Sorry, folks, but I'm not going to shut up about this. We're being lied to, and manipulated. We're being made to feel guilty for things that aren't our fault. In years to come our lives are going to be made more difficult and more expensive, for no valid reason. A whole raft of people with their own axes to grind are trying to put one over on us, and we mustn't sit still for it. So no, even at the risk of boring our poor readers and driving them away, we're going to keep banging on …
Gordon Brown has declared himself on the side of "incentives", rather than "penalties", to encourage voters to behave in an environmentally friendly fashion. The Government's proposals lock five-year targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions into legislation, legally binding future governments to cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent before 2050. Mr Brown opts for a light touch on details - well, he would, wouldn't he? - urging, for example, people to change the type of lightbulb they use (Mrs.GOS is already stockpiling light bulbs. These low energy ones are bulky, ugly, dim and too expensive by far. By the end of this year the Grumpy Loft will contain enough old-fashioned bulbs to last for the next two decades, which should see the Grumpy couple out quite comfortably).
But as Richard Gray wrote in his excellent Sunday Telegraph article this week, a number of searching questions are being asked. For example, can a country that contributes just 2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions really make much of a difference to the planet? And, if not, are politicians justified in asking the voters to dramatically change their lifestyles and, inevitably, pay more tax?
And then there is the basic question: has it been definitively proved that human behaviour is causing the planet to warm? Even scientists who believe this to be the case have begun to warn of the dangers of "eco-hype" - of exaggerating the nature and speed of climate change.
The sceptics accept that the earth is heating up. But they think the warming is due to its natural cycles, and so doubt that humans are the cause. Therefore there is little humans can do to stop it. Professor Bob Carter, a marine geophysicist at James Cook University in Queensland argues: "Public utterances by prominent persons are marked by an ignorance of the important facts and uncertainties of climate science. The evidence for dangerous human-caused global-warming forced by human carbon-dioxide emissions is extremely weak. That the satellite temperature record shows no substantial warming since 1978, and that even the ground-based thermometer statistic records no warming since 1998, indicates that a key line of circumstantial evidence for human-caused change is now negated."
There is also flak heading the way of Al Gore and his Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth. At the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, Professor Don Easterbrook, a geologist from Western Washington University, told hundreds of experts of his concerns at "inaccuracies" in Mr Gore's arguments: "The real danger of the IPCC report and Al Gore's film is they suggest that, by diminishing carbon dioxide levels, it will solve the global-warming problem and we won't have to worry about the catastrophe they are predicting."
For the public, the science of global warming remains baffling. Advocates on both sides of the argument can produce reams of statistics to support their opposing views. A poll by ICM, published yesterday in the Guardian, revealed that voters are less engaged with green issues, and more doubtful of the ability of politicians to tackle climate change, than either Gordon Brown or David Cameron might have thought. More than a third said they did not believe MPs could tackle climate change at all. Between them, the Tories and Labour attracted only 30 per cent support for their green strategies.
It is this growing public disaffection which has probably prompted some prominent climate-change scientists to warn against sensationalist predictions on the part of the environmental lobby. "It is dangerous for politicians to say the science of climate change is now complete," said Dr Piers Forster, an earth and environment researcher at the University of Leeds and a lead author on the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He believes human activities are causing the climate to warm, but insists that it is impossible to make clear policy decisions at local or even on continental-wide levels at this stage.
"We really don't know how it is going to effect our day-to-day lives over the next 100 years," he states. "People are making decisions about exactly what to do without making sure they are based on the best scientific evidence we have."
Fears about this "eco-hype" were echoed yesterday by two senior members of the Royal Meteorological Society at a conference in Oxford. Professors Paul Hardaker and Chris Collier hit out at researchers who, they say, are "overplaying" the global warming message. Some of their peers, they warn, are making claims about future impacts that cannot be justified by the science.
The Government estimates that meeting the 60 per cent reduction target will cost about one per cent of the country's gross domestic product. But experts fear that Britain is still ill-equipped to switch to a low-carbon lifestyle. Julian Morris, the executive director of the think-tank International Policy Network (IPN), believes this could harm Britain by making it more expensive for companies to operate here. "Companies that are able to will simply move their production to countries where they don't have such penalties. While we will see greenhouse gas emissions going down locally, we may end up shifting those emissions elsewhere."
"It is not obvious we have all the infrastructure and institutional tools in place to do this properly just yet," warned Dr Dave Frame, of Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute. "The clean technology needed to reduce emissions is not in place. There is little point in Britain going heavily after the aviation industry, unless it is part of a wider approach internationally to cut carbon emissions. Trying to lead behaviour change through taxation works only if people have something to change to. At this stage, we run the risk of green taxes becoming a way of raising revenue rather than changing behaviour."
Despite their embrace of radical environmental policies, neither party has a convincing answer as to why Britain should take the global lead on climate change, other than as a "moral obligation". In worldwide terms, Britain contributes just a fraction of total carbon emissions - about 544 million tons. By comparison, America pumps out more than 5,844 million tons. China and India, two of the fastest-growing economies, emit 3,263 million tons and 1,220 million tons respectively. China alone has more than 2,000 coal-fired power stations in operation and a new one opens every four days. If the UK stopped all of its emissions today, China would have replaced the lot within a year.
In such developing countries, climate-change issues receive little attention. What concerns the people and politicians is how to drag themselves out of poverty. Almost 300 million Indians still live on less than 50p a day. Convincing them that development must be balanced with care for the environment is not easy, even though they are most at risk from climate change.
"The climate debate has been captured by people who have at heart an interest in exerting control over people's lives rather than letting them live better lives," said Julian Morris, from IPN. "It is extremely sad to see Britain's political parties trying to capitalise on this."
The GOS says: To explore an excellent and thorough website devoted to both sides of the Global Warming debate, click here.
To read the text of a long and very thought-provoking article written in April last year by Professor Bob Carter, quoted above, click here.
either on this site or on the World Wide Web.
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