Sunday, 5 October 2008

Oh good, the government is changing the climate

One of the most extraordinary political phenomena of the last year or so has been the emergence of "climate change" as a political issue. My regular reader might ask why I say "the last year or so" when climate issues have been prominent for more than a decade. My reason is simple, until very recently the problem was identified as "man-made global warming". Nothing else, just man-made global warming. It is only in very recent times that this has morphed into "climate change". Yesterday we learned that we are to have a new government department, the Department for Climate Change and Energy. I wonder whether it will really be concerned with climate change.

Governments in modern times have always had to act in response to changes in the weather. 1976 was an unusually hot year in the UK. Starting at Easter and going all through the summer months we experienced high temperatures and lack of rain many had not witnessed before. Steps were taken to control water use because the unusual weather was causing a problem. It was weather, not climate. We have had storms, floods, water shortages and all sorts since 1976 and they have all been caused by weather not climate change.

Weather and climate are different things. Weather is what happens today, tomorrow, next month; climate is about trends, it is about long-term shifts in the overall pattern of weather. Experiencing one hot summer tells us nothing about the likelihood of next summer being hot and one unusually cold winter tells us nothing about the prospects of being able to skate on the Thames next Christmas.

Thirty years is the generally accepted minimum period over which changes in climate should be assessed. There is nothing magic in the period thirty years rather than twenty-nine or thirty-one, but measuring trends can only be useful if done over a reasonably long period and thirty years is roughly a generation so it is a handy period to use. Within a thirty-year period we can see huge differences between the weather in one year and another, so we must ask whether there have been significant changes in averages over the period. More hot summers matched by more cool summers and more cold winters matched by more mild winters indicate a more unsettled pattern but they do not tell us that things are getting generally hotter or colder.

This aspect of climate is relevant to government because changes in average temperatures can affect many apparently banal aspects of policy. If temperatures are on a steady upward trend anything sensitive to increased heat will be affected. Take roads as an example. Resurfacing of motorways is a very expensive business and two factors dictate how long the tarmac surface of a road will last - volume of traffic and temperature. Tarmac suffers from being driven over by more cars, it also suffers if it is colder in winter (frost causes cracking which weakens the surface) or hotter in summer (melting causes thinning of the surface because more material is taken onto car tyres and transported elsewhere, it also causes ruts to develop). Very small changes in average temperatures can have a surprisingly large effect on the damage done to roads, so it is sensible for government to be aware of prospective changes in order to be able to plan its resurfacing budget for the decades ahead.

One might, therefore, be tempted to welcome the creation of a government department concerning itself with climate change because of the practical impact the climate can have on future expenditure. The problem, of course, is that there is precious little chance of the new department being concerned with anything so mundane. No government plans expenditure on the basis of anticipated minuscule annual changes of temperature, still less does it save now for fear that it might have to spend more in the future. If the roads start breaking up a bit more than normal they either increase the budget or let us little people drive on damaged roads for a few more months before the scheduled resurfacing occurs.

So, what is the new department for? This is unclear, so it is perhaps worthwhile looking at a little history.

We have had a Department for Energy before. In the 1970s the Secretary of State for Energy was Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, second Viscount Stansgate, the Marxist man of principle who likes to be called Tony Benn. Being a Marxist man of principle he is adamantly opposed to nuclear weapons and has spoken widely about nuclear power being a front for the creation of depleted uranium for use in nuclear weapons. As Secretary of State for Energy he stood by his principles as every good Marxist does by commissioning more nuclear power stations than any other minister before or since. The old Department for Energy existed to deal with deficiencies in energy supply infrastructure. We have deficiencies today, so maybe that part of the new Department will be a good thing. Ah, but there is a problem. The government has already committed itself to spend £100billion on windmills. With any luck the absurdity of this measure will be noticed by the new Secretary of State and he will make proper provision for nuclear and coal power stations instead, time will tell.

But what of the climate change bit? Is it just window dressing to keep the greenies happy or is it a real element of the new Department? After eleven years of Labour government in which nothing has been what they have said it is, I can only hazard a wild guess as to its purpose. We know his party claims to be in thrall to the greenies but I have a funny feeling Gordon doesn't believe the greeny stuff. He has slipped buzzwords into speeches but that is as far as he has gone. In ten hapless years as Chancellor and fourteen disastrous months as Prime Minister he has not made a speech dedicating himself to the warmist cause. Perhaps he has not looked into it, after all we know he did not know what "short selling" was when he banned part of it because he referred to it as "short term selling", a phrase that would never be used by anyone who has spent more than a minute looking into the practice.

Perhaps there is hope. Perhaps it is just window dressing. My fear is that adding "Climate Change" to the name of a government department is just another excuse to raise taxes now that he has run out of money and the financial faeces has hit the fan. What I would prefer is a government that had the courage to look carefully at the evidence for human activity making a detrimental change to climate, look at the things the greenies tell us we have to do to change our ways, assess the effect such a change in behaviour will have on the people of this country and have the courage to say it will not happen on their watch. Gordon is not noted for courage, but you can't stop a fat man dreaming.

1 comment:

Darren Rickard said...

F.B. we already have a Minister for "climate change" in New Zealand.
As far as I can tell his job is to keep his head firmly up his arse and ignore all scientific facts.
Oh yeah, he is also paid VERY well.