The Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA
18th January 2013
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY POLICIES
Dear Prime Minister,
Like you I read PPE at Oxford and I was lucky enough to be taught Economics by Professor Wilfred Beckerman. He has an interest in the economics of environmentalism, having worked in that field with the World Bank in the 1960s, advised the Labour Party on it and he was a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution from 1970 to 1973. He wrote an excellent book in 1974 called “In Defence of Economic Growth” which was a rebuttal of the famous Club of Rome 1972 book “The Limits to Growth”.
In 2002, Prof. Beckerman published a book called “A Poverty of Reason: Economic Growth and Sustainable Development”. If you or your advisers on environmental policies haven’t read it before, I thoroughly recommend it as a succinct and massively sensible analysis of many environmentalists’ arguments by a brilliant economist and excellent teacher. He is still going strong at 87; he’s still teaching at UCL, mainly on ethical issues in Economics which he touches on in this book when addressing the mistakes made by many environmentalists about intergenerational ethics, rights and basic economics when considering issues like resource depletion, climate change and the precautionary principle.
The point of this letter is to raise with you and your advisers what I believe are common sense concerns about the energy policies being pursued by your Government and the EU. Current policies are of course motivated by the belief that rising levels of manmade CO2 in the atmosphere may cause catastrophic global warming. I am not an expert, merely an interested amateur, but I have read extensively on the subject and it is quite clear to me that the scientific theories attempting to explain the constantly changing global climate are numerous and that we are a long way from understanding the causes of these changes. Climate has changed significantly over billions, millions, and thousand of years, and sometimes over decades, both globally and regionally. Some of these changes appear to be cyclical and some not but there is no equilibrium climate over any period; it is dynamic and constantly changing. The complexity of the physical processes driving climate is immense and it wrong to imagine that current theories are anywhere near explaining them. Consequently, computer based simulations of climate cannot be capable of forecasting it because their formulae are not based on sound causal theories describing the physical mechanisms involved.
Our ability to predict future climate, at least using current methods, is really non existent and yet the hugely expensive policies currently in place which have been designed, unsuccessfully, to reduce the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere are justified by the supposed costs of predicted future global warming. In this letter, I would like to table some estimates of historical climate data over long and shorter time periods so as to demonstrate that recent changes in climate are not in any way unusual or unprecedented and are most likely to be caused by the many natural factors which have always caused climate to change.
Here is a well known chart showing estimates of global average temperature of the atmosphere at the surface & atmospheric CO2concentrations over the past 600 million years which, if the data are at all accurate, shows at the very least that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are not correlated with global average temperatures over this period. It also shows that global average temperatures over this period have never exceeded 25 to 26 degrees C, that current temperatures are significantly lower than they have been for much of the period and at no point have suffered from runaway positive feedback.
Here is a chart showing reconstructed temperatures since before the start of the current ice age (the Pliocene-Quaternary glaciation) about 2.6 million years ago and showing the cycles since then between longer glacial and shorter interglacial periods:
Here is a chart similar to the one used by Al Gore in “The Inconvenient Truth” showing a correlation between estimated global average temperature of the atmosphere at the surface and CO2 concentrations during the most recent glacial and interglacial periods, over the past 400,000 years. As is well known, Gore misrepresented this data in his film, claiming incorrectly that it supported the hypothesis that atmospheric CO2 concentration causes temperature changes. The changes in CO2 concentrations actually follow the temperature changes by about 800 years, not the other way round, which is most likely to be explained by the fact that less CO2 is dissolved in the oceans the higher their temperature, so called ocean outgassing.
Finally here is another well known graph showing estimates of global average atmospheric temperature at the surface during the Holocene period, the 12,000 year current interglacial since the end of the last glaciation:
Any theories which purport to have predictive value of the climate in the future must surely be able to account for historical changes and the periods selected in the four charts above show the very different timescales over which the climate has changed. Some of the changes at some times seem to be cyclical with fairly regular periodicity, such as the glacial/interglacial cycles over the past 2.6 million years which may be linked to the Milankovich cycles in the Earth’s orbit round the sun (see “In defence of Milankovich” by Gerard Roe, Geophysical Research Letters, 2006 http://earthweb.ess.washington.edu/roe/GerardWeb/Publications_files/Roe_Milankovitch_GRL06.pdf). Some seem not to be cyclical such as the transition from an ice free world into each ice age (there have been five ice ages). A well known non cyclical cause of climate change is the effect on ocean heat transport of tectonic plate movements such as the opening of the Drake Passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans about 41 million years ago or the linking of North and South America about 3 million years ago which caused the Gulf Stream to start and may have triggered the current ice age.
