The greenest government

June 10, 2013
The country with "the greenest government ever" escaped more self-imposed hardship on June 4 when the UK House of Commons defeated a proposal for decarbonization of electric power.

The country with "the greenest government ever" escaped more self-imposed hardship on June 4 when the UK House of Commons defeated a proposal for decarbonization of electric power. It also endured more of the moralistic blather that lures European governments close to the economic cliff.

In a 290-267 vote, members of Parliament rejected an amendment to the 2013 energy bill that would have required establishment of a low target range for carbon emissions from power generation in 2030. The Conservative Party sponsor of the amendment, Tim Yeo, said failure to set a target would prolong uncertainty about investment in nonfossil energy and raise the ultimate costs of the climate precautions he deems inevitable.

Headaches for coalition

Yeo's proposal created headaches for the coalition government headed by Conservative David Cameron, who made the famous greenest-ever pledge when he became prime minister in 2010. Economic doldrums are forcing British politicians to address their ambitions for superlative verdancy in the context of energy cost. Doing so isn't easy. UK energy costs are high and rising. When the government last December envisioned an increase in gas-fueled electricity, Yeo objected. Cameron more recently raised environmentalist ire by opposing Yeo's power-decarbonization initiative. He argued the government has authority to set carbon targets whenever it wishes. That, of course, would be after the next scheduled election.

Swerves like this are typical of governments who presume to engineer climate and choreograph energy use. And the propaganda becomes insufferable. The day before the Yeo-amendment vote, Edward Davey, the Liberal Democrat secretary of state for climate change and energy, gave a speech at a Met Office affair that typified the political conversation about global warming.

First, Davey mischaracterized questions about humanity's contribution to warming as the work of "individuals and lobby groups who reject, outright, the fact that climate change is a result of human activity." Few individuals or groups actually do that. A central question, which Davey won't address, is the extent to which human activity influences climate and, therefore, the extent to which humans might be able to do anything about it. Such challenge to the absolutist position is "not the serious science of challenging, checking, and probing," Davey opined. "This is destructive and loudly clamoring skepticism born of vested interest, nimbyism, publicity-seeking contraversialism, or sheer blinkered, dogmatic, political bloody-mindedness."

So goes the climate debate.

Repeating the meaningless assertion about a scientific "consensus" supporting aggressive warming precaution, Davey pointed to "a recent survey of over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers" in which 97% of those expressing an opinion "agree that human activity is driving global warming." The reference is to a survey by John Cook of the University of Queensland in Australia and others. Abstracts expressing an opinion about human-induced warming represented only 33% of the total reviewed. The researchers all but ignored the other 67%, the implied uncertainty of which means something. Their project has other problems. Authors of some of the papers counted as having "endorsed the consensus" have said the survey mischaracterized their positions. A web search finds "consensus" authors who acknowledge a human contribution to observed warming but think other factors are more influential. This position differs fundamentally, in its implications for policy, from the view that human activity accounts for most of the warming. But Cook et al. apparently treated both the same.

'Overwhelming consensus'

For Davey, distinctions like this mean little. Invoking the "overwhelming scientific consensus," he expressed frustration "that there remains the need to confront those who loudly deny the basic proposition and seek to turn the public against the action required to meet the challenge."

Yet the "basic proposition"—a proposition now shaping nearly every political issue involving energy—depends on name-calling, fact-twisting, and fear-mongering. And while Davey touted it again, and as the Yeo proposal failed, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development was reporting energy costs in the UK as the fastest-rising in Europe.

Green governance has that effect.