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.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Deconstructing Montreal.....

The Montreal conference on climate change has been an eye-opener. It has demonstrated a truth which for a long time has been only partially apparent: namely that, for many delegates and Green 'hangers on', punishing America for electing George W. Bush is far more rewarding and important than tackling climate change. Listening to the commentators on this morning's Today programme (BBC Radio 4), it was abundantly clear that their totally misplaced 'satisfaction' lay in humiliating America. Moreover, the Today programme itself appeared to be encouraging this agenda. By contrast, yesterday, I participated in two long and truly excellent discussions on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 5 Live, both of which were far more balanced and analytical than those on Radio 4. This surely tells us a great deal about the liberal elite agenda in the UK.

The obsession with America is ridiculous, and, as Margaret Beckett herself, the UK Secretary of State for the Environment, wisely commented yesterday: "... it is a big mistake for people to focus only on the United States as the obstacle in negotiations like this. There are plenty of other people around with their own particular concerns, not all of whom are as positive as one would like."

For anybody genuinely worried about climate change, Montreal is bleak.

First, many countries which take the 'moral high ground' in public are quietly the very worst offenders. Hypocritical Canada (Paul Martin was unbelievable in his attack on the US) has seen its emissions rise by 24% (on the Kyoto-base 1990-levels); Japan, which gave the name to the original Kyoto Protocol, by 18%; and the statistics for some of the ever-pious European countries take the breath away - Spain up by 42%, Portugal up by 37%, and merry Ireland and Greece up by 26%. In contrast, the US - the non-ratifier of Kyoto, note - has seen its emissions rise by only 13% (and they have fallen 2% under Bush!). So who is the bad boy? 'Talking-the-talk' is quite different from 'walking-the-walk', witness rock-n'-rollin' Bill Clinton - remember that, under Clinton and Gore, the Senate vote on Kyoto was 95 to 0 against, with five not voting [see: Byrd-Hagel (S. Res 98)].

Secondly, while everybody is snidely berating the US, Brazil, China and India, for example, can blithely state that there is no way they will accept binding targets, and the Australian Environment Minister declares unsullied: "The concept of binding targets and timetables is just about finished." Many less-developed countries also rightly argue that, for them, poverty alleviation comes first. And then there are those true rogue countries, like Saudi Arabia and Russia, whose tactics are completely opaque and sui generis.

Thirdly, the key to any future lies with the big countries of the developing world, especially China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and their ilk. The peak demand in the UK is 65 GWe on a cold day in January between 5 and 7 pm. China alone is now adding 80 GWe per year to its energy arsenal, and this is primarily generated from coal-powered plants. China is already the second largest emitter in the world, and it will soon achieve the world premiership title.

The Montreal conference has thus been a remarkable exercise in post-modern politics, in which the death of the author has been starklingly demonstrated.

In the end, for those poor souls who are desperately worried about climate change, there can be only one measure of success - dramatically declining emissions. But there is no evidence whatsoever that this conference will lead to any such thing. Indeed, the myths of carbon trading are likely to increase overall emissions, while binding targets are now off the agenda.

Bashing America may be fun (for some), but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the deeper realities. Indeed, Mr. Bush may have done far better politically to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol - and then to ignore it, just like everyone else.

That would have been yet another triumph of PR over substance. 'Talking-the-talk' is cheap - in every sense.

In summary, the Montreal conference has been little more than a Carrollian 'Caucus-race', fascinating to observe, but largely pointless. We should all be drowned in tears. And, any euphoria felt by the delegates after they emerge from their late-night, two-week goldfish bowl of a 'fierce small world' existence will soon fade in the cold light of day. This manic-depressive pattern has repeated itself after every conference since 1997. And a 'Caucus-race'?
The Caucus-race
"'What is a Caucus-race?' said Alice; not that she wanted much to know, but the Dodo had paused as if it thought that somebody ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything.

'Why,' said the Dodo, 'the best way to explain it is to do it.' (And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, some winter day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, ('the exact shape doesn't matter,' it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no 'One, two, three, and away,' but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out 'The race is over!' and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, 'But who has won?'" [Indeed,indeed!]

[Upper right: desperately trying to explain Montreal to journalists (with deep apologies to Tenniel): image appears to be in the public domain.]

