Putting It In Context
by Jo Abbess
23rd April 2008
* Intelligent young people fail to acknowledge risks because of relativism
* Government Minister called a “murderer” to his face
Yesterday, I was on the train, reading James Hansen’s latest research paper on Climate Sensitivity “Target Atmospheric CO2 : Where Should Humanity Aim?” :-
Some young people joined me in the carriage and sat nearby, talking freely.
They touched on CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility, and what their company was doing about it, as a large player. They discussed that they had been fishing around for projects. They mentioned recycling, the waste of resources, personal and social development.
They discussed a project that some of their colleagues had been engaged in in Africa, and how it had failed to produce the results they needed, and how the reports had been manipulated to meet criteria.
Not once did they mention Energy. Or Climate.
I noticed that one of the young men had been glancing at the paper I was reading, so when we were all about to get off the train, I showed it to him. I said, “This is really frightening. See the parts I have marked in the margin.” He asked “Do you mean really scary, or just scaremonger-y scary ?”
I said, “Do you believe the work of a NASA scientist ?”. He thought a few seconds about this and then said “Not necessarily. You have to take it in context.” He turned his hand over and back as a gesture to accompany this statement. A this-or-that gesture.
He read a few lines of the paper and seemed to be involved by it, but he handed it back quite quickly. If this was his only exposure to the horrifying risks of Global Warming, of course he wouldn’t take it in. He has been taught to think in relative terms, not absolute.
From their conversation, I knew this young man was married and had a child. It seems he cared about people, but his attention to what is going on in the physical world was clearing lacking.
I noticed that as the young, professional, well-paid, well-trained people got off the train, they left their food and drink rubbish on the table instead of putting it in the waste bins.
That, my friends, is the context in which we are all living. A world of waste and relative values.
Fast-forward in time by about an hour to the large hall of Friends’ House at Euston in central London. A debate around the Climate Change Bill. This was another context in which to assess the words of James Hansen.
On the stage, Tony Juniper, Hilary Benn Minister of State for the Environment, Peter Ainsworth, Steven Webb and a reporter from the Evening Standard called Anne McElvoy.
Tony Juniper said that the Big Ask campaign had stimulated the “emergence of cross-party support”, an “appetite for radical action”.
He said that there are moral but also economic arguments for the United Kingdom to go first with Carbon legislation.
“If we take action on Carbon Dioxide we shall be fit for purpose”. He said there is still much to do if we want to show leadership, and that the Climate Change Bill still needs strengthening.
The Climate Change Bill as currently presented will commit us to a 60% cut in Carbon Dioxide Emissions, he said, but that “60% is out of date”, according to the most recent science.
He said that there was no point in setting the direction of the Bill later on. “We need a clear target”. And aviation and shipping need to be included in the Bill, as they are a major source of emissions.
International emissions trading should not be a “major plank” of the Bill. It could be “useful”, but our actions should be above and beyond merely trading.
Tony Juniper said that he believes that the Prime Minister should head the “50 years of implementation” of the Climate Change Bill, as it can’t be done by any one Government Department.
He said we have to get it right at the start, as the future chair of the Climate Change Committee might not be as strong as Adair Turner.
Hilary Benn then stood up to the microphone, but did not get the front-loaded applause that Tony Juniper had received.
Yes, he had written in the Evening Standard about his acceptance that the Climate Change Bill Carbon Targets will need to get tougher :-
“Global warming is even worse than realised”, the article said, and quoted Hilary Benn as saying “We have less time to act than was thought to be the case.”
But he reiterated that greens should accept nuclear power. Mistake.
In the Friends’ House meeting, he said that the Big Ask campaign was “politics at its best”, moving from dream to idea to the Bill.
“Let us not forget how radical the Bill is”, he urged, reminding us it is unique, legally binding, setting a Carbon Budget for the next 50 years. And all information about progress will be published.
He said that we all instinctively understand the idea of “living within your means”. He said that all future policy decisions, at all levels of government, will have to be judged against their Carbon cost.
The important facts are that our response to our Kyoto commitment have shown that we can send figures in the right direction, he explained. “It is possible.”
