|The Week That Was
November 4 , 2006
The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Nov. 29 on whether CO2 should be considered as a pollutant under the terms of the Clean Air Act of 1990. Climate scientists have filed briefs with the Court, both pro and con.
More waste: DOE Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Jarrett discusses the Department's decision to fund $450 million over the next 10 years to support seven tests in the United States, designed to advance carbon sequestration technologies. For more details, see the Energy Department's Fossil Energy site at: http://www.fossil.energy.gov
Dumb story of the week: “Greenhouse gases hit record high”: The steady rise in atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gases blamed for climate change shows no signs of abating, a UN agency has announced. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide rose by about half a percent in 2005, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said. It said levels were likely to keep rising unless emissions of CO2, methane and nitrogen oxides were slashed. The announcement comes on the eve of UN climate negotiations in Nairobi. "There is no sign that N2O (nitrous oxide) and CO2 are starting to level off," Geir Braathen, a senior scientist at the WMO, told reporters.
[Of course. With their long lifetimes, they must accumulate. We’ll have another record next year, etc]
U.K. Dioxin Emissions peaks on November 5: Some 14 percent of the U.K.'s annual dioxin emissions are released by outdoor fires and fireworks on "Bonfire Night," held each year on November 5 to celebrate the exposure in 1605 of Guy Fawkes' "gunpowder plot" to blow up the Houses of Parliament. An on-line article points out that "industry has been tightly regulated and incinerators cleaned up to the point that almost no dioxins are released," but "the same is not the case for solid fuels we burn in the home and garden....'Most dioxin pollution comes from domestic combustion'," according to a spokesperson for the National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection, the U.K. environmental protection charity supporting pollution control professionals.
Have a happy Guy Fawkes Day!
30 October 2006
1. Publication of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate change
The most comprehensive review ever carried out on the economics of climate change was published today. The Review, which reports to the Prime Minister and Chancellor, was commissioned by the Chancellor in July last year. It has been carried out by Sir Nicholas Stern, Head of the Government Economic Service and former World Bank Chief Economist.
Sir Nicholas said today: "The conclusion of the Review is essentially optimistic. There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we act now and act internationally. Governments, businesses and individuals all need to work together to respond to the challenge. Strong, deliberate policy choices by governments are essential to motivate change. But the task is urgent. Delaying action, even by a decade or two, will take us into dangerous territory. We must not let this window of opportunity close."
The first half of the Review focuses on the impacts and risks arising from uncontrolled climate change, and on the costs and opportunities associated with action to tackle it. A sound understanding of the economics of risk is critical here. The Review emphasises that economic models over timescales of centuries do not offer precise forecasts - but they are an important way to illustrate the scale of effects we might see. The Review finds that all countries will be affected by climate change, but it is the poorest countries that will suffer earliest and most. Unabated climate change risks raising average temperatures by over 5°C from pre-industrial levels. Such changes would transform the physical geography of our planet, as well as the human geography - how and where we live our lives.
Adding up the costs of a narrow range of the effects, based on the assessment of the science carried out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2001, the Review calculates that the dangers of unabated climate change would be equivalent to at least 5% of GDP each year. The Review goes on to consider more recent scientific evidence (for example, of the risks that greenhouse gases will be released naturally as the permafrost melts), the economic effects on human life and the environment, and approaches to modelling that ensure the impacts that affect poor people are weighted appropriately. Taking these together, the Review estimates that the dangers could be equivalent to 20% of GDP or more.
In contrast, the costs of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year. People would pay a little more for carbon-intensive goods, but our economies could continue to grow strongly. If we take no action to control emissions, each tonne of CO2 that we emit now is causing damage worth at least $85 - but these costs are not included when investors and consumers make decisions about how to spend their money. Emerging schemes that allow people to trade reductions in CO2 have demonstrated that there are many opportunities to cut emissions for less than $25 a tonne.
In other words, reducing emissions will make us better off. According to one measure, the benefits over time of actions to shift the world onto a low-carbon path could be in the order of $2.5 trillion each year. The shift to a low-carbon economy will also bring huge opportunities. Markets for low-carbon technologies will be worth at least $500bn, and perhaps much more, by 2050 if the world acts on the scale required. Tackling climate change is the pro-growth strategy; ignoring it will ultimately undermine economic growth.
The Review looks at what this analysis means for the level of ambition of global action. It concludes that the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere should be limited to somewhere within the range 450 - 550ppm CO2e (CO2 equivalent). Anything higher would substantially increase risks of very harmful impacts but would only reduce the expected costs of mitigation by comparatively little. Anything lower would impose very high adjustment costs in the near term and might not even be feasible, not least because of past delays in taking strong action.
The second half of the Review examines the national and international policy challenges of moving to a low-carbon global economy. Climate change is the greatest market failure the world has seen. Three elements of policy are required for an effective response. The first is carbon pricing, through taxation, emissions trading or regulation, so that people are faced with the full social costs of their actions. The aim should be to build a common global carbon price across countries and sectors.
The second is technology policy, to drive the development and deployment at scale of a range of low-carbon and high-efficiency products. And the third is action to remove barriers to energy efficiency, and to inform, educate and persuade individuals about what they can do to respond to climate change. Fostering a shared understanding of the nature of climate change, and its consequences, is critical in shaping behaviour, as well as in underpinning both national and international action.
Effective action requires a global policy response, guided by a common international understanding of the long-term goals for climate policy and strong frameworks for co-operation.
The Stern Review can be downloaded at www.sternreview.org.uk. ************************************************
2. The Stern Report: The day that changed the climate
The Independent & The Independent on Sunday
By Colin Brown and Rupert Cornwell in Washington Published: 31 October 2006
Climate change has been made the world's biggest priority, with the publication of a stark report showing that the planet faces catastrophe unless urgent measures are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Future generations may come to regard the apocalyptic report by Sir Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist at the World Bank, as the turning point in combating global warming, or as the missed opportunity. As well as producing a catastrophic vision of hundreds of millions fleeing flooding and drought, Sir Nicholas suggests that the cost of inaction could be a permanent loss of 20 per cent of global output. That equates to a figure of £3.68 trillion - while to act quickly would cost the equivalent of £184bn annually, 1 per cent of world GDP.
Across the world, environmental groups hailed the report as the beginning of a new era on climate change, but the White House maintained an ominous silence. However, the report laid down a challenge to the US, and other major emerging economies including China and India, that British ministers said cannot be ignored. Its recommendations are based on stabilising carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere at between 450 and 550 parts per million - which would still require a cut of at least
25 per cent in global emissions, rising to 60 per cent for the wealthy nations.
It accepts that even with a very strong expansion of renewable energy sources, fossil fuels could still account for more than half of global energy supplies by 2050.
Presenting the findings in London, Tony Blair said the 700-page document was the "most important report on the future" published by his Government. Green campaigners said that at last the world had woken up to the dangers they had been warning about for years. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, and likely next Prime Minister, assumed the task of leading the world in persuading the sceptics in the US, China and India to accept the need for global co-operation to avert the threat of a global catastrophe. He has enlisted Al Gore, the former presidential candidate turned green evangelist, to sell the message in the United States, with Sir Nicholas.
While the Bush administration refused to be drawn on the report, US environmental groups seized on it to demand a major change in policy. "The President needs to stop hiding behind his opposition to the Kyoto protocol and lay a new position on the table," said the National Environmental Trust, in Washington. The Washington Post said in an editorial that it was "hard to imagine" that the "intransigence" of the administration would long survive its tenure. "Will [Mr Bush] take a hand in developing America's response to this global problem," it asked, "Or will he go down as the President who fiddled while Greenland melted?"
Sir Nicholas's report contained little that was scientifically new. But British ministers are hoping his hardheaded economic analysis will be enough to persuade the doubters in the White House to curb America's profligate use of carbon energy.
3. THE STERN REPORT: Scientific Critique
NewZealand Climate & Enviro Truth Letter No 115
by Vincent Gray
Oct 31, 2006
It seems difficult nowadays to escape the comprehensive brainwashing exercise that has been mounted by the global warmers, who seem to command the radio, TV and press in constant daily and even hourly stream. I like to think it is a last-ditch stand, brought about by the fact that the globe has been cooling for seven and nearly eight years, and too many people are beginning to notice.
Sir Nicholas Stern is a former Governor of the UK Bank of England and Chief Economist of the World Bank. Sir Nicholas is no scientist, so I was surprised to find that the first 21 pages of his report are devoted to "1. The Science of Climate Change: Scale of the Environmental Challenge" It contains 74 scientific references at the end. Very impressive.