[Added Sunday: the 'Rose-Tinted Prize' for the daftest report on the outcome at Montreal goes (inevitably) to The Independent on Sunday.]

Philip, needing a strong espresso doppio this morning. Hm! And a self-indulgent pastry? Maple-pecan all round.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

David Cameron: our latest ecotoff makes a naive start on Kyoto.....

At Prime Minister's Question Time yesterday (December 7), the new, fresh-faced Leader of the Opposition, the Right Honourable David William Donald Cameron, MP, Eton and Brasenose College, Oxford, might have wounded Mr. Blair over education policy, but he was lamentably naive over climate change and the Kyoto Protocol, allowing Mr. Blair ample opportunity to present him with a seminar on the realities of international climate-change negotiations (a seminar which frankly could have been found on 'EnviroSpin'). Cameron's limp questions demonstrated a worrying lack of experience with respect to the hard facts and knocks of foreign policy.

Here is the Hansard transcript of the parliamentary exchange taken from the official '10 Downing Street' Web Site:
"Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): The Montreal climate change conference is taking place this week. We support the goal of a new Kyoto-style treaty that will tackle carbon emissions. Earlier this year the Prime Minister said that he had been changing his thinking on the issue. Can he set out his new thinking? In particular, is he still committed to a proper successor to Kyoto based on clear targets and including all the major carbon-producing countries of the world?

The Prime Minister: Yes, I most certainly am committed to that. The reason it is important that we change our thinking on the matter is that I do not believe that the successor to Kyoto can work unless it has not just the United States involved in such targets and such a framework, but India and China, because they are the major emerging economies of the world. In China, for example, one power station is being built every week or every two weeks. Therefore, unless we manage to get a comprehensive framework that also involves India and China, it will not be of much use to us. I entirely agree that the issue is immensely important. That is one of the reasons, of course, why we passed the climate change levy. I hope the Hon. Gentleman's question indicates that he will support us on that, too.

Mr. Cameron: I am grateful for the Prime Minister's answer. His Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in advance of Montreal: 'Without mechanisms in the form of compulsory action, such as targets to cut emissions, existing and new technologies will never be rolled out on the scale we need', and I agree with that. The Prime Minister said last month that people get 'very nervous and very worried' about this approach, and that we need a 'better, more sensitive set of mechanisms'.

Will he confirm that he still genuinely agrees with what his Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said?

The Prime Minister: I just said in answer to the previous question that it is important that we get binding targets. Emerging economies will want those to be sensitive to the needs of their economic growth, but one of the important issues that was not part of Kyoto but needs to be part of a new protocol is technology transfer. As we develop the research that allows us to have clean energy, we need to share that research and that technology with others. I am sorry‚ - I was pointing my finger; I would not want that to break up the new consensus. It is important not merely that we say how much we care about climate change, but that we take the action necessary. Therefore, it will be no use the Hon. Gentleman's saying that he supports the aim unless he also supports the climate change levy, the renewables obligation and the extra investment that we put into energy efficiency. If he is prepared to have a consensus on that basis, I welcome it."

You may also listen to, and watch, this exchange here [you will need either Windows Media Player or Real Player to do so; the exchange is well into Question Time].

As I have written on many occasions before, Mr. Blair's climate-change stance has been honed by real-world politics, and it may be summarized as follows:

(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;

(c) the promotion of dialogue, especially with the countries of the developing world, not the neo-colonial imposition of European ecohype;

(d) a carefully-orchestrated set of moves to facilitate the inevitable re-introduction of nuclear power in the UK;

(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;

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

(g) a recognition that technology transfer to the developing world has to be the way forward.

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 astute as ever.

In stark contrast, Mr. Cameron appears to be deeply naive and to be adopting a 'socialistic' and unilateral climate-change policy that 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 seemingly 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 is all too aware of the problem.

Mr. Cameron still has much to learn and to think through. He cannot deliver such naive stuff on climate change, while at the same time declaring that he will build more roads and focus on increasing UK competitiveness.

I fear Mr. Cameron has been listening far too much for his own good to a small group of trendy Notting Hill ecotoffs [see my earlier post: 'The Etonian environmentalist mafia exposed'].

Philip, disappointed by the naivete. Out-greening the dire Lib-Dems will do nothing for anybody. A moment for morning coffee and the papers, where newspapers like The Times are wisely taking Mr. Cameron to task over this matter. I look for some hard-nosed thinking in the future.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wind farms blown off course by punitive costs.....

As long-predicted on 'EnviroSpin', a chill wind is beginning to blow through Utopia: 'Windfarm failure fuels energy doubts' (The Daily Mail, December 6: scroll down to internal link):
"Fresh doubt has been cast over Britain's ability to meet renewable energy targets after an offshore windfarm project pioneered by Germany's E.On [Scarweather, off Swansea Bay, Wales] was put on hold because it is not financially viable...

... And the failure to bring the project to fruition may strengthen the Government's hand as it tries to soften public opposition to the building of nuclear power plants."

One by one, big wind farm projects are being put on hold as the high costs start to bite in the bracing air. Reality is proving to be Cold Comfort Wind Farm.

Philip, hardly blown over. Many wind farm projects are like letting your hard-earned cash blow away in the breeze. Time for tea? "I hope Windy Miller has ground some flour for the scones."
Dispelling those environmentalist myths.....

I thought you might enjoy seeing a picture of your 'EnviroSpin' host speaking at the latest Adam Smith Institute ISOS Conference held at the Tate Britain last week: "...students are pictured above, listening to Prof Philip Stott dispel some environmental myths"... Just so.

It proved to be a most lively and rewarding day, and the students were excellent. Other speakers included: the Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, MP; Adam Boulton, Political Editor of Sky News; the author and journalist, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown; Andrew Haldenby of 'Reform'; the Economist editor, Bill Emmott; Tony Gilland of 'The Institute of Ideas'; and Madsen Pirie, the President of The Adam Smith Institute.

The theme was 'The Changing Landscape of Politics and Economics', and I agree it "... was a first class seminar."

Philip, always enjoying talking to the younger generation. Keeps one sharp and on one's toes. Lunch, mind you, does the same - so I'm off for mine. Cheers.
Article and quote of the week.....

Occasionally (thank goodness), one has no need to blog and one can just sit back, drink coffee, smile beatifically, and listen to Brendel or Rostropovich playing Schubert. Today is such a day, because that great ol' bruiser, Mark Steyn, writing in The Daily Telegraph, has said it all in a piece which ruthlessly exposes the whole farago of nonsense that is 'global warming' and the Kyoto Protocol.

Thus, brew your favourite cuppa, sit yourself down, relax, read, and enjoy (having, of course, put on the Schubert): 'What planet are the eco-cultists on?' (The Daily Telegraph, December 6):
"...The story originated in Nature, the hitherto distinguished scientific periodical whose environmental coverage increasingly resembles that celebrated Sunday Sport scoop about the London double-decker bus found frozen in the deepest ice of the Antarctic. That, of course, is absurd - in reality, as the trained scientists at Nature would be the first to point out, the Clapham omnibus would be lucky to make it as far as Tulse Hill before being embedded in a glacier..."

"...It's a practical and results-oriented approach, which is why the eco-cultists will never be marching through globally warmed, snow-choked streets on its behalf. It lacks the requisite component of civilisational self-loathing."

"Wake up and smell the CO2, guys. Sayonara, Kyoto. Hello, coalition of the emitting..." (read the full article)

Actually, there is one cloud on the horizon; I increasingly fear for science. Journals like Nature, and organisations like the Royal Society, are playing with political fire; there will be tears before this is over. Their imprudence could damage everyone.

And, in this context, just absorb EnviroSpin's choice for the most penetrating 'Quote of the Week':
"By far, most of the world's ice is held in Antarctica and the evidence there is, by and large, that the amount of ice there is growing. Many scientists know this, but the mantra of 'global warming happening due to humanity's flagrant release of greenhouse gases' is now an established political correctness. Many of them realise there are significant areas of doubt but if they voice that doubt they run the risk of losing research funds. When scientists are afraid to express doubts we are all in trouble, human-made global warming or not." (David Whitehouse, BBC Focus, December 2005: hat tip to Benny Peiser for the quotation. Unfortunately, the current issue of BBC Focus is not online).


Philip, "Now, let's see, what Schubert to play? Ah! Yes! The Streichquintett, D. 956." At that long, first note, the cacophony deliciously fades away and a Platonic Narnia unfolds through new clouds of harmony. Peace. "Thank you Mark Steyn." Allegro ma non troppo all round.

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

WWW EnviroSpin Watch

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