Skip to content

Tim Worstall: Saving The Earth Need Not Cost Us The Earth

Can I come in from the cold now? Let me explain. I was one of the first sceptics about man-made global warming and endured pariah status as a result but suddenly my views are fashionable. The University of East Anglia’s climate science unit is at bay and claims that the Himalayan glaciers are disappearing have, well, melted away really.

Even the BBC is suffering a bout of obvious doubt. One week it is proclaiming that spring has come early again (look outside guys!) the next it admits that it has come late.

Climate change scepticism is in vogue at last, perhaps the first time that I’ve ever held a fashionable idea. Possibly I’m even a trendsetter for I’ve been a sceptical voice for a decade now. Not about the science, for I understand little of it, but about what we should do if the science is indeed correct.

I started out as almost all of us do – as a teenage Green. My departure from that charming naivety came in part from reading the ground-breaking book Skeptical Environmentalist by Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg. Even before it came out in 2001 there was an outcry from the environmental movement, for what he pointed out was that  most of the scare stories we’d been hearing  simply were not true.

Acid rain wasn’t destroying the forests, indeed in the rich world forests were expanding. We weren’t and aren’t trashing the planet: pollution of all sorts has reduced over the past century. The one problem he did acknowledge was rising temperatures.

But we didn’t need to worry too much about that because advancing technology would make renewable energy cheaper than fossil fuels, and the problem would be solved. My, how he was shouted at for that. Of course now we have all the Greens, the politicians and the activists telling us that renewables will be cheaper than fossil fuels and that this will solve the problem.

Yes, the people shouting it down in 2001 are the same people proclaiming exactly the same thing as the solution in 2010. They still hate Lomborg. This experience of having the holes pointed out led me to read various official reports as they came out.

Someone has to after all and it’s obvious that none of the Greens or the politicians do. I ploughed through TAR (the third International Panel on Climate Change report) and AR4 (the fourth) and even went back and studied the economic models and forecasts  that they’re both based upon. The science in them? I’m not the one to comment on that, try Andrew Montford’s  new book on climate change, The Hockey Stick Illusion.

The economics is my area: we’re constantly told by assorted worthies – Caroline Lucas of the Green Party, George Monbiot, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth – that the solution to climate change is to abandon globalisation. We should stop trading with faraway places, grow our own food, live on those nourishing turnips which  are the only thing that grow in  England in winter.

Which is really rather odd because those IPCC reports all say exactly the opposite. All the economics say globalisation is part of the solution not the problem. It would lead to a rich world with fewer emissions. When the Stern Review came out in 2006 we were once again told that drastic changes needed to be made.

Stern said that we should tax the bad things such as CO2 emissions: this is true, if they’re causing harm we should.

But the cries were that this meant we should raise taxes immediately. I was to be the first to point out that Stern didn’t say “higher taxes”, he merely showed how to calculate the “correct taxes”.

So what should the tax on petrol, for example, be? Stern’s approach actually leads to a figure of 11p a litre. No, this doesn’t mean 11p per litre more, it means 11p in total to pay for carbon emissions. We’ve had the fuel price escalator since 1993. That’s added 23p to a litre of petrol since then to pay for carbon emissions. Far from climate change science telling us taxes should be higher, it’s saying they should be lower.

What about aviation? Using the Stern numbers again we find that the air passenger duty is already too high. In fact, if we add up the green taxes we already pay and look at the damage the emissions do, according to Stern we’re already paying enough in tax. We’re done, finished, we’ve solved the problem.

I realise that wandering as a lonely geek through the fields of reports isn’t for everyone but it amuses me. What makes me much sadder is the realisation that everything the  politicians and the activists tell us is pretty much the opposite of what the science and the reports tell us we should do.

With a period of severe retrenchment facing the British  people it would be madness to accept higher living costs on spurious grounds of environmental  protection. Don’t let the political class tell you otherwise.