An email from Prof. Cliff Ollier [firstname.lastname@example.org], School of Earth and Environment, University of Western Australia
The Alarmists' mis-use of the break-up of the Wilkins Ice shelf seems to be very widespread, so your readers might like to know of Australian examples.
The Australian of April 29 reported ".. a 13-month old photograph was published this month to support the view that a catastrophic melting of Antarctic ice was imminent." Together with the suspect use of an old photo, "Mr Garrett [the Australian Minister for the Environment] claimed the break-up of the Wilkins ice shelf in West Antarctica indicated sea level rises of 6m were possible by the end of the century, and that ice was melting across the continent."
My following letter was published by the paper the next day.
"Your front-page article states that Peter Garrett claimed the break-up of the Wilkins ice shelf in West Antarctica indicated sea level rises of 6 metres were possible. His claim includes two basic errors. Firstly, shelf ice is floating, because it is less dense than seawater. When floating ice melts, there is no change in sea level. This is a bit of elementary physics known as Archimedes’ Principle.
Secondly, the breakup of ice shelves is normal and inevitable. Ice caps grow by precipitation in the uplands, flow at depth, and at the ice front the ice either melts or breaks off as icebergs. The ice never simply keeps flowing to the equator. Icebergs are produced in both times of climate warming and times of cooling, so they tell us nothing of climate change."
Incidentally, Peter Garrett was on TV on the evening of 30 April. When questioned about his 6 metre sea level rise prediction, he gave his sources as IPCC and CSIRO. Yet in 2007 even the IPCC has reduced its estimate to between 18cm and 59 cm.
By coincidence (?) The West Australian also had an article on the break-up of the ice-shelves of West Antarctica (May 1st). It reported David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey saying: "There is little doubt that these changes are the result of atmospheric warming." The same arguments used above apply here, and there is every reason to doubt it.
Note too that the head of the Australian Antarctic Division's glaciology program reported recently that: "sea ice losses in West Antarctica over the past 30 years have been more than offset by increases in the Ross Sea region, just one sector of East Antarctica."
Unlike Peter Garret (and many others), The West Australian evidently understands Archimedes’ Principle and writes: "The falling away of Antarctic ice shelves does not in itself raise sea levels, since the ice was already floating in water."
By libertarian writer L. Neil Smith
Recently, a reader of mine named Holly wrote:
"Can I ask how you made the judgment on which scientists to believe? I am interested in climate science and just started reading RealClimate, thanks in part to your post. To be honest, I respect your literary work and was surprised to hear you, as a science fiction author, naysay what I thought was serious and substantial scientific study. So I'd like to know whether you have favorite information resources to recommend. Thanks!"
Hello, Holly: My initial doubts about manmade global warming weren't scientific, but ... I guess you might say social. I am a novelist, and—when I'm not conversant on a particular subject—I'm inclined to depend on my judgement of the character of the actors involved. To some, I know, that may seem like a terrible confession, but others who write for a living will understand. The real question, after all, is "Am I being conned?"
That's a social question, not a scientific one.
So,lacking other data, I looked at the character of those pushing the idea of Global Warming. They included leftist politicos I knew to be opportunistic liars in other contexts—particularly gun ownership—along with movie stars and other brain-dead celebrities that flock to any cause that attacks private industrial capitalism and individual liberty. Some may criticize me for ad hominem thinking, but when you don't have reliable scientific information (which I didn't back then), what else can you rely on but your understanding of the personalities involved?
There was also my experience with previous predictions of disaster (some which I listed in the blog entry "The Badguys" that we're discussing ), and of conspiracy theories that seemed to me to have a similar structure. The whole "Paul is dead" thing comes to mind. I know a lot about this because I spent a lot of time in the JFK Assassination Conspiracy "movement". At least two shooters, maybe more, Kevin Costner to the contrary, notwithstanding.
I suppose my perception of precisely who stood to benefit from the spreading fear about Global Warming comes into it. Anyone who hates technology, of course, or the present economic system. Also, hordes who will get rich from all of the asinine proposals to reduce Global Warming—anyone who makes solar panels or water heating systems or nasty little cars that go short distances very slowly, carrying almost nothing.
