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In his devastating 2008 book, An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming, former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson noted the perhaps unprecedented hypocrisy surrounding the climate issue.

“Fortunately,” he concluded, “the gap between rhetoric and reality when it comes to global warming, between the apocalyptic nature of the alleged threat and the relative modesty of the measures so far implemented (not to mention the sublime disregard of international obligations solemnly undertaken), is far greater than I can recall with any other issue in a lifetime of either observing or practising politics.”

Even more fortunately, as rhetoric falters and reality intrudes, the whole issue is now collapsing. Apocalypse is an increasingly tough sell as the “science” is exposed (see accompanying article by David Evans). Climate policy is revealed as not merely ineffective but a Trojan Horse for other costly and destructive agendas. Most fortunately — and ironically — of all, the world faces a fossil fuel bonanza that will improve lives without causing environmental Armageddon.

This week, U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern acknowledged at the latest cast-of-thousands climate talks in Bangkok that a binding global agreement on emissions is “not doable.” The talks have meanwhile been reduced to their shakedown basics: US$100-billion of “climate aid” to countries that are poor because they have lousy governments. This money would be laundered via the terminally corrupt United Nations, the same organization that orchestrated the cooking of the science.

On Tuesday, the International Energy Agency, the IEA, in a report on “progress” in alternative energy, in fact revealed that such energy is all but irrelevant. Almost half of the increase in primary energy use in the past decade has come from coal. Almost all the rest has come from oil and gas. Last November, the IEA’s World Energy Outlook signalled — reluctantly — that political commitments to slash fossil fuel use were so much hot air.

Peak oil theorists and other Malthusian moralists are — as ever — being made to look ridiculous. Private-sector ingenuity has most recently upset the depletionists in orchestrating a shale gas revolution, which promises hundreds of years of additional supply. The IEA’s chief economist, Fatih Birol, admitted earlier this year that shale gas would further undermine wind and solar. Meanwhile, other recent studies have suggested that improving technology may soon unlock the vast resource of shale oil.

Yet there is nothing so dangerous as a wounded animal, and the irrationalist green movement still holds the well-funded power to alarm and misinform. Environmental NGOs still hold the sympathetic attention of much of the mainstream media. One example was given in this space last Monday, which highlighted the bias and inaccuracies of an editorial in the powerful New York Times about the proposed US$7-billion Keystone XL pipeline to take oil sands oil to the Gulf Coast.

President Barack Obama is a reflexive interventionist, but he can sense that the political winds are a-changin’, and not just in terms of increasing Republican clout. (On Thursday, the U.S. House voted to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing stealth climate policy via regulation, although there remains the prospect of a tougher fight in the Senate, and a possible presidential veto.)

The President thus seeks both to suck and blow. Last week he cited Canada as a steady and reliable source of oil for the United States. This week he has to hem and haw about Keystone and claim that questions still need to be answered about the “destructiveness” of the oil sands (which he called “tar sands,” thus suggesting that radical environmentalists are still writing his script).

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr. Obama sought to draw in another green target: all that shale gas. “So we’ve got to do some science there to make sure that the natural gas that we have in this country, we’re extracting it in a safe way,” he said. “The same thing is true when it comes to oil that’s being piped in from Canada.”

The President seems woefully ignorant of the vast amount of real science — and regulation — that already exists on these issues. He remains most woefully ignorant about the state of climate science. Still, Mr. Obama’s waffling is understandable. More bizarre is the plan announced this week by the government of Alberta to expropriate hefty tracts of oil sands acreage from the industry in order to create “parks and recreation areas.”

Is Alberta short of parks and recreation areas? Are people so sick of the Rockies that they want to visit scrubby forests steeped in bitumen? Or could this be yet another example of appeasing green “activism,” just like last year’s “Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement,” under which a ragbag of NGOs succeeded in appearing to set forest development policy, which is surely the government’s business.

As with its royalty-hike fiasco four years ago, the grab-back-some-oil-sands policy could deliver Edmonton a tailings pond of woe, lumbering the province with a multi-billion dollar bill, all in the name of holding up wealth and job creation.

As Lord Lawson suggests, all this represents a level of hypocrisy and economic insanity that boggles the mind and beggars historical parallel. However, as another incisive writer, Charles Mackay, noted in his 1841 classic, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, people — once they have burned enough witches or sufficiently damaged their economies with crazy schemes — always come to their senses, forcing their politicians to follow.

Financial Post, 8 April 2011