Thursday, 10 December 2009

War, what is it good for?

If the government is to be believed, they and us are currently waging many wars: there is the war on terror, which is physically costing lives in Iraq and Afghanistan; there is a war on benefits cheats, which is failing, as the number of people watching Jeremy Kyle increases every year; there is a war on drugs, which is obviously doing really well, too, judging by the number of people who go to the NHS with heroin addiction and end up with methadone dependence instead.

And the latest war that Gordon “Superman” Brown is fighting is against climate change. You would have thought that with his previous form with starting wars he can’t finish or win, he would know better than to take on nature. But the PM does not let little things such as impossibility, implausibility or lack of ability get in his way. Or the issue that the “science” behind climate change is not exactly rock solid.

The publication of emails from the University of East Anglia suggested that “scientists” were prepared to interpret their results in a manner that strengthened their argument for man-made climate change. There was a piece on the BBC news last night where a very large bar graph was shown, indicating the rise in global temperatures, but if you looked at the scale of the graph, the actual rises over the past two decades were about 0.1 degrees every 10 years. There are articles in the press every day about climate change that are littered with words such as “if”, “would”, “could” and “may”. I like to call them “green passive conditionals” – GPCs.

I doubt very much that there is a global conspiracy to propel climate change into the limelight and blame it all on overpopulation, meat eaters, flying, Land Rovers and cows. But it does seem that way sometimes. And I wouldn’t mind – quite so much – if there was any credible science behind the claims of the proponents of climate change. And by credible, I mean the empirically measurable, cause and effect kind of science that keeps buildings upright, aircraft in the air and that ensures 1+1 will always equal 2.

And talking of aircraft, the government yesterday gave the “green” light (forgive the unintended pun) on the third runway at Heathrow. Even though having more aircraft over London will generate more CO2, this will not matter as long as those aircraft are cleaner and there is a high-speed rail infrastructure to take passengers to destinations that normally require short-haul flights. So that’s great, the project is good for the planet.

Er… hang on, rewind. Notice how a couple of those green passive conditionals slipped into the government’s report? “As long as the aircraft are cleaner” – that stipulation will require all of the airlines using London’s airports to completely re-engineer their fleets to use less fuel. This is not cheap: a basic Airbus A319 costs about £36m; the current model Boeing 747 is about £150m. And that’s before they are redesigned to run greener, a project that will not happen overnight. And before all the airlines agree to swap their existing fleets, or at least the engines, for greener models, which the government has next-to-no power to force the airlines to do. It also overlooks the not insignificant matter that most airlines are running at a loss these days: the last thing they need is to replace their planes to satisfy the conscience of the green lobby (40,000 of whom are quite happy to use aircraft to jolly it over to Copenhagen…)

There was also a second throwaway GPC in the government’s statement: “a network of high-speed rail lines connecting the UK’s major cities”. Not only do we have a gratuitous misuse of statistics to justify an airport runway, but we also have the repeated announcement of Lord Adonis’ #1 Christmas present: a high speed train set. This is at least the 3rd time it has been announced this year. But not 1 inch of track has been laid. There has also been no planning as to where the track will go and which cities it will connect. It is a pure vanity project on behalf of Lord A, fuelled by vapour and propelled by steam. As I am oft to quote, it took eleven years to lay the 67 miles of railway between London and Dover for the Channel Tunnel High Speed Link. At that rate, it will take about 22 years to connect London to Birmingham, another 13 or so to get to Manchester and the same amount again – thirty-plus years – to get to Edinburgh. And that’s before they think about linking North-East to Newcastle or West to Bristol and Cardiff. The government thinks that by talking about something, it will magically happen. This is government by Harry Potter spells.

But not wishing to duck the issue of climate change completely, are there solutions that are less onerous than forcing us to kill Daisy the cow, exterminate every second-born child or give up our foreign holidays and cars?

Yes, and it’s called geoengineering. This is the appliance of science (remember that?) to combat a perceived threat from the climate, regardless of its cause. There are simple measures, such as planting trees and reflecting heat from roofs. There are also some Star Wars-y ideas that involve pumping sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere to cool the planet, or building machines capable of generating clouds from sea water, which again cool the air. These schemes are not cheap, but they do represent a return on the investment that the government is asking us to make in the name of green taxes. What would you rather see from your fuel duty? A waste of our money that is used to bail out banks, create quangos and provide civil servants with cushy pensions? Or, a machine that is capable of taking the waste products from mining and pump them into the air to cool the planet?
Geoengineering in itself is not the cure for climate change. But to use a GPC: what if climate change is not man made and cutting down on burgers, holidays and journeys to work does not cool the planet? Shouldn’t there be a Plan B? By all means let the climate change scientists beaver away at their models and predictions, but at the same time, let’s get some smart people like CERN and Intellectual Ventures to use some of those tax pounds, euros and dollars to investigate alternatives to disrupting the economic, social and labour fabric of society.

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