Do you remember the heady days of the general election campaign, back in April when all three party leaders vied with each other to assure a troubled nation that, if they were elected, our devastated economy would be restored to robust health by the creation of ‘green jobs’? Figures of hundreds-of thousands, and even millions, were bandied about. Terms like  ‘energy efficiency’, ‘energy security’, ‘de-carbonisation’, ‘low carbon economy’   and ‘green industrial revolution’ were duly trotted out. But those of us who were watching carefully noticed that these initiatives were only mentioned in passing, and the politicians seemed relieved when they could move on to other parts of the policy agenda.

It’s true that Nick Clegg’s commitment to this bright new world shone through rather more convincingly than the others, but then he could not have seriously expected to become deputy prime minister in a coalition with the Tories a few weeks later.

On Wednesday, George Osborne delivered his much heralded statement on spending cuts to a packed House of Commons and a nervous nation. It quite soon became clear that a ‘statement’ was not quite what all this was about. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was in fact delivering a budget, and one on a scale that dwarfs the usual annual event of that name. The sums of money he was juggling were huge, and the consequences of his strategy failing far more perilous.

So how have the heady aspirations that revolve around all that is most green and sustainable fed through into the cold reality of economic planning for the next five years? Here are the relevant passages from the Chancellor’s speech; they won’t take long to read. Continue reading »

Following on from last week’s post A very convenient network , here are some excerpts from another document that turned up when I was sifting through old files. Some of these are relevant to the influences represented in the diagram I used in that article.

In 1992, Richard Lindzen wrote a paper for Regulation, a journal published by the Cato Institute. Its title was ‘Global Warming: the Origin and Nature of the Alleged Scientific Consensus’. Nearly two decades have passed since then, quite a long time in the development of any field of research, but in terms of the short history of climate science, almost an aeon. When Lindzen was writing, most people, including politicians and policy makers, would barely have heard of global warming.

Perhaps one of the most ruthless tests of opinion on a controversial subject is that of time. All too often views that seemed pertinent when they were expressed become tarnished as they are overtaken by events. So before looking at some of the things that Lindzen had to say so long ago it’s worth considering the context in which he was speaking back in 1992.

Only four years previously, James Hansen had made his infamous claim to a senate committee (chaired by an ambitious young senator called Al Gore) that he was 99% certain that temperatures were rising and that human input was at least partly responsible. It can reasonably be argued that it was this particular event that put AGW on the scientific and political agendas. The IPCC was also set up by UNEP and the WMO in 1988.

Only a decade previously, concerns about human influence on the climate were focused on soot generated by industrial processes causing a new ice age. It seemed that, at the time that Lindzen wrote his article, climatologists had already made up their mind that humans were changing the climate even if they weren’t too sure in which direction that change might take.

The IPCC had produced its first assessment report only two years before, in 1990. So at the time that Lindzen’s article was published, the relatively new discipline of climate science had reached two contradictory conclusions in no more than twenty years. Even so climate science was beginning to find its feet and attract political attention. Continue reading »

A very convenient network?

Posted by TonyN on 13/08/2010 at 8:40 pm Politics 50 Responses »
Aug 132010


(Click for larger image)


This diagram is concerned with the following issues: is it in the interests of any of the parties concerned to question the science of anthropogenic climate change, or to dissent from the view that global warming is without doubt a major threat that can only be averted by urgent action.

I came across this the other day when I was clearing some files. It was drafted in January 2007, shortly before the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report was published.References to a New Labour government, that at that time seemed likely to cling to power indefinitely, may be a little passé now, but I have not updated what I wrote then  because the main thesis has not changed. At that time I was beginning to wonder whether the campaign against global warming really had much to do with scientific evidence, and I think that it is still possible to make a case that it does not.

If I was revising the diagram today, and there are many minor changes that could be made, it might also be necessary to make a distinction between the mainstream media and the web-based media; particularly blogs.

Until the interrelationships between the six elements illustrated in the diagram begin to break down, it would seem unlikely that there can be any real curtailment of climate change alarmism. Although the diagram does not reveal any kind of conspiracy – but rather a symbiotic network that very effectively drives forward an agenda that benefits all concerned – it does imply a level of uncritical, perhaps even cynical, collusion.

