It’s global warming, stupid – and it’s gonna be cold

BookerMost of the attention before and after Ed Miliband’s speech has been on energy prices. That’s no surprise. Soaring energy prices hit everyone, but most of all the poor.

Today Nick Clegg has spoken out against Ed Miliband’s energy price freeze. The energy companies meanwhile are floating a four year fixed price deal to lock in their profits in the event of Ed managing to grab the country’s helm.

But the most important contribution to the energy debate is by Tim Farron. In today’s Guardian, he says:

Climate change is the greatest threat to our economy and way of life. That threat is exacerbated by scepticism about both whether climate change is happening and whether we can rise to the challenge it presents.

Tim attacks Miliband’s energy policies but he quickly returns to climate change:

If we support simplistic solutions, we make a show of acting while in reality doing nothing. If we support scepticism, we choose to fail before we have even started. But if we deal with the 5% of uncertainty that science might deliver and choose to act anyway, we will not only avoid environmental catastrophe, we will also restore the belief that society can solve the huge problems it faces.

As Tim says, we need to face down the sceptics on climate change. That’s not so easy. The public have grown sceptical that climate change is even happening. Barely more than half of us think that the climate is changing as a result of human activity. More than a quarter think that the world is not getting warmer. Many of these people are confusing weather with climate. It’s been bad timing to have just gone through a string of cold summers and winters, and it is proving hard to win the argument out that the world is getting warmer just as we are forced to turn up the heating.

UKIP’s message that “Climate Change is so last-century” is remarkably popular, as is its typically xenophobic tactic of blaming everything on those polluting foreigners overseas. But I know so many people who believe this line. Their opinions are fanned by the Christopher Bookers of world, the journalists for whom opposing climate change is akin to a religion.

But we can’t ignore climate change. We have been struggling economically and our energy policy has been shambolic. But hatred of windfarms and an outbreak of bad weather is no excuse for not doing our utmost to leave this planet fit for future generations. We cannot take the Booker route of hoping the scientists are wrong on climate change.

Lib Dem policy quite rightly focuses on energy efficiency but frankly the Green Deal doesn’t help much. Whoever thought up such a stupid name? No one knows what it means.

But the real problem is that people are failing to invest through the Green Deal because the present is more important to them than our collective futures. We are doing the same with climate change too. We are currently dashing for fracked gas, shamefully supported by Lib Dem policy, at the expense of the long term protection of the environment.

The message from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is that Britain is likely to get a tad cooler as the Gulf Stream weakens later in the century. There is probably very little we can do about that now.

What worries me most is not that Britain will be colder but that the sceptics will use this as an excuse to deny global warming is happening. They promote consuming at will at the expense of the future people of our world. That cannot be right.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice

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  • Paul in Twickenham 27th Sep '13 - 2:08pm

    I have often thought that if the authors of the Old Testament had considered the question of why things fall to the ground and had concluded that it was due to invisible elastic bands then we would now have a theory of “Intelligent Falling”.

    We must go where the science takes us. It beggars belief that there is even a debate going on here, driven by people with a social/political/economic agenda that conflicts with the evidence. The phrase “climate change deniers” seems as plausible as “gravity deniers” or “quantum mechanics deniers”.

    Perhaps the problem is that science advances through open discourse, in which all findings are published and inconsistencies must be explained. What people like Christopher Booker do is to claim that outlier data disproves the central theory.

    As to the article above, I commented a couple of days ago that the energy companies have for some time now been inviting their customers to act as commodity speculators – gambling on future movement in the price of NG contracts. There is nothing new in that.

    And if the Atlantic conveyor stops then we’ll have a lot more to worry about than “climate change sceptics” claiming vindication.

  • Mick Taylor 27th Sep '13 - 7:52pm

    So the the climate conference says it’s 95% likely that humankind is causing 50% of the global warming. And yes, we must do what we can to combat that. In fact the solutions proposed would have to be carried out anyway because fossil fuel will in the not too distant run out, even if climate change was not happening.

    But what about the other 50% that no-one is talking about? What causes it and can we do anything about it? The problem is that already the climate conference report is being treated as if 100% of global warming is man-made. So no-one is finding solutions to the other 50%. I find that very alarming.

