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After my recent visit to Australia I wrote the diary column in the Australian edition of the
I flew from London into Sydney, then Melbourne, to make three
dinner speeches in a row. Through nerves I never finished the main
course of three dinners. Pity, because in my experience Australian
food is as fine as anywhere in the world: fresher than American,
more orientally influenced than France and more imaginative than
Britain. That was certainly not true the first time I visited
Australia 37 years ago, when I slept in youth hostels and Ansett
Pioneer buses, and ate rib-eye steaks for breakfast. I still
remember with horror the moment I realized I had left my wallet on
a park bench in Alice Springs, dazed after 31 hours on a bus. I
went back and it was still there, wet from a lawn sprinkler.
Like Britain, Australia’s been confronting the costs of climate
policies. The Abbott government has begun to deal with them
robustly, whereas in Britain we are still in denial. Our opposition
leader Ed Miliband has promised to “freeze” energy bills for two
years if he gets into power – a threat that probably caused
companies to push them up now -- even though it was he as Energy
and Climate Change secretary who did most to load green levies on
to consumers. Conservatively it looks like his Climate Act of 2008,
with its targets for carbon emission cuts, will cost us £300
billion by 2030 in subsidies to renewable energy, in the cost of
connecting wind farms to the grid, in VAT, in costs of insulation
and new domestic appliances, and in the effect of all this on
prices of goods in the shops. If people are upset about the cost of
energy now, they will be furious by the election in 2015. I don’t
like to say “I told you so”, but I did, in my maiden speech in the
House of Lords in May: “One reason why we in this country are
falling behind the growth of the rest of the world is that in
recent years we have had a policy of deliberately driving up the
price of energy.” David Cameron should take note that Tony Abbott
is the first world leader elected by a landslide after expressing
open skepticism about the exaggerated claims of imminent and
dangerous climate change. Nor can greens argue that the issue was
peripheral. The carbon tax was what won Mr Abbott his party’s
leadership, and it was front and central in the election campaign.
More and more politicians will be finding out that defending green
levies on energy bills is more of an electoral liability than
doubting dangerous climate change.
My Spectator cover story on the net benefits of climate
I will post rebuttals to the articles that criticised this piece
I wrote The Spectator diary column this week:
We’ve discovered that we own an island. But dreams of
independence and tax-havenry evaporate when we try to picnic there
on Easter Sunday: we watch it submerge slowly beneath the incoming
tide. It’s a barnacle-encrusted rock, about the size of a tennis
court, just off the beach at Cambois, north of Blyth, which for
some reason ended up belonging to my ancestor rather than the
Crown. Now there’s a plan for a subsidy-fired biomass power station
nearby that will burn wood (and money) while pretending to save the
planet. The outlet pipes will go under our rock and we are due
modest compensation. As usual, it’s us landowners who benefit from
renewable energy while working people bear the cost: up the coast
are the chimneys of the country’s largest aluminium smelter —
killed, along with hundreds of jobs, by the government’s unilateral
carbon-floor price in force from this week.
There were dead puffins on the beach, as there have been all
along the east coast. This cold spring has hit them hard. Some
puffin colonies have been doing badly in recent years, after
booming in the 1990s, but contrary to the predictions of global
warming, it’s not the more southerly colonies that have suffered
most. The same is true of guillemots, kittiwakes and sandwich
terns: northern colonies are declining.
I have an
article in this week's Spectator about ash trees and exotic
I'm pessimistic about the ash trees. It seems unlikely that a
fungus that killed 90 per cent of Denmark's trees and spreads by
air will not be devastating here, too. There is a glimmer of hope
in the fact that ash, unlike elms, reproduce sexually so they are
not clones - uniformly vulnerable to the pathogen. But it's only a
glimmer: tree parasites, from chestnut blight to pine beauty moth,
have a habit of sweeping through species pretty rampantly, because
trees are so long-lived they cannot evolve resistance in time.
The Forestry Commission's apologists are pleading 'cuts' as an
excuse for its failure to do anything more timely to get ahead of
the threat, but as a woodland owner I am not convinced. An
organisation that has the time and the budget to pore over my every
felling or planting application in triplicate and come back with
fussy and bossy comments could surely spare a smidgen of interest
in looming threats from continental fungi that have been spreading
out from Poland for 20 years. The commission was warned four years
ago of the problem.
I have an article in the Spectator drawing attention to the
curious fact that Rachel Carson's Silent Spring owed
much to a passionate tobacco denier. It's behind a paywall, but
there it is with the sources as links. Hat tip Ron Bailey.
Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, published 50 years
ago this month, effectively marked the birth of the modern
environmental movement. "Silent Spring came as a cry in the
wilderness, a deeply felt, thoroughly researched, and brilliantly
written argument that changed the course of history," wrote Al Gore in his introduction to the 1994
To the nearest whole number, the percentage of the world's
energy that comes from wind turbines today is: zero. Despite the
regressive subsidy (pushing pensioners into fuel poverty while
improving the wine cellars of grand estates), despite tearing rural
communities apart, killing jobs, despoiling views, erecting pylons,
felling forests, killing bats and eagles, causing industrial
accidents, clogging motorways, polluting lakes in Inner Mongolia
with the toxic and radioactive tailings from refining neodymium, a
ton of which is in the average turbine - despite all this, the
total energy generated each day by wind has yet to reach half a per
If wind power was going to work, it would have done so by now. The
people of Britain see this quite clearly, though politicians are
often wilfully deaf. The good news though is that if you look
closely, you can see David Cameron's government coming to its
senses about the whole fiasco. The biggest investors in offshore
wind - Mitsubishi, Gamesa and Siemens - are starting to worry that
the government's heart is not in wind energy any more. Vestas,
which has plans for a factory in Kent, wants reassurance from the
Prime Minister that there is the political will to put up turbines
before it builds its factory.
