What is the right level of response to anthropogenic induced climate change?

- Tuesday, 16th June 2015

 

The British Countryside

SIR MARK WALPORT + PROFESSOR JIM SKEA DEBATE WITH PETER LILLEY MP AND DAVID T C DAVIES MP. 16th June 2014 at THE ROYAL SOCIETY

 

"What is the right level of response to anthropogenic induced climate change?"

 

RT HON PETER LILLEY MP

 

NOTE: Please see related pdf for charts/diagrams

 

THANKS

 

I congratulate Sir Mark and Professor Skea for agreeing to debate with us today. As Macauley said: "Men are never so likely to settle a question rightly as when they discuss it freely."

 

Unfortunately, the principal advocates of global warming alarmism like Al Gore, Michael Mann, etc refuse absolutely to debate with us sceptics. They believe that we must be denied a platform. Apparently they fear that if even one of us is allowed to be heard it will have the same effect as the little boy who shouted out that the Emperor has no clothes.

 

All credit to you for having greater confidence in your case than they do.

 

MY CREDENTIALS

 

Can I first state where I come from on this issue?

 

I have a degree in Natural Sciences – mainly physics – from Cambridge. So I do not doubt the science of global warming.

 

I then turned to Economics. And it was the economics which initially aroused my doubts about Climate Change policy.

 

My first vocation was as a Development Economist working in developing countries. And my principal worry is about the impact prematurely decarbonising the world economy would have on the poor.

 

I then became an investment analyst specialising in the oil and energy industries – and I retain an interest as a Director of an exploration company operating exclusively in Central Asia with no interest in UK policy.

 

THE CC ACT

 

I began to be sceptical about the case for a crash programme to decarbonise the British economy when the Climate Change Bill was going through Parliament. I read the Impact Assessment – the cost benefit analysis that governments are obliged to publish for any new Bill. According to the office which provide these documents I was the only MP to ask for a copy. It was an amazing document. It showed that the potential cost of the Bill was twice the maximum benefits.

 

Maybe there was an alternative strategy for tackling global warming which would have positive net benefits. Maybe the Impact Assessment was questionable. But as it stood no rational person could support it. Yet only five of us voted against.

 

At no stage during the passage of the Bill could any of its supporters be persuaded even to discuss the cost of this measure.

 

I concluded that on the issue of Climate Change, the political class had collectively set reason aside. Instead it sees this as a field in which they must compete to demonstrate their moral superiority by outbidding each other in imposing burdens on the British people. As Macauley said: "We know of no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality".

 

SNOWING

 

My doubts had been on the economics. But as the vote was taken, it began to snow outside. I pointed out that we were passing a bill based on the assumption that the world was getting warmer; yet it was snowing in London, in October, for the first time in 74 years! The Bill's supporters sneered back – "don't you realise that extreme cold is a symptom of global warming?"

 

Well, no actually!

 

Then I realised that many of the alarmists have not the first idea about science. If both cold and warmth are symptoms of global warming how could this thesis possibly be refuted? And, as Karl Popper explained – if a statement can't be refuted it is not science.

 

SCIENCE YES, MODELS NO.

 

Although we ridicule non-science, as David said, we do not doubt the actual science of global warming.

 

But we do doubt the climate models.

 

To be more precise, the facts cast doubt on the validity of the models.

 

CHART 1. This chart shows the wide range of projections from the 50 or more models followed by the IPCC.

 

However, the lines at the bottom - below the range of all but a couple of the models - is what actually happened: the observed rise in average surface temperature according to [HadCrut4?].

 

In normal science we would discard all the models except those nearest reality. But in the democratic world of the UN all models are equal.   So the IPCC takes the average as shown by the black line.

 

This is post-modern science.

 

I prefer to stick by the scientific method described by Richard Feynman. First we spell out the consequences of our theory. "Then we compare the result of the computation … directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees … it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your theory is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the theory, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it."

 

Modellers won't accept that. They say their models cannot be wrong – because they are derived from the laws of physics.

 

Of course that is only partly true. Models also incorporate countless "parametrisations" to deal with phenomena like clouds which cannot be reduced to simple physical laws.

 

The modellers plead that where observations deviate from predictions that is due to unspecified ‘natural variations' – although that would imply that much of the warming observed since 1975 could also be due to natural variations in the opposite sense.

The Royal Society recently despatched two of its top climate scientists to convince MPs that, despite the pause, global warming was every bit as bad as previously predicted and we must believe the models.

