Sunday, December 20, 2009

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From The Sunday Times December 20, 2009

The Copenhagen farce is glad tidings for all
Dominic Lawson After two weeks of increasingly ill-tempered negotiations, one of the European delegates at the Copenhagen summit “to save the planet” had clearly reached breaking point; or perhaps it was the ingratitude of the people he was trying to save that caused this negotiator to tell the BBC’s science correspondent, Susan Watts, that millions of Africans now “deserve” to be incinerated.

Watts was reporting a conversation she had had with an unnamed “European negotiator” after South Africa decided to join the quartet of America, India, China and Brazil in putting its name to a statement rejecting any binding emissions targets, and thus comprehensively sabotaging the entire conference. “South Africa has signed up to this!” the delegate told Watts. “They’re going to fry — and they’ll deserve it.”

One’s heart does not warm to anyone expressing such sentiments, but it’s easy to understand the fury that must have overcome this delegate. Here was Europe offering to impose vast costs on its own industries and peoples to save Africa from the alleged perils of runaway CO2 emissions — and that continent’s most powerful international voice says, thanks very much for the offer, but we think we can best provide health and prosperity to our people by being free to expand our economy exactly as you did in the industrial revolution, by using the wonderfully cheap forms of energy that nature affords: fossil fuels. After all, why is it that in the US many fewer people die as a result of very high temperatures than used to be the case a hundred years ago? Air-conditioning.

I know that for those thousands of “climate activists” who descended on Copenhagen, the idea of air-conditioning in African homes is something almost too revolting to contemplate; but then they have never understood that, for the real inhabitants of the developing world, the American example of achieving health and comfort through technology and subverting harsh nature for human ends is something to be emulated, not shunned.

The climate catastrophists naturally insist that if the developing countries — notably China and India — follow the American path, the planet will become uninhabitable. The most quoted expression of this came in 2004 from Britain’s chief government scientist then, Sir David King, when he said that if we did not act to reduce our carbon emissions, by the end of the century Antarctica would be the world’s only habitable continent.

Even if you share King’s view of what some of the climate models project in terms of anthropogenic CO2’s effect on global temperatures, his apparent belief that man is completely unable to adapt to a changing environment suggests that, whatever his claims as a scientist, he knows next to nothing about either human nature or history.

Unfortunately for those in the same camp as King, the leak of lethally embarrassing emails from the world’s foremost academic climate research unit, at the University of East Anglia, confirmed the suspicions of roughly half the British population, that too much political faith had been placed in the omniscience of a small group of scientists.

The most interesting of those leaked emails came from Kevin Trenberth, head of the climate analysis section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. After observing — this was an email dated October 12, 2009 — that in freezing Boulder, “We have broken records the past two days for the coldest days on record ... it smashed the previous records for these days by 10F”, Trenberth turned to the fact that the planet’s average temperature over the past 10 years seemed to have been static and wrote: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of global warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.” Two days later he reiterated: “We cannot account for what is happening in the climate system.”

Asked last week by the BBC about these emails, King would say only that their leak and publication in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit had to be the work of some malign national agency (the CIA? The Russians?). Since we know that a Briton with Asperger’s syndrome, working on a domestic dial-up internet connection, managed to hack into the Pentagon’s most secret codes, King’s insistence that only a national agency could have hacked into a non-secure academic research unit’s emails seems as sensible as the assertion that we must all plan to settle in Antarctica. Even if he is right that UEA’s emails were put in the public domain as a result of theft, he deserves as much respect for his reaction as any MP whose only response to the leak of Commons expenses claims had been that the newspaper that bought the disc with all the information had broken the law. As a matter of fact, no MP was quite so arrogant.

King’s old boss, Tony Blair, turned up in Copenhagen to give his take on the leaked emails. The former prime minister declared that they did not lessen by one jot what he called “the need for action” and added: “It is said that the science around climate change is not as certain as its proponents allege. It doesn’t need to be.” Blair is clearly not troubled by irony, since this approach is exactly the one that got us into such a mess over Saddam Hussein’s suppositious biological threat. The actual evidence was tenuous at the time — but to persuade the public of the need for action, Blair was prepared to say that it was watertight. For weapons of mass destruction, read weather of mass destruction.

Blair now argues that even if the science is less clear than is claimed by the climate catastrophists, we have to act because of the risks to humanity if their worst fears turn out to be well founded. This would make perfect sense if there were no risks attached to what he calls “action”, just as it would if there had been no lives put at risk by attacking Iraq. In fact, there are vast costs involved in the war against weather, which could actually cost lives. The highly respected climate economist Professor Richard Tol, a senior member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has said that the CO2 tax required to bring emissions down to the levels demanded by the IPCC would reduce global GDP by an amount that would equate — in 2100 — to $40 trillion (£25 trillion) a year. It’s pretty obvious, really: just as cheap energy has transformed the lives of millions for the better, it follows that reversing the process would have an opposite effect.

Carbon cap and trade, recommended by the EU as an alternative to tax, has its own malign effect. Just ask the 1,700 employees being made redundant at Corus’s steel plant in Redcar. The owners of Corus could receive up to $375m (£230m) in carbon credits for laying off those British workers. Then, if they switch production to a so-called clean Indian steel plant, Corus could also receive millions of dollars annually from the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism fund. The net effect of all that on the environment could be safely estimated as zero.

Gordon Brown, who seems to be embarking on a scorched earth economic policy in his final months in power, evidently regards this as worth it — he wants to go down in history as the man who saved the climate. Yet this government — or the next one — has been given a golden opportunity by the farce in Copenhagen: to abandon the carbon witch hunt altogether. If India, China, America, Brazil (and Uncle Tom Cobley and all) carry on with “business as usual”, then anything Europe does to cut its emissions is irrelevant, at best: it will cause pain and hardship for its own citizens to no purpose whatever.

So let’s toast the negotiators of Copenhagen. By failing so spectacularly, they have presented us with a wonderful Christmas present. All we have to do is open it.

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