The heat is on in the debate on climate change

29 06 2009

The heat is on in LondonTemperatures are predicted to soar in London this week. As the mercury climbs higher no doubt it will be accompanied by louder claims that this is the product of global warming and human irresponsibility towards the environment. To digress a little, I was at the Neil Young concert in Hyde Park on Saturday when he played one of his dreadful odes to Mother Earth and how we are raping it etc. I looked around and the crowd, up until then excited by Young’s fantastic guitar playing, suddenly resembled a funeral party. Indeed, when I started to discuss this with my wife I was told to hush by someone close by.

This quasi religious approach to all things environmental typifies what is wrong with the climate change discussion. As Joe Kaplinsky and James Woudhuysen argue in their very good book Energise – A Future For Energy Innovation, insofar as there is a problem with human created climate change it needs to be tackled through a concerted programme of  energy innovation.  In other words it  should be a scientific and technological issue rather than a moral or political one.

The problem with discussing this issue at all is that climate change has become so politicised  that it is hard, as a rational person, to distinguish good science from green-led proselytising and moral blackmail.  It is also right to feel sceptical about a subject where nay sayers are accused of being ‘in denial’ and compared with war criminals.  

Nevertheless we have to assume that many of the scientists involved in this area are basing their concerns on good observations and proper scientific methodology. To do otherwise risks falling into the anti-science camp which doubts and questions all scientific progress. As Rob Clowes pointed out recently, were all the climate science to be proved wrong it would be the biggest failure of science since Lysenko.

However, given that climate change has been politicised, we have to challenge the anti-growth sentiments which lie behind it. The extent to which climate change is man made and can be reversed remains an open question. What we do have to insist on is that collectively humanity requires far more energy in order to have a good quality of life. This requires an open minded approach to energy innovation and far more resources put into all types of energy development. It requires an emphasis on economic growth to pay for it and a challenge to anybody who wishes to limit the types of energy that are developed on the basis that they change the world around us.

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2 responses

30 06 2009
Sarah Boyes

I was doing a bit of bed-time reading through The Green Party manifesto the other day. Apart from their ‘ten philosophical principles’ which involve not premising the well-being of people over that of other animals and future generations; it was also interesting to find they consider themselves to be advocating a new sort of ‘radical’ politics – which involves making ‘lifestyle and value’ changes and wielding power through consumption choices – in order to downplay ‘problematic’ human intervention in the ‘natural’ world.

It made me think, that whilst the hot air about ‘climate change’ (as if the climate isn’t constantly changing) has become politicised in the sense it’s dubbed the no.1 social, economic and political issue of our times; and the attendent rhetoric of ‘greener, fairer, more democratic’ is being used to lend moral legitmacy to contemporary anti-growth sentiment (ie. austerity as the only option) like you say, it is also monopolising the idea of a better, shared and more equal future. For many interested in ‘radical politics’ or changing the world, Green seems the only way to go.

Seems to me that, whilst sorting out climate change should be a low-priority technical issue; there is also a need to re-politicise the debate about the future in a more profound sense. Many greenies seem to be railing against the so-called (or actual) problems of modernity: ‘western materialism’, contemporary forms of alienation (atomisation, demise of civil society, etc.), gross inequalities and the sense that there’s something flawed with what they call the ‘current system’. Whist I think they’re deeply wrong on how they understand and respond to these issues, and rarely one to be sympathetic to green meanies, isn’t there something to be said for the fact that sometimes there’s more than climate change, science and growth is at play in various expressions of green ideology?

14 08 2009
Caspar Hewett

Dear Sarah, I couldn’t agree with you more about the need to re-politicise the debate about the future – even the old bogey man of progress, which for years was spurned by greens is now being re claimed by them in the unsurprising guise of sustainability – the rhetoric of the three pillars of sustainability (environmental, social and economic) suggests an element of caring about people (although note which pillar comes first) and there is a lot of talk about social justice in recent environmental thought. I think there is an urgent need for those of us who believe in humanity and in social progress (often, but not necessarily aided by technological progress) to claim that ground and argue for continued change that benefits people. Part of that equation has to be defending growth – how else is the developing world going to pull itself out of poverty and into the 21st century? How you stand on growth truly marks out where you stand on humanity versus ‘environment’

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