Nigel Lawson

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Discipline envy

Richard Black, the BBC’s online environment correspondent, attracted attention when he noticed that almost all climate sceptics are men. Instead, he might have chosen to comment that many of them were social scientists with leanings towards economics. Coincidentally, economics is populated by males. It is only this year that the first woman won the subject’s Nobel prize, and her work would not be regarded as part of the subject by many academic purists. Sceptics Nigel Lawson, Steven Levitt, Bjørn Lomborg, and others all think about the world as economists. That’s probably more important than that they are male.

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Most governments in the developed world were elected on platforms that promised aggressive policies on greenhouse gas emissions. The reality has not matched the commitments made. The reasons for this are multitudinous and no one should ever underestimate the difficulties of weaning advanced societies off the use of cheap and convenient access to fossil fuels. But in addition to the standard reasons for slow progress we can see a large number of obstacles that spring from human psychology. In particular, some of the resistance to aggressive action on climate seems to spring from mental attitudes that may have helped us survive as a species in the past. Perhaps politicians intuitively recognise the existence of these barriers. So they continue to say that climate change is the most important problem facing humanity at the same time as adding new runways to the local airport or sanctioning the development of new coal-fired power stations.

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Why is humanity finding it difficult to take action on climate change?
Most governments in the developed world were elected on platforms that included promises to pursue aggressive policies on greenhouse gas emissions. Broadly speaking, the reality has not matched the promises made. The reasons for this are multitudinous and no one should ever underestimate the difficulties of weaning advanced societies off the use of cheap and convenient access to fossil fuels. But in addition to the standard reasons for slow progress we can see a large number of obstacles that spring from human psychology. In particular, some of the resistance to aggressive action on climate seems to spring from mental attitudes that may have helped us survive as a species in the past. Politicians may intuitively recognise the existence of these barriers. So they continue to say that climate change is the most important problem facing humanity at the same time as adding new runways to the local airport or sanctioning the development of new coal-fired power stations.

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Nigel Lawson and others are suggesting that temperatures have ‘stabilised’ since the late nineties. 1998 saw the highest global average temperature and only 2005 has closely matched it. Since no year since 1998 has exceeded the record, some commentators are saying the global warming has stopped. The implication, sometimes stated, sometimes not, is that the increasing rate of growth of CO2 concentration is having no effect on temperature.

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