Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Stern Warning

According to my recently instituted Worry Timetable, Monday is the day that I have set aside for fretting over climate change. It could not have worked out better as today former World Bank Economic supremo Sir Nicholas ‘Nearly Headless’ Stern released his much anticipated report on climate change. As is the usual way with these things, the contents of the report were pre-announced by the nation’s press yesterday. Whitehall seems to have more leaks than the Thames Water system these days.

No prizes for guessing that we are doomed. What remains to be worked out with the Government’s usual meticulous attention to irrelevant fine detail, is exactly how this doom will be managed and by which quango. According to Nearly Headless, if we continue on our perilous path of global environmental vandalism, the planet could become up to 5%C warmer within a hundred years. The last ice age was triggered by a drop of 5%C, so that sounds quite serious. Up to forty per cent of animal and plant species could become extinct. Unfortunately these would probably not include cockroaches or leylandii though. Around 200 million people might be displaced by floods or droughts or both but these would all be in poor countries so of no real concern.

The argument was quite difficult to follow as all the numbers were very big and it’s a significant departure from the heated debate we were having last week centred on whether or not climate change was caused by people leaving their televisions on standby. It turns out that remote control misuse is just a small part of the problem. In fact, the problems are mostly caused by the USA, China and India who have no intention of doing anything about them. Remembering to turn our televisions off rather than leaving them on standby will not make a jot of difference to global warming but it will secure for us the moral, if not the actual high ground when the great flood starts.

There’s no doubt that the argument is complex. According to Nearly Headless, if we don’t do anything about climate change in the next ten years, it could cost us £3.68 trillion. That does seem a bit academic because if we are not going to do anything about it now, we are certainly not going to get off our arses in ten years time when we’ve got very used to doing nothing and it’s going to cost a silly amount of money that no one could be bothered counting out. He may have been premature when he enthused, ‘we have demolished the last remaining argument for inaction.’ He forgot the one that goes ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’.

Saving the planet for future generations is not much of an incentive, after all, none of us is going to be around in a hundred years to enjoy the benefits of our sacrifices and we have gotten rather used to paying 99p for our international flights. The beauty of the Stern Report is that it doesn’t rely on our national moral compass suddenly waking up and pointing in the right ethical direction. This report was commissioned by the Treasury, so it is designed to show that the planet will be saved by economic policy rather than environmental conservation.

Enter Gordon ‘Scrooge McDuck’ Brown, our most successful treasurer since John of Gaunt. ‘Global warming’, intoned Scrooge, ‘is the world’s biggest market failure’. This led to a rather large hiccup in the FTSE as investors scuttled off to dump their CFC shares. The Government is always very keen for us to adjust our personal behaviour so it’s nice to see Scrooge road testing a variant point of view. He does seem to have picked an odd time to raise a half full glass though. ‘Climate change’, he enthused, ‘is not just a challenge, it’s an opportunity’. People who create enterprise from disaster are usually referred to as looters.

Investors pricked up their ears when Scrooge unveiled his big idea - that London should become an international centre for carbon trading. We are saved! It will be the greatest artificial solution to a terrifying problem since the South Sea Bubble. There’ll be a brand new commission and a framework and partnerships and executive finger buffets, all the useful apparatus we’ve come to expect Government to fetch up with when staring down both barrels of imminent catastrophe.

Carbon trading is already a rip roaring success in the EU where it allows carbon polluters to buy up the carbon emission allowance excess of companies that can’t manage to waste enough energy. There should be a thriving black market in no time and a whole new business stream for ebay. It will be just like the Wild West except with Virgin and Ryanair riding shotgun instead of Pony Express. Lead on McDuck. The blind are forming an orderly queue behind you…

Cartoon from www.ecnt.org

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