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12 February 2016 01:07 (South Africa)
Opinionista Ivo Vegter

Pray Copenhagen fails

  • Ivo Vegter
    Ivo Vegter

    Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He writes on this and many other matters, from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. He is seldom wrong.

The Copenhagen climate change talks, blighted by scandal, carry on regardless. But they obscure a far more important Copenhagen consensus.

In Copenhagen last Thursday, documentary film-maker Phelim McAleer got up to take his turn at a press conference held by a scientist for the launch of his new book, Science as a Contact Sport. The author, Stanford University professor Stephen Schneider, a proponent of anthropogenic global warming and a leading contributor to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, proceeded with a practical demonstration of the subject of his book.

First, he blustered that he wouldn't comment on leaked and "redacted" e-mails from the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Centre. This is surprising, since not only is it a scandal that casts doubt on the integrity of climate science, Schneider's professed field of expertise, but Schneider himself features in many of them.

Schneider's minders promptly signalled for him to stop talking, and an angry-looking UN official tried to wrest the microphone away from McAleer. Armed security guards were summoned, who silenced McAleer and threatened to confiscate the equipment of his cameraman, Ian Foster, if he did not stop filming. YouTube remembers it all:

Imagine the outrage in the mainstream media if such thuggery had happened during a George W Bush press conference.

The incident was one of several that tainted the "COP15" UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Another was when green protesters interrupted the controversial British lord, Christopher Monckton, who promptly compared them to the Hitler Youth for their complicity in the global warming alarmism that he believes threatens millions of people with starvation.

Both Schneider's silencing of McAleer and the protesters' attempt to silence Monckton lend support to what the leaked CRU e-mails revealed, namely that inquiring critics are routinely silenced by the high priests of climate science, just as scientists risk being ousted from their positions at universities or peer-review journals for daring to publish papers that question climate change orthodoxy.

Schneider, in case you're unfamiliar with his work, was asked to speculate about potential geo-engineering efforts to melt polar ice caps in order to ward off global cooling, for a 1978 History Channel programme entitled In Search Of... The Coming Ice Age. YouTube remembers it all:

Dixy Lee Ray, author of the 1990 book Trashing the Planet, famously quoted him as saying: "[We] need to get some broad based support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."

He wasn't quoted out of context. To the Washington Times he said, in 1992: "I don't set very much store by looking at the direct evidence."

Schneider has clearly made his decision in favour of "being effective". He calls the CRU emails "redacted", evidently expecting that others use his own methods to silence critics: his lawyers wrote to McAleer demanding that an interview with Schneider be removed from the film-maker's documentary, Not Evil Just Wrong.

Meanwhile, the political bigwigs blithely forge ahead with their efforts to find new and innovative ways to tax their citizens and cap the development of poor countries. They do so in the face of complaints from developing nations that they have as much right to industrial development as the rich world has already enjoyed. They do so in complete disregard of the controversy surrounding the actual science on which all this tax-and-regulate policy is meant to be based.

In An Inconvenient Truth, former US vice president Al Gore claims that: "The scientists are virtually screaming from the rooftops now. The debate is over! There's no longer any debate in the scientific community about this [climate change]. But the political systems around the world have held this at arm's length because it's an inconvenient truth, because they don't want to accept that it's a moral imperative."

At Copenhagen last week, Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, made exactly the opposite point: "It is said that the science around climate change is not as certain as its proponents allege. It doesn't need to be. What is beyond debate, however, is that there is a huge amount of scientific support for the view that the climate is changing and as a result of human activity. Therefore, even purely as a matter of precaution, given the seriousness of the consequences if such a view is correct, and the time it will take for action to take effect, we should act. Not to do so would be grossly irresponsible."

Nevermind the staggeringly idiotic statement that the science doesn't need to be certain, but it is beyond debate. The rest of the argument is modelled on Pascal's Wager, which says it is prudent to believe in God, because if he doesn't exist, the consequences of belief are negligible, but if he does, the consequences of not believing are infinitely severe.

Even if Pascal's Wager were a valid argument instead of an empty rhetorical device, the problem is that the consequences of precautionary action are not negligible at all.

Copenhagen may well have been chosen as a venue for these UN climate talks in order to obscure the association of the city's name with another famous project based in Copenhagen. The author of books such as The Skeptical Environmentalist and Global Crises, Global Solutions: Costs and Benefits, Danish statistician Bjørn Lomborg, in 2004 founded the Copenhagen Consensus Centre.

He gathered together respected scientists and economists from all over the world to establish a list of the world's most serious problems. Climate change was among them; Lomborg is no denier.

They then were asked to evaluate proposed solutions to these problems, with a view of determining a cost-benefit analysis. If, they were asked, you had a limited budget, what would you prioritise?

Among the best proposals were to combat diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, which unlike climate change needlessly kill millions around the globe today. Providing micronutrients to prevent malnutrition, and removing the trade barriers that condemn millions to ongoing poverty and unemployment, were also ranked as very good investments.

Lower down the rankings were several more solutions to the problems of hunger and malnutrition, including development and implementation of new agricultural technologies, along with several ways of providing clean water and sanitation to those who lack it, and reducing state bureaucracy and corruption.

The bottom of the ranking was filled out by projects that would cost the most, but return the lowest, most long-term, or most speculative benefits: carbon taxes and cap-and-trade proposals to combat climate change.

That the benefits are uncertain, unquantifiable and speculative is confirmed by a revealing e-mail from Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, to Tom Wigley, a climate scientist at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research: "We are not close to balancing the energy budget. The fact that we can not account for what is happening in the climate system makes any consideration of geoengineering quite hopeless as we will never be able to tell if it is successful or not! It is a travesty!"

We don't even understand enough about climate to determine whether our interventions work. That anyone can claim "the debate is over" beggars belief.

Those, like me, who sincerely hope that the UN's COP15 conference in Copenhagen fails to result in any concrete, binding agreements, do so not because they don't care about the state of the world, but because they do.
They hope for failure in Copenhagen not only because they disbelieve the politicians, and agree with Schneider that scientists talk their own pocketbooks when they hype up catastrophic man-made global warming. They do so because failure in Copenhagen will be a success for the millions who suffer and die daily as a result of very real problems, right now. They do so because instead of spending fortunes to keep dishonest scientists in comfort on the taxpayer's dime, promoting Al Gore's green technology investments, or increasing the power of the very same corrupt politicians caught with their fingers in the earmarks pork barrel and expenses kitty, they'd prefer to see the world's scarce economic resources devoted to problems we know exist and know how to solve.

I'm not big on appeals to emotion, but if you are, the next time you see a heart-rending picture of a fly-covered child dying of starvation or preventable disease, ask yourself how little of the money devoted to "quite hopeless" attempts to change the climate might have saved that child's life.

  • Ivo Vegter
    Ivo Vegter

    Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He writes on this and many other matters, from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. He is seldom wrong.

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