How should a sensible conservative view climate change? I have several concerns: the air of hysteria used to promote it as a cause; the science behind it; the remedies that are proposed to stem it; and the cost of those remedies.
First, I am somewhat sceptical about the ideology of climate change, the phenomenon formerly known as global warming. I am wary of many who advance that cause. There is something pre-industrial in the desires and objectives of environmentalists who use apocalyptic warnings to spur us to adopt the changes they desire. In March 2009, Prince Charles warned that the world had only 100 months “before we risk catastrophic climate change”. That was 116 months ago.
I can find only one word to describe the recent claim by the United Nations’ intergovernmental panel for climate change (IPCC) that to avert complete climate catastrophe, with wars, famine and disease spreading across the globe, what is now required is nothing less than “unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. That word is totalitarian. It’s not that these people are undemocratic or authoritarian. It’s that they we insist we reorder our lives to fulfil their plan.
I accept that a large majority of scientists in the relevant areas conclude that carbon emissions trigger global warming. I am generally inclined to believe the technical experts in any area. And there is a sensible conservative argument to be made that, even if we are unsure of the science, we should follow the precautionary principle and take care not to disturb what may turn out to be a very delicate global ecosystem.
But I do find concerning the fact that there appear to be several heavyweight climate change sceptics despite the insistence that the climate change debate is settled. Ivar Giaever, a Nobel prize winner in physics, fears climate change orthodoxy has become a “new religion” for scientists, and the data is not as compelling as official conformity suggests. Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish scientist who has written several books such as The Skeptical Environmentalist, is not an outright denier. Yet he fears the approach to global warming is misguided and that the costs of drastic action are too high. Instead of concentrating so much on preventing climate change, he thinks we should focus on adapting to such change.
Many eminent scientists have raised doubts about the climate change consensus. And, even though he was a writer of pot-boilers, Michael Crichton raised a fundamental question about scientific consensus in a 2005 speech: “Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science, consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.”
Then there is the cost of what is proposed to combat climate change. The IPCC demands we reduce our CO2 emissions from fossil fuels to “net zero” over the next three decades. According to the International Energy Agency, the world relies on fossil fuels for more than 80% of all the energy it uses. The IPCC’s demand would thus require us to stop using virtually all the coal, oil and gas on which our civilisation depends. It recommends spending $2.4 trillion (€2.12 trillion) annually, the equivalent of 3% of global annual economic output, until 2035 to enable us to draw up to 85% of our energy from renewable sources.
In Ireland, that would amount to €5.4bn per annum, equivalent to more than €1,000 annually for every man, woman and child in the state. I find worrying the lack of attention in public debate to these proposed costs. It is also alarming that the much-heralded 2015 Paris climate change agreement featured a lot of commitments from developed world countries about reducing their use of carbon, while failing to agree on mandatory global reductions.
China, for one, is exploiting this gap. The BBC recently reported new satellite pictures which show that China is building so many new coal-fired stations that it will add 259 gigawatts, or 25%, to its coal-fired output. That increase exceeds the combined capacity of all existing US coal-fired power plants. But does President Xi get nearly as bad a rap as President Trump from the climate change crowd? No, and this makes me somewhat suspicious of that crowd.