Key to the Diagram:

A.      Government benefits from the Media.

Favourable media coverage is crucial if any democratic government is to stay in power. By appearing to lead the fight against global warming, our the New Labour administration can present a green, caring image to the electorate, promoting the idea that it is a major player on the world stage attempting to protect not just its own people, but all humans everywhere. At a time when most news coverage of the Blair administration is concerned with the debacle in Iraq, failure to deliver improvements in public services, and scandals involving ministers, global warming presents a quite irresistible opportunity to improve the government’s very tarnished image. The scope for spinning tax increases as a noble effort to combat the threat of climate change is also obvious. Whatever Tony Blair’s merits as a prime minister may be, he is undoubtedly an exceptionally skilful publicity manager who understands that the press like to be thrown some red meat from time to time. For journalists, authoritative prophecies of doom, backed by the government no less, are something that they can really make a meal of and still appear to be acting responsibly. Continue reading »

Jun 082010

(This post was programmed to appear automatically while I was away, but for reasons that I have failed to discover, did not do so. In light of what I have come across in the reading that I have done since my return, there seems to have been few developments since I wrote it, including some press comments that are unlikely to keep Mr Huhne smiling.)

In the aftermath of the general election, Chris Huhne has succeeded Ed Miliband at the helm of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. There can be no doubt that he will be navigating in some extremely stormy waters.

Of all the cabinet posts other than those relating to the public finances, this is probably the one that will come with the highest risks attached. I am not going to rehearse the evidence that, unless the UK gets a viable energy policy together immediately, there is a very real likelihood that we will be suffering a third-world type energy crisis within as little as five years, the intended lifetime of the current parliament. Huhne’s post at the DECC needs to be filled by someone who can think straight, think big and think fast. It is by no means certain that the present incumbent possesses all these qualities.

There is no reason to think that Huhne is a fool. He was educated at Westminster School, like his party leader Nick Clegg, before going on to  the Sorbonne and then Oxford where he took a first in PPE. As a student he was active in Labour politics.

He went of to become an economist in the CIty of London, rising to be the managing director of Fitch ratings, an international credit ratings agency, so it would seem that someone thought that he had management abilities; no bad thing for a minister. He has also had a successful career as a journalist, rising to be financial editor of the Independent and the Independent on Sunday.

After unsuccessful attempts to enter parliament in 1983 and 1986 he turned his attention to Europe and became a Liberal Democrat MEP for South East England from 1995 to 2005, when he was elected to Westminster as member of parliament  for Eastleigh. Since then, his rise has been meteoric.

Continue reading »

On 6th April, the World Bank took a step that underlines how the developing world’s determination to achieve rapid economic growth makes a mockery of the West’s loudly proclaimed intention to “save the planet” by reducing CO2 emissions. In doing so, it was helped by the British government. 

What happened was that the Bank approved a $3.75 billion loan to build one of the world’s largest coal fired power plants in South Africa – it will, for example, be far larger than Drax, the biggest coal-fired power station in the UK. The new plant, a 4,800 megawatt plant estimated to emit 25 million tonnes of CO2 per annum means that South Africa is now most unlikely to meet its promise to curb future greenhouse gas emissions. That is significant enough – but the main importance of this rests with the circumstances of its happening and especially with what it tells us about global political realities.

Inadequate electricity supply is a serious and worsening obstacle to South Africa’s economic development and political stability. The South African government says the plant is essential if millions of very poor people in southern Africa (the plant will provide energy beyond South Africa itself) are to get the energy security and basic services the developed world takes for granted – water supplies, health care, education, food preservation etc. all depend on the reliable supply of electricity. Obiageli Ezekwesili, the World Bank’s vice president for Africa said, “Without an increased energy supply, South Africans will face hardship for the poor and limited economic growth. Access to energy is essential for fighting poverty and catalyzing growth, both in South Africa and the wider sub-region.”

