My sandals

I have been insulted by the Devil’s Kitchen, and it hurts me deep.

Since The Devil’s Kitchen seems to revel in people being rude to him, I have a notion I should be positively delighted by his pointer to an earlier post of mine:

Robert Sharp agrees with The Euston Manifesto, except that it has no clause about wearing sandals and saving the planet.

I’ll admit, I did spill some muslei into my beard when I first read it. Thank goodness my khaftan can be machine-washed.

DK’s point is that scientists do not all agree on climate change, and that it is wrong of me to announce Judgement Day so quickly. I might point out that “nothing is proven yet” was a staple of the apologists for Stalinism and Nazism… but that is a point of little interest, especially as I’ve used the “nothing is proven” stance myself in other debates. The question of whether climate change is indeed happening remains. Whether it is detrimental to the planet as a whole, and humanity in particular, must therefore be a point of substance.

I cannot resist the temptation to say: If I am wrong, what will be the harm? But this is also a difficult argument. To begin with, it sits on the same slippery slope as the Bush/Blair “God will judge me” mantra. Hypotheticals can be dangerous things. If actions to combat climate change do not involve military interventions in the middle-east, they will certainly involve massive economic restructuring. Someone will be harmed, and we cannot take such decisions lightly, based upon the environmentalists’ equivalent of Pascal’s Wager. Those of us who believe that climate change is happening, and is bad, need to convince others through the presentation of convincing facts.

This is not to say that DK is not being (I think) beligerent and wrong in his assessment of the issue, and his representation of mine.

One of the many problems with climate change is that the concensus [sic] that we are told exists simply does not.

Crucially, our taking actions to prevent climate change need not rest on a complete scientific consensus. Is there ever a scientific consensus on anything? True, “no consensus over climate change” is indeed an argument against lumping climate-change-deniers in with Holocaust-deniers. It is not, however, an argument for inaction, or for abandoning one’s own critical eye! There is still a great deal of evidence to suggest that the observed increase in average global temperature is the result of human industrial activitiy. There are also thousands of scientifically observed examples of temperature change causing habitat change. I am hardly behaving in an irresponsible manner when I infer that this habitat change is undesirable, and we should at all costs avoid it. Pointing at my sandals is an irresponsible smoke-screen. Far better to compare the arguments and evidence of those on both sides of climate change debate, and see who is most convincing. Every time I’ve done this myself, those who claim that global warming is real and bad have been more persuasive. I am not a reactionary… and there is enough of a consensus for me, at least.

But where my fellow Edinburgher makes his biggest mistake, is in his implication that I did not think of him when I typed my late night response to the Euston Manifesto. That he should assume I could be so thoughtless and disrespectful, hurts me deep.

The group makes statements on particular issues … so one on global warming, or rather, “a shared responsibility for the earth’s resources”, needs to be in there too.

The emphasis was present in the earlier post. For all my rhetoric, my actual suggestion was pretty secular, I thought.

DK responds from his Kitchen.

11 thoughts on “My sandals”

  1. Robert,

    There is a clear need for humans to deny that they are doing anything, whatsoever wrong. We tend to elect folk that will tell us that we are perfect. And that self effacing circle is what will bring us down, I tell you.

    Walk into the streets with an ‘End is Nigh’ placard, only to be brought down by bird flu. Ho hum….

    IMVHO the human race is not as bright as it thinks it is.

  2. I agree, and have tried to express this before as ‘The Solopsism of the Present’.

    Regardless of whether it destroys the planet, burning fossil fuels is very stupid. Or rather, as I have said before, basing an economy on fossil fuels is very stupid, because the fuel will one day run out.

    Riding through the streets of Colombo, as I did last February, is an unpleasant experience. I remember the emissions from ten thousand exhaust pipes swirling around me, making me reel from the smell and cough at the fumes. Regardless of whether carbon emmissions actually harm the environment, we should surely oppose it on the basis that it is a really, really horrible thing to do. Even if there is no consensus on global-warming, we should cut down on fossil fuel consumption on this basis. We would save money too.

    And yet, people persist in seeking out reasons why they should do exactly as they have always done.

  3. Or rather, as I have said before, basing an economy on fossil fuels is very stupid, because the fuel will one day run out.

    By the time fossil fuels run out, the economy will not be based on fossil fuels. As the fossil fuels start to become more scarce, they will become more expensive, and the economy will move away. The huge mistake people make is they think we are utterly dependent on fossil fuels which at some point in the next few years will all of a sudden run out, as if the reservoirs suddenly stopped producing overnight.

