This is a reprint of something I put up on my personal blog last week:One is often confronted by the ineptitude of politicians and their habit of putting presentation and vote winning ahead of doing the job we voted them to do and indeed the job our taxes pay them to do. This can range from the usual banning conkers and cheese races nonsense, to an inability to sort out the most basic local problems (getting the roads fixed, etc). However nowhere is this more evident than the politics of climate change.
In general terms all the major political parties except the general idea that climate change is real, its happening and we need to do something about it. With the exception of the US Republicans (notably the Tea party types) and certain other lunatic’s on the extremes (UKIP seem to think flooding is the fault of gays!) this is not a controversial issue. However when the thorny issue of actually doing something about climate change rolls around, there is often a strong reluctance of any politicians to doing anything concrete. In part this is because they worry that action against climate change might be unpopular in the short term and that might cost them votes.
Of course I would counter the claim that action against climate change is not necessarily going to be unpopular. The lowest hanging fruit is energy conservation, which means measures such as lagging lofts, more fuel efficient cars, better public transport, changing planning laws to make new buildings more energy efficient, encouraging the use of CHP by industry and large energy users, subsidizing domestic use of renewables, etc. I fail to see how any of this is likely to be unpopular with anyone…other than “Lord” Monckton (note he’s not actually a lord, just likes to pretend to be one!)….or the Shale Gas industries newest lobbiest, David Cameron.
Furthermore if, for example, the government was to bring in a carbon tax to discourage fossil fuel use and level the playing field for renewables (.e.g to encourage electric cars over petrol powered ones). I’d argue that this new tax should be brought in at the same time as VAT, Petrol duty and Vehicle Excess Duty and other related taxes are gradually reduced and ultimately withdrawn, with the carbon tax essentially taking their place. Hence the tax burden on the public should remain more or less the same and for those who make the right choices get to see a cut in their taxes.
And since we’re talking about, the insurance industry would argue we’re already paying a defacto carbon tax as a result of the increased costs to insurance premium’s worldwide, or the fact more and more are forced into government guaranteed insurance schemes all as a result of climate change.
But yes, okay, there is certainly a “perception” that measures to tackle climate change will be unpopular with voters used to their two SUV’s in the garage, 3,000 mile Caesar salads and two foreign holidays a year lifestyle.
However, I put it to any politician standing in the murky flood waters of Somerset that if there’s anything less popular than getting people to pay a little bit more in tax (for certain things) and conserving energy, its explaining to thousands of angry flood victims why there house has been under water for 3 weeks and there’s sod all we can do about it.
The flooding in the Somerset levels has seen the finger of blame go in all directions, from penny pinching tories cutting back on flood defences, conservationists opposed to dredging, the actions of the farmers themselves, etc. But certainly, while we can’t tie climate change to any one specific weather event, this is the sort of stuff its predicted we’ll see more of in future as a consequence of climate change.Now the problem for politicians with that is, it means in future more standing in muddy fields and floods, more angry locals shouting at them. I mean would you want to be the local Tory MP in Somerset come next election time? Would you want to be a Tory major of London or PM in charge after London floods? And London and the south east is one of the very locations climate scientists fear will become more vulnerable to flooding, unless a lot of money is spent on new flood defences.
And extreme weather events, whatever the reasons, can swing an election. As I pointed out before, its possible that storms and floods in the US on the eve of the vote 2012 election, coupled with Romney’s climate skepticism, probably swung the votes in several key states Romney had to win (such as Florida) Obama’s way. And the reason why Merkel’s conservatives in Germany are such enthusiastic supporters of the “Energiewende” is in part because the CSU’s lack of empathy with flood victims and unwillingness to take action on climate change, cost them the 2002 election, a fact they are very slow to forget.The Katrina effect
Furthermore there is also the expense of it all to consider. After Owen Patterson got run out of Somerset with his tail between his legs, the government realising how inept this made them look pushed the panic button. They immediately signed up to a whole host of expensive measures (such as dredging and new flood defences), that may or may not actually have any effect. The army was even deployed to help out. Although it’s turned out that they aren’t really needed. But it does show how the government is running scared on this issue all of a sudden.
This is a phenomenon I refer to as “the Katrina effect”. Where like George W. Bush, a politician is partially responsible for the severity of a flood (e.g. by cutting back spending on flood defences to save a few pennies) and then when the media go and make a big deal out of it, he’s forced on this massive guilt trip to make a lot panicky and often expensive promises to atone for his previous sins…at the expense of the tax payers, some of which may not actually be terribly effective.
As the 2006 Stern report made clear, even in the worst case scenario the costs of mitigating climate change will be vastly lower than the costs for fire fighting the consequences, quite apart from the loss of life and loss of political face, and the financial costs of panicky Katrina like responses to said disasters.
Consequently I put it to politicians, not only do they have a professional and moral obligation to do something about climate change while we still can, but it’s in their own long term interest to do so.