Natural History — a Morality Tale

I have no idea about the truth of a story in the Telegraph today. As usual, however, I find that the way the facts — whatever they are — are treated is more interesting than the reality.

BBC drops Frozen Planet’s climate change episode to sell show better abroad
The BBC has dropped a climate change episode from its wildlife series Frozen Planet to help the show sell better abroad.

Hmmm. Okay, I am wondering if it is true now. You have to wonder…

British viewers will see seven episodes, the last of which deals with global warming and the threat to the natural world posed by man. However, viewers in other countries, including the United States, will only see six episodes. The environmental programme has been relegated by the BBC to an “optional extra” alongside a behind-the-scenes documentary which foreign networks can ignore.

So I’m wondering, now, did the BBC put out a press release saying ‘you don’t have to buy the seventh episode — it’s an optional extra, for non-climate sceptics’? I find it hard to imagine. So where did the story come from?

Campaigners said the decision not to incorporate the episode on global warming as part of the main package was “unhelpful”. They added that it would allow those countries which are sceptical of climate change to “censor” the issue.

Others suggested that the Corporation should have offered “On Thin Ice”, the global warming episode, for free due to the importance of the issue.

Ahhh. Campaigners. You see, it probably wasn’t an issue…

However, the BBC said it was standard practice to offer international clients only the parts they wished to purchase.

… until the campaigners turned it into one. And, moreover, until the Telegraph indulged them.

A spokeswoman for the BBC said it was not be feasible to force networks to buy the climate change episode as it features Sir David talking extensively to the camera and there are many countries where he is not famous. Many environmentalists are ardent fans of the show for highlighting the fragile beauty of the natural world.

Fragile beauty? This is the myth of ‘fragile beauty’. ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, after all. And in much the same way, so is fragility. It’s not until you believe that the world is ‘fragile’ that change and ‘destruction’ become equivalents. Environmentalists presuppose ‘balance’ in the world. Thus, any change can only be explained in terms of a destructive agent — humanity. It’s this idea of fragility and balance that leads to ideas about ‘tipping points’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘gaia’. That’s not to say that the changes seen in the Arctic are neither problematic, nor our fault, but that the idea of ‘fragility’ precedes a treatment of the facts, and precludes a sensible debate about them. Hence, there are some angry voices about the fact that broadcasters are free to buy the episodes they desire. The Telegraph quotes a number of such angry voices,

Harry Huyton, the head of climate change for the RSPB, said: “Selling Frozen Planet in two parts seems rather unhelpful because it suggests that it would be perfectly reasonable not to show the bit with the climate message.

“We would encourage the networks that haven’t bought the whole thing to think again and not to censor the issue.”

Tony Juniper, an environmental adviser and former head of Friends of the Earth, said: “It raises questions about the BBC’s overall environmental coverage, which is patchy and inconsistent.”

He added that the BBC’s attitude allowed other countries to opt out of the climate change episodes for “political reasons” or because they had already covered the issue with previous programmes.
A spokesman for Greenpeace, the environmental group, said: “It’s a bit like pressing the stop button on Titanic just as the iceberg appears.

“Climate change is the most important part of the polar story, the warming in the Arctic can’t be denied, it’s changing the environment there in ways that are making experts fearful for the future.”

It’s not clear how Toby Juniper has determined that the BBC’s coverage of the environment is ‘patchy and inconsistent’. The ‘science and nature’ pages of BBC’s iplayer site reveal that the BBC is pretty keen on reporting from the natural world. Moreover, as recent controversies over the Jones report, and Richard Black’s instructions to his juniors reveals, the BBC takes a pretty dim view of climate scepticism. As I’ve argued before, greens’ lack of sense of proportion is made up for by their sense of persecution. Huyton’s allusion to ‘censorship’ is picked up by Business Green’s James Murray, who is ‘none too impressed with the BBC’s decision to censor its nature documentary for foreign audiences

Unsurprisingly, (and this is more the fault of the scientific and political community than the BBC), 10 of the 30 networks to buy the show have opted for the censored version. There is no prize for guessing the US is among those markets where TV execs have decided they do not like scientific reality to impinge upon their inspiring nature footage.

Censorship? Censorship? Really? I bought a Sunday paper this weekend, but decided to leave the supplements at the newsagents, as I wasn’t interested in them, and I had a fairly long walk up a hill home. Was I censored? I freely made a decision not to take the parts of the paper I didn’t want with me. The shopkeeper agreed to keep them, and dispose of them himself. In much the same way, the BBC, as seems to be normal practice, offers its series in parts, to broadcasters, so that they can freely chose to screen what they wish.

Where is the censorship?

‘Censorship’, in its day-to-day usage, means an official intervention, to prevent the broadcast of material. But we see now that, in the strange moral universe created by environmentalists, ‘censorship’ has been somewhat transformed. Censorship is now the failure to broadcast the official account of something. That is to say that if you don’t broadcast something which environmentalists tell you that you should broadcast, you are censoring. In other words, environmentalists have precisely inverted the meaning of ‘censorship’. This is amazing, not least because ‘censorship’ is something we typically equate to the ‘Orwellian’ use of language, and now we see the word ‘censorship’ itself being subject to revision along the lines of ‘newspeak’. But perhaps this dystopia is a better account of what environmentalists have in mind…

Perhaps this is a bit of an over-reaction. Nobody is forcing our eyes open, and holding our head to the screen. Yet. But the point remains, environmentalists seem to believe that exposure to their narrative, over images of change will provoke a change in the audience’s moral conscience. Moreover, we shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the stunning photography, or images of the cryosphere in general,
without being told the story of climate change.

