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Sunday 8 January 2012

Energy Costs – More Means Worstall

It takes a certain amount of brass neck to blatantly and knowingly mislead readers, and then in the next breath call out others for dishonesty. Moreover, it takes skill to conceal such actions, and the latter has evaded the humourless Tim Worstall, fellow of the Adam Smith Institute (ASI), the museum of outdated economic thought that has fraudulently appropriated the name of the founder of economics.

Worstall, who responded to my criticism of his ignorance over Phonehackgate by imperiously denouncing me as a “twat” (ah, the lofty intellectual heights of the ASI), has turned his attention to the Department Of Energy And Climate Change (DECC) and its deeply subversive 2050 Pathways Calculator, where he believes that he has caught David MacKay et al in an incendiary trouser situation.

In a post titled “Lying With Numbers: Green Energy Edition”, which makes a number of assertions about energy costs, but sadly cites nothing to support them, Worstall homes in on this paragraph:

The total energy system cost of tackling climate change could be similar to doing nothing and may even be cheaper than remaining fossil fuel dependent (even if fossil fuel prices are not high). For example, taking action could save £84/person/year over the next forty years based on a pathway from the cost-optimising model, MARKAL. In the MARKAL pathway, energy use per person in 2050 is half today’s levels; around three quarters of this is due to uptake of more efficient technologies”.

He then concludes that “They’re saying that producing half the amount of energy is going to be about the same price”. Sadly, “they” are not, and it is not difficult to see: the description of this particular model is just one example. The calculator enables a range of technologies and actions to be costed and compared. Worstall conveniently ignores this, as well as the caveats in the paragraph quoted.

Moreover, the example does not claim that “half the amount of energy is going to be about the same price”. It suggests that there could be a saving of £84 per person per year from an approach where each person uses half the energy. But his particular interpretation enables Worstall to use the word “lie”.

This is a most unfortunate characterisation, especially as he has not established any form of dishonesty. Zelo Street does not use such terms, for one very good reason: once the L-word has been fired off, the bottom of the discussion barrel has been scraped, and it is difficult to row back.

I’m well aware that Worstall is sceptical of anything labelled “green” – it goes with the territory at the ASI and like minded bodies – but he has unearthed no wrongdoing, and the only lack of veracity is, as with his misguided take on Phonehackgate, with his good self. Forbes readers are being misled once more. That’s Not good enough.

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