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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Kyoto fetishisation and other topical charivari.....

Yesterday evening, I was given a 2 minute slot on the ever-stimulating BBC World Service to explain, in the simplest of terms, why I thought Kyoto-like attempts to control climate change were fundamentally flawed. This is what I said:
"Humans have always feared climate change and developed myths that our sinfulness is its cause. Accordingly, we always want to be able "to do something" about climate, to sacrifice to the Earth to bring about a golden age of climate stability. Unfortunately, both geology and history show us that the idea of a stable climate is untenable; there has never been, and never will be, a stable climate under human control. All we can do is adapt to constant change.

Our current obsession with the single factor of carbon dioxide emissions is little different. In a system as complex and chaotic as climate, actions with just one factor out of the thousands involved may even trigger unexpected consequences. It is vital to remember that, for such a coupled, non-linear, chaotic system, not doing something (i.e., not emitting gases) is as unpredictable as doing something (i.e., emitting gases). Even if we closed down every factory, crushed every car and aeroplane, turned off all energy production, and threw 4 billion people worldwide out of work, climate would still change, and often dramatically. Unfortunately, we would all be too poor to do anything about it.

Basing policies on worries about 'global warming' is a serious threat to us all, but especially to the 1.6 billion people in the less-developed world who have no access to any modern form of energy. The twin curses of water poverty and energy poverty remain the true scandals. By contrast, the political imposition on the rest of the world of our Northern, self-indulgent ecochondria about 'global warming' could prove to be a neo-colonialism too far."

The resultant 'phone-in discussion was excellent, and, whilst demonstrating a wide range of opinion, showed how cautious and thoughtful people were about the issue of climate change. The hysteria-ridden Independent should take note. A most encouraging broadcast.

In the meantime, the Kyoto Protocol is simply descending into widespread ridicule. Here is an excoriating example from The Big Bruiser himself (for it is he), Mark Steyn: 'Wake up and listen to the muezzin' (The Daily Telegraph, November 29):
"... Signing Kyoto is nothing to do with reducing 'global warming' so much as advertising one's transnational moral virtue. America could reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 87 per cent and Canada could increase them by 673 per cent and the latter would still be a 'good citizen of the world' (in the Prime Minister's phrase) while 'Polluter Bush' would still be in the dog house, albeit a solar-powered one.

Likewise, those public sector union workers determined to keep their right to retire at 60. I've had many conversations with New Labour types in which my belief in low - if not undetectable - levels of taxation has been cited as evidence of my selfishness. But what's more selfish than spending the last 20 years of your life on holiday and insisting that the fellows who can't afford to retire at 60 should pay for it?

Forget Kyoto and the problem of 'unsustainable growth'; the crisis that Britain and most of Europe faces is unsustainable sloth...

... The Kyoto fetishisation is the definitive act of post-modern politics, in which our leaders are grave and responsible but only when it comes to issuing wake-up calls for stuff that isn't worth getting out of bed for..."

Kyoto fetishisation - what a glorious phrase! I wish I had thought up that one. Well done The Steyn.

But even this acidly witty piece is eclipsed by Bronwen Maddox's superb, if serious, analysis in today's The Times [apologies: no link for copyright reasons - go to The Times Online], and by this discussion of nuclear power in the US from the WSJ Opinion Journal (November 28): 'Power to the People. Washington policy makers stand in the way of sensible energy policies':
"... If members of Congress are afraid to challenge the orthodoxies of the green lobby, they can't be too surprised if President Bush exercises national leadership in a dramatic way to make sure the lights stay on while Washington fiddles. Some of them may privately even be thankful someone is willing to break a small part of the energy gridlock."

Meanwhile, back in poor-old Canada, and at the Montreal climate charivari, it's not just the Kyoto Protocol that is being buried. As predicted yesterday, the Liberal Government, and Mr. Paul Martin, the Prime Minister, fell in parliament to a vote of no confidence (171 to 133) and elections have been set for freezing January: 'Canada's government is thrown out' (BBC News Online/Americas, November 29):
"Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin's government has been ousted in a no-confidence vote.

Canada's three opposition parties united against his Liberal Party, which has been mired in a corruption scandal.

Mr Martin will seek the dissolution of parliament on Tuesday, and a date for a general election - thought likely to be 16 or 23 January..."

Ah well! Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, Mr. Martin will live to fight another day.

Philip, waiting eagerly for the final stake to be thrust into the heart of the economic vampire that is Kyoto. "Thou shalt not rise again!" "Time for a cuppa? Rum and maple syrup in your coffee?"

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

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