Natural history, then, becomes a morality tale. Or perhaps worse, a secular creation myth. Rather than ‘censorship’, the word James Murray and Harry Huyton were searching for was ‘blasphemy’. To show images of the Arctic without the sermon would be to puritans what the godless celebration of Christmas and Easter is, without the story of Christ: mere hedonism.

To the main point: what’s wrong with enjoying the BBC’s epic photography, for it’s own sake, eschewing the moral message? It would be hard to deny that the BBC’s natural History unit has a unique sense of spectacle, and some extremely talented staff. There is nothing wrong with it, of course, except for the fact that enjoying such images, divorced from the environmentalists’ narrative is ultimately to enjoy distance from nature. What you see, when you watch these programmes is not intrinsic beauty, but the culmination of thousands of man-hours, and £ millions of technical processes: skilled camera operators and production crews, and expensive and time consuming post-production, recolouring, re-timing, and editing the footage.

If you were actually sat at the Arctic, you would, after some moments of awe, likely become quite bored quite quickly, and yearn for home, even if it is, like mine, a flat in a fairly brutal 1970s block of cubic modernity. You would also get quite cold. And hungry. ‘Beauty’ — aesthetics in general — would become less and less of concern, and thoughts about what you’d prefer to eat would give way to actual hunger, which would force you to eat regardless of taste. You would be less concerned with the ‘fragility’ of nature than with your own imminent demise.

It’s only with such distance that natural history as a morality tale makes any sense. It’s only when were not subject of nature’s whims that nature seems to be ‘fragile’. It’s only when we’re warm and snug that we can be forced to consider what life would be like without warmth and snugness. And that’s why various greens have got their knickers in such a twist about the BBC not forcing overseas broadcasters to buy its miserable, moralising follow-up.

Indirect Action

Predictably, the UK’s first shale gas fracking plant has become the site of ‘direct action’. Once again, a small number of protesters have decided to inflict themselves on the rest of the world. The Guardian reports this morning that,

Protesters from the UK’s anti-fracking network Frack Off have invaded a test drilling site in Lancashire and occupied its drilling rig.

A group of nine people ran on to the site operated by Cuadrilla Resources at Hesketh Bank near Preston before dawn and used climbing equipment to clamber up the metal structure. They have fixed themselves on top and said that they plan to stay as long as possible. Other protesters are expected to hold a rally at 3pm outside the site.

This is the MO of the small number of environmental activists in the UK. Previously, they have trashed crops and attempted to shut down power stations and airports, and even parliament itself.

Isn’t the point of a protest to demonstrate popular support? Yet few of these instances of direct action ever muster more than a few dozen people. The environmental movement’s attempts at conventional forms of protest have resulted in disappointment — no more than a few hundred will turn out. Thus, to elevate their campaigns, environmental activists turn to spectacle: dangerous stunts that guarantee media coverage. For decades now, this has been the way environmentalists have attempted to engage the public. Yet they are more isolated than ever, and have completely failed to share the values and ideas which inform their actions.

For instance, there may be perfectly legitimate reasons to protest about the development of fracking. People living nearby may feel that they are inadequately protected from any possibly accidents, and that the fracking company will not be held sufficiently liable for any damage they cause, and may be encouraged to take risks. Hell, who could object, even to a protest about carbon emissions? But these are not the complaints of the fracking protesters. Their website reveals the real object of their criticism:

The actual problem we face is that civilisation has too much energy, not too little. This addiction to fossil fuels has driven a binge of extreme exploitation of our environment and our social structures, that is threatening our very existence. Fancy technological schemes to try to continue our present orgy of consumption and waste indefinitely are inevitably doomed to failure. Only a transition to a much less energy intensive way of living can save us from complete disaster.

It is civilisation itself — not hydrological fracturing — which annoys the protesters.

They should tell the 5 million households in the UK who live in ‘fuel poverty’ that ‘civilisation has too much energy’. They should tell the families and friends of the 2,700 people who die each year as a consequence that there is a ‘a binge of extreme exploitation of our environment and our social structures’. They should explain to the 1.6 billion people in the world who don’t have any access to electricity that ‘a much less energy intensive way of living can save us from complete disaster’. The Guardian quotes protester, Colin Eastman:

Conventional fossil fuels have begun to run out and the system is moving towards more extreme forms of energy like fracking, tar sands, and deep water drilling.

The move towards ‘extreme energy’ is literally scrapping the bottom of the barrel, sucking the last most difficult to reach fossil fuels from the planet at a time when we should be rapidly reducing our consumption altogether and looking for sustainable alternatives.

In the UK fracking for shale gas is planned alongside, not instead of, extraction of conventional fossil fuels like coal.

It’s a myth that conventional fossil fuels are running out. ‘Extreme forms of energy’ are being developed because civilisation is getting better at finding more abundant sources of energy. That’s what civilisation is: it creates the possibility of better and better ways of living, of more freedom and greater material progress. The Frack Off campaigners are intolerant and nervous of it. Their claim is that we are inviting ecological disaster, but this belies anxiety about disorder in the human world: on their view, nature serves to discipline our sinful, profligate selves. Civilisation means finding new things, rather than existing in a kind of social stasis, in back-breaking ‘harmony’ with nature.

