March 19th, 2007 by Rightsideup

The WSJ has a good article summarising some of the changes in the coverage of the global warming debate of late – focusing on Al Gore’s personal issues in this department but also some of the other coverage of respectable scientists who disagree with Gore in part or in totality.

One of the biggest themes of the last several weeks is hypocrisy on Gore’s part. It appears that, while urging all others to change their lives now to save the planet, he continues to live the same old luxury lifestyle while using his cash to pay off his guilt. There are obvious parallels here with the old practice of rich landowners sending others to fight in their place in wartime – it was no more honourable then.

March 17th, 2007 by Rightsideup

The BBC has published the first of a number of pieces which constitute a backlash against hte alarmism of the climate change industry and Al Gore’s movie in particular. Respectable scientists – most of whom are in agreement with the basic premises that warming is occurring and that CO2 emissions play a part – are questioning the tone of Gore’s movie and some of its more outlandish predictions. Great (and somewhat surprising) that the news media are actually covering this – perhaps because Gore is a wealthy politician and not just a bleeding-heart activist? Perhaps the hypocrisy about his Tennessee home pushed them away? Who cares – as long as we now begin to get a more realistic picture of the ongoing debate about climate change I’m all for it.

March 4th, 2007 by Rightsideup

The Wall Street Journal has an article on climate change (Cap and Charade) which looked at the issue of businesses getting sucked into the climate change debate. See previous blog from 27 January for the first mention of this. It focuses on the artificial scarcity in CO2 emissions caused by a cap-and-trade system, and the perverse incentives a plan to introduce such a system creates for businesses. Efficient (“green”) businesses which already have low carbon emissions are seeking to get their allowances set as high as possible so they can make big windfall profits from selling their CO2 rights.

A nasty cynicism on the part of businesses has crept in around climate change – whereas they used to fight the climate change agenda on the basis that it would force them into changes in practices that would be detrimental for their businesses, they are now embracing it at least in some cases because they see a way to make a quick buck. But of course this lends additional false legitimacy to the whole campaign and it could end up coming back to bite them if it adds further to the “the debate is over” trend we’re seeing.

February 1st, 2007 by Rightsideup

CNN reports that Al Gore has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, apparently for his work as an environmental advocate, primarily his film An Inconvenient Truth. There are two primary objections to this nomination.

Firstly, the prize was to be awarded, according to Nobel’s will,

“to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

Last year’s nominee, Muhammad Yunus, though a person of considerable achievements and benefit to the nation of Bangladesh, was also a bit of a poor fit with the stated aim of the prize, having neither done much to promote fraternity between nations or had anything to do with promoting or holding peace congresses. Al Gore, a controversial figure at best, has hardly promoted peace and has done nothing in connection with fostering peace or “peace congresses”. This is a point which the Economist, for one, picked up on back in October.

The second objection is that Al Gore is far from being universally admired for his work on environmentalism. He has been widely criticised (along with others) for mis-stating or exaggerating the problems of global warming and his alarmist tone. The alarm and worry caused by his presentations and his movie are certainly inconsistent with at least one definition of peace (and have very little to do with any other definition either).

Hopefully, this will turn out to have been a political statement on the part of the nominators and will not gain any greater credence. If it does gain wider attention and support, the Nobel Prize Committee will really have to think hard about a new set of criteria for the prize which are less in keeping with their founders’ stated wishes but more in keeping with actual recent outcomes.

January 30th, 2007 by Rightsideup

I was in the UK recently and several people who know I live in the US asked me questions about how most Americans feel about Global Warming. The phrasing was usually along the following lines: “Do they believe in global warming yet?” The tone very much suggested that at some point all those stupid Americans would finally believe in what all the rest of the world has long ago accepted to be true.

This is typical of British attitudes about America in general – they believe what they’re fed by the BBC, which is typically a mixture of sceptical reporting of Republican politics, interviews with the most red-necked of Americans they can find and a general sneering tone when covering the US. Unfortunately, most Brits, even those who know real, live Americans, seem to buy into this whole set of stereotypes. Meanwhile, most Americans buy into their own set of stereotypes about Brits – wonderful accents, very articulate, bad teeth but a beautiful country with “so much history” (and of course there’s the rain). I know which set of stereotypes I’d rather have falsely applied to me…

January 29th, 2007 by Rightsideup

A CNN report this week on the soon-to-be-released IPCC report on climate change has the headline, “Experts slam upcoming global warming report”. The first paragraph of the report states:

Later this week in Paris, climate scientists will issue a dire forecast for the planet that warns of slowly rising sea levels and higher temperatures.

