RDN at a climate change conference

Posted by RDN under Climate change / Politics & campaigns on 4 April 2012

In April 2012 I attended a climate change conference and want just to nail some of the arguments aired, as I see them. (It was held under Chatham House, "no names, no pack-drill" rules.)

Most of the arguments, much of the tone and many of the actual participants were largely unchanged from hundreds of other climate change gigs held over the past 20-odd years.

Of course some things are different. Over the years, it may be that more of the world's educated people have come to believe in the climate catastrophe theory. What is striking is that the powers-that-be seem to accept that (having tested the proposition) there is a real but quite slight will to act on the matter amongt their peoples. Arguably, command and control polities will be able and willing to act more decisively than the democracies. In the past 20 years, I hazard, politicians have been chastened by their voters' reluctance to care much. In short, when push comes to shove, climate concern is, as it always was, an elite concern.

The other big thing which has happened is that, at least in the UK, nuclear power has become less unattractive to elite (and some green), and even mass, opinion. Fukushima may have dented this shift a little for now, but its effect may be quite short-lived.

So far as we know, nega-watts (conservation) and low-carbon mega-watts are less attractive or more expensive than fossil fuels at least for now. Working out which will work best will take some time, and had better be done as cheaply and conveniently as possible if the public is to support the adventure. As a right-winger and a pragmatist, I reluctantly accept the solutions will necessarily be mandated by government, but should involve as little government intervention, and as much market implementation, as possible.

Nuclear is the obvious odd man out. Right now, it could do a huge amount of heavy-lifting, whilst alternatives really get sifted and effective. We might have what one might call the French option: a large-scale technology which delivers lots of low-carbon electricity, probably at greater expense than its fans suppose but fairly safely, barring accidents.  I have no idea how the public will balance the near-certainty of the occasional nuclear catastrophe against their reading of the horrors of climate change. So far, they seem to face both with some equanimity. My assumption is that – rationally and fairly – the more one takes climate change seriously, the more one has to accept that the occasional Fukushima is worth enduring.

It is tempting to suppose that a small population of nukes is useful and poses a statistically smaller risk of catastrophe. But one might argue that several issues – both technological and managerial – might tempt one toward doing a lot of nukes effectively rather than a few ineffectually.

One curiosity. I noticed that several participants felt that if the public didn't "get" climate change or the horrors of nuclear or the need to conserve energy, or more spending on cleaner energy, then that was a failure of communication. Maybe. I prefer to suppose that the public has understood a fair amount and just doesn't care much. More communication might make them care even less.

Another curiosity. A couple of people said that the next wave of persuasion ought to be amongst women, as though females were less persuaded than men but might become better activists for the cause once they were. I said, good luck with that. It seems to me that women are, on the whole, rather less inclined than men to get engaged in rather abstract issues such as climate change and insofar as they do, consider it quite narrowly from the point of view of their own families. And, oh, I added jauntily, modern mothers seemed more inclined to argue (within the family) for a bigger Chelsea Tractor to keep their little ones safe than (out there on the hustings) for  more bike lanes.

But I want to be clear. My un-PC remarks about women were what they were. A bad joke, say. My scepticism about climate change enthusiasm, however, does not flow (I think) from my politics (or sense of humour) but from my reading of the politics of my fellow citizens. That's why I think it bears repeating: climate change policy must be as cheap and convenient (and as useful on many counts) as possible. That sort of policy may not work very well, but nothing else stands a chance of happening at all. That I am, as a right-winger, drawn to such a point of view should not blind people to its chance of being an accurate account of reality.


  • Written by It doesn't add up... on 13/11/12 at 6:28 pm:

    That conference wasn't in January 2006, was it?

  • Written by RDN on 13/11/12 at 6:41 pm:

    No, this event wasn't the BBC seminar all those years ago, and which I commented on for a climate change sceptic some times (years I think) later.

  • Written by It doesn't add up... on 13/11/12 at 10:12 pm:

    Perhaps you have yet to catch up with this story:


  • Written by John Archer on 14/11/12 at 3:13 am:

    So that'll be pragmatism about scepticism about climate change enthusiasm you'll be recommending to others then. Right?

    This 'climate change' thing you mention, I take it by that that you are referring to the hypothesis of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, and that principally via our CO2 emissions, or 'carbon' as the scientific illiterates of the great and good like to call it these days — as if 'climate change' itself weren't weasel-word enough in the distortion of reality they are hell bent on foisting on people. If so, do you think the status of the strength of the corroboration of that hypothesis should have any bearing on the decisions about 'solutions', or anything else for that matter? Or, given its absence of consideration in your piece here, do you regard it as irrelevant?