Most persuasive, I suppose, was an anthropological understanding I have (that being my principle field of interest and study in college) of what constitutes a religion. The planet gets transmogrified into a goddess in the minds of the faithful, and all of the entities upon it, the birds and bees and flowers and trees (to quote an old song)—all of the entities, that is, except humans—become sacred objects. Exhaling carbon dioxide becomes Original Sin. Better that a thousand human babies should die than one single snail darter or a furbish lousewort. In fact, what the Earth needs, they often say, is a good plague.
This religious interpretation helped explain the fact that Global Warming skeptics were increasingly being persecuted. They couldn't be refuted, so university professors were being denied tenure or actually having it taken away. Government employees concerned with the weather were being reprimanded or threatened with firing. The new media were full of that kind of thing. (If academia—or science itself—ever recover from this debacle, it will be thanks to people who had retired or were just about to and didn't have anything to lose by telling the truth.)
Of course the "mainstream" media somehow failed to report lunacy like this. And when hundreds of scientists who had literally signed on with the Global Warming hoax managed to learn more, had second or third thoughts, and withdrew their sanction, that didn't get reported, either, except by those on the net like Matt Drudge who care about the truth.
I guess the final social fact that made me suspicious was the way people—especially legislators—were being pushed, rushed along, encouraged only to believe and act, not to think, "Because it's too late for that, and even if it weren't, we can't risk not doing something."
There were, by now, lots of physical data to support skepticism. It turns out, for example, that some of the first readings that seemed to indicate increasing world temperatures came from a weather buouy in the Pacific Ocean that was defective and had to be repaired or replaced. My suggestion was that they preserve it as a monument to Al Gore. Similarly, official weather stations—those little white-painted structures with the louvred box on top—were increasingly being photographed where they had been placed near heat sources like factory smokestacks, the backs of restaurants, and industrial heat exchangers.
I thought for a while that the whole house of cards was going to collapse when it was realized that most of the temperature readings used to support the fraud were taken in "municipal heat islands", tiny pinpricks on the map where human activity had indeed managed to raise temperatures, usually by pouring concrete and asphalt over everything that didn't move fast enough to avoid it. My hometown, for example, is at least ten degrees warmer in the summer now than I remember as a boy.
Then came the ice core evidence showing that a relationship did, indeed, exist between changes in the mixture of atmospheric gases and global heat fluctuations, but exactly in reverse of what was expected: there was an average 800-year lag between a rise in temperatures and increases—which followed the increasing temperatures—in carbon dioxide.
I wouldn't want to leave out the thorough discreditation of the fraudulent "hockey stick" model, a dramatic graphic presentation by academic warmistas which, largely by means of ignoring the established climate history of the past thousand years—including the Medieval Warming Period and the Little Ice Age, both of which are exceptionally well-documented by the actual people living in those times—produced the desired results on paper, but bore no resemblance whatever to reality.
Sort of like Keynesian economics.
I just heard about a nuclear submarine in the Arctic in the 1950s that had no trouble poking its nose through the ice at the North Pole, something, I gathered from the conversation, that can't be done easily today. For all of you Obama and McCain voters out there, this means the ice is thicker than it was half a century ago, not thinner as is claimed.
Most interestingly—remember seeing those spectacular photos from the Dustbowl era in which whole towns are about to be swallowed by a wall of airborne dust?—according to weather service records, the hottest 20th century decade was not the 1990s, as constantly advertised, but the 1930s, with the highest temperatures recorded in 1935.
The 2008-2009 winter handed one public humiliation after another to Algore and his warming wonks, as their lectures, meetings, and rallys had to be postponed or cancelled due to record cold and heavy snowfalls. It was their attribution of these lower temperatures to Global Warming that confirmed my suspicion we are dealing with a new religion.
