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I wrote this piece for The Times yesterday (original behind
I call it my tourniquet theory and it goes like this: if you are
bleeding to death from a severed limb, then a tourniquet may save
your life, but if you have a nosebleed, then a tourniquet round
your neck will do more harm than good. This metaphor can be applied
to all sorts of scares and their remedies, but it is climate change
that I have in mind. Over the past few years it has gradually
become clear to me that climate change is a nosebleed, not a
severed limb, and that the remedies we are subsidising are
tourniquets round the neck of the economy.
Last month, the Government's plan for a job-deterring carbon
price floor, and an Australian official's admission that even if
the world stopped emitting carbon dioxide tomorrow, the temperature
would not drop for several hundred years, reminded us that the pain
could well outweigh the gain. Two new peer-reviewed scientific
papers ram the point home. The first makes it clear just what a
mild nosebleed climate change is proving to be; the second just
what a lethal tourniquet climate change policy is. Note that this
is different from arguing about whether climate change is real.
Nosebleeds are real.
The nosebleed paper appeared in the Journal of Coastal
Research (salute the web, in passing, for its extraordinary
capacity for giving us access to such sources) and it concludes:
"Our analyses do not indicate acceleration in sea level in US tide
gauge records during the 20th century. Instead, for each time
period we consider, the records show small decelerations that are
consistent with a number of earlier studies of worldwide-gauge
records. The decelerations that we obtain are . . . one to two
orders of magnitude less than the +0.07 to +0.28 [millimetres per
year squared] accelerations that are required to reach sea levels
predicted for 2100 by [three recent mathematical models]."
To translate: sea level is rising more slowly than expected, and
the rise is slowing down rather than speeding up. Sea level rise is
the greatest potential threat to civilisation posed by climate
change because so many of us live near the coast. Yet, at a foot a
century and slowing, it is a slight nosebleed. So are most of the
other symptoms of climate change, such as Arctic sea ice retreat,
in terms of their impact. The rate of increase of temperature (0.6C
in 50 years) is not on track to do net harm (which most experts say
is 2C) by the end of this century.
The tourniquet paper is from the Journal of American
Physicians and Surgeons; its author, Indur Goklany, concludes:
"The production of biofuels may have led to at least 192,000
additional deaths and 6.7 million additional lost
disability-adjusted life years in 2010. These estimates are
conservative [and] exceed the World Health Organisation's estimates
of the toll of death and disease for global warming. Thus, policies
to stimulate biofuel production, in part to reduce the alleged
impacts of global warming on public health, particularly in
developing countries, may actually have increased death and disease
In short, biofuels are doing more harm than good by pushing
people into malnutrition, which makes them more vulnerable to
disease: a tourniquet round the neck of the poor. Not far from
where I live, there is a biofuel plant on Teesside, and to my
disgust I find that some of the wheat grown on my farm goes there
after it's sold. About 5 per cent of the world's grain production
is now going to make motor fuel rather than food, with the result
that rich farmers like me get better prices, but poor Africans pay
more for food.
Yet that 5 per cent of world grain has displaced just 0.6 per
cent of world oil use, so biofuel is hurting the patient without
even stopping the nosebleed.
Almost every other climate change policy suggested so far is
similarly futile. Wind: costs a fortune, kills eagles and does not
even reduce carbon emissions because of the need for fossil fuel
back-up. Solar: the tariff paid for energy fed into the grid is so
high that you might even make money if you shine off-peak electric
lamps on your panels at night. Tidal, hydro: far greater impact on
natural habitats than climate change. Wave: does not work.
As the world begins an historic switch from coal and oil to
abundant natural gas (which the International Energy Agency now
says will last for at least a quarter of a millennium), carbon
emissions are bound to start falling in a decade or three.
Electricity from gas produces 37 per cent of the carbon dioxide
that electricity from coal produces, and cars running on natural
gas produce 25 per cent less carbon emissions, not to mention
costing half as much to run.
As the climate nosebleed dribbles down our collective chin, we
will look back in horror on those who proffered a tourniquet for
our collective neck.