Paris climate summit: Beware the lure
of catastrophe politics

Can any of you name the greatest threat of our time?

Some of you might be forgiven for thinking – with Western civilisation under assault from ISIS barbarians without and a growing Islamist enemy within – that it is the challenge posed by Islamic terrorism.

Many of us are worried about the threat to our freedom posed by an ever-more-restrictive barrage of legislation restricting free speech and free expression – whilst subjecting us all to increasingly intrusive surveillance state – in the name of stopping “hate crime” and tackling non-violent extremism.

Perhaps it’s the economy? Global poverty is plummeting but there are still 2 billion human beings who live on less than $2 a day. In Britain, unemployment is down but public spending and the national debt are still shooting up.

If you gave any of these answers you’d be dead wrong.

According to Barack Obama, David Cameron, Francois Hollande, green lobbyists and the UN, the greatest threat to us all comes from fossil fuels. Representatives of 190 countries, including 150 world leaders, have descended on Paris hoping to reach an “historic” agreement to limit global temperature increases to less than two degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Even Prince Charles is getting in on the act.

Hundreds of thousands of activists – a tiny proportion of the world’s population claiming to speak for everyone – have marched for so-called “climate justice”. In Paris, there has been rioting in the streets as mask-wearing demonstrators clash with police units.

According to popular legend, the Roman Emperor Nero played the harp while Rome burned. Today his successors talk about “sustainable development” and binding CO2 limits whilst the fundamentals of our society – our lives, our freedoms, our democracy and our national identities – are under attack.

The earth is in peril! The future of the planet is at stake! We must act now to avoid disaster! The same dramatic speeches were trotted out in 2009 in Copenhagen, Kyoto in 1997 and Rio in 1992. Climate summits give world leaders a chance to stroke their egos as they proudly boast about saving the world.

Yet for billions of ordinary people, fighting climate change is just not that important. The British public are growing increasingly sceptical that humans are to blame for climate change, with a majority opposing further taxes on fuel, electricity and food.

Meanwhile, a global poll of nearly 7 million people has placed climate change at the bottom of a long list of priorities. Top of the list were education, healthcare, jobs and honest government. Hardly a ringing endorsement, is it?

The obsession with climate change helps no one find work, a good school, or affordable healthcare. Indeed, attempts to limit carbon dioxide emissions and break “dependency” on fossil fuels can and do actively harm the worlds poorest.

Fossil fuels are one of the single biggest drivers of human progress. The Industrial Revolution lifted millions out of poverty and dramatically improved living standards. Free trade, factories and steam engines made Britain a great power and elevated the West to the pinnacle of civilisation. None of this would have been possible without coal, and later oil.

What was true for the West is also true for the rest: mass prosperity is impossible without fossil fuels. No wonder leaders of less developed countries – like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – get angry when those of us who have enjoyed the benefits of fossil fuels seek to deny it to those less fortunate than ourselves.

To do so is to stamp on the needs and aspirations of billions. Green commentators often talk about the evils of economic growth and how it destroys the planet. Those who still live on less than a dollar a day – not to mention those whose lives have been improved by the spread of globalisation – might disagree with them.

So might poor and middle income households in Britain, where the National Grid has been brought to the brink of collapse by an obsession with green energy and binding carbon dioxide targets.

Punishing these people and their families, in the name of appeasing the climate sky fairies and making privileged Western politicians feel good about themselves, is not moral. It is misguided, foolish and even evil.

Humans are an ingenious species. Time and time again the prophets of doom have preached that the end is nigh, or that our ‘finite resources’ were nearly exhausted. Our natural inventiveness – transmitted through the vast web of networks that make up human society – has always prevailed. Always. We find new resources or work out better, more efficient ways to use what we have.

Yet the naysayers, and doom-mongers have never gone away. Every generation brings with it a new set of demands that we atone for our sins and abase ourselves before the gods in order to avert the apocalypse.

Far better, surely, to adapt to any climate change that occurs – relying on economic growth and human ingenuity to raise living standards and provide solutions? Former Chancellor Nigel Lawson and esteemed science writer Matt Ridley have long advocated this course of action.

Yet they are treated like lepers by the green blob – that nebulous web of activists, politicians, landowners and bureaucrats who owe their power, livelihood and income to the notion that global warming is an unprecedented crisis for mankind. The impulse to save the world from itself is a deep-rooted, jealous and intolerant faith.

The basic science of climate change is beyond dispute. Greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide, do cause warming. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. The majority of scientists agree on this at least.

However that is where talk of a scientific consensus ends. To claim otherwise is misleading.

What scientists do not agree on is how much warming is caused by the activities of man, what the effects of that warming will be, and indeed what we can actually do to stop it.

There is no consensus in support of the notion that warming is all our fault, or even mostly our fault. Nor is it clear that the effects of climate change will be catastrophic rather than benign, since moderate increases in global temperature tend to be a good thing on balance.

And despite repeated attempts to airbrush the inconvenient fact from all discussions surrounding climate change, the fact remains that there has been no statistically significant warming for almost nineteen years. Warmists tend to react to this by crying ‘heresy’ or relying on airbrushed statistics that are only ever massaged upwards.

We are told again and again that the ‘time for debate is over’ and ‘the science is settled’. But whilst the causes of climate change are indeed a matter for scientists, what we do about it – adapt or prevent – is a political choice. In a democratic society such decisions should lie with the voters, not the whims of UN bureaucrats and the membership of Friends of the Earth.

Canute, the 10th century Viking King of England, famously tried to command the tides. Of course he failed, and historians have debated ever since whether he was blinded by arrogance or trying to make a clever point to his fawning courtiers. In their enthusiasm for a binding deal to save the planet from climate change, today’s politicians increasingly resemble both Nero and Canute.

 


Chris has been a member of the Conservative Party since 2010. He believes strongly in individual freedom, personal responsibility, and the power of free markets to eliminate poverty by encouraging wealth creation. Follow him on Twitter: @cjmanby1989

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty