Stern's Gloom needs considered response



Australian Financial Review

1st November 2006


History is replete with predictions of disaster by scientists, preachers and others unless we humans restrain ourselves.


The 1972 "Blueprint for Survival", for example, effectively endorsed the Club of Rome prediction that the world would run out of resources without stabilizing population and reducing living standards. That Blueprint was supported by 14 Fellows of the Royal Society and 36 holders of science chairs in British universities. As with other gloomy predictions, the opposite has occurred.


Now we have another doom and gloom report, this time by an economist, Sir Nicholas Stern. My long experience with supposed scientific modeling and analysis is that economists are no better than scientists at predictions. Stern's basic assertion is that the only convincing explanation of the average temperature increase over recent years is increased greenhouse gas emissions from increased human activity. His recipe for avoiding temperature increases that would have disastrous effects is not dissimilar to the Blueprint's, although he appears prepared to allow some growth in living standards.     


But, contrary to popular perceptions, there is no scientific or other consensus on this analysis. There is, for example, no convincing rejection of the possible influence on temperature of the increases in the sun's radiation. Nor is there any satisfactory explanation of why substantial increases in human activity in some recent periods prior to the mid 1970s resulted in a cooling. Stern may be the message but let us be calm in giving our response.