The moral argument for more energy — for ‘extreme energy’ needs to be reclaimed. Cheaper, and increasingly abundant energy is a good thing because it increases the possibilities of human lives. Being restricted to Nature’s Providence is a bad thing, because it limits the possible freedoms humans can enjoy. Most people realise it, and only a few are prepared to climb drilling rigs to campaign against civilisation. Yet they’re the ones who get in the papers.

Still Subsidising the Argument…

Something of a brouhaha is developing in the debate about the extent of subsidies for renewable energy in the UK. Green energy campaigners are complaining about a proposed cut in the Feed-In Tariff (FIT) scheme which promises owners of domestic solar PV up around £0.433 per kilowatt hour, but which will ‘only’ give them £0.21 per kWh. James Murray, editor of Business Green said in the wake of the leaked proposal that,

The government is about to deal a crippling blow to a fast expanding green industry that is serving to cut carbon emissions and create jobs.

In the same article, Murray also claims that the solar industry employs more people than the UK’s nuclear energy sector. According to many of the government’s new critics in the green energy sector, there are 25,000 jobs in solar energy in the UK.

That seems like an extraordinary claim to me. According to the Digest of UK Energy Statistics, nuclear power provided 69,098 gigawatt hours (18% of total) of electricity to consumers in 2009, whereas there were only 50 megawatts of installed solar PV capacity on the grid in the same year. That makes a comparison in equivalent terms of output difficult. DUKES doesn’t even bother, the sums are so small, so it lumps production from solar PV in with wind. But if we assumed that solar panels were 100% efficient (had a 100% load factor), and the sun shone 24 hours a day, the UK’s fleet of solar panels would have produced just 438 gigawatt hours — a 160th of what the UK’s fewer nuclear energy employees produced. But the sun doesn’t shine every day, and solar PV struggles to produce a load factor of more than 20%. Let’s call it 15%. It now looks like solar PV in the UK produced just 66 GWh of electricity in 2009 — less than a thousandth of what the nuclear energy sector did, with fewer people.

But there’s an even better way to show that the figure is bogus. Even if the UK’s solar PV fleet increased by 50MW (50,000 KW) of capacity each year, that would mean that each job in the sector only produced 2KW of capacity. That is less than one domestic solar PV installation per year, per sector employee.

Then let’s imagine that each of those jobs costs £25,000 a year. That would mean a total of £625 million. So in order to compete with nuclear in labour terms, the solar sector needs to become 1,000 times more efficient. Anyone who wants to defend subsidies to solar energy on the basis that it ‘creates jobs’ needs to take a reality check. There are much better things that could be done with that money. It’s hard to think of a more futile and costly gesture. It would be better to simply give 25,000 people £25,000 each, every year, because then there would be no need to pay for the solar PV panels and no need to subsidise their pitiful output.

I had a look to see the source of the 25,000 jobs claim. The closest thing I could find was this article, which claimed that

According to the latest REAL Assurance data an estimated 25,000 UK jobs have been created as a direct result of the feed-in tariff (FiT). Despite already exceeding all expectations, the Renewable Energy Association (REA) believes even this huge figure is likely to be underestimated as the REAL team only deals with companies working on small-scale installations.

It looks like James Murray was confused about the statistics…

In the solar industry alone there are currently 4,000 companies registered with REAL in the UK with approximately 100 new members signing up each month. Each one of these companies has from 1-2,500 employees, showing the sheer dominance the solar sector has in the UK. At this growth rate the REA estimates that solar jobs will exceed 7,000 by April 2012, with more jobs created providing the industry remains supported.

But the more accurate figure hardly puts the solar PV sector in a better light, if you’ll pardon the pun. It means that the average solar PV job produces just 7KW of installed capacity per year (assuming that capacity is increased by 50MW per year, which is more than optimistic).

Stuff the subsidies for solar PV. They make no sense. At all. Just as the statistics produced in defence of the UK’s energy and climate policies make no sense. I’m struggling to not to use expletives and other words that are no stronger than ‘innumerate’ to describe the nonsense that we’ve seen over the last few weeks (see previous posts). Forget hockey sticks. Forget ‘hiding the decline’. The real statistics-abuse happens closer to home — in the policies and politics of the climate and energy debate. With such liberties taken with arithmetic, it makes no difference what graphs depicting global temperature change say.

Subsidising the Argument

There has been a fair amount of discussion about subsidies in the ongoing debate about energy policies recently.

Damian Carrington in today’s Guardian puffs up Chris Huhne’s speech at the Renewable UK (formerly the British Wind Energy Association) conference:

The speech is worth a read as it tackles three renewables “myths” head on. First, the myth that renewables are uneconomic and held up by government cash alone. In fact, more than 70% of global renewables investment in 2010 was private finance. Furthermore, said Huhne: “Globally, subsidies for fossil fuels outstrip subsidies for renewables by a factor of five.” Another analysis suggests a factor 12.

Below the line, a commenter with the appropriate moniker, NoneTooClever, congratulates Carrington…

Those shale gas cheerleaders also fail to take into account the huge fossil fuel subsidy their favoured hard to get at hydrocarbon gets.

