The public conversation on climate change needs the contributions of more ‘sceptics’ on these matters, even if only on a ‘what if’ basis, to develop better policy outcomes, whether that be to solve a real and dangerous global problem or to achieve a less wasteful solution to an imagined or overstated problem, as well as to help bring about a more informed and temperate public perspective.

As evolutionary psychology has discovered, humans are obsessively social in observing, talking about, and responding to each other’s behaviour, and one of the important ways in which individuals can best come to recognise and correct the flaws of their emotional snap judgments – far more readily than through their own conscious reflections alone – is through receiving and taking on board the feedback that others give them in respectful dialogue.

It’s often not an easy task to take on new and demanding learnings and to change the way in which we approach political issues and debate. However, if the point of our interest in politics and public policy is to help achieve a better world, it is something we need to do, and the climate change issue is a good place to start.


Grids Can’t Handle All the Solar and Wind Dems Want to Hook Up

Our electric grids were shaky to begin with. They cover vast distances and are not being properly maintained. But then the Democrats come in with the brilliant idea of spending hundreds of billions on erratic and unreliable wind and solar which then delivers power erratically and puts a further strain on the grids. As the money gets shoveled out the door, unworkable and unfeasible green energy projects go out the door.

And the grids can’t handle them.

PJM Interconnection, which operates the nation’s largest regional grid, stretching from Illinois to New Jersey, has been so inundated by connection requests that last year it announced a freeze on new applications until 2026, so that it can work through a backlog of thousands of proposals, mostly for renewable energy.

It now takes roughly four years, on average, for developers to get approval, double the time it took a decade ago.

And when companies finally get their projects reviewed, they often face another hurdle: the local grid is at capacity, and they are required to spend much more than they planned for new transmission lines and other upgrades.

Many give up. Fewer than one-fifth of solar and wind proposals actually make it through the so-called interconnection queue, according to research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Maybe having an actual plan beyond “The Earth is Exploding, We All Need to go Solar” would have been a good idea.

Biden is doing a victory lap over yet another bill that spends yet more money on ‘green energy’ systems that won’t even be plugged in.


Biden Proposal Puts Climate Agenda Above America’s Defense

The Biden administration seems bent on forcing defense contractors to comply with new climate pledges instead of protecting Americans from our enemies.

The FAR Rule doesn’t just put America’s defense in second place, it actively takes money away from defense priorities.

With one rulemaking, the rule could establish new priorities for about half the department’s budget by conscripting major contractors into a war on fossil fuels.

Every few days, it seems the U.S. military shoots down another unexplained object drifting over our airspace—and at least one was a Chinese spy balloon. These incidents are also coming on the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine, the most destructive fighting in Europe since World War II. Surely, at this critical juncture, the U.S. Department of Defense and its contractors are focused on keeping Americans safe, right?

Unfortunately, the Biden administration seems bent on forcing defense contractors to comply with new climate pledges instead of protecting Americans from our enemies.

At issue is a new rulemaking called the “FAR Rule” that uses a change to the Federal Acquisition Regulations to bulldoze federal contractors—including defense contractors—into compliance with the Paris climate accords, also known as the Paris Agreement.

Regulations are notoriously boring, but the stakes are high: In fiscal year 2021, the federal government obligated $637 billion through contracts that were subject to Federal Acquisition Regulations.

The FAR Rule should be dropped because it weakens our national security, wasn’t authorized by Congress, skirts required rulemaking procedures, and is so disruptive to the agencies involved that it likely triggers what’s called the Major Questions Doctrine.

The Congressional Research Service explains the doctrine thusly: “The Supreme Court has declared that if an agency seeks to decide an issue of major national significance, its action must be supported by clear congressional authorization.”

First and foremost, the FAR Rule risks turning defense contractors into just another tool of climate activists. The new regulation places the Department of Defense’s basic mission of national security second to climate change. Rather than helping arm America against growing threats from China, the rule requires major contractors to count their level of greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide and develop a plan to comply with the Paris climate accords.

This follows a pattern of politicization of our national defense. Does anyone care how much carbon dioxide was emitted when the F-22 fighter jet engaged a foreign object and shot it down with a Sidewinder missile?

The FAR Rule doesn’t just put America’s defense in second place, it actively takes money away from defense priorities. The proposed rule is estimated to cost $3.9 billion in compliance over a 10-year period. That amount could buy an aircraft carrier or 42 F-35 fighter jets.

Second, the new rulemaking is entirely optional. Congress never passed a greenhouse gas emissions reduction mandate; and the Paris Agreement, although signed by President Barack Obama and reinstated by President Joe Biden, does not carry the weight of an international treaty because it was not ratified by the Senate.

So why implement this regulation? The administration says the rule is meant to comply with Executive Order 14030, issued in 2021, which attempts to establish a goal of “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions, at least for the federal government. However, there’s no law that compels the Department of Defense or any other agency to move forward with these regulations.

