Climate Change: A Short Note

December 7, 2015 | 00:00
Climate Change: A Short Note
Climate Change: A Short Note
Many years ago, interrupting my return from Sydney to Stockholm, I stopped in Brisbane (Australia) to give a half-dozen amateur and half-baked lectures on environmental economics. In my mathematical economics classes in Sydney I usually walked up to the podium or whiteboard with a smile on my face, ready and able to deal with anyone who thought that they had a lesson to give my good self, while in Brisbane I was in unknown territory, because my knowledge of this subject (environment and climate) was probably only marginally superior to that of the less alert members of my audience.

When I wrote the above lines, in the charming university town of Uppsala (Sweden), and also Stockholm, hundreds or maybe thousands of persons were forming ranks in preparation for a Climate March (or demonstration), while gorgeous Paris (France) was in the process of opening its arms, hearts and restaurants to politicians (and their advisors) from 140-150 countries, who were scheduled to occupy the front line of perhaps the largest climate/environmental conference in history.

I will not play any part in any these gigs, because I consider the Paris ‘event’ to be a lie and a show. In fact I won’t have anything to do with the Parisian extravaganza although I was offered a round-trip, all-expenses paid invitation, because I am too smart to waste my valuable time listening to the fractured wisdom launched by distinguished conference attendees with less than a minuscule insight into climate/environmental/energy matters.

Just as important, I am not interested in trying to explain to them the elementary thermodynamics required to understand technical matters of the kind found on the business pages of their local newspapers, or perhaps in the comic books of their children or grandchildren.

What I will do however is to tell them and anybody else how I am attempting to expand my slender knowledge of climate/environmental issues. First and foremost, on that subject, I am only interested in the writing and thinking of dedicated researchers, preferably superstars. This practice, incidentally, is not necessary for making the most of your future courses (or reading) in calculus, economics, strength of materials, ballistics, or e.g. history – because eventually I was beautifully taught these and other subjects at my engineering school in Chicago by members of the academic rank and file. By way of contrast, DEDICATION is absolutely necessary in order to obtain what all of us need to obtain from this topic (climate/environment), because otherwise you expose yourself to the most grotesques varieties of pseudo-scientific nonsense. Put less dramatically, YOU EXPOSE YOURSELF TO AN OVERDOSE OF WILD GUESSES AND LIES!

And who are these superstars? Well, John von Neumann was often called the best brain of the 20th century, but after finding out what I have found about him I would not have attended his lectures if he paid me. He may of course have had something to offer in his papers and conversations, but to me lectures provide the measure of a scholar. (Let me note however, that no one who knew von Neumann wasted any time criticizing him, because as a mathematician that gentleman was strictly in a class by himself.)

For the purposes of the present discussion, I am going to nominate Freeman Dyson as Your Man of the Year, Your Chief Dedicated World Class Scholar, Your Main Man, and suggest that if you want to know more about him than the few comments below, you should turn to Google. The thing about Dyson is that you can find his work in virtually every kind of publication, and the respect for this work is impressive. Dyson also accepts that anthropogenic (man-made) global warming exists, and even accepts that it is the result of burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal. However he does not accept the mathematical models that are supposed to provide precise answers to the development of global warming. It may be the case though that he wants answers from these models that mathematics cannot provide.

In addition, he may – may – be on what I consider to be the wrong side of the nuclear discussion, because when discussing clean energy, nuclear should be at the top of the list. In case he isn’t, please let me apologize, because despite all the lies and misunderstandings that teachers of energy economics like my good self must confront on virtually a daily basis, in 2014 nuclear power generated about 60% of the carbon-free electricity in the U.S., though its contribution to total power generation in that country is only 19-20%. Readers might also find it useful to know that James Hansen, the American scientist who became famous raising the alarm about climate change, is today in Paris urging the expansion of nuclear power. .

Professor Dyson is a signatory of a letter to the UN criticizing the IPCC (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), because of their intolerance of views that are outside the mainstream of scientific opinion on climate change. What he fails to understand here is that as with football (soccer) the issue is not just truth but money and ‘perks’. Some of most preposterous suggestions ever concocted have been made by international organizations that are trying to gain acceptance for their ignorant efforts at superfluous international conferences such as the one now taking place in Paris. (The IPCC investigates scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to risks that might occur as a result of human-induced climate change. I once regarded their activities as useless, however I was recently informed that they too now accept that nuclear has a great deal to offer, so now perhaps they deserve my attention.)

Dyson has correctly argued that political efforts to reduce the causes of climate change distract from other global problems that should take priority. He says that “I'm not saying the warming doesn't cause problems, obviously it does. Obviously we should be trying to understand it. I'm saying that the problems are being grossly exaggerated. They take away money and attention from other problems that are much more urgent and important. Poverty, infectious diseases, public education and public health. Not to mention the preservation of living creatures on land and in the oceans.” Since taking interest in climate studies, Dyson suggests that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could be controlled by planting fast-growing trees.

He calculates that it would take a trillion trees to remove all carbon from the atmosphere, which is interesting, although I would like to know how many would have to be planted every year to prevent carbon dioxide levels from increasing, and perhaps where they should be planted. In any event, as all intelligent women and men know, planting trees costs money, and many of the persons making decisions about planting trees (and crucial matters like the quality and quantity of primary and secondary education in their countries) are more interested in ‘running off at the mouth’ at conferences in places like Paris.

Finally, I say a few words about environment and climate in my new book ENERGY AND ECONOMIC THEORY (2015). But just a few mind you, because neither I nor anybody else knows what we should (and probably) could eventually know about this increasingly important topic. Perhaps you can help us some day, but even if you can’t, you should make as much effort as possible to convince yourself and your friends and neighbors that instead of meaningless conferences in exotic surroundings, more attention should be given to improving the quality of education at all levels, especially for those of us who – like myself – were once informed that we were “hopeless”.


Baltscheffsky, Susanna (2009). Koldioxidutsläppen når rekord höjder. Svenska Dagbladet. (December 3).
Banks, Ferdinand E. (2015). Energy and Economic theory. Singapore, London and New York: World Scientific.
Banks, Ferdinand E. (2010). ‘An unfriendly comment on another Green Fantasy: Roadmap 2050’. 321 Energy (April)
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Harlinger, Hildegard (1975). ‘Neue modelle für die zukunft der menscheit’. IFO-Institut Für Wirtschaftforschung, Munich.
Roques, Fabien and William J Nuttall, David Newbery, Richard de Neufville, Stephen Connors, (2006), ‘Nuclear power: a hedge against undertain gas and carbon and carbon Prices’. The Energy Journal (No. 4).
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Ferdinand E. Banks (Uppsala University, Sweden) has published internationally 13 books, to include 2 energy economics textbooks and an international finance textbook, and 200+ articles. (His 13th book ENERGY AND ECONOMIC THEORY (2015) has just been published by World Scientific (Singapore, London and New York), and he is circulating an ‘ENERGY ECONOMICS 101’ textbook to colleagues and students in Sweden and elsewhere called ENERGY ECONOMICS: A MODERN FIRST COURSE (2016).

Image: Arial view of forest. By: Leonard G. CC-BY licence.

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