The power of forecasting

by Jacob Arfwedsonphoto_1507_20081030

In the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt asked his administration to undertake a vast exploratory study of future technologies. A group of researchers eventually produced a voluminous report with fascinating insights. There was only one little glitch: the document did not foresee television, plastics, jet planes, organ transplants, laser technology, or even ballpoint pens.

As Ludwig von Mises stated, petrol is good for many things, but not for slaking your thirst. Similarly, government may be useful in some instances but not in others. The precautionary principle is good, provided it is used appropriately. We should first apply it to politics: our elected leaders should be required to produce impact studies, showing, ex ante, that their planned interventions will have a positive effect. Thus the scope of government would spontaneously be reduced to its congruent portion.

Here is a formidable source of data on climate change, courtesy of prof. Lindzen (MIT) from a CEI presentation a couple of weeks ago. Once more, he reminds us that many statements bandied about and accepted as gospel truths are in fact serious distortions and sometimes outright contrary even to authorities such as the IPCC.

Try this one for size:

“The Arctic ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer (…) Reports all point to a radical change in climate conditions. (…) Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, while at many points well-known glaciers have entirely disappeared.”

Sounds familiar? Sure, must have read it in the paper last week. Fact: the Arctic variations are notorious and the report above was issued by the US Weather Bureau in … 1922.

“Warming is accelerating and sea levels will rise more than expected.” The IPCC mid-range 10 year projection is 1.26 inches and may not clearly be distinguished from the change registered since the ice age ended, ie for some 10,000 years.

photo_4398_20090207Yes, but what about the “consensus”? The IPCC states that it is likely that most of the warming over the past 50 years is due to man’s emissions. How did it come about? Large models which could not simulate human behaviour supposedly described natural climate variations. According to the author, “the fact that these models could not replicate the warming episode from the mid-seventies through the mid-nineties (was used) to argue that forcing was necessary and that the forcing must have been due to man.”

This makes “arguments in support of intelligent design sound rigorous by comparison”.

How unfortunate that this is not required reading in the schoolroom. Meanwhile, please do have a look.

Photos: freedigitalphotos


About the Author: Jacob Arfwedson

Jacob Arfwedson first worked on environmental issues with the ICREI (Paris) in the early 1990s ( He has published extensively on various free market issues, working with some 20 think tanks in Europe and the US for the past 20 years. He received his MA from the Catholic University of Paris before studying at the Catholic University of America (Timbro Capitol Fellowship). His articles have been published by the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, le Figaro and AGEFI Switzerland.