Down with the filthy rich misanthropes
Recent events confirm that anti-human super-wealthy capitalists are in the vanguard of climate change hysteria.
Many green activists and commentators think that anyone who dares to criticise the apparent consensus on the science and politics of climate change must be in the pay of big business. In truth, as a meeting in London on Monday night powerfully illustrated, the megabucks are really on the side of those who think humanity is screwing up the planet.
The event was the launch of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. Like a few people, I assumed that the ‘Grantham’ bit referred to the birthplace of an earlier promoter of climate change fears, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. In fact, it refers to the wealthy chairman of GMO, a large investment management company: Jeremy Grantham. Grantham has donated £12million to the London School of Economics (LSE) to fund the institute. He has also forked out another £12million to Imperial College London for the similarly named Grantham Institute for Climate Change (1)
No wonder, then, that the chair of LSE, Howard Davies – once the head of the Financial Services Authority and a former deputy governor of the Bank of England – was more than a little fawning over the ‘extremely generous’ Grantham. The new LSE institute will be headed by Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the UK government-commissioned report, The Economics of Climate Change, published in 2006. The Stern Review argued that the costs of reducing CO2 emissions to avoid climate change would be far lower than the costs of failing to take action, using assumptions that attracted considerable scorn from other economists (2). With Lord Nick at the helm, we can be sure that the institute will not be a hotbed of climate scepticism but rather will be intellectual armoury for those who want to clamp down on economic development.
Stern was the main attraction at the launch on Monday, but Grantham’s introductory remarks were the most illuminating: they provided a startling insight into the pessimism of today’s super-rich. Grantham declared: ‘Climate change is far and away the most important issue in finance, in government, in life in general. I believe firmly that Malthius [sic] was right… he just got his timing wrong. We’re engaged in the third great die-off since the beginning of the earth. The first was definitely caused by a meteorite, the second one probably was, and the third one has been caused by the effect of humans hitting the earth about as powerfully as a meteorite. We’ve been around for about 500,000 years and for 99 per cent of that time, we were a pretty harmless species. We ended up with about 15million people, 5,000 years ago. Then, in the final one per cent of our lives, we went from 15million to six-and-a-half billion. Needless to say, we can’t repeat that multiplying effect.’
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Grantham went on to say that most of this ‘action’ had in fact occurred over the past 300 years, with the boom in population coming about as a result of what he described as ‘the unfortunate hydrocarbon revolution’. Presumably, he was referring to the benefits of coal, gas and oil which have allowed billions of people to live in relative comfort to a ripe old age for the first time in human existence, at least in the developed world. However, such trifles are of little concern to a man whose company handles $150billion of assets. At a time when greens ask why their critics take money from big business, it is just as relevant to ask why famous universities like LSE and Imperial are tugging their institutional forelocks to a moneybag misanthrope like Grantham. (Though with the humanity-hating John Gray also on the LSE staff, Grantham must seem like a little ray of sunshine.)
For Grantham, the idea of setting up the LSE institute came after ‘the penny had dropped that the hard science was slowly and finally winning an uphill struggle against what we in the US call “the deniers”, who have been a powerful and effective lobby… Now the war, the frontline, is really in the economics and the cost of all this. There, the opposition is much more formidable. There are serious, respectable, well-respected economists who disagree with the good guys. They are completely misguided, but they are respectable.’ Note the implication that those who have criticised the science of climate change are anything but respectable.
There is no doubt what direction this institute will take. The Stern Review was a hugely important piece of advocacy research, precisely designed to counter all those foolish types who believe that spending a fortune dragging society towards some kind of low-carbon future might be irrational in the absence of viable technology. Now the war on the ‘misguided’ will have the backing of the LSE’s reputation, too.
