Umm, a Gummer and carbon nonsense

By Gareth Renowden 28/03/2011

Twenty years ago I’d have crossed the street to avoid meeting John Selwyn Gummer, then agriculture minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government, chiefly famous for having attempted to feed his young daughter a beefburger at the 1990 Ipswich Boat Show to demonstrate his understanding of the risks of contracting bovine spongiform encephalopathy (aka mad cow disease) from contaminated meat. It has since killed 166 people in Britain, Cordelia Gummer not among them. I now find myself in the strange position of agreeing rather wholeheartedly with Baron Deben, as he is currently styled, in an article headlined Climate change doubters are endangering our common future published in The Australian (!) last week. And his musings on the politics of climate action provide a useful counterpoint to the astonishing submission on the NZ government’s intention to gazette a “50 by 50″ target for carbon emissions made earlier this month by an Australian organisation calling itself The Carbon Sense Coalition.

Gummer’s central thesis is that in Europe there is consensus between the political left and right on the need for action to address climate change, based in an acceptance of the facts of the matter. He also gets the risk equation absolutely right.

[…] it is not only the Europeans – Right and Left – who have taken up the challenge. From California to Korea, governments and civil society are finding their own ways to work towards a world that is not threatened by pollution. Even if they were all wrong and we acted, the result would be that we would have a cleaner planet, more able to cope with feeding, housing, and clothing those 9 billion people. If, however, we follow the sceptics and they turn out to be wrong, then we would leave our children a legacy of destruction. The risk is all one way, which explains why in Britain, scepticism is confined to the extremes. The political parties embracing it are way out on the edge of the spectrum with views on most other matters that few of us would embrace.

It’s well worth taking the time to read Gummer’s article. He (respectfully) dismisses the views of his fellow Thatcherite peer Nigel, Lord Lawson of Blaby, but describes Christopher Monckton as “more lightweight and extreme and therefore largely discounted”. He concedes they “they keep us all on our toes”, but they have no influence on the direction of policy.

“Lightweight and extreme” would be a good way to describe the “evidence” presented in The Carbon Sense Coalition’s submission to the NZ government’s consultation process on emissions reductions targets, Clean, Green and Barefoot in the Snow (pdf). Life’s too short to enumerate all its evidential shortcomings, but I would note that Easterbrook has some competition from “ex-CSIRO scientist Dr Guy LeBlanc Smith PhD, AIG, AAPG” who uses the same Greenland ice core data to show that “current temperatures are generally lower than several warm periods in the recent past” (hint: they aren’t). The Coalition also manages to claim that there has been no global warming since 1998 and that the oceans are responsible for increasing atmospheric CO2 levels. Factually challenged the Coalition most certainly are, but the submission’s author, one Viv Forbes, is not without a certain charming turn of phrase:

Today is not unusual in any way, apart from the spectacular rise of a pagan global religion that places life-supporting carbon dioxide as the devil, worships green gods, sells indulgences to carbon sinners and advocates a return to the life style of the cave men.

That will come as news to Baron Deben, I am sure. He converted to Catholicism when the Church of England decided to allow the ordination of women. I doubt he’s keen on the troglodyte lifestyle. I hope that Nick Smith applies the same criteria as Gummer when evaluating the submissions crossing his desk…

[Pink Floyd]