This chapter begins . "An overwhelming body of scientific evidence now clearly indicates that climate change is a serious and urgent issue. The earth's" climate is rapidly changing, mainly as a result of increases in greenhouse gases caused by human activity"
Here begins the distortion of the rather ambiguous statements of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Nowhere in the last IPCC "Climate Change 2001" do they say this. The farthest they go is
"most of the warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations" ("Climate Change 2001 page 10)
This does not mention "humans" at all. Other greenhouse gases, such as the dominant water vapour, might be responsible. Then the IPCC says it is only "likely". They do not say it is "rapid"
On page 5 there is another go at distorting an IPCC statement with:
"The IPCC concluded in 2001 that there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over at least the past 50 years is attributable to human activities"
The actual IPCC statement is:
"There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities" ("Climate Change 2001" page 10}.
Stern has inserted the words "at least"
This statement makes no sense anyway, because for a full half of the 50 years mentioned (1950-1975) the globe was cooling. Also the statement does not mention greenhouse gases, so it can be interpreted as meaning that we have been warming the earth by burning fuel, building towns, and changing the land.
The next paragraph makes the following statement:
"Most climate models show that a doubling of pre-industrial levels of greenhouse gases is very likely to commit the earth to a rise of between 2 -- 5C in global mean temperature. This level of greenhouse gases will probably be reached between 2030 and 2060"
This statement is rather startling, since "Climate Change 2001" gives a range of temperature increase from 1.5C to 5.8C by 2100. How have they been able to soup it up like this?.
One clue is he has tried to incorporate methane in the "greenhouse gases" as a surrogate "carbon dioxide". They reckon that the "equivalent carbon dioxide" is now 430 ppm instead of 380, so in order to get to double the pre-industrial value of 280 (i.e., 560), they only need another 130. Now, they admit that CO2 is currently increasing by "around 2.3ppm a year" . In 2005 it was 1.8ppm, but let us for the moment give them 2.3. Divide this into 130 and you get 56 years, not 24 to 54. How come?
He has tried to include methane!. They refuse to accept the absolutely certain fact that methane concentrations in the atmosphere are going down --- at an increasing rate. The future figures should be subtracted, not added. Certainly they cannot argue that they are going up.
If you take the more reliable figure of 2.0ppm per year for CO2, it will take 90 more years to double the CO2, and you come up with a result similar to "Climate Change 2001",
He makes his attempt to boost "Climate Change 2001" worse when he says' "If annual greenhouse gas emissions remained at the current level, concentrations would be more than treble pre-industrial levels by 2100, committing the world to 3 to 10C warming based on the latest climate projections"
Here he shows his ignorance. There is no established relationship between greenhouse gas "emissions" and "concentrations". I keep pointing out that reducing "emissions" does not necessarily mean a reduction in atmospheric "concentrations"
I am about finished with the first page, so move on.
Greenhouse gases do not matter unless one can show they actually have detectable undesirable effects. The usual claim is that the globe is warming. Page 5 presents the usual view that temperatures have risen by the staggering amount of 0.7C since the year 1900. Does anybody feel threatened by such a modest amount over such a long time?
The Figure 1.3 presented on page 5, headed "The Earth has warmed 0.7C since around 1900" is a strange one, as it cannot be found anywhere in the literature. It says "Source Brohan et al (2006)" but it does not appear in that paper. However, the small print says "based on Brohan et al (2006).
It changes the zero line, which is to be found on all the published global surface temperature records by moving it down by 0.3C. This has the effect of making the temperature rise from 1976 to 1998 more obvious. It is quite different from the graph on the CRU site http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/, but it resembles the one published on the UK Met Office site at http://www.met-office.gov.uk/research/hadleycentre/obsdata/globaltemperature.html.
Besides shifting the zero line by 0.3C, they have omitted the error bars on the Met Office graph -- which, if included, would make their statements less firm. Still, we are all trembling in our shoes at the prospect of a temperature rise of 0.7C during the next 100 years, or even the next 150, since it is also the rise since 1850.
Page 6 has a section on the "Hockey Stick" debate, where they manage to cover up the proven errors in the original papers. They then try to argue that it does not really matter if the temperatures are no higher than they were several hundred years ago because it is only one of a number of "lines of evidence for human-induced climate change." It then claims that these "lines" rest on "the laws of physics and chemistry". So, if the theory says so, it must be right, even if the facts do not agree.
I think, perhaps I have said enough. At least for the moment.. The rest of the report actually believes the climate models that are based on the absurd proposition that the climate is exclusively influenced by greenhouse gases (based on "the laws of physics and chemistry"), and the IPCC SRES "Emissions Scenarios" which have been crticised by leading economists.
The models cannot explain why the globe is currently cooling (since 1998). So why should we believe them?
4 The Economics And Politics Of Climate Change: An Appeal To Reason
Lecture to the Centre for Policy Studies http://www.cps.org.uk/latestlectures/
1 November 2006
THIS IS A HIGHLY COMPLEX SUBJECT, involving as it does science, economics and politics in almost equal measure. The Centre for Policy Studies has kindly agreed to publish a greatly extended version of this lecture as a pamphlet, in which I will be able to do greater justice to that complexity and to quote the sources of a number of the statements I propose to make this evening. It will also enable me to deal at slightly greater length with the scaremongering Stern Report, published earlier this week. But the essence of it is what I have to say tonight.
* * *
But first, a very brief comment on Stern. If scaremongering seems a trifle harsh, I should point out that, as a good civil servant, he was simply doing his masters' bidding. As Mr Blair's guru, Lord Giddens (the inventor of the so-called third way), laid down in this context in a speech last year, "In order to manage risk, you must scare people".
In fact, the voluminous Stern Report adds disappointingly little to what was already the conventional wisdom - apart from a battery of essentially spurious statistics based on theoretical models and conjectural worst cases. This is clearly no basis for policy decisions that could have the most profound adverse effect on people's lives, and at a cost that Stern almost certainly underestimates. It is, in a very real sense, the story of the Iraq war, writ large.
So let us get back to basics, and seek the answers to three questions, of increasing complexity. First, is global warming occurring? Second, if so, why? And third, what should be done about it?
As to the first question, there is of course little doubt that the twentieth century ended warmer than it began. According to the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, an offshoot of Britain's Met Office:
"Although there is considerable year-to-year variability in annual-mean global temperature, an upward trend can be clearly seen; firstly over the period from about 1920-1940, with little change or a small cooling from 1940-1975, followed by a sustained rise over the last three decades since then."
This last part is a trifle disingenuous, since what the graph actually shows is that the sustained rise took place entirely during the last quarter of the last century. Moreover, according to the Hadley Centre's data, there has so far been no further global warming since 1998. Whether the seven-year hiatus since then marks a change of trend or merely an unexplained and unpredicted blip in a continuing upward trend, time will tell.
Apart from the trend, there is of course the matter of the absolute numbers. The Hadley Centre graph shows that, for the first phase, from 1920 to 1940, the increase was 0.4 degrees centigrade. From 1940 to 1975 there was a cooling of about 0.2 degrees. (It was during this phase that alarmist articles by Professor James Lovelock and a number of other scientists appeared, warning of the onset of a new ice age.) Finally, since 1975 there has been a further warming of about 0.5 degrees, making a total increase of some 0.7 degrees over the 20th century as a whole (from 1900 to 1920 there was no change).
Why, then, has this modest - if somewhat intermittent - degree of global warming seems to have occurred. Why has this happened, and what does it portend for the future? The only honest answer is that we don't know. The conventional wisdom is that the principal reason why it has happened is the greatly increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a result of the rapid worldwide growth of carbon-based energy consumption.
Now, there is no doubt that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide increased greatly during the 20th century - by some 30 per cent - and most scientists believe this increase to be largely man-made. And carbon dioxide is one of a number of so-called greenhouse gases whose combined effect in the earth's atmosphere is to keep the planet warmer than it would otherwise be.
Far and away the most important of these gases is water vapour, both in its gaseous form and suspended in clouds. Rather a long way back, carbon dioxide is the second most important greenhouse gas - and neither, incidentally, is a form of pollution.
It is the published view of the Met Office that is it likely that more than half the warming of recent decades (say 0.3 degrees centigrade out of the overall 0.5 degrees increase between 1975 and 2000) is attributable to man-made sources of greenhouse gases - principally, although by no means exclusively, carbon dioxide.
But this is highly uncertain, and reputable climate scientists differ sharply over the subject. It is simply not true to say that the science is settled; and the recent attempt of the Royal Society, of all bodies, to prevent the funding of climate scientists who do not share its alarmist view of the matter is truly shocking. The uncertainty derives from a number of sources. For one thing, the science of clouds, which is clearly critical, is one of the least well-understood aspects of climate science.