The fact that ‘only’ 30% of the capital costs of renewable energy world wide are subsidised is no argument that renewable energy doesn’t enjoy huge subsidies. Moreover, the issue in the UK is not to to what extent the capital costs of renewable energy are subsidised, but how much consumers pay for their output. An article in the Telegraph earlier this year suggests that approximately half of the income generated by wind turbines is subsidy. It’s easy to find private finance when you guarantee profit for the ‘investment’. It is surprising that it needs as much as 30%. But then, Huhne was discussing global subsidies, rather than subsidies in the UK.

Even more disingenuous is the claim that fossil fuel subsidies outstrip subsidies for the renewable sector by five (or twelve) times. It makes no sense to talk about the proportions of global and absolute subsidies without any idea of how much actual substance were produced by those subsidies. If conventional energy production is more than five or twelve times greater than renewable energy production, then in fact renewable energy enjoys a greater level of subsidy than conventional energy. I will return to the point shortly.

Carrington seems completely innumerate. Not only does he fail to subject Huhne’s claim to the most basic scrutiny, he also takes the higher claim of a factor of 12 at face value. But following his link takes you to this absurd piece of doublethink:

“One of the reasons the clean energy sector is starved of funding is because mainstream investors worry that renewable energy only works with direct government support,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of New Energy Finance. “This analysis shows that the global direct subsidy for fossil fuels is around ten times the subsidy for renewables.”

Carrington on the one hand quotes Huhne, who seems to reject ‘the myth that renewables are uneconomic and held up by government cash alone’… and that ‘more than 70% of global renewables investment in 2010 was private finance’ and then points to an analysis which says that ‘mainstream investors worry that renewable energy only works with direct government support’. It would seem that Huhne is completely wrong, and Carrington simply daft for failing to spot it.

Then there is the problem with the analysis itself. If ‘investors worry that renewable energy only works with direct government support’, it’s possibly a sign that ‘renewable energy only works with direct government support’. If it weren’t the case, why would Huhne continue to promise government support in the form of defacto subsidies, paid for by the consumer? Why would 30% of renewable energy projects need subsidies? The analysis doesn’t seem to have an answer.

Matt Ridley, the Rational Optimist does, though…

Chris Huhne, the UK energy secretary, boasts that wind farms and other renewable energy schemes will create 9,000 jobs this year. Since they are all subsidised, each one is in effect sponsored by a newly unemployed person elsewhere in the economy.

Shale gas already supports 140,000 jobs in Pennsylvania alone, up from about zero in 2007. This is without subsidy; in fact, the reverse — hefty tax revenue. Pennsylvania’s population is one-fifth of Britain’s.

So much for NoneTooClever’s concern that shale gas requires subsidies.

Ridley’s makes a robust argument, and one which Carrington attempts to anticipate:

[Huhne] specifically targeted those puffed up by the ludicrous hype over the UK’s fledgling shale gas find: “Unconventional gas has not yet lit a single room nor cooked a single roast dinner in the UK.

Carrington’s an especially poor argument. Unsubsidised wind, too, has not lit a single room, nor cooked a single roast dinner in the UK. And the UK’s energy policies have contributed to a steady increase in bills and the rates of energy poverty. As argued here in previous posts, emphasis on reducing energy demand and renewable energy in policy comes at the expensive of allowing such developments that can light rooms and cook roast dinners. Five million homes in the UK now struggle to light their rooms and cook their dinners. 2,700 people die each year because the UK’s energy policies fail to respond to their needs. Carrington’s innumeracy knows no bounds. It’s easy to ignore when he’s just being simply daft, but this failure of his sense of proportion moves him into the ‘dangerously stupid’ category.

Carbon Brief take a break from getting their knickers in a twist about what the GWPF and Daily Mail are up to, to cover the same claims about subsidies.

In recent months, a great deal of attention has focused on the costs of subsidies for renewable energy – so much so that the media campaign against ‘green energy taxes’ on consumer bills has been held responsible for the government rowing back on some of its green agenda. This is in spite of the fact that, as we have detailed, many of the claims made do not appear to have anything to substantiate them – and what evidence there is undermines or refutes them.

It is therefore sobering to realise just how substantial subsidies toward fossil fuel energy are on the global level. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported this month that fossil fuel subsidies currently amount to nearly half a trillion dollars. On Monday, the chief economist of the IEA urged the world to slash fossil fuel subsidies in non-OECD countries. He told the online magazine Euractiv that

“Today $409 billion equivalent of fossil fuel subsidies are in place which encourage developing countries – where the bulk of the energy demand and CO2 emissions come from – [towards a] wasteful use of energy”

$409 billion certainly sounds like a lot of money. In UK terms, it’s £255 billion. It’s still a lot of money. But, hang on… How much money is it, really?

Cast your minds back to yesterday. Chris Huhne said

We already have more installed offshore wind than anywhere else in the world and we are determined to remain at the forefront. That’s why we set aside £200 million for the development of low-carbon technologies, including £60m for supporting major new manufacturing projects on the English coast.


With over £200 billion worth of energy infrastructure needed by the end of the decade, this is our golden chance to deliver a greener future.

It’s going to cost the UK roughly the same amount of money to produce a ‘low carbon economy’ over the next eight years as the entire world spends in a year on ‘subsidising fossil fuels’ in a year. Yet the rest of the world has 116 times the population of the UK. Furthermore, this won’t, on anyone’s measure, be making energy any cheaper for British consumers. The consumer will have to find that £200 billion, as well as meet the rising costs of energy. The words ‘dangerously stupid’ no longer seem sufficient. Carbon Brief are ‘talking pants’, as we say here.

