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COP17: The Blue Line of Death

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.

The opening event of next week's ecomentalist jamboree in exotic Durban involves a walk by grandees along a painted blue line, which represents “Durban's dire climate catastrophe”. Except for one little detail. It doesn't, really. And the mayor doesn't really believe it does, either.

Usually, phrases like “dire climate catastrophe” are used by sarcastic sceptics to lampoon the hysteria of the environmental movement. But not this time. The Natal Mercury screams the warning in a headline: “Durban’s dire climate catastrophe”.

Inspired by urgent and righteous panic, dignitaries, activists, artists and various other members of the global warming jet set will open the festivities of the COP17 UN Climate Beach Party by walking three kilometres up Durban’s iconic Golden Mile, following a blue line which represents the high water mark should sea levels rise by one metre.

The Blue Line of Durban is to be “artistically rendered” along Oliver Tambo Parade by “one of South Africa’s internationally renowned public artists, Strijdom van der Merwe”. It ends, appropriately enough, at the local tourism office.

The walk is described as a “social mobilisation project”, and organisers expect that Kwazulu-Natal premier Zweli Mkhize will be joined on the walk by deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa, and the city’s mayor, James Nxumalo.

Mkhize told the Mercury the project hoped to raise awareness about some of the “devastating impacts” of climate change.

Which won’t happen. Sea level is highly unlikely to rise by a metre for at least several centuries, by which time the city really should be able to do something about Durban’s crumbling beach-front infrastructure.

Sea level predictions, even more than most long-range climate alarmism, vary wildly.

Current sea level rise is nothing out of the ordinary, nor is it accelerating noticeably, according to scientists like Simon Holgate, Guy Wöppelmann, Jim Houston and Bob Dean, all of whom have published studies on the subject.

A handful of others, with names that will be more familiar from sensationalist splashes in the media, claim to foresee evidence of apocalypse. The Mercury story cites one example: a paper by Stefan Rahmstorf, co-authored by the now-notorious Michael Mann, claiming that we should expect a rise of up to 1.6 metres by 2100. James Hansen, the chief alarmist at the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Science, reckons as much as five metres is possible.

As awesome as a heated outdoor sea would be – maybe we can install bubble jets! – it is unlikely to come to this. Hansen’s prediction is the most extreme hyperbole to which any supposed scientist has stooped.

That didn’t prevent Justice Mervyn King, author of the King Reports on Corporate Governance, from warning a corporate audience that prudent risk management should take into account an eight metre rise in global mean sea levels. Yep, eight. Put that in your risk management model and smoke it.

The official UN IPCC models vary widely too, but even its worst-case scenario predicts only a 58cm rise. The low end is 18cm.

With estimates ranging from 0.18m to 5m, what they really mean to tell you is they simply don’t know. Ask a statistician what they think of an uncertainty range with an upper bound thirty times greater than the lower bound. It utterly overwhelms the data, making it completely meaningless as a predictor of anything at all. You could throw darts at a dartboard, drunk, and be more confident in your results.

Truth is, scientists haven’t got the faintest clue what will happen to sea levels. If, as many scientists and a few sensible environmentalists expect, the last century’s trend continues or rises only slightly, we ought to see at most a foot’s rise in sea levels by the end of the century. It might be a few centimetres more; who knows?

And who cares? Last time I spoke to an old fogey about his reminiscences of the 20th century, he didn’t say, “We gave ol’ Hitler a thrashing, we put a man on the moon, and oh yeah, sea levels rose by a foot, causing a global catastrophe!”

If we find high tides are lapping 20cm higher at sea walls by, say, 2060, will we panic? Or will city worthies find it within their competence and authority to issue a tender for a duly empowered, small-to-medium-sized civil engineering contractor to sort the problem out?
Durban has a storied history in engineering circles for its experience with combating beach erosion. It pumps 275,000 cubic metres of sand onto its beaches every year. Another foot won’t kill it.