The notion that it is climate change sceptics who have been buying influence looks pretty shabby when viewed in the context of Grantham’s remarks. The world of climate change hysteria has numerous big political backers, like Thatcher, former US vice-president Al Gore, and current British prime minister Gordon Brown, who commissioned the Stern Review when he was chancellor of the exchequer. High-level figures in the upper echelons of many big firms – including fossil fuel companies such as Shell and BP that have faced so much criticism from greens – have declared that climate change is the number one issue facing humanity. Multibillionaire Richard Branson, airline boss and wannabe spaceline boss through Virgin Galactic, declared last month: ‘To my mind there is no greater or more immediate challenge than that posed by climate change.’ (3)
Then there are those whose wealth is inherited, like Zac Goldsmith – worth roughly £300million – who publishes the Ecologist magazine, and David de Rothschild, a member of the super-rich banking family and author of the personal austerity guide, The Global Warming Survival Handbook (4). For a long time, the money and the influence have been on the side of the greens. Not the smelly, unwashed treehuggers, of course – posh though many of them are – but the ones walking the corridors of power in politics and business.
One greenie with influence who has been in the news rather a lot lately is the US treasury secretary, Henry Paulson. The man in charge of saving the US banking system has apparently spent $100million of his personal wealth on environmental causes – with the whole lot, some $700million, promised to conservation when his body decides to ‘bail out’ from this mortal coil (5). And Paulson is not only generous with his own cash: as boss of Goldman Sachs, he persuaded the board to hand over 680,000 acres of forest in Tierra del Fuego owned by the bank to the Wildlife Conservation Society, whose board of trustees includes Paulson’s son, Merritt (6).
It may not come as a shock to find that those involved heavily in the unproductive, if still important, sphere of finance should believe that there is little point to the human race. When you are a member of a strand of society that is widely regarded as parasitic on the rest, the notion that the whole of humanity is parasitical on the planet is not a huge intellectual leap. But once you have ruled out suicide as an option, you need some reason to keep going. ‘Saving the planet’ has become a mission statement both for the pointlessly rich and the political class. As former UK chancellor Nigel Lawson noted in a talk at the LSE bookshop in July, people ‘want to believe there is more to life than everyday getting and spending’ – and that includes the fabulously wealthy and the politically ambitious.
It’s not just a matter of finding a worldview to provide a sense of purpose. In the midst of a financial crisis, some might argue that environmental concerns should be the last thing on our minds. But along with his blunt demand that Europeans must cut their per capita CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 (for Americans, he argued for a 90 per cent cut), Lord Stern also suggested on Monday night that perhaps the way out of the financial crisis was to embrace the environmental outlook. Renewable energy and energy conservation, green manufacturing and a low-carbon infrastructure could be just the ticket, he suggested, to boost the economy. Far from being anti-growth, he said, going green could be good for our wallets as well as our conscience.
It is certainly true that there are plenty of eco-entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on our fear of the future, doing everything from building windmills to trading carbon emission licences. But it seems unlikely that an emphasis on reducing the human impact on the planet, rather than expanding our capacity to generate wealth and provide for the billions of people living on next-to-nothing, could be in the interests of anyone but the new green elites. No wonder they’re splashing the cash.
Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked. He is chairing the session Can GM crops feed the world? at the Battle of Ideas festival at the Royal College of Art, London on 1&2 November.
Previously on spiked
Rob Lyons attended a discussion with ‘climate change sceptic’ Nigel Lawson. Ben Pile criticised the BBC’s Earth: the Climate Wars. James Woudhuysen and Joe Kaplinsky looked in detail at the the 2007 IPCC report. Mick Hume saw in the Stern review a stern lifestyle lecture. Brendan O’Neill discussed the rise of Climate Blasphemy. Or read more at spiked issue Environment.
(1) Multi-million donation for climate change at LSE, LSE, 17 April 2008
(2) For a flavour of the criticism directed at the Stern Review, see Wikipedia
(3) Branson space ships to measure greenhouse gas levels, Guardian, 30 September 2008
(4) See The planet’s burning. Let’s party!, by Brendan O’Neill
(5) Henry Paulson – the ‘commie capitalist’, Scotsman, 28 September 2008
(6) WCS in Tierra del Fuego, Wildlife Conservation Society
(7) See ‘The only certain thing is the science is uncertain’, by Rob Lyons