Has Cameron lost his love for the huskies and our climate?

Posted by jamie — 13 May 2011 at 5:06pm - Comments
Is this really the 'greenest government ever'?
All rights reserved. Credit: David Sandison / Greenpeace
Is this really the 'greenest government ever'?

Is it really a year since David Cameron, newly ensconced as prime minister, assured us that the coalition would be the "greenest government ever"? It's an anniversary worth remembering, if only to consider how, in environmental terms, Cameron's government seems stuck in reverse.

But cast your mind back further to 2006, when Cameron took a trip to the Norwegian Arctic to pose with huskies and become personally acquainted with the effects of climate change. At the time, he said "since becoming leader of the Conservative Party, I have sought to push the environment up to the top of the political agenda."

Vote blue, go green was the message. So with the help of our own cheeky version of Mr Cameron and a team of eager huskies stationed outside the Houses of Parliament, we want to make sure the prime minister and his government don't make a mockery of commitments made in opposition and in government. Because on recent evidence – and even with the traditionally greener leanings of the Lib Dems - I'd say we're a long way off having the greenest government ever.

There is, as they say, hope. This coming week, Cameron will have the opportunity to stand by his promises on climate change. As reported in March, recommendations from the government's advisers on climate change about keeping the reduction in the UK's CO2 emissions on track are being deliberated by members of the cabinet on Monday.

Cameron has the final say, so please email the prime minister now to remind him to stand by his promises on climate change

Accepting the recommendations would ensure that our climate change targets remain ambitious and stimulate the creation of new jobs in an economy based on low-carbon technology. So it's been a surprise to discover that business secretary Vince Cable has joined the Treasury in opposing the targets while William Hague has been arguing strongly in favour. Who'd have thought?

But the current government's environmental track record has been far from outstanding. Yes, Heathrow's third runway was a major win in the early days of the coalition, but since then there has been precious little evidence of a truly green agenda.

Consider the ongoing public consultation on 'red tape' - laws that are supposedly hindering business – which includes many useful and necessary pieces of legislation on climate change, clean air, and wildlife and conservation. Throwing such acts of parliament (along with many other socially progressive ones) on a potential bonfire of red tape isn't the sort of thing I'd expect a green government to do.

There's also the desire to permit deep water drilling for oil in UK waters, which we're currently challenging in court. With a budget designed to make us think driving is cheaper, our government seems dedicated to keeping us addicted to oil. Even the flagship policy to improve energy efficiency in homes across the country – the Green Deal – needs to be tougher and smarter if it's to have much impact on energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

But if ministers recognise that climate change is "one of the biggest threats facing the world today" (Cameron again), they should be doing everything they can to redevelop the UK's energy network into one run on clean, renewable sources, not risky fossil fuels or nuclear power.

It's not looking good. In fact, Jonathan Porritt's recent report for Friends of the Earth found that the government had made little or no progress on many green policies.

All the more reason for Cameron to ignore the cabinet members insisting that our climate change targets are watered down and signal that he really does want the greenest government ever. He can do that by setting ambitious CO2 reductions for the future.

It's a no-brainer really; sadly Cameron and cronies seem to be in the 'no-brain' camp... up to us to nudge them the other way.

The IPCC has sent a warning shot across his bow - and every other policy maker for that matter - with the release this week of the Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN) summary for policy makers (http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/). 

Pay attention David... 

Cute Huskies though

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The Global Warming Doctrine is Not a Science: Notes for Cambridge by President Vaclav Klaus 10.5.2011

Not respecting the title of the conference, I will continue using the term global warming, rather than its substitute, retreat already signaling, but in any case misleading term climate change. And I will not concentrate my talk on the current or potentially forthcoming global warming itself because – given the available data and conflicting scientific arguments – I don’t see it as a phenomenon which is threatening us.

I will talk about the Global Warming Doctrine (GWD) because  this doctrine, not global warming itself, is the issue of the day and the real danger we face. This set of beliefs is an ideology, if not a religion, which lives more or less independently on the science of climatology. Climate and temperature are used or very often misused inan ideological conflict about human society. It is frustrating that the politicians, the media and the public, misled by the very aggressive propaganda organized by the GWD exponents and all their fellow travelers, do not see this. I hope today’s conference will be a help in this respect.

I have expressed my views about this issue in a number of speeches and articles presented or published in the last couple of years all over the world. My book Blue Planet in Green Shackles[1] has been translated into 17 languages. I spoke about it several times also here in Great Britain, in Chatham House four years ago[2], and most recently in the Global Warming Policy Foundation[3]. Some relevance had my speech at the UN Climate Change Conference in New York in September 2007.[4]

The GWD has not yet presented its authoritative text, it has not yet found its Karl Marx who would write its “Manifesto”. This is partly because no one wants to be explicitly connected with it, and partly because it is not easy to formulate.

