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« The Left does abhorrence - Josh 321 | Main | BBC joins Guardian divestment campaign »

Climatologists and moral choices

Yesterday's posts seemed to generate quite a lot of heat, with several commenters reading rather more into them than they should. The object was not to blame climatologists for the actions that their climate models are used to justify, but to ask them what they thought about those actions. I had hoped that we might get some condemnation of the attempts to prevent Africans getting access to fossil fuels, but there was nothing along these lines.

As an aside, I should point out that it is my understanding that these attempts span more than just coal - it's the whole range of fossil fuels that politicians are now seeking to sideline, as this paper makes clear.

...under US Senate Bill S.329 (2013) the Overseas Private Investment Corporation – a federal agency responsible for backstopping U.S. companies which invest in developing countries – is essentially prohibited from investing in energy projects that involve fossil fuels...

Nevertheless, the question of whether climatologists should carry any blame for the use to which their climate models are put is an interesting one. Echoing commenters on the original thread, I certainly think we should not blame Sabatier when one of their carving knives is used to kill someone. A climate model is a virtual world. It is therefore entirely amoral. How could one possibly attach any blame to someone for the mere fact of having written some computer code (campaigns against computer games manufacturers notwithstanding)?

I think that climate models should be mere academic playthings, a guise in which they are entirely harmless. Moreover, there may even be a degree of cross-party agreement here: just a few days ago, Richard Betts commented that

...models are useful for understanding the climate system but cannot predict the future of climate, as it's just too complicated.

I certainly agree with the statement as written, although I think we disagree on the implications. I would argue that it implies that we should discount any virtual future coming out of the climate models very heavily, or even entirely. Richard, however, disagrees:

...for me, the very fact that we can't predict the results of our influence on climate is a reason for concern not comfort. I don't see convincing reasons to trust projections of small amounts of future warming any more than those of large warming - current understanding doesn't allow us to rule out either of these possibilities.

(Exactly how to respond to this concern is of course a further issue. Recognising that there is a risk does not mean that steps to reduce the risk are themselves easy or risk-free.)

In other words, Richard thinks we should not be discounting the climate predictions very much or even at all. He is there with the low-discount approach advocated by Lord Stern and others. One's choice of discount rate is a personal preference and a reflection of moral values, worldview and other things, so Richard and Lord Stern are entitled to make this choice. Many others - environmentalists and climatologists alike - make the same choice. They call for mitigation of climate change, repeatedly so, and they condemn those, like me, who dissent.

We need to examine carefully what is implied by calling for action. When presented with a problem like climate change we can do something or do nothing. As Lomborg repeatedly notes, if you do an old fashioned cost-benefit analysis and you discount the future in traditional fashion, it turns out that there are umpteen other humanitarian crises that should be addressed before the climate. For Lomborg, the answer is "do nothing" (or "do nearly nothing" - perhaps just some technological research).

But if your moral/ethical compass directs you to discount the future not at all then climate change in the distant future becomes the most pressing issue bar none. You should be mitigating climate change in any way you can; money should be diverted from helping people alive today to helping people yet to be born. You should be raising energy prices for everyone and you should be keeping fossil fuels out of the hands of poor people in the developing world. These things are unpleasant but are simply the road of least harm. It is not an immoral choice, although it is certainly different to the moral choice I would make.

So my message to climatologists is this. If you are quietly working away at your climate models and publishing your papers then no blame can attach to you. But if you are calling for mitigation of climate change and demanding that politicians leap into action, you have made your moral/ethical choices. You have assessed the alternatives; you have chosen your discount rate and it is a low one. And as I have just pointed out this necessarily means accepting more harm now in order to avoid harm in the future.

So when those present-day harms are pointed out to you, you must accept that they are the consequences of the choices you made.

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Reader Comments (213)

Wijnand, there is no single article. Its wack-a-mole. For accumulating abiotic methane, see the new Framm Strait paper. Very unusual circumstances, and unless the encasing sediments are sand (unlikely) there is no technical prospect of any recovery. Fundamental geophysics. Essay Ice that Burns. but there is no doubt that abiotic methane does exist.

As for abiotic oil, I suggest you google several papers. The supposed eastern Ukraine Donesk deposit turns out to be bad geology, ignoring a fractured basement overthrust feature over a classic sedimentary source rock. The monority opinion Russians missed that feature by several hundred km. The Swedish fractured meteor crater experiment returned almost no oil, and that little trace was shown to be from the drilling mud, not the geology.
All oil is fossil. NOT all methane. But the world does not upvert. Only downvert. That is why there is something called the oil window (of catagenisis).

Apr 18, 2015 at 1:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterRud Istvan

Excerpt from Mr.FOIA:

Briefly put, when I had to balance the interests of my own safety, privacy\career of a few scientists, and the well-being of billions of people living in the coming several decades, the first two weren’t the decisive concern.

It was me or nobody, now or never. Combination of several rather improbable prerequisites just wouldn’t occur again for anyone else in the foreseeable future. The circus was about to arrive in Copenhagen. Later on it could be too late.

