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George Bush and Global Warming

George Monbiot

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ExxonMobil is the world's most profitable corporation. Its sales now amount to more than $1bn a day. It makes most of this money from oil, and has more to lose than any other company from efforts to tackle climate change. To safeguard its profits, ExxonMobil needs to sow doubt about whether serious action needs to be taken on climate change. But there are difficulties: it must confront a scientific consensus as strong as that which maintains that smoking causes lung cancer or that HIV causes Aids. So what's its strategy?

The website Exxonsecrets.org, using data found in the company's official documents, lists 124 organisations that have taken money from the company or work closely with those that have. These organisations take a consistent line on climate change: that the science is contradictory, the scientists are split, environmentalists are charlatans, liars or lunatics, and if governments took action to prevent global warming, they would be endangering the global economy for no good reason. The findings these organisations dislike are labelled "junk science". The findings they welcome are labelled "sound science".

Among the organisations that have been funded by Exxon are such well-known websites and lobby groups as TechCentralStation, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. Some of those on the list have names that make them look like grassroots citizens' organisations or academic bodies: the Centre for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, for example. One or two of them, such as the Congress of Racial Equality, are citizens' organisations or academic bodies, but the line they take on climate change is very much like that of the other sponsored groups. While all these groups are based in America, their publications are read and cited, and their staff are interviewed and quoted, all over the world.

By funding a large number of organisations, Exxon helps to create the impression that doubt about climate change is widespread. For those who do not understand that scientific findings cannot be trusted if they have not appeared in peer-reviewed journals, the names of these institutes help to suggest that serious researchers are challenging the consensus.

This is not to claim that all the science these groups champion is bogus. On the whole, they use selection, not invention. They will find one contradictory study - such as the discovery of tropospheric cooling, which, in a garbled form, has been used by Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday - and promote it relentlessly. They will continue to do so long after it has been disproved by further work. So, for example, John Christy, the author of the troposphere paper, admitted in August 2005 that his figures were incorrect, yet his initial findings are still being circulated and championed by many of these groups, as a quick internet search will show you.

But they do not stop there. The chairman of a group called the Science and Environmental Policy Project is Frederick Seitz. Seitz is a physicist who in the 1960s was president of the US National Academy of Sciences. In 1998, he wrote a document, known as the Oregon Petition, which has been cited by almost every journalist who claims that climate change is a myth.

The document reads as follows: "We urge the United States government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997, and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth."

Anyone with a degree was entitled to sign it. It was attached to a letter written by Seitz, entitled Research Review of Global Warming Evidence. The lead author of the "review" that followed Seitz's letter is a Christian fundamentalist called Arthur B Robinson. He is not a professional climate scientist. It was co-published by Robinson's organisation - the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine - and an outfit called the George C Marshall Institute, which has received $630,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998. The other authors were Robinson's 22-year-old son and two employees of the George C Marshall Institute. The chairman of the George C Marshall Institute was Frederick Seitz.

The paper maintained that: "We are living in an increasingly lush environment of plants and animals as a result of the carbon dioxide increase. Our children will enjoy an Earth with far more plant and animal life than that with which we now are blessed. This is a wonderful and unexpected gift from the Industrial Revolution."

It was printed in the font and format of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: the journal of the organisation of which Seitz - as he had just reminded his correspondents - was once president.

Soon after the petition was published, the National Academy of Sciences released this statement: "The NAS Council would like to make it clear that this petition has nothing to do with the National Academy of Sciences and that the manuscript was not published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences or in any other peer-reviewed journal. The petition does not reflect the conclusions of expert reports of the Academy."

But it was too late. Seitz, the Oregon Institute and the George C Marshall Institute had already circulated tens of thousands of copies, and the petition had established a major presence on the internet. Some 17,000 graduates signed it, the majority of whom had no background in climate science. It has been repeatedly cited - by global-warming sceptics such as David Bellamy, Melanie Phillips and others - as a petition by climate scientists. It is promoted by the Exxon-sponsored sites as evidence that there is no scientific consensus on climate change.

All this is now well known to climate scientists and environmentalists. But what I have discovered while researching this issue is that the corporate funding of lobby groups denying that manmade climate change is taking place was initiated not by Exxon, or by any other firm directly involved in the fossil fuel industry. It was started by the tobacco company Philip Morris.


