Lords of Climate Change

I see in this piece by Alan Wood that the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs inquiry into “The Economics of Climate Change” (which strongly questioned the science of climate change) is still getting a run in denialist circles.

I haven’t bothered posting on this before, because the main outcome of the inquiry was the establishment of the Stern Review which issued its first discussion paper back in April, stating (from the Executive Summary)

Climate change is a serious and urgent issue… There is now an overwhelming body of scientific evidence that human activity is increasing the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and causing warming.

There’s more like this, giving an excellent summary of the mainstream scientific position.

So the House of Lords exercise was something of an own goal for the denialists. But how did a supposedly serious inquiry come up with with such nonsense in the first place?

One possibility is a snow job, with the members of the committee (not scientists) being taken in by the superficially plausible claims of people like Ross McKitrick (I don’t imagine they bothered to check whether he was talking about degrees or radians). However, I think a setup is far more likely. Looking at the list of witnesses, it’s obvious that denialists and anti-Kyoto activists from all over the world rushed to appear before this rather obscure committee, while most serious scientists didn’t find out about it until after it had reported.

Then there’s the dubious logic of the report itself, where the Commitee, admitting it had no qualifications or remit to examine scientific issues, then split the difference between the thousands of scientists who’ve worked on global warming (but did not appear) and the handful of sceptics (nearly all of whom did). This kind of bogus neutrality managed to get past the members of the Committee, and the report was then trumpeted by denialists as a complete refutation of climate science.

Looking at the membership of the committee, the obvious candidate for a setup of this kind is Nigel Lawson, Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 2004, he wrote to The Times with six other rightwing economists (most of them subsequently witnesses to the inquiry), attacking Kyoto. The arguments of the letter, including claims about “scientific uncertainties” were reproduced in the Lords report.

As a politician of longstanding, Lawson would be well aware of the adage “Never set up an inquiry unless you know what it’s going to find”. His only mistake was to succeed so well in getting the report he wanted that it necessitated a proper inquiry, the Stern Review, too well-run and well-publicised to be snowed by the denialists.

87 thoughts on “Lords of Climate Change

  1. Roy – “That also means that if consume 1% less next year than I had planned to consume then we save the planet.”

    No but if the largest polluting nations like the US, the EU and China instituted a massive energy saving scheme that reduced power consumption by 50% yes that would go a long way to saving the planet. Such schemes can even be profitable – it just takes political will and leadership. One of the above mentioned nations is taking some baby steps toward this goal the other 2 are not.

    If those same countries then replaced their IC cars with electric cars and plug in hybrids the storage they gain could foster a massive increase in renewable energy. The same region, the EU, is taking quite large steps toward renewable energy as are the other two to a lesser degree.

    It is fairly simple – the devil is in the details.

  2. Oh yes, the devil is in the details.

    There are no altenate fuels available would have any effect. Hydrogen fuel cells are the closest, however, it costs more in CO2 emission to produce the hydrogen than is saved in gasoline not used.

    Biodeisel will, along with hudrogen fuel cells, reduce our reliance on Middle Eastern oil but will not reduce CO2 emissions.

    There are more acres of forests in the US now than there were 200 years ago, so reforrestation probably won’t do that much.

    That leaves very few alternatives for such a drastic reduction as mentioned (50%). I suppose we could have a good war and reduce the world population by 50-60%, or maybe the politicians can come up with a scenario to just eliminate citizens, especially those who oppose them.

    I prefer to think, however, that mankind left to his own devices, unhibited by politicians, can and will come up with solutions that will both save the world and increase profits. The same way humans have been doing it for thousands of years. Mankind has done, and will continue to do, horrendous things to both themselves and the rest of the world (just look at the environment the Soviet Union left behind); but in the end has always found a way to improve conditions for everyone.

    Free market economies have always worked and will always work best.

  3. Roy Sites – “There are no altenate fuels available would have any effect.”

    What about electricity? As I said if you have electric transport then you have storage for renewables. It is called Vehicle to Grid or V2G.

    “That leaves very few alternatives for such a drastic reduction as mentioned (50%).”