Another uncertainty concerns the extent to which urbanisation (not least in the vicinity of climate stations) has contributed to the observed warming. There is no dispute that urbanisation raises near-surface temperatures: this has long been observed from satellite infrared imagery. The uncertainty is over how much of the estimated 20th century warming this accounts for. Yet another uncertainty derives from the fact that, while the growth in manmade carbon dioxide emissions, and thus carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, continued relentlessly during the 20th century, the global mean surface temperature, as I have already remarked, increased in fits and starts, for which there us no adequate explanation.
But then - and this is the other great source of uncertainty - the earth's climate has always been subject to natural variation, wholly unrelated to man's activities. Climate scientists differ about the causes of this, although most agree that variations in solar radiation play a key part.
It is well established, for example, from historical accounts, that a thousand years ago, well before the onset of industrialisation, there was - at least in Europe - what has become known as the mediaeval warm period, when temperatures were probably at least as high as, if not higher than, they are today. Going back even further, during the Roman empire, it may have been even warmer. There is archaeological evidence that in Roman Britain, vineyards existed on a commercial scale at least as far north as Northamptonshire.
More recently, during the 17th and early 18th centuries, there was what has become known as the little ice age, when the Thames was regularly frozen over in winter, and substantial ice fairs held on the frozen river - immortalised in colourful prints produced at the time - became a popular attraction.
Historical treeline studies, showing how far up mountains trees are able to grow at different times, which is clearly correlated with climate change, confirm that these variations occurred outside Europe as well.
A rather different account of the past was given by the so-called "hockey-stick" chart of global temperatures over the past millennium, which purported to show that the earth's temperature was constant until the industrialisation of the 20th century. Reproduced in its 2001 Report by the supposedly authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, set up under the auspices of the United Nations to advise governments on what is clearly a global issue, the chart featured prominently in (among other publications) the present Government's 2003 energy white paper. It has now been comprehensively discredited.
But it is not only over time that the earth's climate displays considerable natural variability. Change also varies geographically. For example, there are parts of the world where glaciers are retreating, and others where glaciers are advancing. The fringes of the Greenland ice shelf appear to be melting, while at the centre of the shelf the ice is thickening. Curiously enough, there are places where sea levels are perceptibly rising, while elsewhere they are static or even falling - suggesting that local factors still dominate any global warming effects on sea levels.
Again, extreme weather events, such as major storms in the Gulf of Mexico, have come and gone, at irregular intervals, for as long as records exist. Katrina, which caused so much damage to New Orleans, is regularly trotted out as a consequence of man-made climate change; yet the region's worst recorded hurricane was that which devastated Galveston in 1900. Following Katrina, the world's authorities on tropical storms set up an international panel, which included the relevant expert from the Met Office here in the UK. The panel reported, earlier this year, as follows:
"The main conclusion we came to was that none of these high-impact tropical cyclones could be specifically attributed to global warming."
This may not be all that surprising, given how little global warming has so far occurred; but I do not recall it featuring in Mr Gore's film.
But this diversity makes it all too easy for the Al Gores of this world to select local phenomena which best illustrate their predetermined alarmist global narrative. We need to stick firmly to the central point: what has been the rise in global mean temperatures over the past hundred years, why we believe this has occurred, how much temperatures are likely to rise over the next hundred years or so, and what the consequences are likely to be.
As is already clear, the only honest answer is that we do not know. Nevertheless, it is not unreasonable to try and guess; and this is essentially what the IPCC has devoted itself to doing. Its conclusion is that, by the end of this century, on a business-as-usual basis, global mean temperature might have risen by anything between 1 degree and 6 degrees centigrade. This is based on a combination of the immensely complex computer models of the relationship between carbon dioxide concentrations and global temperature, developed by the Hadley Centre and others, coupled with a range of different projections of the likely growth of carbon dioxide emissions.
This last part is not, of course, a scientific matter at all, but consists of economic forecasting. That is to say, it depends on the rate of world economic growth over the next hundred years (which in turn depends to a considerable extent on the projected world population), the energy-intensiveness of that growth, and the carbon-intensiveness of the energy used.
The upper part of the IPCC's range of scenarios is distinctly unconvincing, depending as it does either on an implausibly high rate of population growth or, in particular, an unprecedented growth in energy intensiveness, which in fact has been steadily declining over the past 50 years.
Equally implausible are its estimates of the costs of any warming that may occur. For example, it makes great play of the damage to agriculture and food production from climate change. Quite apart from the fact there are many parts of the world where agriculture and food production would actually benefit from a warmer climate, the IPCC studies are vitiated by the fact that they assume that farmers would carry on much as before, growing the same crops in precisely the same way - the so-called 'dumb farmer' hypothesis.
In reality, of course, farmers would adapt, switching as the need arose to strains or crops better suited to warmer climates, to improved methods of irrigation, and in many cases by cultivating areas which had hitherto been too cold to be economic.
It is important to bear in mind that, whatever climate alarmists like to make out, what we are confronted with, even on the Hadley Centre/IPCC hypothesis, is the probability of very gradual change over a large number of years. And this is something to which it is eminently practicable to adapt.
This points to the first and most important part of the answer to the question of what we should do about the threat of global warming: adapt to it. There are at least three reasons why adaptation is far and away the most cost-effective approach.
The first is that many of the feared harmful consequences of climate change, such as coastal flooding in low-lying areas, are not new problems, but simply the exacerbation of existing ones; so that addressing these will bring benefits even if there is no further global warming at all.
The second reason is that, unlike curbing carbon dioxide emissions, this approach will bring benefits whatever the cause of the warming, whether manmade or natural.
And the third reason why adaptation - most of which, incidentally, will happen naturally, that is to say it will be market-driven, without much need for government intervention - is the most cost-effective approach is that all serious studies show that, not surprisingly, there are benefits as well as costs from global warming. Adaptation enables us to pocket the benefits while diminishing the costs.
The main argument advanced against relying principally on adaptation is that it is all right for the rich countries of the world, but not for the poor, which is unacceptable.
As Professor Mendelsohn of Yale, author of a number of studies of the impact of climate change, has written,
"The net damages to mid to high latitude countries [such as the UK] will be very small if not beneficial this coming century. The impacts to poor low latitude countries will be harmful across the board...Climate change will hurt the poorest people in the world most."
This is no doubt true, although it is frequently exaggerated. But it does mean that those of us in the richer countries of the world have a clear moral obligation to do something about it - not least because, if the man-made warming thesis is correct, it is we who caused the problem.
According to the IPCC, the greatest single threat posed by global warming is coastal flooding as sea levels rise. Sea levels have, in fact, been rising very gradually throughout the past hundred years, and even the last IPCC Report found little sign of any acceleration. Nevertheless, Sir Nicholas Stern, charged by the Government to look into the economics of climate change is particularly concerned about this, especially the alleged melting of the Greenland ice sheet. He has written that:
"The net effect of these changes is a release of 20 billion tonnes of water to the oceans each year, contributing around 0.05 millimetres a year to sea-level rise."
This would imply an additional sea-level rise of less than a quarter of an inch per century, something it ought not to be too difficult to live with.
But the major source of projected sea-level rise is from ocean warming expanding the volume of water. As a result, some of those low-lying areas already subject to serious flooding could find things getting significantly worse, and there is a clear case for government money to be spent on improving sea defences in these areas. The Dutch, after all, have been doing this very effectively for the past 500 years. The governments of the richer countries, like the United States with its Gulf coast exposure, can be left to do it for themselves; but in the case of the poorer countries, such as Bangladesh, there is a powerful argument for international assistance.
Another problem for the poorer and hotter countries of the world, according to the IPCC, is an increase in vector-borne diseases, notably malaria. This is more controversial. Most experts believe that temperature has relatively little bearing on the spread of the disease, pointing out that it was endemic throughout Europe during the little ice age.
Be that as it may, some two million children in the developing world die every year from malaria as it is; and the means of combating, if not eradicating, the scourge are well established. There is, again, a clear case for international assistance to achieve this.
Of course assistance in either the building of effective sea defences or in the eradication of malaria will cost money. But that cost is only a very small fraction of what it would cost to attempt, by substantially curbing carbon dioxide emissions, to change the climate.
The argument that we need to cut back substantially on carbon dioxide emissions in order to help the world's poor is bizarre in the extreme. To the extent that their problems are climatic, these problems are not new ones, even if they may be exacerbated if current projections are correct. If, twenty years ago, when as Chancellor I was launching the first concerted poor-country debt forgiveness initiative, subsequently known as the Toronto terms, anyone had argued that the best way to help the developing countries was to make the world a colder place, I would probably have politely suggested that they see their doctor. It makes no more sense today than it would have done then.