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The Bush Administration backers and their war on the war on global warming has reached the point where they are running television commercials depicting global warming activists as dangerous radicals. One of the commercials claims that global warming activists want carbon dioxide classified as a poison. The commercial disingenuously goes on to claim that life itself would be impossible without CO2, blah blah blah. I wish I had the transcript in front of me. Anyhow, like The Tobacco Institure before them, there seems to be no limit to the corruption and dishonesty of these men.

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  • 1 month later...

Report just published on the BBC website:


A report by economist Sir Nicholas Stern suggests that global warming could shrink the global economy by 20%.

But taking action now would cost just 1% of global gross domestic product, the 700-page study says.

Tony Blair said the Stern Review showed the scientific evidence of global warming was "overwhelming" and its consequences "disastrous".

The report said that rich countries must shoulder most of the responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions.

And chancellor Gordon Brown promised the UK would lead the international response to tackle climate change.

'No time to wait'

The report says that without action, up to 200 million people could become refugees as their homes are hit by drought or flood.

"Whilst there is much more we need to understand - both in science and economics - we know enough now to be clear about the magnitude of the risks, the timescale for action and how to act effectively," Sir Nicholas said.

"That's why I'm optimistic - having done this review - that we have the time and knowledge to act. But only if we act internationally, strongly and urgently."

Mr Blair said the consequences for the planet of inaction were "literally disastrous".

"This disaster is not set to happen in some science fiction future many years ahead, but in our lifetime," he said.

"Investment now will pay us back many times in the future, not just environmentally but economically as well."

"For every £1 invested now we can save £5, or possibly more, by acting now.

"We can't wait the five years it took to negotiate Kyoto - we simply don't have the time. We accept we have to go further (than Kyoto)."

I am sure Tony Blair will get told off by George Bush when he hears what he is been saying. Of course, Bliar's record on the environment is appalling. I do not expect any effective policies to come out of this.

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It is a testament to the power of money that Nicholas Stern's report should have swung the argument for drastic action, even before anyone has finished reading it. He appears to have demonstrated what many of us suspected: that it would cost much less to prevent runaway climate change than to seek to live with it. Useful as this finding is, I hope it doesn't mean that the debate will now concentrate on money. The principal costs of climate change will be measured in lives, not pounds. As Stern reminded us yesterday, there would be a moral imperative to seek to prevent mass death even if the economic case did not stack up.

But at least almost everyone now agrees that we must act, if not at the necessary speed. If we're to have a high chance of preventing global temperatures from rising by 2C (3.6F) above preindustrial levels, we need, in the rich nations, a 90% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030. The greater part of the cut has to be made at the beginning of this period. To see why, picture two graphs with time on the horizontal axis and the rate of emissions plotted vertically. On one graph the line falls like a ski jump: a steep drop followed by a shallow tail. On the other it falls like the trajectory of a bullet. The area under each line represents the total volume of greenhouse gases produced in that period. They fall to the same point by the same date, but far more gases have been produced in the second case, making runaway climate change more likely.

So how do we do it without bringing civilisation crashing down? Here is a plan for drastic but affordable action that the government could take. It goes much further than the proposals discussed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown yesterday, for the reason that this is what the science demands.

1. Set a target for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions based on the latest science. The government is using outdated figures, aiming for a 60% reduction by 2050. Even the annual 3% cut proposed in the early day motion calling for a new climate change bill does not go far enough. Timescale: immediately.

2. Use that target to set an annual carbon cap, which falls on the ski-jump trajectory. Then use the cap to set a personal carbon ration. Every citizen is given a free annual quota of carbon dioxide. He or she spends it by buying gas and electricity, petrol and train and plane tickets. If they run out, they must buy the rest from someone who has used less than his or her quota. This accounts for about 40% of the carbon dioxide we produce. The remainder is auctioned off to companies. It's a simpler and fairer approach than either green taxation or the EU's emissions trading scheme, and it also provides people with a powerful incentive to demand low-carbon technologies. Timescale: a full scheme in place by January 2009.

3. Introduce a new set of building regulations, with three objectives. A. Imposing strict energy-efficiency requirements on all major refurbishments (costing £3,000 or more). Timescale: in force by June 2007. B. Obliging landlords to bring their houses up to high energy-efficiency standards before they can rent them out. Timescale: to cover all new rentals from January 2008. C. Ensuring that all new homes in the UK are built to the German Passivhaus standard (which requires no heating system). Timescale: in force by 2012.

