An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming (2008) by Nigel Lawson is a surprisingly good book about possible responses to anthropogenic global warming (AGW). The book is short, crisp, well written and provides a good view of a certain type of skeptic position. He accepts with some doubt the scientific predictions of AGW and sea level rise from the IPCC’s 2007 report but argues that the socio-economic position for action is weak. He supports, like Bjorn Lomborg, increasing funding for alternative energy research rather than emissions reduction.
Lawson is a good author to write the book. He was the UK’s Secretary of State for Energy during the Thatcher years and was involved in the dispute over coal mining. He then became Chancellor of the Exchequer and was involved in Thatcher’s privatisation policies. So Lawson has a thorough understanding of energy policies and economics and knows how politics works.
Lawson first looks at the science, where he accepts that C02 contributes to AGW, although by how much he is unsure. This is not far from the IPCC position given that the IPCC does make falsifiable predictions but rather puts forward scenarios. He suggests that the science of climatology has been captured by what he describes as ‘alarmists’ and how they control what goes in to the report and attempt to stifle criticism. He also questions the post 1990 paleo-climatology that substantially lessened the amount of climate variability that had been accepted as normal. With the Climategate Scandal unfolding his views look prescient. But he largely accepts the ranges for temperature and sea level rise that the IPCC puts forward.
Where Lawson puts his case most strongly is that he says that the economics of AGW is such that it makes little sense to try and enact treaties and to introduce emissions trading schemes. He points out that using normal discount rates of 1 percent or more it does not make sense for the relatively poor world of the early 21st Century to try and do things for the world of 2100 and beyond that is likely to be much richer. He also points out that the adverse effects of the AGW are the weakest part of the IPCC report. The suggested increases of extreme weather events are very dubious and the claims of rises in infectious diseases are not nearly up to standard. He rightly slams the Stern Report as being simply a government justification of policy. He points out that more acclaimed AGW economists such as Nordhaus and Schellenberger have very little regard for the report.
Lawson describes how the treaties up to the writing of the book such as Kyoto have largely been failures and have relied on tricks to look reasonable. He suspects that future agreements will have trouble. Again, with the collapse of the Copenhagen Conference Lawson looks vindicated.
Lawson’s book is impressive. It is to the point, well thought out and clearly delineated. It is very impressively short at only about 120 pages. There were some printing errors in the copy I read, which had correct Celsius values but incorrect Fahrenheit values which was unfortunate. The book would also have benefited from some graphs of the numerical arguments. But for anyone who is interested in what the ‘lukewarmer’ skeptics think this book is a good overview. With the failure of Copenhagen and the unlikelihood of 67 votes in the US Senate to ratify a global treaty on global warming it will be interesting to see if any countries pick up on the ideas put forward by Lawson and Lomborg.