January 10, 2010
Brrrr, the thinking on climate is frozen solid
Here’s how it is down our way. The oil tank that powers our central heating is running worryingly low, but for days fuel lorries have been unable to navigate the frozen track that links us to the nearest main road. We would have gained much welcome heat from incandescent light bulbs, but as those have been banned by the government as part of the “fight against climate change”, no such luck.
On the good side, the absence of delivered newspapers — even the faithful paperboy has given up the unequal struggle to reach us — means I won’t be getting any more headaches from attempting to read newsprint under the inadequate light shed by “low-energy” bulbs. Nevertheless, the news has reached our Sussex farmhouse that the Conservatives have already begun the general election campaign, covering hoardings nationwide with pictures of David Cameron looking serious.
Many will be appalled by the promise of months of being force-fed with party political argument. There is something much worse than being confronted with non-stop debate, however: it is the prospect of being offered no choice and no debate when all three main parties have the same policy. This is what happened in the general election of 1992, when the Conservative government and its Labour and Liberal Democrat opponents were united in the view that sterling should remain linked to the deutschmark via the exchange-rate mechanism (ERM). This had been forcing the unnecessary closure of thousands of businesses as Bank of England interest rates went up and up to maintain an exchange rate deemed morally virtuous by the entire political establishment — and, indeed, by every national newspaper.
As everyone now knows (and as we deeply unfashionable “ERM deniers” warned at the time), it would all end in tears. A few months after that general election, the re-elected Conservative government was compelled by the forces of reality to abandon this discredited bulwark of its economic policy, a humiliation that destroyed the Tories’ reputation for competence or even common sense.
Now, almost a generation later, we face another election in which the main parties are united in a single masochistic view: that the nation must cut its carbon emissions by 80% — this is what all but five MPs voted for in the Climate Change Act — to save not just ourselves but also the entire planet from global warming. For this to happen — to meet the terms of the act, I mean, not to “save the world” — the typical British family will have to pay thousands of pounds a year more in bills, since the cost of renewable energy is so much higher than that of oil, gas and coal.
The vast programme of wind turbines for which the bills are now coming in will not, by the way, avert the energy cut-offs declared last week by the national grid. Quite the opposite: as is often the case, the recent icy temperatures have been accompanied by negligible amounts of wind. If we had already decommissioned any of our fossil-fuel power stations and replaced them with wind power, we would now be facing a genuine civil emergency rather than merely inconvenience.
There are other portents of impending crisis caused entirely by the political fetish of carbon reduction. As noted in this column three weeks ago, the owners of the Corus steel company stand to gain up to $375m (£234m) in European Union carbon credits for closing their plant in Redcar, only to be rewarded on a similar scale by the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism fund for switching such production to a new “clean” Indian steel plant. That’s right: the three main British political parties — under the mistaken impression that CO2 is itself a pollutant — are asking us to vote for them on the promise that they are committed to subsidise the closure of what is left of our own industrial base.
The collapse of the UN’s climate change summit in Copenhagen makes such a debacle all the more likely. Countries such as India, China and Brazil have made it clear they have not the slightest intention of rejecting the path to prosperity that the developed world has already taken: to use the cheapest sources of energy available to lift their peoples out of hardship, extreme poverty and isolation. Britons may be forced by their own government to cut their carbon emissions — equivalent to less than 2% of the world’s total; but we can forget about the idea that this will encourage any of those much bigger countries to defer their own rapid industrialisation.
Just as the British public never shared the politicians’ unanimous worship of the ERM totem (which is why the voters’ subsequent vengeance upon the governing Tories was implacable), so the public as a whole is much less convinced by the doctrine of man-made global warming than the Palace of Westminster affects to be: the most recent polls suggest only a minority of the population is convinced by the argument. This has caused some of the more passionate climate change catastrophists to question the virtues of democracy and to hanker after a dictatorial government that would treat such dissent as treason. As Professors Nico Stehr and Hans von Storch warned in Der Spiegel last month: “Climate policy must be compatible with democracy; otherwise the threat to civilisation will be much more than just changes to our physical environment.”
The threat of a gulf between a sceptical public and a political class determined — as it would see it — on saving us from the consequences of our own stupidity can have only been increased by the Arctic freeze that has enveloped not just Britain but also the rest of northern Europe, China and the United States. Of course one winter’s unexpected savagery does not in itself disprove any theories of man-made global warming, as the climate change gurus are hastily pointing out. Steve Dorling, of the University of East Anglia’s school of environmental sciences — yes, the UEA of “climategate” email fame — warns that it is “wrong to focus on single events, which are the product of natural variability”.
Quite so; but it would be easier to accept the point that a particular episode of extreme and unexpected cold was entirely due to “natural variations” if the UEA’s chaps had not been so adept at publicising every recent drought or heatwave as possible evidence of “man’s impact”, and if David Viner (then a senior climate scientist at UEA) had not made a headline in The Independent a decade ago by warning that in a few years “British children just aren’t going to know what snow is”.
A period of humility and even silence would be particularly welcome from the Met Office, our leading institutional advocate of the perils of man-made global warming, which had promised a “barbecue summer” in 2009 and one of the “warmest winters on record”. In fact, the Met still asserts we are in the midst of an unusually warm winter — as one of its staffers sniffily protested in an internet posting to a newspaper last week: “This will be the warmest winter in living memory, the data has already been recorded. For your information, we take the highest 15 readings between November and March and then produce an average. As November was a very seasonally warm month, then all the data will come from those readings.”
After reading this I printed it off and ran out into the snow to show it to my wife, who for some minutes had been unavailingly pounding up and down on our animals’ trough to break the ice. She seemed a bit miserable and, I thought, needed cheering up. “Darling,” I said, “the Met Office still insists that we are enjoying an unseasonably warm winter.”
“Well, why don’t you tell the animals, too?” she said. “Because that would mean they are drinking water instead of staring at a block of ice and I am not jumping up and down on it in front of them like an idiot.”