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Leading article The Week

Leader: Less heat, more light

We have heard surprisingly little about the climate change jamboree currently underway in Cancun.

4 December 2010

12:00 AM

4 December 2010

12:00 AM

We have heard surprisingly little about the climate change jamboree currently underway in Cancun. Before last year’s Copenhagen summit, there was much hullaballoo. Gordon Brown told us that we had ‘fewer than 50 days to set the course of the next 50 years’. Yet he and 100 of his political counterparts could not stop the conference from collapsing under the weight of its contradictions. This year, only two dozen world leaders are likely to make the carbon-consuming trek to the Mexican coast. David Cameron, to his credit, will not be one of them.

He will not miss much. One paper prepared for the Cancun summit, by Prof Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, proposes halting economic growth in the developed world for the next 20 years. It continues, ‘The second world war and the concept of rationing is something we need to seriously consider.’ Such ideas place the Cancun summit only a few intellectual notches above a Star Trek convention.

Yet again, the conference seems to be a stage on which scientific inquiry is displaced by propaganda. And the tragedy is that there is much to be discussed. The global warming orthodoxy — to which every main British political party subscribes — rests on four pillars of received wisdom. Climate change is happening; it is driven by human activity; global catastrophe is imminent; and radical, government-directed carbon reduction is the only answer. For climate zealots, one either believes all four propositions or one is a ‘denier’.

If reasonable debate were allowed, several important issues would present themselves. What, for instance, is the cost to our manufacturing sector of the carbon emission targets? Green taxes will slow Britain’s economic recovery. But by how much, and what, precisely, would we achieve in agreeing to forsake greater prosperity? How might technological developments help us cope with global warming? And are there cheaper, more efficient ways of preparing for climate change?

Some estimate that painting roofs a reflective white on Los Angeles properties would slow the rate of global warming in the city by 90 years. Michael Bloomberg is looking at a similar scheme in New York. Might that be an alternative to wealth-destroying carbon taxes? The hysteria does not allow such questions to be asked.


Historians will probably look back at this as the time when global warming alarmism reached its peak, when rational debate was at its most restricted and politicians at their most gullible. The most egregious instance of hysteria came in the autumn when the taxpayer-subsidised 10:10 group produced a star-studded video showing the gory detonation of schoolchildren who disagreed with their teacher when she recited the green consensus.

Last year’s political hyperbole over climate change has been replaced by an embarrassed silence — and this is almost as worrying. Serious economic and ecological issues are not being addressed. The government still accepts the agenda set by its predecessors, an agenda that threatens to destroy jobs with no benefit to the planet. The British public has never been persuaded by the fantastical claims of environmental doomsayers, so a sensible debate about climate change should be possible. All it needs is some clear-sightedness on the part of our leaders.

In praise of secrecy

The word ‘transparency’ is being bandied around as if there is no greater good; as if the best society would be one in which we all knew exactly what our government was up to and the best relationships completely free and frank. But secrets have their place in private and public life: indeed, the fabric of our civilisation is shot through with them.

A good friendship has at its heart the mutual acknowledgment that confidences given in private will stay that way. The same is true in diplomacy. If a politician can’t keep secrets, he cannot negotiate. As Churchill said, it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war; and to jaw-jaw requires discretion.

Misplaced transparency can be just as destructive as secrecy. The ‘secret’ information divulged to the world via the WikiLeaks website has not made the world a better place, but a more dangerous one. It has sent a worrying chill through diplomatic circles — making countries less likely to co-operate. For all his pious protest to the contrary, there is a touch of the anarchist about the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

Of course one should endeavour to be honest — but there are other, competing virtues. To respect one man’s privacy, it is sometimes necessary to withhold information from others; it might even be right (on occasion) to lie. Even the most devoted spouse will find that it’s kinder, sometimes, to keep the odd detail from their other half.

Staff do not need to tell their employers sordid details about their weekend. There is such a thing as the morally defensible secret.


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