Cool It: how our plans for global warming might be killing us

Of the many horrors inflicted on me in my childhood, that cheese substitute made from Brazil nuts ranks up there with pleather shoes in the list of things I’d rather forget. I still remember being surprised that Daz really does get your whites clean, because over a decade of useless “environmentally friendly” detergents had convinced me that the point of washing your clothes was to spin them around and get them a bit wet. That’s the thing about “green” issues: once you get your head out of the clouds, you realise it’s all a load of b*llocks.

Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist was almost single-handedly responsible for breaking a lifetime of conditioning, with its assertion that the biggest problem with “Climate Change” is that the climate has never been the same. The earth warms and cools, sea levels rise and fall, and it would continue to happen even if the human race was magically zapped off the planet tomorrow. In our desperation to “stop climate change”, we are wasting billions of dollars that should be used here and now to deal with its effects. Lomborg believes that the full cost of implementing the Kyoto Treaty would have run to five trillion dollars to delay global warming by just five years. In The Skeptical Environmentalist, he points to the people in the poorest areas of Bangladesh and asks whether they would thank us “for postponing the flooding of their graves.” In the documentary Cool It, he takes the expenditure of $250 billion per year and works out how he would spend it – taking in the latest developments in renewable energy, technology to prevent flooding damage and even geo-engineering.

Far from embracing his refreshing perspective, Lomborg has been vilified by the environmental lobby. A Danish tribunal denounced him for “scientific dishonesty”, before its findings were thrown out by the overseeing Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. Lomborg had been accused of lack of scientific expertise, but his MA is in politics, not science, and his complaint is the politicization of environmental issues. With five trillion dollars at stake, he thinks greed and corruption are what’s really costing lives.

The cap-and-trade approach to carbon emissions, Cool It argues, doesn’t work because carbon credits are being sold off as perks by governments: we’re producing as much waste as ever. One country paid extra to dispose of a particularly nasty toxic chemical are now producing more of it to claim the bonus. We’ve been promising to cut carbon since 1990, but done absolutely nothing.

“We’re addicted to carbon,” the documentary claims, “And we need our methadone.”

Instead of spending $250 billion a year on trying to cut carbon, which absolutely will not happen, we should be using that money to fund research into alternatives. Wave power technologies that exist here and now have been suppressed because the committee tasked with approving them was governed by a nuclear fuel company: “That’s like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank!”

Methodologies exist to store the energy from solar panels – and its by-product is clean water! – but the research funding isn’t available because it’s being wasted on crap like Kyoto. (One article I saw – I think in The Economist, which supports Lomborg – reckons that the world’s energy needs could be met by three huge solar panel farms in North Africa, Asia and the Americas, which would have interesting implications for a power shift away from the Middle East.)

I’ve always personally wondered about wind farms: if a butterfly flapping its wings in China can cause a rainstorm in New York, then what do a thousand windmills do? Since Denmark is now dismantling its offshore wind farms because they just don’t produce enough energy, we’re unlikely to find out.

Storms have been linked to global warming in the hysterical press, but Cool It says the factors causing them are way too complex to attribute to your air miles. The Skeptical Environmentalist pointed out that we shudder when we see temperature charts for the past 50 years, neglecting to note that the 1940s – 1960s were freakishly cold, so anything looks warmer in comparison. The down side of that is much of our urbanisation has taken place in those years, so we’re simply not equipped to deal with things reverting to normal. Cool It shows the difference between a storm hitting the same location decades ago and now, and why it’s more of a problem – it’s not that the storms weren’t there before, but “there’s more people with more stuff living closer to water”.

We in the UK are used to storms – our buildings are designed for them – but snow and heat still cause thousands of deaths when our buildings are poorly insulated with no air-conditioning. The key to survival, says Cool It, is adaptation. Ingenious houses could float untroubled in flood-prone regions, and London’s freak heatwaves could be mitigated by simply painting everything white to reflect the heat.

Pumping vapour into the sky to seed heat-shielding clouds seems like a crazy idea, but it’s cost-effective and practical. It’s doing something, and despite our indignation and our bluster and our energy-saving lightbulbs, we are currently doing nothing. For all the outrage about Lomborg being a heretic, he seems to be one of the few “faces” of environmental issues who isn’t just full of hot air.

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