Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

Politicians must find solutions for the climate crisis. Not outsource it to us | Stefan Stern

A citizens’ assembly on this grave matter might sound like a democratic idea, but politicians are just outsourcing their job

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard,” said the American journalist HL Mencken, who died 60 years before the EU referendum but nonetheless seems to have known how things might play out.

The British people have spoken and said … what, exactly? Last week’s BritainThinks survey of today’s attitudes found rampant pessimism, anxiety and gloom. “I cannot recall a time when the national mood was more despairing,” said the research firm’s boss Deborah Mattinson. Now we learn that the government is going to give this participatory democracy idea another go, launching a citizens’ assembly on the climate emergency later in the year.

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Boris Johnson supporters want no-deal Brexit and less talk of climate change

tim balepaul webbA new survey of Conservative party members reveals that 85% of those backing Boris Johnson want a no-deal Brexit – compared to two-thirds of activists as a whole. They are also more keen on tax cuts, and a quarter of them want less emphasis on climate change. Tim Bale (Queen Mary University of London) and Paul Webb (University of Sussex) ask whether the fact that nearly half of party members joined after the referendum has a bearing on the findings.

By the end of July the UK will have a new prime minister. They will be chosen not by the electorate but by a group of around 160,000 members of the Conservative Party. This selectorate gets to choose between the two candidates who finish first and second in a series of votes held among Conservative MPs.

boris johnson

The former foreign secretary Boris Johnson arrives at a meeting in Bulgaria. Photo: EU2018BG Bulgarian Presidency via a CC-BY 2.0 licence

There has, perhaps not surprisingly, been a degree of disquiet expressed about this situation. Members of political parties are, generally speaking, more zealous than members of the public. Some argue that it might be better to leave the choice of the country’s PM up to MPs. They, at least, have a direct mandate from voters. And, since governments in parliamentary systems must retain the confidence of the legislature in order to stay in office, allowing MPs to choose would at least guarantee a chain of democratic accountability from executive to electorate. That is bypassed completely when party members alone make the decision.

Such concerns are surely all the more pressing because, as our research has already shown, grassroots Conservatives can hardly be said to be representative of the country as a whole, either demographically or ideologically. There are far more men among them than there are women; most of them live in the southern half of the country; they are generally pretty well-off; they are relatively old (although not quite as ancient as often suggested); they are very, very white; and they are also significantly more right wing than the average voter – whether we’re talking about their economic or social attitudes.

Our new analysis, however, using data from a recent survey of Conservative Party members that was kindly provided to us by Chris Curtis of YouGov, reveals something that is possibly even more worrying for critics of the process. The party members who support the clear front runner, Boris Johnson, are even more ideologically unrepresentative of British voters than are the bulk of their counterparts.

Indeed, compared to the kind of members drawn to the two contenders who, currently seem to stand the best chance of grabbing the crucial runner up spot – the environment secretary, Michael Gove, and the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt – Johnson’s supporters look anything but moderate.

While only around a quarter of the wider British public support leaving the EU without a Brexit deal, an amazing 85% of Johnson’s supporters within the party are keen on a no-deal departure. Some two thirds (66%) of the nearly 900 Conservative rank-and-file members who responded to the survey said the UK should leave without a deal, so Johnson supporters are extreme even by that standard. “Only” 37% of Hunt supporters would be happy with a no-deal Brexit. Even Gove supporters are less enthusiastic about no-deal than Johnson supporters. Their man was a leading figure in the Leave campaign but only 52% of them want to leave without a deal.

Right-wing base

It’s clear that, when it comes to the 39% of the Conservative grassroots who are in Johnson’s camp, what the party’s critics would no doubt label their extremism isn’t just confined to Brexit. Asked to locate themselves ideologically, some 42% of members overall said they were on the right – not just of British politics, but of the Conservative Party itself, making Gove’s supporters (39% of whom said the same) about average. Just 15% of Hunt’s grassroots supporters (who make up just 8% of the membership overall) located themselves in that space.

Johnson’s supporters had no such problem: well over half of them (56%) said they belonged on the right wing of their party, with about the same proportion (58%) of them styling themselves as “fairly or very right wing”. The impression that Johnson’s supporters are very much a sub-set of a sub-set is only reinforced when we dig into the specifics.

For instance, Tory members in general are more inclined than the general public to want to cut tax and spending, so it comes as no surprise that 34% of them supported that option – one that only around a fifth of voters right now would go for. But those members backing Johnson, 40% of whom supported cuts, were twice as enthusiastic about them as those backing Gove (20.5%) and Hunt (22%). This may well solve the mystery of why Johnson’s only big domestic policy so far has been his promise to cut taxes – the front runner is mobilising his base.

Johnson’s base is also relatively socially-conservative. A majority (although, at 59%, hardly an overwhelming majority) of Tory members think that David Cameron’s government was right to allow same sex marriage. Those supporting Gove – who has always been seen as socially-liberal and will be seen as even more so after recent revelations about his cocaine use – are slightly more likely (at 63%) than most members to agree. Supporters of Johnson and Hunt are slightly less likely (at 54% and 55%) to do so.

However, it’s probably climate change where we see the most striking attitudinal differences between those who support Johnson and those who support the others. Rather worryingly for those who regard the issue as a priority, one in five Tory rank-and-file members would like to see less emphasis on climate change. But that rises to one in four among Johnson supporters. Just under one in ten Gove supporters feels the same way, and just over one in ten Hunt supporters.

Why the difference?

Why that might be – and why Johnson’s supporters seem to be so generally right wing as well as so keen on a no-deal Brexit – can perhaps be explained, not by demographics (supporters of all three candidates actually look pretty similar in that respect), but by looking at when the members who responded to the survey said they’d joined the party.