So let’s try to establish a sense of proportion for Huhne, Carrington, and Carbon Brief.

The complaint Carbon Brief seem to be making is that $409 billion is spent on subsidising fossil fuels. The complaint Carrington makes is that this is up to 12 times the amount of subsidies that the renewable sector enjoys. The figures are somewhat confused, some referring to 2008, and some 2010. But they’re in the same ball park, and the Bloomberg complaint is that “This analysis shows that the global direct subsidy for fossil fuels is around ten times the subsidy for renewables.”

However, according to the IEA (PDF here), in 2008, the world produced fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas, peat) equivalent to 10,065 million tonnes of oil (Mtoe), but only 90.2Mtoe of energy from renewables (geothermal, solar, electricity and heat, wind). So although renewables only enjoyed a tenth (or so) of the subsides that fossil fuels received, fossil fuels accounted for 112 times as much energy. In other words, on a Mtoe basis, the renewable sector received nearly 13 times as much subsidisation as the fossil fuel sector.

This calculation doesn’t include hyro-electric generation. Some might say this is unfair. But large hydro projects are not included in the UNEP’s definition of ‘renewable’, though small hydro is:

$187 BILLION WAS INVESTED IN LARGE AND SMALL SCALE RENEWABLES GENERATING CAPACITY (EXCLUDING LARGE HYDRO), compared to $219 billion and $157 billion of gross and net fossil-fuel investment respectively. If the estimated $46 billion of large hydro investment is included in the renewable energy total, then renewables investment is clearly ahead of both gross and net investment in fossil fuel capacity.


The biggest sector of renewable power in operation worldwide is large hydro, with some 945GW generating in 2008 according to International Energy Agency estimates. However hydro-electric projects of more than 50MW are not included in the main figures in this report, due to the questionable social and environmental impact of some large hydro schemes.

Similarly, the figure doesn’t include the category ‘combustible renewables and waste’, which produces a surprising amount of energy — 1225.49 Mtoe, or about a third as much as coal and peat. Clearly, the practice of burning trees and rubbish needs no subsidy to make it work.

Of course, we should probably count some small hydro and waste-to-energy amongst the beneficiaries of the subsidies. And of course the calculation above is crude. But what is objectionable about the arguments offered by Chris Huhne, Damian Carrington, and the Carbon Brief is their haste to make a point based on face-value stats, which fail comprehensively to provide perspective and comparison. Adding perspective to their claims, and putting them into a meaningful context reveals a picture which, if not a complete inversion of what they claimed, certainly makes for a less stark image nonetheless. The simple black-and-white storyline they tell turns out to be the kind of misrepresentation Carbon Brief and Guardian journalists claim to want to expose, put out by ‘green economy deniers’. There is a debate to be had, only the likes of Huhne, Carrington and the Carbon Brief deny it.

Warding Off the Deniers

There was a heated twitter exchange last night between Bob Ward, Bishop Hill, and Richard Tol. Ward predictably wanted to know ‘who funds the GWPF’ — the Global Warming Policy Foundation, headed by Nigel Lawson and Benny Peiser. Ward has been making much of alleged ‘disinformation’ from the GWPF, especially in the Daily Mail. Last week, he wrote two articles for the Guardian’s eco pages. The first suggesting that Daily Mail editor, Paul Dacre’s defence of the principle of press self-regulation is not credible, given his paper’s publishing of climate sceptics, especially the GWPF. The second, suggesting that the Charities Commission review the GWPF’s status, given what Ward believes to be politically-motivated (and possibly financially-motivated) perspective on climate change of its donors, staff, and contributors. In both cases, it seems, the implication is that a higher authority should descend on the GWPF and the Daily Mail, to censor, punish, and expose these climate-deviants.

The the one-man-climate-inquisition, Ward, seems unrelenting in his refusal to participate in debate with the heretics, preferring the sticks-and-stones approach. The problem which Ward has never addressed, however, is that once you set such high standards for your opponents, you need to make sure that you yourself can meet them.

According to his twitter profile, Ward is ‘Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE. The Grantham Institute at the LSE is a fairly large outfit, as is the Grantham Institute at Imperial College. What upsets the policy and communications director of the Grantham Institute — which, as far as I can tell, outnumbers the staff at the GWP several dozen or more to one — so much?

Ward is convinced that questionable interests donate to the GWPF. Richard Tol explained that donors to charities are protected by the Data Protection Act. Ward persisted. “What if the GWPF was being heavily funded by overseas sceptic donors?”, he asked, the implication being that we could not trust them.

Maurizio Morabito joined the discussion, and pointed it to a very interesting article which sheds some light on The Grantham Institute’s benefactor, Jeremy Grantham. It turns out that the fund he manages has made the following investments…

I’ve probably not done a good job of working out how much these investments are worth. Where the article says “Grantham bought 1,731,672 shares at an average price of $82.34 and now has 11,309,048 shares”, I’ve assumed that the 11,309,048 shares were worth an average of $82.34, and so have multiplied the shares by that number. I’ve then multiplied that number by the annual dividend, to see what the investments yield. However accurate this is, though, the fact remains that Grantham has invested heavily in oil companies.

