Grantham's Greenbacks

Jeremy Grantham is very rich and very worried. According to the Sunday Times, he has donated £24million to fund climate change research – £12million each to the London School of Economics and Imperial College:

Grantham believes climate change could lead to the collapse of Earth’s ecosystems and even threaten human civilisation.

So concerned is Grantham, 70, over this issue that he has set up the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, endowed with £165m of his own money, to fund environmental research and campaigns. From it he is funding the LSE and Imperial donations, and other grants to American groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund.

This is actually rather old news, which we reported on back in January. But it’s worth another look because, in his exclusive interview with the entirely credulous Sunday Times, Grantham is given full rein to expound on his personal fears and his political prescriptions:

“climate change is turning into the biggest problem humanity has ever faced … We are destroying the planet. We are in the middle of one of the greatest extinctions of species Earth has seen. If it continues unchecked, humanity will soon be running out of food and water … the environment, especially climate change, is going to be the central issue for all society, including business, politics and the economy…

Of course, ‘the environment, especially climate change’, already is ‘the central issue for all society’. We’re rather surprised he hadn’t heard.

But like all establishment greens, that’s not enough for Grantham, who demands no less than the reorganisation of society to save the planet:

…Capitalism and business are going to have to remodel themselves and adapt to a rapidly changing and eventually very different world.”

So the capitalist wants to reorganise capitalism, seemingly in the interests of ‘saving the planet’. To further this objective, he funds organisations with close relationships to the state and academia.

The Sunday Times draws on research conducted last year by Professor Cathy Pharoah, co-director of City University’s Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy, who

suspects climate change is such a big problem that many would-be donors do not know how to donate or who to give to.

“Climate change has yet to become an attractive issue for many donors,” she said.

She also found that the top 50 environment charities had income of £977m in 2007 — less than half the £2.1 billion achieved by the 50 top overseas aid charities, such as Oxfam. The National Trust is the organisation that raises the most money — about £63m a year.

The implication is, of course, that climate change charities need more money, and that it’s not right and proper that overseas aid charities should have twice the income. This is rather a strange observation in itself. But it’s not even a useful distinction to draw.

Overseas aid charities have been busy reinventing themselves as climate change charities. Oxfam, for example, has launched its own campaign against power stations in the UK, on the basis that their emissions harm the world’s poor:

Coal or renewable? The old way, or the new. We head right back to dirty energy with E.ON’s Kingsnorth. We destroy our chances of avoiding a climate catastrophe and let climate change push poor people deeper into poverty. Or we innovate and start a clean energy revolution. Now is the time to choose.

In the context of environmentalism in general, these charities have all but dropped their traditional push for overseas development in favour of promoting sustainability, which by its very nature means less development.

And like all establishment greens, Grantham has a rather low view of his fellow humans

“Humanity is largely innumerate,” said Grantham.

“They don’t understand how frightening the numbers behind climate change really are…

‘They’… hmm. Being unfettered by membership of humanity, Grantham is free to see things how they really are:

What’s more, the people who can count, the scientists, are paralysed with fear about overstating their case. They have consistently understated the risk and so allowed politicians to ignore it.”

If ever a claim deserved a bit of journalistic scrutiny, that one does. But instead, the Sunday Times adds its own hand-waving statements about what scientists think into the mix:

Scientists argue, however, that there is little point donating money to save birds, woodlands or coastline from short-term threats if they are simply going to be wiped out by global warming later on.

Would that be all scientists? Most scientists? Some scientists? A scientist? Well, according to the evidence presented in the article, it’s no scientists. Or, at least, no scientists’ opinions are offered to support the claim. Instead, it hands straight back over to Grantham for corroboration:

Grantham agrees. With three grown-up children and his first grandchild on the way, he sees money spent on climate research as an investment in the world his grandchildren will inherit.

He is, however, increasingly pessimistic about what kind of world that will be.

“Our species is very bad at dealing with issues like these, so the outlook is bleak. There is no alternative to doing all we can but I suspect humanity is going to face a lot of grief.”

That one person is able to influence the direction of the climate ‘debate’ to the extent that he funds entire research organisations will be an irony lost on environmentalists. You can safely bet £24 million that none of the £24 million Grantham has invested will be allowed near any research which shows any danger of undermining the political argument for action to stop climate change. Meanwhile, the $22 million that Greenpeace unearthed flowing between Exxon and lobbying organisations between 1998 and 2006 is still held as ‘evidence’ that powerful interests dominate the ‘debate’.

Monbiot's Money Myopia

George Monbiot isn’t always entirely wrong. Writing in the Guardian yesterday:

Why is the Medical Research Council run by an arms manufacturer? Why is the Natural Environment Research Council run by the head of a construction company? Why is the chairman of a real estate firm in charge of higher education funding for England?

Because our universities are being turned into corporate research departments. No longer may they pursue knowledge for its own sake: the highest ambition to which they must aspire is finding better ways to make money.

Last month, unremarked by the media, a quiet intellectual revolution took place. The research councils, which provide 90% of the funding for academic research, introduced a requirement for those seeking grants: they must describe the economic impact of the work they want to conduct. The councils define impact as the “demonstrable contribution” research can make to society and the economy. But how do you demonstrate the impact of blue skies research before it has been conducted?

The increasingly cosy relationship between government, industry and the Academy (we’d throw activism in there, too) is certainly a problem. But that’s not to say Monbiot is entirely right.

First, his article is notable for what it leaves out. He could have added: Why is the Economic and Social Science Research Council’s Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP) chaired by the vice-president of a firm offering carbon-finance products? Or why is the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) chaired by a businessman and green activist?

Second, this linear model of research that Monbiot complains about is also remarkably attractive to those at the top of institutional environmentalism. We reported, for example, on Sir David King’s advocacy for just such a linear model of research funding when he argued that the money spent on the Large Hadron Collider would be better spent saving the climate.

Moreover, since Lord Stern’s report on the economics of climate change, the ‘economic impact’ part of the equation that Monbiot scoffs at is increasingly central to the environmentalist research agenda. And it is Lord Stern himself who heads up the CCCEP, of course. The CCCEP’s own model of research is itself linear, as demonstrated by its mission statement:

Climate change and its potential impacts are increasingly accepted, but economic, social and political systems have been slow to respond. There is a clear and urgent need to speed up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to unavoidable climate change.

The Centre’s mission is to respond to this need by advancing public and private action on climate change through innovative, rigorous research.

But more than that, we have argued repeatedly here that, on environmental matters, the interests of government, industry, academia and pressure groups are remarkably similar. The only contingent that begs to differ, in fact, is the electorate. Which is why the CCCEP’s own linear research model is directed towards the specific goal of changing behaviour.

Monbiot complains that NERC is run by the head of a construction company. And yet that hasn’t stopped it reframing its activities under the banner of climate change and the like. From the front page of NERC’s website:

NERC funds world-class science in universities and our own research centres that increases knowledge and understanding of the natural world. We are tackling the 21st century’s major environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity and natural hazards. We lead in providing independent research and training in the environmental sciences.

And meanwhile, obesity researchers, philosophers, historians and psychologists peer at the world through their own green-tinted spectacles.