 

One of my colleagues – not a sceptic - kept asking: "how long would the pause have to continue before you began to doubt your models?" To our amazement, Prof Tim Palmer replied "50 years". In short the models cannot be falsified in our lifetime.

The German Philosopher Hegel similarly claimed that the laws of natural science could be deduced from a few certain principles. When his disciples came back and said – "Master the facts do not agree with your theories" – he replied ["Um so schlimmer fur die Tatsachen"]: "So much the worse for the facts." Sadly, the Royal Society seems to be in the grip of Hegelian metaphysics.

 

A recent peer reviewed study showed that over the decades climate models have moved closer to each other but away from observations. They seem to put conformity before accuracy.

Dick Lindzen gave an explanation in his memorable EIKE lecture last week:

"For the advocates of policies allegedly addressing global warming, the role of models is not to predict but rather to justify the claim that catastrophe is possible. As they understand, proving something is impossible is itself almost impossible."

 

I will return to predictions of catastrophe. But first let me address my principal concern – the impact of decarbonisation policy on the poor.

 

POVERTY, VULNERABILITY AND ENERGY

 

Poor countries have contributed least to carbon emissions.

 

But they are most vulnerable to climate change whether natural or man-made.

 

They are vulnerable because they are poor.

 

Indeed, because they are poor, they are vulnerable not just to weather extremes, which account for a minuscule 0.06% of deaths, but to all sorts of disease and disaster.

And they will only cease to be vulnerable as they develop.

 

CHART 2 GOKLANY.

 

As this chart shows: mortality from weather related extremes (global warming not withstanding) has diminished dramatically as the world has developed over the last century.

 

But development is almost synonymous with harnessing energy.

And the speed with which poor countries can replace human brawn by energy depends on its cost.

 

If they are bullied or persuaded to rely on renewables - which cost two or three times as much as fossil fuels - they will only be able to afford half or a third as much energy.

So they would be condemned to suffer for another couple of generations the ills of poverty which cause 99% of premature mortality in the hope of avoiding a possible increase in weather related disasters which cause a fraction of 1%.

 

CHART 3 STERN.

 

Moreover, on Lord Stern's worst case projections – if the world does nothing to restrict use of fossil fuels - the average income of people in the developing world after subtracting the highest losses due to global warming will be over 6 times as high as it is at present by 2100 and 20 times as high by 2200.

 

CHART 4

 

So this generation and their children must be made to suffer prolonged poverty in order that their incomparably richer descendants do not have to spend so much on air conditioning and flood defence!

 

Developing countries know this. That is why India last week declared Greenpeace a threat to national development because it promotes opposition to nuclear, coal and other power stations.

 

But the Environmental movement is unmoved by their concerns and tries to stifle them. So last week, Professor Rossiter had his Fellowship at the Institute for Policy Studies terminated for writing an article against "Sacrificing Africa for Climate Change - Western Policies Seem More Interested in Carbon-dioxide Levels than in Life Expectancy".

 

It seems environmentalists are prepared to sacrifice Africa – and Asia come to that - at the altar of climate change.

 

The world cannot prevent CO2 concentration from doubling without constraining the developing world's use of fossil fuels.

 

The bulk of emissions growth will come from non-OECD countries.

 

The annual increase in Chinese emissions alone exceeds the entire emissions from the UK. So if we decarbonize we offset one year's Chinese growth. But we can only decarbonize once!

 

That is why Lords Stern, Deben et al go to such lengths to convince us that really China, prompted by Britain's self-sacrifice, is switching massively to renewables and will soon be cutting emissions.

 

That is not the view of most observers.

 

CHART 4. CHINA GRAPH.

 

At present renewables account for just 1% of China's primary energy.

 

CHART 5. CHINA PIE CHART.

 

CHART 6. WIND.

 

Even by 2020, wind is forecast to supply only 5 % of electricity – rising according to the International Energy Agency to 8.4% by 2030 and then double that – about 17% by 2050.

 

CHART 7. SOLAR. SOLAR

 

As for solar: it produces less than 0.5% of China's electricity.

 

China's use of fossil fuels will eventually peak. But it won't be due to renewables and is not imminent. And after China come India and Africa.

 

APOCALYPSE WHEN?

 

The case for decarbonising the world's economy used to rely on the claim that "the science of global warming is certain" and as a result we can calculate, as Lord Stern purported to do, the costs of doing nothing versus the cost of prevention.

 

That has been abandoned by everyone except the UK government and opposition both of whom still rely on Stern's report.