“We read the changing science”, he assured the audience, and explained that the decision about targets would be made by the Climate Change Committee, following a clear process. “Of course we have to respond.” It was not clear from his words when the response would be forthcoming.
He said it was obvious that we had to deal with aviation, but he did not explain if this was to be included in the Bill from the start.
“Some people are sceptical about emissions trading” he launched, but told us we would not get any progress unless trading is part of the solution.
He repeated that famous greasy penny “It doesn’t matter where the emissions are made” (or reduced). He did not address the matter of whether the low-emissions countries can sufficiently reduce their emissions further to feed our need for Carbon credits. Or whether they want to.
He then went on to slide through another great gambit – thereby contradicting himself entirely. He mentioned that Developing Countries should not necessarily be asked to make emissions reductions. He quoted the current Carbon consumption of a bunch of countries and asked “Is that fair ?”
Of course, it’s not. It’s not fair to force India to reduce their Carbon Emissions so that they can trade Carbon credits with us.
He spoke boldly of “global social justice”, but I don’t know anyone who reasons that Carbon Trading will provide any justice, or re-distribution of stolen or coerced wealth.
Carbon Trading is all about wealth protection for the already wealthy.
Hilary Benn said that the biggest risk we face is people saying “it’s too hard” to do anything about Global Warming. That does appear to be the new excuse from the skeptics (see bottom of page).
Peter Ainsworth took the stage with “I sometimes think I’m a bigger supporter of this Bill than the Government is.”
He said we have to avoid a weakened, watered-down Bill.
He said that the Climate Change Committee has a new duty to engage with the public, consult the experts and publish all their work. If the Government rejects their findings, they will have to state why.
Lots of things are promised. Sectoral targets. Annual reports. Assessments of progress…
As for overseas Carbon payments, Peter Ainsworth saw Carbon Trading as “medieval…buying indulgences.”
He said that Hilary Benn was “charming”, but that he is not in charge of most of the emissions of the country.
He said that he could see an enormous low-hanging succulent fruit – that the Conservatives should vote for an 80% emissions cut to be in the Bill. “We’re already on the case.”
He said “The target should be set according to the science. I want targets to be science-based and not on the opinion of politicians.”
The real test, he said, is going to be changing the mindset of the Government, who are giving speech after speech about Climate Change and then signing in expansion of airports (loud cheers).
Steven Webb of the Liberal Democrats came to the microphone. He said he respects the work Hilary Benn is doing, even with the reduced budget of the Department. “DEFRA is a minnow among wolves” he dangled, apologising for his mixed metaphor.
Regarding Peter Ainsworth, (real value for money), who knows what lines will get us clapping, he said that he heard a lot of confusion from within the Conservative party. In his other capacities shadowing Energy policy he even heard someone from the Conservative party talking about “Renewable Nuclear” (gasps of disbelief from audience).
Steven Webb says there are risks in the way the Bill is being managed, “Hoping that Adair gets it right by Christmas”.
He undermined confidence in Carbon Trading as a system of offsetting responsibility for Carbon reductions : “let someone else do it in an unverifiable way.”
Steven Webb asked, “How are we going to do it ?” Energy efficiency wasn’t even mentioned in the Energy Bill (presumably because it can’t be achieved by centralised profit-making organisations). “We need Energy efficiency, now, not Nuclear in 15 years’ time.” he said.
He said we need a green tax switch, and we need to public opinion to emphasise that politicians’ jobs are on the line if they don’t adopt the right angle.
Questions from the floor were eventful.
#1 Any law can only be good if it’s enforced…Will I be fined for over-use of electricity ? Will I be cut off ?
#2 for Peter Ainsworth : if we are to have massive investment in Renewable Energy, so that Britannia can rule the waves, will you be educating sceptics, such as [Lord Lawson] his lordship ?
#3 If the Climate Change Committee says 80% or higher, will you accept it ?
The panellists responded : if the Government is not delivering on the target, it will need public response. The public will be “screaming” if this is not delivered (oh, will we now ?)
Hilary Benn asked how the Carbon Budget could be made a “deliverable”.
