Last night former Conservative Chancellor Nigel Lawson performed more of a public service in one hour than Britain’s public service broadcaster has performed in any of the last 100 hours since the publication of the Stern report. Whilst the BBC has breathlessly gushed over the report – failing to subject it to any critical scrutiny – other observers (notably the leader-writers at The Telegraph, Mail and Sun) have been more questioning. Lawson began his Centre for Policy Studies lecture by quoting Blair guru Lord Giddens:
“In order to manage risk, you must scare people”.
Sir Nicholas Stern – soon, no doubt, to be enobled as Lord Stern of Chicken Licken – has certainly scaremongered throughout his report. The extent of this scaremongering is exposed in today’s Wall Street Journal by Bjorn Lomborg.
Over a number of years Lomborg has been trying – pretty unsuccessfully – to reintroduce the world’s policymakers to the central economic concept of ‘opportunity cost’. That’s the idea that if you spend one pound on one project you lose the opportunity to invest it in another project. Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus keeps asking economists and politicians to evaluate whether taxpayers’ money being earmarked for climate change could be better spent on other causes. The same answers keeps coming back: yes, yes, yes.
Over the weekend Professor Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus convened a meeting of 24 UN Ambassadors and (repeating earlier work by distinguished economists) the meeting decided that disease, water, hunger and education should be priorities for international action – more important than addressing climate change. The BBC failed to report the meeting but you can read about it on Yahoo and in The Washington Times. [The BBC did give Professor Lomborg a platform back in September]. There is also the opportunity cost of politicians’ time and attention – a point made in ConservativeHome’s ‘Not today’s news’ entry of Monday.
"There are all sorts of things we can do, from riding a bicycle to putting a windmill on our roof, that may make us feel good…"
Who can Lord Lawson be thinking of? He continues…
"…But there is no escaping the two key truths. First, there is no way the growth in atmospheric carbon dioxide can be arrested without a very substantial rise in the cost of carbon, presumably via the imposition of a swingeing carbon tax, which would require, at least in the short to medium term, a radical change of lifestyle in the developed world. Are we seriously prepared to do this? (A tax would at least be preferable to the capricious and corrupt rationing system which half-heartedly exists today under Kyoto.) And the second key truth is that, even if we were prepared to do this, it would still be useless unless the major developing nations – notably China, India and Brazil – were prepared to do the same, which they are manifestly and understandably not. So we are driven back to the need to adapt to a warmer world, and the moral obligation of the richer countries to help the poorer countries to do so."
Nigel Lawson offers three principal reasons why it is better that policy makers focus on adapting to climate change rather than attempting to stop it:
"The first is that many of the feared harmful consequences of climate change, such as coastal flooding in low-lying areas, are not new problems, but simply the exacerbation of existing ones; so that addressing these will bring benefits even if there is no further global warming at all.
The second reason is that, unlike curbing carbon dioxide emissions, this approach will bring benefits whatever the cause of the warming, whether man-made or natural.
And the third reason why adaptation – most of which, incidentally, will happen naturally, that is to say it will be market-driven, without much need for government intervention – is the most cost-effective approach is that all serious studies show that, not surprisingly, there are benefits as well as costs from global warming. Adaptation enables us to pocket the benefits while diminishing the costs."