 

Everyone else, , including Lord Stern himself, however now stands that position on its head. The science is so uncertain that we cannot rule out that global warming might be off the scale and the impacts just conceivably could lead to an unspecified catastrophe threatening the end of the human race. So on the ‘precautionary principle' we should insure against the, albeit remote, possibility of apocalypse sometime.

 

Now, if I believed that there was a finite chance of global warming leading ineluctably and irreversibly to the extinction or immiseration of the human race, I would not be fussed about discount rates and so on. I would support the most ardent measures to prevent that occurring.

But I know of no credible peer reviewed study which suggests that even a temperature increase well above the 4oC with which the alarmists threaten us would lead to extinction or immiseration of humankind. Mankind has adapted to different climates from the Arctic Circle to the tropics - a difference of nearer 50oC than 5oC.

 

And extreme climate events are not the result of higher temperatures. If that were the case the Antarctic would be calm and storm free. Tell that to Captain Scott!

 

Heat can only be converted into mechanical energy as a result of temperature differences. And the overall impact of global warming is forecast to reduce temperature gradients as the cold poles warm most and the already hot tropics warm least.

 

The worst catastrophe that would result from global warming would be the melting of the ice-caps. But because melting requires considerable latent heat, according to the IPCC this would occur over millennia.

 

Given a few centuries, let alone a millennium, I cannot believe humanity – which is wonderfully resourceful and adaptable – will not find a way of avoiding that or any catastrophe especially as it would have to be signalled in advance by a very obvious acceleration in warming way beyond anything we saw during the 1980s.

 

All the recent empirical studies suggest that in fact global warming will be far lower that the models are programmed to predict.

 

But shock tactics are all that are left to justify the painful policies on which we are embarked.

So I was appalled but not surprised that even the Government Chief Scientific Adviser in his lecture stooped to talking about the planet being inhabitable only by cockroaches and asking how much the audience were prepared to pay to save the lives of their grandchildren.

That is a powerful rhetorical device. But it is not science.  

 

POLICY ALTERNATIVES

 

So what should we do?

  • Of course we should support cost effective measures to increase energy efficiency.
  • We should encourage R&D to develop forms of energy (and energy storage) that are cheaper than and as reliable as fossil fuels.
  • We should not invest, except on a pilot basis, in immature technologies like wind.
  • We should abandon support for bio-fuels which will reduce (by displacement) yield of food more than global warming is predicted to do.
  • We should accept that developing countries need to develop the cheapest energy sources available.
  • If we retain incentives to reduce carbon emissions we should ramp them up gradually as global warming occurs, as suggested by Prof McKittrick.

 

SPARE PARTS

THE CONSENSUS

 

So how do David and I dare question the alleged consensus of 97% of scientists about global warming? We don't. The 97% figure originated from a survey of scientists who were asked two questions: [check PolicyExchange speech]. I agree with both these statements. Indeed, I am mystified as to who were the 3% who did not do so.

 

There is no dispute about the basic GH effect. But there is no consensus about:

  • how much the climate will warm for a doubling of CO2. (The latest IPCC Report could no longer agree even on a central estimate);
  • how much damage warming will cause. (The British lead author of the IPCC Chapter on impacts resigned because he felt the Summary for Policy Makers was exaggerated) ;
  • the best balance between preventing and adapting to any warming. (The recent IPCC Assessment places more emphasis on adaptation and admits "current policy responses for climate change mitigation or adaptation will result in mixed, and in some cases even detrimental, outcomes for poor and marginalized people").
  • Whether unilateral action by the UK or EU will persuade other nations to follow.

 

Just to illustrate the lengths to which he had to go let me give three examples. First, he compares the cost of stabilising CO2 concentrations at twice the preindustrial level with the benefits that would have accrued if they had remained at the preindustrial level. If you or I did that we would fail O-level economics.

 

Second, he claims that if we carry on business as usual the damage done by global warming will be equivalent to a reduction in the world's Gross product of between 5 and 20% "now and forever". This far exceeds his estimate of the cost of prevention which he puts at just 1% of Gross World Product. Using the word "now" makes it sound pretty imminent. But on close inspection it turns out that even on his worst case – where global warming reduces GWP by a third – the cumulative cost of prevention will exceed the damage done had we done nothing for over a century. How can he use the phrase "now and forever"? Because he slipped in the word "equivalent to": what he is doing is forecasting centuries ahead and then averaging the high damage forecast centuries hence with the negligible damage done in the next century or so.