Much of the temperature data publicized by the media, DECC, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) theorists covers only the very short period since about 1850, when moderately reliable thermometer data started to be collected in a number of places (the UK CET instrumental data series starts in 1659). Often the media looks at even shorter periods. Climate change over this short time period cannot be understood without looking at the context, that is the variations over longer periods. The attribution of changes in climate to a particular cause such as atmospheric CO2 concentration cannot be tested for statistical significance unless it is in the context of physical theories which are accepted as explaining the natural causes of actual historical climate changes; as far as I can see, there is no body of such accepted theories. Looking at climate data solely for the last 150 years and trying to use it to predict future changes is rather like extrapolating from a day’s data without taking into account that night will fall.
It is clear enough that we are in an interglacial period and that there have been a number of warm periods within that of which the warmest was probably the Holocene climatic optimum about 6,000 years ago. The four recent warm periods have, as far as we can tell, led to increased output and political and economic high points and they have been followed by cold periods and collapses of economies and civilisations: the Minoan warm period about 3,000 years ago, the Roman 2,000 years ago, the Medieval about 1,000 years ago and arguably the 20th century warm period which followed the Little Ice Age (which was from about 1550 to 1850 AD). Notably, each warm period since the Holocene climatic optimum seems to have been colder than the last one which is consistent with the view that we are heading towards the next glacial period. Based on the temperature record in the Holocene, there is absolutely nothing unusual about the 20th century warming; isn’t it rather more plausible that it was caused by the same factors which caused other slightly warmer periods in this and previous interglacials, rather than by manmade CO2, and that it will probably be followed by a colder period not a warmer one?
There is a lot of good scientific work being done to produce theories which explain these changes, and a lot of bad work too, but there is no “consensus”. Unless there are theories which are accepted as explaining historical climate change, the CAGW proponents’ view that rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations have driven global average temperatures up over periods of a few decades, at rates and to levels which have in fact been seen many times before, is just one among many competing hypotheses.
The accuracy and extent of global coverage of the temperature data over all periods, instrumental and reconstructions from proxies, is questionable and variable over time and location. Without accurate historical temperatures there is nothing against which to test any hypotheses purporting to explain temperature change by attributing it to atmospheric CO2 concentration. It seems wrong that your Government allows the publicly funded bodies who produce temperature data – the Met Office and the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia – to engage in political advocacy; it seems like allowing the Central Statistical Office to argue for increases in wages when they publish CPI data. The data underlying estimates of the carbon cycle – the quantitative estimates of the flows of carbon between the atmosphere, oceans, plants, animals etc. – is of very poor quality so the quantitative attribution of atmospheric CO2 levels to anthropogenic emissions is pretty much unknown.
The correlation of global climate with fluctuations in cosmic rays reaching the earth is strong over both short and long periods and until recently, this has simply not been taken into account by the IPCC and other theorists who support the CO2 induced CAGW view. In the draft IPPC AR5 report (leaked in December 2012, due for publication in 2014) the IPCC finally acknowledges that there may be changes in the earth’s climate caused by solar cycles operating through causal mechanisms other than the small variations in the heat reaching the earth from the sun (total solar irradiance). They say: “The forcing from changes in total solar irradiance alone does not seem to account for these observations, implying the existence of an amplifying mechanism such as the hypothesized GCR-cloud link.” Cosmic ray fluctuations are modulated by solar magnetic cycles in the short run and by the solar system’s rotation around the Milky Way in the long term (c 140 million year cycle). Theories are emerging to explain physical mechanisms whereby cosmic rays might affect the climate – for example the increasingly well supported link between cosmic rays and cloud formation referred to by the IPCC (Svensmark et al, see e.g. Jasper Kirkby lecture at CERN http://cdsweb.cern.ch/record/1181073 ). Other solar theories link the impact fluctuating UV has on upper atmosphere ozone levels which in turn links to heat reaching the earth’s surface and winds and ocean currents which transport it round the globe. The crucial role of heat transport through the oceans and the atmosphere on global and regional climate, especially winds and clouds, is not understood very well.