In the rather more crude version of Monbiot’s argument, he claims that a conspiracy of oil interests has paid for the ‘distortion’ of science. Yet it turns out that the cash available to the alarmists – who more often than not make arguments that are well out of kilter with the ‘consensus’ position without drawing Monbiot’s criticism – exceeds the denialists’ efforts by several orders of magnitude. In this case too, Monbiot’s critical eye has too narrow a perspective. It’s okay for there to be a relationship between academia, private interest, and the state when it suits him. As we have said before, when you wear green spectacles, you cannot see anything that is painted green – greenwashed.

The issue here is clearly not merely commercial, as George seems to imply. The fact that well-connected people are able to turn their social status into cash is no surprise – it was ever thus. What is interesting is that where once we imagined academia to speak truth to power, it is increasingly expected to speak Official Truth®™ for power.

The Great Danish Pastry Swindle

The climate conference in Copenhagen that ended this week produced a barrage of startling headlines, many of them from just one man.

On Tuesday, the Guardian’s junior climate alarmist, David Adam surprised us with an uncharacteristically non-doom-laden article:

Greenland ice tipping point ‘further off than thought’

The giant Greenland ice sheet may be more resistant to temperature rise than experts realised. The finding gives hope that the worst impacts of global warming, such as the devastating floods depicted in Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, could yet be avoided.

That evening, David’s mood soured:

Global warming may trigger carbon ‘time bomb’, scientist warns

Even modest amounts of global warming could trigger a carbon “time bomb” and release massive amounts of greenhouse gases from frozen Arctic soils, a new study has warned.

By Wednesday, David’s gloom reached unprecedented levels:

Caught on camera: The Greenland tunnels that could speed ice melt

The Greenland ice sheet is riddled with channels that could quicken ice loss and speed sea level rise, a new study has revealed.

That afternoon, David’s gloom was worse than previously thought:

Sea level could rise more than a metre by 2100, say experts

Global sea levels could rise much higher this century than previously projected, raising the threat level for millions of people who live in low-lying areas, new research suggests. Scientists at a climate change summit in Copenhagen say changes in the polar ice sheets could raise sea levels by a metre or more by 2100. The implications could be severe.

On Thursday, David’s gloom exceeded even the worst projections.

Severe global warming will render half of world’s inhabited areas unliveable, expert warns

Severe global warming could make half the world’s inhabited areas literally too hot to live in, a US scientist warned today.

By that afternoon, things had passed a tipping point:

Europe ‘will be hit by severe drought’ without urgent action on emissions

Europe will be struck by a series of severe droughts that will make life “hell” for hundreds of millions of people unless urgent action is taken to reduce carbon emissions, a new study shows. … Spain, Portugal, southern Italy, Greece and numerous other countries would be turned to semi-desert as climate change turned off their rainfall… Asked what life would be like there, Warren said: “Hell, I should think. It is incomprehensible to imagine adapting to that level of drought.”

Adam operates on the principal of one article per scientific paper. We’ve mentioned this ‘tyranny of the news peg’ before. It reduces the scientific process to a rolling news service devoid of context and analysis, allowing Adam to report, on consecutive days, that Greenland ice melt is, respectively, less and more imminent than previously thought. It is as if scientific truth equals the sum of all the papers produced on a scientific subject divided by their number, and that for truth and democracy to triumph, he just has to precis a sample of them, and distribute them between the categories of ‘worse…’ or ‘better than previously thought’, so that our minds can be made up by the law of averages. But if he does see his role as a passive conduit for information, he misunderstands both the workings and the function of both science and journalism.

A further caution that Adam throws to the wind is that much of the new research he reports on will not yet have been published in the peer-reviewed literature. Conferences are like that. They are a platform for scientists to present more tentative results, hypotheses and interpretations. We could find no sign in the literature of any of the studies Adam mentions. And many of them will not make it through the review process, or will only do so having been revised beyond recognition in terms of their scientific and/or political content.

Of the hundreds of papers that were presented at the conference – many of them in poster sessions [PDF] – Adam has selected just a tiny handful: the most salacious, sensational, and terrifying (or that can be billed as such) at the expense of investigating the nuances to the arguments about what is or isn’t true, and what to do about it, and presented this highly polarised perspective as an account of what ‘science says’.

To pluck just one of Adam’s stories from the pile, on the Thursday he was claiming that ‘severe global warming could make half the world’s inhabited areas literally too hot to live in’ and that ‘people will not be able to adapt to a much warmer climate as well as previously thought’. The story was based on a paper presented by Steven Sherwood of the University of New South Wales, who adds human physiology into the climate models to suggest that ‘physiological limits of the human body will begin to render places impossible to support human life if the average global temperature rises by 7C on pre-industrial levels’. While predictions about the physiological constraints on our ability to tolerate high temperatures might be very useful, in itself, it says nothing about our ability to inhabit these places – and even less about our ability to ‘adapt to a much warmer climate’. After all, here in Northern Europe we wouldn’t survive the winter if we didn’t have homes to go to. We don’t know whether Sherwood made these claims, or if they are Adam’s own original contribution to ‘the science’, but either way it demonstrates a complete failure to scrutinise and question what are preliminary research findings.

By Friday, David had decided to speak for scientists on the Guardian’s podcast.

Climate change warning: ‘We’re sick of having our messages lost in political noise’

The message might sound familiar is that we have to act, and that we have to act now. But I think the scientists, they have been saying it for a while, and we’ve been saying it in the media for a while… but I think the scientists have lost a little bit of patience almost. I mean one said to me here that we’re sick of having our carefully constructed messages lost in the political noise. You know this is the scientific community standing up and saying enough is enough, we’ve lost patience, get your act together.

We have to take David’s word for it that he wasn’t one of those people losing the ‘carefully constructed messages’ in the political noise. We’ve said it before, the likes of David Adam, who aren’t scientists and clearly have a lot of sympathy with environmentalism, like environmentalists, don’t recognise their own noise as political. It is curious that none of the 2,500 attendees – natural scientists, social scientists, activists, dignitaries, corporates and journalists – had lost sufficient patience to go on the record to evince their frustration and impatience, and the only people he can get to confirm his message are Nicholas Stern and Rajendra Pachauri – neither of them climate scientists.

One climate scientist who does make a distinction between science and political noise is Professor Mike Hulme. Writing on Roger Pielke Jr’s Prometheus blog, Hulme wonders about the kind of ‘action’ that Adam was calling for on behalf of scientists:

What exactly is the ‘action’ the conference statement is calling for? Are these messages expressing the findings of science or are they expressing political opinions? I have no problem with scientists offering clear political messages as long as they are clearly recognized as such.

David Adam might want to reflect on his own words more carefully. Perhaps the frustrated scientists he was taking evidence from were talking more about him, than to him. Hulme continues:

But then we need to be clear about what authority these political messages carry. They carry the authority of the people who drafted them – and no more. Not the authority of the 2,500 expert researchers gathered at the conference. And certainly not the authority of collective global science. Caught between summarizing scientific knowledge and offering political interpretations of such knowledge, the six key messages seem rather ambivalent in what they are saying. It is as if they are not sure how to combine the quite precise statements of science with a set of more contested political interpretations.

These six statements were issued after the conference by its organisers. Clearly they moved David Adam, but not Mike Hulme, who points out that the authors are not qualified to speak for the conference as a whole, and that no synthesis was produced, and nor was the conference capable of producing a synthesis.

It therefore seems problematic to me when such lively, well-informed and yet largely unresolved debates among a substantial cohort of the world’s climate change researchers gets reduced to six key messages, messages that on the one hand carry the aura of urgency, precision and scientific authority – ‘there is no excuse for inaction’ – and yet at the same time remain so imprecise as to resolve nothing in political terms.

