Monday, 30 November 2009

Towards a Self-Locating Graded Typology of Climate Changery

The battle between Warmists and Deniers rages over our heads. Brave scientists versus purblind sceptics; or purblind scientists versus brave sceptics. But, of course, it's much more gradated than that. The vast majority of us, I suspect, sit somewhere in the middle or see some sense in both positions. And shift around a bit depending on the weather or what sort of day we've had.

Here I provide a handy scale across which you can plot your position ([0] is full denial, [5] is extreme warmism). It also has the wonderful attribute of removing any pejorative sense to our descriptions. Now, there need be no more ugly 'denier' or 'warmist' - it's a matter of being a 0.75 or a 4.3:

[0] Believe nothing is going on whatsoever, everything's fine, really it is;

or [1] believe in global warming;

and [2] believe it's man-made;

and [3] believe it may be catastrophic;

and [4] believe it requires us to give up carbon;

and [5] believe it requires us to return to live in caves, eat nuts and berries and kill our firstborn.

My score is about 2.65. Today, that is. It's no lower as it's raining really rather heavily. It's no higher because the people at [4] and above are asking us to give up carbon as if it's the logical and sufficient conclusion of the debate rather than the very start of it. Or rather, it's the start of the debate in which we, the 'ordinary people', need not defer to anyone, scientist, politician or even journalist. Being reasonably informed should be sufficient.

If I get to [4] then I would probably be arguing strongly for improved sea defences and national contingency plans for food production and water supply. On the other, preventative, hand, I'd want an immediate massive investment in nuclear power and hydro-electricity (tidal barrages, in particular). If we did this we'd look a bit like France, which gets nearly all of its electricity from these sources. We should pay for this investment simply by making electricity more expensive.

That's my view, one which others will take issue with. But I see little evidence of a real public and political discussion on proposals like these despite their importance and despite their being amenable to reasonably informed public debate.

Bryan Appleyard reckons we'd last a week without carbon (he obviously hasn't downloaded a precautionary survivalist manual). So sorting out how we're going to substitute for it is quite critical. And yet our Government, whilst fervent about the need to give up the stuff, seems quite leisurely about replacing it. Next decade, or the one after that, or whatever.

Our leaders claim climate change is a huge threat. But they aren't willing to use up any significant political (or financial) capital on countering it today. If anything, climate change seems to be a source of political capital, what with all that grandstanding at international conferences. And I'm not sure if I have a notch on my scale for that.


Brit said...

An excellent idea but already there are problems with your scale - ie. one could believe 3 but not 2.

I'm not in a position to reject the scientific consensus, but the Yard's piece sums up the problem. He really does believe 3 apparently. A lot of people do. But nobody is really putting anything on the line in the light of it. The Yard should be running around screaming a bit more, shouldn't he? Instead of penning smart-alec pieces about dinner party bores, and tucking it, with equal weight, amongst the left-brain theory twaddle and the Cadbury takeover.

So who really believes 3? Maybe only the full on, practising 5s. At least they have the courage of their convictions.

Bunny Smedley said...

Isn't there something a bit generic and Norman Cohn-ish about 3, so much so that it needn't really follow on from much at all? I mean, it does rather spice up the experience of doing the school run and some miscellaneous shopping on a very wet Monday morning if one believes one is teetering excitingly on the brink of imminent global destruction.

Having grown up in an era, however, where it was quite normal to think we were all going to destroy ourselves with nuclear weapons - as opposed to climate change, inherent contradictions or bad theology - the thrill has worn off a bit, although my intrinsic conservatism is such that the survivalist stuff does sound rather fun, as long as we end up e.g. in the early Georgian period, rather than the Stone Age. In the short run, you're almost certainly right about charging more for electricity (and petrol, for those of us who already walk everywhere anyway?). So, put me down as a 2.3 or thereabouts.

Alternatively, this morning it least, it would probably be possible to run a perfectly acceptable tidal-powered hydro plant in the street outside our house, such is the state of the pavement and, alas, the drains ...

Brit said...

Zing-y little piece by David C on this here.

worm said...

Messrs. B. Smedley makes me think of a good historical narrative framework

"Which apocalyptic era did you grow up in?"

a) The era in which we were afraid the lord would smite us verily for our sins

b) The era in which we thought the Russians were going to nuke the world

c) The era in which we thought middle class people were going to destroy the world

I've just sold the book and Tv rights to Andrew Marr

malty said...

All a load of media generated, chattering class induced, London based, grant chasing boffin inspired, university bred, anti working class, meerkat kissing, Country Living for Dummies reading townie backed, liberal inspired Dingoes Kidneys.

Long before the water laps around our nappers the first Iranian whoosh-bang-ooh-nasty will have landed on Bromley Common.
Mind you though but, some would say that would improve the joint.

Gaw said...

Brit: It's even theoretically possible to get to [5] without going through any of the other 4 stages. But in practical terms it doesn't happen, just as people who believe in [3] always believe in [2].

Re Appleyard: he and the govt too. It's quite peculiar: as you say, if I was Ed Miliband and I believed in [3] I would be coming up with a lot more practical things we should be doing right now. And if I wasn't I'd be jumping up and down saying he should.

Bunny: My intuition says that this is just another of those chiliastically-inspired palavers. However, what if this time it's different? Sure the boy cried wolf before, but he was eventually eaten... And as you rightly point out there are all sorts of other good reasons to move away from fossil fuels.

BTW I picture it as more Dark Age, than Stone or Georgian.

Worm: Excellently framed. But as I say, what if...?

Re the Andrew Marr approach: I wonder if Phil Cool is available to do all the impressions? Or perhaps we should go down the ventriloquism route? Could bring in a whole new audience.

Malty:I guess what worries me is that the lefties hiding behind environmentalism turn out to be right about AGW, and that this victory impels the lot of us to buy into the rest of the programme. We need to develop a sensible, non-lefty approach from [3] onwards. As for Iran, I don't have the capacity to worry about that too.

worm said...

haha phil cool, I'd forgotten about him! (although he was quite rubbish wasn't he?)

I had in mind Grover from Sesame Street

Gaw said...

So that's where Jah Jah Binks voice came from. And as he looks even more like Marr, he's my new candidate.

Gadjo Dilo said...

I am a world away from all this talk about carbon and emissions. But I does know one thing, that when thems that 'as them fancy SUVs 'as used up the oil theys 'ave to run them on yer rapeseed oil, and the only place left in Europe with space left to grow it is roight 'ere, which could be a nice little earner for our young 'uns.

malty said...

Used chip oils the stuff, encourage people to OD on fish and chips, save the planet, would also help the newspaper industry, insist on them in a newspaper wrapper.
Tell the EU fishy czar to go stuff himself, bring the UK fishing fleet back, reopen Hull, no wait a minute, that's a step too far, reopen Iceland.

Fish and Chips and Appleyard save the planet, just in time for the nuking.

Gaw said...

Gadjo: I see that mechanical engineering degree is still the gift that keeps giving.

Malty: Now you're talking. Fish and chips: boys, our troubles are over!