The final nail in the coffin of manmade Global Warming was the "inconvenient truth" that Mars and Jupiter are also warming up. I knew for damn sure that my Durango wasn't responsible for that, nor were anybody's cows. The sun was in a relatively sunspot-free period and was shining a little more brightly on the many rocks whirling around it.
Sometime shortly after that, the warmoids felt a need to change the name of the supposed phenomenon from "Global Warming" to "Climate Change', the same way they'd stopped calling themselves "liberals" and begun calling themselves "progressives". In both cases, with one lie after another, one outrageous assault on life, liberty, property, and reason after another, they'd dirtied their original brand name, left it reeking on some fencepost somewhere, and found themselves a new one.
Many unanswered questions still remain, among other things, about the benefits of rising temperatures. In many ways, the Earth would be a far better place to live if it averaged five or ten degrees warmer. The fact that there has been no great land rush among the warming faithful to Alaska or Greenland sort of gives the whole game away, I think.
And now, despite careful selection (and misrepresentation) of movies of icebergs "calving" in the Arctic and Antarctic, and phony shots of polar bears swimming vainly in search of ice, it turns out, according to a very recent satellite survey by the British government (which stands to gain absolutely nothing by telling the truth) that the icecaps either end of the world don't seem to be shrinking, after all.
I am not a footnote kind of a guy—think of me as a 21st century replacement for a newspaper columnist. But every factual thing I've said here can be confirmed in a few minutes perusing the Internet. Ironically, the one genuine world-ending catastrophe we face as a species—being struck by a wandering asteroid—the warmers ignore, because it doesn't serve their economic and political interests, even though there's a great deal that could be done, right now, to prevent it.
But that's a subject for another time—and for my novel, CERES.
Science turns against fear promoters as Congressional action exposed as 'meaningless'
The new analysis of Congressional cap-and-trade bill showing the temperature impact to be 'scientifically meaningless' is consistent with many previous studies showing that proposed "solutions" to man-made global warming are nothing more than all economic pain for no climate gain. If we did face a man-made climate catastrophe and the United Nations proposals and Congressional cap-and-trade were our only hope -- we would all be doomed!
Many attempt to tout Congressional or UN carbon trading bills as an "insurance" policy against global warming in case the skeptics are wrong about the science. But a simple question to ask is: Would you purchase fire insurance on your home that had a huge up front premium for virtually no payout if you home burned down? If you answered YES to such an “insurance” policy, then Congress has a deal for you with their cap-and-trade legislation.
This new temperature analysis of Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade climate bill, comes at a time when key House Democrats are now realizing the cost (and futility) of attempting to control the Earth's thermostat. In addition, even the two of the strongest proponents of man-made global warming fears – NASA's James Hansen and UK's James Lovelock -- are now ridiculing the Congressional cap-and-trade approach as “ineffectual” and “verging on a gigantic scam.” Remember, these are the words of scientists who believe in a looming human caused climate “crisis.”
Current polling data reveals that the American people “get it” when it comes to global warming. (See: Gallup survey found global warming ranked dead last in the U.S. among ENVIRONMENTAL issues & Gallup Poll Editor: Gore has 'Failed' -- 'The public is just not that concerned' about global warming & Zobgy Poll: Only 30% of Americans support cap-and-trade -- 57% oppose)
Despite the American people's rejection of warming fears and climate taxes, Congress may persist in pushing them for other non-scientific reasons. Hint, hint. See: Dem. Senator calls cap-and-trade 'the most significant revenue-generating proposal of our time'
American's are becoming aware that the debate is not "over" as more than 700 prominent international scientists publicly dissenting, including many who are reversing their views on climate fears and declaring themselves skeptical. American's are becoming aware that there has been no significant global warming since 1995, no warming since 1998 & and global cooling for the past few years.
In addition, there has been no “No evidence for accelerated sea-level” according to the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. and failure of the oceans to warm, and Antarctic ice continues to grow. Even the post child of the warming fear campaign, the Arctic is not cooperating . (See: April 'Arctic sea ice extent within expected range of natural variability' -- ice grew by 'more than the size of Texas over last two years' & 'These are good times to be a climate skeptic' - 'Global sea ice extent presently above long-term average')
New Zealand Climate Scientist Chris de Freitas revealed on May 1, 2009 that "warming and CO2 are not well correlated." de Freitas added, "the effect of CO2 on global temperature is already close to its maximum. Adding more has an ever decreasing effect."