Indeed, it is worse than that. As Frances Cairncross, the Chairman of the Economic and Social Research Council, pointed out in her thoughtful and honest Presidential address on climate change to the British Association's annual conference in September, the cost of effectively curbing carbon dioxide emissions "will definitely be enormous". Precisely how large it is impossible to say - even by Sir Nicholas Stern. Last year's report on the economics of climate change by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee quoted estimates ranging from $80 billion a year to $1,100 billion a year. It would depend greatly, among other things, on how it is achieved and how soon - the earlier it is done the greater the cost. Of critical importance is how great the increase in the price of carbon would need to be to stifle the demand for carbon sufficiently; and that we cannot know unless and until we do it.
But it is clear that the cost will be large enough, among other consequences, to diminish significantly the export markets on which the future prosperity of the developing countries at least in part depends. So far from helping the world's poor, it is more likely to harm them.
Nevertheless, curbing carbon dioxide emissions, along the lines of the Kyoto accord, under which the industrialised countries of the world agreed to somewhat arbitrarily assigned limits to their CO2 emissions by 2012, remains the conventional answer to the challenge of global warming. It is hard to imagine a more absurd response.
Even its strongest advocates admit that, even if fully implemented (which it is now clear it will not be, and there is no enforcement mechanism), the existing Kyoto agreement, which came into force last year, would do virtually nothing to reduce future rates of global warming. Its importance, in their eyes, is as the first step towards further such agreements of a considerably more restrictive nature. But this is wholly unrealistic, and fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons. In the first place, the United States, the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, has refused to ratify the treaty and has made clear its intention of having no part in any future such agreements.
The principal American objection is that the developing countries - including such major contributors to future carbon dioxide emissions as China, India and Brazil - are effectively outside the process and determined to remain so. Indeed, both China and India currently subsidise carbon-based energy.
The developing countries' argument is a simple one. They contend that the industrialised countries of the western world achieved their prosperity on the basis of cheap carbon-based energy; and that it is now the turn of the poor developing countries to emulate them. And they add that if there is a problem now of excessive carbon dioxide concentrations in the earth's atmosphere, it is the responsibility of those that caused it to remedy it. Nor are they unaware of the uncertainty of the science on the basis of which they are being asked to slow down their people's escape from grinding poverty.
The consequences of the exclusion of the major developing countries from the process are immense. China alone last year embarked on a programme of building 562 large coal-fired power stations by 2012 - that is, a new coal-fired power station every five days for seven years. Putting it another way, China is adding the equivalent of Britain's entire power-generating capacity each year. Since coal-fired power stations emit roughly twice as much carbon dioxide per gigawatt of electricity as gas-fired ones, it is not surprising that it is generally accepted that within the next 20 years China will overtake the United States as the largest source of emissions. India, which like China has substantial indigenous coal reserves, is set to follow a similar path, as is Brazil.
Then there is the cost of the Kyoto approach to consider. The logic of Kyoto is to make emissions permits sufficiently scarce to raise their price to the point where carbon-based energy is so expensive that carbon-free energy sources, and other carbon-saving measures, become fully economic. This clearly involves a very much greater rise in energy prices than anything we have yet seen. The trebling of oil prices since Kyoto was agreed in 1997 has done little to reduce carbon emissions. There must be considerable doubt whether a rise in energy prices on the scale required would be politically sustainable. Particularly when the economic cost, in terms of slower economic growth, would be substantial.
In reality, if the Kyoto approach were to be pursued beyond 2012, which is - fortunately - unlikely, the price increase would in practice be mitigated in the global economy in which we now live. For as energy prices in Europe started to rise, with the prospect of further rises to come, energy-intensive industries and processes would progressively close down in Europe and relocate in countries like China, where relatively cheap energy was still available.
No doubt Europe could, at some cost, adjust to this, as it has to the migration of most of its textile industry to China and elsewhere. But it is difficult to see the point of it. For if carbon dioxide emissions in Europe are reduced only to see them further increased in China, there is no net reduction in global emissions at all. The extent of ill-informed wishful thinking on this issue is hard to exaggerate. To take just one example, the government's 2003 energy White Paper proposed a 60 per cent reduction in the UK's carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, based on the notion of supplying most if not all of the country's electricity needs from renewable sources, notably that particularly trendy source, wind power.
But as experienced electrical engineers have pointed out, government estimates of the cost of wind power are grossly understated, since wind power (like most renewable sources of energy) is intermittent. In other words, the wind doesn't blow all the time. But the electricity supply does have to be on tap all the time. Given the fact that electricity cannot be economically stored on an industrial scale, this means that conventional generating capacity would have to be fully maintained to meet demand when the wind stops blowing, thus massively adding to the true cost of wind power.
There are all sorts of things we can do, from riding a bicycle to putting a windmill on our roof, that may make us feel good. But there is no escaping the two key truths. First, there is no way the growth in atmospheric carbon dioxide can be arrested without a very substantial rise in the cost of carbon, presumably via the imposition of a swingeing carbon tax, which would require, at least in the short to medium term, a radical change of lifestyle in the developed world. Are we seriously prepared to do this? (A tax would at least be preferable to the capricious and corrupt rationing system which half-heartedly exists today under Kyoto.) And the second key truth is that, even if we were prepared to do this, it would still be useless unless the major developing nations - notably China, India and Brazil - were prepared to do the same, which they are manifestly and understandably not.
So we are driven back to the need to adapt to a warmer world, and the moral obligation of the richer countries to help the poorer countries to do so.
* * *
It is clear that, despite the regrettable arrogance and intolerance of the Royal Society, the uncertainty surrounding the complex issue of climate change is immense, and the scope for honest differences of view considerable. But uncertainty cuts both ways.
While it may well be the case that, on a business as usual basis, the earth is highly unlikely to get as warm as the climate alarmists tell us it will over the next hundred years, we cannot be sure: it might. In particular, we cannot be completely sure that, at some far-off point, it might not warm sufficiently to trigger what the IPCC refers to as "large-scale singular events".
The most frequently talked about such event is that it might reach a point where it shuts down or reverses the Gulf Stream, which keeps Europe's temperatures up to 8 degrees centigrade warmer than they would otherwise be. So global warming might paradoxically make Europe seriously colder. So far, of course, there is no sign of this. And according to many reputable oceanographers, there could never be - at least not as a consequence of global warming. In their understanding of the science, the Gulf Stream is primarily wind-driven, and thus will continue to exist regardless of the future temperature of the planet. But inevitably we cannot be absolutely sure; and the same applies to all the other much-discussed disasters.
It is at this point that the so-called precautionary principle is invoked. Conventional cost-benefit analysis is irrelevant, it is argued. A climate catastrophe may be unlikely; but if it occurred the consequences would be so appalling that we must do whatever it takes, here and now, to prevent it. At first sight this seems a persuasive argument. But a moment's reflection shows its shortcomings as a guide to practical policy decisions.
In the first place, while the prospect of catastrophic consequences from global warming cannot be regarded as impossible, nor can a number of other possible catastrophes. It is perfectly possible, for example, that over the next hundred years or so, the world might enter another ice age. There is ample evidence that this has happened at fairly regular intervals over the long history of the planet, and that we are overdue for another one.
More immediately - and thus demanding much more urgent attention and priority in the expenditure of resources - there are the possible consequences of nuclear proliferation to worry about, not to mention the growth in the terrorist threat in an age when scientific and technological developments have brought the means of devastation within the reach of even modestly funded terrorist groups. Above all, in a world of inevitably finite resources, not only can we not possibly spend large sums on guarding against any and every possible eventuality in the future; but the more we do spend on this the less there is available to deal with poverty and disease in the present.
Perhaps the most important application of the precautionary principle is to the precautionary principle itself. Otherwise we may find ourselves doing very stupid things in its name. As a general rule, rationality suggests that we concentrate on present crises, and on future ones where the probability of disaster if we do not act appears significant - usually because the signs of its emergence are already incontrovertible. The fact that a theoretical danger would be devastating is not enough to justify substantial expenditure.
A modest degree of global warming clearly occurred during the last quarter of the 20th century, but the evidence that this will now accelerate to disastrous levels is, to say the least, unconvincing, for the reasons I have already set out. If we are going to take out an insurance policy against the remote risk of a warming-induced climate disaster then it needs to be both affordable and effective. The conventional front-runner, a substantial enhancement of the Kyoto approach of curbing carbon dioxide emissions satisfies neither of these requirements. It is not affordable, in the sense that the people of Europe - to whom Kyoto largely applies - are not prepared to make the sacrifices in terms of the drastic change in lifestyle required, and it is ineffective, since the major nations of the developing world - quite apart from the United States - are, for good reason, not prepared to join the party.
