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14 July 2005Printer-friendly versionEmail a friend

Global warming: Common sense prevails
The G8 declaration blows apart Green delusions.

by Philip Stott

I have been in Canada and have thus largely avoided the Gleneagles G8 Summit. Not only did this spare me the excesses of a febrile Britain, it also enabled me to take a cooler view of the overheated debate on climate change.

Read online from the pretty harbours of Vancouver's Burrard Inlet, newspapers like Guardian and Independent seem little more than hysterical rags all dressed up in middle-class angst. By contrast, comment and coverage in Canadian newspapers, ranging from the National Post and Globe and Mail to the Vancouver Sun and Calgary Herald, are sanity itself. There were even sunlit mornings in which the deadly phrase 'global warming' was noticeable only by its absence.

Despite all the hype, where 'global warming' is concerned, the Greens have failed to force their paranoid religion on to the world. Like many Europeans, most Canadians are happy to talk 'green', while they continue to promote a profligate and hedonistic lifestyle that would make even George Bush blush beneath his Texan hat. In yuppie Yaletown and gaudy Gastown, patio heaters spring up like salmonberries. Canadian suburbs should be renamed the SUVurbs, while Canadian drivers idle with the best.

The jacuzzi in my hotel swished and swirled from dawn until dusk. Neat little seaplanes roar out of Vancouver harbour on a daily trek to Anglo-twee Victoria, while my friends drive to reach their local mall that is but a five-minute walk along a flower-bedecked lane between the spacious, overheated houses. No wonder 'greenhouse gas' emissions in Canada have risen by 20 per cent on 1990-levels. And then, to cap it all, one kind soul went out to buy me the purest of cranberry juices to ensure that I should have nothing but the most organic of breakfast drinks, only for me to point out that the cranberries had been flown into America from northern Sweden.

Since the Rio Conference in 1992, the Greens and their camp-following Guardianistas have tried, with Cromwellian zeal, to employ the threat of 'global warming' to induce Protestant guilt in us all, to cap growth, to change lifestyles, to attack the car, industry and the Great Satan of America. Now it is surely time to face the facts: there isn't a snowflake-in-hell's chance of this altering real life. Indeed, it would be disastrous for the developing world, the other plank of the G8 agenda, if it did. Without increasing demand in the countries of the North, there is no way in which the poorer countries of the South will be able to grow out of their poverty. The attempt to cap growth through the environmental proxy of 'global warming' is a sleight of hand too far. Luckily, it appears that the general public has no intention of being conned.

But the failure of the Greens is not just with the public. While playing the climate-change card at the G8 Summit, the final Gleneagles' declaration shows that the leaders of the developed world have no intention of sacrificing growth and economic success for an ascetic 'global warming' religion.

First, there is the clear recognition that global energy demand is expected to grow by 60 per cent over the next 25 years, especially in China and India, and that this will require the maintenance and development of 'secure, reliable and affordable energy sources' that are fundamental to economic stability and development, because 'rising energy demand poses a challenge to energy security given increased reliance on global energy markets'. The declaration also correctly acknowledges that around two billion people lack modern energy services. As the document states: 'We need to work with our partners to increase access to energy if we are to support the achievement of the goals agreed at the Millennium Summit in 2000.'

Secondly, the idea of capping 'greenhouse gas' emissions is cleverly replaced by an emphasis on technological innovation and imaginative development. The Kyoto Protocol is effectively dead. To quote Michael McCarthy, the environment editor of the Independent (1): 'The failed agenda that Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the World Wide Fund for Nature and others were complaining of - that the US has still not agreed to cut its carbon dioxide emissions - was the green groups' own agenda, not the British government's. Tony Blair never remotely saw this meeting as an occasion where George Bush would rejoin the Kyoto protocol.'

There will be a much-needed reappraisal of nuclear power and of clean coal
The new emphasis is thus to 'promote innovation, energy efficiency, conservation, improve policy, regulatory and financing frameworks; and accelerate deployment of cleaner technologies, particularly lower-emitting technologies', working with 'developing countries to enhance private investment and transfer of technologies, taking into account their own energy needs and priorities'.

Thirdly, and perhaps most important of all, there is a clear shift in emphasis from the control of 'global warming' to the socioeconomic adaptation to climate change: 'Adaptation to the effects of climate change due to both natural and human factors is a high priority for all nations, particularly in areas that may experience the most significant change, such as the Arctic, the African Sahel and other semi-arid regions, low-lying coastal zones, and small island states also subject to subsidence. As we work on our own adaptation strategies, we will work with developing countries on building capacity to help them improve their resilience and integrate adaptation goals into sustainable development strategies.' This is something that I, and many other scientists and economists, have been arguing for a long time, and it is rewarding to witness the move in this direction.

Indeed, the whole Gleneagles climate statement is encouraging. Its true focus, quite rightly in my opinion, is on energy rather than on climate change, and the document even concludes with the statement: 'We welcome the Russian decision to focus on energy in its Presidency of the G8 in 2006 and the programme of meetings that Russia plans to hold.' It would thus appear that neither the public nor their leaders have been taken in by 'global warming' hysteria. There will be no capping of dynamic growth for mistaken and misguided environmental aims. Instead, there will be a much-needed reappraisal of nuclear power and of clean coal, the latter a genuine Canadian contribution.

As I sipped my Granville Island beer in a favourite cafe on Burrard Inlet, it seemed to me that what I wrote recently in a letter published in the Daily Telegraph (2) was more true than I had imagined: 'In the UK, "global warming" is a faith. Here the "science" is legitimised by the myth. This is something that even our august Royal Society has failed to grasp. Too many of us believe we are making an independent scientific assessment, when, in reality, we have subsumed Hume-scepticism to the demands of faith.

'With respect to the science of climate change, the most fundamental question remains: "Can humans manipulate climate predictably?" Or, more scientifically: "Will cutting carbon dioxide emissions at the margin produce a linear, predictable change in climate?" The answer is "No". In so complex a coupled, non-linear, chaotic system as climate, not doing something at the margins is as unpredictable as doing something. This is the cautious science; the rest is dogma.'

Luckily, the Green dogma has failed and common economic sense is beginning to prevail. Perhaps, quite unexpectedly, the Gleneagles Summit may prove to have been a turning point. In the words of an editorial in The Australian on 13 July (3): 'As the G8 Gleneagles summit proved, there is no consensus on how to combat global warming today or tomorrow but the bell now tolls on a decade of illusion.'

Philip Stott is Emeritus Professor of Biogeography in the University of London.

Read on:

spiked-issue: Global warming

(1) Most important move on the environment since Kyoto, Independent, 9 July 2005

(2) Can humans combat climate change?, Daily Telegraph, 10 June 2005

(3) Kyoto floundering in the wake of G8 summit, The Australian, 13 July 2005

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