The Original Green Lie: How Fake Science Put Us on a Path to Economic Crisis

About a year ago, in April 2021, the foodie website Epicurious made a bold announcement:

“Today we announced that Epicurious is cutting out beef. It won’t appear in new Epi recipes, articles, newsletters, or on social. This isn’t a vendetta against cows or people who eat them. It’s a shift about sustainability; not anti-beef but pro-planet.”

I made my way over to the site to see whether I could pick up a couple tips for this weekend’s grilling adventure. Looks like they’re standing by their anti-beef stance.

Now I’m not saying that doesn’t look kinda tasty. But in my book it’s not a burger. 

Today a lot of companies are embracing the idea that some extreme measure or another must be taken to stem an existential threat. In addition to abandoning fossil fuels and spending trillions of dollars to “re-imagine” the energy landscape, saving the planet will now apparently require all of us to give up red meat.

How have we come to this? 

Well like all great conspiracies, this movement stemmed from a lie…  Actually, it’s based on one of the biggest political lies ever told.

A World Based on Lies

“Which lie is that” you ask? I know, there are so many to choose from…

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” ranks pretty high. As does, “Read my lips… no new taxes.”  

“I am not a crook,” is an absolute classic. And “If you like your doctor, you can keep him,” was a doozy too.

But perhaps all pale in comparison to…

(Incidentally, it wasn’t just a one-off tweet. It was a lie POTUS 44 told this lie repeatedly, often with the equally dishonest modifier “The science is decided!”)

If it wasn’t the biggest, it was certainly one of the most consequential.

Because on the back of this lie was built one of the biggest government pushes to transform our energy landscape — a push that will impact every aspect of every man, woman, and child’s life. 

But where did it all start?

The source of this “claim” was a 2013 research paper by John Cook, a Climate Communications Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland. (If his title alone doesn’t send chills down your spine, read it again!)

It had an impressive sounding title: “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature.” 

And it purportedly concluded “that over 97 percent [of papers he surveyed] endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.” 

So how did Cook come to this conclusion?

SCIENCE! of course.

Cook and his team analyzed some 11,944 papers (actually most of them were on impacts and policies surrounding climate change rather than the causes of it) and found that a whopping 41 papers explicitly stated that human beings are the primary cause of global warming climate change.

Do the math and that number comes to about half a percent. Hardly enough to get the world up in arms. More SCIENCE! Would be needed.

So Cook took this first group of results and dumped them into a bucket called “explicit endorsement with quantification.” 

Then he created two more categories out of which to squeeze more confirmation bias: “Explicit endorsement without quantification” (papers in which the authors didn’t specifically say what percentage of warming was caused by man) and “Implicit endorsement” for those papers that implied there is man-made global warming climate change. 

Apparently Climate Communications Fellows for the Global Change Institute have no idea how to do science correctly.

In a spirit of full transparency, this is not breaking news. 

It was roundly rejected by a large number of the scientists whose papers were included in the study. When asked if they thought Cook’s interpretation of their research was correct…

“That is not an accurate representation of my paper.”
– Dr. Craid Idso 

“Cook et al. (2013) is based on a strawman argument because it does not correctly define the IPCC AGW theory”
– Dr. Nicola Scafetta

“Nope… it is not an accurate representation. The paper shows that if cosmic rays are included in empirical climate sensitivity analyses, then one finds that different time scales consistently give a low climate sensitivity.”
– Dr. Nir Shaviv

“Certainly not correct and certainly misleading. The paper is strongly against AGW, and documents its absence in the sea level observational facts.”
– Dr. Nils-Axel Morner

“No extra comment on Cook et al. (2013) is necessary as it is not a paper aiming to help anyone understand the science.”
– Dr. Willie Soon

“No, if Cook et al’s paper classifies my paper, ‘A Multidisciplinary, Science-Based Approach to the Economics of Climate Change’ as “explicitly endorses AGW but does not quantify or minimize,” nothing could be further from either my intent or the contents of my paper.”
– Dr. Alan Carlin

If you’re inclined, you can read (a lot) more here.