But! Shock Horror! Wouldn’t that mean that, by funding Grantham Institutes at various places to the tune of a whopping $165 million, he’s undermining his own investments (nearly 10% in oil)? Well, as the article at Gurufocus says,

In his most recent shareholder letter, Grantham discussed what he foresees as the future of oil. What he mainly anticipates is shortage and rising prices. “The transition from oil will give us serious and sustained problems. We passed peak oil per capita long ago and we are within 30 years, possibly within 10, of peak oil itself. The price will be volatile beyond our wildest dreams (or nightmares), and the price trend will rise, although at times this will be difficult to discern through the volatility.”

It certainly shows that Grantham, who also seems to have invested in green energy projects, isn’t prepared to put his money where his institute’s big-mouthed big mouth, Ward, is. Ward has long pointed his finger at the likes of Exxon, for ‘funding deniers’. It now seems that the institution he now works for is funded by dirty, dirty oil money. But what does Grantham get out of it?

One thing is for sure. By investing in the green sector, and in oil, and in ‘research institutes’ who make loud noises in favour of policies and PR that will push up the price of fossil fuel and subsidise green energy, he’s not simply backing both horses in a two-horse race; he’s backing two horses in two, one-horse races.

Grantham has invested a vast sum of money in oil. This yields a huge, secure profit, which will only grow if the rank environmentalism and neomalthusianism he and the beneficiaries of his ‘generosity’ tirelessly propagate grows. His funding of research, and his influence over the public agenda vastly exceeds anything that the GWPF could muster, and also shows how private interests do actually dominate the debate — just not in the way Ward imagines it to.

But so much for arguing the toss about who is more corrupted by money than whom. It only serves to demonstrate that Bob Ward has completely failed to develop a sense of proportion. If Ward was really able to muster a convincing case for energy and climate policies, he would not be so preoccupied with ‘funding’, and he would not find himself so completely hoist by his own petard, each and every time.

'The Science is Settled', Part 858

I found myself being called a ‘climate sceptic’ and ‘denier’ this week. I find this odd, because I rarely take a view on the science, which I regard as largely a massive red herring — the climate debate is mostly political. My argument is that if you want to know what ‘science says’, you have to have a good idea about what it has been asked. Some in the debate believe that ‘science’ can speak uncontaminated, objective truth to the policy-making process; you merely have to assemble all the scientific literature, summarise it, and tell the policy-makers. Job done.

But doesn’t setting up special organisations — the IPCC, for instance, or the UK’s Committee on Climate Change — to inform special policy-making process imply something of a loaded question, to which the answer is to some extent presupposed? Doesn’t there appear, therefore, to be a dialogue in which the policy-making process to some extent informs the evidence-making process? I’m not talking about the IPCC being an explicit exercise in policy-based evidence-making, but that there’s a very naive view of science as a process entirely distinct from the rest of the world. (And it’s not as if the climate change issue doesn’t come to the rescue of politicians who find themselves in crisis.) I’m fairly confident that science can answer questions such as ‘is climate change happening’. The best available evidence will suggest that it is. But all the evidence in the world won’t shed any light on what the question means. Science can not deliver value-free answers to political questions, and cannot produce statements about the world independently of the world.

A more useful question is ‘how much has the climate changed’. But even then there are the corollaries: ‘should it have changed at all’, and ‘so what’. A more useful question is, ‘what are the consequences of climate change’. But is that a question only for science? Is climate change worth stopping at all costs? To what extent should climate change be the organising principle of the entire human race’s productive activity? In the same way that special scientific and policy-making processes implies a dialogue between them, the consensus it produces (it is presupposed) precludes another kind of dialogue.

The BEST results are out, pre-peer-review, and amidst a storm of articles reproducing the press release announcing the BEST conlcusion. Says the No Scientist,

Sceptical climate scientists concede Earth has warmed

A group of scientists known for their scepticism about climate change has reanalysed two centuries’ worth of global temperature records. Their study largely confirms previous ones: it finds strong evidence that Earth is getting hotter.

I don’t remember the BEST scientists ever being ‘known for their scepticism about climate change’. I do remember them being sceptical of some approaches in climate science, though, and in the presentation of their results. There’s been a lot of discussion about what the BEST results do and don’t say, so I won’t dwell on them. But it is curious that the No Scientist chose the headline Sceptical climate scientists concede Earth has warmed, and then goes on to quote a number of sceptics, each of whom seem to have told the article’s author, Michael Marshall that the warming was never in question. For instance, Steve McIntyre is quoted,

I haven’t ever suggested that temperatures haven’t risen since the 19th century. Quite the contrary

Moreover, as David Whitehouse at the GWPF points out,

The researchers find a strong correlation between North Atlantic temperature cycles lasting decades, and the global land surface temperature. They admit that the influence in recent decades of oceanic temperature cycles has been unappreciated and may explain most, if not all, of the global warming that has taken place, stating the possibility that the “human component of global warming may be somewhat overestimated.”

And that’s a very different message to the many news items covering the report. Consider this story on Channel 4 last night. (H/t Bishop Hill).

The item ends with a discussion about whether the BEST results will end the debate.

What this makes clear, then, is that none of the journalists — churnalists — actually understand the debate they are purporting to have analysed. There, in black and white on the No Scientist‘s page, and across the entire climate-sceptic part of the blogosphere are many statements of position, few — if any of which — claim that ‘there has been no global warming’, or words to that effect.