    With you being right-wing and all I guess it must have been … enlightening … to engage with the others at that 2006 BBC seminar, and at your recent one too by the sounds of it. If I were a betting man I'd put good money on there being a suspiciously large proportion of the attendees having more than a nodding acquaintance with such things as the 'social sciences', postmodernism, cultural constructivism … and all the other junkthink intellectual perversions so beloved of the left, and consequently (because the two 'cultures' are necessarily mutually exclusive) next to no knowledge of any kind of science beyond rote learning of scientific sounding terms, which they invariably get wrong somehow anyway. And I'd bet their 'knowledge' of these deep intellectual perversions wasn't kept hidden under a bush either. Any kind of real scientist (i.e. not a stamp collector, or worse), even a die-hard left-wing one, would find that company galling. But for a right-winger? Wow! Explosive. It must have been difficult for you.

    Come to think of it, it's odd that they invited you along. Hey, you're not one of those mystical types of (so-called) right-winger, are you? You know, like whatshisname with the torch parades and all that — you know, the butter-side-down socialists, the ones who climb into bed with jack-booted corporatists.

  • Written by RDN on 14/11/12 at 10:09 am:

    Dear John Archer,
    I think you suppose that I would surprised by the general greenish approach to climate change. After 40 years of dealing with this mentality, and for a decade or so sharing some of it, I am not very surprised or even depressed by it. What's more, I am a little more depressed by the way climate change has become such a totem for some and perhaps most people of the right.

    Just to make it clear. I think the right ought to be rational and realistic – those are two important features of what I think it's about. To be quick about it: I think it is rational to be concerned about climate change. I think it is rational to doubt that that we can predict climate change outcomes very precisely. What's more, it is rational to suppose that quite a lot of countries will adapt – or reasonably guess or bet they can adapt – to climate change quite well. As we apply political and diplomatic realism to this picture, I think it is reasonable to suppose that it is unlikely that climate change policy will do very much to dent the march of climate change. If it does, it is most likely to be because it turns out quite cheap and convenient to successfuly address reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    I hope that helps.

  • Written by RDN on 14/11/12 at 10:19 am:

    Dear "It doesn't add up…."
    I have just caught up with the story you alert me to, and did so because I pursued clues in your earlier question. So thank you.

    I haven't quite worked out why the BBC were so keen to keep private the list of participants to the seminar. It may not be sinister or stupid. I am fairly sure that I feel some scruple toward any publication of details of "Chatham House" seminars. I know that one mustn't ascribe particular remarks to particular participants. And, actually, I don't think I have ever named the participants at such a gig. I would be inclined to check that they were OK with being named before I did so.

    I am pleased that nothing I have heard about the seminar contradicts what I did recall and say about it. I did find the event quite depressing and I was peeved that the possibility of my helping to introducing the BBC and its audiences to all sorts of interesting ways of thinking rationally about climate change were not advanced by my attendance. I did think and did say that reporting on climate change would improve as broadcasters realised that their audiences did not want to do very much about it. I think that has come to pass.

  • Written by Doubting Rich on 03/12/12 at 5:04 pm:

    "…the climate catastrophe theory…"

    Climate catastrophe is not a theory!

    It is an hypothesis; there is nowhere near enough empirical evidence to make it a theory. In fact in the three years I have been looking and asking all those that believe the hypothesis I have been unable to find any empirical evidence whatever for catastrophe. In the process I have found much empirical evidence against it, so the hypothesis is looking rather shaky.

  • Written by M Morabito on 04/12/12 at 12:30 am:

    Hello Mr North

    I am the "discoverer" of the list of participants to the 26 Jan 2006 seminar. I use quotes because the list had been published online by one of the organizers, thereby kind of undermining the relative importance of the Chatham House Rule wrt those seminars.

    I once heard a prominent polar scientist say he envied quake specialists, because in the case of earthquakes at least there was no time wasted discussing how to prevent them, rather how to protect people from them. This makes seismology free to investigate what quakes are, a luxury so far impossible for climate scientists who have to deliver when (and what) needed by the politicians.

  • Written by Richard D North on 28Gate | Omnologos on 09/09/13 at 10:46 pm:

    […] Richard D North, the one person who had volunteered to Tony Newbery details about the BBC/CMEP seminar of 26 Jan 2006 as early as Dec 2008, has published some remarks about 28Gate in a comment at his site: […]


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