New peer-reviewed scientific studies now predict a continued lack of global warming for up to three decades as natural climate factors dominate. (See: Climate Fears RIP...for 30 years!? - Global Warming could stop 'for up to 30 years! Warming 'On Hold?...'Could go into hiding for decades' study finds – Discovery.com – March 2, 2009 )
This means that today's high school kids being forced to watch Al Gore's “An Inconvenient Truth” – some of them 4 times in 4 different classes – will be nearly eligible for AARP (age 50) retirement group membership by the time warming resumes if these new studies turn out to be correct. (Editor's Note: Claims that warming will “resume” due to explosive heat in the "pipeline" have also been thoroughly debunked. See: Climatologist Dr. Roger Pielke Sr. 'There is no warming in the pipeline' )
Since real world observations are not supporting the alleged climate catastrophe, climate fear promoters are instead touting unverified computer models predicting doom 50 or 100 from now. But even the UN admits are models are flawed and do not account for “half the variability in the climate” and they are instead referred to as “story lines” not even “predictions.” (See: IPCC lead author Trenberth, refers climate models as “story lines.”) In addition, top forecasting experts say the models violate the basic principles of forecasting. (See: Ivy League forecasting pioneer “Of 89 principles [of forecasting], the [UN] IPCC violated 72.”)
Despite the mounting scientific case against a man-made climate crisis, many, like President Obama's Energy Secretary Steven Chu, still seems to believe that computer model predictions decades or 100 years from now are some sort of “evidence” of a looming climate catastrophe.
Many scientists are now realizing that the UN IPCC and the promoters of man-made climate fear are in a “panic” about the lack of global warming, the growing number of scientific defectors and sinking public support. South African UN Scientist Dr. Will Alexander wrote in March, “'The whole climate change issue is about to fall apart...Heads will roll!”
It is no wonder that the environmental movement is urging its troops to no longer use the term “global warming,” as temperatures fail to cooperate. (See: NYT obtains enviro strategy memo: Stop use of term global warming!)
Instead, climate change or “global weirding” -- as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has proposed – are preferred. It is no wonder, with climate change or “global weirding,” any weather even can now be linked to man-made global warming. Drought, flood, storms, tornado, hurricane? Simply more evidence of “global weirding.” Heatwaves, record cold, blizzards? Even more evidenced of “global weirding.” Everything that happens is further “proof” of man-made global warming.
This shift in terminology and tactics by the warming fear promoters has lead to a top Japanese scientist -- Kanya Kusano of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science & Technology -- to declare global warming models and fear promotion akin to “astrology.”
After all, if everything weather event that happens fits your global warming hypothesis or theory, the theory cannot be invalidated by real world observations or data. Climate fear promoters are now morphing to the level of the daily horoscope in your local newspaper. Horoscopes are worded in such a vague manner that essentially anything that happens to you that day can be touted as “proof” the horoscope was correct.
UK Professor Philip Stott has mocked today's climate fears by comparing such fears to ancient civilizations. “From the Babylon of Gilgamesh to the post-Eden of Noah, every age has viewed climate change cataclysmically, as retribution for human greed and sinfulness,” Stott, an emeritifus professor of Biogeography from the University of London wrote.
The clock is ticking for the promoters of man-made climate fear as more and more scientists dissent from climate fears and peer-reviewed studies, real world observations and data continue to refute the entire basis for alarm.
President Obama's and the Congressional Democrats hesitation to move forward on global warming cap-and-trade bills that will raise energy prices during a massive economic downturn may force continued delays in moving the legislation. Curious voters will soon be asking their representatives in Washington the following basic questions:
1) What impact will this bill have on temperatures? (Answer: "Meaningless")
2) What will the bill cost? (Answer: Trillions)
3) Why are you voting for a bill that will have huge economic impacts and harm the poor and seniors on fixed incomes the most -- but will not have a measurable climate impact?
4) Why are more and more scientists publicly rejecting man-made climate fears and why has the Earth failed to warm as predicted?
The answers to the above questions will likely cause massive angst with many Democrats in rust belt states and will probably force further delays in Congressional climate action. But such Democratic delays in moving the legislation may not play well with environmental and climate activists. How long before President Obama and the Democrats are called “deniers” and “delayers” by their friends in the activist community? Stay tuned...
SOURCE (See the original for links}
Green Bubbles Bursting
The delusions of renewables and the realities of nuclear power
With the selling of President Obama’s economic agenda now in full gear, this is a good time to take stock of his energy plans against the background of energy trends worldwide. Alas, even a brief glimpse reveals that Obama’s focus on renewable energy and the introduction of a cap-and-trade regime runs counter to both economic rationality and current energy trends to the point of guaranteeing its inevitable failure, which will result in serious economic harm to the United States.
The president is imposing his green agenda on America, even as the renewable-energy bubbles of the Left are bursting, and the world is witnessing the astounding comeback of the kind of energy Obama scrupulously avoids mentioning: nuclear power. To understand this surprising reality, the best place to start is to look at the record of the three countries Obama specifically mentioned in his address to Congress as leading the United States in the renewable-energy revolution: China, Japan, and Germany.
China, he said, “has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient.” True enough, but that effort has nothing to do with renewable energy, and it’s not even clear that it’s working. To the Chinese, energy efficiency means more efficient coal-burning equipment, co-generation, coal liquefaction, and other improvements of their primarily coal-based energy industry. Despite marginal improvements in this area, China is now the largest carbon-dioxide emitter in the world and can, at best, slow down but not stop carbon-emissions growth for the foreseeable future. As far as renewable energy proper is concerned, its share of total energy production not only is minuscule, but has actually declined over the past two years, according to Beijing’s State Electricity Council. There is, however, one clean-energy sector in which China is making a lot of progress and has even more ambitious plans for the future: nuclear power.
What about Japan? It does produce a lot of solar panels for export and subsidizes rooftop solar installation, but its renewable-energy production target for 2010 is only 3 percent. Instead, Tokyo plans to boost the share of nuclear power to 41 percent from the current 30 percent in less than a decade.
This leaves Germany as a model for our green future. At first glance, it is a renewable-energy success story and, to no one’s surprise, it has become the poster child of the green fantasy universe. In just a few years, the country has become the world’s powerhouse of green energy, currently generating nearly 15 percent of its electricity from wind power and solar energy, which already exceeds the EU target of a 12.5 percent renewable share for 2010. A heartwarming story, it seems — until one starts asking questions as to how a country that has neither much sun, nor much wind, got there; how much it cost; and where it is going from here.
The reality, of course, is that it doesn’t matter how much sun or wind there is as long as the government provides huge subsidies at the expense of the taxpayer and of the economy’s future prospects. In Germany, through a scheme innocuously called “feed-in tariff,” this has meant guaranteeing solar producers, for instance, a price seven times higher than the wholesale rate for 20 years. No wonder every entrepreneur-for-the-dole promptly lined up to feed at the public trough and created an artificial industry overnight. Yet, with Germany’s electricity bill going up by 38 percent in just one year (2007 over 2006), this is hardly a sustainable proposition. If that’s not enough, several years of operational experience have proven what experts have known or feared for a long time: that renewable energy is not only very expensive but also highly inefficient and unreliable. Solar panels, for example, seldom convert more than 25 percent of sun energy into electricity, while wind power’s “load factor” — i.e., electricity produced per installed capacity — seldom exceeds 20 percent in Germany. The intermittent nature of both of these sources makes them completely unsuitable for baseload-grid consideration, meaning that they have to be backed up by conventional energy — which, of course, defeats the purpose of green energy as an alternative.