It’s worth reading Mike Hulme’s post in full, rather than reading snippets that we’ve borrowed in order to illustrate David Adam’s ridiculous alarmism.

Hulme qualifies as neither a ‘sceptic’ nor a ‘denier’, and sensibly advises that science and politics are not the same thing. This nuanced argument is lost on David Adam. The problem is that throughout his prose is the theme that the images he presents and studies he cites are instructive… ‘we have to act, and we have to act now’. This urgency is also the theme of so many climate activists, politicians and commentators.

Adam’s alarm is premature, and it stems from an expectation of science that it simply cannot live up to. As Hulme puts it:

A gathering of scientists and researchers has resolved nothing of the politics of climate change. But then why should it? All that can be told – and certainly should be told – is that climate change brings new and changed risks, that these risks can have a range of significant implications under different conditions, that there is an array of political considerations to be taken into account when judging what needs to be done, and there are a portfolio of powerful, but somewhat untested, policy measures that could be tried.

The rest is all politics. And we should let politics decide without being ambushed by a chimera of political prescriptiveness dressed up as (false) scientific unanimity.

It is striking that while – judging by his podcast – Adam seems to have picked up on the frustrations expressed by certain scientists about the lack of nuance, he hasn’t the faintest clue what it means. He hears murmurings about the messy overlap between science and politics, and yet seems so immersed in his model of the world as one that will be the death of us all that he doesn’t know what to do with that information. He ends up interpreting the frustration about lack of nuances as a signal that everything should be blacker and whiter – as if the nuance that has been lost from the debate is that we are all going to die. Adam wants science to settle the political debate, and he wants it now

And here is where we think Hulme’s otherwise excellent observations stop short. He doesn’t attempt to explain why politicians, activists and journalists like Adam have such expectations of science.

As we have argued previously, the dynamic driving the climate debate is less about what has emerged from climate science, and more about what appear to be political agendas. As Hulme observes, in many instances, politics is prior to science in the debate. But it might be truer to say that it is a lack of politics that is prior to the science. Science – or rather images of catastrophe given scientific credibility – fills the void. It re-orientates the disoriented, gives moral purpose in a world beset far less by climate problems than moral relativism, and gives political significance to causes that have long lacked rebels.

No field of science is immune to being used to fill politics-shaped holes. Science is seen less as a valuable tool with which to improve humanity’s lot and open our minds, and becoming a blunt instrument with which to beat the opposition. Campaigners on all sides of abortion debates increasingly fall back on science to make their moral case. The fact of evolution by natural selection has become almost synonymous with atheism. Depending on who you talk to, genetic technologies will feed the world or turn it to grey sludge. But it is environmental science – and its resonance with our sense of futility – that has gained by far the most political purchase.

David Adam’s work typifies this symptom. Being able only to see the world through the prism of climate change represents a failure to sustain a coherent analysis and a lack of confidence in even his own subjectivity – hence appeals to scientific authority. For Adam, climate change distinguishes right from wrong, left from right, good from bad. Just as each major UK political party has absorbed environmentalism into its manifesto, so too have journalists used it to inform the entirety of their own perspective on the world. This limited form of discourse is not about engagement with or criticism of the decision-making processes and the direction of society, it is about causal inevitabilities and moral imperatives issued by ‘the science’. ‘Science says…’.

The result is politics, ethics, democracy stripped entirely of their human meaning. Climate change rescues mediocrity and intellectual poverty from obscurity, and puts them centre stage, dressed as a super-heroes. As Adam shows, writing ‘worse than previously thought’ often enough turns you into a full time employee of the Guardian, and turns climatology into ethical and political science. If climate change didn’t generate moral imperatives, it would leave room for debate. And debate is for the ‘deniers’, who want to profit from the end of the world, or something.

In his most recent article, Adam entirely uncritically quotes the economist (and not climate scientist) Nick Stern:

Speaking after giving a keynote speech, Stern said he feared that politicians had not grasped the seriousness of the crisis. “Do the politicians understand just how difficult it could be? Just how devastating four, five, six degrees centigrade would be? I think not yet. Looking back, the Stern review underestimated the risks and underestimated the damage from inaction.”

Just a few decades ago, World Bank economists, even ex-world bank economists (such as Stern) were just about the epitome of evil for radicals, liberals, and leftists. The World Bank served Western corporate interests at the expense of developing nations. Today, Stern is celebrated by radicals, liberals and lefties, while he advances the climate change cause, and positions himself to take financial advantage of the carbon markets created by the regulations that he was instrumental in devising, which foist ‘sustainability’ on both the developed and developing world. Stern knows full well that governments have not failed to act. His own government, for example, has committed the UK to an 80% cut in CO2 emissions by 2050, and the US is on course to do the same.

With all countries apparently committed to ‘action’ on climate change, the rhetorical escalation emerging at this conference is perhaps puzzling. What country is standing against an agreement at the next climate talks in Copenhagen?

We have previously speculated that the preparedness for an international deal on climate change presents campaigners with a problem. If everyone agrees, what role do you play, as an activist/scientist? By achieving an agreement, you undermine your role. Adam, who saw the world through the prism of climate change, no longer has a footing. Like Stern, he therefore has to reinvent his position. It’s ‘worse than previously thought’ and ‘governments don’t understand’. Because in a world defined by, and seen only through the climate change debate, once the principal debate is over, you also lose your orientation and perspective. If everyone is committed, you cannot tell good from bad, right from wrong, because the debate is no longer polarised. Eyes that are filtered green, cannot see anything in a world that is entirely green. They are blind.

It seems that the alarmism issued by the likes of Adam, Stern, and the conference organisers’ six statements represent a bizarre rear-guard action, not against prevailing forces of inaction, but their own blindness, and their own redundancy. They are fighting their own success.

There is no excuse for inaction. We already have many tools and approaches ? economic, technological, behavioural, management ? to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. But they must be vigorously and widely implemented to achieve the societal transformation required to decarbonise economies. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to alter our energy economy now, including sustainable energy job growth, reductions in the health and economic costs of climate change, and the restoration of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.

Previously, Professor Hulme has spoken about ‘climate porn’ – the tendency of activists, journalists and politicians to use the most distressing images, worst-case scenarios, and single studies stripped of their caveats and cautions. But there is another sense in which this expression illuminates the climate debate. Climate porn is to debate what porn is to human relationships. It simulates drama and engagement by crudely satisfying base lusts and fantasies with explicit images without the danger of rejection. But it is principally an inconsequential solo pastime in which understanding and negotiation with anothers is avoided. It achieves no resolution or synthesis, and objectifies humans, their ambitions and desires. Worst still, to paraphrase what the adage warns, climate porn will make you blind.

Penguins Are Killing the Polar Bears

This week has been a PR disaster for the North Pole. No sooner had scientists shown that the Antarctic really had been warming up a bit, actually, probably due to climate change and everything, than it was proved that Emperor penguins are more screwed even than the polar bears:

Emperor penguins, whose long treks across Antarctic ice to mate have been immortalised by Hollywood, are heading towards extinction, scientists say.

Based on predictions of sea ice extent from climate change models, the penguins are likely to see their numbers plummet by 95% by 2100.

