I have escaped this rather depressing election campaign by retreating to my home in la France profonde — to be precise, in Armagnac, in the heart of Gascony. My only outing, from which I have just returned, was a brief visit to New York, travelling there and back in the giant Airbus 380. The purpose of the trip was to drum up US support for the thinktank I founded in 2009, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and its campaigning arm, the Global Warming Policy Forum, in the company of our outstanding director, Benny Peiser. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, the GWPF has a global reach, and its international influence is growing. Moreover, unlike the US thinktanks involved in the climate change issues, we also (to use the American expression) reach across the aisle: we are rigorously non-partisan, and in that sense non-political. It was a hectic schedule of meetings and speeches, and a relief to get back each night to the civilised comfort of the determinedly old-fashioned oak-panelled Harvard Club.
The visit was a timely one, given the UN conference to be held at Paris later this year with the objective of agreeing a successor to the lapsed Kyoto decarbonisation agreement, this time on a genuinely global basis, involving China, India, and the rest of the developing world. Of course, it is complete madness. The burning of fossil fuels has had three consequences. First, it has provided — and for the foreseeable future will continue to provide — the cheapest and most reliable source of energy, which in turn has raised living standards immeasurably, enabling a substantial reduction in poverty, with its attendant evils of malnutrition, preventable disease and premature death. Its abandonment would be hugely harmful to the world’s poor.
Second, by releasing additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it has had a well-attested and measurable effect in stimulating plant growth, greening the planet and improving its biosphere to the benefit of human and animal life in general. Third, the increased atmospheric carbon dioxide can also, other things being equal (which they may not be), be expected to make the planet a slightly warmer place. This last would in turn bring some benefits (notably to human health) and some disadvantages. But to suggest that these disadvantages (to which we can in any case adapt, as mankind has successfully adapted to widely different temperatures around the world) outweigh the massive benefits from the use of fossil fuels, is — to repeat — madness. Sensibly, both China and India reject the idea of a legally binding cap on their emissions, making a ‘voluntary’ agreement at Paris meaningless.
During my round of New York engagements, there was, inevitably, a fair amount of US interest in the likely outcome of the UK general election — and some surprise that the Conservatives were not coasting to a comfortable victory, given the strong recovery in the British economy. I am somewhat detached nowadays, but it does seem to me that the Tories have been mistaken in making a flurry of promises, many of them either expensive or unwise or both, which has detracted from their central message of economic recovery based on careful stewardship.
It is widely accepted overseas that the UK economic recovery since the 2008 banking meltdown is a significant success story, certainly compared with all other major economies except that of the US. And the superior performance of the US is entirely down to the huge benefit they have enjoyed from the development of their massive resources of shale gas and shale oil. We have a golden opportunity to follow suit. In particular, the development of the rich Bowland shale in the north-west has the potential to transform the economy of the north of England. (By contrast, the mind-bogglingly expensive and wholly uneconomic HS2 project would bring little economic benefit, and that — if the French TGV experience is anything to go by — mainly to London.) So far, however, the planning authority, the Labour-controlled Lancashire County Council, has successfully prevented any exploratory drilling from taking place.
But to return to the election, my successor but five, George Osborne, has done an excellent job in sticking to his uncomfortable course and succeeding despite the confident predictions of Labour and much of the media that the inevitable result would be failure and mass unemployment. The Tories deserve a second term. And the prospect of the viscerally anti-capitalist Ed Miliband in No. 10 is hair-raising. Moreover, he was also the begetter of the disastrous Climate Change Act. Need I say more?