A Magnificent Navy on Land: Parkinson's Law and Climate Change

The information provided here is taken from the blog A Magnificent Navy on Land: Parkinson's Law and Climate Change,


In the year 1955 Cyril Northcote Parkinson published an article entitled Parkinson’s Law (later issued as a book under the same title). One of his "laws" is,

The size of the administrative staff will increase at a rate between 5.17 per cent and 6.56 per cent, irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done.

One of the organizations that Parkinson examined in order to reach his conclusions was the Royal (British) Navy between the years 1914 and 1928. The original page from his article is shown below.

Parkinsons-Law-1

The data show that, in the period under review, the number of capital ships (large fighting ships) in the navy decreased by 68% and the number of men at sea decreased by 32%. However, the number of dockyard workers increased by 10% and number of office workers (Admiralty officials) increased by 78%.

Parkinson recognized that some of the increase in land-based workers can be attributed to the higher levels of technology, which may explain the increase in the number of dockyard officials (they were the ones who designed ships in those days). But he goes on to say,

From this we might be tempted to conclude, provisionally, that the rate of increase in administrative staff is likely to be double that of the technical staff at a time when the actually useful strength (in this case, of seamen) is being reduced by 31.5 per cent. It has been proved, however, statistically, that this last percentage is irrelevant. The officials would have multiplied at the same rate had there been no actual seamen at all.

He uses the above data to justify the term, “A magnificent Navy on land” and concluded that eventually the Royal Navy would have more admirals than ships.

Here is a picture of HMS Dreadnought. She was launched in the year 1906, and scrapped in 1921. She was the first in a brand new line of battleships called ‘dreadnoughts’. It was all downhill from there.

 HMS Dreadnought

Parkinson showed that his “law” applied equally well to the decline in size of the British Empire. The maximum number of Colonial Office workers was reached when there were no colonies at all.

His “law” is, of course, written tongue-in-cheek. But there may a lesson that he can teach the climate change community.

Climate Change Bureaucracy 

In recent posts we have been examining and evaluating the proposed rule from the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The title of the rule, a draft of which was published in March 2022, is “The Enhancement and Standardization of Climate-Related Disclosures for Investors”. In summary, this rule requires public companies to disclose all their greenhouse gas emissions, and to identify the risks to their business as a result of climate change.

There is much to like about this rule. It will require that all companies analyze the business impact of climate change. The rule will also create a standardized format that will allow investors to compare companies on an apples-to-apples basis.

However, the rule is very long (490 pages) and detailed. It will force companies to spend an immense amount of time and money publishing climate reports, even if they take no action at all when it comes to reducing emissions.

Maybe Parkinson’s Law can be expanded for our time as follows,

The number of specialists, learned papers, web sites, blogs, meetings and government edicts to do with climate change will increase at a rate of between 5 and 6.5% per annum regardless of actual greenhouse gas emissions. This Law is true even if emissions do not decline at all.

To illustrate this point, here are the initials of just a few of the agencies that have written standards that were used by the SEC while developing its climate rule: TCFD, GHG, CDSB, IPCC, IFRS, ISSB, SASB, KPMG, PRI, NGFS, IOSCO, GFANZ, FSOC and FASB. These are for a proposed rule. If ever the rule actually goes into effect the number of such bureaucracies will increase exponentially. (And to think that the Dreadnought battleship was designed by men using slide rules, pencils and template curves, and before most engineering standards had been developed.)

To reiterate, the SEC rule has much going for it. But one wonders if the world would be a better place if all the bureaucrats were to spend their time growing potatoes rather than creating yet more bureaucracy — which is why I wrote the parable Small Potatoes.

The following image is taken from a reddit post. It sums up the dilemma we face.