That wasn’t the week’s only Disney-esque polar-flip. The BBC tells us that the theory of evolution is now as robust as climate science. Enjoy the closing remarks of BBC4’s otherwise excellent What Darwin Didn’t Know:

Perhaps, then, evolution does not so much resemble the weather as it does our climate. At the grander scales of space and time, the atmosphere is not chaotic. The physics of our planet imposes order, and thus predictability upon it. So, although we can scarcely tell what the weather will be three weeks from now, we can predict, at least probablilistically, what the climate will be three centuries hence.

All of which will be news to climate modellers.

Elsewhere… it was a while ago now, but our original post about Lord Professor Sir Nicholas Stern’s potential conflict of interests regarding his writing of the influential Stern report on the economics of climate change and his executive position with IDEAglobal drew a certain amount of criticism at the time. Eg:

I hate to deprive your charming readers of any opportunity for the foam-flecked ranting they so obviously enjoy, but there is a gaping hole in your argument here.

Stern was not connected to IDEAcarbon/IDEAglobal at the time he wrote his report on climate change, or indeed when he served as chief economist at the World Bank. If he had been, or if his report had been funded in any way by companies that stood to gain from its findings, then there would have been a conflict of interest. As it stands, the comparison with Exxon’s funding of climate denialists doesn’t hold up to a moment’s scrutiny.

As smear campaigns go, this one is well below even your own usual standards.

We disagreed:

environmentalists wouldn’t be satisfied if it were a sceptical scientist (even though Stern is not a scientist) who had been instrumental in influencing anti-mitigation, anti-Kyoto policy decisions in governments throughout the world, who later landed a top job in a company selling PR, financial, and market intelligence products to the oil industry. There would be talk of ‘the tobacco strategy’. There would be talk of private and political interests ‘manufacturing uncertainty’.

However, it is a joy to be able to plug the gulf that separates those double standards with this article from 4 August 1999:

Nick Stern, who has been made chairman of London Economics, has advised the IMF and the World Bank, and of course had to be a terrible Europhile to work for the EBRD, of gold taps and Jacques Attali fame. Professor Stern will be full-time chairman until he adds a half-time Chair in Economics at the London School of Economics

The Prof also joined the advisory board of IDEAglobal.com yesterday to give the web consultancy a weekly round-up on global economics. How he finds the time, goodness knows.

Soon after Stern started at IDEAglobal, he was appointed chief economist at the World Bank:

IDEAglobal.com announced today that professor Nicholas Stern of its Advisory Board was named Chief Economist of the World Bank. Professor Stern succeeds Joseph Stiglitz and is due to take up his new post in July.

As a member of its Advisory Board Professor, Stern contributes to IDEAglobal.com’s research on international financial markets and global economic policy. Professor Stern is the former Chief Economist of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, where he played a key role in advising on the transition process in Eastern and Central Europe.

The Stern Review was published 2006. The rest is history.

activism.plc@gov.ac.uk

At the risk of getting all Exxon-Secrets ‘on yo asses’… Thanks to the reader who let us know about Bob Ward‘s latest career move. Ward, if you remember, left his post of director of communications at the Royal Society to join global risk analysis firm RMS as Director of Global Science Networks. It was a perfectly natural progression that allowed him to continue both his pseudo-scientific catastrophe-mongering and his crusade against Exxon and Martin Durkin. Which he did.

Ward now pops up at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, where he has taken on the post of Policy and Communications Director. The Grantham is chaired by Professor Lord Sir Nicholas Stern of Brentford, author of a rather influential report on the economics of climate change, and who stands to profit admirably from institutional environmentalism via his carbon credit reference agency. It is no surprise that Ward and Sir Nicholas find themselves in the same company department, given their shared interests. Stern is also Chair of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP), which is funded by the UK government’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and which acknowledges that ‘Generous support for the Centre’s work is also provided by Munich Re’. Munich Re is the insurance giant that claims to know what the IPCC does not when it comes to the reality of climate change in the present.

Glancing down the profiles of Grantham’s management team, we spot another corporate Green to have found a new home among academic foliage. The last time we looked, Sam Fankhauser was Managing Director of IDEAcarbon:

IDEAcarbon is an independent and professional provider of ratings, research and strategic advice on carbon finance. Our services are designed to provide leading financial institutions, corporations, governments, traders and developers with unbiased intelligence and analysis of the factors that affect the pricing of carbon market assets.

IDEAcarbon’s parent company is IDEAglobal, where Stern is Vice President.

Fankhauser doubles up as a member of the Climate Change Committee, the ‘independent’ body set up by the UK government to advise the UK government on climate policies.

The CCC is chaired by Lord Adair Turner of Ecchinswell, a man whose CV includes stints of environmental activism as a trustee for WWF and membership of the Advisory Board of Climate Change Capital, a firm offering services as an ‘investment manager and advisor specialising in the opportunities created by the transition to the low carbon economy’.

After all this, we were slightly disappointed to gather that the Grantham Research Institute is not named after the birthplace of green pioneer Margaret Thatcher. That it’s named in honour of multi-millionaire sponsors Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham, whose Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment also supports such green multi-nationals as GreenpeaceOxfamWWF and the Union of Concerned Scientists, is no less appropriate, however.

Grantham’s raison d’être is, according to its Chair:

Professor Stern said: ’As scientists continue to play their role in analysing the causes and effects of climate change, it is crucial that social scientists take a lead in the building of policy. The Grantham Institute will produce high-quality, policy-relevant research, alongside a range of outputs designed to support policy development, raise public awareness and contribute to private-sector strategy formation.’

Climate Resistance would not stoop to suggest that the corporate and ideological interests of the Grantham Research Institute’s staff could conceivably influence the direction or quality of its research output.

In fact, it’s worth re-stating that we wouldn’t make so much of the financial interests of these folk were it not for the fact that Bob Ward and his cronies make so much about links with dirty oil money, as exemplified by Ward’s former boss at the Royal Society, Bob May, writing in the TLS:

Despite the growing weight of evidence of climate change, along with growing awareness of the manifold adverse consequences, there remains an active and well-funded “denial lobby”. It shares many features with the lobby that for so long denied that smoking is the major cause of lung cancer. […] Whoever got things started, this is a ball which ExxonMobile picked up and ran with, shuttling lobbyists in and out of the White House as it did so. Following earlier talks and seeking to exemplify its centuries-old motto – Nullius in Verba (which roughly translates as “respect the facts”) – the Royal Society recently and unprecedentedly wrote to ExxonMobile, complaining about its funding for “organisations that have been misinforming the public about the science of climate change”, and more generally for promoting inaccurate and misleading views – specifically that scientists do not agree about the influence of human activity on rising temperatures.

Likewise, we would be less interested in such dodgy dealings if it weren’t for the mainstream media’s tendency to decry Exxon funding as corrupting of the scientific method while deeming Munich Re’s pronouncements – let alone the pronouncements of those they sponsor – as above scrutiny. It’s also worth re-stating at this point that fear is to the insurance industry what oil is to Exxon.

The ESRC’s CCCEP is worthy of further comment. According to its home page:

Human-induced climate change could have enormous impacts on economies and societies if we persist with ‘business as usual’. This is the consensus view of climate scientists and one with which economists are increasingly finding agreement (eg The Stern Review). It is much less certain, however, that our economic, social and political systems can respond to the challenge. Will public, private and civic actors take action to create low-carbon economies? What emission reduction strategies will be efficient, equitable and acceptable? How much should we invest, and when, on measures to reduce vulnerability to climate change? Who will bear the costs and enjoy the benefits? […] The Centre is chaired by Professor Lord Stern of Brentford

So, Lord Professor Sir Nicholas Stern’s report on the economics of climate change is somehow representative of the ‘scientific consensus’, and he shall, therefore, chair the ESRC’s climate change body.