Once again, then, what this shows is that the coverage of the debate tells us more than the actual substance of the debate. What is revealed by the failure of journalists to cover the debate is that they’re reporting from inside their own heads. In their view, the debate is about that familiar trope, ‘climate change is happening’. ‘The scientists’ say it is, and ‘the deniers’ say that it isn’t. That is an imagined debate. It doesn’t exist. This view of the debate precedes (and indeed precludes) any understanding of it.

This in turn reflects the presuppositions implied by the creation of special scientific and policy-making bodies, that all you need to do to move forward with climate change policies is establish that ‘climate change is happening’. Yet there does not appear to be any discussion about attribution in the BEST studies, and there is already some criticism about its methodology.

Many in the debate want to draw a line under the science, to have it ‘settled’ once and for all. But as has been discussed at length, here there and everywhere, that just ain’t science. The desire to move forward with policies, then, without further debate about ‘what science says’ — it has spoken, after all — speaks about the extent to which the policy-making process precedes the evidence-making process. Looking more deeply at the coverage of the debate reveals that expectations of science precede the science. The dialogue between the policy-makers and the evidence makers is two-way, and precludes any criticism or alternative discussion entering the dialogue.

If it were not so, the preconceptions of journalists and other activists would not dominate their analyses of the debate. They would be able to accurately reflect the claims made by ‘sceptics’. They would be able to answer them, and include them in the process. There would be a multi-dimensional dialogue; it would not consist of merely the official evidence-makers and the policy-makers, sitting apart from the rest of the world, deciding its fate.

Climate Change Policy is as Dangerous as Climate Change

According to Channel 4 News,

An interim independent report predicts that 2,700 people will die this winter as a consequence of fuel poverty, a figure greater than the number killed in traffic accidents each year.

As argued here in recent posts, fuel poverty is a direct consequence of the UK’s energy policies. The government and others have argued otherwise, and blamed ‘the market’ for rising prices. But this isn’t good enough. The market does not exist in a vacuum; it exists in a world dominated by politicians who aren’t making energy a priority, and who were aware of the effect of their policies on energy prices long ago. Rather than allowing R&D and investment in energy where it is needed, politicians have given incentives to more expensive forms of production, and allowed price to coerce people into reducing their energy consumption. This is not about how much of any fuel or electricity bill is ’caused’ by a given policy, as is possible with a tax. The point is about what happens when you see energy itself as a problem, rather than make the provision of of cheap, abundant energy a political priority, if not merely possible. This is about what happens when policy-makers roll over at the merest whiff of an environmental NGO’s campaign, if governments past and present weren’t already begging them for policy ideas.

Of the 27,000 ‘excess deaths’ that occur each winter when compared to deaths which occur in the summer, 10% of them can be attributed to fuel poverty, says the Hill Report published yesterday by DECC itself.

If I’m right, and these deaths are caused by the UK’s climate and energy policies, then that effect should be compared to what the policies that caused it were intended to achieve.

As discussed in the previous post, the WHO’s World Health Report 2002 attributed 150,000 deaths a year to climate change in ‘high mortality developing countries’ (HMDCs). (Actually the figure is 148,000, but they rounded it up in the press releases).

The HDMCs are listed as the countries belonging to groups AFR-D, AFR-E, AMR-D, EMR-D, SEAR-D. Or, for those who are interested: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Togo, Botswana, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Peru, Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Maldives, Myanmar, and Nepal.

According to this Wikipedia page (apologies for using Wikipedia, but, dammit, it is useful sometimes) those countries have a combined population of 2,792,190,752. So that means, taking the WHO’s word for it, the 148,000 deaths caused by climate change amounted to one death in every 18,866 people living in HMDCs.

Now, the UK’s population is 62,435,709, and 2,700 people died in the UK last year as a result of fuel poverty. In other words, on in every 23,124 people in the UK died last year, because of fuel poverty, caused by the UK’s climate change and energy policies.

What else can we conclude, but that climate change policy is as dangerous as climate change? In fact it is more dangerous, because those deaths occurred in the developed world. Imagine, then, what effect climate change policies are having in the developing world — the HMDCs.

Curiously enough for a report commissioned by the DECC, the Hill Fuel Poverty Review of doesn’t meaningfully discuss the possibility that the 2,700 deaths it attributes to energy poverty can thus be attributed to the shortcomings of policy-makers and their policies. It doesn’t consider that existing policies may have been the cause of fuel poverty. It concludes…

This Chapter has looked at the underlying causes of fuel poverty and who they most affect, as well as energy use. The main findings, summarised in more detail after each section, are:
• Poorer households live in smaller dwellings, reducing potential energy bills. Social housing is also more energy efficient than private housing. Being off the gas grid is a major factor increasing energy costs. Within tenures, energy efficiency (SAP rating) is not strongly linked to income.
• Those on low incomes are least likely to be on the cheapest, direct debit, tariffs. Where customers with prepayment meters have switched supplier following a doorstep sale, almost as many
switched to a worse as to a better deal.
• The net effect of government policies on different income groups will depend on how the interventions financed by some of those policies are distributed. On assumptions made by DECC in 2010, the net effect would be a loss on average for low-income households, tending to increase fuel poverty. Whether this actually occurs depends on decisions yet to be taken.
• We do not know what temperatures households are now living at. Data on actual energy use suggest that even better-off households do not live at the temperatures assumed in modelling fuel
poverty. However, the poorest tenth of households appear to be living at lower temperatures than contemporary norms.