The GWD, this new incarnation of environmentalism, is not a monolithic concept that could be easily structured and summarized. It is a flexible, rather inconsistent, loosely connected cascade of arguments, which is why it has been so successfully escaping the scrutiny of science. It comfortably dwells in the easy and self-protecting world of false interdisciplinarity (which is nothing else than the absence of discipline). A similar approach was used by the exponents of one of the forerunners of GWD, of the Limits to Growth Doctrine. Some of its protagonists were the same.

What follows is my attempt to summarize my reading of this doctrine:

1. It starts with the claim that there is an undisputed and undisputable, empirically confirmed, statistically significant, global, not regional or local, warming;

2. It continues with the argument that the time series of global temperature exhibits a growing, non-linear, perhaps exponential trend which dominates over its cyclical and random components;

3. This development is considered dangerous for the people (in the eyes of soft environmentalists) or for the planet (among “deep” environmentalists);

4. The temperature growth is interpreted as a man-made phenomenon which is caused by the growing emissions of CO2. These are considered the consequence of industrial activity and of the use of fossil fuels. The sensitivity of global temperature to even small variations in CO2 concentration is supposed to be high and growing;

5. The GWD exponents promise us, however, that there is a hope: the ongoing temperature increase can be reversed by the reduction of CO2 emissions[5];

6. They also know how to do it. They want to organize the CO2 emissions reductionby means of directives (or commands) issued by the institutions of “global governance”. They forget to tell us that this is not possible without undermining democracy, independence of individual countries, human freedom, economic prosperity and a chance to eliminate poverty in the world. They pretend that the CO2emissions reduction will bring benefits which will exceed its costs.

This simple scheme can be, undoubtedly, improved, extended, supplemented or perhaps corrected in many ways by the distinguished participants of this conference but I believe that its basic structure is correct. The missing “GWD manifesto” should be built along these lines.

There are many disagreements about this doctrine among the scientists in natural sciences, as was demonstrated here this morning, but I also know the stances ofsocial scientists, especially economists, who do not buy into this doctrine either. These two camps usually do not seriously talk to each other. They only come into contact with the self-proclaimed interdisciplinarists from the other field. The social scientists are taken aback by the authoritative statements that “the science is settled”, the scientists in natural sciences a priori assume that there is nothing “hard” in social sciences.

The politicians – after having lost all other ideologies – welcomed the arrival of this new one. They hope that the global warming card is an easy game to play, at least in the short or medium run. The problem is that they do not take into consideration any long-term consequences of measures proposed by the GWD.

Let me briefly outline what the field of economics has to say to this. It is, of course, only a preliminary scheme, not a statement pretending that “science is settled”.

1. The economists believe in the rationality and efficiency of spontaneous decisions of free individuals rather than in the wisdom of governments and their scientific advisors. They do not deny the occurrence of market failures but their science and their reading of history enables them to argue that government failures are much bigger and much more dangerous. They consider the GWD a case of a grandiose government failure which undermines markets, human freedom and prosperity;

2. The economists, at least since Frederic Bastiat, consider it their duty to warn policymakers against the unintended consequences of their actions and against not differentiating between what is seen and what is not seen;

3. The economists know something about scarcity and about the importance of prices and warn against any attempts to play with them. They believe in the cost-benefit analysis and in the rational risk-aversion, not in the precautionary principle. They have a rather developed subdiscipline called “energy economics” which should not be disregarded;

4. They are aware of externalities because they themselves formulated this concept. They understand its enormous complexity and consider it dangerous in unqualified hands. After decades of studies they do not aprioristically see the world as full of negative externalities;

5. The economists base their thinking about intertemporal events on a rather sophisticated concept of discounting[6] which I will discuss later;

6. The economists have some experience with the analysis of time series. Statistics and econometrics used in economic analysis is full of sophisticated models not used in natural sciences because these are based mostly on the analysis of cross-section data samples. They know something about problems with the imperfect quality of data, about measurement errors, about data mining, about precariousness of all kinds of averages and other statistical characteristics. They also have some experience with computer modelling in complex systems, with pseudo-correlations, with the sensitivity of parameter adjustments, etc. For that reason they are convinced they have the right to comment on the statistical analyses of climatologists.

After this brief outline of the economic way of thinking, let me make three, hopefully explanatory, comments:

1. The economists do not believe in the precautionary principle and do not see the outcome of the cost-benefit comparisons of CO2 emission reductions as favourably as the GWD adherents. They know that energy demand and supply patterns change only slowly and see the very high degree of stability in the relationship between man-made carbon dioxide emissions, economic activity and the emissions intensity. They do not expect a radical shift in this relationship. The emissions intensity (as a macrophenomenon) moves only very slowly and does not make miracles. They are, therefore, convinced that the very robust relationship between CO2 emissions and the rate of economic growth is here and is here to stay.

