Once again German Professor Hans-Joachim (John) Schellnhuber is calling for limiting democracy and transfering policy-making power to a wiser, elite group of scientists.
Dr. Peter Heller here examines the answers given by Schellnhuber in a recent interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) and then tells us why Schellnhuber’s power-grab will fail.
Any fan of Hollywood films following the climate debate knows the objectives of mad scientists: They try to rule the world. With his performance in the FAZ in the run-up to the recent UN-Summit on Sustainability in Rio, Prof. Dr. Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber can be ranked along with the likes of Dr. Strangelove and Dr. No:
The role of climate science remains to put the problem-facts on the table and to identify options for appropriate solutions. The role of politics is then to mobilize the will of the citizens with the aim of implementing decisions that are based on science.”
This demonstrates an odd understanding of democracy. Up to now the “will of the citizens” has always arose from the interests of people and were implemented by electing a goverment that abided to that will. But Schellnhuber wants to turn this on its head. According to Schellnhuber, politics should now tell the citizens what interests they are to have so that measures that follow those prescribed by science will end up getting implemented.
He leaves no doubt about which targets he is pursuing:
What is certain is that we do not only need relative objectives, but also absolute guardrails. And that means for example, as before, 450 ppm of CO2 is to be the maximum if global warming is to be limited to two degrees Celsius. Within these absolute orientation guidelines, the Green Economy can unfold as it likes. I have nothing against economic growth, as long as it does not break through the planetary guardrails.”
Hence, in the future a small group of scientists are to determine which products and ideas we are to use, produce, consume or implement, and which we are not to. A network established and led by Schellnhuber:
As scientists, this time we can deliver our views directly to the centre and convey our message to the official part of the Summit. Just before Rio+20, there’s going to be a ‘Nobel Dialogue’ with about ten Nobel laureates and leading global experts for sustainability. This circle was created through the ‘Nobel Cause’ which we formed in Potsdam in 2007. In order to give science an unmistakable voice of the highest credibility. At Rio 2012 this voice will speak through a memorandum which will be introduced to the round-tables of government leaders and ministers by the representatives of our circle, thus achieving a whole new quality of discourse between scientists and decision-makers.”
Schellnhuber’s idea of rule has a new quality: the dictator acts behind the scenes and no longer provides the possibilities. Instead, he prescribes the limits for development. Governments are not only to act at the executive level, but are also to act as PR and marketing agents for selling these limits to the broader public. The rule of mad scientists thus gets established by the ruled, who then regulate themselves with enthusiasm.
This strategy differs totally from one used by Lex Luthor, or green kobolds. Can it be successful?
Schellnhuber’s approach entails the level of man-made rules, which serve as the framework for social processes. These rules, written and unwritten, impact the interaction between people and their surroundings, from basic law, to civil code, and extending to municipal regulations for importing anything, such as dental braces from a Romanian manufacturer. They form a network of regulation that cover and run our lives. They are often are not helpful, but without them not much would likely function. Therefore, one may ask: aren’t legistlative committees the power that form our society?
Not by any means.
This is because the political level functions only within the higher and superior level of economics. People break or bend laws mostly when it makes economic sense. If politics obstructs the free economy, the former always fails and the latter emerges as the winner. Over the long-term, laws can be successful only if they take the decisive forces of trade into account instead or working against them. Sectors such as prostitution, pornography, arms, narcotics and gambling are combatted based on moral notions – in all cultures, societal systems and states by using a variety of regulations, control mechanisms and outright bans. However, they still remain enduring and profitable.
Many apostles of sustanability in Club Schellnhuber have recognized the primacy of economics. They believe that people can be swayed by ethical arguments to behave irrationally with respect to economy, and be convinced to even forego the benefits of burning crude oil, natural gas, and coal.
But calls to do this are ineffective and fail time after time. Economics are also subject to a superior force: biology. The “economic human” in all of us gets disabled only when our natural, evolutionary drives take over. Ultimately the desire for material prosperity is an expression of these drives: greed. It is an instinct important for survival in the competition for resources among species. Aggression, fear, and natural sex drive are other factors. People who are controlled by these emotions make bad business transactions.
That’s the reason why fear plays such a large role in the climate debate, and has a much larger effect than moral platitudes. Fear brings people out onto the street against new infrastructure projects, nuclear and coal power plants. So it is no surprise that generating fear is at the top of the alarmists’ agenda.
But such propaganda can be successful only over the short-term. That is because there is an ultimate ruler of human civilzation: technology.
It can for example control our biological instincts in a variety of ways. Just think of the trickery employed by an ad to get the customer to make a purchase. Think of psycho-phramceuticals and designer drugs. Foremost they act to free us from fear because they protect people better and better from all dangers.
Relevant in the climate debate is the increasing invulnerability with respect to destructive natural phenomena. When people live in stone houses, are protected by dikes, stock food, and maintain a stable supply of potable water, warnings of the risks of a climate catastrophe lose their effect. Just how dangerous can droughts be when gene-improved plants made to resist droughts are used in agriculture?
Also relevant in the climate debate is the increased access to the plentiful reserves and deposits of carbon-based fossil fuels. It is not desperation and shortage that drive the oil and gas industry to drill offshore at extreme depths or to do fracking. It is technical progress that transforms inaccessible resources into marketable reserves. Technology does not break through barriers because it is necessary; it does so because it is possible. Possibility is the mother of invention.
The physical laws of the universe make up the framework for biological evolution on Earth. On the basis of these natural laws, technical systems are created, which can fulfill far more tasks far more efficiently than what is possible by life forms that are mercilessly trimmed by effective reproduction. Today technology sets down the framework conditions for human societies – not nature. It determines the relevance of human biological instincts. It determines how to run business and how it is to be conducted. It also determines how human societies are to organize themselves. Civilization is a consequence of technology, and not its source. It began with fire, ancient empires with agriculture, and alphabet. The Middle Ages brought on wind mills and water wheels. The printing of books led to enlightenment, the steam engine led to the abolishment of slavery. Today the Internet is a threat to the world’s rulers. It’s always been progress in the necessary fields of health and nutrition, energy, mobility and communcation which have led to breakthroughs.
The primacy of technology over biology, economics and politics closes Schellnhuber’s path to grabbing power. He can go on whispering his ideas to governments, but here he is dealing precisely with the group of people who have the least possibility to configure anything. Emissions trading, carbon taxes, emission limits and subsidies for green energies will remain ineffective tools because they involve only the lower levels of the law. This is now obvious after more than 20 years of climate policy – global CO2 emissions have steadily climbed. Any time someone attempts to use legislation to override the principles of economic processes, biological factors and technical innovation, they fail. You can sometimes slow things down, but you will never stop them. Except for some frictional losses, there will be no detectable effects in the end. Ultimately, technology will push away Schellnhuber’s guardrails far beyond the horizons. Whether the notions of climate and environmental catastrophe, species extinction and resource shortages are justified or not, the coming generations will only laugh at the irrelevance of these end-of-world fantasies.
If he is truly trying to achieve global rule, then the Professor from Potsdam has probably seen too many Hollywood films in which mad scientists tried to do just that. But Schellnhuber has even failed to understand the films, as every villain worked at the top and employed technical innovation instead of authoring papers and roadmaps for governments. Schellnhuber is not only giving his employers the wrong recommendations, he is not even delivering anything useful for a credible Hollywood script.
Remark: Although I’ve been following the described above world-model for quite some time, the concrete idea for this text was provided by an especially interesting and informative presentation by Prof. Adrian Bowyer, who revealed to me and other members of the audience his plan for ruling the world as a “mad scientist” by using self duplicating 3D printers.