Friday, February 19, 2010

Clear and Present Danger

Just before Christmas I published a post titled “Believers, Sceptics and Deniers”. I was asked by an anonymous visitor for an opinion on Lord Lawson’s book. Well, I haven’t read it. I hate reading those sort of books – the sort that will not use a sentence when a chapter will do. But I have done some research on the interwebby.

To start though, lets review what anonymous has to say: “The politicians have taken the science, which, as you say, is not certain, and mis presented it.” She emphasises the point later with “politicians are not scientists”. If that were true I would expect the scientists not just to be telling us, but shouting it from the rooftops, but they are not, and in case you haven’t noticed Nigel Lawson is also a politician and not a scientist. So why should we believe him and not other politicians?

She goes on: “Using the politicians worse case scenario he [Lawson] calculates that in one hundred years people will be 2.6 times better off in western countries and 9.6 times better off in developing countries if we spend 5% of global GDP on tackling Global Warming. If we spend nothing our grandchildren will be only 2.5 times better off and those in developing countries only 8.5.”

The question that arises here is this. If you don’t believe, or are sceptical of, the scientist’s predictions for a highly complex system on Global temperature, melting ice caps and glaciers and sea level rise, then why should you be any less sceptical of predictions by a politician on a highly complex system involving global economics? We’ve seen pension schemes fail and we’ve just had a major economic shock which nobody predicted and caught the politicians with their pants down.

To the book. There is a review here on Left Foot Forward, which gives an alternative view as you might expect from the name.

The two basic tennants of Lawson’s book are 1) Climate change is not affected by human activity and 2) the impact of climate change will be far less severe than predicted and we can deal with it. He goes on to suggest that we should be focussing attention on adaptation rather than mitigation. That is we deal with the problems [like build a new Thames barrier] rather than try to prevent it being needed in the first place. This is the stuff of politicians who, from painful experience, always focus on symptoms rather that causes, most of which are down to their own meddling anyway. I suppose it depends on what type of person you are as to how you view this question. Being a belt and braces boy scout sort of bloke, I’d say we have to do both. It is too late to prevent some change in climate [anthropogenic or not] so we have to adapt to those changes, but we can also, if we want to, try to prevent the situation getting any worse.

And then we come to the question of what is “better off”. The problem here is that the accepted conventional wisdom of the establishment defines this in purely monetary terms. We don’t put a value on the environment, which provides our life support system here on spaceship Earth as it travels at 66,000mph around a Fusion Nuclear Reactor which provides all our energy needs.

What worries me is that the Climate debate has taken our attention away from what is possibly a much more serious problemBio-Diversity Loss. This is not some romantic bunny-hugger view of wildlife and Nature. Bio-Diversity is the central pillar of our continued existence. Without it to support the growing number of us, we die out – period.
[click image for larger version]
Safe operating space for humanity

We are told that the fossil record shows 5 major extinction events in this planet’s history, but we don’t really know what caused them. We have also observed populations oscillate over shorter timescales in the natural world. One year, I forget which, my runner beans were inundated with Ladybirds. I am beginning to wonder whether these extinction events may have been caused by the unprecedented success of one species overwhelming all others?

What is even more worrying is that a group of “economists” are objecting to George Osborne’s economic policies saying: "for the good of the British people, the first priority must be to restore robust economic growth".

We really do have to get to grips with this bonehead business as usual approach. We need new ways to measure progress and prosperity because the old ones keep letting us down. Why do we continue with them? We have accepted the notion of bad and good cholesterol. We need to distinguish between good and bad economic activity and measure economic health as well as wealth.


  1. Judging by your synopsis, Lawson is himself a dinosaur.

    Many of our politicians are or were lawyers. They're trained to win debates. (The courts are little more than forums for debate, with juries being won over by the best argument.)

    Scientists on the other hand come up with testable theories and try to disprove them. Sounds whacky to the layman, but it works. Scientists search for the truth, while politicians try to win debates.

    And elections!

    So never expect the truth from a politician.

  2. Crumbs, you think scientists never lie, never cheat, never smother inconvenient data, what a lovely innocent you are!

  3. In its 2007 report, the IPCC claimed that by 2020, global warming could reduce crop yields in some African countries by 50%. Its Chairman has repeated this claim frequently.

    The origin of this claim, written by Ali Agoumi (who earns some income by advising on making claims for carbon credits), were reports made for 3 North African Governments, NONE OF WHICH REMOTELY SUPPORTED THIS CLAIM. One said that in serious drought years, cereal yields might be reduced by 50%, but another said that on current projections, agricultural production will more than DOUBLE by 2020.

    Dr Martin Parry, a British agricultural specialist, has produced 2 reports for Defra, which were specifically designed to inform the IPCC's 2007 report: these predicted that by 2020, any changes were likely to be insignificant and the worst case prediction was that by 2080, climate change 'might' decrease crop yields by "up to 30%".

    Wonder why some of us are sceptical of the doom-mongerers and their claims of 'settled science' and 'scientific consensus'?

  4. Have to take you up on the climate thing - I notice that in recent times the term 'Global Warming' seems to have fallen into disuse - I wonder why? - as for 'Climate Change' the briefest of enquiries will establish that it has always happened and will always happen and we can probably make minimal impact on it - and certainly all theories should be subject to proper scrutiny and when the proponents of that theory rather than enter into proper discussion attempt to denigrate those not wanting to swallow the theory whole as 'Deniers' or Flat Earthers' - it makes you wonder what they have to hide? - and forgive me if I am somewhat sceptical of the likes of Al Gore who jets everywhere first class with his entourage, is then taken by limousine(s) to his luxury hotel and then for a vast sum of money will tell the rest of us why we should not lay down a carbon footprint about fifty times less than his own. God alone only knows what emission level was laid down by him and the rest of the hot air spouters at Copenhagen?

    My confidence in the theory will be immeasurably increased the day the politicians tell us that dealing with it is not going to cost us a penny more in taxes of one form or another and that it will not subject us to forms of control that do not apply to them. But I think before that day comes we'll either be ice scating in hell or or taking thermal baths in the Antartic.

    Should I wind up in that place when I depart I'll put a pair of ice scates on hold for you just in case!

  5. Henry

    I cannot defend the Copenhagen Carbon Junkies. What I can defend is the Scientific Method. It is the best and only way we have of finding out the truth. The trouble is, it usually takes a while.

    It is not the politicians who are telling us this, it is Scientists. Look at it the other way round. If the politicians were ignoring scientific advice, on say Asbestos, Tobacco, or building on flood plains, what would you say then? There is nothing wrong with being sceptical; it is in fact the whole basis of scientific enquiry. If a Theory is not up to the mark, it will soon be exposed. That some can come up with more questions or point to errors or holes does not in itself disprove the Theory, and those that have been raised so far have not done so. All scientific theories come with a health warning, error bars or a probability statement, as did the IPCC report a couple of years back.

    Those who rant, and call each other names are not Scientists, nor even sceptics. They are just loud mouths who believe or disbelieve without understanding the nature or parameters of the debate.

    We are now only just into the same process on CC as we were on smoking 40 years ago. The tobacco industry screamed foul, scientists were hired to question the Cancer link and Smokers claimed it was an excuse to put up taxes. Make no mistake here, Henry, those taxes would have gone up anyway [as they had done in the years before] as also would Carbon taxes – that the politicians use these convenient excuses to justify their actions is just political spin. It should not cloud one’s judgement or scrutiny of the science.