So presumably, the experts (scientists and others with a commitment to the scientific method) have criticised the forthcoming report as alarmist? Not a bit of it. See the second and third paragraphs of the report:

But that may be the sugarcoated version.

Early and changeable drafts of their upcoming authoritative report on climate change foresee smaller sea level rises than were projected in 2001 in the last report. Many top U.S. scientists reject these rosier numbers.

So it turns out that the critics are concerned that the report is not alarmist enough. CNN is here playing the game reporters occasionally do, whereby they seek to shift the centre of debate towards the left by presenting as opposing viewpoints more or less extreme versions of the same position, from the left of the political spectrum. This allows them to act as if the debate is not whether global warming is real, is caused by human action, or even is problematic, but on exactly how bad it is and how quickly we’re all going to die. The article focuses on the melting of large ice sheets, which some “critics” say has not been taken into account in the report.

Others believe the ice melt is temporary and won’t play such a dramatic role.

That debate may be the central one as scientists and bureaucrats from around the world gather in Paris to finish the first of four major global warming reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel was created by the United Nations in 1988.

Luckily, however, the IPCC is known for playing it safe and under-stating the risks:

Rahmstorf, a physics and oceanography professor at Potsdam University in Germany, says, “In a way, it is one of the strengths of the IPCC to be very conservative and cautious and not overstate any climate change risk.”

Thank goodness for that, then. At least it’s not like the last IPCC report has been used as the basis for every hysterical bit of news reporting about the environment for the last five years.

January 27th, 2007 by Rightsideup

While the rest of the country was obsessing about Iraq and the State of the Union address, few commentators picked up on the meeting of business executives urging President Bush to do more about climate change. One who did was Kimberley Strassel, who has taken over the re-launched Potomac Watch column at the Wall Street Journal.

This week’s column dug a little deeper into the meeting and the attendees than anyone else and came up with some interesting titbits.

Democrats want to flog the global warming theme through 2008 and they’ll take what help they can get, even if it means cozying up to executives whose goal is to enrich their firms. Right now, the corporate giants calling for a mandatory carbon cap serve too useful a political purpose for anyone to delve into their baser motives.

An interesting point. When business leaders turn green, their usual critics on the left keep mum because they need whatever support they can get. Somewhat more worryingly, no Republicans pointed out what was going on here. At any rate, it was under-reported.

But what we risk doing here is what has already been happening in the UK – i.e. that all the major parties sign up to “doing something” about climate change before we really know what that “something” should be. At this point, there are at least five major obstacles to conclusively proving what needs to be done about climate change:

  • We still don’t have a clear and consistent picture of how much temperatures have risen or are likely to rise
  • We haven’t been able to establish a causal link between human activity and any warming that has taken place, only a correlation between increases in carbon dioxide emissions and observed warming
  • We don’t know how much warming (or cooling) would be taking place without the human impact, which makes it very difficult for us to try to get back to a notional planetary equilibrium
  • We don’t have a good idea of exactly how much we need to reduce greenhouse gases to achieve the desired levelling in temperatures
  • We don’t understand what impact global warming would have in totality, and whether this impact would be, on balance, positive or negative for human welfare across the globe.

In the absence of really good answers to these questions, it seems foolish to rush headlong into signing legislation that would make significant attempts to impact climate change. This could end up being nothing but a costly exercise in PR for the politicians, lobbyists and now business leaders who jump on the bandwagon. Much more attention needs to go to answering the questions more authoritatively, stating what we really do know in measured terms rather than hysteria, and understanding more about the possible conflicts of interests in the lives of those who are driving the climate change agenda. Strassel does a good job in identifying the key conflict of interest which exists for these business leaders – they are supporting a plan that would reward their companies for something they are going to be doing anyway:

The Climate Action Partnership, a group of 10 major companies that made headlines this week with its call for a national limit on carbon dioxide emissions, would surely feign shock at such an accusation. After all, their plea was carefully timed to coincide with President Bush’s State of the Union capitulation on global warming, and it had the desired PR effect. The media dutifully declared that “even” business now recognized the climate threat. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who begins marathon hearings on warming next week, lauded the corporate angels for thinking of the “common good.”

Four of the affiliates — Duke, PG&E, FPL and PNM Resources — are utilities that have made big bets on wind, hydroelectric and nuclear power. So a Kyoto program would reward them for simply enacting their business plan, and simultaneously sock it to their competitors.

Hopefully the reporting of future statements by this group will see these efforts for what they are – the same old tactics that Democrats and the left in general usually smears but sees fit to overlook when they work to their advantage.