The Debate: Should we be doing more to combat climate change?

Laura Davis

Untitled 11 300x300 The Debate: Should we be doing more to combat climate change?Fifty years ago, few people cared about pollution, deforestation, whaling or the Ozone layer. But even with an increasing awareness of issues concerning the environment, there is still a long way to go.

This week The Independent is looking at the successes and failures of the Green Movement at 50, with a series of blogs and features centred around the question: “Has the environment movement been a success?”

Climate change has been an integral part to the modern discussion of environmentalism; cited as both paramount to our survival and scaremongering, and  the debate continues to evoke mixed responses as to what exactly needs to be done.

Tony Juniper argues that we must act to increase taxes on pollution and waste before the impact on our infrastructure is too severe, with Bjorn Lomborg asserting that the tested policies implemented have been futile with little positive outcome for the environment, which requires innovative green alternatives.

Which do you agree with?

Tony Juniper

Human civilisations emerged during a period when the Earth’s climate was unusually stable. Because of changes to the composition of the atmosphere that time is coming to an end. This is mainly due to the combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation.

Because of climate change the weather is becoming more extreme, less predictable and more volatile. This is in turn causing major stresses for our societies, for example in economically costly damage to infrastructure and social impacts linked to higher food prices and health problems. If we don’t act quickly these and other consequences of climate change could become unmanageable. But where should we focus in our search for solutions?

My view is that answers lie mainly in the domain of economics. The problem is big and broad, it requires the kind of fundamental shift in priorities that can only be delivered through price and cost signals. Fortunately we have quite a good box if tools with which to start building our response.

These include ways to price emissions via different kinds of carbon tax and trading schemes, international payments for countries that cut deforestation, reforms to increase taxes on pollution and waste (while cutting them on income), shifting the hundreds of billions of pounds-worth of subsidies away from encouraging fossil fuel use and instead spending that money on expanding sources of clean energy. These and other tools can be used to supercharge the powerful forces of innovation and markets, in the process creating jobs and growth.

Markets and inventiveness will not be enough on their own though. Despite gargantuan efforts by many technological entrepreneurs, very few have been able to break the economic stranglehold of those who thrive in the fools paradise where business-as-usual holds sway. We can be sure of this because the world has known about this problem for more than two decades and despite the many attempts to make change under prevailing economic conditions emissions in 2011 reached an historic high point.

Fiddling around with a few modest environmental rules, or hoping for the best with technology, will not be enough. If we are to get past this particular challenge then climate change must become a priority for big grown up economic policy.

green50logo2 300x225 The Debate: Should we be doing more to combat climate change?

Bjorn Lomborg

Often, this question implies an indirect ambition: ‘Should more countries set more ambitious targets for cutting carbon at a faster rate?’ Then the answer is no. The current Kyoto-style approach has failed for 20 years, because substantial emissions cuts are very costly for people today, — but with few benefits .

Humanity utilizes fossil fuels because they power everything we like about civilization, from inexpensive food to warmth and transportation. Greater access to modern energy sources means higher living standards and more opportunities. And fossil fuels are generally still much cheaper than green alternatives.

At the same time, dramatic global carbon cuts would only produce a measurable impact on global temperature after 2050 (mid-century).

Thus, it is near impossible to ask countries to cut emissions with more expensive, less efficient and often intermittent green energy, with benefits accrued only in 100 years. Just look at the failed Kyoto treaty, the collapse of 2009 negotiations in Copenhagen, and the absence of any real progress since.

We need to find smarter policies. In the Copenhagen Consensus for Climate ( 27 top climate economists and 3 Nobel Laureate economists found that every pound spent on Kyoto-style CO2 reductions would prevent as little as 2 pence worth of climate damage. In contrast,  investing in R&D into green energy would be 500 times more effective, avoiding 10 pounds of climate damage for every pound spent.

This is because innovation promises to reduce the price of future green technologies below the cost of fossil fuels. Then everyone would switch to green energy, not because of a Kyoto deal, but because the technology is cheaper.

So yes, we should do more to combat climate change, but not by repeating the same, failed policies of past decades. To reap the future reward of cheap, green energy, we need to ramp up investment in innovation.

What do you think? Join the debate below.

To view more on the Green Movement at 50, click here

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  • TedMuller

    Evidently, my earlier remarks on your tone of language were correct David.
    How does your ‘unbreakable chain of logic’ explain the 30% of Italian AIDS sufferers who do not have HIV?

  • rossglory

    Should we be doing more? Unfortunately we are doing nothing. In fact less than nothing since CO2 concentrations are growing exponentially. And the right, far right and some religious groups are ensuring that there are plenty that can not or will not understand the concrete scientific foundation of the warnings and therefore it is unlikely much will happen in the near future.

    This will be a disaster for our civilisation (well what’s left after the neoliberal free market, deregulation mob has had its fill) and is a moral outrage that shames this generation.

  • NodGlodnig

    Thanks. I’ll give you an honourable mention in my first Nobel Prize speech.

  • david_fta

    Ted, please provide references from the reality-based world that supports your claim about Italy, ideally in a language other than Russian.

  • TedMuller

    A remarkable coup has just transpired in publishing serious questions about HIV/AIDS in a mainstream journal. A press release describes the article concerned, which is currently in press at Medical Hypotheses (though already available on-line to subscribers). Here is the original press release for those who can read Italian (click on it to get full size), followed by an English translation.
    Relationship between HIV infection and AIDS
    An article published by researchers in Florence on “Medical Hypotheses”
    The relationship between HIV infection and the syndrome of AIDS may be more distant than currently believed, and not one of cause-and-effect. This view has influential supporters in the international scientific community, first of all Peter H. Duesberg, professor of molecular biology at the University of California at Berkeley, but also the 1993 Nobel Laureate in chemistry, Kary B. Mullis, as well as Henry H. Bauer, professor emeritus of chemistry and science studies at Virginia Tech.
    That view is further supported by a group of researchers at the University of Florence, coordinated by Marco Ruggiero, professor of molecular biology at the Faculty of Mathematical, Physical and Natural Sciences, who have published in the journal “Medical Hypotheses” an analysis of epidemiological data and official regulations.

    There are many unresolved problems with regard to AIDS, such as producing a vaccine or a truly effective therapy. The greatest mystery concerns the pathogenesis of the disease, and there are widely differing opinions over this among scientists.

    “Our work is based on epidemiological data from the Italian Ministry of Health and the Institute of Health”, says Ruggiero. These reveal a disconnect between infection by the retrovirus (HIV) and the syndrome defined as AIDS. In fact, the statistics recorded by the Ministry of Health show that AIDS may be diagnosed in the absence of signs of infection by HIV; but if a disease can exist in the absence of a particular agent, then that agent is hardly the disease’s cause.

    Ruggiero adds that data from the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (Institute of Health) also show that more than one quarter of the cases of neonatal AIDS are not attributable to vertical (i.e.mother-to-child) transmission of the putatively causal virus.
    In summary, we conclude that the Ministry of Health acknowledges at least implicitly that HIV is not the only cause of AIDS. That interpretation, based on official data and documents, could of course be wrong, admitted Ruggiero, which is why they had asked the Ministry to comment.
    The team, composed of biologists and physicians from the Department of Experimental
    Pathology and Oncology and Department of Anatomy, Histology and Forensic Medicine, includes also a new graduate, Matthew Prayer Galletti, whose thesis degree in Biological
    Sciences focused on this work.
    Medical Hypotheses, M. Ruggiero, M. Prayer Galletti, S. Pacini, T. Punzi, G. Morucci, M.Gulisano, “AIDS denialism at the ministry of health” (doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.06.002)
    The news was reported by Marco Ruggiero, Department of Pathology and Experimental Oncology

  • david_fta

    Thanks Ted, very good.

    The paper to which you refer was subsequently withdrawn (as of 8 July 2009) with reasons given by the editors of Medical Hypotheses as “The editorial policy of Medical Hypotheses makes it clear that the journal considers “radical, speculative, and non-mainstream scientific ideas”, and articles will only be acceptable if they are “coherent and clearly expressed.” However, we have received serious expressions of concern about the quality of this article, which contains highly controversial opinions about the causes of AIDS, opinions that could potentially be damaging to global public health …”
    The paper does not no scientific research.  Instead, it is an investigation into the methods the Italian public health system used to decide if someone has AIDS or not.  It’s not that up to 30% of Italian AIDS sufferers are not HIV-positive, it’s that 30% of Italian AIDS cases have been defined as suffering AIDS without a test for HIV.

    All that this proves is that the Italian medical definition of AIDS does not rely on detection of HIV, and be prone to incorrectly declaring someone to be suffering from AIDS.  It may also be that tests for HIV don’t always detect HIV, even if it’s there (false negative).
    Like, so what?  The other problem for Duesburg’s HIV Denialism is that anti-retroviral therapy WORKS, and there’s no getting around that.

  • TedMuller

    David, I have read the counter statement released and the data therein. It just goes to show that misuse of data maybe commonplace but only allowed if you’re misusing it in the approved manner.
    The following statement “However, we have received serious expressions of concern about the quality of this article, which contains highly controversial opinions about the causes of AIDS, opinions that could potentially be damaging to global public health …”
    Potentially damaging to someone’s bank balance I suspect….
    My father has just arrived from the UK with ‘one’ of the June copies of the New Scientist and pointed out a very true fact… “From conception, every system suffers entropy and eventually collapses”
    David, I note that you have commented elsewhere in the Indy about Tony Blair. I can only assume that you do not believe the WMD fraud perpetrated by Blair and Bush.
    Has none of the information I have submitted not even raised an eyebrow?
    Do you not find it questionable that good men with scientific acclaim are being slandered and suffering financial penalty for simply questioning the consensus?
    An Army sergeant was acquitted despite admitting that he had not informed several women of his status as “HIV-positive” before they engaged in consensual condom-protected sexual intercourse. The crucial point: there was reasonable doubt as to whether the sergeant was “infected with HIV” because it was established that no “HIV” tests prove infection
    Lawyer David Steele was an observer at the proceedings and describes them in an audio piece that makes fascinating hearing. Listen also to Steele’s interview on the Robert Scott Bell show.
    I was reminded of the remark that “the most rigorous peer review . . . comes from cross-examination . . . in the courtroom” (Sheldon Krimsky, “Protecting scientific integrity”, Chemical Heritage, 27 [#1, Spring 2009[ 42-3).
    In the Robert Scott Bell show, astonishment was expressed several times that someone could be found to be infected on the basis of antibody or PCR tests and in absence of any symptoms of illness. Actually, diagnosis on the basis of lab tests and irrespective of clinical condition or examination has become quite routine practice in medicine. As I had mentioned in “Medicine isn’t science — nor should it be”, Jeremy Greene in Prescribing by Numbers recounts the history of how this has come about. But surely everyone is now familiar with the constant refrain of “know your numbers” — about cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, just about anything that can be measured by numbers.
    So ingrained is this that even recommendations by mainstream medical associations have not been able to bring about change in actual practices. For example, for years competent clinicians and researchers have warned against routine use of PSA tests as a purported way of screening for prostate cancer, because PSA numbers produce so many false positives and unnecessary biopsies that carry a certain risk, for instance of infection; yet this abuse of PSA tests continues to be widespread. The Institute of Medicine has pointed out that many of the biomarkers in common use are simply not valid measures of the ailments that they supposedly detect: Tumor size is not a measure of cancer progression or prognosis. Blood pressure or cholesterol (“bad”, total, ratio, whatever) do not measure progression or prognosis of heart disease (Evaluation of Biomarkers and Surrogate Endpoints in Chronic Disease, Institute of Medicine, 2010).
    Moreover, treatments intended purely to bring the numbers to a supposedly appropriate value have not been shown to preserve health; a recent article in the British Medical Journal points out that “there are no valid data on the effectiveness” of “statins, antihypertensives, and bisphosphanates” (the last are prescribed against osteoporosis; see Järvinen et al., “The true cost of pharmacological disease prevention”, British Medical Journal 342 [19 April 2011] d2175). doi: 10.1136/bmj.d2175. Indeed, statins do more harm than good: “side” effects include myalgia, fatigue, dyspnea, memory loss, and peripheral neuropathy (Langsjoen et al., BioFactors 25 [2005] 147–152).
    But try telling that to your family physician or your specialist and see how they react.
    The point is that HIV/AIDS is quite a natural consequence of deeply ingrained attitudes and practices in modern medicine. Once an approach has come into general use, it is extremely difficult to modify let alone discard it, no matter how much evidence accumulates that the approach does more harm than good. Too many interests become vested in the “standard” way of doing things: the authority and prestige of medical authorities, the unwillingness or inability of practicing physicians to question official doctrine or what drug companies tell them, the profits made by manufacturers and clinical labs from tests and devices, the profits made by Pharma which supplies the drugs used to treat the numbers . . . .
    The HIV/AIDS blunder differs only in scale from present-day test- and drug-centered medical practice. Admittedly, antiretroviral drugs have done immediate harm to many more people (Hidden in plain sight: The damage done by antiretroviral drugs, 2011/07/25) than have the blood-pressure-lowerers and blood thinners and statins and bisphosphanates and the other popular prescription drugs — AZT alone killed about 150,000 in a decade in the USA alone (HAART saves lives — but doesn’t prolong them!?, 2008/09/17). Still, one has only to note the increasing rate at which drugs have to be withdrawn from the market, sooner and sooner after the initial approvals, and to note the proliferation of class-action lawsuits ( e.g. regarding Fosamax or Pradaxa) to realize that present-day drug-based medical practice represents a genuine danger to global public health
    ‘It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.’
    —— Marcia Angell
    “Drug companies and doctors: a story of corruption”
    New York Review of Books, 56 #1, 15 January 2009

