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The science is settled; the politics not so much

Outside the USA there is a broad consensus that climate change is real and is a consequence of successive generations of humans burning fossil fuels.  There is far less unity, though, when it comes to doing something about it.  As Larry Elliott at the Guardian explains:

“For those perched at the top of the mountain, the view is perfectly clear. Climate change is the issue of the moment and has to be tackled without delay. Governments, companies and individuals are all going to have to adjust to the new reality…

“But… the view from the bottom of the mountain is hazier than the view from the top. Consider why Emmanuel Macron did not show up at Davos this year. The French president took precisely the kind of action deemed necessary to tackle the climate emergency – whacking up the cost of driving fossil-fuelled vehicles – only to find the country erupt into protest. The message to Macron from those on low incomes was clear: don’t talk to us about the end of the world until you have told us how to make ends meet at the end of the month.”

Elliott’s remarks reflect the very real results of several electoral defeats of political parties that put forward supposedly “green” policy responses to climate change.  Indeed, the centrist/metropolitan liberal character of the proposed responses to climate change – which mostly involve shovelling billions of dollars, pounds, euros and yen at multinational energy companies together with kickbacks to the affluent class (via feed in tariffs and grants for electric cars) and some token bans on plastic straws and carrier bags – is evident in the growing mountain of ordure being showered on them from both left and right leaning media.  It falls to the right wing Daily Express to point to growing:

“Fury after Prince Charles flew 16,000 miles in private jets before climate change lecture.”

Meanwhile, the socialist MR Online reminds us that:

“The World’s super rich meet in Davos to discuss the climate change problem they created…

“A report from Oxfam on the climate crisis concluded that ‘climate change is inextricably linked to economic inequality: it is a crisis that is driven by the greenhouse gas emissions of the ‘haves’ that hits the ‘have-nots’ the hardest.’ It found that the poorest half of the world’s population are responsible for only around 10 percent of total global emissions, despite living in countries most affected by the problem. In contrast, the richest 10 percent produce half the world’s pollution, with the top one percent’s carbon footprint around 175 times that of a poor African or Asian. This number rises exponentially higher when discussing the world’s super wealthy. U.S. emissions per capita are almost three times French emissions and double the Japanese figures.”

This, perhaps, helps to explain the results of a new YouGov poll which found that a quarter of people in the UK believe that the risk from climate change is exaggerated:

“[M]ore than a quarter (27%) of Britons think the risks posed by a changing climate are probably being over-hyped, despite scientific consensus to the contrary. One in eleven Brits (9%) is sure that danger posed by climate change isn’t as big as people are being led to believe.”

At first glance, this finding might suggest that more needs to be done to “raise awareness” of climate change.  However, the poll notes that:

“Despite a third of Britons doubting whether the dangers of climate change are as bad as described in media and by Government, most Britons do think about their environmental impact in their day to day activities, such as shopping.

“Over half (59%) of British adults say that environmental sustainability has at least a fair amount of impact on what they buy when they do their household shopping – with one in six (18%) saying they consider sustainability to a large extent.”

Watching the global rich flying into Switzerland in private jets, living it up in luxury hotels and being driven around in chauffeur-driven limousines jars against the climate message that they proffer to the world’s media.  Moreover, the majority of ordinary people who have seen their living standards slump since the 2008 crash have already made most of the easy carbon-reduction changes to their lifestyles.  To ask more of them while the lifestyles of the global rich continue to spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is merely creating a political time bomb that will explode irrespective of whether governments of the left or the right are elected in future.

In this light, the various versions of green new deals look for all the world like one last blowout for the rich to benefit from before the human habitat is destroyed for good.  Indeed, there is growing discontent with the various international conferences which generate a great deal of hot air about climate change but ultimately fail to deliver any concrete action.  Most recently, for example, one of the UK’s biggest Trade Unions has called for the 2020 COP conference in Glasgow to be scrapped.  As Catriona Stewart at the Glasgow Evening Times reports:

“A union has called for Glasgow to ‘ditch’ hosting a major climate change summit later this year saying the city has its ‘priorities all wrong’.