4. Ban the sale of incandescent lightbulbs, patio heaters, garden floodlights and other wasteful and unnecessary technologies. Introduce a stiff "feebate" system for all electronic goods sold in the UK, with the least efficient taxed heavily and the most efficient receiving tax discounts. Every year the standards in each category rise. Timescale: fully implemented by November 2007.

5. Redeploy money now earmarked for new nuclear missiles towards a massive investment in energy generation and distribution. Two schemes in particular require government support to make them commercially viable: very large wind farms, many miles offshore, connected to the grid with high-voltage direct-current cables; and a hydrogen pipeline network to take over from the natural gas grid as the primary means of delivering fuel for home heating. Timescale: both programmes commence at the end of 2007 and are completed by 2018.

6. Promote the development of a new national coach network. City-centre coach stations are shut down and moved to motorway junctions. Urban public transport networks are extended to meet them. The coaches travel on dedicated lanes and never leave the motorways. Journeys by public transport then become as fast as journeys by car, while saving 90% of emissions. It is self-financing, through the sale of the land now used for coach stations. Timescale: commences in 2008; completed by 2020.

7. Oblige all chains of filling stations to supply leasable electric car batteries. This provides electric cars with unlimited mileage: as the battery runs down, you pull into a forecourt; a crane lifts it out and drops in a fresh one. The batteries are charged overnight with surplus electricity from offshore wind farms. Timescale: fully operational by 2011.

8. Abandon the road-building and road-widening programme, and spend the money on tackling climate change. The government has earmarked £11.4bn for road expansion. It claims to be allocating just £545m a year to "spending policies that tackle climate change". Timescale: immediately.

9. Freeze and then reduce UK airport capacity. While capacity remains high there will be constant upward pressure on any scheme the government introduces to limit flights. We need a freeze on all new airport construction and the introduction of a national quota for landing slots, to be reduced by 90% by 2030. Timescale: immediately.

10. Legislate for the closure of all out-of-town superstores, and their replacement with a warehouse and delivery system. Shops use a staggering amount of energy (six times as much electricity per square metre as factories, for example), and major reductions are hard to achieve: Tesco's "state of the art" energy-saving store at Diss in Norfolk has managed to cut its energy use by only 20%. Warehouses containing the same quantity of goods use roughly 5% of the energy. Out-of-town shops are also hardwired to the car - delivery vehicles use 70% less fuel. Timescale: fully implemented by 2012.

These timescales might seem extraordinarily ambitious. They are, by contrast to the current glacial pace of change. But when the US entered the second world war it turned the economy around on a sixpence. Carmakers began producing aircraft and missiles within a year, and amphibious vehicles in 90 days, from a standing start. And that was 65 years ago. If we want this to happen, we can make it happen. It will require more economic intervention than we are used to, and some pretty brutal emergency planning policies (with little time or scope for objections). But if you believe that these are worse than mass death then there is something wrong with your value system.

Climate change is not just a moral question: it is the moral question of the 21st century. There is one position even more morally culpable than denial. That is to accept that it's happening and that its results will be catastrophic, but to fail to take the measures needed to prevent it.


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If there is a moral imerative, as George Monbiot has suggested (and for the record, I believe there is), then individuals bear as much of a responsiblity to change global worming as much as governments. Individual's must learn to recycle, or not wast. The important piece of this, is that many people do not view this as really making a difference. Along this same line, it is important for business and governments to make it not neccessarily easy but at least a bit more convienent for people to do their part. Tax breaks for companies that are engaged in actually cutting waste or recycling will go a long way towards new or companies/businesses that are "making a difference." Now don't get me wrong, Government's have their role in the process by passing laws or adopting laws that are "green" friendly. The problem is that many people don't believe that they can make a difference. Is this due to the adds of ExxonMobile, or Philipmorris? Maybe, but here in the cultural and intillectual wastland of Kansas, the main complaints are that:

1. It is hard to find somewhere to actually recycle.

2. It is very, very inconvienient (while I personally think this is a weak argument it is still an argument I hear often)

3. Many people believe that they are being lied to about the worth of recycling and that the items that they believe they are recycling are in fact being dumped into a landfill.

Another issue that must be dealt with is the subborn position of the US government and corporations. A year ago or so I read an article in Utne magazine, where US corporations were doing everything that they could to thwart the attempts of European countries to impliment environmentally favorable laws. Needless to say I was embarrased to be an American before I was finished reading. I came to the conclusion that other countries, in particular those in Europe and large trading partners elsewhere must take the stand and place sanctions on the US in an attempt to force it to take a responsible role in dealing with global warming.

