Saturday, March 22, 2008

Morally Relative Capitalists

For my three or four readers, my sincerest apologies for not blogging for these many months. I will make more effort to keep it up and make it interesting. To wit:

There are a number of Canadians who are anti-capitalist, western civilization loathing types. Their dislike of capitalism shows up in many contexts.

One that has always amused me is the dismissal by these folks of the opinion of scientists who dissent from the global warming hysteria of environmentalists like Al Gore and David Suzuki. The argument usually runs like this: Gore should be believed because he is trying to "save the planet", whereas these skeptics work for public policy organizations that accept money from rapacious capitalistic companies like Exxon and their opinions should be dismissed without consideration on their merits for that reason alone.

When you look at the financial reports of some of these public policy organizations you find that Exxon's contributions are very small potatoes in the overall budget of the organizations. In fact, Greepeace has a website devoted to exposing Exxon's "secret" donations, totally some $3.5 million annually distributed amongst 49 "front" organizations. It is difficult to understand how an internationally publicly traded company can have such secrets, but thank heavens Greepeace was there to "out" them.

One of these terrible public policy institutes that was fingered by Greenpeace, for example, the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, according to its 2004 Annual Report (see page 41 of the document) had a budget of approximately $4.1 million and received $45,000 from Exxon in 2003. This amounted to 1% of its overall budget and only 9% of all corporate donations received by the PRI that year. In other years the PRI was getting sums from Exxon of $15k to $95k. Is it credible to assume that these paltry sums are enough to discredit the objectivity of such an organization?

It is clear that Exxon, by only spending a miserly $3.5 million a year is losing the war of warming discreditation. One wonders why, if discrediting global warming science is an important objective of this oil company, as alleged by Greenpeace, it would not have spent more money doing so. After all, in 2007, Exxon's profits were $39.5 billion dollars. It's expenditure on the "secret" fight against global warming amounts to just 9/1000th of 1% of its profits. Could it be that Greepeace is mistaken? Could it be that Exxon doesn't really care one way or another about the global warming controversy?

I never really understood the Exxon versus global warming argument anyway, since any extra costs imposed on Exxon and other fossil fuel companies to combat so-called global warming will simply get passed on to consumers. So why would they care that much about discrediting global warming science?

On the other hand, there are people who care very deeply about whipping up the public fright on climate change. Al Gore is making millions selling something called "carbon credits". I have often referred to him as a snakeoil salesman for this very reason. Now it appears, from this story in the International Herald Tribune, that other billionaires are following Gore's pioneering and are plotting to cash in on the climate hysteria.

I guess as long as capitalists are profiting from "saving the planet" they are morally superior to capitalists who are profiting from warming our homes in the winter and cooling them in the summer and providing fuel for our transportation to our jobs and vacation destinations.


Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Capitalism is an economic theory. Western civilization is a whole lot more than it. To reject the former does not require one to reject the latter. As one who finds Capitalism deeply flawed I dislike this logical error that want to exclude me from western civiliation.

I am sorry but I listen to what Al Gore and David Sazuki have to say because the overwelming scientific opinion is that human activity is a major cause to global warming and environmental destruction.

Navigator said...

Navigator replies to tossing pebbles.

I could have left it just at "anti-capitalism" but I decided to throw in "western civilization loathing" as another qualifier to the people I am disagreeing with. If you enjoy western civilization but don't like capitalism, then clearly you were not one of the people I was describing, since you only meet one of the two criteria. Hence, the logic is still sound.

I also have listened to messrs. Gore and Suzuki, but to many others as well. Gore is not a scientist, he is a politician/businessman and Suzuki, who has a science degree, has not been a scientist for 40 years, he is a broadcaster/journalist and environmental activist. My opinion is informed by a number of prominent scientists (not broadcasters, jounalists and business types),some of whom are prominent in their fields and originally subscribed to the IPCC view, who dissent from the prevailing wisdom.

Remember, at one time the overwhelming scientific opinion was that the sun circled the Earth, that the Earth was flat, that mankind was created 6,000 years ago, that there was nothing beyond Newtonian physics. Einstein was faced with a few hundred skeptics among scientists to his theory of relativity. His famous reply was, "it only takes one of them to prove me wrong". There are a lot more scientists who think the CO2 explanation for so-called global warming (which has been dramtically absent in Canada this winter) is both deficient in explanation and highly suspect for political reasons rather than scientific ones, not just one scientist.

bs said...

this is an odd way to examine scientific claims. if one considers the pittance exxon is using to fund global warming deniers only, your scenario makes sense. if one also considers the money they donate to politicians, this all becomes clearer. they are hedging their bets, and most of us do not read those papers. the better investment is in lobbying.

i also think it's disingenuous to tie global warming to a fear of capitalism. tossing pebbles is right; capitalism is just moving capital around, and is pretty philosophically inoffensive when you get right down to it. some people are that reactionary, but it does the argument itself a disservice to assume we all are. in other news, what are your thoughts on the fact that exxon has just reduced their investment in public-policy think tanks? that seems like a significant piece of new data for your theory.