Should we do less about climate change?

Should we do less about climate change?

So he’s a linguist but is he a climate expert? Well, Owen Patterson doesn’t seem to have learned much about what may lie ahead for us if we don’t do everything we can to reduce carbon emissions. I agree with his thoughts about small nuclear reactors, it seems that we are going to need nuclear for lowering carbon production and hopefully it can play a big part in our energy production in the future. However, saying that the claims made by the climate change community are “consistently and wildly exaggerated” means that he has failed to grasp the magnitude of what is happening.

Owen Patterson is not an expert and, as Paul Nurse (President of the Royal Society) put it to James Delingpole of Daily Telegraph regarding listening to the consensus of a group of doctors about your diagnosis: “You could say: I’ve done my research into it and I disagree with that consensual position, but that would be a very unusual position for you to take”. The same is true for any position on saying that government targets on decarbonisation are needlessly ambitious. The fact is that anything governments around the world are doing to reduce carbon output or adapt to climate change impacts are usually grossly inadequate as we are still seeing carbon emissions increase globally. Examining the report from the Committee on Climate Change with regards to government spending to adapt to changing flood risk under climate change in the UK is a prime example of seeing that more needs to be invested in our future and not less.

The reason why government action on climate change mitigation is usually inadequate is for the simple reason that democratic government operates under the weight of achieving short term goals, ideally ones achievable before the next election and with a tangible, local, impact. This causes serious problems when looking at something like climate change that has impacts for the whole planet over timescales outside of the lifetime of a government term. Any work done now to mitigate or adapt to climate change will only see benefits in about 30 years’ time, with reference to C02 at least, as that is how long it takes for C02 takes to settle near the top of our atmosphere to create it’s warming effect.

The oil industry is similarly constrained from doing anything but for different reasons: their shares are among the most reliable in terms of paying out dividends to shareholders. This means they are under pressure to make money consistently every year so they can keep their shareholders happy and their share prices high. This means they cannot divert very much money away from their main business interest of oil production, BP currently invests approximately 5-10% of their profits in renewables. As part of the fossil fuel sector that could see 60-80% of its coal, oil and gas reserves having to be left in the ground as stranded assets to keep the Earth’s temperature from increasing 2oc above pre-industrial levels, you would think that they would be investing a little more in ways to move away from the fossil fuel business.

However, there are some huge multinationals out there that are capable of adapting quickly: namely the banks. They have a huge part of their businesses based in re-insurance, this means they insure the insurance companies. This means they have a huge interest in making sure they have a good idea of what is going to cost them money in the near future so they can increase premiums to that area of the insurance industry to offset what they are going to have to pay out. If you knew that tropical storms were increasing in intensity and frequency, for example, then you could increase premiums to insurance companies that insure people and businesses in areas of the world like Florida.



I suppose the message would be that those who aren’t adapting may not be acting stupidly but just working within the constraints of the political, financial or business environment that they inhabit. What is clear is that the information is there: that the climate is changing and those that are able to prepare for a more uncertain future are doing exactly that.

So anyone advocating watering down responses to climate change and carbon reduction on any grounds simply doesn’t understand the concept that everything in our world only functions as a result of having a healthy planet. The World Bank doesn’t even think that our economies will suffer in the least to deliver the changes we need. In fact, as they suggested in a recent report, we could see economic growth through adaptation and leading businessmen such as Ray Anderson are proving that this is the only prudent business avenue to pursue.

You may think that the story is different for individual but there is even help out there from the government’s Green Deal in the UK. They can help reduce the cost of efficiency measures to lower your energy bills and carbon footprint simultaneously. Once you start saving money there may be other, larger steps you wish to take but in the mean time we need to prepare for new challenges that we have not yet seen and try and prevent some of the worst of those challenges becoming a reality, if we can. Taking our foot off the pedal now will only make adaptation and mitigation more costly in future, our economies will weaken through increasing costs of global trade and resources, many countries that we obtain cheap goods from will be hit worst by climate change, such as India, and we will have less resources with which to adapt. Political instability and conflict may also increase in countries looking at the deepest impacts of climate change, many of which we depend on for the health of our own economies. Failure to act now will result in missing a great opportunity to secure a decent future for the next generation and improve the planet that we so profoundly depend upon.



If you are interested in understanding more about the nature of flood risk and protection in the UK then the Guardian did a good piece today.