A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Mr. Blair, Mr. Cameron, and climate-change politics.....

In yesterday's The Observer, Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, outlined his climate-change and energy policies in the light of the G8 dialogue discussions which will take place this Tuesday and the UN meeting in Montreal to be held next month: 'Get real on climate change' (The Observer, October 30).

Tony Blair: image protected by British Crown CopyrightMany visitors to 'EnviroSpin' might wish to dismiss Mr. Blair's comments as yet more 'global warming' rhetoric, particularly since readers are well aware that we can do little practical to manage climate change predictably [see my Thursday blog, below: 'Back to basics: "Tackling climate change"'].

I would, however, caution strongly against dismissing Mr. Blair's carefully-constructed arguments. [Upper Right: the Right Honourable Tony Blair: image protected by British Crown Copyright - from the Wikipedia article on Tony Blair.]

First, as I have pointed out many times on 'EnviroSpin', never, never underestimate Mr. Blair's political skill; he is, above all, a consummate politician, and I should remind you that, a year ago, I was noting his brilliant use of 'global warming' to try to make the re-introduction of nuclear power more palatable to the British public. Blair knows this has to happen, but he is faced with a hangover 1960's political generation and the legacy of a badly run nuclear industry.

It is thus vital to deconstruct below the face value of his comments. Behind the modest and careful climate-change rhetoric, you will discover that Blair is establishing a number of key political realities within a British political context, including:

(a) a clear recognition that no country in the world, and most certainly not a UK under Mr. Blair (nor, for that matter, one under Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer), will ever contemplate sacrificing economic growth. Blair knows that this is especially the case in the US, as well as in the emerging giants of China and India. What he is actually saying is: "Hey, you Greens; get real!" The recent politics and economics of Germany stand as a stark warning in this respect;

(b) a full understanding that any moves on climate-change political policy (for which read 'energy policy') must be truly international, for any unilateral action will leave an economy weak and exposed (see critical comment on David Cameron, below);

(c) the promotion of dialogue, especially with the countries of the developing world, not the neo-colonial imposition of European ecohype. For Blair, Kyoto is dead, although he has to pay lip service to it politically for the moment;

(d) a carefully-orchestrated set of moves to facilitate the inevitable re-introduction of nuclear power in the UK - "...and - yes - nuclear...", as he puts it;

(e) a balanced approach which leaves no scientific option out of consideration, from the deep geological storage of carbon to every possible alternative technological source of energy. He has no time whatsoever for the utopian brigade who demand dramatic 'back-to-nature' life-style changes. There will be no turning the clock back, despite today's date; and, accordingly,

(f) a clear rejection of the environmentalist and extreme 'Green' agendas of 'contract and converge' and hair-shirt politics.

Despite, therefore, Mr. Blair's seeming focus on climate change, the agenda is not in the least environmentalist. It is, at heart, about future energy needs. In UK political terms, Blair is proving, yet again, to be as cunning as ever, and I would ask readers from across the pond to take this on board before writing any simplistic attacks on Blair and climate change.

For, if one drops the climate-change smoke screen, you will discover that it is not too hard to agree with Mr. Blair on pretty well everything. The only phrase missing is 'clean coal', which will become a powerful force after 2010 (this hasn't dawned on British energy advisers yet), and the only misguided policy is the current support for wind farms, which are phenomenally expensive and which will deliver little, being neither 'Green' nor energy efficient.

However, I believe we will increasingly observe that I am correct about Mr. Blair - just wait for the howls from the Greens as practical energy politics take over from climate hysteria.

Further reading: 'PM pessimistic on climate treaty' (BBC Online Politics News, October 30). [Note the inevitable mantraic environmentalist quote that ends the report.]

The Conservatives and David Cameron: somewhat as an aside, I think we can now safely assume that David Cameron will become the new leader of the Conservative Party [see: 'Cameron has majority of MPs as BBC poll gives him easy victory' (The Daily Telegraph, October 31)]. Unfortunately, Cameron is wedded to a rather 'socialistic' and unilateral climate-change policy which is sheer madness for the Conservative Party. By 2020, the UK will be consuming less than 1.5% of world energy (not, of course, because of reductions in the UK, but because of the phenomenal growth in energy use in the developing world, especially in Brazil, China, India, and Indonesia). Any unilateral actions in the UK of the type being envisaged by Cameron will therefore be totally meaningless in both energy and emission terms; but worse, if they add significant costs and restrictions to industry and commerce, they could prove devastating for British competitiveness. This is not the Conservative way. As we have already seen, Blair, by contrast, is all too aware of the problems. Cameron still has much to learn and think through.

Philip, an avid Blair watcher. Like him, or loathe him, Blair is a political phenomenon, a man of remarkable Machiavellian skills. A nice Monday morning coffee?

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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