Last week's post prompted a lot of sound and fury, but there was nothing to change my mind about the wrong-headedness of climate "scepticism"
Last week, I travelled up to Manchester to chair a Policy Exchange fringe event at the Labour Conference on Green Growth. With several hours to spare on the train, I decided the time had come to write something on the recent renaissance in climate sceptic thinking and its impact on the both the prospects for green businesses and the wider economy.
The resulting blog post was granted a positive reception from environmentalists and some green business figures, and received a full blown shellacking from climate sceptics who took to the comment thread to point out everything and anything that they deemed to be wrong with the article.
In the comments I have been accused of cracking under the pressure of climate sceptic argument, dodging the "debate" that I have started, displaying breath-taking insouciance, engaging in "blatent [sic] scare mongering and textbook marxist tactics", and not being able to punctuate properly.
Now, I am not about to provide a detailed response to every comment critiquing my argument, on the grounds that I don't think the "debate" would be in any way constructive, but I will make a few quick points in response to some of the general points raised in both the comment thread and the similar comment thread set up by the Bishop Hill blog. And then that'll be it, on the grounds that we'd only be wasting each others' time.
1. Thanks for proving my point about the predictability of the climate sceptic "debate"?
I started my article by declaring that arguing with climate sceptics was "frustrating, futile, coarsening, and, worst of all, staggeringly boring". The response has borne this out 10-fold. We are never going to change each others' minds on many of the key issues I have raised, making the "debate" both circuitous and ultimately pretty pointless. I'd argue that this is because climate sceptics are signed up to a fundamentalist world view that refuses to accept the scientific evidence and rational arguments put in front of them. You'd argue the exact same thing about me. It takes all sorts, as the old saying goes.
2. I have not been dodging the argument
Sorry it's taken a while to write this, but it's been a pretty busy week, as regular readers of BusinessGreen will have noticed, what with conference season and the continual stream of stories about the growing strategic importance of the low carbon economy. Also thanks for the concern about whether or not the "pressure is getting to me". I'm absolutely fine, a little frustrated that political, media, and policy debates still have to waste time pandering to climate sceptic thinking that has been discredited by every single national science academy on the planet. But apart from that, all is good.
3. Influence is not only measured using Twitter followers
Several critics accused me of succumbing to conspiracy theories with my suggestion that a group of climate sceptics centred on the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) are seeking to influence government policy to the detriment of green businesses and, in my view, the long term health of the economy. How can the GWPF deliver such influence, people asked, when it has fewer than 300 Twitter followers, while I have over 8,000?
Now, I know this will come as a shock and I have no desire to question the doubtless influence of my Twitter followers, but Twitter is not the only gauge of influence in the modern world. I am delighted some people might think that I might have some influence, but I do not have a direct line to virtually every Conservative member of the cabinet, as the GWPF chair Lord Lawson does; I have never had lunch with George Osborne and Paul Dacre to talk about climate change, again as Lord Lawson reportedly has; I do not get invited on to the BBC to attack environmental policies (while refusing to divulge who funds my organisation), as Lord Lawson does; I am not related to the Environment Secretary, as is the case for at least one contributor to the GWPF; and BusinessGreen has never been praised by ConservativeHome as "one of the most important think-tanks in Britain today" (although give it time).
As an academic study proved only last week, climate sceptics still get plenty of media coverage in the UK and US. Anyone who rejects the idea that climate sceptic lobbyists have been extremely successful in recent years at convincing media commentators and backbench MPs of their thinking is being remarkably naïve. Yes, green lobbyists have arguably been even more successful at convincing a majority of MPs and many business leaders of the strength of their arguments (strangely, they have had significantly less joy with the media), but that does not mean that climate scepticism is without influence.
4. This debate always comes back to the science (or the lack of it)
Plenty of comments had a go at answering the three questions I challenged climate sceptics to answer, starting with George Monbiot's favourite question: "What would it take to convince you that you are wrong?"
