Talk about Newsnight


David Miliband responds

  • Newsnight
  • 9 May 08, 05:56 PM

miliband226.jpgOn Wednesday we asked what questions you would like to ask the Foreign Secretary David Miliband - and more than 175 of you responded.

During the live interview Jeremy used questions by Graham Nickson and LarsonsMum - and David Miliband agreed to respond to other questions online - which he has now done.
He didn't answer them all - but the ones we chose that we thought fairly represented the issues raised by you.

1. roydosan wrote:
Why is the government persisting with biofuels? When there is so much evidence about the harm they cause, why do we need another review/enquiry into them, can you not just take the decision to ban them?

The simple answer is that biofuels have the potential to provide low carbon sources of fuel. That is not to say that all biofuels do - for example the science points much more strongly to sugar rather than corn based fuels. But the potential is serious. We are alive to the dangers and indeed the Prime Minster recently wrote to Japan's Prime Minister Fukuda (as chair of the G8) on the issue. As a result, a UN Taskforce has been set up. The Government has also called for Professor Ed Gallagher, the former CEO of the Environment Agency, to review the indirect impacts of biofuels. He will publish his review in June and the findings will inform Government policy on biofuels. In the meantime the Government is fully involved in the development of sustainability criteria for biofuels in the EU and at the wider international level. The UK is among the world leaders in this field. The Government is also providing some support for technology development for biofuels and is considering what further measures may be required.

2. emptyend wrote:
How is a low-carbon economy compatible with calling for more production from OPEC? Why has this Government been frittering away the inheritance of North Sea oil and discouraging further exploration by sharply raising North Sea oil taxes two years ago?

There is important difference between short term problems and long term solutions. As I set out in my speech on Wednesday the mismatch of supply and demand that leads to high oil prices needs to be addressed by containing demand (by finding alternatives). The Government is also in the short term working with industry to address North Sea oil and gas reserves. Through the successful PILOT forum, our licensing innovations and the fallow initiative we have seen both higher levels of exploration and development of reserves that would not previously have been realised. We are also working with industry to unlock the gas potential West of Shetland. Treasury officials are currently consulting with industry on whether there is a need for any special measures to incentivise development of marginal discoveries, including the currently "stranded" gas reserves West of Shetland.

3. Tabasco1 wrote:
It will fall to you, Mr Miliband, to present the UK case to the Chinese and Indians that they should not build coal-fired power stations without operational carbon capture technology fitted from the outset. As it is your government is planning to give the green light to unabated coal-fired power stations in the UK. If this policy is not reversed, will you not - to use Nye Bevan's phrase about negotiations with the Soviets - be going into the conference chamber naked?

As energy prices continue to rise and energy security becomes both a foreign and domestic policy priority across the countries of the world, nations are increasingly turning to coal as a flexible, cheap and secure energy option. The IEA has predicted that by 2050 global energy demand will have increased by around 50% with significant portions of that coming from the emerging economies of India and China and based around their considerable reserves of coal. We will not be able to get a global deal on climate unless we can find a way of letting India, China and others continue to burn coal. As the Stern Review identified, carbon capture and storage is the key technology to allow us to continue to use coal. This is one reason why the UK's work on carbon capture and storage is so important. We are working towards the world's first commercial-scale demonstration project of carbon capture and storage on post-combustion coal. This should pave the way for improvements and cost reductions in this technology, making it more attractive and accessible for economies such as China and India to take up.

4. rdrake98 wrote:
What's the best book you've read that puts the case, from a scientific point of view, that global warming isn't a crisis that needs the attention of policy makers? If you cannot name such a book, what is the best book on policy that argues that even if the view presented by the IPCC to policy makers is broadly correct, most of the current suggested policy measures are likely to be futile or counterproductive?
What was the best argument that you read against increased production of biofuels at least a year or more ago?
If you have trouble answering the last, don't you think you should soon have better answers to the first two?
Lastly, if books on science are too hard, are you still sure it was wise to say that you would not even watch the documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle" when it came out in March of last year? (There were some excellent scientists on it. Of course the argument was a little simplified, as you'd expect in such a documentary. That's the why the initial questions were about the best books.)

I have just read Nigel Lawson's book arguing against the conventional wisdom on climate change - so that is the most recent. He is not a scientist but summarises the argument against. I think the IPCC and other books - the non scientific summary in The Weather Makers is good - outweigh his arguments. The Great Global Warming Swindle interviewed some impressive scientists - but since the programme aired, some of those scientists have been making it known that they were misrepresented, taken out of context, and misled on the purpose of the programme. For example, Professor Carl Wunsch, from MIT, has said he was "completely misrepresented" by the programme.

5. bookhimdano wrote:
Why are up to 50% of planning applications for solar panels being turned down? Why have the micro generation grants stopped? Why have taxes been raised on vegetable oil to make it more expensive than diesel? We have hundreds of acres of empty roof and garden space for panels, windmills and heat pumps yet the planners obstruct citing it's 'out of character'. Well they didn't have those things 100 years ago so of course it's 'out of character. How mad is that.

The situation isn't as mad as you suggest! Recent changes to planning requirements for microgeneration mean that from 6 April 2008 the majority of micro-generation technologies are covered by permitted development, with the exception of Air Source Heat Pumps and Wind Turbines. This means the majority of technologies will not require people to apply for specific planning permission. Microgeneration grants have not stopped. The Low Carbon Buildings Programme Phase 1 household stream, with the remaining £10 million budget, was recently extended to June 2010 for new applications or as long as funds are available, whichever is sooner. We are currently seeing a steady flow of applications and the programme is making good progress. There's more information on this at

6. Considering how much utility bills and basic living costs have already risen, how will private companies be prevented from passing on the costs of reducing their carbon footprints to the public?

We've got a number of initiatives in place to help people who are seeing their fuel bills increasing -- including providing grants for vulnerable people through Warm Front, increasing the Winter Fuel Payment, and most importantly the obligation on energy suppliers to improve the energy efficiency of their customers' homes. From this year, energy companies will have to double that effort. Between now and 2011, we're requiring them to spend around £3 billion on everything from low energy light bulbs and insulation to helping people install microgeneration -- both cutting emissions, and the fuel bills of millions of people. Every pound invested by energy companies to date has benefited their customers by at least £9. I'd encourage anyone interested in this, or in accessing other grants and advice on cutting their energy bills and the environmental footprint of their homes, to call the 'Act on CO2' advice line.

7. PaddyN wrote:
Can I ask David Millband, MP, what the government plans to do to help the poor citizens suffering in Burma from the recent cyclone? I offer my deepest sympathies all those affected by the terrible catastrophe unfolding in Burma. The scale of the devastation is truly staggering. M y heart goes out to the many thousands of people who have lost their loved ones, their homes and livelihoods.

The government has made an initial pledge of £5m which will go towards meeting immediate needs including food, shelter and access to clean water. A UK emergency relief team will travel to Burma as soon as possible, and we are working closely with aid organisations on the ground. Getting aid through to those who are in desperate need is our top priority. We are using all channels to urge the Burmese Government to grant unrestricted access to the international relief effort. We are determined to do all we can to save as many lives as possible.

8. georgemclean wrote:
What are David's views on the idea of a single, secular democratic state of Israel/Palestine rather than the two-state solution that has been pursued for so long now?

I support a two state solution as do the majority of Israeli and Palestinian leaders and people.

9. rayall wrote:
Zimbabwe - when is the Brit govt. going to get cross with the failure by "Africa" to DO anything about Mugabe other than support and applaud him. In particular Malawi and South Africa - especially Mbeki with his No crisis in Zimbabwe, Allow transit of Chinese arms and refusal to allow subject to be raised in Security Council. By all means let Africa deal with their problems provided they do something in face of killings and lootings by ZANU PF.

We are pursuing a three step process: 1) Support for democratic movements in Zimbabwe; 2) Encouragement of African leaders; 3) And international mobilisation through the UN. President Mugabe has not yet stolen the election and it is vital that he is not allowed to do so. The greatest responsibility falls on African leaders but we all have a role to play.


  • Comment number 1.

    It's good to hear that you've read Lawson's "An Appeal to Reason". Two other books I think you should take a deep breath and try are "Taken by Storm" by Essex and McKitrick (Canadian professors of Maths and Economics, respectively), which deals with the very deep problems in the science, and "Cool It" by Bjorn Lomborg, who I'm sure you've heard of, who looks more at the prioritisation of policy.

    I'm very aware of Professor Wunsch's complaint against "Swindle". I looked into it in detail at the time (as did many) and decided that the use that Durkin had made of what Wunsch said to camera was completely fair. It's fine for him to say later that he disagrees with the overall thesis of the film. But the claim of misrepresentation was I think overdone. Why the professor felt the need to come out with this brings up the very great pressure academics can come under in this area. Which is far from healthy, in my view.

    Thank you though for the open answer. An idea of who may have first flagged problems with biofuels to you - and when - would also be interesting to know about.


  • Comment number 2.


    (1) Let David Miliband state his utter impotence.
    (2) I will state the same.

    There is no solution but time, or some natural force greater than either antagonist.
    Perhaps we should build a wall round the whole affair?

  • Comment number 3.

    David Miliband remains a coward who is unable to argue coherently against actual science.

    The correlation between sun activity and Earth's climate temperature is around the 70% mark. That dwarfs all other factors that affect climate. The apparent non-appearance of cycle-24 (this is arguable as there are Tiny Tim sunspots which have only been possible to see with our latest technology) should worry policy-makers far more than carbon emissions. Likewise with the switch of the PDO to a cooling trend which is likely to last at least 30 years given its history should also be worrying.

    A cooling world will mean less agricultural output and more conflict over resources. If the worst fears of the solar physicists are realised and we're heading towards a Maunder Minimum, this planet with 6 billion people on it will be in for a very hard time.

    My bet is that by 2050, we'll be in another Little Ice Age and this absurd fetish with carbon emissions will be seen to have been a folly.

  • Comment number 4.

    What a difference a day makes...

    'He's also agreed to continue answering your questions online tomorrow so please do give us your thoughts.'

    One answer that seems not to have been forthcoming was why the extra day... despite a few questions as to when what was promised might be expected. Oddly, the promise seems to have been removed from the text, too. Makes a few of us asking look a bit silly to those wondering what we're on about, for sure! Maybe we were imagining it.

    Speaking of answers...

    'David Miliband agreed to respond to other questions online - which he has now done.
    He didn't answer them all - but chose ones which he thought fairly represented the issues raised by you...'

    LOL. That's the way to run our news!

    One thing I do note is how this single greatest issue of our time vanished pretty much as soon as decently (and ratings aware) a point as possible through a slot on a programme on a channel late at night in a small country of little world significance, watched by not very many.

    At least a good number were roused enough to post on the new, improved blog system.

    Making no comment one way or t'other on those 'selected' and 'answered', it seems a pity that such interest, and passion, is represented by six answers, and these are just over half of the total chosen.

    Symbolically apt, though. I wonder when next a target or agenda will stir our government or media to again 'address' this epic issue.

    Meanwhile, that's all we have time for. Now, on breaking news, Cherie Blair has trumped Gordon's glory (that's Ramsay, who has gained the ear of his namesake with the planetary-saving wheeze of fining restaurants for not serving local fare... think of the civ. servs one could hire on the back of that!!) filling our publicly-funded airwaves with free commercials for her book. Look forward to Newsnight Review.

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm glad to hear David Miliband damning Nigel Lawson's book with the faint praise of describing it simply as "most recent", it's just a shame he wasted precious Ministerial time reading the views of a man who thinks 1.5 degrees global climate change is insignificant.

    I'm sorry, though, that as Foreign Secretary he shows such little interest in the issue of justice for the victims of genocide. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement was supposed to be conditional on Serbia discharging its responsibilities to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Why bother to demand respect for international justice and the Genocide Convention when in the end you're going to tell the protectors of Ratko Mladic that political convenience is the supreme principle of international law?

  • Comment number 6.

    "The simple answer is that biofuels have the potential to provide low carbon sources of fuel."

    Dead wrong. Bio-fuel IS always carbon based. Organic chemistry is the chemistry of carbon. EVERY student of biology or chemistry who takes a course in organic chemistry knows that because it is THE FIRST thing they teach you. When you burn biofuel, you are burning carbon.

    Whether any specific biofuel has a higher or lower carbon footprint than petroleum based fuel is impossible to say because there are too many variables. For instance, the carbon footprint of gasoline from petroleum drilled in Saudi Arabia, shipped to the US and refined there is higher than identical gasoline from oil drilled in Texas and refined locally. Same with biofuels.

    The purpose of biofuel is not to lower CO2 output, it is to reduce dependence on imported petroleum and possibly reduce costs. As a result of high fuel prices and diversion of food production to biofuel production, the cost of food has increased substantially around the world, especially in those countries that have to import food to feed themselves. An arrangement where some countries, the US for example has to reduce its CO2 output significantly without an acceptable large scale energy substitute will create huge food shortages around the world when American farmers find it is far cheaper and easier to sell their carbon credits to power companies than to continue working their land under impossible handicaps. The entire climate change debate has been very badly thought out by environmentalists whose simple minded notion that all you have to do is build some windmills, install some solar panels, turn out some lights, and force everyone to drive golf carts instead of automobiles will lead to a large number of very damaging unanticipated consequences.

    When Mr. Milliband will you and others concerned about climate change begin talking about the real answers to the problem; drastic reduction of world population, diversion of major scientific research to alternate large scale energy sources, and an end to buring down the world's rain forests because it is a necessity and not because Brazil or Indonesia need to be paid blackmail money? If you think the USA will curtail its CO2 output and compromise its standard of living so that China and India can continue increasing their CO2 output and increase their standard of living, you are dreaming. It will not happen. If there are sacrifices to be made, everyone will have to make them or no one will.

  • Comment number 7.

    Its interesting to note that DM failed to answer my question on traffic calming when it was quite simple really. Perhaps like the eco-fascists he clings to the belief that traffic calming will irritate drivers off the road, at least a few anyway.

    It is clear that the " environment " has become just an excuse for a marketing scam. Many green building initiatives specify Sheep's Wool insulation, which costs ten times as much as the longer lasting plastic or glass fiber equivalent. However the sheep farmers are not benefiting, they were lucky to get their fleeces taken away for nothing last year.

  • Comment number 8.

    Three responses to other critics of our much appreciated Foreign Secretary (we just don't say it enough!)

    BigJohnLish: We agree that global warming alarmism is scientifically unfounded and the policies trying to mitigate it very harmful. In that context I'd go carefully on the correlation of temperatures on earth with solar activity. It's got to be a good guess - I accept that - but the precise link is not proven, any more than any other theory, and it's pretty hard I'm sure for the likes of Mr Miliband to make much of the argument. It's that fact that human CO2 emissions are not remotely proven as the cause even of the mild warming we experienced 1900-1998 that is the key point for policy makers - that and the fact that all future projections, from computer models, are worthless, as shown very beautifully by none of them predicting no warming at all 1998-2007, which Mother Earth in all her complexity has perhaps graciously given us to help us learn the folly of our ways.

    EastTwo: You obviously feel that you know that an increase of 1.5 degrees in global mean temperature would be 'significant' and that one ex-Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, is a fool not to know this. That's fine. You just don't give any evidence that such an increase (centigrade or fahrenheit, I care not) will cause widespread harm. And none of us can I guess, cooped up in a blog like this. All I can say, to try to widen your perspective of possible views, is that I don't think global mean temperature is a meaningful measure of anything. It is local weather that will do good or do damage in the future, as in the past. The global mean is an abstraction and probably a meaningless one - what happened to all those weather stations on every part of the ocean? Try reading "Taken by Storm" on this, as recommended above. The scientific foundations of the warming hysteria are flawed at almost every level. And there are other much more important things to worry about, as you rightly say about Serbia.

    MarcusAureliusII: I agree about the futility of the badly-conceived measures currently purporting to mitigate warming. But in your final paragraph we come to this chilling 'real answer' to the problem: drastic reduction in world population. That summarises well the danger of the warming globaloney (as I saw a blogger refer to it this week). Either we pretend to do things that won't make any positive difference at all - but are already doing drastic harm to the world's poorest - or we take a hard-headed look at the 'real answer' and decide that well, actually, come to think of it, we could do with losing a billion or two of the world's population. We need to realise that the science on which all this horrendous tough talk is based is less deserving of respect than the latest ramblings of Mystic Meg. We have grave challenges in trying to help the poor of the "bottom billion" and it is our solemn duty to care about that, as I believe our Prime Minister does. But 'drastic population reduction' - as always, who decides? I doubt that the poorest segment in the Central African Republic, Haiti or Afghanistan will get as much chance as you and me to pontificate on who goes to the wall. And, dare I say, God cares more about those people and their daily struggles than about our self-indulgent, pseudo-guilt feelings about a problem that doesn't exist, except as a means of generating further massive funding that is all too likely to skew world science ever more deeply into junk. (Try googling for the interview with Freeman Dyson on global warming, on YouTube, for one example of a critical area of research that is not receiving adequate funding due to the current obsession about carbon emissions.)

  • Comment number 9.

    Richard, this is why it is a correlation. We don't have a precise understanding of why the Earth has warmed and cooled.

    In our present state of ignorance, Sun activity is by far the strongest correlation that is currently known and records go back a few hundred years. Now the Sun is known to be slowly expanding through a boom/bust mechanism. The inactivity of the current solar cycle-24 coupled with observations from cycle-23 strongly indicates a retraction of energy which means the Earth receives less energy. As a result, the climate will cool.

    FYI, the modellers were predicting an active cycle-24, the observational scientists were more on the side of a quieter cycle-24. And in the real world...

  • Comment number 10.

    John, cool. So to speak.

  • Comment number 11.

    There is no doubt that the earth's population of humans will decrease, not increase. I was skeptical about global warming myself until I saw photographs of the change in the ice caps and the glaciers. I saw Columbia glacer in the Prince William Sound with my own eyes in 1988. The photos I saw a couple of years ago showed an astonishing change. When that much ice melts that quickly, something big is happening. The question is not whether or not population will decrease but how it will decrease. There are two choices. One is planned parenting through birth control and aborition. This has only been tried in China and appears to be on the wane there. The other is to watch vasts numbers starve to death or be killed almost haphazardly and without warning in violent storms and other natural disasters resulting from shifting weather patterns. You cannot have decreasing CO2 output with increasing population especially when even the poorest people demand the same kinds of life style the better off people already have. Not with the technology we use to create that level of comfort. But the effort to acquire radical new technology that will supply the massive quantities of energy we need to sustain that level are not being developed. The governments of China and India have made it clear they will not give up or set aside the aspirations of their people to reduce CO2 output. Now how will Britain reduce its CO2 output in the next 25 years when it is projected to increase its population by about a third to a half mostly through immigration. The environmentalists pronouncements of what we should do have not been rational.

  • Comment number 12.

    Marcus, do cheer up. As Nigel Lawson points out in "An Appeal to Reason", the book I was glad to hear David Miliband has just read, even the IPCC's worst case is that, based on UN figures, world population will grow to 9 billion and that in 100 years, instead of the developing world being 9.5 times better off than they are now, because of global warming they will be 8.5 times better off! This is what we're desperately being told to save the world from!

    I don't believe much at all in our ability to forecast 100 years out. Just look at how impossible that would have been in 1908. But if this is the worst case, doom and gloom is out. Let's party!

  • Comment number 13.

    Richard, from a recent presentation by Demetris Koutsoyiannis. He asked "How well do the models capture the scaling behaviour of the real climate, by assessing standard deviation at different scales. (Albeit at a regional, rather than global level)."

    His conclusions are below

    • All examined long records demonstrate large overyear variability (long term fluctuations) with no systematic signatures across the different locations/climates.

    • GCMs generally reproduce the broad climatic behaviours at different geographical locations and the sequence of wet/dry or warm/cold periods on a mean monthly scale.

    • However, model outputs at annual and climatic (30 year) scales are irrelevant with reality; also, they do not reproduce the natural overyear fluctuation and, generally, underestimate the variance and the Hurst coefficient of the observed series; none of the models proves to be systematically better than the others.

    • The huge negative values of coefficients of efficiency at those scales show that model predictions are much poorer that an elementary prediction based on the time average.

    • This makes future climate projections not credible.

    • The GCM outputs of AR4, as compared to those of TAR, are a regression in terms of the elements of falsifiability they provide, because most of the AR4 scenarios refer only to the future, whereas TAR scenarios also included historical periods.

    If you want a study on how useless the Hadley Centre model is, read M. Collins (2002) “Climate Predictability on Interannual to Decadal Time Scales: The Initial Value Problem.” Climate Dynamics 19, 671-692.

  • Comment number 14.

    As my questions weren't answered allow me to IMAGINE what the answers might have been.

    DerekPhibes wrote:
    Q1. Given that this government has pushed incoherent policies based upon naive ideology and Hollywood fantasy, rather than quantifiable evidence or relevant expert testimony, how can we be expected to believe anything this government announces?

    Imaginary Politician's response:
    When making any decision the government does not have to follow expert advice or even acknowledge quantitative evidence. This gives the government flexibilty in its policy and decision making to accomodate other considerations such as what the USA wants, 'moral' posturing and Daily Mail headlines.

    One of the related examples you gave was our apparent policy turn-around on the reclassification of cannabis. Cannabis is a drug and has certain dangers associated with it. If we were simply to consider the quantitative dangers we would have to acknowledge that it is much less harmful to individuals and society than substances such as alcohol or tobacco; if we acted against cannabis due to number of related deaths we would certainly have to act first against the significantly greater number of deaths associated with motoring and with c. difficle.

    Instead of policy being constrained by quantitative evidence we choose to keep America friendly by siding with its Prohibition-like 'War on Drugs', and we can take a high-moral stance and keep the Daily Mail voters onside with our tough action against a 'gateway' drug. And make no mistake, cannabis is a 'gateway' drug as those who buy cannabis have to do business with drug dealers, many of whom will push more dangerous and addictive drugs.

    I hope this clarifies our governments policy and decision making process.

  • Comment number 15.

    John, I wasn't aware that most of the scenarios of the Global Climate Model (GCM) outputs of the IPCC's fourth assessment report (AR4, in 2007), unlike the third (TAR, in 2001), refer only to the future. (A bit of translation there for slow readers like myself ...)

    But that is a remarkable fact, thank you. Once the models were now doubt over-fitted in a clumsy way to the past, using ever-flexible fudge factors such as the (unknown) amount and effect of CFCs, so that the cooling of 1940-75 was amazingly 'reproduced'. Nowadays, I assume hydrologist Demetris Koutsoyiannis is saying, bless him, nobody even bothers, partly no doubt because critics have been comparing the models in detail with reality even during the warming period up to 1998 and finding them amazingly out of order.

    Essentially, I believe him and you. The Hurst exponent, from what I can tell, tries to get a handle on the variability of the very tricky time series that we find all over the real world and, surprise surprise, the models understate it. They would. Everywhere one looks they simplify to the point of being useless in predicting anything, let alone over a 30 year timescale. As we and others have been saying with gusto.

    What will count most with ordinary citizens though, I think, is that we've essentially had no further warming since 1998. After all that hype. The models said that of course we would. Mother Earth laughingly said different. At some point nobody else is going to keep a straight face either.

    What happens then to the reputation of science? That's a question. Not a few who've been taking substantial monthly salaries home will deserve the searching questions. But if this situation leads to even greater cutbacks in the funding of basic science, that would be a travesty.

    Must off. But the tide is turning.

  • Comment number 16.

    re initial post #22 ...
    Alas my old but green car was not a facet of
    'doing my bit for the environment'
    that raises concern for Newsnight nor Mr Milliband; yet I'm sure it accounts for a personal saving of many ton[ne]s of CO2. Yet cardboard or plastic bags are... [contrast with the weekly bulk of yoghourt pots which fill the binliners]

    The solution to plastic disposal is to heat it and press it into builder's bricks and generate everlasting bricks.
    Couple the bricks with sustainable felling of trees and incorporate the wood again into the building structure and the CO2 issue would diminish. Create mock Tudor style housing

    Cars of today are pretty well a throw away item as the uneccessary complexities mean scrapping after the first minor yet unrepairable fault. Very sad.

  • Comment number 17.

    Thanks, rdrake98 for explaining to me that global climate mean is made up of local variations. Perhaps you might pass the word on to Lawson who last time I heard him expostulate on the radio seemed to be advising us to think of 1.5 degrees C increase in global climate mean as signifying nothing more than a mildly more pleasant afternoon out in the garden.

  • Comment number 18.

    EastTwo, sorry for a long response but your second dig at the ex-Chancellor raises a lot of important points.