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How brave is the government? The cabinet may need an Asterix potion of fortitude before it gets serious on climate change, judging by its recent chronic lack of bottle on anything difficult (except, of course, for Blair's war). Small but ferocious lobbies blow the government over at the first puff of controversy, even when public opinion is firmly on Labour's side.

Last week, Alan Johnson's retreat over faith schools was as depressing as it was dangerous; he was forced to eat wise words still hot from his mouth. He should have stood his ground over obliging new faith schools to take 25% non-faith pupils in exchange for lavish state funding. The public is way ahead of him: for years polls show that the majority have opposed faith schools altogether.

The "popularity" of Christian schools in this heathen country has been proved in study after study to be all about selection: faith schools screen out chaotic families who don't go to church, doubling the number of difficult children in next-door schools - and thus doubling the difference between them. Even while falling on their knees to get a place, parents still overwhelmingly oppose religious schools - by 64% in a Guardian/ICM poll.

Parents faking Christianity is relatively harmless; far more alarming are the extreme faith schools for children of fanatical believers. Their leaders came out last week refusing to admit outsiders because they aim "to create the total Muslim personality" or because "the Jewish community needs to maintain its distinct identity and ethos, and has no interest in spreading its message to others". Catholics led the charge, with "Three days to save our faith schools" blazoned across the Catholic Herald. Every frocked and bearded man of faith rallied to the cause of absolute segregation, the Church of England moderates giving respectable cover to zealots.

Standing firm would have struck a blow against all religious extremism: what could be more extreme than demanding that children of one faith and culture are kept in strict apartheid from all others? Some were even railing against the new 14-19 vocational diplomas that will mix schools for some classes. Refusing angry Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus equally would have sent a clear message about the secular state, but by giving way time after time on religious "rights", the pusillanimous government sets dangerous precedents.

Alan Johnson was hung out to dry: the prime minister wouldn't have it; nor would some 50 frightened Labour MPs in marginal seats, terrified by priests in the pulpit organising local campaigns. Psephologists never found a single seat won or lost where Catholics tried to use the pulpit on issues such as abortion; the faithful still voted according to politics, not faith. But no one panics like a Labour MP in fear of their seat, though most are neither God-botherers nor genuine supporters of religious separatism.

So Lord Baker's amendment in the Lords yesterday, calling for a 25% school quota of non-believers, never had a prayer: his own Tories and the Lib Dems joined Labour chicken-hearts to vote for faith separation. With Johnson's face-saver of a "voluntary" agreement on admissions to new schools, the progressive cause of abolition was thoroughly demolished. So here we are with religion as the greatest danger to the world after climate change, yet all three parties turn tail at the first whiff of incense.

How about drink? Will the government get any braver on that? Patricia Hewitt's blindingly commonsense call for higher taxes on alcohol received a statutory Treasury rebuff. But the UK and Denmark are the only countries where drinking is on the rise. Its effects cost the NHS £1.7bn a year - £500m in A&E, with 80,000 drink-driven violent incidents a month. Drink consumption is highly price-sensitive, especially among the youngest pocket-money drinkers, yet alcohol now costs 54% less in real terms than it did in 1980. Drink sales fall in recessions: 10 years of unbroken growth means the chancellor has a duty to correct the alcoholic effect of his own success. Will he bravely raise the price enough to make a difference?

Now, how about gambling? Again, public opinion is crystal clear; there is no popular demand for huge new casinos, let alone a supercasino. A million people in the UK now gamble online, and the number of addicts is rising, yet Tessa Jowell is beckoning foreign companies to come and register here to make us the offshore gambling den of the world. America has just banned online gambling by stopping credit-card firms processing payments to gambling firms. Why can't Britain do that too? Instead Jowell has been sharply critical of the US law. Yet it's rare to find a Labour MP who doesn't roll their eyes in disbelief at this Blair/Jowell infatuation with gambling, apart from those whose local councils are suckered by the myth of casinos as instruments for "regeneration" rather than degeneration. So why don't the spineless backbenchers just say no?

A boozing, gambling nation politically intimidated by faith minorities may be a confusing moral legacy for Labour, but the real test of Labour's nerve is yet to come. Will the same wimpish timidity prevail over climate change, despite the Stern report? For 10 years Blair and Brown have all but ignored it, so will they really find the nerve to make tough decisions now? Brown proposes that the EU cuts emissions by 30% by 2020 - but that has to start right here to carry any persuasive weight.

