Energy policy or the dark art of global cooling?
- 23 May 2012, 16:09
- Christian Hunt
Sir Simon Jenkins, chairman of the National Trust and Guardian
columnist, has written a somewhat bizarre
blog at the Guardian's Comment is Free today.
His central thesis seems to be that British energy policy is
something of a dark art that rests on shaky factual
Our experience of examining media coverage of the same doesn't
disprove this, but even so we'd guess that Jenkins' assertion
"Anyone who claims to understand energy
policy is either mad or subsidised."
...is probably a bit strong.
Jenkins has a somewhat bizarre characterisation of why the UK is
trying to change its energy policy, though. He seems to think
that the aim is to bring about global cooling:
"As for achieving a remotely significant
degree of global cooling, that requires world diplomacy - which
has, as yet, proved wholly elusive.
"Britain's contribution to cooling can only be so infinitesimal as
to be little more than gesture politics, yet it is a gesture that
is massively expensive."
Are we being excessively pedantic, or is it worth heading off
confusion about this?
Measures to mitigate man-made greenhouse gas emissions, like for
example burning less fossil fuels in favour of more low-carbon
energy generation, are not usually suggested as a way to bring
about 'global cooling'.
The reason that scientists have recommended trying to cut
greenhouse gas emissions is to limit current ongoing global
temperature rise. As the Committee on Climate Change, the UK
government's advisors on preparing for and mitigating climate
"Based on current levels of
understanding, the world should aim to keep central (i.e. 50%
probability) estimates of temperature increase by 2100 close to
2°C, and should limit the probability of a 4°C increase to very low
levels (e.g. 1%)."
In case Jenkins seriously thinks that global cooling is what is
being mooted, it's worth pointing out that it's almost certainly
not a realistic option at this point. Even in an obviously
unrealistic scenario where we suddenly stopped all greenhouse
emissions today, scientists calculate
that the planet would most likely continue to warm, because the
greenhouse gases we've already put into the atmosphere would
continue to warm it, while aerosols (which help to cool the
atmosphere) would be quickly washed out.
Anyway, let's hope that 'global cooling' is just a silly
Perhaps more unhelpful is how Jenkins frames current
understanding of climate science, and the potential outcomes of
global warming, in a pretty unrealistic way. Again, let's not take
this too seriously because it's very obviously a polemic, but this
is his summation of the state of scientific opinion on climate
"The world is doomed anyway (James
Lovelock) or not doomed at all (Nigel Lawson)."
Indeed, James Lovelock recently
suggested that his previous doom-laden predictions, which had
already been largely dismissed by scientists, were 'alarmist'. On
the other hand, Nigel Lawson is probably also not the first person
you should turn to in order to get an accurate sumamtion of climate
science, particularly given the kinds of things his climate
skeptic lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation
get up to.
Of course, the reality of the situation is much more nuanced
than Jenkins suggests in his piece, and these two polar extremes of
opinion on the potential outcomes of climate change aren't
representative of the majority of commentators, let alone
scientists. And as we have previously noted, the
extreme viewpoint of one individual - or even two - doesn't change
know about climate science.
Anyway, it's a polemic piece by a columnist who doesn't like
wind turbines. What does it matter? Here's another polemic from a
Guardian columnist to cheer you up, which probably also does a
better job of responding to the kind of arguments Jenkins puts