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Setting the Right Priorities Means to Forget the Global Warming

English Pages, 9. 10. 2008

I would like to express my thanks for the invitation to participate in this important gathering.[1] 

The organizers of the forum suggested naming my today’s speech “Setting the Right Priorities”. They are probably not satisfied with the way how the priorities are set now or they suppose that I am not happy with it. They are right. I am not happy and will try to explain why.  

Current priorities do not fall from the sky. They reflect our way of looking at things, “die Weltanschauung”, which characterizes our era. Its formation started decades ago. I see it in the culture, philosophy and ideology of the 1960s and 1970s which in many respects opposed the traditional way of looking around and which brought to the fore – among many other things – the idea that the world is a single entity, one gigantic global system which deserves to be globally governed. This “system-engineering” viewpoint was, more or less, generally accepted. Everyone suddenly discovered interdependencies, interconnections, externalities, interdisciplinarity, general systems theory, metasciences, etc. It became politically correct, progressive, for me only progressivistic, to think in terms of global issues, global governance, and global solutions. It was – not surprisingly – also the birth of environmentalism. The man as a free and dominant individual entity disappeared. The world, the earth, and the planet replaced him as the relevant frame of reference. That led to a radical switch of priorities.

It became the excellent starting point for those who wanted to mastermind the whole world and all of us. Their approaches – based on the one hand on the misunderstanding (and misinterpretation) of interdependence and globalization and on the other on the outdated belief in government’s omnipotence –are conceptually wrong, unavoidably undemocratic and discriminatory, and – above all – condemned to fail. 

We should keep insisting that the undergoing internationalization of human activities doesn’t ask for centralistic solutions, and that the  failure of communism to organize – sometimes even small – countries from above should tell everyone that it’s much less possible to organize the whole world. We should keep insisting that it would be sufficient to liberalize, deregulate, desubsidize, deorganize the world we live in. This is the only priority worth discussing at our today’s conference. Everything else is of minor importance, if not basically wrong. 

I will touch upon two examples of such an approach. One mistaken priority here in Europe lies in attempts “to think European and continental”, which means to ask for radical deepening of European integration and for a massive transfer of decision-making to Brussels. We see it in the plans to create an “ever-closer, centralistically and bureaucratically ruled Europe

It may be unnecessary to discuss it extensively here in Switzerland because you have – I believe – your rational reasons not to participate in this process, but for the rest of us it becomes a crucial issue. 

We are at the crossroads. Freedom and democracy in Europe are severely undermined by recent developments. Neither the European Constitution, nor the Lisbon Treaty are about freedom but about giving more power to the politicians and less to the people. It is about creating a supranational Europe. It is about postdemocracy. We should resist it. We know that for most areas of decision-making the nation state is too big. We know as well that for a limited amount of them it is too small. But for democracy the nation state is just right, just appropriate. The advocates of European supranationalism don’t see that continental democracy is impossible, they don’t see that the continent has no citizens. Only states have them.[2] Centralizing Europe is, therefore, a wrong priority.

Another example is the ambition to combat the so called global warming. This ambition is also based on the pretence of understanding global issues and on the belief in the possibility to control them centrally. It is not necessary to repeat the already well-known more or less technical and scientific counter-arguments here this morning. They are available to anyone who wants to listen to them. The problem is that the propagandists of the global warming alarmism do not listen and that the majority of rational people does not pay attention. 

The current global warming debate is not a scientific dispute inside climatology. As the famous British historian Paul Johnson put it recently, “global warming, as Marxism, is a political theory of actions demanding compliance with its rules.”[3] We should not mix it with science. Science is O.K. We have sufficient evidence that a normal, serious, healthy and productive discourse among scientists, believers in the greenhouse hypothesis and those who disagree with it goes on and will be going on. The science is definitely not settled. 

The global warming debate is about something else. It is not about temperature or CO2 levels. It is about the people, their behavior, their values, their habits, their life. It is a clash between environmentalists, non-liberal politicians, international bureaucrats, irresponsible journalists, some economists and other scientists who attempt to change us (not climate) and those who believe in freedom, markets, human ingenuity and technical progress. The free and open discussion about it must continue, because the free market for ideas is more important than any free market for material goods. Our experience from the communist era forces us to stress this point very strongly. It brings me to congratulating the organizers of this conference on giving all of us – with our differing views – the floor. It is very rare.