The notion that if we in the UK are prepared to set an example, then the rest of the world will follow, is reminiscent of the old unilateralist CND argument that if we in the UK abandoned nuclear weapons, then the Soviet Union and the United States would follow suit, and just as far-fetched.
Apart from creating the conditions most favourable to technological innovation, the only practicable insurance policy, on which a great deal of serious work has been done in the United States (a potentially important 'workshop' on this is to be held in San Francisco later this month), concerns what has become known as geo-engineering: taking active action to cool the planet, in relatively short order, should the need become pressing.
The front-runner here is the idea of blasting aerosols into the stratosphere, so as to impede the sun's rays. Such grand schemes obviously need to be approached with caution; but it is striking that they have gained the support of scientists of the eminence of the Nobel Prize-winner Paul Crutzen. Another possibility may be the geo-engineering of clouds, which play such a large part - far greater than carbon dioxide - in determining the earth's climate. The insurance policy is to spend government money on further research into geo-engineering, and on developing the capability (where this does not already exist) to put it into practice should the need arise.
* * *
Essentially, I have sought to argue three key propositions.
First, the relatively new and highly complex science of climatology is an uncertain one, and neither scientists nor politicians serve either the truth or the people by pretending to know more than they do.
Second, far and away the most rational response to such climate change as, for any reason, may occur, is to adapt to it.
And third, the rich countries of the temperate world have an obligation to assist the poor countries of the tropical world to undertake whatever adaptation may be needed.
It is not difficult to understand, however, the appeal of the conventional climate change wisdom. Throughout the ages something deep in man's psyche has made him receptive to apocalyptic warnings: "the end of the world is nigh". Almost of all us are imbued with a sense of guilt and a sense of sin, and it is so much less uncomfortable to divert our attention away from our individual sins and causes of guilt, arising from how we have treated our neighbours, and to sublimate it in collective guilt and collective sin.
Throughout the ages, too, the weather has been an important part of the narrative. In primitive societies it was customary for extreme weather events to be explained as punishment from the gods for the sins of the people; and there is no shortage of examples of this theme in the Bible, either - particularly but not exclusively in the Old Testament.
The main change is that the new priests are scientists (well rewarded with research grants for their pains) rather than clerics of the established religions, and the new religion is eco-fundamentalism. But it is a distinction without much of a difference. And the old religions have not been slow to make common cause. Does all this matter? Up to a point, no. Unbelievers should not be dismissive of the comfort that religion can bring. If people feel better when they buy a hybrid car and see a few windmills dotted about (although perhaps not in their own back yard), then so be it. And in a democracy, if greenery is what the people want, politicians will understandably provide it, dressed in the most high-flown rhetoric they can muster.
Indeed, if people are happy to pay a carbon tax, provided it is not at too high a level, and the proceeds are used to cut income tax, that would not be a disaster, either. It would have to be a consumer-based tax, however, since in the globalised world economy industry is highly mobile, whereas individuals are much less so.
But the new religion of eco-fundamentalism does present dangers on at least three levels. The first is that the governments of Europe, fired in many cases by anti-Americanism (never underestimate the extent to which distaste for President Bush has fuelled the anti-global warming movement), may get so carried away by their rhetoric as to impose measures which do serious harm to their economies. That is a particular danger at the present time in this country. No doubt, when the people come to suffer the results they will insist on a change of policy, or else vote the offending government out of office. But it would be better to avoid the damage in the first place.
The second, and more fundamental, danger is that the global Salvationist movement is profoundly hostile to capitalism and the market economy. There are already increasing calls for green protectionism - for the imposition of trade restrictions against those countries which fail to agree to curb their carbon dioxide emissions. Given the fact that the only way in which the world's poor will ever be able to escape from their poverty is by embracing capitalism and the global market economy, this is not good news.
But the third danger is even more profound. Today we are very conscious of the threat we face from the supreme intolerance of Islamic fundamentalism. It could not be a worse time to abandon our own traditions of reason and tolerance, and to embrace instead the irrationality and intolerance of eco-fundamentalism, where reasoned questioning of its mantras is regarded as a form of blasphemy. There is no greater threat to the people of this planet than the retreat from reason we see all around us today.
5. The dodgy numbers behind the latest warming scare.
BY BJORN LOMBORG Thursday, November 2, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
The report on climate change by Nicholas Stern and the U.K. government has sparked publicity and scary headlines around the world. Much attention has been devoted to Mr. Stern's core argument that the price of inaction would be extraordinary and the cost of action modest.
Unfortunately, this claim falls apart when one actually reads the 700-page tome. Despite using many good references, the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is selective and its conclusion flawed. Its fear-mongering arguments have been sensationalized, which is ultimately only likely to make the world worse off.
The review correctly points out that climate change is a real problem, and that it is caused by human greenhouse-gas emissions. Little else is right, however, and the report seems hastily put-together, with many sloppy errors. As an example, the cost of hurricanes in the U.S. is said to be both 0.13% of U.S. GDP and 10 times that figure.
The review is also one-sided, focusing almost exclusively on carbon-emission cuts as the solution to the problem of climate change. Mr. Stern sees increasing hurricane damage in the U.S. as a powerful argument for carbon controls. However, hurricane damage is increasing predominantly because there are more people with more goods to be damaged, settling in ever more risky habitats. Even if global warming does significantly increase the power of hurricanes, it is estimated that 95% to 98% of the increased damage will be due to demographics. The review acknowledges that simple initiatives like bracing and securing roof trusses and walls can cheaply reduce damage by more than 80%; yet its policy recommendations on expensive carbon reductions promise to cut the damages by 1% to 2% at best. That is a bad deal.
Mr. Stern is also selective, often seeming to cherry-pick statistics to fit an argument. This is demonstrated most clearly in the review's examination of the social damage costs of CO2--essentially the environmental cost of emitting each extra ton of CO2. The most well-recognized climate economist in the world is probably Yale University's William Nordhaus, whose "approach is perhaps closest in spirit to ours," according to the Stern review. Mr. Nordhaus finds that the social cost of CO2 is $2.50 per ton. Mr. Stern, however, uses a figure of $85 per ton. Picking a rate even higher than the official U.K. estimates--that have themselves been criticized for being over the top--speaks volumes.
Mr. Stern tells us that the cost of U.K. flooding will quadruple to 0.4% from 0.1% of GDP due to climate change. However, we are not told that these alarming figures only hold true if one assumes that the U.K. will take no additional measures--essentially doing absolutely nothing and allowing itself to get flooded, perhaps time and again. In contrast, the U.K. government's own assumptions take into account a modest increase in flood prevention, finding that the cost will actually decline sharply to 0.04% of U.K. GDP, in spite of climate change. Why does Mr. Stern not share that information?
But nowhere is the imbalance clearer than in Mr. Stern's central argument about the costs and benefits of action on climate change. The review tells us that we should make significant cuts in carbon emissions to stabilize the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide at 550 ppm (parts per million). Yet such a stark recommendation is not matched by an explicit explanation of what this would mean in terms of temperature.
The U.N. Climate Panel estimates that stabilizing at 550 ppm would mean an increase in temperature of about 2.3 degrees Celsius in the year 2100. This might be several degrees below what would otherwise happen, but it might also be higher. Mr. Nordhaus estimates that the stabilization policy would reduce the rise in temperature from 2.53 degrees Celsius to just 2.42 degrees Celsius. One can understand the reluctance of the Stern review to advertise such a puny effect.
Most economists were surprised by Mr. Stern's large economic estimates of damage from global warming. Mr. Nordhaus's model, for example, anticipates 3% will be wiped off global GDP if nothing is done over the coming century, taking into account the risk for catastrophes. The Stern review purports to show that the cost is "larger than many earlier studies suggested."
On the face of it, Mr. Stern actually accepts Mr. Nordhaus's figure: Even including risks of catastrophe and non-market costs, he agrees that an increase of four degrees Celsius will cost about 3% of GDP. But he assumes that we will continue to pump out carbon far into the 22nd century--a rather unlikely scenario given the falling cost of alternative fuels, and especially if some of his predictions become clear to us toward the end of this century. Thus he estimates that the higher temperatures of eight degrees Celsius in the 2180s will be very damaging, costing 11% to 14% of GDP.
The Stern review then analyzes what the cost would be if everyone in the present and the future paid equally. Suddenly the cost estimate is not 0% now and 3% in 2100--but 11% of GDP right now and forever. If this seems like a trick, it is certainly underscored by the fact that the Stern review picks an extremely low discount rate, which makes the cost look much more ominous now.