There was a time when the social sciences felt it necessary to scrutinise the natural sciences, on the basis that scientists weren’t quite as objective as they liked to think they were. They had a point, even if the scientists were probably more objective than the sociologists thought they were. It was a good fight. Now, however, the starting point of centrally-funded social science is that it accepts unconditionally that not only is there is a scientific consensus on climate change, but there is an economic one, too. Aren’t new-fangled scientific practices like consensuses and peudo-scientific creations like ‘sustainability’ precisely what the social sciences should be scrutinising?

The CCCEP assumes from the outset that it follows necessarily that something must be done – and, indeed, that is the duty of each of us to do something. From its mission statement:

Climate change and its potential impacts are increasingly accepted, but economic, social and political systems have been slow to respond. There is a clear and urgent need to speed up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to unavoidable climate change.

The Centre’s mission is to respond to this need by advancing public and private action on climate change through innovative, rigorous research.

This is not sociology as the study of social institutions. It is sociology as government department, scholarly discipline and activist group all rolled into one. As if the Science Wars never happened, ‘climate science’ is free once again to speak ‘Truth to Power’ unfettered. Except that now it is aided and abetted by those who would be scrutinising it were it not for the fact that sociology has lost any sense of mission, just as political parties, the media, environmentalist activists and a host of scholarly disciplines attempting to justify themselves in terms of ‘relevance’ have lost sense of their mission.

The environmental orthodoxy is a tangled web of corporate interests, policy-makers, -movers and -shakers, academics, NGO’s and activists – all pushing in the same direction. Which would be just fine if the idea had been tested democratically. But it hasn’t. We’ve said it many times… environmentalism has not risen to prominence through its own energies: it has not developed from a mass movement; it isn’t representative of popular interests. It is useful only to various organisations that have otherwise struggled to justify themselves over the last few decades. The political parties have bought it. Various ‘radical’ organisations have bought it. Large sections of the media have bought it. Academic departments and funding agencies have bought it. Little wonder that corporate interests have been able to jump upon the bandwagon and play their hearts out for personal financial gain.

Forget speaking ‘Truth to Power’. Today it’s all about speaking ‘Official Truth™ for Official Power©’.

Munich ReDux

Further to our post on the love-in between Munich Re insurance the BBC and Professor Lord Sir Nicholas Stern…

Over at Prometheus, Roger Pielke Jr presents statistics that contradict Munich Re’s statements on increases in the human and economic costs of natural disasters:

Even as populations continue to grow, there has been no upward trend in the loss of life, despite the tragic reality of major disasters around the world every year. Extracting a climate change signal in that data is just not possible.

Intriguingly, Pielke has collaborated with Munich Re’s Peter Hoppe on economic costs, resulting in a paper in Science which concluded that:

According to data collected by Munich Re, global weather-related economic losses (inflation adjusted, 2006 dollars) have increased from an annual average of U.S.$8.9 billion from 1977–1986 to U.S.$45.1 billion from 1997–2006. However, because of issues related to data quality, the low frequency of extreme event impacts, limited length of the time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change brought about by greenhouse gas emissions (S1). This conclusion is likely to remain unchanged in the near future.

In the BBC article we reported on, however, Hoppe is quoted as saying:

The weather machine runs into top gear, bringing more intense severe weather events with corresponding effects in terms of losses.

And his Munich Re colleague Torsten Jeworrek said:

This continues the long-term trend we have been observing. Climate change has already started and is very probably contributing to increasingly frequent weather extremes and ensuing natural catastrophes. These, in turn, generate greater and greater losses because the concentration of values in exposed areas, like regions on the coast, is also increasing further throughout the world.

As Pielke puts it:

So Munich Re scientists (Hoeppe and E. Faust) publish in Science that attribution of losses to greenhouse gas emissions is not presently possible, and a Munich Re board member says that such attribution is “very probably” leading to more extreme events.

He concludes:

The fact is that 2008 disaster losses tell us nothing about human-caused climate change. They offer no pressing reason for passing a climate treaty, since such a treaty can have no real effect on the climate for decades anyway. And even if it did the main reason for increasing losses is social not climatic. There are far better reasons for a global climate treaty than reducing disaster losses, since there are far better approaches to that end (as we argue in our Science paper). Further, there may be good reason for Munich Re to want to increase its rates, but making grossly unsound appeals to the spectre of greenhouse gas impacts on disasters in the near term will both harm its own credibility as a business, and potenially harm efforts to secure a global climate treaty, as overselling the science will inevitably result in a backlash.

Read the whole thing here.

Prosperous New Fear

Before we get stuck into 2009, we missed a spillage from the festive period that needs mopping up…

In a remarkably gullible news item, the BBC covered a new report revealing that 2008 was a ‘Huge year for natural disasters’:

The past year has been one of the most devastating ever in terms of natural disasters … climate change [is] boosting the destructive power of disasters like hurricanes and flooding

The report finds that:

Although there were fewer “loss-producing events” in 2008 than in the previous year, the impact of natural disasters was higher […]

More than 220,000 people died in events like cyclones, earthquakes and flooding, the most since 2004, the year of the Asian tsunami.

Meanwhile, overall global losses totalled about $200bn (£137bn), with uninsured losses totalling $45bn, about 50% more than in 2007.

This makes 2008 the third most expensive year on record, after 1995, when the Kobe earthquake struck Japan, and 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina in the US.

The BBC article quotes expert Torsten Jeworrek:

“Climate change has already started and is very probably contributing to increasingly frequent weather extremes and ensuing natural catastrophes,”

Thing is, Torsten Jeworrek is an expert in insurance, not climate. He is on the board of insurance giants Munich Re. And Munich Re are the authors of the new report. It goes without saying that insurance companies need to keep abreast of developments in risk if they are to provide a service for their clients. But it also goes without saying that generating alarm about those same risks is also to their advantage. To paraphrase what we have said before, fear of risk is to Munich Re what oil is to Exxon. Indeed, Munich Re says as much on its website:

Risk is our business: Among other things, we reinsure the risks connected with oil rigs, satellites and natural catastrophes, and those arising from the use of genetic engineering and information technology or from the management of companies.

Climate change is not the only issue Munich Re is whipping up alarm about. It also desires that we flap over other scares du jour, such as piracy…

Piracy reaches new dimensions: The frequency and severity of piracy attacks have reached alarming levels

terrorism…

Megacities extremely vulnerable to natural perils, technological risks, terrorism and environmental hazards / More risk awareness and greater transparency urgently needed with regard to hazard exposure / Munich Re presents its views at the UN’s World Conference on Disaster Reduction

and obesity…

Obesity and type 2 diabetes are spreading at an alarming rate around the world

But, mostly, it’s climate change…

10 April 2008
India: Increase in losses due to climate change / Board member Torsten Jeworrek: “In coming decades, the effects of climate change will make themselves felt particularly in emerging countries like India.”

climate change…

29 September 2008
Munich Re exhibition in Tokyo highlights risks and opportunities of global warming

climate change..

