The unbearable lightness of the climate change industrial complex

Article Highlights

  • The bureaucracy itself is an interest group pressing for an expansion of its workload, and is very likely to be ideologically biased toward certain classes of policy prescriptions.

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  • Even something seemingly as straightforward as the surface temperature record is fraught with difficulty.

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  • Thus do we find the global warming/climate change industrial complex clinging to anecdotes like so much flotsam in an ocean devoid of actual evidence.

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The scientific and policy certainties claimed by the global warming/climate change industrial complex are pervasive - and deeply misguided.

I recently wrote a brief summary critique of the Environmental Protection Agency's "analysis" of the "social cost of carbon." In a nutshell: (1) the EPA analysis fails to recognize that U.S. policies would have virtually no effect on temperatures or "climate" regardless of which climate model is assumed to be the most useful; and (2) the analysis is poor methodologically and inconsistent with analytic guidelines that have been imposed on executive agencies by the Office of Management and Budget. My observations elicited several comments, varying substantially in analytic quality, to which I respond below.

I thank the several commentators for arguments both thoughtful and collegial in response to my brief observations on the EPA analysis of the "social cost of carbon." However, many of those reactions are not persuasive. With respect to an initial aside from Wil Burns, the director of energy policy and climate at Johns Hopkins University, AEI as an institution does not take positions on policy issues; only its scholars do so, and those views do not purport to represent the views of AEI or of its officers or sponsors.

Burns's argument that "prospects for manipulation of the [cost-benefit analytic] process are reduced by insulating the process from elected officials" is curious, in that the meaning of "insulating the process" is a good deal more ambiguous than Burns seems to recognize. There is no such thing as "objective" analysis by a government bureau headed by an administrator appointed by an elected official and confirmed by the Senate. Moreover, the bureaucracy itself is an interest group pressing for an expansion of its workload, and is very likely to be ideologically biased toward certain classes of policy prescriptions. More generally, government bureaus are not peer-reviewed journals, and a self-evaluating organization is an oxymoron.

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About the Author


  • Benjamin Zycher is the John G. Searle Chair and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he works on energy and environmental policy. He is also a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.

    Before joining AEI, Zycher conducted a broad research program in his public policy research firm, and was an intelligence community associate of the Office of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, US Department of State.  He is a former senior economist at the RAND Corporation, a former adjunct professor of economics at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and at the California State University Channel Islands, and is a former senior economist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.  He served as a senior staff economist for the President's Council of Economic Advisers, with responsibility for energy and environmental policy issues.

    Zycher has a doctorate in economics from UCLA, a Master in Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Bachelor of Arts in political science from UCLA.

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