But even 11% is not the last word. Mr. Stern suggests that there is a risk that the cost of global warming will be higher than the top end of the U.N. climate panel's estimates, inventing, in effect, a "worst-case scenario" even worse than any others on the table. Therefore, the estimated damage to GDP jumps to 15% from 11%. Moreover, Mr. Stern admonishes that poor people count for less in the economic calculus, so he then inflates 15% to 20%.
This figure, 20%, was the number that rocketed around the world, although it is simply a much-massaged reworking of the standard 3% GDP cost in 2100--a figure accepted among most economists to be a reasonable estimate.
Likewise, Mr. Stern readjusts the cost of dealing with climate change. The U.N. found that the cost of 550 ppm stabilization would be somewhere around 0.2% to 3.2% of GDP today; he reports that costs could lie between -4% and 15% of GDP. The -4% is based on the suggestion that cutting carbon emissions could make us richer because revenue recycling could address inefficiencies in taxation--but the alleged inefficiencies, if correct, should be addressed no matter what the policies about climate change. The reason Mr. Stern nevertheless finds a very low cost estimate is because he only considers models with so-called Induced Technological Change. These models are known to reduce costs by about two percentage points because carbon cuts lead to an increase in research and development, which again makes further cuts cheaper. Thus Mr. Stern concludes that the costs are on average 1% of GDP, and in the summary actually claims that this is a maximum cost.
The Stern review's cornerstone argument for immediate and strong action now is based on the suggestion that doing nothing about climate change costs 20% of GDP now, and doing something only costs 1%. However, this argument hinges on three very problematic assumptions.
First, it assumes that if we act, we will not still have to pay. But this is not so--Mr. Stern actually tells us that his solution is "already associated with significant risks." Second, it requires the cost of action to be as cheap as he tells us--and on this front his numbers are at best overly optimistic. Third, and most importantly, it requires the cost of doing nothing to be a realistic assumption: But the 20% of GDP figure is inflated by an unrealistically pessimistic vision of the 22nd century, and by an extreme and unrealistically low discount rate. According to the background numbers in Mr. Stern's own report, climate change will cost us 0% now and 3% of GDP in 2100, a much more informative number than the 20% now and forever.
In other words: Given reasonable inputs, most cost-benefit models show that dramatic and early carbon reductions cost more than the good they do. Mr. Stern's attempt to challenge that understanding is based on a chain of unlikely assumptions.
Moreover, there is a fourth major problem in Mr. Stern's argument that has received very little attention. It seems naive to believe that the world's 192 nations can flawlessly implement Mr. Stern's multi-trillion-dollars-, century-long policy proposal. Will nobody try to avoid its obligations? Why would China and India even participate? And even if China got on board, would it be able to implement the policies? In 2002, China decided to cut sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 10%--they are now 27% higher despite SO2 being nationally a much bigger health and environmental problem than climate change.
Why does all this matter? It matters because, with clever marketing and sensationalist headlines, the Stern review is about to edge its way into our collective consciousness. The suggestion that flooding will overwhelm us has already been picked up by commentators, yet going back to the background reports properly shows declining costs from flooding and fewer people at risk. The media is now quoting Mr. Stern's suggestion that climate change will wreak financial devastation that will wipe 20% off GDP, explicitly evoking memories of past financial catastrophes such as the Great Depression or World War II; yet the review clearly tells us that costs will be 0% now and just 3% in 2100.
It matters because Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Nicholas Stern all profess that one of the major reasons that they want to do something about climate change is because it will hit the world's poor the hardest. Using a worse-than-worst-case scenario, Mr. Stern warns that the wealth of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa will be reduced by 10% to 13% in 2100 and suggests that effect would lead to 145 million more poor people.
Faced with such alarmist suggestions, spending just 1% of GDP or $450 billion each year to cut carbon emissions seems on the surface like a sound investment. In fact, it is one of the least attractive options. Spending just a fraction of this figure--$75 billion--the U.N. estimates that we could solve all the world's major basic problems. We could give everyone clean drinking water, sanitation, basic health care and education right now. Is that not better?
We know from economic models that dealing just with malaria could provide economic boosts to the order of 1% extra GDP growth per capita per year. Even making a very conservative estimate that solving all the major basic issues would induce just 2% extra growth, 100 years from now each individual in the developing world would be more than 700% richer. That truly trivializes Mr. Stern's 10% to 13% estimates for South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Last weekend in New York, I asked 24 U.N. ambassadors--from nations including China, India and the U.S.--to prioritize the best solutions for the world's greatest challenges, in a project known as Copenhagen Consensus. They looked at what spending money to combat climate change and other major problems could achieve. They found that the world should prioritize the need for better health, nutrition, water, sanitation and education, long before we turn our attention to the costly mitigation of global warning.
We all want a better world. But we must not let ourselves be swept up in making a bad investment, simply because we have been scared by sensationalist headlines.
CLIMATE NON-CONFORMITY: STERN REVIEW
The report on climate change by Nicholas Stern and the U.K. government argues that the price of inaction would be extraordinary and the cost of action modest. Unfortunately, this claim falls apart when one actually reads the 700-page tome. Despite using many good references, the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is selective and its conclusion flawed. Its fear-mongering arguments have been sensationalized, which is ultimately only likely to make the world worse off, says economist Bjorn Lomborg.
The Stern review almost surely understates the real costs of combating climate change:
o The International Energy Agency has estimated that the world must spend $16 trillion on infrastructure from 2001 to 2030 just to meet growing energy demand; that by itself would be 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over that period.
o And that doesn't include the cost of moving to carbon-free power from fossil fuels, or the financial "incentives" -- i.e., global subsidies from Western taxpayers -- that China and India would need if the Stern report's policies were to have any chance of being implemented.
o The Stern review also calls for substantially increasing taxes, which we know from experience would also reduce global GDP and thus leave fewer resources to fight the consequences of any warming.
The Stern report barely mentions the potential benefits from warming in the world's cold-weather regions.
o Al Gore and others warn about the damage from coastal flooding and changing weather patterns, among other horror scenarios, but the world is large and its climate diverse, and a longer growing season in Siberia or Canada is at least one possible benefit of warming.
o The Stern report also dismisses any chance of moderate warming (meaning temperatures in 2100 only two to three degrees Celsius higher than in 1900) even though many climate models say this is in fact the most likely outcome.
Source: Editorial, "Climate Non-Conformity," Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2006; and Bjorn Lomborg, "Stern Review," Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2006; and Sir Nicholas Stern, "Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change," October 30, 2006.
6. A Critique of Stern Economics
The Business, 2 November 2006
Economists use a decimal point to prove they have a sense of humour. But Sir Nicholas Stern's report warning that global warming will cost 3.68 trillion if left untreated shows that economists can also be taken too seriously. His portentious study, The Economics of Climate Change, prepared for the British government, was treated as if it had been carried down from Mount Sinai rather than put together by an ordinary British mandarin. The fawning media classes, which now regard environmentalism as the new religion, immediately took it as gospel (to do otherwise is the new heresy).
The Tories and the Liberal Democrats, which have both suspended their critical faculties on the matter, rushed to clamber aboard the bandwagon. Even airlines and oil companies, these new paeans of political correctness, welcomed its arrival. But consensus is always dangerous - and this one comes loaded with particular menace.
As a compendium of alarmist studies on global warming, the Stern report has no rival. Few outlandish claims have not been included in his 570-page tome, making it a useful guide to current eco-nuttery. Naturally, it paints the now-familiar vision of apocalypse; malaria doubling; Bangladeshis drowning; Europeans expiring in summer heat waves and hurricanes ripping apart America.
Stern's novelty was to produce two figures: that global warming would eventually reduce the size of the world economy by 10% if left to fester; but that curbing emissions at his recommended level would cost only 1% of global wealth.
Between those two suspiciously certain figures lies a world of conjecture, supposition and stabs in the dark. Stern is the ecological equivalent of a dodgy intelligence dossier revealing weapons of mass destruction which don't exist - which makes it a typical Blairite production. Doubts have been hardened into certainties, contradictory facts downplayed or omitted. The result is a tax-raising manifesto which could see Great Britain - which generates just 2% of world carbon emissions - sleepwalk into a growth-destroying agenda which will hit the poorest hardest.
With a few dubious assumptions Stern has been able to claim, preposterously, that global warming would be an economic shock equivalent to the World War Two or the Great Depression. The range, he says, is between 5% and 20% of global output.