Peter Ainsworth said that it had been suggested that the Climate Change Committee would be responsible or setting targets, but that this was not seen as democratic.
Peter Ainsworth remarked on sceptics, that “a lot of these people seem to be in the extended Lawson family”. Anne McElvoy clarified that this was “Lord Lawson of Blah-by”, but she was instantly corrected, although “Blah” might be more accurate.
Peter Ainsworth said that Climate Change was the economic opportunity of the 21st Century, and that he thought “frankly, it’s illiterate to portray it as anything else.”
Steven Webb commented on the fact that fuel poverty has risen.
He also said that we should watch out for the problem of setting NIMTO Targets : “Not In My Term of Office”. Of course, this encompasses any number of delaying tactics, as the audience pointed out later on.
Leaving decisions until later, and outsourcing information gathering to those charged with a period of public consultation, does smack of delaying. Deliberate delaying.
More questions from the floor :-
#4 Jim Scott asking about individual carbon allowances.
#5 Metro readers : Neale Upstone asking about actually meeting targets; and another reader asking if they are being asked to give things up, or whether there is a positive view they could hold onto.
Steven Webb said that heating old people’s homes that weren’t insulated was madness. That measures such as showroom taxes were marginal, that manufacturers needed to have the right incentives.
Nobody could have predicted that in less than 5 to 10 years we would all be converted to using unleaded petrol in cars.
Peter Ainsworth commented on personal carbon allowances. “We have got to take the people with us”, he cautioned. If we move too fast, the response will “make the Poll Tax riots look like a vicarage tea party”.
Personal Carbon Allowances : a “Great Idea”, he said, “whose time has not yet come.” He said we need “clear signals” in the tax system, and other measures.
“I got a round of applause at the Conservative Party conference for introducing Feed In Tariffs. I didn’t know what they were at the time…” (much laughter from the audience)
Hilary Benn said we should judge people by what they do (“Like you” was the call from Soo who was sitting next to me). Hilary Benn said we should watch which Local Authority Councils are approving or denying permision for on-shore wind farm plans.
As for stronger measures, he said that the “public is not currently there”. Although, we should note that things have happened that we had not thought possible.
He gave the example of DEFRA Neighbourhood Schemes – where a sum of money is made available for a community to spend on green measures. He noted that as soon as it became a collective community issue, people talked about it.
Tony Juniper said that a consensus has broken out, but that debate should be accelerated. There are “really scary stories” about the near-term future, he said.
However, he said regarding public messaging that it was not so much an issue of “painting a picture of urgency”, but a picture of what could work.
He says there are obvious pitfalls to avoid, like the fact that taxation is viewed as revenue generation schemes, and he gave examples of how not to do this, and how to do this.
Hilary Benn said that we have to pay for things, and that this requires taxation. He said that if we are paying for new schools and hospitals, and that included in that are Carbon reduction measures, then paying for improvements in Energy use seems like a good thing.
More questions :
#6 Sarah Mukherjee from the BBC : Regarding “using less stuff.” Fewer flights, even fewer children. But from the political parties, no one seems to have got on the “use less stuff” bandwagon.
Peter Ainsworth answered : he recalled the early 1990s conference on Sustainable Development, out of which came a strategy on Sustainable Consumption. He wanted to know where this strategy was with the current Government.
He said “the Earth is a finite place” but that we have been “behaving as if it’s infinite. We have got to start using less stuff !” (applause from the audience).
Steven Webb said that there was an inherent problem with the underlying message of “Vote for me and you’ll have less stuff.” He said that message would have to wait until the second term in office probably.
He indicated that it is too easy to make a wrong turning, pointing to the up and coming Energy policy “complete dead end of nuclear”
Hilary Benn then casually ignited rage over plastic bags. “We will legislate” he promised. Members of the audience called out rejoinders “Why not now ?” “When ?” “Get on with it !”
We are, of course, probably the last country in Europe to have a proper policy on plastic bags. Someone called out “The Power of Now !” I don’t think Hilary Benn heard it.
He went on to describe how there are practical problems with counting how aviation and shipping emissions should have their contributions attributed to Britain.
