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21 May 2007

Fred Flintstone didn’t drive a gas guzzler…

Has global warming replaced Communism as an anti-capitalist weapon? Read Ruth Lea and don't miss com

By Ruth Lea

Controlling climate change is now one of the major political issues of the day – and a profoundly misguided one at that.

We’re being told individuals can make a difference, that we should switch from ordinary light-bulbs to energy-savers. But face it, this will make little if any difference – especially for developing countries.

This may sound iconoclastic, given the quasi-religious fervour shown by believers in man-made global warming theories. But may I explain.

Firstly, believers seem to imply that climate change is a recent phenomenon. But the earth’s temperature has always changed. The “Holocene Optimum”, which ran from around 4,000 to 8,000 years ago, has been identified as a period when temperatures were higher than today. But Fred Flintstone and his pals did not drive “gas guzzlers” to my knowledge. And neither were they exhorted to use low-energy light bulbs. Since that time temperatures have fluctuated, including the “Little Ice Age” of the 17th to 19th centuries. Since the mid-19th century temperatures have risen modestly, but such was the degree of cooling between 1940 and 1970 some scientists were confidently predicting a new, imminent, Ice Age.

Secondly, given these natural temperature changes, factors other than man-made carbon emissions are surely the main drivers behind climate change. Fluctuating solar activity, with or without the interaction of cosmic rays, has to be a strong contender. Compared with the sun, light bulbs fade into insignificance.

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Thirdly, even if one believed global warming was primarily driven by man-made carbon emissions, then the UK’s attempts to cut emissions, a mere 2% of the global total, are paltry. China, for example, is building a new coal-fired power station every week and its increased carbon emissions will swamp any cuts Britain may make. The US has not “signed up” to cutting emissions and the EU, hypocritically, is missing its targets.

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Fourthly, even if global carbon emissions cuts were achieved, the impact on temperature is far from clear. Indeed the climate system is so complex and “chaotic” that, according to some leading climate scientists, lower carbon emissions may actually increase temperature.

Fifthly, by concentrating the debate on reducing carbon emissions and “mitigating” climate change, the debate is, arguably, failing to focus on the right adaptation policies for those developing countries damaged by possible warming.

This leads to my sixth point. The current, misguided, obsession with reducing carbon emissions could hold back the development of some very poor countries. They should be helped to grow out of poverty – rather than exhorted to fret about their energy use and carbon emissions.

Finally there should be an open discussion on the politics of “global warming”. Some argue that the old left discovered “global warming” following the collapse of Communism in order to further their objectives of controlling people’s lives and undermining capitalism. In addition, they argue, the old left has successfully exploited Western middle class guilt and idealism (and scientific ignorance). But we need more than low-energy light bulbs to cast light on these particular arguments!