Six Degrees

Josie Appleton has written an excellent review of Mark Lynas’ book, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet

Appleton takes issue with many of Lynas’ claims and dismal prophecies, and lucidly argues that catastrophic narratives offered by environmentalists may owe more to anxieties about wider problems in society than scientific observations.

As a non-climatologist, it seems logical to me that carbon dioxide emissions will cause global warming in some form – but if global warming meltdown starts in eight years’ time, I will eat my copy of Six Degrees, appendices and all. That is a conviction founded not on an analysis of Geophysical Research Letters, but on a consideration of the circumstances in which such science is produced.

Eight years is not a long time in geology. But it is a long time in environmental politics. Just six years ago, Mark Lynas wasn’t saving the planet by writing books, but by throwing custard pies at Bjorn Lomborg, who dared to challenge claims made by environmentalists.

I wanted to put a Baked Alaska in his smug face […] in solidarity with the native Indian and Eskimo people in Alaska who are reporting rising temperatures, shrinking sea ice and worsening effects on animal and bird life.

Although Lynas seems to have moved on from such childish prose and circus antics, he still claims to speak on behalf of the world’s poor (who are lumped in with the animals). But as we have pointed out before, Lynas’s solidarity only extends so far – their struggles are of less importance than balancing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Appleton describes this degraded moral framework well, and suggests that environmentalism can only understand human society in terms of atmospheric science. ‘Carbon dioxide becomes the nexus between individuals, the thing that connects us to other people and to the future of the planet. This infuses the most banal acts with a deep moral meaning’. This offers us an important insight into how the environmental movement depends on urgency and disaster to make its moral argument.

Lib Lab Lip Service

Yesterday, the UK’s third political party – The Liberal Democrats – launched their Climate Change Starts at Home campaign.

Menzies Campbell unveiled bold proposals that demonstrated how upgrading Britain’s homes could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by millions of tonnes, save energy, and lead to significant cuts in energy bills.

Last week BBC2’s Newsnight featured a review of a journalist’s gruelling year-long attempt at ‘ethical living’ which reduced his family’s ‘carbon footprint’ by two tonnes. But as Bjorn Lomborg pointed out on the program, if that reduction were to be acheived by families nationwide, the saving would postpone the effect of global warming by a mere seven hours by the year 2100.

‘Millions of tonnes’ sounds big, and makes good copy, but it doesn’t change the planet at all. This leaves Menzies with only the claim that insulation, paid for with ‘Energy Mortgages’ secured on homes, would shave hundreds of pounds a year off consumers’ energy bills. But with an added risk of losing that home on top of having to pay back the loan, it seems unlikely that this scheme will make much of a difference to anyone for whom £300 a year makes a difference.

Away from home, UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is due to take the issue of climate change to the security council on the basis that ‘the cumulative impacts of climate change could exacerbate these drivers of conflict, and particularly increase the risk to those states already susceptible to conflict.’[DEAD LINK]

Perhaps this is a case of Blair attempting to secure his legacy by getting the world to move on climate change. Indeed, it’s not like him to be against things that ‘exacerbate the drivers of conflict’. Or perhaps it’s just an attempt to offset all that carbon used in the Gulf war…