Nor does the German and overall European experience with cap-and-trade provide any reason to be optimistic about the prospects of Obama’s plan to raise $646 billion through a similar scheme. Four years after its introduction, the EU carbon-trading scheme has failed to create a functioning emissions-permit market, to generate revenues, or to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions as promised, even as it led to large electricity-rate increases and windfall profits for some of the worst polluters on the Continent.
The bottom line is that for the foreseeable future renewable energy will remain a pie-in-the-sky green fantasy, not feasible economically without huge public subsidies.
Engaging in such economically irrational policies may have been understandable on the part of politically correct Western elites seeking to appease their hysterical environmental lobbies, especially when the stakes were small, energy prices were skyrocketing, and economic prosperity seemed assured. But those days are now gone and probably won’t be back for quite some time. Instead, under the perfect storm of collapsing energy prices, the worst economic crisis in decades, a severe credit crunch, and mass unemployment, the green-energy bubble has burst. Around the world, Germany included, green subsidies are being slashed, renewable-energy projects are being canceled or postponed, private capital and credit institutions have abandoned the sector, and many of the once high-flying green companies are on the brink of bankruptcy. Green energy, long touted as our salvation from environmental doom, now appears doomed itself.
This should be a cause for celebration, for out of the ruins of this irrational fantasy, a new, powerful trend toward clean, inexpensive, and reliable power is gathering steam, and it may finally bring some economic rationality to energy policy worldwide. It has taken the form of a remarkable economic comeback–cum–political rehabilitation of the much-maligned nuclear-power industry. Though Americans will hear neither their president nor his devoted claque in the “mainstream” media discuss this, it is already a powerful reality that may yet make the 21st century the century of nuclear power.
What is most remarkable about the nuclear-power revival is that it is a worldwide phenomenon that includes Western countries that until recently were staunch fellow travelers in the anti-nuclear bandwagon. Italy and Sweden, both of which had moratoriums on building nuclear reactors dating back to the 1980s, have now reversed course, and Germany will almost certainly follow shortly. Italy now plans to get 25 percent of its future electricity needs from eight new nuclear plants and has already contracted with a French company for the construction of the first four. Great Britain envisages not only refurbishing eight aging reactors, but also building ten new ones.
France, which never succumbed to the anti-nuclear frenzy and already derives 80 percent of its electricity from 58 reactors, has become a world leader in nuclear technology — eclipsing the U.S. — and is aggressively moving forward with third-generation reactors at home and abroad. Farther east, Ukraine, despite its Chernobyl legacy, plans eleven new reactors by 2030, while Russia, an exporter of nuclear technology, wants to double its electricity output from nuclear power by 2020. Not to be left behind, Poland, Finland, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Romania are either planning or already building new nuclear plants. In short, Europe, until recently a citadel of anti-nuclear fervor, is being transformed into a gigantic nuclear-power construction site.
Elsewhere, the nuclear-power steamroller is making even more impressive inroads. India and China, likely economic superpowers of the future alongside the U.S., have both opted for nuclear energy in a decisive way. India, which today produces a meager 4,100 megawatts, or 3 percent of its electricity, from nuclear power, aims to boost that 15-fold, to 63,000 MWs, with 40 new reactors by 2032. It is already constructing five new plants and has just signed a contract with the French company Areva for up to six more third-generation reactors. China, which currently has a nuclear-generating capacity of 9,000 MWs, plans to increase that to 40,000 MWs by 2020 and 63,000 MWs ten years later. Finally, Japan, which alongside France is a world leader in nuclear-electricity technology, is fully committed to nuclear power and intends to double its share of electricity production from the current 30 percent by mid-century.
So where does this leave the U.S., and President Obama’s energy agenda? It leaves us in the unenviable position of being the only major economic power led by a president dogmatically wedded to yesterday’s make-believe universe of green energy that has already been debunked by reality in the rest of the world. Much as in Europe, renewable energy in America is in a dire predicament. By the end of 2008, American solar- and wind-power stocks had lost some four-fifths of their value — twice the loss rates of the general market — inflicting catastrophic losses on investors who had bought into the green hype. Investment and credit have both dried up and, despite the brave rhetoric of President Obama, there isn’t enough government money to make much difference in the absence of private capital. In just one example of the parlous state of renewable affairs, California, where sunlight is nearly as abundant as lack of environmental common sense, produces but 0.2 percent of its electricity from solar power after three decades of heavy subsidies.
