London. An article. 'The Profits of Doom', in the July 22 2010 issue of the influential British news weekly, the Times Higher Education, moves the debate on man-made climate change on from increasingly sterile scientific disputes this week, and places it firmly in the political arena.
The special six-page feature article argues that Climate change is serious business – in more ways than one. Somehow capitalist ‘bootleggers’ have co-opted the environmental ‘Baptists’ to fulfil their raison d’être – making money. Thanks to the ‘greenwash’, the solutions could be worse than the problems.
In the article, the British writer and philosopher, Martin Cohen, contrasts the high moral claims of those who warn of the threats to the planet and 'future generations' with the practical reality that the policies advantage certain Western agendas, notably the dismantling of their heavily subsidised (and hence very expensive) coal industries and the promotion of nuclear power. Unprecedented amounts of money have been made available to researchers to come up with 'evidence' to back a pre-existing and highly partisan political agenda.
The term “bootleggers and Baptists” is used to describe situations where groups with opposite moral aims collaborate. Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, emeritus reader in geography at the University of Hull, and Aynsley Kellow, professor of government at the University of Tasmania, have discussed in their work many examples of bootleggers donning their black Baptist gowns in the sphere of energy politics.
* Canada, with a nuclear industry to promote, happily backed a Kyoto protocol that made nuclear power “clean” again. After Kyoto, an estimated US$50 billion has been made from the replacement of old Soviet reactors in Eastern European countries
*Japan is energy poor, but since it was paying five times the market price to mine its own coal, it (like the UK and Germany) had a multibillion-dollar annual incentive to campaign for laws limiting its own coal industry
*And when the US, in a rare display of internationalism, pushed through laws to ban chlorofluorocarbons globally (the Montreal Protocol, the provisions of which came into force in 1989), its concern about holes in the ozone layer fitted very comfortably with its control of all the key patents for the replacements.
Cohen traces the origins of the whole 'climate change phenomenon' back to a handful of rich Western economies. the political requirements of the UK and Germany to dismantle their coal industries, supported by Canada and Sweden with their nuclear interests, and the lukewarm support of the US itself, interested mainly in creating new financial markets in emissions trading. Oil companies, despite being misleadingly presented as 'opponents' of the Climate Change agenda, are in fact one of the big winners.
Together, the article argues, all these rich countries have been working to create binding global rules on CO2 emissions as a way of locking in their economic advantages - a profoundly unethical aim.
Cohen gives particular examples of how support for Climate Change is dodgy ethics, pointing out that:
*wind power is an efficient way of taking money from poor people to give to the rich - and a totally inefficient way to make electricity;
*solar power puts poor people in developing countries at risk of 'a toxic time bomb';
* and that biofuels not only result in loss of rainforest habitats but put up the price of basic foodstuffs for people without cars or even electricity in countries like India.
Contact: Martin Cohen, firstname.lastname@example.org
The full text of the article will be on the Times Higher Education website from midnight July 28th 2010. If you prefer, I can send a pre-proof PDF which contains some errors and so should not be quoted or distributed further, please.
Profits of doom - 29th July 2010
The magazine's special investigation of the science of Global Warming, 'Beyond Debate?' is also there at:
Beyond debate? - 10th December 2009
The front page story was published in the run up to 'Copenhagen', and was influential in turning around opinion on Climate change in the UK.
However, as the editor of the Times Higher explained in an editorial for that issue, the Times Higher does not have a particular view on 'Climate Change', but is committed to traditional academic values of free-enquiry and rational debate.