    There is a highly illiberal tendency to call anyone who points to other causes of climate change as a climate denier. Frankly we need scientists working on all the causes of climate change and not just the 50% that the Climate Conference says is caused by humans.

  • Richard Dean 27th Sep '13 - 8:48pm

    Climate change is not necessarily bad. Indeed, if only 50% is being caused by humans, then the other 50% is caused by nature – geology or life – and we know so little about those things that messing with either of them could be far more damaging than not! If the 50% is natural (and we are natural too), then maybe all we humans are doing is moving a natural process on faster than it would otherwise occur – and why should that be bad?

  • nuclear cockroach 27th Sep '13 - 9:07pm

    “So the the climate conference says it’s 95% likely that humankind is causing 50% of the global warming. ”

    Is not what the IPCC said. To whit:

    “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

    Dominant cause.

  • Richard Dean 27th Sep '13 - 9:11pm

    “Climate scientists are 95% confident … that humans are responsible for at least “half of the observed increase in global average surface temperatures since the 1950s.””

    Half = 50%

  • nuclear cockroach 27th Sep '13 - 9:11pm

    “Climate change is not necessarily bad. ”

    Take a map of the world with isotherms. Remove all coastal regions less than 0.5 metres above sea-level, then add 2 degrees Celsius to each of those isotherms for the remaining land. Replace the dominant forms of vegetation and agriculture with those from current regions with the same temperatures today. Result: a dramatic loss of agricultural production for dietary staples.

  • nuclear cockroach 27th Sep '13 - 9:16pm

    It’s a scientific form of language. Within 95% confidence limits. They could give 90% confidence limits, too, whatever you want. They eliminated every method that “sceptics” continually propose (long list – go read), leaving only one explanation that fits the data.

  • Richard Dean 27th Sep '13 - 9:17pm

    @nuclear cockroach

    So what, science will find alternative ways of providing that agricultural production. GM for example. Soya, Look at how European food security has increased over the last 50 years, largely due to scientific advances. No reason why that can’t happen in future. Look too at the civil engineering marvels of the world. Civil engineers will be able to irrigate lands that have no rain. So, it just won’t be a problem. Quite the reverse, the re-location and the consequent construction boom will keep our economy is great shape.

    But yes, it might be a bit inconvenient for those rich LibDems who’ve bought nice houses in the South East at rock-bottom prices.

  • nuclear cockroach 27th Sep '13 - 9:36pm

    I think if fair to say that our correspondent from the Planet Zog, errr, Godfrey Bloom, won’t be voting Lib Dem.

    That’s a relief. We can instead shape our future manifestos to please our actual and potential voters. And we can draw suitable red lines that those Lib Dem minded voters are likely to support, including a continuing commitment to decarbonising our economy.

  • Richard Dean 27th Sep '13 - 9:53pm

    The snail’s response is, always, to abandon the argument, and draw back into its shell. But that doesn’t faze the big bad ugly UKIP wolf, who will just eat the whole thing, shell and all .

  • nuclear cockroach 27th Sep '13 - 10:09pm

    No, Mr. Zog. Politics, in real life, does not consist in trying to persuade everybody. A mere 18% of voters hold the same ideas about climate change as you do, it is quite safe for the Lib Dems to ignore you. We can concentrate our efforts on voters with rational understanding on climate change.

    It’s the same on several key issues where you spend hours on this site every day “sagely” advising us to change our position to suit you, when even if we did, you still wouldn’t vote for us.

  • @Richard Dean “science will find alternative ways of providing that agricultural production”
    I take it that that means you are 100% confident in the art of science delivering exactly what is needed and in time? and hence are prepared to bet your life and the life of your descendants on it?

    Whilst it is nice to see such blind faith in the power of ‘science’, you do need to remember: there is no such thing as a silver bullet… and there is a long history of ‘scientific’ interventions particularly with respect to food production having unforeseen consequences…

  • Richard Dean 28th Sep '13 - 1:21am

    @Roland. I’m sure you have a point, but it’s a problematic one! On the one hand you are placing your faith entirely in the scientists who say that global warming is caused by humans, yet on the other hand you are saying that scientists cannot do food science safely. That’s a mixed message that can leave voters sceptical of both arguments.