It will cost small change compared to the massive costs environmentalists are demanding we spend to stop climate change. And while none of the proposed eco-solutions hold out much hope of actually doing so anyway, crossing that bridge when we get to it using clever engineering from the future might actually work.

Of course, the mayor isn’t stupid. It’s not like Nxumalo actually believes the lurid warnings that Durban is on the brink of a “dire climate catastrophe”.

His city council recently approved plans for a hotel and small craft harbour in Vetch’s Bight, on the Point between uShaka Marine World and the harbour entrance.

The city received a lot of uphill from water sport clubs who have operated from the sheltered beach for decades, and from environmentalists who worry about the mussel beds on Vetch’s Pier and Limestone Reef. But the mayor and his cronies refused to be intimidated by a bunch of hippies, beach babes and surfer dudes. Durban stood firm against its residents.

It turns out, curiously, that the city has a 50% stake in the developer of the property. This sounds awfully corrupt, but that does mean it has actual skin in the game. Yet neither the city nor its development partner seem particularly threatened by the one thing that could cost them their investment. The hotel site lies below even today’s high water mark, so rising sea levels would be a bit of an issue. Do you think they’d invest millions if they actually believed the alarmist twaddle symbolised by the artistically rendered Blue Line of Doom?

The prediction of a one metre sea level rise by 2100 is not only 89 years in the future, almost no scientist believes it to be true. The idea that if we all stand together we can make the waters subside is politically expedient rubbish.

Most dangerous of all in a country blighted by poverty and unemployment is the notion that a highly speculative problem a century from now justifies blowing billions governments don’t have and can’t afford.

The only people who punt this guff are investors in renewable technology arguing their own pockets and jetting to exotic locations to speak at UN climate conferences, like Al Gore, and his army of green activists yachting around the world’s beauty spots on research assignments and jetting to exotic locations to attend UN climate conferences to listen to Al Gore.

The Artslink article linked to above adds some interesting colour. “The Premier will be adding a local touch to the public event by walking along the Blue Line in his izimbadada, a KwaZulu-Natal original creation made from old rubber car tyres and one of South Africa’s most iconic symbols of recycling.”

It is true that car tyres are an iconic symbol. They’re made of an ingenious concoction invented by clever industrialists, combining the natural sap of the rubber tree with the recycled by-products of the fossil fuel industry that has done so much to reduce poverty and drive prosperity. The tyre industry employs 600,000 people around the world, making a billion tyres a year in order to liberate us from the serfdom of immobility.

One might rightfully sneer at the Blue Line of Disaster walk, but one must concede that Premier Mkhize’s symbolic support for such a progressive industry, which employs so many people, is to be welcomed. Even if he does do so by wearing iconic symbols of poverty like sandals made from junk-yard scrap.

If the intention of the Blue Line of Destiny is to scare people, it works. Not only Mervyn King and his relatively sophisticated audience were scared witless by the alarmist predictions, and promptly began to calculate how many jobs to slash to pay for double glazing, solar panels, and grey water systems for the plants in the lobby.

My late grandmother survived the German invasion of the Netherlands during World War Two. She witnessed the devastating 1953 floods in the Netherlands. She watched her country rebuild after the war, and saw how intrepid engineers built great sea defences to prevent another breach caused by an unfortunate combination of an unusually high spring tide and a massive storm surge. Sadly, she spent the last twenty years of her life in mortal fear that her little house would be inundated by rising sea levels.

It is perhaps appropriate that after walking the Blue Line of Damnation, surviving participants are invited to attend “the Inter-Faith Climate Change COP17 Rally at Kings Park Stadium where leading musicians will perform.”

These fear-mongers are indulging in faith, not science. Raising awareness about things that don’t exist, can’t be seen, or won’t happen, is just what religions do. But telling terrifying lies to people who don’t know better, just to gain the political power to expropriate and misspend billions the world really can’t afford right now, strikes me as a fairly major sin. They have a lot to ask their chosen deity forgiveness for.

The Blue Line of Death is an artistically rendered, iconic symbol of their guilt. It is also quite funny. DM



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