State of Innovation

Patents and Innovation Economics

Climate Change and Innovation

President Obama travels to the climate conference at Copenhagen this week.  How would limiting CO2 emissions effect innovation?  The president has promised that:

U.S. emissions in 2050 will be 83 percent below 2005 levels. If so, 2050 emissions will equal those in 1910, when there were 92 million Americans. But there will be 420 million Americans in 2050, so Obama’s promise means that per capita emissions then will be about what they were in 1875.[1].

In order to achieve this goal will require significant advances in technology or significant restrictions on the activities of U.S. residents.  The argument that limiting CO2 emission will increase innovation are based on the idea that government mandates stimulate innovation by businesses to meet the directive.  The problem with this argument is that it ignores the innovation that businesses did not undertake because they had to spend their research and development budgets to meet a government directive.  Since it is unlikely that the U.S can achieve these goals without also limiting the activities of its residents, the CO2 emission goals set by the President will limit economic activity.  According the Rate Law of Innovation, any limitation on the goals or means of innovation reduces the rate of innovation.  A weaker economy is also likely to reduce the number of innovators slowing the rate of innovation. 

According to the Heritage Foundation, the cost of the Cap and Trade legislation would be over $10,000.00 per year for a family of four in actual taxes and reduced economic activity.[2] Over the forty year period that the President wants to reduce U.S. CO2 emission, this would be $400,000 per family.  While it is probably impossible to provide exact cost numbers, it is clear that the costs for limiting CO2 emissions would be enormous.  This will result in a significant drag on the economy and therefore limit resources for innovation.

A law limiting CO2 emissions will usurp private sector and public sector resources.  This means that many investments in other areas of innovation will not happen.  Promising areas of technological advancement will not be pursued.  The technological advances that are not pursued will not be visible, but they will have a real effect on the innovation and economy of the U.S.

However, if the potential problems of climate change are catastrophic then the costs are justified.  This conjecture poses two questions; what are the problems associated with any rise in temperatures due to man’s activities and is anthropomorphic warming of the Earth occurring?  At best it is ambiguous what the results would be if global temperature were to rise 1-2 degrees.  The wild assumptions of more hurricanes and other damaging weather events are pure speculation without any scientific basis.  The rising sea levels are generally overstated also.  The Arctic ice cap could completely melt and it would not affect the ocean levels one millimeter.[3] Alternatively, there are many scenarios where an increase in temperature would provide many benefits, including a longer growing season, more arable land, more plant growth due to the extra CO2, and reduce accidents due to ice and snow.

Despite the shrill statements by proponents of climate change, the case for anthropomorphic global warming is not clear.  The Earth’s temperature has varied significantly over its 4.5 billion year history.  The history of Earth shows that long glacial periods alternate with shorter warming periods.[4] The last ice age ended about 11,000 years ago.  Clearly, Earth’s temperatures have warmed since the end of the last ice age.  Secondly, the biggest factor effecting the Earth’s temperatures is variations in the output of our Sun.  Normally, periods of higher solar activity are associated with more sun spots and warmer temperatures of Earth.  The mini-ice age of 1645-1715 was characterized by few sun spots.[5] At present, we cannot predict variations is solar activity, except based on historical cycles.  Since we cannot predict the variations in the output of the Sun anybody suggesting that the can predict the average temperature on Earth in the future is just guessing.  All the fancy computer climate models at best are making historical assumptions about the output of the Sun.  Predictions based on inputs that pure speculation is not science.  This perversion of science will cause more damage to innovation than all the issues mentioned above.

Global warming advocates always point to warming over 10, 20 or even 100 years.  Although less so since this decade is cooler than the 90s, which is not what they warned us about.  Since the Earth is over 4.5 billion years old and we know that there have been wide variations in its temperature, even a 100 year trend is far too short a timeframe to draw any statistically significant conclusions.  The first ice age in Earth’s history was over one billion years ago.  Even since the end of the last ice age, 100 years is an insignificant time (1/110) from over which to extract a trend line.  This technique is like measuring the temperature 8 AM in the morning and noon and extracting a trend line for the temperature increase over the next month.  On an average summer day the temperature difference might be 95-65 degrees or 30 degrees Fahrenheit.  Based on this trend the temperature in a month would be over 800 degrees.