Third, if we are to take executive orders seriously, Executive Order 12866, issued in 1993, states that a detailed cost-benefit analysis is needed whenever an agency proposes “significant regulatory action.”

The FAR Rule concedes that it is significant regulation, but it did not go through the necessary procedures required of a significant rule. Specifically, the rule’s benefits are not quantified. This may be because the government cannot plausibly show that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Finally, the rulemaking may fall under the Major Questions Doctrine during judicial review. Major contractors must have their “science-based” targets—defined by the FAR Rule as targets that are in line with the Paris Agreement—validated by the Science Based Targets initiative, a private organization focused on getting companies to comply with emissions reduction targets.

This would grant the organization undue authority over large private corporations to alter business decisions and reorient company priorities toward climate change mitigation instead of defense. The result essentially would be a takeover of corporate planning by a nonprofit group whose interests may not align with those of the American people, the executive branch agencies, or Congress.

To offer a glimpse into the size of the problem at hand, more than half of the Department of Defense’s annual budget of over $800 billion goes to contractors that would be subject to the FAR Rule.

With one rulemaking, the rule could establish new priorities for about half the department’s budget by conscripting major contractors into a war on fossil fuels that was never voted on by Congress or endorsed by the American people.

Just like a Chinese spy balloon, this proposed regulation should never have taken flight. The best that can be done now is to make sure it goes down in flames.


World Bank elites put climate policy over developing nations’ prosperity and security

The World Bank is one of the cornerstones of the liberal international order that America built after World War II. The bank is also one of the reasons this American-led system finds so few friends in the developing world today.

Consider Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Ukrainians are valiantly fighting for their homeland. But Washington does not see the conflict in terms of rival nations and opposing nationalisms — one aggressive, the other defensive.

Our leaders instead think of the conflict as a war for the liberal international order. And they expect the international community to support Ukraine.

When developing countries like India and Brazil prove reluctant or unwilling to do so, Washington is appalled. But look at what liberal international institutions like the World Bank mean for these countries.

Ajay Banga, an Indian businessman who became a naturalized US citizen in 2007, is the Biden administration’s nominee to become the World Bank’s next president.

Yet Banga, who has experience with everything from launching fast-food franchises in India to serving as CEO of Mastercard, is under fire from development experts for having an inadequate background in climate policy.

Before being nominated for the World Bank, Banga was co-chairman of the Partnership for Central America that Vice President Kamala Harris launched as a private-public partnership in 2021. His crony credentials are unimpeachable.

And he was a dutifully green CEO, always alarmed about warmer weather. “Hectares of forests are on fire at any given time. Trillions of tons of glacial ice are melting. Temperatures are rising,” a Financial Times profile quotes him writing at Mastercard in 2020.

Yet within the field of international development, insiders demand more. One anonymous expert complained in the same FT profile, “The US administration has been messaging this would be a climate person.” Instead, Banga is a finance man.

The controversy doesn’t jeopardize Banga’s appointment. Rather, it signals the supreme priority that the technocrats of the liberal order place on climate change.

The anonymous snipes at Banga are intended not to stop him but to reinforce an ideological pecking order — the business side of development must take second place to the green politics of development experts.

The World Bank, founded in 1944, has always been an arm of American policy, with particularly close ties to US foreign policy.

Past presidents include one of the masterminds of the Vietnam War, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and an architect of the Iraq War, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

What we call the liberal international order looks, to the nations we once called the Third World, a lot like simple imperialism.

Before the bank took up a mission to save the planet from warming, it was already seen by developing nations as a dangerous patron. Whenever a bank offers loans to recipients who are not creditworthy, the recipients are apt to take on too much debt.

The World Bank perpetuates on a global scale the kind of bad decision-making that led to the 2008 financial crisis at home and abroad.

What’s a poor country to do when it’s offered easy money to redirect development away from traditional industry in favor of the green schemes preferred by Western and Western-educated elites?

For billions of people in Latin America, Asia and Africa, the liberal international order means submitting to American ideological obsessions in return for loans that may in fact result in catastrophic malinvestment and crippling debt.

Even when the worst doesn’t come to pass, beneficiaries of our largesse resent the inherent inequality of the relationship. Our generosity — in the service of our own elite aims — only stokes anti-Americanism.

The developing world is entitled to much the same industrial growth that raised the West to the pinnacle of prosperity.

Climate is not the crisis that hunger or political insecurity is. Economic disorder lies at the root of those greater, immediate threats. But Western money insists green ideology take priority.

We in the West enjoy so much wealth and security that we can afford to worry about weather projections. The rest of the world does not have that luxury. Yet the liberal international order reflects our anxieties rather than other nations’ needs.

The way the World Bank works, is it any wonder if India or Brazil chooses to sit out a call to arms for the international system?




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