27 December 2007
Natural catastrophe figures for 2007: Higher losses despite absence of megacatastrophes, very many loss events / Overall economic losses of US$ 75bn / Board member Dr. Torsten Jeworrek: Loss figures in line with the rising trend in natural catastrophes, Munich Re is prepared

climate change…

July 2008
High death toll marks the 2008 half-year natural catastrophes figures

and climate change…

5 June 2007
Munich Re signs the “Declaration on Climate Change” of the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative. / Munich Re Board member Torsten Jeworrek: “Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. What we do today is crucial for future generations. Therefore, swift international action is urgently needed.” / Munich Re forecasts long-term increase in demand for risk protection as a result of climate change and growing concentrations of values.

And there’s plenty more climate change where those came from.

Munich Re is certainly not the first insurance company to try to cash in on climate alarm by generating more of it. Back in April 2007 we reported on the efforts of risk assessment giants Risk Management Solutions (RMS) to do the same. Bob Ward, RMS’s Director of Global Science Networks, was continuing a crusade against the dirty denialist industry – namely, Exxon and Martin Durkin – that he started while in his previous employment as Senior Manager for Policy Communication for Exxon-slayers the Royal Society.

What is surprising is that the BBC have deemed the witterings of an insurance company worthy of a news story, and moreover, that they have chosen to take those witterings entirely at face value. At the very least they could have wondered why earthquakes were lumped into the analysis or how much the figures were skewed by one devastating cyclone in Myanmar.

Torsten Jeworrek’s quotes – like the whole BBC story, in fact – are lifted directly from Munich Re’s press release. But then, perhaps the BBC didn’t have much choice (other than to ignore the story completely) because Munich Re haven’t actually made their report available. When we emailed them for a copy, media relations officer Alexander Mohanty replied that:

there is no additional report or publication.
Munich re’s annual report on natural catastrophes is a press relase only traditionally.
But we will publish a more in-depth report in march called ‘topics’.

The BBC has been known to argue that the existence of ‘the consensus’ on climate change means that they are not obliged to seek balancing viewpoints from anyone who doesn’t entirely sign up to it. With this story however, they seem to be going rather further than is necessary to live up to their own journalistic ideals. They back up Jeworrek’s comments with quotes from Peter Hoppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research, which are also lifted verbatim from the presser:

“It is now very probable that the progressive warming of the atmosphere is due to the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity,” said Prof Peter Hoppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research.

“The logic is clear: when temperatures increase there is more evaporation and the atmosphere has a greater capacity to absorb water vapour, with the result that its energy content is higher.

“The weather machine runs into top gear, bringing more intense severe weather events with corresponding effects in terms of losses.”

The company said world leaders must put in place “effective and binding rules on CO2 emissions” to curb climate change and ensure that “future generations do not have to live with weather scenarios that are difficult to control”.

Yes, ‘the logic is clear’…

– the world has been warming up a bit
– human activity probably has something to do with that
– some models say this might influence the frequency of severe weather events
– therefore, an expensive year for civilisation (and insurance companies) means that climate change is already happening
– therefore, we need a global agreement to reduce carbon emissions

Other than pointing out that Hoppe’s clear logic is clearly not, it’s hard to comment on the accuracy and rigour of Munich Re’s analysis, because, as we said, the analysis is not available for scrutiny. But it’s hard to see how an insurance company can have had more success than ‘the world’s 2500 top climate scientists’ at isolating the effect of climate change on the occurrence of severe weather events. But then again, perhaps we can look forward to the IPCC citing Munich Re on matters of climate-change induced weather patterns in its own reports in the future. And in a world where top scientists are wont to defer to economists on scientific matters of climate change, that is not such an unlikely possibility.

It is perhaps interesting that the economist in question, Professor Lord Sir Nicholas Stern, has rather a close working relationship with Munich Re. Understandably, Munich Re is rather proud of the fact that its dirty insurance money funds such a high profile environmentalist:

In 2008, Munich Re launched a cooperation with Professor Lord Nicholas Stern and the London School of Economics (LSE), the aim being to advance research into the economic impact of climate change.

And Prof Lord Sir Nicholas has nothing to be embarrassed about. Because nobody – least of all the BBC – seems at all bothered by any such conflict of interests. They are all too busy worrying about who Exxon is funding. Those who shriek the loudest about climate change – whether it’s insurance companies, Stern, the Royal Society, Lord Adair Turner or the Tickell dynasty – often have the most to gain from alarmism. It seems that the greens have been right all along: an economic tail really does wag the scientific dog.

The Climate Change Bill. Part 2 – Appealing to Authority.

Here is an exchange between Peter Lilley MP, and other members of the House of Commons on Tuesday’s reading of the Climate Change Bill. 

Notice how Elliot Morley cites Stern and Lord Turner as authorities. 

It is as if Stern had no critics. The entire house of commons appears to be in his thrall. One man, who now is Vice Chairman of a group of companies with a commercial interest in climate change legislation, is being cited in lieu of democratic debate. 

Lord Turner, who is also cited, has written no more than a letter to Ed Milliband. And Lord Turner, as a former Trustee of the World Wildlife Fund, and a former member of the board of advisors at Climate Change Capital, cannot be said to be politically impatial, nor without financial interests. 

The house voted hugely in favour of the ammendments to the Bill, which means that shipping and aviation will now be included in the 80% target. If the bill is passed, then it will mean big fat profits for Stern, Turner, and their associates as shipping and aviation companies seek their services. 

Meanwhile, people in the UK will be unable to afford to travel, facing rising costs, and face job losses. 

—————————————————————–

Mr. Lilley: I draw the House’s attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Interests.

In the speeches of a number of hon. Members, it has been assumed that the whole House is unanimous on the measures before us, and on the Bill that they amend or add to. Historically, the House has made its worst mistakes not when it is divided, but when it is virtually unanimous; not when it is adversarial, but when MPs switch off their critical faculties in a spasm of moral self-congratulation. My concern is that, in considering these measures, we are displaying that tendency. It is vital that we bring the House back down to earth by considering the hard costs and benefits of, and alternatives to, what is proposed and what we are doing. We have not done that very much so far in the debates in the House. Only once in Committee was mention made of the costs and benefits of what we are proposing.

Mr. Morley: The right hon. Gentleman will find that, apart from the Stern report, which addressed the issue of costs and benefits, the report by Lord Turner specifically identified some of the projected costs for his recommendations, which are now being incorporated in the Bill. They were relatively modest.

Mr. Lilley: I am not in any way disputing what the hon. Gentleman says, but no hon. Members, in either the House or Committee, have addressed the question of costs and benefits. They could have done so, as the Government have produced an impact assessment spelling out their estimate of the costs and benefits involved. Those figures are all we have when it comes to trying to assess the costs and benefits of the specific clauses and amendments before us.
28 Oct 2008 : Column 760
The Government’s impact assessment has three very important implications. The first is that the costs of the Bill as a whole are potentially huge, and they will be even more onerous if these proposals are accepted. The impact assessment puts the transitional costs at between 1.3 and 2 per cent. of gross domestic product up to 2020. In addition, there will be competitive costs to this country as a result of industry being driven overseas, even though that will not reduce the level of carbon emissions. Ignoring both those costs and making the heroic assumption that British industry can instantly and perfectly implement the latest and most cost-effective technology to meet the targets, means that the estimated cost of the Bill as a whole—even before the target for emission reductions is increased from 60 per cent. to 80 per cent.—comes to £205 billion.

That is a lot of money. We have to ask whether we are prepared to increase it by including aviation and shipping, as the measures before us propose. I do not know whether hon. Members have consulted their constituents, but £205 billion would equal over £10,000 from every family in every constituency.

