A famous quote from William F. Buckley, Jr. is "I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University." Boy did he have that one right. The faculty of Harvard are genuinely "smart" in a simple sense of the term -- ability to solve a discrete problem, or a puzzle; ability to get a high score on an IQ test or an SAT test; ability to write a paper to get an A at Harvard. How about judgment on big public policy questions? Watch out! What "smart" people also have is tremendous hubris that they have figured out everything important about the world, and that their solutions should then be imposed on everyone else through government power.
And thus we have something calling itself the Risky Business Coalition coming out this week with a big ad in the Wall Street Journal and a big report urging everyone -- not least the U.S. government through coercive means -- to take immediate and drastic action against fossil fuels to prevent "climate change." Who are the people behind this? The three co-chairs are seriously accomplished business people, self-made billionaires all, who undoubtedly meet any test of "smart" you could come up with: former Mayor Mike Bloomberg; former Treasury Secretary and head of Goldman Sachs Hank Paulson; and Farallon Capital founder Tom Steyer. As soon as you start looking at the details of this thing you realize how limited this category of "smart" is. Bloomberg really was a pretty good mayor (given the alternatives), but he repeatedly showed himself completely subject to falling for every overhyped scientific fad without ever considering the underlying data. (The anti-salt campaign anyone? Trans-fats?) Paulson was Treasury Secretary when the financial crisis hit and promptly got buffaloed into falling for every bailout request that anyone could think to make. And Steyer? Don't get me started. And all three of these guys are serious private jet mega-users, who don't seem to have any comprehension that their behavior is exactly the opposite of what they want the government to force on everyone else. Here is a Wall Street Journal compilation of several hundred trips made by Bloomberg's fleet of four private jets in just the four years from 2007 to 2010. Did I mention that he is also a fan of private helicopters?
To someone like me who actually follows the data on this subject, the timing of this big initiative certainly seems odd. Do these people, despite their undoubted brilliance and their many accomplishments, even know that temperatures have failed to rise for some 17 years now despite the ongoing increase of CO2 in the atmosphere? Do they know that the models on which they and the government have relied to predict warming have been proved spectacularly wrong by the evidence of the real world?
Or perhaps we should turn to the actual Harvard faculty to see where they are on this issue. Those of you who did not have the honor of attending that august institution may not be aware that it is currently being consumed with the debate over whether the Harvard endowment should divest from all investments in fossil fuel companies. Here's a roundup from the current issue of Harvard Magazine, with lots of links. It would be hard to think of an institution with a bigger carbon footprint than Harvard, let alone the collective carbon footprint of its jet-setting faculty. Back in April some 154 faculty members calling themselves "Harvard Faculty For Divestment" sent an open letter to the Harvard community calling for the divestment. These signers are all undoubtedly really "smart," although if you look at the list you will find it remarkable how few scientists are on it, let alone scientists whose specialties have anything to do with climate. The large majority are from the humanities. But they just know that having the government force everyone but themselves to stop using fossil fuels is really, really important:
Our sense of urgency in signing this Letter cannot be overstated. Humanity’s reliance on burning fossil fuels is leading to a marked warming of the Earth’s surface, a melting of ice the world over, a rise in sea levels, acidification of the oceans, and an extreme, wildly fluctuating, and unstable global climate. These physical and chemical changes, some of which are expected to last hundreds, if not thousands, of years are already threatening the survival of countless species on all continents. And because of their effects on food production, water availability, air pollution, and the emergence and spread of human infectious diseases, they pose unparalleled risks to human health and life.
Of course, not one of them indicates that he or she will cut his own carbon usage but one bit. Nor will any one of them will support the use of some form of non-carbon-based energy that might actually work on a large scale, namely nuclear.
At the Atlantic, Todd Gitlin, a professor at Columbia, wrote an article back in April supportive of the position of the Harvard activist faculty. Here is the response of the first commenter:
Shorter version of this article: Harvard activists tell worldwide poor to shiver in the dark, peasants.