  • david_fta

    Thanks Ted.  Indeed, Blair and Bush were never credible.

    You may skirt around the central issue, but it remains the case that HIV causes AIDS in humans.  I have already outlined the overwhelmingly straightforward evidence which demonstrates this.

  • TedMuller

    Thanks David. You haven’t outlined anything as you well know… apart from a few weak quotes from mainstream media. Your belief in your point of view and apparent reluctance to engage in any sense of reason highlights a long established truth in science. When a belief is in place, thinking ends.

  • david_fta

    Thanks Ted.  You reckon that the claim that HIV causes AIDS is a plot by Big Pharma to fleece patients and governments.
    Well, let’s turn that around.  Let’s look at it from the perspective of a government.
    You’re a government, and all your people start dying.  It’s costing you money to treat their symptoms in hosptal, you’re losing taxation revenue because your people can’t work anymore.  It’s in your interest to get this sorted out.
    Big Pharma comes along, says “well, we can keep your people healthy enough to not need hospitalisation, to be able to sorks so that you can raise revenue … but you’ll have to give us some of that revenue.”

    If you’re a government, you might say, ” Big Pharma is talking a load of codswallop, just trying to get money out of us”.  So you do your investigations, your clinical tests, you do your own investigation before you hand money over to Big Pharma.  After all, you’re looking for a cheap way out of this; you want this problem fixed at minimal cost.
    And what do you find?  That the cheapest way to restore your people to health so that they don’t spread the disease, and are able to live and work and pay taxes (so that you can recover the expense of sending them to school) is to give them retrovirals.
    So there’s reality for you, Ted.  Anti-retrovirals restore people with AIDS to health, and keep them sufficiently healthy to work and not pass the disease on.  This can only be the case if the problem is a retrovirus – HIV.
    I have outlined the reality quite well, as you well know… but do not have the honesty to acknowledge.  This page is about addressing global warming, the reality of which you also Deny.  Your proclaimed belief in your unreality amounts to an inability to acknowledge reason, highlights a well-known feature of human psychology.  Belief transcends reality, and may or may not bring its own reward.

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