    This is not going to happen, as there is an enormous amount of oil and gas in the ground to last us a good while yet, and any significant decline in production – not discounting political obstacles such as wars and protectionism – will take place over decades, long enough for our economy to shift to new energy sources.

    For what it’s worth, I agree we should be burning fewer fossil fuels and trying to diversify our energy sources. But these decisions must be based on rational analysis, and most analyses I see published show a complete and utter ignorance of the oil and gas industry and its future.

  4. Hmm… it’s increasingly looking like the development of enhanced oil extraction techniques that prolonged the high production rates of oil fields has meant that when production starts to decline, it declines very fast indeed, indeed “collapses”. I’m basing this on The Oil Drum, which is probably the best “peak oil” site out there, if somewhat Americanocentric (they do have a UK subsite though). The main worry is not that we’ll run out of oil, nor that the supply won’t meet projected demand, nor that the market won’t communicate these things through pricing, but that the decline in production will so steep and sudden that the ensuing “adjustment” will make the Great Depression seem like child’s play.

  5. By the time fossil fuels run out, the economy will not be based on fossil fuels.

    Sure, the economy will change and alternatives to fossil fuels will become more widely used. Two points:

    1. Surely there is a question about the rate at which fossil fuels will run out? Some people claim global oil production has already peaked, some claim it is a generation away. Economies and markets dislike uncertainty. This is surely a massive worry, no? The smooth slide away from fossil fuels, which you describe, is surely preferable… but what if it is not a smooth slide? Do we have contingencies for that scenario?

    2. Screw economics for a moment, and consider the processes and transactions involved. Why dig up fossil fuels and ship them over from the middle-east at great expense, and with horrible CO2 emmissions, when you can grab power directly from the sun or wind?

    Just because something is economically viable, it doesn’t mean it is necessarily right.

  6. Surely there is a question about the rate at which fossil fuels will run out?

    There is, yes.

    Some people claim global oil production has already peaked, some claim it is a generation away. Economies and markets dislike uncertainty. This is surely a massive worry, no?

    Well, it is a worry to those who have not a clue about the oil industry. Those of us who work in the belly of the beast are watching as the industry is investing in several dozen $1bn+ projects in the five years between 2003-2008, at least 5 or 6 of them are $10bn+ and one of them $20bn. These facilities have a lifetime of 25 years in theory, in practice it will probably be nearer to 40. The expansion in the industry is enormous, and this level of investment – not ever seen before, probably ever – would not be taking place if they believed the oil and gas on which the business plans were based was going to run out before the facilities have paid for themselves and started earning them serious amounts of cash. The oil industry, contrary to what a lot of people think, is not stuffed with idiots in denial about where their business is headed and only papers like the Independent know the true story. The oil and gas industry is filled with some of the smartest and most adaptable minds on the planet, and when they start sticking $10bn of their own cash into a project I give them the benefit of the doubt that it is not going to collapse in a few years.

    All of the people who I would consider to know what they are on about are talking about between 80-120 years of reserves left, which might come down to somewhere around 70-100 if consumption keeps rising. Nobody in the industry is talking about the oil production taking a nose dive within the next 20 years. As I recently wrote on Tim Worstall’s blog in the comments, the main obstacles to matching production demands are political, not technological. There are plenty of reserves, and plenty of available technology, for the engineers to provide the world with hydrocarbons for a good while yet. Sadly, wrong-headed politics usually gets in the way.

    The smooth slide away from fossil fuels, which you describe, is surely preferable… but what if it is not a smooth slide? Do we have contingencies for that scenario?

    No, we don’t have a contigency because there is not anywhere near enough of a case to suggest it would not be a smooth slide, unless it occurs for political reasons. And how do you make a contingency against that? Most of the western countries are attempting to diversify their energy supplies, but to do so as part of a contingency to a threat which doesn’t appear to be there, i.e. the sudden collapse of oil supplies due to dwindling resources, would be suicide.

  7. If the petrol tanker drivers’ strike in UK was anything to go by, even the hint of scarcity of fossil fuels is likely to cause panic. If ever there was doubt about the threat of loss of oil leading to violence look no further than the War on Iraq.
    Ever since I was at school in the ’60s Iwas told that the oil was going to run out “in 20yrs time”. Of course the oil companies have done well to find more resources to keep us going for another “20yrs”, but it IS going to become scarcer and more expensive if only because so much more is going to be required by emerging nations such as China. We do need to find contingencies and alternatives. Perhaps there should be a definite up front policy to withhold stocks and increase the price so that the world and especially USA understand the true value of the comodity. Britain has been profligate in its use of its gas reserves and is now a net importer. The world need to heed the warning.

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