Interview of the President of the Czech Republic for the Wirtschaftswoche
Mr. President, German chancellor Angela Merkel fights for climate protection during her state visits throughout the world. She finds listeners in all countries except for yours. Why?
The unfair and irrational debate on global warming annoys me. The topic is increasingly evolving into the fundamental ideological conflict of the present era.
Has Mrs Merkel been caught into an ideology?
She probably thinks about these ideas. That surprises me. Because as a trained physicist, she should be undoubtedly able to test controversial hypotheses. But it also shows that this is not about science. The movement for the protection of the atmosphere embodies a new ideology. Surprisingly, it is espoused by Mrs Merkel who herself lived in socialist society. But she should know the risks associated with those ideologies that are directed against freedom.
Do you consider the chancellor to be a savior of the world?
I don't want to analyze Ms Merkel. The utopians are those who want to improve the world. However, politicians may find utopias to be an excellent thing because these politicians may start to talk about the distant future and avoid their everyday business. Such politicians are "escapists" because they want to escape reality. The issue of climate change is ideally suited for this purpose because we can spend 50 or even 100 years in the future by developing visions - while voters remain unable to control the consequences.
What are they escaping?
Politicians flee away from the emptiness of their own imagination. They have no ideas rich in content that could fill the present.
Does this also apply to the U.S. President George W. Bush who has apparently also warmed up to the climate debate?
I have talked about this topic with Bush several times. During our last meeting in the context of the U.N. high climate event in September, he asked me: "Václav, where is your book? I look forward (laughs)." As many Americans, he views the topic a bit more pragmatically. Americans have never been truly interested in utopias.
In your book, "Blue, Not a Green Planet", you only describe the environmentalists, as you call them, vaguely. Who are those conspirators whom you find so dangerous?
The climate debate itself deserves a sociological analysis. The politicians come first; they use the climate for the reasons explained above. Then we see the journalists who use the issue as a free ticket for a catchy theme on the title page. And finally the climate researchers only act to benefit and to maximize their profit by looking for subjects with the most promising funding situation.
Serious and prestigious researchers are among those who attack you. Are all of them opportunistic small minds?
Let's take for example the United Nations report on the climate. The presidium of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) decides on what is in it. People like IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri may have been scientifically active in the past, but since then they have become bureaucrats. These people published their last journal article years ago. Today they work on policymaking. And among the real scientists, there are many who can't offer any new approaches. They simply follow the mainstream.
One can analyze scientists ad hominem. But if there is a critic with a legitimate criticism, why is he not heard?
Whatever the climatologists find incompatible with the so-called consensus is even not included in the U.N. climate report. Every day, I receive letters from all around the world in which scientists disagree with the prevailing opinion but no one wants to listen to or print their hypotheses. They are simply unfashionable.
You seem to suppose that the climate research is being censored.
You know, the whole thing is very familiar to me. After the Warsaw Pact troops intervened to terminate the Prague Spring, I was dismissed from the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences as an enemy of Marxism. In the 1970s, I couldn't write any articles on economics.
You are trained as en economist, not a climate researcher - are you able to judge the scientific debate?
As an unemployed economist, I had a job in the State Bank of Czechoslovakia. We had the first computer over there. My task was to work on statistical and econometric models and against my will, I became busy with things that are important and relevant for climatology. Climatology is not one of the fields of physics and chemistry where a controlled experiment can be repeated a thousand times. It deals with data and hypotheses which can either be accepted or not. It works with time series that require statistical analysis.
Do you therefore distrust the method of climate researchers?
I have played with similar models for years. In hundreds or thousands of similar equations, I could always see that a slight change of a parameter or the addition of another parameter may radically change the outcome of complex models. That is why I am very critical about this methodology.
Do you flatly disagree that climate is changing?
No, of course not. The fact is that the climate is changing but every child knows that. There have to be no Nobel prize winners or a professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Of course, humans also play a role. But the crucial question is: How big is the influence of people on this process? The dispute is about orders of magnitude. Is the induced temperature change nonzero in the third, fourth, or fifth digit after the decimal point? This is a serious question that we must answer. And there is no consensus.
You say that the environmentalists such as the former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore threaten the freedom of thought. It is easy to argue against it. Who would be against freedom? What do you actually mean?
It is hard to answer in a few sentences. I have both political as well as economic and scientific freedom in mind. It is important that we don't lose either of them. Communism was another version of this ideology that placed something else as a "sacred" value above freedom. Environmentalism follows the same logic. First, the climate, then comes freedom followed by prosperity. Such priorities are wrong. For me, freedom is an important value. We Czechs have some experience with a lack of freedom. We sensitively and perhaps oversensitively respond to the threats to freedom - including those that the people in Western Europe don't understand too well.
The European Union has set - with the approval by the Czech government - ambitious climate targets. Your views make you totally lonely.
I am not alone. But I do find the current situation in Europe and the U.S. somewhat tragic. During the recent climate change conference in New York, my speech was the only one that criticized the climate policies. I didn't hear applause. Only after the dinner, many heads of state came to me and congratulated me. "There must have been someone to tell it," they said. One already probably needs political courage to speak against the policy of climate.
Who has thanked you?
I can't give you the names. It wouldn't have the right effect.
You argue that the economy and technological progress has the capacity to solve all problems resulting from climate change. What makes you so sure?
I didn't say the economy, I mean the market! This difference is fundamental. I believe in the market. Throughout my life, I have studied the economy in all of its manifestations, including communism. Plans vs market, external control vs spontaneity - these have been the eternal debates since Adam Smith. Why am I so confident? Because of my life experience. I have seen governments being mistaken hundreds of times. The market is not perfect, but its shortcomings are slight in comparison with the mistakes governments make. I lived in the regime of the planned economy - I consider the 50-year long plans of Angela Merkel just as misleading as the former five-year-plans.
What do you think about emissions trading? If carbon dioxide gets a price, the forces of the market will operate freely.
That's nonsense. This is a fraud by climatologists and environmentalists. Only fake economists could say what you did. This is about dirigism and not a free market. This method only pretends to be market-friendly. Emissions trading is just a game that looks like a market and as a classical liberal, I disagree with it.
There are entrepreneurs who earn money with the help of the environment. Germany has become the market leader in environmental technologies. It seems that the environment and the entrepreunerial spirit fit together wonderfully.
It is completely appropriate when entrepreneurs earn money by their effort to save energy. All of us should be thrifty regarding the energy, after all. Something else happens when entrepreneurs make profits out of alternative technologies. Transactions involving solar and wind energy are only possible because of the high subsidies paid for by the governments. These companies thus have political objectives and they don't play according to the rules of the free market.
No one doubts that we need traffic signs. Without minimal rules, chaos would threaten whole societies. Don't we need a couple of warning signs for the environment as well?
It depends on whether we talk about the environment or climate change. I have nothing against laws that protect ponds against waste disposal. But the environment protection laws, especially those in the EU, now go too far. But in this case we at least know what are the negative consequences of our actions or sins, if you wish. When the lake is polluted, it becomes contaminated. On the other hand, one cannot see how large and important the human influence on climate change is. It is an equation with too many unknowns - I am against climate restrictive laws and other forms of dirigism.
Václav Klaus, Wirtschaftswoche, November 10th, 2007