Yesterday's mad-dog press was frothing at the mouth before the report was even published: the Sun proclaimed the PM's intention as "I'm saving the world ... YOU lot are paying". The Telegraph said the state can't protect the environment. The Mail put up that renowned expert Melanie Phillips to stand at the last post against science: "The Royal Society, the government's chief scientific adviser Sir David King and a host of other ... grand panjandrums all claim there is no longer any scientific debate about whether man-made global warming is happening ... Phooey."

This time Labour (and the husky-hugging Tories) need to hit back hard at Britain's know-nothing press; it could be the death of us all if it persuades voters that there is no problem, or that nothing can be done, or that no one need pay a penny more, or that tackling climate change is unfair to the poor. (Watch how useful the poor suddenly become in debates over green taxes.) Now, taking the press by the throat really would take nerve after 10 years of lily-livered, jittery subservience.


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Yesterday's mad-dog press was frothing at the mouth before the report was even published: the Sun proclaimed the PM's intention as "I'm saving the world ... YOU lot are paying". The Telegraph said the state can't protect the environment. The Mail put up that renowned expert Melanie Phillips to stand at the last post against science: "The Royal Society, the government's chief scientific adviser Sir David King and a host of other ... grand panjandrums all claim there is no longer any scientific debate about whether man-made global warming is happening ... Phooey."

This time Labour (and the husky-hugging Tories) need to hit back hard at Britain's know-nothing press; it could be the death of us all if it persuades voters that there is no problem, or that nothing can be done, or that no one need pay a penny more, or that tackling climate change is unfair to the poor. (Watch how useful the poor suddenly become in debates over green taxes.) Now, taking the press by the throat really would take nerve after 10 years of lily-livered, jittery subservience.

Tony Blair is attempting to change his image from that of warmonger to planet saviour. However, if this is going to be his true legacy he needs to take some action before he is dragged screaming from 10 Downing Street. His record on this subject so far is appalling. The truth is that he is a politician who completely lacks courage. The only time he has taken drastic action is when he obediently followed Bush into Iraq. That of course was in fact an act of cowardice. Like all cowards, Blair is easily bullied.

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This is no longer news that I can use. At present rates of depletion “scientists say” all the fish in the sea will disappear within the next 42 years. “Ministers say” this is the biggest threat to the planet after climate change. Both climate and fish have thus leapfrogged last month’s biggest threat, according to Tony Blair, which was the war on terror. John Reid, the home secretary, thinks terror is a bigger threat than anything since Hitler, which puts fish in the shade. In the dumb world of modern politics all threats must be superlative.

I am less interested in the potency of these threats than in what I am expected to do about them. The implication with fish is that we must stop eating them at once in the hope of resuming their consumption later, or accept that they will go the way of mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers.

To bring this about I must rely on the government. Yet Ben Bradshaw, the fisheries minister, said on Friday that his responsibility was “to the livelihood of Britain’s fishing industry”. This is like confronting climate change by subsidising the oil industry and confronting terror by sponsoring the Taliban.

Environmental news is fashioned to scare people witless. I recall reporting a conference of “top scientists” in the 1970s from which I extracted a spine-chilling threat of a new ice age. Particulates in the atmosphere were blotting out the sun. The Earth’s surface was cooling, tundra advancing and ever more pollution going aloft in the effort to keep us warm, thus accelerating “global dimming”. We were all going to freeze.

The latest environmental blast runs counter to this but the millenarian fervour is the same. If climate change and marine catastrophe are, as Blair claims, the biggest threat to mankind, surely the obligation to confront it is his. The coal burning, petrol consuming and fishing industries must be treated as enemies not just of the nation but of the planet. Yet Blair treats the global warmers with nine indulgent years of reduced petrol taxes and subsidised transport infrastructure. He worships at the altar of hypermobility.

By using the metaphor of an ecological “time bomb”, scientists may engage Blair’s passing attention but they risk longer-term ridicule and neglect. There is no point in walking the nation to the top of a mountain and promising hell fire and damnation if the only proof is a sunny day and a retreating glacier. While the threat of terrorism may be grossly overstated, it is at least recognisable. Climate change is a stew of statistics, trends, equations, qualifications, distant dates and vast sums of money. A stage army of ghouls, mini-Einsteins and e-babies traipse the conference circuit “hyping the issue” until it becomes a long, shrill scream of doom.