Perhaps the most crucial questionable assumption in the report is that Stern has used an artificially low discount rate to assess whether or not it makes sense to spend money today to reap a hypothetical payoff in the form of reduced losses from global warming in many decades time. But a fundamental principle of economics is that a pound to be pocketed tomorrow is worth less than a pound in the pocket today (because the money could be put in the bank and hence its expenditure entails an opportunity cost); the real question that matters is by how much tomorrow's pound should be discounted to reflect this time value of money.
Stern's answer is not by much - which rigs the outcome in favour of massive spending today. In assessing the impact of very long-term phenomena such as climate-change, use of any reasonably high discount rate (say 5-6%) renders the present value of damage, which occurs in the very long-term, of relatively small importance now. Therefore it makes no economic sense to take expensive preventative action today - and that includes Stern's ill-conceived proposals.
Several smaller tricks are deployed along the way. He refers, for example, to a study suggesting the losses from extreme weather are growing at 2% a year and forecasts such damage "could reach 0.5% to 1% of world GDP [gross domestic product] by the middle of the century".
But dig out the original study and you discover from its author that "it is not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change due to greenhouse gasses". This crucial caveat features nowhere in the Stern review. Such assumptions were built into the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body set up by the world's environment departments which produced the now-famous estimate that, without concerted action, the planet would warm by between 1.4 degrees and 5.8 degrees Centigrade by 2100. Its predictions were, as a member of its modelling group admitted, "computer-aided storytelling". It is a story taken as fact by Stern.
The IPCC assumes the world will see economic growth averaging between 2.2% to 3% over the next century, something which Nigel Lawson, former British Chancellor and a leading climate change realist, describes as a "fairly heroic" rate of growth.
When he was a member of the House of Lords investigation into this last year, Paul Johnson, a British Treasury official, said the top end forecast would be "certainly extremely unprecedented". Yet the Treasury's doubts have mutated into certainty. The Stern team found this 3% global growth target "not unreasonable".
Thus both the IPCC and the Stern team ask us to imagine a developing world which will in 2100 be richer than America today. The report also warns breathlessly that "the homes of tens of millions are likely to be affected by flooding" and that 35m Bangladeshis live in areas that will eventually be below sea level.
But if its projections are to be believed, Bangladesh will be as rich as The Netherlands by 2100. The Dutch have spent five centuries coping with a country half below sea level. The province of Flevoland was uninhabitable until the 1960s; now it is home to 370,000. Schiphol Airport sits on what used to be a Haarlemmermeerpolder lake. The Dutch are living proof of a formula which does not feature in Stern's econometrics: wealth + technology = flood defences and reclaimed land.
It is on the issue of sea level rises that Stern sits on the environmental extreme. Figure 3.11 of the Stern review looks at scenarios for a five metre rise (which he costs at $2 trillion) and even 10 metres.
Yet with the sea rising at between 2mm to 3mm a year, even the IPCC does not suggest more than a 50cm rise over the century. The type of flooding suggested by Stern would take centuries, if not millennia, to happen. But without such high sea levels factored in, the overall Stern price tag for global warming would not be so high. It is areas like these where his report is at its most alarmist.
Woeful attention is paid to the beneficial effects of climate change. The Stern report argues that 35,000 died across the continent in the European heat wave of 2003 and warns that such events "will be commonplace by the middle of the next century". This figure is put into perspective by news last week that 25,700 died from the cold last winter in Britain alone. This is a regular occurrence now in Britain; the toll is set to be much worse this coming winter with heating bills 25% higher. Milder winters could save thousands of elderly lives in Britain - a point made nowhere by Stern.
Financially, a huge gap is missing in Stern's logic. His solution is to stabilise greenhouse gases at a level in the atmosphere at 550 parts per million, which will cost 1% of GDP. The two simple figures are juxtaposed for easy media consumption: spend 1% to save 10%.
But look closely, and this is not what Stern is saying at all. Spending 1% of GDP on green measures will not stop the 10% of damage. So what will it accomplish? Staggeringly, Stern does not tell us. He is happy enough to put a GDP price on his nightmare scenario, but not his chosen solution.
It is a huge missing piece to his jigsaw, reminiscent of the Kyoto Protocol which buried the fact that, even if everybody had signed up to it and met their targets, the effect would be to delay global warming by just six years over a century (the temperature in 2100 would have arrived in 2106 instead).
In any case, reducing future emissions [sic should be “concentration”] to 550ppm (we're at 430ppm now) would likely cost much more than 1% of global GDP by 2050, which he gives as his maximum limit.
As The Business reveals today, a draft of an IPCC report due next year calculates this target at between 1% and 5% of GDP - up to five times more than Stern claims. So the target which seemed so cheap at first would either be ignored (as the Kyoto Protocol has by so many of its signatories) or pursued by deeper and more painful tax rises. But it is India and China who are driving the greenhouse gas increases and not always for bad reasons: both countries are combating poverty at a faster rate than ever before in human history. As clothes replace rags and houses replace huts, people start to live proper lives - and pollute.
As long as China is opening a coal power plant every five days (a pace it will keep until 2012) no amount of Western hand-wringing will help. British ministers have an almost delusional idea that Beijing will take lectures in being environmentally friendly, having for years ignored international pressure about human rights. A country which still sends people to forced labour camps is unlikely to start fitting windmills on roofs. But if Stern has his way, regressive indirect taxes will soar, hitting the poor hardest for no discernible benefit.
A key passage in the report is at the top of page 292 when it refers to the PAGE2002 economic model used to produce the headline-grabbing economic cost figures. The computer model, it says, "should be taken as only indicative of the quantitative impacts". Its results "leave out much that is important". In other words: no one knows, and the best we can do is guess. It is an honest caveat which should have appeared at the top of the document, not buried in its text. As Nigel Lawson put it in his speech to the Centre for Policy Studies in London on Wednesday: "The relatively new and highly complex science of climatology is an uncertain one; neither scientists nor politicians serve either the truth or the people by pretending to know more than they do". Uncertainty is the hallmark of climate change science: even now, it still rests on computer models that give confusing and conflicting results. The certainty which the political and media elite crave simply does not exist; Stern has not provided it with this report and they delude themselves if they think it has.
Copyright 2006 by The Business | All Rights Reserved
7. Comment on Climate Effects in the Tropics
Three points by Fred Singer: 11/1/2006
1. All climate models predict temp increasing with latitude, with minimal increase in the tropics and max in polar regions. The usually quoted 'global mean' is somewhat misleading.
2. Agriculture is most sensitive to the availability of fresh water. We can be sure that there will be more precip as sea sfc temp increases. Models disagree on where it will rain. But there will be more of it.
3. Politics and health are vastly more important than climate change. Look at Zimbabwe before and after Mugabe. Provide trade opportunities for African farmers and wipe out malaria. Stern certainly should know this.
Response by Julian Morris
To my mind the important point which emerges from this is that people in poor tropical countries would be much less affected by climate change if their economies were more diversified. Clearly, economies that are predominantly agricultural are more subject to climate than economies that are less reliant on agriculture. But diversification away from agriculture is a necessary part of economic development -- so, what this really means is that if poor tropical countries were able to develop economically they would be better able to cope with climate change. And underlying economic development is the presence of markets and associated institutions (property rights, the rule of law, and so on).
So, the preferred way to address climate change as well as the gamut of other external shocks that might affect poor tropical countries is to remove the barriers to markets that are currently in place (to some extent this is captured in Fred's third point). Any government that has failed to remove these barriers is in no position to argue that its country is a 'victim' of climate change howsoever induced.
8. Stern Climate Report: Orgy of Doom and Gloom
There is nothing like a good apocalypse. The Economist
Why do so many scientists as well as lay people love the apocalyptic projections of climate science? I venture the thought that it is the authority of the computer. In our secularised society the computer has been put on a divine throne. People will believe anything when it has been generated by a computer with a sheer power of a billion mega-whatever.
Just remember the hype about the forecasts of the Club of Rome in the seventies, when black box computer models floated the idea that the people in rich countries were consuming too much to doomsday-like proportions. However, as in generally known, computers work on the principle of garbage in, garbage out.
Dennis Meadows, one of the scientists responsible for the computer models of the Club of Rome, admitted that only 0.1 percent of all the knowledge that was needed, had been put into the models. Apparently, modellers thrive in a data free environment.