Worse may be in store. If Obama’s dubious energy agenda is rammed through Congress, as seems likely, not only are Americans going to be saddled with a crushing tax burden, courtesy of the bogus cap-and-trade scheme, but the country’s economic competitiveness could suffer lasting if not irreparable damage. Such are the wages of our renewable delusions.
A LOAD OF HOT AIR
Book Review by Nigel Lawson of "A Blueprint for a Safer Planet: How to Manage Climate Change and Create a new Era of Progress and Prosperity" by Nicholas Stern
As a general rule, I do not believe in reviewing bad books. Review space is limited, and the many good books that are published deserve first claim on it. But climate change is such an important subject, and — thanks to heavy promotion by that great publicist, Tony Blair — the Stern Review of the economics of climate change has become so well known (not least to the vast majority who have never read it, among whom in all probability is Mr Blair), that anything from Lord Stern deserves some attention.
However, anyone looking for anything new in this rather arrogant book — all those who dissent from Stern’s analysis, his predictions, or his prescriptions are dismissed as ‘both ignorant and reckless’ (the word ‘ignorant’ recurs frequently) — will be disappointed. The first half of the book is a rehash of the original Stern Review, and the second half a rehash of his lengthy 2008 LSE study Key Elements of a Global Deal on Climate Change. This last is an exercise in political naivety which does not improve on its second outing; and the European Union leadership trumpeted by Stern (‘We can expect the EU and its member countries to continue to drive forward action on climate change’) has already collapsed with the back-tracking at the EU climate summit last December, after this book went to press.
The Stern Review sought to argue that atmospheric greenhouse gas (chiefly carbon dioxide) concentrations could be stabilised at relatively low global cost, and the resulting benefit from preventing much further warming would far outweigh that cost. This analysis has been wholly discredited by pretty well every prominent economist who has addressed the issue. For example, Professor Helm of Oxford, probably Britain’s most eminent energy economist, has recently observed that Stern’s implausibly low ‘cost numbers … [are] all but useless for the purposes of policy design and implementation’. So far from seriously addressing the substantial objections Stern’s critics have made, this book essentially just reiterates the original (non-peer reviewed, incidentally) analysis.
The only significant economic support for Stern’s prescription has come from Professor Weitzman, of Harvard, who accepts that Stern’s cost-benefit analysis is all wrong, but maintains that this is an issue where cost benefit analysis is inapplicable: there is an outside chance of a disaster so great that it needs to be averted irrespective of cost. One obvious problem with this approach, however, is that there is an outside chance of all manner of disasters, and we cannot spend unlimited resources on seeking to avert them all. Moreover, one of them is a new ice age, which would be very much worse; and indeed the formidably eminent scientist, Professor Freeman Dyson of Princeton, believes that any warming that might occur might well be helpful in forestalling a new ice age.
A British green dream that didn't work out
If you’ve never heard of Feather Down Farms, you can’t have been going to the right dinner parties. They’re a middle-class phenomenon, the Boden of holidays. From one UK farm in 2006, the franchise has bloomed to 20 this year, with more in the pipeline.
The theory’s simple. You get a posh tent, with a wooden floor, running water, ensuite loo and fluffy duvets, all in the bosom of nature on a genuine working farm. The natural life, with enough luxury to take the rough edges off. How zeitgeisty is that?
The idea tunes right into every bourgeois back-to-the-land fantasy from The Good Life on. There’s even a rustic-looking cool box to store the Sancerre.
This season, they’ve introduced a trio of new wheezes. A couple of farms have added an outdoor hot tub, others a pre-prepared stew pot, and some — of which our destination, Aller Farm, in Devon, was one — a smoker, so you can make your own kippers. Fabulous, and a great excuse to break out the Cath Kidston wellies and take another look at the family holiday de nos jours.