The environmentalist’s dogma is based on the following postulates:

-          the world has been getting warmer;
-          the people are to blame;
-          we are facing a major catastrophe;
-          usual adaptation of human beings will not help, mitigation, however costly it may be, must start immediately.

It is obvious that this dogma is untenable.

One of the speakers here this morning belongs to this camp and his infamous Report to the sacred texts of global warming alarmism. This Report is based on

-          a scientifically unproven hypothesis of greenhouse effect and on its dominance in influencing global climate;

-          a methodologically false concept of the economics of climate change;

-          the misuse of and overconfidence in computer modeling;

-          the misunderstanding of the economic approach to the analysis of intergenerational solidarity (or discrimination) which asks – in all cases – for using the standard principle of discounting, and for choosing the appropriate level of the discount rate. This shouldn’t reflect ethical and moralistic apriorisms but – when we speak about setting the right priorities – the opportunity costs of climate mitigation. These costs are far from zero.

Due to it this report fails to tell us the obvious – that we can’t stop the undergoing moderate warming, that we can’t even slow it down and that the warming will be neither dramatic, nor will it have any catastrophic consequences.

My more extensive polemics with this approach can be found in my book Blue Planet in Green Shackles, which exists now not only in Czech, but also in English, German, Dutch, Polish, Russian and Spanish. My conclusions are simple:

-          no radical, human freedom and prosperity endangering measures and policies are necessary; 

-          large-scale and extremely costly mitigation of global warming and CO2 emissions is and will be useless;

-          adaptation, human flexibility, technical progress, and markets are sufficient. 

The bottom line is that the global warming mitigation should not be included among our priorities.

I would dare to suggest one priority which is partly connected with what I have said just now. This is letting the developing countries develop on their own without imposing our human rights, our social, labor, health, hygienic, environmental, safety and other standards upon them. It is also necessary to forget the idea of foreign aid. Its effect upon those who are supposed to receive it is marginal, if not negative. The effects for the donors are usually much more significant. When I made that point last December in Lagos, Nigeria, the audience burst into applause. This is, however, not the main topic of our conference.[4]

The organizers asked me to add a few words about the priorities of the Czech Republic. It is difficult to say because countries do not have priorities, people do. We are pragmatic, down-to-earth people who do not try to reach for the stars and who want to be living in a normal European democratic country with as liberal “Marktwirtschaft” as possible, in a country which will retain its sovereignty despite the current supranational tendencies in Europe. Our slogan for the EU presidency in the first half of 2009 is simple: Europe without barriers”. It may sound rather non-dramatic, but I have to make it clear that our slogan is neither “an ever-closer Europe”, nor “the sooner the Lisbon Treaty, the better”, nor “the future is in a more centralistic Europe”. The innocent slogan of ours can turn into an important mission if we succeed in pushing it forward.

As I already mentioned, priorities are based on ideas, beliefs and ambitions. If we want to change them, we have to start much deeper. I am frustrated by the failure of many rational people to see the dangers connected with the current “priorities”. 

Václav Klaus, Climate Forum, Kongresshotel Seepark, Thun, Switzerland, 9. October 2008

[1] I have made many speeches abroad but in the last couple of years – to my great regret – rarely “in der Schweiz”. I don’t know why. Maybe nobody cares about my views or my views are more or less unknown here. To be frank, I don’t think this is the case. It is probably partly my fault. In the past, I regularly attended the World Economic Forum in Davos but when the main slogan of the Forum in the year 2005 was: “The Economy Should Serve the People”, I decided that it was not my forum anymore. The same argument was used by the Czechoslovak Communist Party when I was a child and a student. We could not stand it then and I can’t stand it now.

[2] Václav Klaus, “Why Europe Must Reject Centralisation”, Financial Times, 29 August 2005. Václav Klaus et al., “What is Europeism or What should not be the future for Europe”, Center for Economics and Politics, Prague, 2007.

[3] Paul Johnson, “The Nonsense of Global Warming”, Forbes, 6 October 2008.

[4] See my speech “Free Trade and Freedom”, European Banking Congress, Frankfurt, November 17, 2006; and speech “The developing countries need trade, not aid”, Lagos, November 29, 2007.


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