Some ideas do take a long time to be discovered, don't they?


Owen Paterson is telling us all about a lovely new idea:

For the past 50 years the environmental movement has been in thrall to a simple, powerful and utterly wrong idea: that the best way to save the planet is to curtail human activity, whether in the form of breeding, building, burning or business. Anybody who suggests a different strategy – that economic activity is not just compatible with environmental benefits, but vital to creating and improving them – has been howled down.

But that is changing, and a new idea is gaining ground, under the term “Ecomodernism”. The key idea behind Ecomodernism is that the more technology human beings adopt, the more they can decouple from dependence on the natural environment and live lives that are prosperous but green. The great Green Blob that dominates the public and NGO sector, whose reactionary tendencies I referred to when I left office as Environment Secretary last year, still refuses to recognise this.

That phrase, Great Green Blob, needs a bit of work before it's going to become a propagandistic rallying cry we think. And while we obviously agree with the basic thought, given that we've said as much ourselves repeatedly, we're not quite sure it's a new idea. Not just because we've said it before, but because it's in the very foundational document of the whole global warming movement. That document being the special Report on Emissions Scenarios, the economic models that tell us how many people there will be, at what level of wealth, using what technologies, thus giving us the emissions levels that can be fed into those computer models.

And here is what the SRES says about a richer, higher tech, world:

In the A1 scenario family, demographic and economic trends are closely linked, as affluence is correlated with long life and small families (low mortality and low fertility). Global population grows to some nine billion by 2050 and declines to about seven billion by 2100. Average age increases, with the needs of retired people met mainly through their accumulated savings in private pension systems.

The global economy expands at an average annual rate of about 3% to 2100, reaching around US$550 trillion (all dollar amounts herein are expressed in 1990 dollars, unless stated otherwise). This is approximately the same as average global growth since 1850, although the conditions that lead to this global growth in productivity and per capita incomes in the scenario are unparalleled in history. Global average income per capita reaches about US$21,000 by 2050. While the high average level of income per capita contributes to a great improvement in the overall health and social conditions of the majority of people, this world is not necessarily devoid of problems. In particular, many communities could face some of the problems of social exclusion encountered in the wealthiest countries during the 20 th century, and in many places income growth could produce increased pressure on the global commons.

Energy and mineral resources are abundant in this scenario family because of rapid technical progress, which both reduces the resources needed to produce a given level of output and increases the economically recoverable reserves. Final energy intensity (energy use per unit of GDP) decreases at an average annual rate of 1.3%. Environmental amenities are valued and rapid technological progress "frees" natural resources currently devoted to provision of human needs for other purposes. The concept of environmental quality changes in this storyline from the current emphasis on "conservation" of nature to active "management" of natural and environmental services, which increases ecologic resilience.

A richer world is a greener world: exactly what Paterson is saying. But this isn't anything new at all, the SRES is a quarter century old. It is also, as above, the document that feeds into the whole IPCC process. It's not just that this is a possibility, this is an assumption that has been made before we ever started worrying about Flipper boiling alongside that last ice floe.

To our mind this is the most important part of it. If one abandons this assumption that this richer world will be that greener world then one must abandon all of the research that is based upon this assumption. Which means, really it does mean, each and every piece and part of the current global warming hypothesis. Because that entire edifice has indeed been built upon this assumption: the other economic models, for example the A2 one upon which the Stern Review is based, show that a less rich world is also a less green one.

And what's really lovely about these models is that if we follow the B2 path, less globalisation, more localisation, much slower economic growth, essentially the Green manifesto, then the outcome is even worse. And these are not some rogue models: they are the very assumptions that the entire structure is built upon.

How'd'ye like them apples?