Everything looked pretty promising when we rolled up at Aller Farm. The five tents here are in a lovely spot, looking over a fence onto a rolling field dotted with suitably picturesque cows.
Inside, there’s a wood floor, a big living area with a kitchen island, two wood-partitioned bedrooms and an ingenious bed hidden in a cupboard, all scattered with folksy touches — an old leather suitcase, framed photos of farm animals, vintage sweet tins, a hand-grinder for your coffee. It’s rustic-trendy. You half-expect Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to pop up from behind the iron stove like a curly-haired Devon pixie.
So far, so twee. Just like the glossy brochure, in fact. What could possibly go wrong?
As it turned out, a fair bit. They’d booked out two of the tents to a hen party: the first giveaway was the huge inflatable penis being carried across the site, which certainly wasn’t in the brochure. Nice enough girls, but tent walls did nothing to muffle the racket of that godawful Umber-ella song at 11.30pm.
The water supply was erratic, and failed completely for the best part of 24 hours, which seriously isn’t good (especially when the kids keep forgetting and using that flush toilet, which no longer flushes. Lovely). The stove belched noxious fumes at us like a factory chimney, and hardly warmed the tent at all — with hacking coughs and half a dozen jumpers on each, we were like a family of asthmatic Moomins.
By day two, we were tired, cold, thirsty and wheezing. Aw, stop whinging, I hear you say — you’re camping, it’s all about roughing it. Well, yes, and that’s just the point. The issue here isn’t that stuff went wrong. That happens with the outdoor life. It’s that you’re paying the sort of money that entitles you to expect otherwise. This is camping, but at cottage prices.
Spend a week at a Feather Down Farm in summer and you’re going to pay £795. For a tent. In Britain. Yes, they’re well equipped, but they’re still tents: cold, and noisy, and basic where it counts. You’ve got to do the communal-shower-block thing, and it takes a frostbitten hour every morning to get the stove hot enough to make a cup of tea.
That’s fine if you’re paying peanuts. On previous family camping trips — which we loved — we’ve embraced it as “part of the experience”. Here, though, there’s always the sneaky thought in the back of your mind: “For this sort of money, we could have had something made of bricks, with a shower and a kettle and heating and a reliable water supply and nice thick walls to keep noise out and warmth in.” Going back to basics isn’t half so much fun when you’re paying a premium for it.
To be fair, we were there on the first weekend of the season, and Nigel and Emma Parris, the likeable couple who run Aller, did their level best to fix the problems that came up. The trouble is, they’ve also got a 350-acre dairy farm to keep going.
The “working farm” thing’s an interesting one, in fact. The company makes a big deal of it, and it sounds idyllic for kids, but if a farm’s going to survive these days, it’s not going to be out of The Darling Buds of May, with two pigs, three sheep and a cow called Mabel.
It’s going to be a huge open-air factory — a pretty one, sure, but still with whacking great bits of machinery charging around and a full share of health and safety issues to worry about. You certainly can’t let children run all over it willy-nilly. Aller has a fun tour at milking time, chickens (fenced off) and a calf to feed, but otherwise, the stuff for kids consists of an old tyre filled with sand.
There’s something of the emperor’s new clothes about Feather Down Farms. The concept’s seductive, but the reality is, it’s a huge price for a big tent. Of course, you’re really paying for something else: an adman’s happy-family fantasy, contrived, cleverly photographed, ersatz. It’s no surprise that the brand was cooked up by the man behind Center Parcs, who knows a thing or two about pressing parents’ buttons. We’ve all fallen for his clever marketing, hook, line and sinker.
Other farms may not have the problems we found at Aller, and in any case, we clearly hit a tricky weekend there.
If we went back, I’m sure we’d have a better time. We won’t, though. When we go camping again, it’ll be to somewhere a quarter of the price of Feather Down Farms, with a tenth of the pretensions.
The smoker, by the way, is an oil drum with a thermometer in it. It didn’t work, and cost 40 quid to use. If you’re going, take your own kippers.
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