The responses boiled down to an all too familiar insistence that climate sceptics would accept serious manmade climate change is happening if there was compelling evidence to that effect. As William Teach noted in an entirely typical response, he would change his mind on climate change if there was "honest scientific proof, including raw data and "smoothing" methodology from the "climate" researchers, that proves without a shadow of a doubt that this warm period is mostly or solely due to Mankind's output of greenhouse gases".
This is the foundation for virtually all climate sceptic arguments on everything from the scale of climate change impacts to the efficacy of clean technologies. Namely, that there is insufficient evidence that serious man made climate change is happening. Some will say there is no manmade climate change whatsoever, others will argue manmade climate change is happening but it is not that serious, but all refuse to accept the clear scientific consensus that climate change is predominantly caused by human activity and is a serious long term threat to our continued prosperity.
Even after all these years covering environmental issues I still find this assertion staggering. Every national scientific academy on the planet accepts there is sufficient evidence to conclude anthropogenic warming is occurring and is a serious problem, as does the Met Office, NASA, the IPCC, and countless other respected scientific bodies (all of which climate sceptics repeatedly and unsuccessfully try to discredit). Yes, there is some uncertainty about the pace and scale of climate impacts, but there is not a single peer-reviewed paper that successfully challenges the underlying principles of climate change.
If you really cannot find compelling evidence that climate change is a serious problem I would suggest you are not looking very hard. Or does a near universal scientific consensus not meet the standards you require to change your mind; are you also unconvinced by other areas where virtually every scientific academy in the world are in agreement, like the consensus on how smoking increases the likelihood of cancer, or the fact that homeopathy is complete bunk, or the agreement on how the Earth orbits the sun?
5. Whether you call it Pascal's Wager or basic risk management, climate sceptics still don't have an answer to what happens if they are wrong
Several comments also had a crack at answering my second question, what happens if you are wrong? The aim of the question is to highlight the recklessness of the path advocated by climate sceptics and the complete lack of balance in the gamble they are proposing: follow a low carbon path unnecessarily because climate change is not a problem and you risk losing the one to four per cent of GDP that could have been invested elsewhere, follow a high carbon path when climate change necessitates deep cuts in emissions and you risk losing the continued viability of the entire global economy.
In answering it sceptics have two options: to retreat to their scientific denial and insist climate breakdown will not happen so the question it moot, or accuse me of sophistry in my deployment of Pascal's Wager, the 17th century philosophical argument that it is rational to believe in God because the benefits of believing in God even if you are wrong outweigh the costs of not believing in God if He does exist ie eternal damnation.
Without getting too much into the philosophy (it'll just make everyone's head hurt), there are undoubted similarities between my argument and Pascal's Wager, but a more accurate parallel would be with Game Theory or the basic risk management that any intelligent business undertakes all the time. I am still waiting for climate sceptics to explain how we can justify business as usual given the balance of risks between taking and not taking action to curb emissions. It should be apparent, even to climate sceptics, that the losses being risked by their proposed course of action are far higher than the losses being risked by what they regard as unnecessary investment in low carbon infrastructure.
6. OK, I don't really know if climate sceptics hate modernity
There are many shades of climate scepticism and many reasons why people might subscribe to this school of thought. I questioned whether climate sceptics are scared of cool clean technologies and the modernity they represent, but I am sure there are plenty of other reasons why people would refuse to accept scientific authority. Apologies if I misinterpreted your motivations.
7. James' Blog is grammatically correct
Thanks to "Oakwood" for subbing my copy, but both James' and James's is grammatically acceptable. Most publishers tend towards James' because it looks neater.
Advice for the sixth carbon budget - which will be the first to follow net zero pathway - scheduled for September 2020
Breaking: Brexit deal announced, reports suggest 'level playing field' on green rules could be maintained
Boris Johnson declares deal will allow UK to 'move on to other priorities like the cost of living, the NHS, violent crime and our environment', but questions remain over whether agreement can secure Parliamentary majority
Former chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington on why he has joined Drax's new advisory board
Energy giant has faced criticism for use of biomass in the past