“It emerged today that policing costs for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) will run into ‘several hundred million pounds'”…

“GMB Scotland Secretary Gary Smith said: ‘The prospect of hundreds of millions of pounds of public money spent on policing costs alone will sicken frontline council staff and struggling local communities. The world’s political elite will fly in and out of Glasgow later in the year but the city’s many challenges will remain the day after the circus leave town.  What exactly are we hoping to showcase by hosting this summit?  Glasgow waste crisis is getting worse – you only need to look at the latest footage of the conditions facing cleansing workers on a daily basis. Our home carers are working alone on foot at night to provide basic home care help for some of our most vulnerable citizens.  The council needs to find an additional £250 million to settle residual equal pay claims for tens of thousands of council staff past and present. It also needs to replace its discriminatory WPBR with a new job evaluation system lifts up the pay and conditions of chronically low-paid staff.’”

The proposed “solutions” to climate change espoused by the elites are as unworldly as the belief that it is okay to fly around the planet while telling people who can barely afford the price of electricity to tighten their belts still further.  Renewable energy has proved to be little more than another means of redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich; with already rich landowners paid tens of thousands of pounds to erect wind turbines and then paid more than the going rate to feed the electricity they generate into the grid.  On a smaller scale, it is the poorest households who pay a disproportionate surcharge on their energy bills to subsidise affluent households to install rooftop solar panels and to drive around in electric cars.  Meanwhile the electricity grid is creaking under the strain of managing – and sometimes failing to manage – the increased intermittency resulting from too high a percentage of wind and solar in the energy mix.  Most ordinary householders understand all too well that the cost of upgrading the grid infrastructure to balance this intermittency is also going to be landing disproportionately upon their shoulders.  And the worse of it is that the deployment of non-renewable renewable energy-harvesting technologies is not a solution to the stated problem. 

In the decades since the Kyoto Protocol was signed, the proportion of fossil fuels in the global energy mix shrank from 87 percent to 86 percent – and given China’s infamous lack of transparency, even this reduction has to be taken with a pinch of salt.  Over the same period, non-renewable renewable energy-harvesting technologies (excepting hydroelectric) have grown from 1 percent to just under 4 percent; despite a Herculean effort to install them.  If the aim were merely to replace our current fossil fuel consumption, we would need install 1,500 windfarms each covering 300 square miles every day between now and 2050.  Alternatively, we might opt for nuclear power; in which case we would need to install two 1GW nuclear power stations every three days between now and 2050 (it currently takes around a decade to build just one).  And, of course, the need is not just to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere – we have to somehow permanently remove it.  Planting trees – even trillions of them (which would involve massive additional fossil fuel use) – would barely scratch the surface; and would likely turn out to be just another corporate welfare scam to funnel money to wealthy landowners.

Cutting energy use is the only non-fossil fuelled means of tackling the issue; but nobody in a position of power is talking about that.  For good reason; the 2008 crash, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the two oil shocks in the 1970s are the only times in modern history that global carbon emissions have decreased.  Even this level of economic and social disruption barely dented the human carbon footprint.  To meaningfully lower carbon emissions would require an economic slowdown on a par with the impact of the fourteenth century Black Death in Europe; and even then, the planet would continue to warm because the blanket of greenhouse gases now surrounding us prevent sufficient solar energy from radiating back into space.

Once, however, the rich realise that even retreating to their bunkers in New Zealand will not save them from the calamity that is racing to meet us; an entirely different – and far less “green” – set of proposals is likely to emerge.  I don’t doubt that sooner or later the global rich will turn to geoengineering in a last ditch effort to curb global warming while reaching for a plethora of experimental nuclear technologies in a desperate attempt to offset the coming decline in fossil fuel production.  Whether it will work is anybody’s guess; but it is worth remembering that all of the problems we face today are the result of solutions that we put in place in the past.

As you made it to the end…

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