Sunday, January 25, 2009

Imagine there's no climate change

Tom Harris, member of Parliament and former minister, asks us to 'imagine if the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced tomorrow that “we got it wrong – climate change isn’t caused by man. Sorry about that. As you were.”'

His point, such as it is, is that this would make most people happy, but it would make some environmentalists very unhappy, "because for them, the fight against global warming has another aim: the defeat of capitalism, of economic growth, of prosperity". This is because some environmentalists are rich and hate poor people etc etc.

I expect that these same environmentalists will sneer that "imagine if this thing which is true were not true" is not a very solid foundation for an argument. And nor is "I agree with Fraser Nelson".

But I think we should brush aside these trifling criticisms. For this is a deeply brilliant and subtle form of analysis, with wider applications for other political issues:

For example, if scientists announced tomorrow that they had invented a real life Tardis and everyone who wanted could have one, then most people would be very happy. But Tom Harris would be unhappy, because there would be no need for Heathrow Airport to have a third runway as everyone would just travel round in their Tardises instead of flying to or from Heathrow.

Or if it turned out that money did actually grow on trees, and that everyone could have their own money tree, then most people would be happy, but James Purnell would be unhappy because it would mean poor people would not be forced to work for their benefits.

Or imagine if capitalism actually did guarantee economic growth and prosperity for all...but now we're just getting ridiculous.


At 7:55 pm , Blogger asquith said...

If climate change turned out to be completely made up (which I find profoundly unlikely), there would still be severe environmental problems such as air & water pollution & the destruction of habitats which would need to be addressed.

Fuck Fraser Nelson off, & the discredited right-wing twats on the Spectator site who have nothing of any worth to say on the environment or anything else.

They have lost their patron in the White House & are getting more & more desperate.

As for Tom Harris, he's typical New Labour & should be thoroughly ignored.

At 8:05 pm , Blogger PhilC said...

Donpaskini: elegantly put.
asquith: well, it was heartfelt.

At 8:18 pm , Blogger asquith said...

I think the first paragraph I wrote was quite good. After that, the rage sort of took over :)

But then, I'm sick of trying to be polite & nice & have a reasoned discussion with people like those who comment on the Spectator blog, etc. Life's too short.

At 10:47 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Asquith, I think Tom Harris was positing on what would happen if we discovered climate change was an inevitable part of some natural cycle, not if it was made up.

Which makes it worse, because people would still die - but that's okay because Tom Harris doesn't have to change his lifestyle.

At 8:46 am , Blogger asquith said...

Yes, by climate change I meant man-made climate change.

But even if renowned scientists like the Heartland Institute, Mad Mel Phillips, Spiked Online, Richard Littlecock, LPUK members, James Delingpole, Peter Hitchens & Jezza Clarkson were right about climate change, there would still be environmental problems that need to be solved.

You can argue about how to solve them, but I don't see how anyone can claim that our impact on nature as it currently stands is fine & dandy & no one should give a toss about it.

At 11:15 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is usually called "Fixing the facts around the policy" and of course the invasion of Iraq was the most notable example of this habit. The policy always stayed the same; the original justifications evaporated (Iraq won't let in the inspectors, Iraq won't let the inspectors do their work, Blair will get his second reolution, WMD will be found, the war will be a short one, Blair will get Bush to do X, Y, Z) but new justifications somehow emerged just when they were needed.

Harris is to some extent right: the justifications given by people for their political positions aren't necessarily the real ones and their real reasons for adopting a position are often kept hidden because exposing them would be uncomfortable. However it seems to me to that this applies just as much (or more) to people within the political mainstream than it does to people outside the mainstream. People in the political mainstream in the UK supported the invasion of Iraq because they didn't want to appear to be anti-American, and they were willing to read out whatever talking points were thrust into their hands to support that policy, even if those talking points were different from the last set of talking points.

I went to a talk at Chatham House a couple of years ago about business and climate change. The main sepaker was Lord Howell (a former Minister from the days of Mrs T and John Major). I had great difficulty in following what he said, though some oil industry people in the audience were clapping enthusiastically (the HQ of BP is just across the road frm Chatham House). When I re-read my notes and Howell's hand-out I came to the conclusion that he was saying that adapting to climate change will be very difficult for business so let's not do anything too hasty. This gives us an insight into a lot of mainsteam thinking about climate change: adapting to climate change will be very challenging, it will involve re-thinking a lot of our lazy assumptions so let's put it to the back of our minds and hope that it's not real.

There may be people who believe in climate change because they want it as a justification for something else, but this is a minor problem. A much more serious problem are those in the political mainstream who play down climate change because they cannot face up to the challenges and re-thinking of assumptions that adaptation would imply. Although some of them are the kind of poeple who like going on about Churchill and 1938 they cannot get their heads around putting the car on blocks in the garage and printing ration books (or whatever the modern equivalents would be).



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