If someone wants to reduce CO2 emissions, he must either expect a revolution in economic efficiency (which determines emissions intensity) or must start organizing a world-wide economic decline. Revolutions in economic efficiency – at least in relevant and meaningful time horizons – were never realized in the past and will not happen in the future either. It was the recent financial and economic crisis, not a technological miracle (nor preachings by Mr Pachauri) what brought about a slight reduction of CO2 emissions.

The GWD adherents should explain to the people worldwide that they consider the economic decline inevitable and desirable.

2. The relationships studied in natural sciences are not influenced by any rational (or irrational) behaviour, by subjective valuations of the variables in question, nor by the fact that people make choices. In social, or behavioral sciences, it is more difficult. To make a rational choice means to pay attention to intertemporal relationships and to look at the opportunity costs. It is evident that by assuming a very low, close to zero discount rate the proponents of the GWD neglect the issue of time and of alternative opportunities.

Using a low discount rate in global warming models means harming the current generations (vis-à-vis the future generations) and the undermining of current economic development means harming the future generations as well. Economists representing very different schools of thoughts, from W. Nordhaus from Yale[7] to K. M. Murphy from Chicago[8], tell us convincingly that the discount rate – indispensable for any intertemporal calculations – should be around the market rate, around 5%, and that it should be close to the real rate of return on capital because only such a rate is the opportunity cost of climate mitigation.

We should never accept claims that by using low discount rate we “protect the interests of future generations”[9] and that the opportunity costs are irrelevant because in the case of global warming “the problem of choice does not exist” (p. 104). This uneconomic or better to say antieconomic way of thinking must not be accepted.

3. As someone who personally experienced central planning and attempts to organize the whole society from above, I feel obliged to warn against the arguments and ambitions which are very similar to those we had to live with decades ago. The arrogance with which the GWD alarmists and their fellow-travelers in politics and media want to suppress the market, control the society, dictate the prices (directly or indirectly by means of various interventions, including taxes) is something I know well from the past[10]. All the old, already almost forgotten economic arguments against communism should be repeated now. It is our duty to do so.

To conclude, I agree with many serious climatologists who say that the warming we experience or is on the horizon will be very small. Convincing argumentation can be found in Ian Plimer’s recent book.[11] I agree with Bob Carter and others that it is difficult “to prove that the human effect on the climate can be measured” because “this effect is lost in the variability of natural climate changes”[12]. From the economic point of view, in case there will be no irrational interventions against it, the economic losses connected with such a modest warming will be very small. A loss generated as a result of a completely useless fight against global warming would be far greater.

Václav Klaus, “The Science and Economics of Climate Change Conference”, Howard Theatre at Downing College, University  of  Cambridge, 10 May 2011

 

[1] Klaus, V.: Modrá, nikoli zelená planeta Co je ohroženo, klima nebo svoboda?,Praha, Dokořán, 2007; English version: Blue Planet in Green Shackles, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Washington DC, 2008.

[2] The Other Side of Global Warming Alarmism, Chatham House, London, November 7, 2007

[3] The Climate Change Doctrine is Part of Environmentalism, Not of Science, The Global Warming Policy Foundation Annual Lecture, London, October 19, 2010

[4] Speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, New York, September 24, 2007. All these and many other texts on this topic are available on www.klaus.cz.  

[5] This is what Ray Evans calls „The Theory of Climate Control“, Quadrant, No. 3, 2008.

[6] The misunderstanding of it on the side of the environmentalists brought me into the subject of GWD years ago.

[7] A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies, Yale University Press, June 2008

[8] Some Simple Economics of Climate Changes, paper presented to the MPS General Meeting in Tokyo, September 8, 2008

[9] M. Dore: “A Question of Fudge”, World Economics, January–February 2009, p. 100

[10] I agree with Ray Evans that we experience the “Orwellian use of the words market and price to persuade people to accept a control over their lives”, The Chilling Costs of Climate Catastrophism, Quadrant, June 2008

[11] Plimer, I.: Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, The Missing Science. Ballan, Australia, Connor Court Publishing, 2009.

[12] Heartland Institute’s International Conference on Climate Change, New York City, March 2009, p. 23. Professor Carter’s arguments are more developed in his recent book “Climate: The Counter Consensus”, Stacey International, London, 2010

 

 

Ooh looks Huskies and a Troll, I still reckon the Huskies are cuter

About Jamie

I'm one of the editors of the website, and I do a lot of work on the Get Active section, as well as doing web stuff for the forests campaign. I've worked for Greenpeace since 2006 and, coming from a background as a freelance writer and web producer, it's been something of an education to be part of a direct action organisation. I'm from Cumbria originally but now I live in north London - I came to study here and somehow have never left.

My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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