TCS Daily


Meeting the Climate Challenge?

By Tim Worstall - January 25, 2005 12:00 AM

Another day, another report on global warming and climate change. (Sigh). This one is called "Meeting the Climate Challenge" from the self-appointed International Climate Change Taskforce and has been organized by The Institute for Public Policy Research (UK), The Center for American Progress (USA) and The Australia Institute (guess). Amongst the panel members we have from the US Senator Olympia Snowe; from the UK Stephen Byers MP (this is the man who when Transport Secretary deliberately bankrupted the private railroad system to replace it with a state-run system which costs three times as much and performs worse) and Jonathan Porritt (Founder of Friends of the Earth and here proudly described as Vice-President of the Socialist Environment Resources Association); and, as Scientific Adviser, Dr Rajendra K Pachauri who is, as we know, chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

No, I'm sorry, there are no prizes for guessing what their view of the matter is. Everything is terrible, getting worse and we all die Tuesday week unless we abolish capitalism. Actually, it's not quite that bad as it appears that they only actually met twice (once in England, once in Australia. Anyone want to run those flights through the CO2 emissions calculator?) to consider the report, meaning most of the work was done by bods at the think tanks, those who at least have to be sufficiently in touch with reality to be able work for a living.

The essential point they make is that whatever Dr. Pachauri and his scientists are paid to tell us (and let us do them the honor, for the moment, of believing what they do tell us) our enlightened thinkers actually know that matters are much worse than that. For:

"On the basis of an extensive review of the relevant scientific literature, we propose a long-term objective of preventing average global surface temperature from rising by more than 2°C (3.6°F) above its pre-industrial level (taken as the level in 1750, when carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations first began to rise appreciably as a result of human activities).

"Beyond the 2°C level, the risks to human societies and ecosystems grow significantly. It is likely, for example, that average temperature increases larger than this will entail substantial agricultural losses, greatly increased numbers of people at risk of water shortages, and widespread adverse health impacts. Exceeding a global average increase of more than 2°C could also imperil a very high proportion of the world's coral reefs and cause irreversible damage to important terrestrial ecosystems, including the Amazon rainforest. Above the 2°C level, the risks of abrupt, accelerated, or runaway climate change also increase.

"The possibilities include reaching climatic tipping points leading, for example, to the loss of the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets (which, between them, could raise sea levels more than ten meters over the space of a few centuries), the shutdown of the thermohaline ocean circulation (and, with it, the Gulf Stream), and the transformation of the planets forests and soils from a net sink of carbon to a net source of carbon.

"Climate science is not yet able to specify the trajectory of atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases that corresponds precisely to any particular global temperature rise. Based on current knowledge, however, it appears that achieving a high probability of limiting global average temperature rise to 2°C will require that the increase in greenhouse-gas concentrations as well as all the other warming and cooling influences on global climate in the year 2100, as compared with 1750, should add up to a net warming no greater than what would be associated with a CO2 concentration of about 400 parts per million (ppm)."

Allow me to translate that for you. We have decided to take an arbitrary number, 2 oC, set the baseline at the bottom of the Little Ice Age, immediately after the Maunder Minimum, mix in every scare story we can think of to scare the fecal matter out of you rubes and if you don't listen carefully to us important people we'll hold our breaths until we turn blue. (We might also note that no one, no one at all, thinks that human influence on the climate started in 1750 AD. Try 8,000 BC with the invention of agriculture.)

This is then used to design a system whereby the US and Australia, while not part of the Kyoto mess, agree to voluntarily meet the targets (think Sen. McCain here) and so usher in the brave new world where luminaries are again allowed to ventilate. I read the rest of the report so you don't have to but there really isn't all that much else of any great import in it. I'm therefore left to retell some of the more minor matters that make it such an amusing little document.

I went to the IPPR site in the UK looking for a copy of the paper and found that I could only buy a dead tree version, there was no .pdf or html version. Given the well known journalistic ethic that one never actually pays for anything I called them up and they confirmed that there never would be a down loadable version (although I will give them some credit, for when they heard I was from Techcentralstation they emailed over a .pdf with the instructions to have fun... thanks guys) so I'm left to conclude that this earth-shattering report, the one about emissions, saving the planet and all, is so important that it must be ferried round by vehicles burning fossil fuels. Fortunately the Australia Institute seems to have got this point and you can download a copy here.

The recommendations are exactly as you would expect, everybody meet their Kyoto targets even if they haven't agreed to them, more must be done, more money for research, more renewable energy, more low and no-carbon energy, well, what did anyone expect them to say? This is of particular interest:

"Governments committed to action on climate change raise public awareness of the problem and build public support for climate policies by pledging to provide substantial long-term investment in effective climate communication activities."

Again, providing a translation from bureaucratese, please give us money to talk about our report.

At one point I was feeling reasonably generous to them, for they came up with one good idea:

"Leveling the playing field between renewables and fossil fuels"

Why, yes indeed. Let's cut off all those subsidies to solar, wave, tidal, wind power! Let them pay taxes just as all the fossil fuels do....then I read the next part of the sentence:

"and internalising the latter's costs by phasing out fossil fuel subsidies"

and while this causes less joy it is at least good economics. Yes, of course taxation should be used to make sure that the externalities of actions are made clear and paid for, internalized in the jargon. (There are alternatives, such as Coasean private bargaining but my apologies, it is still early in the week and I cannot bear the thought of more lawyers just yet.) The question is, just what are those externalities that have to be paid for? I have a feeling we might disagree here.

Having read through all the report I felt there was something missing, something I couldn't quite put my finger on. I went back through the report and couldn't find the word nuclear anywhere. There are pages of recommendations and thoughts on how to move to low- and no-carbon generation technologies, financing requirements, institutional arrangements, yet I could not see one single mention of that technology anywhere, nothing at all about the only no-carbon, large scale and remotely efficient method of electricity generation we have (other than hydro power which we can't have because of the fishies).

I went back to the nice people in the IPPRs press office and asked them:

"How can anyone compile an entire report on low and non carbon energy sources without mentioning nuclear once, not once in 40 pages?"

and got the response, via the Press Officer, from one of the Grand Pooh-Bahs of the Taskforce:

"Can't do everything. You could point him to endnote 27"

which brings the thought, but, but, I thought we were trying to save the world here, shouldn't we be trying to think of everything, at least everything that is this obvious? I mean, really, James Lovelock, the inventor of the Gaia theory is in favor! So, I go to the relevant foot note and get this:

"The Taskforce is agreed that renewable energy will have a major role to play and that advanced fossil-fuel technologies which can capture and sequester carbon dioxide may also be important. It has not taken a position on nuclear energy."

Allow me just to recapitulate this argument. A modest number of the international great and the good get together to bemoan the way the world is running to rack and ruin, identifying the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (and not coincidentally, the beginning of capitalism) as when our forefathers began to cause our problems, come up with a series of recommendations on how to reduce carbon emissions, lots of international action, international aid, international spending, international regulation, in short, lots for the international great and good to do, and in the process they take no position on nuclear energy? None at all? Not even a "Tsk, tsk, that will allow capitalism to survive?"

Sheesh. Who cares what they think?

Tim Worstall is a regular TCS contributor. More vituperation can be found at www.timworstall.com


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