The report concludes… (My emphasis)…

The issue of fuel poverty also ties in strongly with the urgent need to tackle climate change, as part of which a priority is to improve energy efficiency standards in UK homes in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But climate change policy delivery is made more difficult by the existence of fuel poverty. If the price mechanism is used to encourage carbon reduction, some low-income householders face disproportionate costs, but the capital investment needed to bring about efficiency improvements and carbon savings is beyond them. If carbon emissions from these households are to be reduced, assistance will be needed. Once made, interventions should have a sustained impact on the costs they face and then in a combination of warmer homes and their own carbon reductions.

How can the UK government only now be commissioning reports which state the obvious? How did it fail to anticipate that rising energy costs would cause harm to people? Why did it not consider the human cost of its policies before rushing them through parliament? Why did it not think to consider mitigating the effects of fuel poverty before creating the problem of increasing fuel poverty? Why should we think that the government’s attempts to intervene to mitigate the effects of fuel poverty will be any less damaging than their attempt to mitigate climate change?

Expect more intervention and more policies. Expect more fuel poverty. Expect more deaths.

Meanwhile, as was established in the previous post, there are 10% fewer cases of malaria — one of the main diseases that the WHO believed to be exacerbated by climate change — now than when the data for the WHO 2002 report was compiled. It seemed unlikely that the 150,000 deaths were attributed to climate change safely before we discovered that malaria rates were in decline. Now it seems even less likely. Climate change policies really are worse than climate change.

An Inconvenient Eradication

One of the things mentioned very often here is the case of the WHO claim that 150,000 deaths throughout the world can be attributed to climate change. This figure was then upped to 300,000 by the now defunct Global Humanitarian Forum, under the stewardship of former UN chief, Kofi Anan.

The WHO and GHF studies were used to make the case that ‘climate change will be worse for the poor’. But, as argued here, the expression ‘climate change will be worse for the poor’ amounts to a much stronger argument for creating wealth than it does for the abolition of climate change.

The WHO’s and GHF’s method was to estimate the increased prevalence of malaria, diarrhoea and malnutrition caused by climate change. Here, for instance is the GHF’s table, in which they assume that climate change increases the prevalence of these diseases by around 4% in 2010, rising to around 6% in 2030.

As pointed out here, given that malaria, diarrhoea and malnutrition are diseases of poverty, the greater problem is one of lack of wealth. Tackle that problem, and you don’t merely save the lives of the 302,000 people who die from ‘climate change’, you also save 7.5 million lives lost to poverty, as well as the costs caused by 5.8 billion cases of the diseases it causes. To say that environmentalists and the ‘global leaders’ urging action on climate change lack a sense of proportion is an understatement.

Anyway, the BBC are now reporting that,

There has been a fall of just over 20% in the number of deaths from malaria worldwide in the past decade, the World Health Organization says.
A new report said that one-third of the 108 countries where malaria was endemic were on course to eradicate the disease within 10 years.

Experts said if targets continued to be met, a further three million lives could be saved by 2015.

It’s not clear how much credit the WHO can take for reducing the human cost of malaria. But what is clear is that malaria has got nothing to do with climate change.

Who Are the 'Reality Checkers' Kidding?

Polly Curtis is the Guardian’s ‘reality checker’. Today’s she’s been live-blogging the debate about the margins of the ‘Big Six’ energy retailers, discussed here yesterday.

Reality check: Are energy price hikes inevitable?
Temperatures are about to plummet and energy bills soar with gas and electricity bosses claiming further rises are unavoidable. Are the price rises really inevitable? Polly Curtis, with your help, finds out.

I’ve always wondered how firm the grip that The Guardian and its staff — much as with the environmental movement more broadly — have on reality. Indeed, Curtis’ attempts to get to the bottom of the debate does little more than reproduce official arguments put out by the government, quangos and NGOs. As such, then, she only reproduces official reality. The problem here is, as has been discussed previously, the UK’s energy policies have been essentially drafted by NGOs, and quangos are defacto government bodies, who aren’t really able to criticise policy in any meaningful way.

There’s plenty to take issue with in Curtis’ account of the fiasco. This is perhaps the most bizarre.

This is the most striking set of figures I’ve seen. This graph documents the price changes at the big six suppliers for an average dual customer paying by direct debit over the last seven years. It’s quite breath-taking how tightly they mirror each other, and how in the last two to three years the variability has reduced. I think it demonstrates a total lack of competition in the market.

The reason the curves ‘mirror each other’ so ‘tightly’ is that the margins are so low. In other words, there is a great deal of competition in the retail market. If there was no competition, you would see higher margins.

This, however, makes slightly more sense…

The other area where the government is putting pressure is by making wholesalers sell more energy on the open market, instead of to their own retailers, in order to allow new providers to enter the market and improve competition.

… But only just. The figures produced by OFGEM, which have sparked this row do not discuss the difference between the retail and wholesale parts of the ‘big six’ energy companies’ groups. And the ‘competition’ this will seemingly create is still only competition in the retail market, not in the wholesale market, which, thanks to the UK’s renewable energy targets, is heavily regulated… Suppliers must take a rising percentage of their energy from renewable producers, and so on.

This, however, is completely nuts:

• Over the long-term it is very likely that the unit costs of energy will rise as resources become scarcer, the UK becomes more dependent on imports and there is a bigger shift towards green energy policies.

Curtis has just forgotten about 200 trillion cubic feet of gas, sitting under the North of England. She needs a reality check herself.