Tuesday, October 03, 2006


The Scottish Parliament discovered climate change this week - or rather the denial of it. The Futures Forum had decided to invite one of the last of the climate change sceptics, the Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg.

Now, there’s not a lot of argument these days about the basics of climate change. The scientific consensus is so complete that few serious academics try to buck it. The national academies of science of all the G8 industrialised countries, and China and India, all agree that climate change is happening, we’re responsible for it, and something has to be done. Even Rupert Murdoch accepts this now.

The only question about climate change is why we do nothing about it. Well Bjorn Lomborg is one reason. This photogenic author of “The Sceptical Environmentalist” “one of the 100 most influential people on the planet”, according to Time magazine is feted across the America for telling it what it wants to hear.

But here’s the catch - even Bjorn Lomborg now accepts climate change. He told Holyrood on Thursday: “there is no doubt that climate change is happening and that the poorer countries will be hit hardest”. Game over.

Where he departs from the consensus is in what to do about it. Lomborg believes that there are more important things to worry about than something which may not have any impact for centuries. “Kyoto is a luxury we can’t afford”, he says. Better to spend 7 trillion on combating HIV, providing clean water to sub Saharan Africa, combating malaria etc etc. “Save people, not the planet”, he says.

Well, it’s a superficially attractive argument. And seems to have a number of supporters in the Scottish parliament. Though the Scottish Executive chooses to spend its money, not on the poor, but on new motorways and fast links to airports, thus encouraging the two forms of transport which are most profligate in their use of fossil fuels.

The point is this: not doing something about climate doesn’t actually help anyone, certainly not the poor. Lomborg says that Kyoto is a misallocation of resources which should have gone to the Third World. But America’s boycott of Kyoto in 1998 didn’t lead to more resources for the wretched of the earth.

All that Lomborg’s arguments do is delay any action about climate change, which is why he is so popular with American corporate interests. And this is a delay that could simply cost the earth. Even he agrees with this, though he thinks that the imminence and catastrophic nature of the climate change disaster has been exaggerated.

Of course, there is doubt about exactly what the impact will be. The scientific consensus is that global warming will lead to climate instability, but you can’t predict exactly how fast the glaciers will retreat or the polar ice melt. Scotland may get another mini ice age as a consequence of the Gulf Stream being switched off.

But what we do know is this: recent decades have seen the highest temperatures in a thousand years. Temperatures rise with increases in the concentration of C02 in the atmosphere.
At around 360ppm this concentration is currently the highest in 650,000 rise, and it is set to rise dramatically in the next four decades, to 600ppm..

The government’s own chief scientist, Sir David King, says that the planet cannot sustain this without “consequences which are likely to be catastrophic in nature”. So, do we go along with the consensus of the world’s climate scientists? Or do we do nothing. Indeed, do we go on promoting the very policies that are making this potential catastrophe more actual?

I know who I go with, and I hope the Scottish parliament, next time, will invite someone who knows what they’re talking about.

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