There is no point pretending that a few points in a letter can demolish the CAGW theories, and I am not even going to attempt to write about the debates about CO2 and atmospheric physics, but I mention the points above to illustrate that climate science is an embryonic scientific field working with data of limited accuracy and geographical coverage which has produced a number of competing and emerging physical theories and that we know very little about the determinants of climate. The reasons for putting into this letter the graphs is to show that there is no equilibrium climate, which some CAGW alarmists seem to imagine that there is, that “natural variation” is present in climate over all time periods and above all that the analyses of climate change over periods of 150 years or even less which are so common are meaningless. In this context, the only explanation of the fact that some governments have legislated in a quixotic attempt to influence global climate is that it is an extreme example of a type of millenarianism which the ongoing age of scientific enlightenment has unfortunately not prevented. Perhaps today’s political leaders should follow the well known advice of Cnut the Great who supposedly said, after demonstrating that he could not command the tide, “All the inhabitants of the world should know that the power of kings is vain and trivial, and that none is worthy the name of king but He whose command the heaven, earth and sea obey by eternal laws”.
Current energy and other climate related policies in the UK, the EU, Australia, and to some extent the USA, are pointless and put at great risk the many gains we have made from 300 years or so of industrialisation which have been made possible by falling real prices of hydrocarbons. Coal, oil and gas are abundant and technological innovation is bringing down the costs of extraction and the efficiency of consumption, as it always has. For Governments such as yours to put in place policies which deliberately set out to increase the cost of energy seems to be a suicidal economic policy, especially when competitors are not doing the same thing, e.g. China and the USA.
Even if the CO2 induced CAGW hypothesis were accepted as a sound basis for energy policy, current taxes, subsidies and regulations designed to reduce global CO2 emissions are not working and will never work if they are imposed unilaterally by some countries and not by others, which is the current situation. CO2emitting economic activity will simply take place where it is cheapest, i.e. where it is not taxed or priced, as it already is. In this context, European opposition to and sloth in developing shale gas production is insane; why don’t we just get on with it? Gazprom’s current gas price is about three times the current US Henry Hub’s spot price of around $3.40 per million BTU; do we really want this to continue?
Government policies throughout the world rely on the advice of the IPCC whose processes have been widely discredited and whose output appears to be driven by the agendas of a small group of political activists who dominate it (see e.g. Donna Laframboise’s book http://www.amazon.com/Delinquent-Teenager-Mistaken-Climate-ebook/dp/B005UEVB8Q). In the UK, policy has also been based on the equally discredited Stern report which, among other errors, discounts its highly uncertain forecasts of future economic variables at absurdly low rates which any first term finance student could have told them bear no relation to how real investors price capital and risk (see e.g. http://www.dimwatt.eu/index.php/our-campaigns/climate-change/documents/64-the-stern-review-a-dual-critique or the recent GWPF paper by Peter Lilley at http://gwpf.w3digital.com/content/uploads/2012/09/Lilley-Stern_Rebuttal3.pdf)
Pricing what is probably a non existent externality – the future cost of climate change caused by CO2 emissions – through taxes and subsidies results in the misallocation of resources, capital and labour, leading to lower output, employment and tax revenue than would otherwise be the case. That is already what is happening in the UK and across the EU. Profitable technological innovation, and the changes in relative prices which follow from it, are totally unpredictable and mainly occur as a result of entrepreneurial trial and error by risk taking businesses, not governments’ subsidies of research and production. Your Government’s attempts to manage the energy market, particularly the electricity market, seem tragically Soviet style in their reliance on central planning, government distortion of market pricing and in ignoring the impact of technological change on relative pricing.
These are hugely important issues and should be re-considered by genuinely disinterested parties, not by Tim Yeo, Chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, or Lord Deben, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, both of whom earned money from “green” energy businesses and therefore clearly have conflicts of interest. Their credentials for these roles smack of a resurgence of “Tory sleaze” which lost your party a lot of support in the 1990s. You should surely not allow people to advise your Government on climate and energy policy who have a vested interest in the outcome.
If a March 2012 DECC briefing paper for Lord Marland, then an energy Minister, (https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/documents/425700/microsoft-word-01dec619-bow-group-briefing-for.pdf) is anything to go by, the advisers at DECC are not very well informed about the scientific issues being debated in climate science and are merely parroting the dogma of the cult which CAGW has become; they are not providing objective advice. This briefing paper is notable for containing no reference whatsoever to observed climate change over the time periods shown in the graphs earlier in this letter; it refers only to the 150 year instrumental data period which is in my opinion naïve.
Current UK energy policy is a mess: it is predicated on the assumption of rising energy prices, sometimes supported by owners of existing energy resources, such as Centrica, talking their book. If the CO2 madness were stopped, we could restore falling costs of energy, fertilizer and chemical feedstocks to our economy, remove the high costs of so called “sustainable development” (see Prof. Beckerman’s book for a demolition of that vague concept) and stand some chance of competing more successfully in the global economy. If we don’t, others will.