The project will use similar technology to a huge (described as “Ultra Mega”) coal-fired plant in India (one of six planned) already supported by the World Bank and the UK; absurdly, this project is also eligible for huge payments from the West under Kyoto’s carbon trading scheme. When that loan was announced, Tom Picken of Friends of the Earth said, “This plant exposes how the World Bank’s attempt to get involved in combating climate change is nothing but a farce”.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that environmental activists saw the South African proposal as a precedent too far. Christian Aid adviser, Eliot Whittington, said “This is a massive amount of international public finance going to the dirtiest form of energy in a highly unequal society without strong indications that it will have any positive impact on energy access for the poorest”. Therefore, with the USA already committed to abstention and the UK (because of its voting strength in the World Bank) with the casting vote, activist groups – notably Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Christian Aid – mounted a major campaign for the UK to block the proposal with a clear “No”.

But, in the event, Britain also abstained. This allowed the proposal to proceed with the consensus support of countries whose growth is massively dependent on coal, especially India, China and Brazil – together with South Africa itself. Environmentalists feel badly let down by the UK. After all, the Department of Energy and Climate Change is clear: noting that climate change is “a massive threat to the global environment [demanding] … an urgent and radical response across the developed and developing world”, its website states that the first of its “Strategic Objectives” is to “Secure global commitments which prevent dangerous climate change”. How can this possibly be reconciled with the UK’s decision on the South African loan?


Ruth Davis, chief policy adviser for Greenpeace said, “Britain could have stopped the loan if it had wanted to but it took the easy way out”.


In fact, Britain now seems likely to have achieved the worst of all outcomes. In sharp contrast to the above, its failure to support the proposal could damage its relations with a developing world which may well see it as further evidence of the patronising and comfortable West’s reluctance to support their economic development – and the wellbeing of millions of the world’s poorest people. It could jeopardise the Mexico climate summit later this year.

But, in my view, Roger Pielke Jr. has identified the real significance of this story:

When GDP growth comes into conflict with emissions reduction goals, it is not going to be growth that is scaled back. Further, when rich countries wanting emissions reductions run into poorer countries wanting energy, it is not going to be rich countries who get their way. When energy access depends upon cheap energy, arguments to increase energy costs or deny energy access are not going to be very compelling. The South African coal plant decision well illustrates many of the political boundary conditions that shape climate policy. Policy design will have to accommodate these conditions, rather than ignore them or think that they will somehow go away”.

In other words, we in the West may be prepared to wreck our economies with “green” policies, but the developing world – rapidly increasing its CO2 emissions – is not going to follow suit.

BBC Election Guidelines

Posted by TonyN on 29/01/2010 at 10:18 pm Politics, The Climate 10 Responses »
Jan 292010

The BBC is conducting a consultation on their guidelines for covering the general election.  There is a web page that tells you all about it here:

This provides the opportunity to complete an on-line questionaire or to make a written submission to the BBC Trust

It seems very likely that climate change will  play a relatively small part in the general election campaign when it starts. This is partly because all the main parties are singing from the same hymn book on this subject, but also because there are very real pitfalls for them all if the electorate make the connection between action to reduce Co2 emissions and increased fuel costs, travel costs, and taxation. So it is possible that the electorate will not have an opportunity to assess the various parties’ policies on these matters.

Opinion polls constantly show that when people are asked about global warming they are, at best, lukewarm in their concerns, ranking it way down the list of policy priorities. On the other hand, if they are asked about their willingness to dig into their pockets to fund mitigation policies, the response tends to be far more definite and extremely negative. The prospect of a greater burden on commercial and household budgets is not welcomed at all.

All the main political parties are committed to environmental policies that will cost a very great deal of money, but none of the main parities are likely to include that fact in their per-election boasts. So those who are worried about the financial consequences of such measures will get little opportunity to find out precisely what each of them is likely to do if it gets into government. And bear in mind that there may be a hung parliament, so for once it really does matter what the Liberals think.

Surely it is very important that commonly held views which are not represented by the political parties are heard during the election campaign. An election is, or at least should be, about the preferences of the electorate when they choose who is to represent them in Parliament. Reporting and commentary during the campaign should not be restricted to the agendas that politicians set.

