Friday, May 15, 2009

Vaclav Klaus, Hysteria over global warming, a bout of climate change bashing and environmentalism as a socialist plot

(Above: concerning the coming ice age, as predicted by Ian Plimer, but don't worry Oz folks, it's only New York going to catch the chill).

It wouldn't be a decent week in The Australian if it didn't round out its commentariat columnists calumnies with a decent bout of climate change bashing.

And who better to call on than Vaclav Klaus, one of our favorite European sceptics, with a consistent, typical knock in Fantasy leads to economic decline.

Klaus is one of our favorites because of his Whitmanesque capacity to embrace contradictions.
For example, a vehement anti-communist, he won the Czech presidential election with the aid of communist votes, and suddenly announced  himself to be a non-communist rather than an anti-communist.

And he was a profound Eurosceptic, until the Czech Republic rotationally assumed the presidency of the European Union, at which point the title became a ritual part of any Klaus CV certifying to his importance and standing in the world of European politics.

He is of course extremely strident about freedom and human rights (though Vaclav Havel did a heck of a lot more), which I guess helps explain exactly why he likes the new Russia under Vladimir Putin and why he dislikes so intensely the Kosovo declaration of independence. And why at the start of his second term, he determined to wage war on various enemies of the state on the grounds that they'd voted against him (though curiously he got re-elected with the crucial votes of three social democrats who had regularly criticised him in the past, but then somehow managed to vote for him).

Anyhoo, never mind the politics of the Czech Republic, let's cut to the climate change chase with good ol' Klaus:

I am surprised at how so many people nowadays in Europe, the US and elsewhere have come to support policies underpinned by hysteria over global warming, particularly cap-and-trade legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and subsidies for "green" energy sources. I am convinced that this is a misguided strategy: not only because of the uncertainty about the dangers that global warming might pose, but also because of the certainty of the damage that these proposed policies aimed at mitigation will impose.

Ah ha, a cunning ploy, a solid safe move to e4, without the hysteria of calling environmentalism a leftist ideology designed to bring us a socialist government at the global level.

With the global financial crisis and the sudden economic downturn, two things are becoming clear. First, it will be difficult to afford these expensive new sources of energy. Second, energy rationing policies like cap-and-trade will be a permanent drag on economic activity. Ironically, emissions have not decreased as a result of these policies, but are doing so now as the world economy moves into recession.

This is not a surprise to someone like me, having been actively involved in my country's transition from communism to a free society and market economy. The old, outmoded heavy industries that were the pride of our communist regime were shut down - practically overnight - because they could not survive the opening of the economy. The result was a dramatic decline in CO2 emissions.

And there you have it. Vaclav Klaus is not inclined to the vision thing, but then that's hardly surprising, because many conservatives have trouble imagining a future that might do things differently - in much the same way as Edwardian conservatives probably found it hard to imagine the killing fields of the Somme, had no idea a great depression wasn't too far away, or that a second world war would crank up. In those blissful times, it was just a matter of keeping on eating cucumber sandwiches and enjoying the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, and keeping the working class in its place, with nose to grindstone.

So at a time when Klaus might be talking about ways of boxing clever, of improving living standards while finding new and ingenious ways to conserve resources while deploying them in more efficient ways, all he can manage to do is be a nattering naboob of negativity.

Given that the world is going to grow from over six billion people to somewhere around the nine billion mark in the next few decades, and some resources are already known to be in relatively short supply, you might expect forward thinking and resources planning would be high on the agenda of world leaders.

Let's leave aside the issue of climate change, let's wonder if new technologies are worth exploring and embracing, even if they might initially cost more, as a way of finding some kind of future for the generations to follow.

Assuming of course that we don't expect or hope the world just to clap out in a hundred years, leaving our grandchildren with a mess of pottage as our heritage. But wait a second, aren't the climate change deniers the ones rabbiting on endlessly about the generational burden of debt to be felt way down to 2525 as a result of the deficit in the current budget?

Never mind, it's only an academic interest for me, since I won't be around to see it, but this eternal talk of growth as the only meaningful engine and measure of things is truly a marvel to think about, as growing the empire was once all the talk of London, and Paris, and Berlin, and Madrid (and we know where all that talk left the world).