    With very little effort and for not much money 40% or 50% savings on electricity use can be made just by mandating energy efficiency standards on airconditioners and refrigeration units. Buildings are another huge area where massive gains in efficiency and savings in power use can be made quite cheaply. Better yet the companies or individuals that do this save money on power.

    No need for a war unless of course you want one.

  4. Unless you are talking about nuclear power generation, as much or more CO2 is emitted creating the electricity than is saved by not burning the fossil fuels.

    Nuclear power plants, at least in the US, are not being built. Wind and solar power generators do exist but account for such a tiny fraction of the total power used that they cannot be considered.

    So, where is the 50% reduction of CO2 emissions going to come from?

  5. Roy Sites – If you don’t use the electricity or gas in the first place then you don’t emit CO2. Saving electicity with higher efficiency appliences that do the same job with half the power, or houses that are insulated and are able to be heated/cooled with half the energy reduces the amount of CO2 generated.

    Electric cars and plug in hybrids emit CO2 only at the generation plant. However even an electric car charged with electricity from a coal plant emits less than half the CO2 of an equivilent IC car. This is due to even thermal coal plants are far more efficient than a car’s IC engine. An electric drivetrain can be 85% efficient as opposed to the 15% you get at best from your IC car.

  6. I’m really interested at a technical level to see if the Solar Tower proposed by Enviromission can be made into a bankable investment. On paper at least it looks very promising. I love the simplicity of the technology not to mention it’s boldness. I do think that with time and wits we will eventually find better alternatives to coal.

    In terms of efficiency gains I think that if governments wish to take action they would do well to look at incremental improvements in the efficiency of the coal fired power stations that they own and operate. Handing out fluro light bulbs (as they do at shopping centres in NSW) may reduce my lighting bill, but in winter it also increases my heating bill (which does very little to reduce CO2 emissions).

  7. Roy Sites – “Dream on.”

    The difference is that the people really behind the push for efficiency and electric cars dream big and dream with their eyes firmly open.

    Terje – “incremental improvements in the efficiency of the coal fired power stations that they own and operate”

    Thermal coal plants have had a long history of improvement and are stuck at about 36% with current materials. Steam can only be made so hot and at so much pressure. Any improvements now are very small.

  8. Ender,

    I read recently about technology for brown coal power stations that lowers efficiency but lowers CO2 output by more. Perhaps I was not specific enough in my suggestion.

    On a personal note. We insulated the ceiling a few weeks ago and I don’t know if we will use less power for heating, but the house is certaily more snug.


  9. Terje – “I read recently about technology for brown coal power stations that lowers efficiency but lowers CO2 output by more. Perhaps I was not specific enough in my suggestion.”

    Perhaps it was CO2 Sequestration. This does lower the efficiency as the CO2 scrubbers block the exaust for one and also require a lot of power to run the compressors and liquifiers reducing the overall efficiency. In a normal power station the CO2 is still quite dilute and cannot be completely scrubbed from the exaust so therefore applying this technology to brown coal plants will only lower the CO2 emissions not eliminate them.

    “On a personal note. We insulated the ceiling a few weeks ago and I don’t know if we will use less power for heating, but the house is certaily more snug.”

    Would not have a house without it. In Perth, where it does not really get too cold, we have had for the last 10 years only one 2400W oil radiator that heats the whole house which is double brick and has insulation. I also have all flouro lights.

  10. Ender,

    Here is an article talking about the technology I was refering to. It involves drying the coal before burning it. I think the technology is limited to brown coal.


    The program put forward by IP comes in a series of stages. The first is to fit coal-drying technology to two units of its eight-unit Hazelwood plant, the most greenhouse-polluting generator in Australia. That technology, IP’s LETDF submission claims, will cut emissions from its oldest two generation units by as much as 30 per cent, to about 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity generated.


  11. Dear Mr Quiggin

    Regardless of the many theories surrounding global warming – it is intellectualy dishonest to compare those who raise questions with regard to this important issue with “creationists”
    Those who support the AGW hypothesis need to become more efficient and less emotive with their use of langauge.
    As for myself – I agree that GW is occurring – but I cannot agree with the rude, humourless and dismissive manner with which many of those that believe fervently in AGW correspond.
    You should know better.

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