 

Third, he omits to mention that on all his scenarios if we do nothing to reduce emissions future generations will still be far richer than we are today even after the impact of global warming. So we are impoverishing the poor of today's world in order to make future generations ten times richer than us instead of only seven times.

 

As countries become more developed they become more resilient. Buildings, roads and bridges are more solid with firmer foundations; roads and communications enable speedy response; sanitation prevents the spread of disease.

 

But the world is determined to prevent greenhouse gas concentrations exceeding 560ppm of CO2 equivalent that will require not merely the developed world to decarbonise their economies but the developed world largely to forego use of the fossil fuels.

 

The non-OECD countries account for more than half of emissions and are expected to account for the bulk of emissions growth over the next half century.

To keep below 560ppm poor countries will have to be bullied or persuaded to use renewables instead of renewables.

 

But at present, renewables cost two, three or four times as much as fossil fuels. That means poor countries will only be able to afford a half, a third, or a quarter of the energy they could obtain form fossil fuels.

 

That means holding back the development of the poorest people on this planet for decades.

 

And for what?

 

To save them from experiencing worse and more frequent weather related disasters? But these account for a minute proportion of total mortality – about 0.06%. Even supposing global warming of several degrees would increase that figure substantially it would remain far less than mortality due to all the other ills of poverty which experience shows are massively reduced by development which cannot occur without cheap and reliable energy.

 

On Lord Stern's projections – if the world does nothing to restrict use of fossil fuels and on the worst case he shows for the consequent impact from global warming, the average income of people in the developing world will be 7 times as high as it is at present by 2100 and 20 times as high by 2200.

 

I began by looking intensively into the economics and discovered that the Bill's Impact Assessment was not alone in concluding that the cost of trying to decarbonise the world economy might exceed the benefits in terms of reduced global warming. Indeed the fourth IPCC report concluded that [see my stern doc]. Needless to say that was simply ignored by those in the grip of the new religion of climate alarmism.

 

I then looked at the Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change carried out by Nicholas Stern then a senior civil servant for Gordon Brown. It was supposed to be a Review of existing economic studies of the costs of climate change. Unfortunately, most environmental economists had also concluded that the harm done by global warming if we took no action might be less than the cost of trying to prevent it. So Stern largely ignored them and had to indulge in some very creative economics to reach the conclusion that he and the government wanted.

Anyone interested in the economics can read my rather lengthy critique.

 

Stern's review is still the sole authority cited by this and the previous government to justify the huge costs of decarbonising our economy. However, Stern himself has effectively abandoned it. Instead of arguing as he did: the science is certain so we can calculate within a modest range how much global warming will flow from a given increase in carbon emissions ad what damage that will do. Instead he says the science is hugely uncertain; so the amount of warming and the ensuing damage could be anywhere from a little to nearly infinite. So, on the precautionary principle we should do something just in case things turn out at the bad end of the spectrum.

 

Let me be clear. If I thought there was a serious risk that continuing to burn hydrocarbons would lead ineluctably to the extermination or immiseration of the human race then discount rates would be irrelevant. I would favour the most strenuous measures to prevent that outcome.

But there is to my knowledge no reputable peer reviewed study suggesting any outcome which would make the earth uninhabitable – uncomfortable at some lattitudes perhaps – but not uninhabitable or even likely to reduce our standard of living below its current level. After all humans have adapted to live at temperatures ranging from sub-zero to tropical.

 

The problem with that is that:

  • All the recent evidence is that the amount by which the surface temperature will rise is at the low end of the spectrum way short of the incredibly high numbers required to invoke the precautionary principle.
  • We do not know what would happen in the absence of human-made global warming. The earth is due to slip in to an ice-age sooner or later which would be far worse than even the hottest scenario envisaged by the alarmists. The last ice-age buried Manhatten under of 3 kilometres ice. So the same precautionary principle would require us to carry on warming.
  • If the sensitivity is much higher than any previous estimates it will start to manifest itself sooner or later.
  • There is to my knowledge not a single serious study suggesting that the planet will become uninhabitable for humans as a result of global warming. Sir Mark's claim that it will be inhabitable only by cockroaches is frankly allowing his imagination to run wild.

 

 

 

 

Current Location:

 

Home / Publications / 2015

What is the right level of response to anthropogenic induced climate change?

 

Search this Site

 

 

Contact Peter Lilley MP:

 

E-mail

feedback@peterlilley.co.uk