The twin threats of climate change and Islamic terrorism have been at the top of the international political agenda for nearly a decade now, and it is no coincidence that this has happened during a rare period of global economic stability and growth.

Both these threats have provided opportunities for alarmist grandstanding on the part of politicians, with enthusiastic support from the media. George Bush’s war on terrorism and Al Gore’s crusade against climate change have much in common; they focus on what might happen rather than what is happening, and neither of these threats has had a significant impact on the day-to-day lives of the general public in the developed world.

Although terrorism has left its mark on New York, Madrid and London, the citizens of these capital cities continue to go to work, shop, enjoy their leisure time and return to their homes in much the same way as they did before the attacks. Terrorism has not changed or disrupted the humdrum routine of their existence, and nor has global warming.

Dire predictions of impending climate change are concerned with events that may occur during the lifetimes of our children or grandchildren, but pose no immediate threat. No one is going to cancel a holiday or put off moving to a larger house because of rising temperatures. The minor changes in global average temperatures that have occurred over the last century are measured in tenths (and sometimes hundredths) of a degree centigrade; they are almost imperceptible to everyone except to climate scientists.

Of course the ‘concerned’ statements by politicians, the sanctimonious ranting of environmental activists, and a constant stream of scare stories in the media, have had some effect on public opinion, but no major new policies have intruded on our lives as a result. Being green has become fashionable, but helping to save the planet is an optional life style choice, not a necessity. Like all voguish trends it is ephemeral, and can vanish at any moment.

Because global warming has not constrained our enjoyment of life, there has been a general willingness to accept what we are being told about this supposed threat. The general public has little understanding of the scientific issues that underpin climate alarmism, and it would require some effort on their part to acquire knowledge that would allow them to reach an informed opinion. For most people it is easier to accept what ‘the experts’ say, as it does not seriously affect their day-to-day lives anyway.

But all this is set to change. We have entered a period of severe economic turbulence, and there is no reason to believe that it will be short lived. Our priorities during the coming months and years are likely to be very different from those of the last benign decade. A banking system that seems to be in tatters, coupled with deep global recession, are likely to have a very real impact on the availability and security of employment, the amount of disposable income that we enjoy, and even whether we can be certain that the roof over our head will continue to be the one that we would choose to have.

At no time in recent memory have people had such good reason to fear for their well-being and that of their dependants. At a time when many banks can only repay the money that we have deposited with them because of massive government intervention, a sense of insecurity has become universal. And no one seems to know which financial institutions will need a lifeboat next. The economic climate has certainly changed, and our hopes and fears are going to change with it.

Already there are signs of a shift of emphasis in news coverage. Last week, a report that five people had been arrested in the Birmingham area on terrorism charges barely made the headlines. Ten days ago, the BBC’s environment analyst indulged in an astonishing display of hand-ringing when EU talks about reducing carbon emissions ran into difficulties on a day when plans to save the banking system were leading the news. His agitated warnings of environmental disaster, which a week or two before would have been the lead story, seemed irrelevant. People do not worry about carbon emissions when their jobs, their life savings, their homes and their pensions are at risk.

Of course global warming is not going to vanish from the political agenda or from the headlines over-night; far too much political capital has been invested in alarmism for that to happen. On the other hand, the public’s willingness to accept without question what they are told about climate change is likely to diminish.

Reducing carbon emissions was never likely to be a pain-free process, but the inflationary pressures of carbon trading, converting to expensive alternative energy sources and coercive taxes intended to change behaviour might have been accepted during the good times. Even if people did not understand quite what all the fuss was about, their acquiescence could be bought with nebulous promises of a cleaner, safer world.

During a recession, when every household will be feeling the day-today effects of a shrinking economy, the prospect of additional costs is going to look very different. Policies that might have been accepted a year ago because ‘the experts’ said that they are necessary are now going to receive far more scrutiny from the taxpayers who are expected to fund them. People who are worried about the security of their jobs, paying for food and keeping the mortgage company at bay are going to want to know just how plausible the scientific evidence for man-made global warming is. The days when they were content to meekly accept what they were told will be over.

Even before the banking crisis, the electorate were not clamouring for action on climate change. Why should they? It has had no effect on their lives and opinion polls show that their priorities lie elsewhere. Politicians have had to resort to ruthless manipulation of public opinion in order to persuade the general public that any kind of environmental threat exists.

A decade of easy credit, financial security, and continuous economic growth has made room in our lives for insubstantial threats to be blown up out of all proportion. In other circumstances these would have received far less attention, but in the coming months, a dose of stark and unpalatable economic reality will lead to a radical re-assessment. It is unlikely that the spin and outright propaganda that has become the common currency of climate change alarmism will withstand this process.


In the second part of this post I want to look at how the recession is likely to affect the attitude of corporations and government agencies that are making massive infrastructure investments on the basis of what climate scientists have told them about future climate. They are likely to be asking some awkward questions too.

3 Responses to “Can global warming survive a global recession? Part 1”

  1. For years now, I have bored my wife and friends rigid with my view that global warming alarmism (and some other matters) is a rich man’s and wealthy nation’s indulgence. I have argued that the BBC and other main stream media together with politicians and the eco-warriors have distorted the inherent uncertainties of science to bamboozle people into paying taxes that are unjustified and into believing that they are responsible for the natural phenomenon of climate change. Your timely piece does much to bring such thoughts to a wider audience. However, having read countless blogs and articles over the last months on AGW and on the people and groups behind the alarmism, I am pessimistic that the current financial upheavals will damage or dampen the alarmist propaganda. I sincerely hope that it does, but my suspicion is that the alarmists will turn these events into an “I-told-you-so” argument. If we had not been so profligate with our use of energy, and if we had followed the teachings of the green brigade, then we would not be in this mess. They will argue that now is the time to mend our ways and introduce even more stringent policies that will save the world as well as restoring financial calm. Those policies, of course, will involve a greater loss of freedom and will cost individuals a great deal more of their personal wealth, but that will be a small price to pay for saving the world.


  2. David

    You may be right about the line that warmist activists will take, but will their arguments stand scrutiny if people start asking questions about the science that is supposed to underpin global warming alarmism? Or about the way in which this has been represented to the general public?

    Until now there has been no ubiquitous reason to be sceptical, but when mitigation begins to hit people’s pockets in a recession, there certainly will be. And shaky orthodoxy’s backed up by propaganda are very vulnerable to questions.

    An opinion poll which I discussed here shows a state of confusion about climate change in people’s minds, with a majority being sceptical about global warming, but an even larger percenage believing that the government should ‘do something about it’. It is the process of resolving this irrationality that I think will bring pressure to bear on the policymakers, scientists and activists to explain themselves.

  3. “People do not worry about carbon emissions when their jobs, their life savings, their homes and their pensions are at risk.” Very true, Tony and I’d argue that not many people were kept awake worrying about carbon emissions even before the financial crisis. I’m hoping, along with yourself and David, that the current financial downturn will put the kibosh on absurd carbon rationing schemes such as David Miliband’s carbon credit card idea (which thankfully appears to have disappeared off the radar some time in 2007 and seems unlikely to be resurrected now.) The public support green measures such as reusing and recycling, I believe largely because they require little effort or sacrifice and they fit in with the general desire to be tidy and reduce waste. However, expensive (and utterly futile) carbon mitigation measures that involve penury and sacrifice for little or no tangible result, will hopefully fizzle quietly out and vanish, once politicians realise there is scant public appetite for them, these days. Fingers crossed, anyway.

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