Even the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) did a paper reviewing the complete intellectual dishonesty of the work: 

“The notion of consensus defies the fundamental principle of scientific inquiry which is not about agreement, but rather a continuous search for understanding. …a claimed consensus is a powerful tool for driving public policy, but an inappropriate and unethical means of conducting scientific inquiry or informing the public.”

Real science is a bitch…

And yet for some reason beyond imagining, this claim has persisted like a bad case of athlete’s foot.

It’s because, in general, politicians don’t know squat about science. 

What they do know is 1) how to dive headlong into programs and policies with no clue about the real-world ramifications, and 2) how to pacify the really big donors. 

The Biden Initiative

In 1989 the Associated Press cited an official from the U.N. Environment Program who warned that “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000.”

Six year after that deadline passed, Al Gore warned that humanity had only 10 year before we’d reach “a point of no return.”

Today, AOC gives us 12 years (I think we’re down to 10).

So the world’s been under the threat of climate disaster for decades, but it seems that this time things are different. Because this time it’s led to far more serious actions that have the potential to really threaten our economy.

I’ve written about it before laying out all the steps President Biden has taken to squash the fossil fuel industry and replace it with a new green grid — at a pace that seems almost panicked.

Recently, we’ve learned that other agencies within the government — agencies you might not think have an interest in promoting environmental agendas — are also on board with the president’s efforts.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced her entire department would be re-focusing its policies and programs on climate goals:

“Treasury is actively working with the White House, Congress, and others to ensure that our domestic economic programs and tax policies support our climate goals, including a transition to a decarbonized economy, building climate-resilient infrastructure, and designing the climate transition to support equity and well-paying jobs.”

I’m not saying an interest in the environment is bad, but the stated job of the Treasury is “promoting economic prosperity and ensuring the financial security of the United States.” 

And as a PhD economist who insisted inflation was transitory for months as prices skyrocketed, I’m not sure I trust her gut when it comes to making any long term predictions. (Truth is they can only predict things after they’ve happened.)

Private Equity is Joining the Party Too

BlackRock is the largest money management fund in the world. By December of 2021, it had reached over $10 trillion under management.

They own enormous chunks of some very major companies: over 6% of Apple, nearly 7% of Google, more than 8% of Cisco… With all those shares comes a lot of voting power.  

In December of 2020, a newly-launched, green-energy-focused hedge fund called “Engine No.1” decided they wanted to make a play for seats on the oil giant ExxonMobil’s board. They wanted Exxon to “reduce its carbon emissions and become a global leader in profitable clean-energy production.” Not exactly what ExxonMobil does.

Despite Exxon’s plea to voters that none of the candidates had any experience running an oil company, three members were elected to Exxon’s board. 

They were all backed by BlackRock. It didn’t hurt that the fund’s CEO, Jennifer Grancio, had been a managing director at BlackRock for 19 years.

What All This Means for You

I’ve said this over and over: I’m not against the development of green energy sources. There are places for wind and solar and others.

What I do object to is the idea of forcing the development of a product by outside factors, be they the government or private funds, before the market deems it ready.

It eliminates the idea of a “free” market economy and replaces it with a managed one. And managed economies never achieve the spectacular prosperity and equality goals they advertise. 

Their failures result from unintended consequences that accompany nearly all government efforts to manage or solve anything.  It’s largely because legislators don’t (or maybe realistically “can’t”) look far enough into the future at what the long term results of their actions might be. Most elected officials’ time horizons extend only so far as the next election. 

Trying to manage economies also rejects companies that should be truly profitable in favor of propping up weaker ones (usually long enough to suck in investors money before they fall apart).

John Maynard Keynes famously (supposedly) said, “The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.” It essentially means the market is always right. And insisting otherwise is a fool’s errand. 

Today we are a fossil fuel-based economy. That is a fact that can’t be denied. Pushing against that reality with an insistence that there is a better way is both stupid and dangerous (there are national security issues where the production of energy goes!)

Fortunately, the market will ultimately win out. 

The unfortunate part is how much we’ll have to endure before it does.

Make the trend your friend,

Bob Byrne
Editor, Streetlight Confidential