The BBC guidelines are intended to ensure that there is no bias for or against any political party, but it is their broader duty to make sure that the whole spectrum of opinions held by the electorate is represented in broadcast output. What the politicians are not prepared to put in their manifesto’s, speak about at the hustings or advertise in their publicity campaigns  is as important to the electorate as the promises that are being dangled before them in an overt attempt to secure votes. True impartiality on the part of our national broadcaster can only be achieved if they cover these aspect of the election too. Their responsibility is to the general public, who are the electorate, and not to the politicians.

If you feel like helping the BBC with their consultation, then no doubt they will be very grateful, but don’t delay. There is a closing date of 2nd February 2010. Here’s the link again:

Jan 272010


William Hogarth  Election Celebration

This post is in response to a number of comments made by regular contributors to Harmless Sky on the Tory Environmentalism – is everybody listening? thread. Here, Here, Here, Here.

Geoff Chambers says, ‘There’s a fascinating debate to be had on the effect of the current global warming catastrophe on British politics and media coverage …’ And of course he’s right.

We’re approaching the first general election that is likely to bring about a change of government in over a decade, and the previously remorseless march of AGW alarmism is beginning to falter, so how could it be otherwise? It would be difficult to get a cigarette  paper between the three main party’s policies on this subject, but opinion polls constantly show that the politician’s apparent certainty is not shared by the electorate. Something has to give.

Geoff then goes on to consider the role of politics on this blog, assuming that this area of discussion is entirely off limits. That is not the case.

What the blog rules actually say is:

It certainly isn’t possible to discuss climate, the countryside and landscapes without straying into this minefield, although I wish that this was not so. Please try to be reasonably moderate in your utterances and avoid party politics altogether. There are plenty of other blogs that deal with such matters.

This is an un-moderated blog, but when I do occasionally step in editorially, it is almost always because discussion of a political aspect of climate change has drifted on to other unrelated political issues, got heated, and ended up a long way from the subject matter that Harmless Sky is intended to cover.

I have particularly requested that contributors should avoid party politics as there are few people who can conduct a party-political debate objectively, and a rough-house that creates much heat and very little light usually ensues. This kind of thing may be fun for those directly involved, but it tends to be tedious if you have to read it, and I do have to read it.

For at least the next six months (assuming that the election takes place in May) I’m prepared, in fact eager, to see comments drawing attention to any differences that may emerge in the various parties’ policies relating to climate change, or any other environmental issues for that matter. However that does not mean that discussion of the Labour Party’s latest green initiative will be allowed to become a knock-down-drag-out fight over the relative economic competence of the main parties, or whether the prime minister is attempting to subvert democracy. And I am all too familiar with the trick of rounding off a five paragraph rant about foreign policy with a spurious reference to alternative energy. Such efforts are likely to be snipped in toto.

You have been warned.

That said, I would not be surprised if the coming election campaign provides the opportunity for the blogosphere to really come of age. Time strapped journalists rely more and more heavily on recycling press releases without proper investigation, or consideration of the motives of those who provide them. This is leaving huge gaps in the spectrum of news and opinion that the MSM covers, and the range of opinions that it considers. There is so much that concerns people that rarely, if ever, receives any attention. Sometimes I think that large parts of the press are now like disk jockey’s who have become used to just reaching out to a carousel for the next disc , but never wonder when the contents of the carousel was last updated. We seem to hear the same old tunes over and over again.

As a result, there is an emerging trend towards the new web-based media influencing the  news agenda. Just ask yourself whether Climategate could have happened without the blogosphere? Or whether the utter futility of the Copenhagen summit would have become apparent so quickly without there being an alternative to the deceptively up-beat spin flooding from governments and organisations that had most to lose as a result of its failure.

Geoff also says:

I’ve often felt the rough and tumble of blog discussions reproduces the long-lost art of political all-in wrestling, of the kind you see in Hogarth’s illustrations of 18th century election campaigns. The point wouldn’t be to score party political points, but to get some heat into the discussion …..