Here is a US Department of Energy calculation of total costs in US$ per megawatt hour of electricity supplied to the grid, excluding taxes & subsidies (although conventional coal has been given an arbitrary 3% higher cost of capital owing to its high levels of CO2 output):
Note that in the UK, the average capacity factor (actual/potential output) for onshore wind in 2011 was 27%, 2010 was 21% and in 2009, 27%, not the 34% assumed in the table above.
The technological advances which have made extraction of gas and oil from shale viable are typical of shifts in the supply curve which profitable technological innovation has always caused. The experience in the US demonstrates that this is a feasible commercial process and there is no reason whatsoever not to follow the US example. The genuine environmental concerns about water use, water contamination, gas leaks and induced seismicity apply to any extractive industry and can be regulated by the Environment Agency using current legislation – I heard this at a Geological Society conference last June in a very sensible presentation by Dr. Tony Grayling who is in charge of regulating shale gas extraction at the EA. We should surely allow shale gas production to commence in the UK and have a dash for gas in the electricity market. It is probably the cheapest current source of electricity, quick to build, relatively flexible in managing load and a secure source of supply if we produce more of it in the UK. I am naturally pleased that your Government has finally given the go ahead for further exploration for shale gas under existing licenses, but it has not authorized production yet and it has set too low a seismic level of 0.5 on the Richter scale at which drilling has to stop. DECC has also not proceeded with the long overdue 14th round of bidding for onshore oil and gas exploration licenses and DECC has not committed to a timetable for it: why not? Why is it taking so long to put in place a regulatory and tax regime to enable this industry to be developed in the UK?
Above all, in my view, the UK Government should repeal the 2008 Climate Change Act, give up CO2 emissions targets, stop subsidising renewable energy production and distribution and stop taxing and imposing surcharges on CO2 emitting businesses and consumers differently from any other economic activity.
There is great scope for success if a strong minded and intellectually capable political leader grasps these issues and steers the UK towards a more prosperous future based on lower energy taxes, elimination of subsidies of expensive sources of energy and allowing more gas to be produced.
If you have read this far, I’m sorry for the long winded rant!
|An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming||Nigel Lawson||Agnostic but knowledgeable on the science. Addresses practicality of adaptation and futility of attempt to mitigate climate change|
|Chill, A Reassessment of Global Warming Theory: Does Climate Change Mean the World is Cooling, and If So What Should We Do About It?||Peter Taylor||50/50 science & policy. Insightful & thoughtful.|
|Climate: the Counter-consensus||Prof. Robert Carter||Layman’s guide by top level geologist to genuine scientific theories and facts about climate history|
|Watermelons||James Delingpole||Flippant & facetious but well researched and argued thesis that environmentalists are frequently using the issues to advance socialist/ totalitarian/ anti-growth agendas|
|The Inconvenient Skeptic: The Comprehensive Guide to the Earth’s Climate||John Kehr and Mazal Simantov||Self published & in need of a good editor, but fascinating description of long term climate changes & their possible causes|
|The Hockey Stick Illusion||Andrew Montford||Excellently written narrative about the demolition of the “Hockey team’s” proxy reconstructions of temperature of the past 1,000 to 2,000 years by Steve Macintyre|
|The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert||Donna Laframboise||Demolition of the credibility of the IPCC|
|Climategate: The CRUtape Letters||Steve Mosher and Thomas Fuller||Narrative about the leaked/hacked UEA CRU e-mails in 2009|
|The Real Global Warming Disaster: Is The Obsession With `Climate Change` Turning Out To Be The Most Costly Scientific Blunder In History?||Christopher Booker||Well researched & written critique of global warming hysteria|
|The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review||Nicholas Stern||Appalling, amateurish analysis of the potential economic impacts of climate change.|
|Let Them Eat Carbon: The Price of Failing Climate Change Policies, and How Governments and Big Business Profit From Them||Matthew Sinclair||Very well referenced and argued critique of almost all economic policies and laws put in place with the intention of mitigating climate change|
|URL||Main blogger||Main subjects|
|http://climateaudit.org||Steve Macintyre||Critique of proxy temperature reconstructions, especially statistical errors. Non publication of data & code & subsequent FOIA requests.|
|http://www.thegwpf.org||Dr Benny Peiser|
|http://www.nohotair.co.uk.||Nick Grealy||Shale gas news & comment|
|http://tallbloke.wordpress.com||Roger Tattersall||Solar-Climate physics & comment|
|http://wattsupwiththat.com||Anthony Watts||Multiple subjects. Became famous with crowd sourced Urban Heat Island effect survey of US temperature stations|
|http://www.drroyspencer.com||Dr. Roy Spencer||Runs one of two series of satellite sourced temperature measurements|