People are used to hearing about the large sums of money being used to rescue the banks, but that has been in the form of loans that one hopes ultimately will be repaid. The costs that we are incurring through the amendments—and by the Bill even if it remains unamended—are real money. Our constituents will cough up that £10,000 in taxes and lost incomes, and never see it again. Before we add even more onerous burdens by including aviation and shipping in the Bill, we must be very sure that we are happy with the costs that we are already incurring.

Secondly, we need to look at the benefits, which the impact assessment also considers. Although it shows that the maximum costs, even excluding all the things proposed in the measures before us, are potentially £205 billion, the striking thing is that it puts the maximum benefits of the actions proposed in the Bill at £110 billion, or just over half that total. Do the authors of the new proposals believe that their costs will eventually exceed their benefits, as is the case with the Bill as a whole, or can they reassure us that the benefits will be greater than the costs?

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Colin Challen: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lilley: I will give way in a moment, and especially to the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen).

I have reservations about the certainty with which some people adopt the scientific case behind global alarmism, but I am equally uncertain that it is necessarily wrong, so I am quite prepared to take out an insurance policy against the possibility that we will face global warming, just as I insure my house against the possibility of fire. However, I ask the House whether it is sensible to buy into an insurance policy whose premiums could be twice the value of one’s house—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced and skilful debater in this House, but I think that he must realise himself that he is building a 
28 Oct 2008 : Column 761
broad case on a narrow foundation. The remarks that he is making are, in terms of good order and debate, more strictly applicable to later parts of the Bill, and particularly to Third Reading. Therefore, I really must direct him to the specific matter covered in this group of new clauses and amendments.

Mr. Lilley: Of course I take your remarks to heart, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We have to remember the normal laws of declining marginal benefit and increasing marginal cost. If we tighten the Bill by adding more rigorous burdens regarding aviation and shipping, we must expect the costs to be higher than the costs of meeting the 60 per cent. target, let alone the 80 per cent. target, and we must expect the benefits to be less than the marginal benefits that were to be accrued.

5.30 pm

David Howarth: The right hon. Gentleman will of course be aware of the work that Professor Barker did with Pan, Köhler, Warren and Winne, published in 2006 in The Energy Journal, which showed that as the targets become stricter, the world growth rate increases because of induced technological change. Economics has moved on slightly since he was at Cambridge.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Oh dear. The hon. Gentleman is enticing the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) towards the wider aspects of the Bill again. I must remind the House that we want to make progress on to other matters, and we should therefore stick strictly to the terms of the amendments before us.

Mr. Lilley: I will do just that and avoid discussing with the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) my experience of Cambridge, which was splendid. I instead return to the measure before us, which asks the Committee on Climate Change to assess the cost of including aviation and shipping in the Bill. However, the new clause does not say how those assessments are to be made. We must assume that they are to be made on the basis that Lord Stern used to assess the costs and benefits in the report to which the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) referred, or on the basis used in the impact assessment that the Government put before the House, although that assessment refuses to give us any costings specifically on aviation and shipping.

It is interesting that the impact assessment totally contradicts Lord Stern, who said that the costs of the measure, including aviation, would be far short of the benefits. Of course, he only reached that conclusion by discounting the future at such a low rate that the benefits exceeded the costs. According to Nordhaus, the leading valuator of this sort of methodology, half the benefits that Sir Nicholas Stern takes into account will not occur until after the year 2800, but so low is his discount rate that they outweigh the costs that we will incur in this century.

More sensibly, the Government rejected that. I asked them what interest rate they think should be used, and presumably want to use, in the assessments that they require in new clause 15. They say that they are using the traditional, conventional discount rate required by the Treasury of 3.5 per cent. in real terms. That is why 
28 Oct 2008 : Column 762
their calculations show that the costs are not necessarily much lower than the benefits, and could well be twice as great as the benefits. Presumably, if the Committee follows the Government’s methodology, it could reach the same conclusion for aviation and shipping.

Rob Marris rose—

Mr. Lilley: I give way to the hon. Gentleman, who made by far the best speech on Second Reading.

Rob Marris: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Like other industries, aviation and shipping are, of course, susceptible to technological change. On the £205 billion cost—that is the upper end; the lower end is £30 billion—may I point out that the impact assessment said:

    “Upper end of the range assumes no technological change”?

There may well be technological change in aviation and shipping. Conversely, on the benefits, which are between £82 billion and £110 billion, the impact assessment says:

    “Benefits are therefore likely to be higher.”

I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is being a little pessimistic about aviation and shipping, and about the cost-benefit analysis.

Mr. Lilley: I may be wrong, of course, but I am using the Government’s figures. Throughout the debate no one else has bothered even to mention the Government’s figures, and they were mentioned only once in Committee. It is only sensible that we should do so, and if we do, and if in particular we reach the conclusion that they should use the methodology implied in the impact assessment and not the absurd methods used by Sir Nicholas Stern, now Lord Stern—he received his reward—they would reach a conclusion very similar to that advocated by the hon. Gentleman on Second Reading: that we should put far more emphasis on adaptation to helping poor countries cope with climate change, rather than on crippling our industries—aviation, shipping and all the other industries—to little avail.

Mr. Tyrie: rose—

Mr. Lilley: I give way to my hon. Friend, who made the equal best speech on Second Reading.

Mr. Tyrie: I hope that my right hon. Friend has not devalued the compliment that he threw across the Floor of the House; heaven knows what he will say when another Member seeks to intervene.

The question at issue has been whether technology in aviation and shipping can proceed at a pace to enable the costs to be kept reasonably low and therefore to allow us to pick up the benefits of a low carbon technology without extra cost. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the leading estimates of the improvement needed in carbon productivity are that it needs to increase fourfold over the next 40 years—that is, that the average of the past 15 years, which is 1.5 per cent. per annum, needs to increase to about 6 per cent. per annum if we are to get anywhere near meeting the 80 per cent. target? Will he speculate on whether it is plausible that a fourfold increase can be achieved?
28 Oct 2008 : Column 763
Mr. Lilley: That would be extremely demanding, but the implications of the Government’s impact assessment both for aviation and shipping and for industries more generally is that we must find more effective ways of reducing costs and carbon utilisation than they themselves think are available or would result from the measures in the Bill.

Either that, or we must adopt the route proposed by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) and devote more effort to adaptation to climate change rather than mitigation, which would remove the burden—the almost impossible task—of bringing aviation and shipping into the scheme. It would also mean that, if global warming continues but turns out not to be predominantly the result of human activity, we would still be able to help the people in poor countries who would suffer from it, whereas we would not help them if we relied only on mitigation efforts.

The implications of the clauses before us are extremely serious. We are potentially asking our constituents to bear a burden of £10,000 for every household, should we increase it. We are potentially producing benefits that may be only half the costs that we are incurring. We have been using a method to assess future costs and benefits that has been surreptitiously abandoned by the Government, but they have told us nothing about it. These issues ought to be discussed more fully before the Bill becomes law, and it is a sad day when Parliament refuses to face up to these hard facts.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): There is a real danger of the House misleading itself into debates which, although important, are not the debates that should be taking place on the amendments. There are issues to be addressed concerning the methodology of impact assessments, but at this stage the House is being asked to address the principle of the inclusion of the Government’s assessment of carbon impacts in the way in which we set our carbon budgets. It is important to bring the debate back to that.