Why did broad swathes of the population react so sharply to the alarmist utterances of scientists and the media? Part of the explanation could lie in the fact that the climate alarmism and doom-mongering conjure up archetypal images which occupy an important place in western civilization: apocalyptical visions which have reappeared in new forms down the centuries. The earliest known examples of this are perhaps the predictions in the Book of Revelations. These describe how the world will be consumed in flames. In times past, various authors, including Plato and Aristotle, have also painted overpopulation as a threat to mankind. Later, in the second century after Christ, Tertullius, who lived in Cartage, wrote on the same theme. If we jump forward in time, a warning about the same danger was issued by Giovanni Botero, a 16th century Italian scholar. He was followed two centuries later by Thomas Malthus in his famous Essay on Population (1798). Of more recent date is the first report to the Club of Rome by Dennis Meadows et al, The Limits to Growth, in which physical limits to growth are predicted which were supposed to lead to all sorts of catastrophes around 2000. The receptiveness of the public to this doom-mongering is intensified yet further by the religious concept of sin and guilt felt by many, as well as a rejection of hedonism with its materialism and consumerism, and the contrast between the worlds poor and rich.
What all these predictions have in common is that they failed to materialize. In particular, the methodology of Meadows exhibits similarity with the current climate studies. The use of models and (super)computers is central. It sometimes seems as if they have taken the place of the magic crystal ball of yesteryears fortune-tellers. They confuse the general public, which is not familiar with the fundamental limitations of the model approach.
It was the American climatologist Stephan Schneider who coined a marvellous quote, to which climate sceptics love to refer in order to expose the - sometimes - dubious practices of the adherents of the man-made global warming hypothesis:
On the one hand, we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but [...] which means that we must include all the doubts, caveats, ifs, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists, but human beings as well. And like most people wed like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we have to get some broad-based support, to capture the publics imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both."
Unfortunately, Schneiders last pious hope has not been fulfilled. Scaremongering has vastly overtaken doubts. And he himself was second to none in this undertaking.
Enters a new team of modern day Nostradamuses, headed by Sir Nicholas Stern, which in their recent Review on the Economics of Climate Change unequivocally proved that it was still possible to outclass all previous scaremongering. According to the report: Our actions over the coming few decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century. Fortunately, however: The evidence gathered by the review leads to a simple conclusion: the benefits of strong, early action considerably outweigh the costs. Well is that true? Perhaps yes if one assumes that global warming is predominantly man-made, and if one further assumes that the more frightening projections by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) accurately foretell the future. But that is not the case. Even the IPCC itself stresses over and over again that the science that is used to support the theory, labours under huge uncertainties.
All proof of anthropogenic global warming is model-based. Yet, today’s climate models are very primitive. They are not able to capture reality. They have not been validated. They are not capable of simulating past climate. A fortiori they are not capable of forecasting future climate.
Frightening global warming does only exist in the virtual reality of the climate models. The most accurate measurements - those with satellites - show only a very modest increase of temperatures over the past 27 years, but the change has not been statistically significant. That means that the real climate refuses to comply with the models. Moreover, such a warming is rather beneficial than harmful to mankind.
In the mean time, the fear of man-made global warming might offer a bonanza for the British Treasury. As Simon Walters in The Mail noted: Secret plans for a multi-billion-pound package of stealth taxes on fuel, cars, air travel and consumer goods have been drawn up by the Government to combat global warming. The proposals show that the Government is considering introducing a raft of hard-hitting eco-taxes that will have a devastating effect on the cost of living.
All in all, Sir Nicholas Stern and his team has offered us a fine piece of fiction: an apogee at least for the moment - of scaremongering, which offers a perfect scenario for a sequel to Al Gores An Inconvenient Truth .What is actually happening to the British, who used to be renowned for their common sense?
9. OPINION: NULLIUS IN VERBA
Russell Seitz, Wall Street Journal, 3 November 2006
MY NOVEMBER 3 WALL STREET JOURNAL OP-ED [reprinted below Copyright 2006 Dow Jones inc.] AROSE FROM AN EXCHANGE IN THE NEWSBLOG OF THE INTERNATONAL SCIENCE JOURNAL NATURE: http://blogs.nature.com/news/blog/2006/10/when_its_time_to_speak_out.html#comments
In 1663, a group of savants formed a London club to discuss "useful knowledge." John Milton's "Areopagitica" was very much on the minds of those early scientists, for it warned that Puritan control of the press could turn into state control of thought. Dissent could get you killed in Restoration England, at sword's point if gentlemen took umbrage, or on the gallows if it traduced royal policy or Holy Writ. So they were mighty relieved when King Charles II agreed to join them, for, with such a patron, the Fellows of the Royal Society would not fear for their necks or purses when speaking truth to power or questioning authority-at least not until September.
The Royal Society's view of the conflict between authority and evidence is made clear by its motto. Nullius in Verba is Latin shorthand for what Harry Truman meant when he said "I'm from Missouri. Show me." It's a notion the full quote from Horace-Nullius addictus judicare in verba magestri-expands into the gold standard of objectivity: "Not compelled to swear to any master's words."
In political terms that translates into don't let policy proceed from mere perceptions of authority. Abroad, the Royal Society shares the outrage of American scientists at pious politicians seeking to constrain stem cell research funding. But at home the Royal Society seems bent on stopping research at odds with the environmental agenda of the Labor Party.
Old Labour's hoariest political stratagem, class warfare, collapsed along with communism a generation ago. In that implosion's aftermath, the environment has become New Labour's communitarian fallback excuse for justifying societal intervention. The Royal Society has been a Whig institution since Darwin's day, encompassing a dynasty of left-wing science popularizers going back to J.B.S. Haldane and Bertrand Russell. Now it is trying to establish itself as a virtual Leviathan in the world of Green politics by extending the political correctness of Tony Blair's nanny state into the scientific realm. Its latest outburst is an Orwellian call to defund scientific inquiry instead of defending it.
The Royal Society's senior manager for policy communication, Bob Ward, has tried to browbeat Exxon Mobil into blacklisting 39 groups whose inconvenient dissent casts doubt on the policy agenda shared by the Society and the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change. A letter from Mr. Ward to Exxon leaked to the Guardian reveals that he wants those he deems to have "misrepresented the science of climate change" put on a Do Not Fund List because "[t]he next IPCC report gives people the final push that they need to take action and we can't have people trying to undermine it." In other words, stop gainsaying the science that Green foundations are paying good money to advertise.
FOR AN EXCHANGE BETWEEN WARD AND ROGER PIELKE ON THIS LETTER"S INTENT,AND EFFECT, SEE: http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/science_politics/000947bob_ward_comments_on.html
The source of political contention is less the science in the IPCC's indigestibly erudite 4,000-page reports than their translation into vivid Green rhetoric by the bureaucratic masters of the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP). Those floridly political "executive summaries" have driven everything from the Kyoto Treaty to EU regulation of refrigerators.
Those who aspire to New Labour's science establishment may feel compelled to swear by such words, lest they end up blackballed from the other London club frequented by the Society's president, the House of Lords. Lord May, the president of the Royal Society, owes his peerage to faithful service as Tony Blair's chief science adviser, and echoing Foreign (and past Environment) Minister Margaret Beckett's repetition of whatever Green publicists air. The laboratory cash flow of the honorable Eco-Lord's pals will also swell if the Royal Society can empower UNEP by silencing disloyal whispers that no one knows how to forecast climate 344 years hence.
And silence them it will-protracted scientific controversy about global systems models is tedious, and the authoritarian backroom boys at the Royal Society understandably intend to end it. Mr. Blair's "Yes, Minister" nanny state scorns free speech. True, some of the contrarian organizations on the blacklist are no great loss to science because they are run by registered lobbyists. But their reluctance to acknowledge climate change is no excuse for freezing out freedom of scientific inquiry.
The Royal Society must choose between its motto and using other people's purse strings to throttle dissent-if the motto goes, it must abdicate its divine right to pontificate as well. If it persists in toying with censorship, it deserves to be privatized for seeking to subjugate the Republic of Science to the words of its political masters.
If it wants to reinvent itself as a Green PR firm, fine-let the private foundations pushing the UNEP foot the bill. Perhaps they can underwrite the hostile takeover of scientific independence by selling Royal Society Fellowships, just as New Labour does peerages , for payments in cash or political kind. But what about the clubhouse?
Lord May & Co.'s palatial premises overlooking St. James's Park should of course revert to the crown, whence the late Society's grace and favor so long flowed. Her Majesty's government may want to turn it into condos, like the former Royal Mint, as advertising firms already in the business of selling science would pay handsomely for such a prestigious address, and diehards bent on imposing technical literacy on Parliament (or Congress) can still be locked safely away in its commodious wine cellar. Few in government will notice their absence, because fashionable as talk of politicized science may be, it cannot fairly be said to exist until both sides have some inkling of what it is they are trying to politicize.
No one compelled Thomas Jefferson to swear "eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man." If the recent history of science has anything to teach, it is that there is no place in a free society for a self-appointed Central Committee of Scientific Truth. Until the Royal Society comes to grips with the Enlightenment, its baroque motto deserves a rest.