Nearly half (44.5%) of all the members surveyed said they’d become party members sometime after the 2016 referendum. Hunt’s backers, 41% of whom had done the same, are therefore about average. In contrast, only a third (34%) of Gove’s grassroots backers joined the party after the referendum. That suggests he draws a slightly bigger proportion of his support from those who have stuck by the party through thick and thin. Over half of those rank-and-file Tory members who are backing Johnson, however, joined the party after the EU referendum three years ago.

We can only guess as to how many of Johnson’s supporters were former UKIP sympathisers switching to the Tories; but it certainly seems possible. And, who knows, given that one doesn’t have to renounce one’s membership of the Conservative Party to become a registered supporter of the Brexit Party, perhaps some of them hold a candle for Nigel Farage as well as Johnson.

Whether the country will be as pleased as they will be if Johnson does end up making it all the way to Number 10, however, remains to be seen.

This post represents the views of the authors and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE. It first appeared at The Conversation.

Tim Bale is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London.

Paul Webb is Professor of Politics at the University of Sussex.



A few weeks ago the chairman of the UK government’s Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben, held a meeting in a village hall on the banks of the Deben river. Having been following the arguments about climate change for years – I remember Anthony Watts setting up the survey of weather stations that found many of them were, because of siting problems, not fit for purpose – I thought it would be instructive to see how one of the most important issues of our time is being tackled by the UK’s ruling class of which Lord Deben is a prize specimen. The village hall was packed with friendly, cooperative people, nice to chat to, and I saw a few people I recognized even though I was forty miles from home.

Then the meeting began. I thought for a moment that I’d strayed into a revivalist happy-clappy rally by mistake. Those nice, cooperative people were transformed. Lord Deben, he who was John Gummer before being translated to higher things, was dressed rather like a trendy vicar, complete with plum-coloured trousers, and spoke of sin and redemption. The Reverend Gummer spoke about the original sin of burning fossil fuels and his congregation moaned agreement. He spoke of the anti-Christ that is known as CO2 and they applauded when he warned of its coming. They cried out the words ‘climate catastrophe’ and ‘climate crisis’ as he prophesied about rising sea levels and the melting of the polar ice caps.  

I just don’t buy it.

The world is warming – the latest figures show that it has warmed about 0.4 deg C since 1979 when the satellites began to monitor temperatures, so that bit of the science is true (-ish, it’s warming at half the expected rate), but the computer models also predict anomalous warming in the troposphere, a warming caused by water vapour feedback. It’s not there. The tropospheric hotspot does not exist. Well, it doesn’t exist unless you work out the tropospheric temperatures using wind patterns rather than the thermometers which fly on weather balloons. Why should someone try to work out temperatures from weather patterns when they’ve got two perfectly good measured temperatures already? You may well ask! It’s politics. Or it may have crossed the line into religion. When a scientist advances increasingly unlikely explanations for the failure of his/her theory to match reality we are in the realms of belief, not science.

Let’s be perfectly clear about this. According to climate science, the global temperature is only going to increase at a dangerous rate if the CO2-induced warming triggers water vapour warming. Water vapour warming should induce a tropospheric hotspot. Balloons and satellites have looked for the hotspot. It is not there.

Without the water vapour feedback the computers show a warming rate that is half the accepted crisis/catastrophe value. So do the thermometers. I think I’d trust the thermometers more than politicised science.

In these circumstances it is foolish to set CO2  targets.

If there is no water vapour feedback there is no crisis, no catastrophe, not yet. But the world is warming and it might indeed become dangerous. How can our civilisation respond in a rational manner?

First, fund research into why the water vapour feed-back is not performing as the computer simulations predict. It could be – difficult to believe I know – that the simulations are wrong. If so there are warming/cooling factors that are not being considered. Find out what those factors are before costing the taxpayer trillions of pounds and closing down our civilisation. I’d suggest looking  at ocean pollution by oil and plastic or nutrients such as nitrogen fertilisers, quantifying plankton population changes, dissolved silica run-off, black carbon albedo change on snowfields, but I’m sure readers can suggest others. It would seem sensible to address the real causes of warming, including CO2 of course, rather than betting the farm on a hypothesis which so far has failed to produce one single prediction that has worked out. Remember ‘twelve years to save the world’?

Second, do some pre-emptive development of the only technology which could support a CO2 neutral civilisation. The Greens won’t like it, what with their DNA being mainly derived from CND, but nuclear power can deliver. Not the stupid big reactors that are getting more expensive and further behind schedule every day: we need small modular reactors that can be factory build and shipped to site on barges or railway. Rolls Royce already has most of the technology, so it should be comparatively easy and a cheap insurance policy if the crisis is really a crisis. Get the SMR designs ready for production and then wait for the science to become clear.

Third, build a couple of prototype cloud ships as designed by Salter and Latham. If the design works these ships will increase the amount of cloud cover and reflect sunlight back into space. Not ideal as a solution but if it’s a crisis then you have to prepare to match the crisis with crisis measures. Build a couple and deploy them in the areas of the ocean where the introduction of salt aerosols will create low level cloud, increasing the albedo and bouncing the short wave radiation straight back to space. Satellite measurements can quantify the effect and allow us to fine-tune global temperatures if that is needed.

Fourth, demand a prediction from climate science, something unequivocal, something definite. An accurate prediction would greatly enhance their credibility. This is meant to be science. Whatever the Rev Gummer and his happy-clappies demand, faith is not enough.

No crisis, not yet. No catastrophe. If our politicians act like grown-ups there will be neither in our future. You remember grown-ups? It’s what politicians used to be, before they decided to listen to 16 year-olds for political and scientific advice.


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