  • Richard Dean 28th Sep '13 - 1:23am

    @Roland. And of course the opposite of each argument also forms a mixed argument! 🙂


  • jenny barnes 28th Sep '13 - 8:21am

    Actually, climate change is our second biggest problem. Energy supply is the biggest. Global energy demand doubles roughly every 50 years. see this
    With enough energy, we can deal with climate change. Without it – it’s going to be very unpleasant.

  • Our biggest problems are population growth, followed by food and water then energy and other resources. Climate change just throws a massive spanner in the works…

    Reduce the population back to 1970’s levels (circa 3 billion) and we buy circa 40 years in which to address the other issues…

  • @Richard
    Basically, I have confidence in our scientists and technologists, but at the same time I know they are human and so are fallible. Hence it is right to do more research to confirm the observations and it is also right to take some preventative actions.

    So I’m happy that there is a significant human activity element to climate changes that means we can do something meaningful to reduce these effects and that there is health debate within the scientific community to do further research and refine the models. At the same time I happy to let the agricultural technologists get to work. We’ve seen GM not really deliver, but we have seen over delivery in other areas, eg. production of soft fruit , through relatively simple practises of planting above ground and using poly tunnels and with cherries, using grafting to create smaller tree’s that produce a larger crop that is more easily farmed.

    So as a scientist I was a little surprised that NuLabour having accepted the climate change arguments and so signed the Kyoto agreement, which effectively capped our emissions at 1998 levels didn’t do the simple and obvious thing and effectively cap the population and our energy consumption, as at that time the population was relatively stable and our electricity generating plant was able to cope with demand, but would be replaced with modern more efficient plant, meaning the targets were well within reach, with little real change to the economy. Instead they promoted population growth (through mass immigration) and increased levels of energy consumption, which has only lead to an even bigger challenge for society and its scientists…

    So the answer is not to accept everything scientists say at face value but at the same time don’t dismiss it with due consideration.

  • Peter Chivall 28th Sep '13 - 2:08pm

    Richard Dean, however much I disagree with him, does at least try some semblance of logic in his arguments. What he, and most others, fail to mention, however, is the ‘precautionary principle’. The collective life chances of 7billions+ humans depends totally upon the habitability of this Planet. There is no Plan(et) B. The IPCC Report, as I understand it, says that it is 20:1 on odds that overall global warming, and the resutant change in climate patterns year-on-year, is *at least* 50% due to human activity.
    This is not so different from saying that ‘it is 95% likely that someone who smokes 20-a-day is more than (50%) likely to die early of respiratory diseases’. (The exact figures may vary). While the smoker may only endanger his/herself, if he/she spreads that smoke through a crowded place (pubs etc.) or the confines of a home with young children, we would, rightly I believe, be justified in stopping him or her.
    When our UK ancestors began to build coal/steam powered mills, forges and other factories in the 19th Century, we could easily say that ‘it is 95% certain that at least 50% of lung disease in our cities is due to man-made industrial pollution’.
    What is different today is the scale of the pollution from excess CO2 and other greenhouse gases whose effects are felt worldwide, but in different and complex ways in different places and at different times. In our own case, the peculiar mechanism of the North Atlantic Conveyor, which has brought warm water and mild temperatures to NW Europe for 1000s of years, is threatened by the disappearance of much of the Arctic Ice in a matter of 10s of years. Thus we have seen the last 2 winters, not with record low temperatures or consistent frosts or heavy snowfalls, but with a general pattern of a long and cold winter followed by a cold spring. Meanwhile, thanks to the Internet, I could see pictures of flooded gardens and mild (10deg+) temperatures in Newfoundland, where winters are normally frozen sold for months.
    The point about increasing global warming/ climate change is not that everyone will die or go hungry. Many of those who publish anti-science views, such as the Daily Mail, or who finance the naysayers, like Eavangelical real estate dealers from the US Midwest, will no doubt buy themselves places of safety and comfort on mountain ranges or on islands near the Arctic Circle . But, as Lord Stern has pointed out, the cost to those that survive in maintaining their way of life, will become enormous, and, as always, it will be children and the poor who will suffer most.

  • Richard Dean 28th Sep '13 - 2:29pm

    I may be just an ordinary voter, but I can recognize a confidence trick when I see it. The “Precautionary Principle” is an obvious one. It’s an attempt to use fear of change as an argument, instead of science.

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