This, of course, is not the end of the matter. Through all the accumulated noise, it now takes a perverse unreason to deny that something dramatic is occurring in the Earth’s temperature and that this has to do with human behaviour. Wise counsel is that this can and should be countered, but how? The admonition that we each change our lives to “save the planet” (or, rather, our lifestyle on it) is on a par with ancient monks advocating flagellation as the path to salvation. Personal choice and market forces left to their own devices will plainly not do the trick. It is therefore equally perverse to eschew the precautionary principle. Will the end and you must will the means, and that involves political action.

In 1960 Herman Khan, the nuclear scientist, conceived the Doomsday Machine. This was designed to respond to a nuclear attack by triggering a global holocaust that no human intervention could stop, thus deterring an enemy by assuring “mutual assured destruction”.

Young people today find it hard to conceive of the threats under which their parents grew up. But that terror did drive the nuclear de-escalation that accompanied the end of the cold war. The wilder fringes of the anti-nuclear movement permeated the arms control process. A similar concern for the ozone layer spurred collective action to eliminate CFCs in the 1990s. The same must apply to climate change. The fringe must move into the mainstream and win the argument through reason.

There is evidence that this is happening. Last week the economists rode to the rescue of the scientists in Sir Nicholas Stern’s review of climate change. It took science at its word and put forward measures to correct what Stern drily called “the greatest market failure the world has ever seen”. That failure is to the global equilibrium which James Lovelock called the “Gaia thesis”. This portrayed the Earth as a complex self-regulating mechanism of organisms constantly adjusting “so as always to be as favourable as possible to contemporary life”. This adjustment was nature’s equivalent of Adam Smith’s invisible hand and was a comforting riposte to ecological hysterics. Lovelock, too, has now decided that the equilibrium has broken down, leading Gaia helter-skelter towards disaster.

Again adopting the precautionary principle, Stern regards this destination as avoidable. He accepts the evidence of change: shrinking glaciers, the loss of reflectivity (the albedo effect), methane leakage and soaring carbon emissions. But rather than crying panic and heading for the hills, he says that governments should tackle the prime cause — the inability of the world’s economy to impose on individuals or countries the external costs of their actions, their burning of carbon fuels especially in pursuit of mobility. Even a free market economist requires governments to correct market imperfections.

Debate is moving forward. The British government’s soft-heartedness towards the transport and fuel lobbies as proxies for middle-class drivers and flyers appears to be weakening. It accepts, as do the Conservatives, that taxes should be directed at curbing carbon emissions, coupled with carbon trading, road pricing and investment in conservation and solar and nuclear power. As against the costs (and risks) of nuclear energy, the global disaster presaged by continued burning of carbons is now beyond sensible argument.

Carbon emissions are easy to subject to price control since most are taxed or regulated already. The chief hurdle has been the timidity of governments, and that now seems susceptible to shame.

Stern’s conclusion is that life on Earth can be stabilised over the next two decades without extreme measures and without abandoning growth. Salvation lies within the grasp of the chancellor of the exchequer. But this applies only if taxing carbon rich energy consumption leads to a genuine change in human behaviour and not just a shift between cars, buses, trains and planes, where the impact could be marginal.

We are nowhere near this point. Last week politicians lined up to insist that carbon taxes should not curb the mobility of the poor. Yet it is the poor who, by growing richer and using more fuel, have precipitated this crisis. It is the availability of cheap petrol and aviation fuel that has enabled the Chinese and Indians as well as the Americans and Europeans to deluge the atmosphere with filth. If this policy is to mean anything there is no alternative, in the absence of fuel cells, to driving these people back into their homes and villages or onto their bicycles.

Those of us who greeted this new apocalypse with scepticism cannot sensibly ignore it. But I wonder if those with their heads in the sand are not many of the same environmentalists who raised the hue and cry in the first place. If life on Earth really faces a moment of danger, it requires joined-up thought. It means urgent investment in nuclear power, a global curb on mobility, holidays at home, wrapping up warm, living in denser cities and a halt to rural colonisation. It means farm protectionism. It means keeping open local schools and hospitals, leaving roads to congest and curbing airports. Planning must become carbon obsessed.

Income taxes will not achieve this, only taxes targeted against high carbon expenditures, above all on movement. Travelling, especially flying, must be regarded as a luxury whose cost to the planet must be transferred to the individual. This concept of “re-localising” human settlement is still in the wilder realms of idealism. But like other fringe ideas it will have to move into the mainstream. There is no point in denying what this means.

Mobility will again become the privilege of the rich.


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