Debate on climate change is not over

In: Uncategorized

5 Feb 2007

There follows a comment by me from today’s issue of Fund Strategy on the response to the latest official report on climate change.

Media coverage of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report shows how low public debate has sunk.
Almost every publication led on the “news” that climate change was probably largely man-made. Its surprise value was about as great as the earth being round.

As it happens, even most “deniers” – the disparaging term for those who reject the suffocating consensus on global warming – recognise the anthropogenic contribution to climate change. The economic and political debate is primarily about what priority to attach to the problem and how best to deal with it.

But it seems that politicians and much of the media are not interested in serious debate. Instead the argument they put forward is simplistic and authoritarian:

– Science has settled the debate about climate change.

– The solution to the problem must lie in managing energy demand.

For a start, it is not clear what “debate” they are talking about. That the earth is warming? That humans are to blame? That we are facing climate change catastrophe? That there is only one way to deal with the problem? The complexity of climate change science makes it ridiculous to pitch it as a single debate with one correct answer.

Even if climate change is a severe problem, the solution is not necessarily straightforward. The government emphasises rationing measures such as air taxes or individuals curbing their use of electricity. Although it talks about developing alternative technology, it invests a pittance in innovation.

An alternative approach would be to massively expand energy supply. This could be achieved by investing in technology to allow for a cheap, plentiful and clean energy. But the flaws in the mainstream approach to climate change are not just problems for the future; the idea that the debate is over has damaging consequences in the present.

The attack on genuine debate leaves discussion limited to the most narrow technical issues. For example, should airlines or passengers be penalised more in the bid to curb carbon emissions? How much should air taxes be raised by? Which airlines are the worst offenders?

This blinkered discussion means the big picture is missed. Rather than finding ways to solve the problem, the solution is seen as punishing individuals and businesses. The cultural and economic benefits of air travel, and development more generally, are missed.

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