But let's get back on topic.

The secret behind the cut in emissions was economic decline. As the economies of the Czech Republic and other central and eastern European countries were rebuilt and began to grow again, emissions have naturally started to increase. It should be clear to everyone that there is a very strong correlation between economic growth and energy use.

No, my plasma uses electricity? 

The only thing Klaus forgets to mention is the ongoing need for tax cuts.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm in favor of every  human bean on the planet having a large plasma screen and a humungous monitor and 'puter connected to broadband, though I suspect some people might actually first of all prefer a decent meal, clothes, roof over head and a relative level of comfort and safety.

But if you want a straw man argument as to why we can never give up our addiction to growth (or sugar), it's all about how trying to box clever will in fact ruin things.

It is necessary to look at the bigger picture. Profits can be made when energy is rationed or subsidised, but only within an economy operating at lower, or even negative, growth rates. This means that over the longer term, everyone will be competing for a piece of a pie that is smaller than it would have been without energy rationing.

Sometimes I wonder if there's an even bigger picture, one not dominated by economic rationalists and zealots, trained in the Margaret Thatcher school of life (amazingly few in the commentariat blame Thatcher for the current sorry state of Britain, quite rightly sheeting blame home to Blair and Brown, but then somehow manage to excuse George Bush by digging back to Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, but there you go, it's a funny old world).

Anyhoo, the bigger picture is this eternal notion of growth as some self sustaining righteous goodness that will solve everything, including our current economic crisis. Klaus has the mantra down pat:

This does not augur well either for growth or for working our way out of today's crisis.

Oh what the hell, toujours gai Archy, toujours gai, the young will inherit the earth, and in the end who gives a bugger about what they'll inherit, provided there's enough in the pot to look after my retirement.

As for all those do gooders who just want to make the world a better place by using energy from the sun or the waves or the wind, bugger them, those simple minded cardigan wearing world socialist planning fraudsters. They just have no idea of economics or growth, or the ongoing relentless devouring of resources.

I much prefer it when we have a smog over the town in the middle of summer, and we can all imagine we're smokers once again, tough and rugged, and individualistic, so much more engaging to live in Marlboro country than all this talk of fresh air, blue skies and green fields.

But sometimes I wonder just why it is that Klaus and his kin are so determined to live in the past like a bunch of petrol heads snickering at the idea of electric cars, or even worse cars that run on even more efficient sources of energy.

Like there's something wrong with taking an interest in the world and keeping it in reasonable shape.

Back where I came from, if a farmer was lazy and dissed his land, his farm, by failing to take care of it, and make sure it renewed itself on a regular basis, he'd have been considered derelict and useless. Yet somehow the notion that we shouldn't just rip the guts out of the world and shit in our nests like a flock of noisy cormorants (well actually more like peaceful doves, but you get the point) is roughly equivalent to goody two shoes satanism.

Of course if you believe global warming is a myth, and you believe environmentalism is a global socialist conspiracy, green is more of a swear word than fuck.

But I do wonder, on a risk management level, why a loon like Klaus is given so much time in a paper like The Australian, while less extreme voices go about the business of thinking about the future in sensible ways. But then I guess  publishing Greg Melleuish's philosophical musings about the tremendous value of doing absolutely nothing gives a fair guide to the rag's idiotorial policies.

Sure, the marketplace is an amazing thing and did a tremendous job (with a little central planning help) supplying materials for two world wars, but the marketplace really doesn't quite get certain human motivators, like religion, and social organization and structures, and territorial imperatives, and good old emotions like greed, fear and panic.

So when Klaus spits out his contempt for windmills and green energy sources and renewable energy projects, I do marvel and wonder at why he's so hostile to change, and the possibility of doing things a different way.

Fortunately there are other people on the planet not dedicated to nattering negativism - the kinds of people who brought us the intertubes in all its glory in just a few decades - and they might well find ways forward while the sceptics mutter into their beards about people competing for a smaller piece of the pie and energy rationing.

As if by definition with nine billion people on the planet there won't be a lot more competition for the pie, and a lot more energy rationing as we drown in our filth.