    Like David Miliband I've read "An Appeal to Reason", which I'd recommend to anyone on any side of the global warming discussion - and one of the many things it teaches is that there are many sides, at each point of the science, the economics and the ethics, not just two, not just the good people who want to save the planet and the evil "deniers". So we should quit using such useless pejorative terms and each of us start to do some hard thinking.

    Lawson's contention in the book, which I fully accept, is that there is no reason to fear that an increase of 1.5 deg C, up to a worst case of 4 deg C, as long as it happens gradually over 100 years, as predicted by the models of the IPCC, will be an insuperable problem for people to adapt to worldwide, given the parallel forecasts, from the same source, of very large increases in average income, including for the developing world.

    One interesting issue this raises is whether the mean temperature in 1900, say, was the ideal for all mankind. Why should that be the case? Who can say what that ideal is, given that, as Lawson points out, Helsinki thrives on an average of 5 deg C annually and Singapore on over 27 deg C.

    As I've made clear right through the discussion in the last week (including the pages for Tuesday and Wednesday last, which sadly quickly disappear from sight these days), I don't accept that the predictions of the Hadley Centre or any other computer models are worth more than the paper they're not usually printed on (for the ones printed are surely a very small subset of those with slightly different parameters perused on screen - and behind that obvious fact we may one day find that there is another interesting tale to be told). Anyway, as Roger Harrabin reported a week ago, the models we are given are full of holes, most importantly they never generate realistic cloud cover. Given that the weather/climate is the ultimate chaotic system and clouds make a crucial contribution to both heating and cooling the atmosphere, depending on their elevation, this is quite simply a fatal flaw.

    So, when in the last ten years the northern hemisphere mean temperature goes up, as the models roughly predicted in 1998, and the southern one goes down by almost the same amount, as the same models most definitely didn't predict, I'm no more surprised by the situation in the south as in the north. I never trusted the models at all. But those that did trust them - or were bullied into trusting them by a heavy-handed argument from authority - surely are beginning to ask some searching questions about the next ten years, which a group of German scientists now say will also show almost flat mean temperature, for reasons unknown in 98 and therefore unable to be reflected in the models then. How can be sure that the models have everything they need now? Well, they don't. Clouds still aren't for real.

    I've been a programmer for 28 years and have worked on linear and non-linear forecasting and simulation systems during that time. My experience tells me that, for a physical system like climate, the physics has to be understood and all the formulas solvable (at least by algorithmic means) for the software to have any chance of making realistic predictions. In this case the conditions are clearly not met. The system concerned is way too complex. So the models have no predictive value at all.

    The final problem is the whole idea of a mean temperature for the whole earth. How useful is that? Not very, maybe not at all. Temperature, like phone numbers, isn't something you should take the average of, in different locations, and expect much insight. To get a feel of why that is true I recommend "Taken by Storm" by Essex and McKitrick, one book not in Lord Lawson's comprehensive bibliography that I believe should have been.

    Lawson surely doesn't get everything right, in the book or on the radio. It's far too complex a subject for that. But another point made by Essex and McKitrick is that it's far too complex a subject for any single expert to get right. The biosphere, oceans and atmosphere each have major specialisms within them yet they all go together to produce the weather that we enjoy (or not) tomorrow or in thirty years. We are fortunate, to my mind, that one non-scientist who has already chewed over many of these issues as Minister for Energy and as Chancellor, learning in the process how to deal effectively with both scientists and economists, has produced such an helpful summary of what we do and don't know about global warming and what we should and shouldn't do about it.

    It was to be honest a surprise that our Foreign Secretary had already read it. The true debate is only just starting. I look forward to interacting more with you and others as it proceeds.

  • Comment number 19.

    "The situation isn't as mad as you suggest! "

    i'm still trying to understand why micro generation is incompatible with 'conservation areas' etc [huge areas of the uk]. What are they trying to conserve? The use of carbon polluting technology?

    and when will we have a two way grid? In germany two way grid microgeneration employs 1/4 million people [uk 7000] and generates 24 BIllion euros [uk 270 million]. The govt has said the german model is 'not the way to go' because there is 'no proof' it works.

    the block to micro generation is in the inability to sell back to the grid.


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