Friday, April 06, 2007

At Last- Good News From Brussels

I assure you, we can handle the truth... at least give us a try

At last they’re trusting us to handle at least a sliverette of truth. According to the lastest report from the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change, Britain and most of Northern Europe is likely to be a beneficiary of climate change.


We’ve blogged about this several times before of course, as we basked in the early March sunshine at a pavement café, debating the growing prowess of Nyetimber and other fine English wine producers. Not to mention how much we’d save on our heating bills.

And now it turns out even the international eco commissariat has been forced to agree.

We are winners. So why not just lie back and enjoy it?

What? What’s that you say?

Ah yes, Africa. In Africa and other parts of the underdeveloped world, they’re going to lose. For them, the IPCC reckons a warmer planet means even more droughts, even more floods, and even more storms, with potentially catastrophic consequences for their already pressured populations.

Clearly that's worrying: at the very least, common charity says we'll need to help them out wherever we possibly can (as we already do).

But that’s a bit different to what the BBC and the rest of the eco lobby have been telling us up til now.

Up til now, the line has always been we’re all going to lose, including we pampered Brits. Which is why we have to stop flying, stop driving, stop heating, stop importing airmiles food, stop packaging, stop producing fripperies, and most of all, stop the whole stinking business of capitalist material progress. Otherwise we’re all heading for the Deep Fat Fryer of Doom.

Now we hear it's rather more complex than that: the real issue is that the people who benefit most from greenhouse gas emitting progress, and who may actually gain from global warming, are not the same people who suffer the costs.

Which poses a classic conundrum.

Fortunately my trusty A Level economics textbook provides a classic and very simple solution- the winners should compensate the losers, so that overall everyone can gain. Of course, the real world beyond the textbook is messier than that simple statement, as the nightmarish unintended consequences of EU carbon trading so clearly demonstrate. But the principle is clear: we do know how to deal with this.

What we should certainly not do is to arrest our own material development in the pious hope that it would somehow stabilise/reverse global warming and stop poor countries suffering any further.

Because we know for certain that would make the world as whole poorer in material terms, with less to spare for helping the poor. And while it might stop global warming, if those sunspot theories turn out to be right, it might not. We understand so little about the forces at work here, we have absolutely no assurance that reining back would make any significant difference.

Which brings us to the issue of propaganda vs open honest debate.

I genuinely don't know what to think about climate change. We can all see that global temperatures are rising, as this IPPC chart shows:

But that's the easy bit. I have not been convinced that anyone really knows why.

I've worked in economics long enough to know that even the most sophisticated convoluted impenetrable statistical models all too often turn out to be totally wrong. And statistical modelling is actually all we've got here- there is no directly observable connection, and even the stats themselves have largely had to be interpreted and interpolated from ice cores and pixey rings.

Despite this, Europe's ruling elite and Al Gore seem to think they do somehow know the answer. For them, the main problem is not discovering the truth- they already know that- but convincing their electorates.

So instead of debate, we've had propaganda. And to see it, you need look no further than the material on the IPCC website.

Take this chart, where the authors have adopted the ludicrously blatant device of truncating the vertical axis in order exaggerate the relative magnitude of the change in greenhouse gases. Even Doc Goebbels would have blushed to use such a hoary old chestnut:

Unless you've already bought in on religious grounds, nobody's going to be convinced by this kind of stuff. We need a much more honest discussion so we can make up our own minds.

The admission that we Brits will benefit may not be much. But it's a start.

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