Clear analysis of the relative merits of reactions to climate change is overdue

04 Oct 2006

This letter from Tom Miers was published in The Scotsman on 4th October

Your articles and commentary on the SEPA report on the Scottish environment (Oct 3rd) reveal how one-sided the debate on climate change is becoming. All we hear is that ‘something must be done’ with no clear analysis of the relative merits of different reactions to climate change.

Climate change itself has both costs and benefits as careful reading of the report makes clear. If there are net costs, how do we quantify these? How do they compare to the costs of trying to stop climate change? Might it be more sensible to cope with climate change rather than halt it? After all, the switch to non-polluting power generation might impose serious implications for economic growth that will hit the poorest hard. Should we really be asking developing countries to restrict their life-giving growth in the uncertain quest for perfect environmental stability?

The same conundrum applies at home. A wind farm presumably restricts climate change by some miniscule amount, saving us what, exactly? The cost of five sandbags and ten roof tiles? No-one seems to have any idea, or be making any effort to find out. But the wind farm costs us subsidies which might better be spent on cancer care or schooling, not to speak of its visual environmental impact.

Scientists, commentators and newspapers have a duty to address these questions rationally if we are to persuade our politicians to select the right environmental policies. Otherwise we will simply be prisoners to the ideology of lobby groups that pay little heed to the social and material well-being of human beings.