It is also important not to allow ourselves to conduct a caricature debate about the choices that we face. The choices are not between unilateralism or multilateralism, or between mitigation or adaptation. We will have to do both. When the ship is sinking, the last thing we want to hear is someone running round the decks saying, “No action until there is a global refit.” If the ship is sinking, we want action taken on the threat that we face at that time.

What we need to recognise from the scientific reports, which have been coming to us in their own tsunamis, is that the climate and the planet are the part of the equation that is in the process of taking the most enormous unilateral action. We will have to address huge upheavals in the whole framework of how we consider societies and economies capable of working viably throughout the whole of this century.

I had hoped that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) would be here for his customary intervention on this issue. The answer to the question about oil is that by the time we come out of the current global financial crisis, two things will be queuing up. The first will be the climate crises already in the pipeline. Secondly, by that time we will probably have passed the peak oil level anyway, and we will have to move to a post-oil economy if we want a viable economy of any sort.

$IR NI¢HOLA$ $T£RN

Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the famous Stern Report, which underpins many an argument in favour of climate change mitigation, is behind a ‘carbon credit reference agency‘ launched today.

“If we are to attract the levels of finance necessary to make this a mainstream market and have a strong impact on emissions reduction, risks must be clearly understood, articulated and managed. A detailed ratings system is a vital tool to bring greater clarity, transparency and certainty to the market,” he said. 

Of course, where there’s muck, there’s brass.

The agency, run by the IdeaCarbon group of which Lord Stern is vice-chairman [he is in fact vice-chairman of IDEAglobal], said it would offer investors a guide to the quality of credits and the likelihood that they would be delivered. Sellers of carbon credits would have to pay to have their products rated, while buyers would also pay to gain access to the ratings. 

IDEAcarbon sell themselves accordingly:

IDEAcarbon is an independent and professional provider of ratings, research and strategic advice on carbon finance. Our services are designed to provide leading financial institutions, corporations, governments, traders and developers with unbiased intelligence and analysis of the factors that affect the pricing of carbon market assets. 

Other group directors include:

Ian Johnson – Chairman
Ian joined IDEAcarbon following a distinguished career at the World Bank. For eight years he was the Bank’s Vice President for Sustainable Development overseeing its work on climate change and carbon finance. Prior to that he played a major role in negotiating the establishment of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and managed its day-to-day operations for six years. Ian is presently an advisor to Globe, G8+5 and to the UNFCCC. 

and

Samuel Fankhauser – Managing Director (Strategic Advice)
Sam served on the 1995, 2001 and 2007 assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He also gained hands-on experience in the design of emission reduction projects as a climate change economist for the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank. Sam joined IDEAcarbon from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, where his most recent position was Deputy Chief Economist.
 

Now, just imagine the fuss that would ensue, were some figure who was depended on for his impartial advice to make public statements on climate change that weren’t in accordance with the ‘consensus’, and it turned out that that person had a financial interest in the public’s perception on matters that he advised about? Might there not be some protest? After all, it’s not as if his advice is subtle:

Lord Stern, the former World Bank chief economist whose landmark report on the economics of climate change warned the world risked plunging into economic depression if action was not taken urgently on greenhouse gases, said carbon trading was a “key plank” in dealing with climate change. 

It is often said that ‘climate change will be worse for the poor’. Well, it turns out that it will be great for the rich. As a December ’07 press release shows, there’s plenty to be positive about climate change:

“By 2020 the global carbon market could be worth EUR 240-450 billion” says Lord Nicholas Stern, Vice Chairman of IDEAGlobal Group, in the inaugural issue of CARBONfirst 

He’s no fool, Sir Nick. This gives the lie to the claims that environmentalism is the continuation of anti-capitalism – there is clearly room for capitalists at the fair-trade, organic, global warming beano.

Just shouting about hypocrisy gets nothing done, and doesn’t change anything. But how does this happen? Why isn’t Stern embarrassed about this? Why don’t we see an equivalent to Exxonsecrets.org, showing the monied interests buzzing around the global warming issue? Why is it that this kind of barefaced conflict of interests is largely overlooked, while people like James Hansen call for oil company executives to face trials for ‘high crimes against nature and humanity‘, allegedly for distorting the public perception of climate change for profit?

What this shows is that ‘the ethics of climate change’ allow for financial and political interests to be overlooked for the ‘greater good’. The fact that Stern has been instrumental in creating the idea of mitigation serving that greater good must, by the very standards demanded by the environmental movement, surely raise questions about his profiting from it. Yet don’t expect outrage, because, as we have seen before, the ethics of climate change only apply one way. To challenge Sir Nicholas’s apparent profiting from his report would be to undermine the very foundations of so many environmentalists’ arguments. For example, one of our favourites, Sir Bob May, former president of the Royal Society, in his review of the Stern Report and George Monbiot’s Heat, cites Stern as an authority on ‘the facts’ which we are expected to ‘respect’.

Despite the growing weight of evidence of climate change, along with growing awareness of the manifold adverse consequences, there remains an active and well-funded “denial lobby”. It shares many features with the lobby that for so long denied that smoking is the major cause of lung cancer. […] Whoever got things started, this is a ball which ExxonMobile picked up and ran with, shuttling lobbyists in and out of the White House as it did so. Following earlier talks and seeking to exemplify its centuries-old motto – Nullius in Verba (which roughly translates as “respect the facts”) – the Royal Society recently and unprecedentedly wrote to ExxonMobile, complaining about its funding for “organisations that have been misinforming the public about the science of climate change”, and more generally for promoting inaccurate and misleading views – specifically that scientists do not agree about the influence of human activity on rising temperatures. 

 

CR in TLS

We have a letter in this week’s Times Literary Supplement on Bob May’s translation of Nullius in Verba. It’s not much different from our original post on the subject, except all the commas are in exactly the right place.

Sir, – “Nullius in Verba”, the motto of the Royal Society, is usually translated as “on the word of no one”. That is a fine motto, the message being that knowledge about the material universe should be based on appeals to experimental evidence rather than authority.

However, according to its website, the Royal Society seems now to prefer a different translation, one that is echoed in the title of “Respect the facts” (April 6), a review of seven recent publications on climate change, by Robert May, erstwhile President of the Royal Society and former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government. Facts are certainly worth respecting. However, there are facts, and there are “facts”, and many of the facts that May asks us to respect are, in fact, “facts”. May writes that “CO2 is, of course, the principal ‘greenhouse gas’ in the atmosphere”. That is wrong whichever way you look at it: water vapour has far more influence on the global greenhouse, and other gases – methane, for example – are more potent, measure for measure.

May quotes Sir Nicholas Stern’s report on the economics of climate change to demonstrate the devastating effects that global warming will have on species diversity (should Stern not be citing May on such matters?): “‘Ecosystems will be particularly vulnerable to climate change, with around 15–40 per cent of species potentially facing extinction after only 2°C of warming”’. Not only does he quote Stern inaccurately (“Ecosystems will be particularly vulnerable to climate change, with one study estimating that around 15–40% of species face extinction with 2°C of warming”), but the statement is a worst-case scenario based on a single study.

May is asking us to respect factoids and unrepresentative evidence dressed up as fact, yet he assures us that it is the oil companies that are “misinforming the public about the science of climate change”.

As for why the Royal Society should now prefer “respect the facts” to “on the word of no one”, perhaps, like any political organization, it would rather we trust the word of no one but itself.