The Stern report released today provides yet further proof that information alone cannot create belief in the threats of climate change.
The Stern Review is about as pukka as any report can be: written by Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist to the World Bank, commissioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, advised the former Vice President of the United States, launched at the Royal Society by the Prime Minister etc.
Stern avoids any of that soppy liberal stuff about people and human rights- his appeal is to the interests of the conservative financial elite. The review spells out the catastrophic impacts as trillions of dollars loss, negative growth and undermined investment interests. It recommends a vast new speculative commodity market in carbon as the best solution. Maybe the less said about that the better.
Reading the papers today is an object lesson in climate denial. Large articles, typically spread across two pages, present government endorsed predictions of the imminent collapse of the global economy. This is without precedent during my lifetime so I will say it again…government endorsed predictions of the imminent collapse of the global economy.
But there is not a word about any of it on the business pages where the lead story is that Qantas has put in an order for eight new airbus A380 super jets to add to the thirteen it has already bought. Good news for Airbus, we are told.
Other news today? 20 police forces oppose lower speed limits on A and B roads. Mercedes Benz World has just opened at Brooklands race track – a temple to combustion containing a car museum, interactive displays and race track simulators. The first low cost long haul airline has just been launched offering non-stop flights from Gatwick to Hong Kong for a laughable £75 one way.
Despite high profile coverage for the Stern report, the editorial in the Telegraph reminds us that ‘some scientists maintain that climate change is due chiefly to the cyclical warming of the sun’ and generously adds that ‘given the stakes we ought to err on the side of caution’. It then goes on to argue that the Kyoto protocol exists to serve a left wing agenda and that we could eliminate malaria for a fraction of what we are being asked to spend on compliance.
The Daily Mail rants about green stealth taxes. It gives resident Queen of Denial, Melanie Phillips, a whole page to recycle the tired lies of professional contrarians.
The Times is one of the few newspapers not to mention the Stern Report on its front cover- presumably because it had to make room for a huge banner offering ‘a flight to Europe for every reader. Start collecting your airmiles today!’ Inside it has a special business travel supplement that tells us that air travel is at a five year high, that flying around the world for 60-70 hours on a single airline is now possible, and that Easijet is on the shortlist of the Times Best of European Business awards for ‘opening up Europe to travelers’.
The liberal media indulges in its speciality combination of hand wringing and lifestyle indulgence. The Guardian gives over three pages to pictures of cracked earth and starving Africans. The supplement – no irony intended- is called ‘20 Works of Art to See before you Die’. ‘If you want truly to appreciate a work of art there is no substitute to seeing it in person’ it says. Pollock and Rembrandt in New York, rock art in South Africa, Rothko in Texas, Paris, St Petersburg, Rome, etc. Flying is fine in the interests of art. Fly now die later.
And so on. And so on. I have often heard a naïve argument that things will change when the richest and most powerful individuals and corporations are shown of the threat to their own interests. But people will not believe that they do not want to believe, whoever they are.
[as a postcript, after loading this up, I caught the Newsnight special on the Stern Report. On the panel was Nigel Lawson, former City Editor of the Daily Telegraph, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Secretary of State for Energy,Chancellor of the Exchequer, President of the British Institute of Energy Economics, and current Chairman of the Central Europe Trust. In the face of the meticulous arguments of the Stern Report he was adamant that climate change is stil unproven, that most scientists are unconvinced and that any changes are the result of natural variation. It was a staggering performance of faith over reality proving the remarkable energy that powerful and strong willed people will put into denying facts that challenge their world view, however they are posited].
[Another postscript. The next day, when most of the newspapers had given up on the Stern story, the Independent dedicated most of its issue to a full report and summary-the cover (with a picture of a burning sun) followed by nine pages.
There was just enough space left for its motoring supplement which gives glowing reviews to three of the most inefficient and ludicrously overpowered cars ever built:
The 3.2 litre Land Rover Freelander four wheel drive
The 6.12 litre Mercedes Benz Rocket, which can reach 125 mph in 10 seconds and has a top speed of 225 mph
The 6 litre Bentley GTC convertible with a top speed of 195 mph
The Independent is aware of this disconnection so, whilst drooling over the torque, it makes coy references to climate change: ‘the waiting list will give you time to fight your conscience over the CO2 emissions’; ‘we’re not fans of SUVs on this newspaper but if you must buy one…’, and says that ‘you can even salve your conscience’ because £80 of the cost of the Land Rover goes to an offset company.
The issue is not that a newspaper actively promotes the glamour of high carbon living- its job is to sell papers after all. Surely the real dissonance is on the part of the readers, many of whom are clearly confused about where their loyalties really lie].