This conjures up an intriguing image, but I doubt whether he really thinks that political persuasion with the aid of a cudgel would reinvigorate political life. On the other hand, it does seem likely that this election will be very different from those since 1997, and there may be copious amounts of metaphorical Hogarthian blood on the carpet before the campaign is over.

There seem to have been two distinct types of election in recent history. Firstly, there are those where the electorate hardly seem to be interested in the outcome because they expect the status quo to be maintained regardless of who wins. Such elections are characterised by unremarkable political leaders and a desire to see no more than a minor touch on the helm of the ship of state.  Then there are elections that take place when the whole nation is galvanised by the possibility of a major change in the fundamental priorities that determine public policy. The elections of 1948, 1963, 1987, and 1997 are examples. It seems possible that, in due course, 2010 will join their ranks, but in this case there may be one very important difference: important issues that concern the public may not being addressed at all. Blogs can help to prevent this happening.

In another post, I mentioned an article by Matthew d’Ancona that castigated the political classes, and all parties, for arrogantly failing to engage with the public and acknowledge their views because they are inconvenient. The examples he chose were the MP’s expenses scandal and global warming. The days when  MP’s could afford to ignore what is discussed on blogs is over,  and the large proportion of new members that will be elected this year are far more likely to be aware of this than those who they will be replacing.

Just a year or two ago, bloggers endlessly discussed what was in the MSM, but had little impact on the news agenda. There was little or no sign that mainstream journalists and editors were interested in what bloggers said or did. As each month goes by the influence of the blogosphere is increasing because more and more of the public are seeking news and opinion on the internet rather than on paper, television or the radio. The MSM now have to compete for the audience not just among themselves, but with a whole new world of output.

In a blog post on the BBC website, Andrew Neil as experienced a journalist as you can expect to find has drawn attention to this point. His extremely hard hitting round-up of all the tribulations that have beset the once cosy and complacent world of mainstream climate science since the release of the CRU emails includes this obsevation:

The bloggers, too easily dismissed in the past, have set the pace with some real scoops — and some of the mainstream media is now rushing to catch up.

The Dam is Cracking

Wise editors understand what their readers want, either instinctively or by spending money on market research. Looking at where the heavy blog traffic is to be found can be much cheaper than commissioning opinion polls and focus groups.  In the case of climate change, the mere number of web sites that deal with this subject from a sceptical point of view, and the traffic they get, must tell them something. They will also be aware that when they publish articles about global warming on their own websites, a large proportion of the comments they receive are sceptical.

Opinion polls show that the UK public rank concern about global warming very low in their list of priorities, but when it comes to policies that will lead to higher fuel bills, increased taxation, despoliation of the countryside, restrictions on travel and massive payments to the developing nations that is a very different matter. The public are very interested in these issues.

It is unlikely, if Matthew d’Ancona is right and politicians are so immersed in their own bubble that they have become divorced from the electorate, that climate change will play any greater role in the UK general election campaign than it has in recent by-elections, council elections and European elections unless somethng happens to dispel their complacency. If there is an outcry in the MSM against expensive proposals that will supposedly avert climate change, that would be something the main political parties would be unable to ignore.

Geoff is probably right, a rumbustious and widely populist outcry on the net could have an effect, not directly, but as a result of the message that it would send to the MSM, and if they fall into line then there is no way that politicians will be able to duck these inconvenient issues.

If Geoff’s dream of a truly Hogarthian election campaign comes true, I would not want to be part of it, but relying on the same period in history, there is a very obvious parallel that can be drawn between the 18th century pamphleteers and bloggers. In both cases radical voices became audible because concerned individuals were able to mobilise cheap means of mass communications to spread their views. And there is another similarity. Their pamphleteers ideas only spread because their publications were passed hand-to-hand, in much the same way that information on the net goes viral and spreads by links from site to site.

Although the notion of a rumbustious, rough and tumble 18th century style election campaign might have its charms, it would be unwise to take this analogy too far. Radical politics in the 18th century culminated in the French Revolution.

Now, where’s that guillotine?

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