This forces a decision from Cameron - will he reassure the turbine
magnates that he plans to keep subsidising wind energy, or will he
retreat? The political wind has certainly changed direction. George
Osborne is dead set against wind farms, because it has become all
too clear to him how much they cost. The Chancellor's team quietly
encouraged MPs to sign a letter to No. 10 a few weeks ago saying
that 'in these financially straitened times, we think it is unwise
to make consumers pay, through taxpayer subsidy, for inefficient
and intermittent energy production that typifies onshore wind
Here's an article I wrote for this week's Spectator about
UK energy policy. Wind must give way to gas before it ruins us all,
and our landscapes.
Which would you rather have in the view from your
house? A thing about the size of a domestic garage, or eight towers
twice the height of Nelson's column with blades noisily thrumming
the air. The energy they can produce over ten years is similar:
eight wind turbines of 2.5-megawatts (working at roughly 25%
capacity) roughly equal the output of an average Pennsylvania shale
gas well (converted to electricity at 50% efficiency) in its first
Difficult choice? Let's make it easier. The gas well can be
hidden in a hollow, behind a hedge. The eight wind turbines must be
on top of hills, because that is where the wind blows, visible for
up to 40 miles. And they require the construction of new pylons
marching to the towns; the gas well is connected by an underground
Here is a piece I just published in the Spectator.
I wrote this week's Spectator diary (no link yet):
A day in London for the launch of my new report `The Shale Gas
Shock', published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation. I argue
that shale gas calls the bluff of the renewable energy movement in
the same way that genetically modified crops called the bluff of
the organic farming movement. Just as GM allows the organic dream
of drastic cuts in pesticide use to come true without high cost, so
shale gas promises gradually to displace both coal (in electricity
generation) and oil (in transport), drastically cutting carbon
emissions without needing subsidy. Since subsidy is the lifeblood
of most of the busybodies in the energy business, and since good
news is no news, few people turned up for my report's launch.
Back in the north, watching Newcastle United unconvincingly defeat
Birmingham at St James's Park, I tried to explain `Blaydon Races'
to my wife's Swedish cousin. Tyneside's national anthem chronicles
no climactic battle, doomed love affair, prolonged feud or heroic
feat, but the crash of a horse-drawn bus when a wheel fell off.
Bizarrely, the crash never even happened, let alone on the date
mentioned in the second line, 9th June 1862 - four
days after the song was first performed by the song's
writer, Geordie Ridley (no relation). Apparently the only bit that
came true, in a verse added after the event, is the line (in
Ridley's spelling) `The rain it poor'd aw the day an' myed the
groons quite muddy'.
By last weekend, it had not done that for weeks. I realised the
drought was getting to me when I dreamed about rain. For weeks we
have stared at the sky, and the web page of the Met Office rainfall
radar, in the hope of a smudge that might presage a deluge. But
still the sun shone every dawn, promising (in the Sarah Miles'
character's words from the film White Mischief) ``another ****ing
beautiful day''. The barley is beginning to suffer, though it is
not yet at the point of no return. A friend says in Iowa snow and
frost has delayed the maize planting to the point where it is
almost too late.
This is weather, not climate: noise, not signal. Just like last
December's cold, or Alabama's tornadoes, or Queensland's floods,
things are well within the pattern of normal variation. The global
average temperature in April was 0.12 of a degree above the long
term average, according to satellites: after 30 years of supposedly
worrying warming. Not that this will stop the climate preachers
claiming the drought as evidence of Gaia trampling out her grapes
of wrath. Watch for the have-it-both-ways words: `while no single
event can be blamed on climate change, this is the sort of weather
we can expect more of.'
The barley is grown on contract for Famous Grouse whisky.
Apparently, because there is not enough winter barley in Scotland
these days, they have had to redefine Scotland to Hadrian's old
border, the wall, and we are north of that. Can we vote in
Scotland's independence referendum, then?
Driving along the military road, atop Hadrian's wall, on another
****ing beautiful evening, I ponder a simple question: did it work?
We keep telling ourselves it was an act of visionary genius to
build an eighty-mile whinstone border fence with watchtowers, but
maybe it was just a bureaucratic folly, signed into existence by a
distracted emperor with whom nobody dared argue and then found to
be Maginot-useless at stopping regular barbarian incursions. Given
what we know about the relentless decay into self-serving
incompetence of all modern monopolies - public or private - I
suspect we are too forgiving in our accounts of ancient ones, the
Roman army included.
As I drive, a blizzard of hawthorn flies and other insects die
(dies?) on my windscreen. Judging by the Geiger-counter noise they
make, it must be hundreds a minute. And there are millions of cars
on the roads. Say ten billion deaths a day in Britain alone. Does
this worry Jain or Buddhist drivers, who don't like killing living
things? I google (actually Bing) the question and immediately find
a Buddhist who advises sticking Tibetan mantras on the car so that
`even if the insects get struck by the car and die, at least they
touched the mantras and purify their negative karma.' A bit like
papal indulgences, or carbon offsets.
On Saturday night, the rain came.