The 10 Worst Examples Of Dodgy Reasoning In Tim Yeo’s New Book

  • Date: 20/07/10

Last night, I attended the launch of the new book from Tim Yeo MP “Green Gold: The Case For Raising Our Game On Climate Change”, published by the Tory Reform Group.  It was reported in the media yesterday and is available for download here.  The book is a bit of a masterpiece of green conventional wisdom and almost entirely detached from reality.  Here are my ten favourite examples:

1. Chinese tree planting

“The all powerful Communist machine in the People’s Republic of China has got the entire population involved in environmental work. Everyone over the age of eleven has a legal duty to plant at least three trees a year. It isn’t Brazil or Indonesia or the Congo that has the world’s largest reforestation project – it’s China. The country has National Tree Planting Day when around three million Communist party members and state workers take up shovels for a huge green propaganda event. Many of the trees are planted in the northern shelterbelt, known as the “Great Green Wall”.  Work on this great tree belt began as long ago as 1978.”

Mr. Yeo sounds a bit too much like an old socialist praising the great leaps forward Mao’s China achieved in pig iron production.  And do we really think this is about climate change if they started in 1978?

This scheme is clearly a response to desertification and long standing environmental problems created by poorly thought out projects from the Mao era.  It doesn’t mean they are competing in the entirely fictional race to put in place the expensive climate change policies advocated by Mr. Yeo.

2. Conflating climate change and extreme weather

“Germanwatch also produces league tables on the countries worst affected by climate change. They calculate that 600,000 people worldwide lost their lives between 1990 and 2008 as a direct result of extreme weather events.”

There have always been hurricanes and other extreme weather events. The death rate from extreme weather events fell (see Figure 2, in particular) sharply through the 20th century despite warming over the same period.  But that doesn’t stop Mr. Yeo making no distinction between the consequences of extreme weather and the consequences of climate change.

3. China is making solar panels, we’re being left behind

“The West likes to think of itself as being in the vanguard on climate change. Alas, this isn’t true in every respect.  A report published this spring showed China, often characterised by former President Bush as the world’s greatest polluter and an obstacle to progress in international efforts to tackle climate change, is now the world’s number one investor in renewable technology. According to research by the not-for-profit group Pew Charitable Trusts, it has now overtaken the US in a league table of investments in low-carbon energy in the G20.”

Suppose Western politicians decided that we all needed to power our economies by running round and round in circles carrying little plastic windmills.  The Chinese would invest in the factories needed to make us all the little plastic windmills we wanted.

Mr. Yeo is a former investment banker but apparently his knowledge of business doesn’t extend to the difference between a consumer and a supplier.  The climate change policies he recommends are going to force us to waste a fortune consuming unreliable and prohibitively expensive renewable energy.  The Chinese will make money supplying the equipment to us.  It doesn’t mean that they’ve bought into the delusion that renewable energy is an adequate replacement for fossil fuel power, the number of coal plants they’re building suggests quite the opposite.

4. We need to “lead” on climate change for the good of the economy

“We must persuade the public that it is in Britain’s economic interests to move to a low carbon economy faster than other countries, not least to give us a competitive edge.”

The Scientific Advisory Board to the German Federal Ministry of Finance begs to differ:

“Efforts by single countries to act as a leader in climate protection and to influence climate policy by imposing emissions reductions on itself can cause other countries to slack off in their own climate-policy efforts rather than intensifying them. As a result, taking a leadership role in climate policy leads to, as a rule, higher costs in that country without assuring any decisive improvement in the global climate.”

He is again pushing the “if I buy enough copies of Microsoft Office, I’ll become Bill Gates” logic that fails to distinguish between becoming a big consumer and becoming a big supplier.

If we believe all the rosy projections that renewable energy is going to get more competitive with fossil fuels, then we are much better off waiting for the cost to fall instead of locking in high costs, hurting our competitiveness and impoverishing families now.

5. Taking tougher action unilaterally will improve our influence in climate negotiations

“Yet it is not too late for us to lead the world once more. To do so the new Conservative Government must lead by example and drive forward a rapid switch to a lower carbon economy. This will increase our influence in shaping the world’s response to climate change. It will also help make the EU a heavyweight environmental negotiator, reflecting its half billion population and 30 per cent share of world GDP.”

“Unless we raise our game both Britain and the EU risk becoming irrelevant in the international debate.”

That is like saying that the way to be influential in arms control talks is to disarm unilaterally.  If we are going to plough ahead regardless, of course other countries will ignore us.  They know that we’ll sign up to any deal.

6. Warren Buffet is betting on railways

“In America,Warren Buffett has just made his biggest ever investment – in a railway business.”

We aren’t talking about the kind of high speed passenger trains that Tim Yeo loves and hopes can displace air travel.  Can you guess what carbon-intensive commodity Warren Buffett’s trains are going to be moving?


Brad Plumer writes for The New Republic, in an article titled “Buffett Bets Big On Coal”, that:

“Specifically, the BNSF railway serves a lot of coal fields in the West, including Wyoming’s vast Powder River Basin, and hauls enough coal on its routes to supply about 10 percent of the electricity in the United States. So Buffett’s essentially betting that coal’s going to remain a major part of the U.S. energy mix for quite some time, even as the country moves to cut carbon emissions.”

7. We lead the world in setting targets!

“According to one major European environmental think tank, as a nation we are doing second best in the world in relation to taking effective action against climate change, outperformed only by Brazil, which is starting to make progress in tackling deforestation.We won this accolade because we are the only country in the world that has enshrined long term climate change targets in law.”

Apparently setting a target constitutes “effective action”.

8. Personal carbon trading

I haven’t used a quote because the whole idea is painfully absurd.  Administering the roughly 11,500 installations in the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme is expensive and fraught with difficulty, now we’re going to extend cap and trade to 60 million Britons!

Supermarkets have had enough trouble with carbon labelling without making it the basis of a new currency.  Superficial appeals to getting the private sector involved and supermarket loyalty schemes (where supermarkets just decide how many “points” a given product is worth) are a pretty shoddy response to the problems in taking personal carbon trading from theory to reality.

The book even quotes a powerful denunciation from John Redwood, with no refutation of his argument – just an appeal to the supposed potential of personal carbon trading to “engage” people:

“John Redwood, usually an advocate of market-based solutions, claimed it would “make the ID computer look modest, cheap and not so intrusive. Government inspectors would need to watch over everyone’s habits and try to find a way of recording just about everything we do.””

9. Road pricing will pay for everything

“Alongside lower fuel duty, which would help all non motorway drivers, and the earlier completion of a new high speed West coast rail line in Britain, the income from motorway tolls could offer a return to private investors and pave the way for the Treasury to receive a big capital receipt from the sale.”

Jennifer Dunn wrote about the problem with this on the TaxPayers’ Alliance blog.  Council leaders have argued it could cost £23 billion a year to run a national road pricing scheme.  Motorists would need to pay for that – almost as much as is currently raised from Fuel Duty – just for the scheme to break even and before it starts paying for other objectives like funding high speed rail, returns to investors and cutting taxes.

10. Tightening the ETS cap

“The ETS cap should now be tightened further to reflect the weakness of the European economy and the fall in emissions caused by the recession.”

Politicians didn’t see the recession coming, so when demand fell the carbon price collapsed.  The problem with responding to that by tightening the cap is obvious.  The economy is expected to recover and politicians fighting the last war will catch the recovery and create a massive spike in the price, causing huge damage to the economy.

Centre Right 20 July 2010

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