This is a short and well-written book, provocative and full of smart and no nonsense arguments. Lawson provides end notes for each chapter and all bibliographical sources are properly referenced. The book's aim is to examine each of the dimensions of the consensus view of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), including the science, the economics, the politics, and the ethical aspects. He is concerned with the uncertainties of long-term forecasting and the lack of a real cost-effectiveness analysis in the policies recommended and advocated by the majority view on climate change, particularly by the radical change in lifestyle that will have to take place in the developed countries, and the unnecessary burden that will be put on the poor in the developing world. Lawson questions the fundamentals of AGW orthodoxy just armed with common sense, his political experience, and some very clever back-of-the-envelope calculations.
Lawson opens the book arguing that although he agrees that there is a real warming trend, he is skeptical of the validity of predictions made with global climate simulation models, and more importantly, he questions if indeed the sole cause of this warming is man-made greenhouses and how big the contribution of CO2 is. Lawson also raises several issues regarding the IPCC process, its findings and policy recommendations, and throughout the book he strongly criticizes the The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review
, which he considers "at the extreme end of the alarmist camp".
He might not be right in all the issues, but certainly he will at least let you wonder about some of them. Besides the reasonable critic of the economics, I found particularly robust his argument regarding the lack of falsifiability of climate simulation models and their predictions, which means that these complex models do not meet one of the most basic criteria required for any theory to be considered within the domain of science (for more on falsifiability read Karl Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Routledge Classics)
). He sarcastically notes the fact that all models have failed so far to predict that there has been no further warming between 2001 and 2007. And by the way, this trend continued during 2008, ending with one the coolest boreal winters in recent decades (just Google to verify by yourself). Personally I do not think this recent short trend means that AGW is not real but more likely just part of the normal blips within long term climate patterns, in this case regarding the effects of the normal sunspot cycles and La Niña, as Lawson later in the book explains. However, it is a good example of the risks of advocating a cause with incomplete science, oversimplifications and by obstructing any real scientific debate.
After making his case in Chapter 1 about why he thinks "the science of global warming is far from settle", Lawson proceeds as any respectable economist would do, and assumes a prudent position "to err on the side of caution". Therefore, for the rest of the book he works under the assumption that the AGW theory is correct as reported by the IPPC's 2007 Report (see Climate Change 2007 - The Physical Science Basis: Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Climate Change 2007)
- a PDF version is available for free through the web) .
First he goes on to discus the practical consequences of the predicted warming over the next hundred years, based on the IPCC scenarios and policy recommendations. Next he analyzes the importance of adaptation, what Lawson claims is the IPPC's most serious flaw regarding the impact of global warming, as there is a "systematic underestimation of the benefits of adaptation" and "the most cost-effective way of addressing the likely consequences" as opposed to reducing CO2 emissions. He also is critical of the Stern Review and the Kyoto Protocol and the practical difficulties of reaching a global agreement. Then he discusses the different technologies and market alternatives being implemented and available to reduce emissions, closing with his own proposal to impose a carbon tax across the board, but implemented simultaneously with a reduction of other taxes to compensate for the extra revenues and avoiding any additional burden on the taxpayer. The book closes with a discussion about the discount rates used by the IPCC and the Stern Review in their economic analysis, with a more detailed discussion on the latter. The book ends with a warning about the dangers of the environmental movement, calling it "the new religion of eco-fundamentalism" and claiming that "we appear to have entered a new age of unreason."
I highly recommended this book for those with a genuine interest in the AGW controversy, and particularly in the aspects regarding the economics of mitigation and/or adaptation that will be necessary and that is being debated right now.