Charles Moore reviews 'An Appeal to Reason’ by Nigel Lawson.
This book appeared last year, but I am reviewing it now because I have noticed that its arguments are beginning to catch fire. It is a well-known feature of British culture that we usually come to the right view about something in the end, but only after we have indulged the wrong view for too long. This helps to explain why Nigel Lawson had such difficulty in getting this book published. But as the Copenhagen summit on climate approaches, people are at last beginning to question whether it can really be true that we have only – as Gordon Brown has said – a few days in which to "save the planet". "Nations will vanish and millions lose their homes to rising seas," shouted a headline in a serious paper yesterday, carefully on time for Copenhagen. But we are wearying of being terrified by what are essentially speculations.
Lord Lawson is highly unusual in being an intellectual who has also held political office at the highest level (he was Mrs Thatcher's chancellor). He can therefore master, dissect and expound argument without forgetting how ideas and ideals can be grotesquely distorted by politics. He was also a good journalist, so he can explain things in clear English.
This admirably short book is simple. It goes through the claims made by the principal promoters of action against global warming, and subjects them to analysis. Lawson is careful to choose mainstream bodies or sources – the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Stern report, Al Gore – rather than the lunatics who pullulate at the fringe. But he succeeds in showing that even these apparently respectable institutions and individuals pullulate quite dottily enough.
Take the IPCC's predictions of what might happen 50 or 100 years hence. The idea that this can be done with any accuracy, says Lord Lawson, is "inherently absurd". "We have only to ask ourselves whether the Edwardians, even if equipped with the most powerful modern computers, would have been able to foresee the massive economic, political and technological changes that have occurred over the past hundred years," he says.
But even if you accept the IPCC predictions, look what happens. The IPCC says that world temperature will increase by 2100 by somewhere between 3.2F and 7.2F. A warming of half way between these two points works out at an average temperature increase of 0.05 degrees F per year. In the last 25 years of the past century, temperature increased at the rate of 0.04 degrees per year. (In this century, it has not increased at all!) Has this proved so appalling to manage?
Lord Lawson then notes that the IPCC predicts that, at this level of temperature rise, global food production will actually increase. He takes the IPCC's gloomiest prediction of the economic effects of global warming over the same period. By its own figures, the difference between what would happen with global warming and without it amounts to this: in a hundred years' time, people in the developed world would be "only 2.6 times better off than they are today, instead of 2.7 times, and their contemporaries in the developing world would be "only" 8.5 times as well off as people in the developing world are today, instead of 9.5 times better off".
So this is the projected catastrophe, to avoid which the people of the present generation are being asked to curtail their carbon emissions by 70 per cent. We must tighten our belts for future generations, who even the gloom-mongers believe will be much, much richer than we are. This is not science, politics or economics, but masochism. Or rather, since our leaders will, on the whole, exempt themselves from the punishments they want to impose, it is sadism.
It is immoral to restrict definite, present benefits in the name of indefinite, distant ones. India and China are currently performing economic miracles which, for the first time, have made hundreds of millions of their citizens comfortably off. They can't do this without increasing their carbon footprint. Should they be forbidden from doing so on the basis of uncertainty piled on uncertainty about what might happen a century hence?
Unlike most politicians, Lawson notices that all the agreements made to control carbon emissions do not work. Sometimes this is because they are not, in fact, agreed. Sometimes it is because they are evaded (Canada, which signed Kyoto, has increased its emissions much faster than the United States, which refused to do so). Ultimately, it is because the idea of world government which lies behind such deals invariably collapses in the face of reality.
But this does not mean – and here Lord Lawson is optimistic – that people will not find ways of dealing with climate change if (and it is only if) it really is happening. Stern, Gore, the IPCC etc speak as if human beings will not do the one thing most characteristic of civilisation – adapt. There is no disaster facing us which we cannot mitigate by changing our behaviour over time. The real disaster will be if we cede to politicians what the author calls the "licence to intrude" in everything we do by pretending to "save" a planet which no one has proved will be lost.
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