Newcastle – Planet on Fire? The politics of climate change

11 June 2024 , categories: Climate Change, Meetings, Newcastle

We are being asked to make drastic changes to our lives on the basis of IPCC reports. How can we verify its claims? Also, what does the research and report process tell us about democratic accountability more widely?

In June, PiPs Newcastle hosted one of its most popular and lively discussions so far, debating the politics of climate change. The topic was introduced by Dr Alistair Ford, Lecturer in Geospatial Data Analytics and Policy Academy Fellow at Newcastle University, member of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia and Green Party General Election Candidate.

Alastair explained NetZero policies had arisen following concerns that global average temperatures were rising rapidly as a consequence of human production of CO2. NetZero became a politically-agreed target stipulated by treaty intended to constrain temperature rises to no more than 1.5°C per century above pre-industrial levels by reducing the amount of human-produced atmospheric CO2.

Every five years, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produces a report, which is essentially a review of existing literature relating to climate change covering a broad range of scientific specializations. A summary is produced for a political audience. While the IPCC is not perfect, Alastair regarded the science as essentially settled as much as it was going to be. He emphasized that the contributors were just normal scientists and not in the pay of Klaus Schwab or the World Economic Forum and remarked that in contrast the wealth of the oil and gas industry was vast.

Scientists tended to be less alarmist than policy makers, although some scientist’s alarmism may be a consequence of their frustration with lack of action.

Our chair, Caspar, kept discussion focused on the politics, but inevitably some scientific issues arose, including evidence for warmer climates in the past as far apart as the North Pennines and Greenland. Alastair responded that while there were local effects, global temperature measurements indicated the climate was consistently warming.

Our members remarked on the political deficit that had emerged with NetZero. Green politics had begun as a bottom-up movement, but was now top-down and peddled by rich celebrities and others who frequently take long-haul flights from venue to venue. Much of the policies—and the street protests—were injurious to ordinary people and NetZero seemed based on the idea that ordinary people will have to have less. Climate activism was essentially a luxury belief. Much NetZero policy had been enshrined in law, but the politicians responsible seemed unaccountable.

The lack of a thorough cost-benefit analysis was worrying, and was reminiscent of the Covid-19 policies, where the always-obvious harms are only now being acknowledged. What alternatives could the trillions involved be spent on?

The collateral effects of some technologies were raised, including appalling conditions in mines for lithium and cobalt in Africa and the implications of the influence of China. While the issue of China’s CO2 output, including that related to coal-fired power stations was discussed, Alastair reminded the group that China was also a leading manufacturer in wind and solar power. Off-shoring our manufacturing to China was a questionable way of reducing our own CO2 output.

A constructive discussion emerged of other policies that might be valuable irrespective of climate. A far better public transport system was very popular one. Other suggestions ranged from development of nuclear power to simply fly less and walk more. Some policies might free us from “energy tyranny” and over-dependency on the car, while delivering a healthier lifestyle.

On the issue of climate politics, Newcastle PiPs regulars tend to be a skeptical or even highly skeptical lot and this was a very lively discussion of a range of issues that undoubtedly stimulated further thought. It was greatly facilitated by Alistair’s patient and well-reasoned introduction and contributions, which were much appreciated by all.

We are growing!

We are expanding our activities via regional Politics in Pubs groups and have created a map where you can search for a group near you. If you live near Salisbury or Northampton we have members who wants to start new groups in those towns, so please let us know if this of interest.

Don’t worry if you can’t find anything nearby as you can start your own group. If you would like to be put in touch with other people interested in talking about politics, please reply to this email letting us know your location and we’ll help to get the conversation started.

We have also started to grow our network with other free speech groups who have a similar interest in open discussion and debate. If you have such a group and want to appear on our map please get in touch.