When all their arguments fail, global warming advocates always fall back on the “precautionary principle.”  The precautionary principle as applied to global warming is usually stated this way “But if we don’t do something now, it may be too late when the scientific evidence is clear.”  This statement is usually followed up by the comment that all the proposed changes to avert global warming are good ideas anyway.  The precautionary principle as applied by global warming advocates has several logical fallacies.  First, if we do not understand how the climate is effected by certain changes, then we cannot know if our actions will have the intended effect.  Second, if we do not understand how Earth’s climate works, it is possible that we are headed for an ice age instead of a warming period.  In fact, the history of Earth over the last 100 million years shows it is much more likely that Earth is headed for an ice age than a period of increasing temperatures.  Third, the burden of proof is logically on the global warming advocates since they are asserting a position.  The burden of proof is never on the side that must show that something is impossible.  It is impossible to prove a negative and this is the basis of the legal principle “innocent until proven guilty.”  Fourth, all the proposed changes because of global warming are not good ideas.  If global warming is not happening, then we will waste resources trying to solve it.  This means lower standards of living, worse educational resources, shortened life spans, worse health care, significantly restricted freedom, etc.  The precautionary principle as applied by global warming advocates is not science, it is not logical, and it will hurt innovation.

Global warming, rebranded as climate change, is a fundamental attack on science itself.  Reason, observation, and the truth are being subverted to political goals.  The global warming advocates are taking us back to the time of Galileo and the Catholic Church.  Note that a consensus of scientists at the time of Galileo would have said that the Sun rotates around the Earth – either from ignorance or fear for their life.  According to Richard S. Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT,  “Scientists who dissent from the alarmism (of global warming) have seen their grant funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves libeled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse.”[6] Subverting science to political goals will result in untold damage to science, reason, and innovation for years to come.

Policies advocated by global warming advocates will hurt innovation by limiting  economic growth, restricting freedom, and most importantly subverting science and reason.

[1] Will, George F., (12/5/09)

[2] David Kreutzer, Ph.D., Karen Campbell, Ph.D. and Nicolas Loris, (12/5/09)

[3] If you do not understand this, they you clearly do not have a sufficient scientific background to have an intelligent opinion about global warming.

[4] Wikipedia, “Ice Age”, (12/5/09)

[5] Science Daily, “Solar Activity And Climate Change: New Sun-Watching Satellite To Monitor Sunlight Fluctuations”, (12/5/09);  Also see “Solar Activity and Climate”, (12/5/09)

[6] Sheppard, Noel,  NewsBusters, MIT Professor Declares Gore’s Global Warming Crusade a ‘Bait-and-Switch Scam (12/6/09)

December 7, 2009 - Posted by dbhalling | Innovation | , , , , , , | 3 Comments


  1. DB,

    I have a strong hunch that you and I are in different camps when it comes to AGW.

    However, when it comes to advocating for a strong patent system in the USA, I believe we are on the same side.

    It is from that 2nd perspective that I come here to warn you about using the word “innovation” in place of invention.

    “Innovation” is the psycho-linguistic innovation of the anti-patent forces. They figured out how to put the NO between the “in” and the avocation.

    Inventors do something called inventing.
    Inventors have names and faces.

    “Hello, my name is Thomas Alva Edison and I *invented* an improved electric light bulb.”

    “Hello, my name is William F. Morse and I *invented* a way for people to use electricity to communicate over long distances.”

    “Innovators” are faceless dark shadows hiding behind corporate veils and foisting ideas like that the “inventor” doesn’t count because he does not bring product to market as quickly and powerfully as can the patent pirating coalition member. They are the true “innovators”. The inventor is nothing.

    “Innovators” are the folks who brought you the credit default hedge swap and the fear, doubt and uncertainty (FUD) about global warming. They are tricksters of the mind. Alas, my good friend, they have tricked you into adopting their innovative code word: “inNOvation”.

    Remember: real inventors “invent”.
    Innovative tricksters invocate their trickster code words.

    Comment by step back | December 10, 2009 | Reply

  2. Step back, interesting point. I have notice that “innovation” has been used as an excuse to marginalize inventors and elevate other business and academic positions. Thanks for the input

    I actually have a specific definition for innovate and invent – not the one used by Joseph Schumpeter. By innovate I mean the creation of anything new, such as books, music, movies, new business models, and inventing. So inventing is a subset of innovation, where the outcome of the process is objective and repeatable. The outcome of music and aesthetic pursuits is not objective, since we do not no how the observer will react. The objective of an invention for creating light from electricity is objective and repeatable. I found this distinction necessary when I was developing my Laws of Innovation. I would appreciate your feedback on whether you find these definitions clear.

    Comment by dbhalling | December 10, 2009 | Reply

  3. DB,

    If you pay close attention to what the patent-abolitionist, M Masnick (Tech-Dirt) says at the beginning of the following video. You will see clearly that they use “innovation” as a code word for marginalizing and devaluing the “inventor” –what he, the inventor does is merely an insignificant first step and what the corporate marketing department does, now *that* is the true “innovation”:

    Comment by step back | December 11, 2009 | Reply

Leave a comment