A member of the audience quibbled loudly : after all, they called out, we have a tax service that does amazingly complicated calculations, why can’t we handle transport emissions accounting ?
Tony Juniper chipped in saying that having more stuff is a sign of achievement. But that this cultural belief is shaped. “Turning the tide on consumption”, he explained will mean we have to consider our approach to advertising (whoops from the audience).
Maybe we should have signs stuck on the sides of new Porsche cars “Warning : this car is damaging the Climate”.
As regards Carbon measures, maybe we should choose names carefully, naming “Feed In Tariffs” as “Renewable Energy Rewards” was one suggestion.
More questions from the floor :-
#7 Nicky Gavron from the London Assembly asked about the urban contribution to the Climate problem, as 75% of the total, and whether this should determine the choice of London’s Mayor.
#8 Lucy Pearce from Stop Climate Chaos and I Count : asked about all the e-mails, letters and postcards that the campaign have been sending. She said that SCC has a clear campaign policy to demand 80% Carbon Cuts, and said that campaigners had made many demands, but : “HOW MANY IS ENOUGH ?”
Steven Webb said that the best way to start a letter was the phrase “I’ve always voted for you, until now…”
More questions were raised : about demands for aviation and shipping to be included in the Climate Change Bill from the very start. Ali Abbas had come all the way from Manchester to ask this question.
Hilary Benn waffled on about amounts and questions about how to divide them. He said that the Climate Change Committee had to follow the process to come up with the results. That it was important to follow the process…
Clearly, the man is subject to delays. Like the train service.
Someone in the gallery in a business suit, neat haircut and a yellow tie lost his patience and yelled out “You’re a murderer !” and went on to splutter that many thousands of people in Bangladesh are going to die because of Hilary Benn. Quite extraordinary outburst.
Hilary Benn gave a curt retort, but it was ignored. The meeting was irrecoverable. It was over.
Anne McElvoy held up information about a new “green card” for readers of the Evening Standard : deals on the newspaper costs and “a very good Carbon offsetting scheme”. The whole place erupted in booes.
As Ray Ladbury has said on RealClimate :-
“I enthusiastically agree that professional courtesy is essential to progress in science. However, scientific progress also requires sincerity of the participants, and when it comes to all the wannabe scientists, trolls and shills, I’m not sure how much civility is humanly possible. It is sad that politics have so poisoned the debate that people refuse to look at the evidence.”
Myth #10 : “It’s So Bad We Can’t Do Anything About It”
Nature throws one-two punch at global warming : 20 Apr 08 : The Nature article says the climate problem is much greater than forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change due to rising use of coal in Asian nations, especially China and India, where energy use is projected to double by 2030 :-
“We’ve gotten this hopelessly wrong,” said Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado at Boulder, one of the authors of the Nature article. The trio also included Tom Wigley of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and Economics professor Christopher Green of McGill University in Montreal.
“If we approach this from reducing emissions we get nowhere,” Pielke said. “The message is, let’s change light bulbs and let’s be more efficient. But let’s do more than that. The solution lies in transformational technologies.”
Arg it’s the Pielke paper!
Submitted by David Ahlport (not verified) on Sun, 2008-04-20 12:08.
The issue isn’t so much about the science put forward itself, it’s the rhetoric.
Pielke is basically saying that global warming is SO BAD, that we can’t do anything about it.
And the only thing we can do is sit on our asses and wait for some super duluexe “breakthrough technology” to geoengineer the planet back to normal.
It’s the predictable next step along the denialist stonewall approach.
1. It’s not happening!
-So lets not deploy current technology, shape policy, or build markets.
2. It is happening, but it’s not us doing it!
-So lets not deploy current technology, shape policy, or build markets.
3. It is happening, we are doing it, but maybe warming is a good thing!
-So lets not deploy current technology, shape policy, or build markets.
4. It is happening, we are doing it, warming very Very VERY bad thing, so bad infact that:
-So lets not deploy current technology, shape policy, or build markets. *Lets instead focus on adaptation.*
The rhetorical argument may change, but the bottomline position always stays the same.