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Earth Day at Harvard

One volcano eruption produces more greenhouse gases than mankind has produced… ever.

By Andrew Sridhar, The Harbus

The "Green" movement has reached a fever pitch, and this was true on Earth Day at Harvard Business School. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is prepared to take serious steps to curb emissions of carbon dioxide. As such, the case for manmade climate change should be evaluated on its merits, especially at HBS.

Many people at HBS probably marked Earth Day with a mixture of sermonic emails, feel-good gestures, and tree planting. The time has come for some perspective.

With Earth Day's inaugural celebration in 1970 environmentalists began warning of three impending crises, each of which turned out to be somewhere between grossly exaggerated and patently false: overpopulation, mass starvation, and global cooling. That alone should give us pause. As we all know, though, past results are not indicative of future performance.

The environmental movement's focus for several years has been on global warming, which was renamed "manmade climate change" for two reasons. First, the new name covers all fluctuations in climate so as to never go out of style. Second, it blames the alleged perpetrator, since man's supposed causing of climate change necessitates and makes possible our doing something about it.

There are, however, a few flies in the climate change ointment.

Global temperatures have increased less than one degree centigrade since 1880. Yes, read that sentence again if necessary. This fact is seldom disputed. Some just choose to depict this trend on charts with scales that exaggerate the magnitude of the change.

The Earth cooled between 1940 and 1970 despite a rapid increase in greenhouse gas emissions during the period.

Global temperature fluctuations are quite volatile, and it is difficult to discern a true trend. The four major temperature-tracking outlets reported that global temperatures dropped around 0.70C in 2007.

Numerous studies demonstrate that rises in temperature actually precede increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, nullifying the environmental movement's favorite cause-effect relationship.

One volcano eruption produces more greenhouse gases than mankind has produced… ever.

The IPCC even admits that its models are far from conclusive, saying in its 2007 report, "The long term prediction of future climate states is not possible." Still convinced?

The left's success in propagating fears about global warming is not altogether surprising. After all, protesting "Big Oil" sounds like more fun than going to a manmade climate change dissent rally. Not to mention, beautiful celebrities (and not-so-beautiful vice presidents) preach to us daily about our solemn duties in the war on our own excesses.

But former Vice President Al Gore, who is much celebrated in the Generation Investment Management case (LCA), has some credibility problems. For instance, he has maintained a personal carbon footprint that is twenty times that of the average American. His movie, An Inconvenient Truth, was cited by a British judge for nine significant errors, including his claims about the melting of polar ice caps. (Antarctic sea ice is actually up over 40% since 1980.) Finally, Gore felt the need to pirate computer graphics from the movie The Day After Tomorrow for one of the movie's hallmark scenes.

At the same time, the lengths to which the environmental movement goes are not all that surprising given how they view this issue: Man sinned. We will all die because of our sins. Some all-powerful being must save us from our own self-caused damnation. Sound familiar?

An apocalyptic crisis linked to our energy consumption enables government to control nearly every aspect of corporate and personal life. The new administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently took the first step in finding that carbon dioxide constitutes a pollutant. Taxes (aka "cap and trade") will be used to reduce productive output and enrich government. As the most industrious in our society are handicapped for the greater good, so, too, will be the most developed nations in the world. Countries like the United States will finally pay their penance, and the dream of Scandinavian style socialism can become reality for all. When these are the stakes, global warming begins to look all too convenient.

At an institution such as Harvard that prides itself on challenging dogma, I find it puzzling that the religion of environmentalism is left unscathed. In RC case discussions of Ecosecurities and 2006 Hurricane Risk (FIN1) and recently of Generation (LCA), the foundational assumption has been that manmade climate change is a bona fide doomsday crisis with scant effort or time given to exploring this notion.

You might ask, "But why should we waste time to appease a fringe minority?" First, the number of skeptics at HBS is larger than you might think. Many students are simply intimidated by the zealotry and sheer numbers of faculty and students that make up the majority. After all the oft-used term "global warming denier," implicitly compares skeptics of climate change science to those who deny the Holocaust (which is an actual post facto verifiable event as opposed to a postulated one).

Second and more importantly, the "consensus" that is so heralded by many is but a propaganda tool. As the author Michael Crichton once remarked, "Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled." Meanwhile, closer inspection actually reveals a lack of consensus. Plenty of respectable scientists - like the founder of the Weather Channel, one of Greenpeace's founders, and numerous veterans of NOAA, NASA, and the IPCC - dispute manmade climate change. While polls of climatologists often show relative agreement, they are increasingly flawed due to sample bias. Furthermore, polls of physicists (i.e. the rock stars of science) show much more skepticism about manmade climate change in comparison.

Consensus has no place in the scientific method. There is not voting in science. All you need is one correct theory validated by repeatable experiments, which has not occurred for manmade climate change. We should also remember that there once was consensus for an Earth-centered universe, bloodletting, a flat world, and alchemy. The poor results of combining "consensus" with the "the sky is falling" include hysterias over SARS, avian bird flu, Y2K, and the ozone hole.

I respect the altruism of environmentalists, but here is a message for all crusaders: You don't save the world by siding with the crowd. Conventional wisdom by its very definition doesn't need you. While it was extremely brave of you to wear green to class with at least a thousand other people last Wednesday, causes like common sense, freedom, and economic growth could use a few more champions these days, especially at Harvard Business School.

We would all do well to remember Mark Twain's words: "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."