Whether you believe in climate change or not, you should believe in competent management of the planet and its resources. Call it socialism if you like, but it makes more sense than the folk running around in what was once the majestic Austro-Hungarian Empire thinking that there was no need for change, and that all would be well going forward.

Funnily and cheerfully enough, all this dire talk of catastrophists and environmental scammers reminds me of Ian Plimer and his vision of a new ice age, as revealed by Bob Beale in The Sydney Morning Herald in his column A scarier, colder vision of the climate change future:

No one should be complacent because global warming may, ironically, switch off the North Atlantic Drift. It brings warm water and air to northern Europe, and he warns that its halting may cause temperatures to plunge by more than 5 degrees. Even if that doesn't happen, Plimer has another vision of the future, scarier than that of the climate change scientists.

He uses the history of recent climate change to suggest Earth will "soon lurch into another glaciation, possibly only in 300 or 400 years time but certainly before 2800". The same history shows such a change can occur very rapidly, in less than a human lifetime. "Past ice ages have led to famine, disease, population reduction and warfare, but have not led to the extinction of humans. Depopulation will occur by disease pandemics. As in the past, urban communities will drift into subsistence agriculture and cities will be vacated."

If the next ice age is as bad as the last one, ice sheets - kilometres thick across much of the northern hemisphere - will cover 60 per cent of the land now occupied by humans, and the sea level will drop 120 metres.

Two-thirds of Australia's trees will die. Centuries of cold dry winds will follow. The east coast will be smothered in dust and sand as massive dune fields resume their smothering slow-motion march around the continent's centre.

The abandoned ruins of Sydney will be atop a craggy ridge, overlooking a deep valley where the harbour used to be. A coastal plain will stretch 40 kilometres to the east before it reaches the sea.

Golly, that'll put a hole in real estate prices, to say nothing of growth or working our way out of the current crisis. But don't worry about it, you can't do anything sensible about it. Just get hold of a cave in the hills and stock it full of lentils ... 

Yes, it might be that Nimbin hippies will inherit the earth. Wouldn't that be a laugh. And probably singing the wise words of Zager and Evans:

In the year ninetyfive ninetyfive
I'm kind a wond'rin' if man is gonna be alive

He's taken everything this old earth can give
And he ain't put back nothin'.
Now it's been ten thousand years
man has cried a billion tears
For what he never knew - now man's reign is through.
But through eternal night the twinkling of starlight
So very far away - maybe it's only yesterday.

So little we know about the future, and what fools we're inclined to be.

(Below: oh no, it's not just New York, it's the Sydney Opera House as well that's doomed. Say it ain't so).


daddy dave said...

Let's leave aside the issue of climate change, let's wonder if new technologies are worth exploring and embracing, even if they might initially cost more, as a way of finding some kind of future for the generations to follow.Yes! Those new technologies that will feed the world are called genetically modified organisms (GMO). Disease free, more nutritious, easier to grow. Unfortunately, the same crowd banging on about the end of the world is set against them.

daddy dave said...

If you can articulate the evidence that CO2 causes atmospheric warming, I'll eat my hat.

(go on, prove me wrong)

Anonymous said...

Umm, that would be the greenhouse effect. CO2 has ALWAYS been one of the naturally occuring greenhouse gases. Nobody disputes the greenhouse effect.

Yes, articulate the greenhouse effect, Dorothy, because reading lengthy, scientific tomes about undisputed scientific phenomena is the reason I come here. Also, perhaps an explanation of the theory of gravity and the law of friction is in order. After all, you have mentioned that you drive. I think you should explain to your readers why it is that your car works under such pressures. Also, a brief history of the combustion engine would be helpful, too.

Go on, I'll eat my hat. Prove me wrong!!

dorothy parker said...

Dearie me anonymous you're a bit cruel and harsh towards daddy dave. I think the least you could do is send him some tomato sauce so his hat goes down more easily.
I think what he meant to say was there's a dispute over whether anthropogenic activity is the root of it all. Not whether we're rooted.
I love the certainty where people say people have nothing to do with anything, thereby overlooking the last panic with chloroflurocarbons and the subsequent efforts to repair the problem.
And I promise as soon as I see any science in any of the columns written by the commentariat, I will respond in kind.
Meanwhile I think your hat is safe from your anthropogenic tendencies.