Most would agree that climate science has already directed where humanity puts its capability, innovation, mental and material “might”. The scale will grow ever grander in the coming decades if things go according to script. We’re dealing with $trillions and potentially drastic influence on practically everyone.

Wealth of the surrounding society tends to draw the major brushstrokes of a newborn’s future life. It makes a huge difference whether humanity uses its assets to achieve progress, or whether it strives to stop and reverse it, essentially sacrificing the less fortunate to the climate gods.

We can’t pour trillions in this massive hole-digging-and-filling-up endeavor and pretend it’s not away from something and someone else.

If the economy of a region, a country, a city, etc. deteriorates, what happens among the poorest? Does that usually improve their prospects? No, they will take the hardest hit. No amount of magical climate thinking can turn this one upside-down.

It’s easy for many of us in the western world to accept a tiny green inconvenience and then wallow in that righteous feeling, surrounded by our “clean” technology and energy that is only slightly more expensive if adequately subsidized.

Those millions and billions already struggling with malnutrition, sickness, violence, illiteracy, etc. don’t have that luxury. The price of “climate protection” with its cumulative and collateral effects is bound to destroy and debilitate in great numbers, for decades and generations.

Apr 18, 2015 at 2:46 AM | Unregistered Commenterclipe

@Rud and coal ?

Re Ken- Troll debate tactic #33 : Debate not going your way ? then just hangon in there eventually someone will say something which could be taken as a little bit racist/sexist etc. and then you can get on your high horse and say how offended you are. And then use it as an excuse to use the fallacy of Ad Hominem ie dismiss all the arguments of your opponents cos they are "nasty people"
(The right to ask challenging/offensive questions is part of debate otherwise people can hide from difficult points by saying they are offended)

Personally I would have asked MCourtney' if he had too many beers this Friday night , or just ignored his comment.

"You DENIERS ask loaded questions (which you think aren't loaded) "
.. irony that the word "denier" is used to heavily preload debate ..

Apr 18, 2015 at 4:59 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Serious question :
1. If fossil fuel investment had been forbidden 30 years ago, would the humanity be a poorer or better off than today ?
2. If fossil fuel investment is going to be forbidden for the next 30 years ago,will humanity be a poorer or better off than it would have been ?

Apr 18, 2015 at 5:10 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Thanks Rud!

Apr 18, 2015 at 6:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterWijnand

Bishop Hill: ‘In yesterday's post, I asked of climatologists "What do you think of the policy of keeping fossil fuels out of the hands of the Third World?". This is not a loaded or complex question. No assumption of guilt can be inferred from it.’

The original tweeted question was: ‘what is your response to people who seek to deny third world access to fossil fuels because of AGW?’, which was a complex question. In the above statement, you have reworked the original question and considerably softened it.

That aside, I think your original question prompted suspicion because your reputation precedes you. You host a blog where you and some of the commentators have been keen to paint environmentalists/AGWers as moral monsters – at the least callously indifferent to the sufferings of others, at the worst aiders and abettors of genocide.

In that context, your original question seemed designed to:

1) Morally bludgeon your enemies into accepting your views about fossil fuels
2) Expose your enemies as callously indifferent and/or aiders and abettors of genocide.

My impression may be false. Your motives may be pure, and you may only wish to initiate an honest discussion.

The problem is that you and your supporters have form, and your form breeds suspicion.

Apr 18, 2015 at 7:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrendan H


A complex question is not a question that you find difficult to answer, it is a question that assumes guilt of something. Asking someone their response to something is therefore not a complex question.

Environmentalists find the question difficult to answer because in normal life people do discount the future. So when policies are justified by reference to low discount rates greens end up having to try to justify consequences that look horrific to the man in the street.

The problem is with your discount rate, not my question.

Apr 18, 2015 at 8:02 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Can we take the abiotic oil conversation to the discussion forum please.

Apr 18, 2015 at 8:08 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Clipe, thanks for reminding us of the FOIA2011-manifesto of Climategate II. This is hopefully a soft spot for many scientists and they need to be reminded often of the consequences of their ivory tower tendencies.

Apr 18, 2015 at 8:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterPethefin


If your conscious is clean the question is simple, if you harbor doubts the question becomes more complex and if you know deep down that the consequences are unacceptable, then you may feel that you have been forced to reassess your moral standing.

The response to the question is individual each to there own level of morality without the need of group think...... scary eh!

Apr 18, 2015 at 8:38 AM | Registered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

I think Brendan H has a point. I don't think many outsiders believe that the concern for Africa is all that sincere really. It's a good argument but a shame it has to come from climate sceptic blogs.

Apr 18, 2015 at 8:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark J

Mark J, that cynical? I read back as far as I wrote on blogs about this, I've argued about access to fossil fuels to the less well-off - not as much with a bleeding heart but with a sense of anger that there are people working actively to erect blockades and prevent this from happening. Climate scepticism is informed by the fact the politics came before the science for the global warming activists, the science is dodgy, and the so-called solutions are crap. Nothing can be done about history, what's done is done. Nothing appears to be able to be done about the science - these guys have been saying the same thing since Charney guesstimated a compromise sensitivity value. There are no solutions, since as soon as the issue is brought up, one is accused of asking 'loaded questions'.

Apr 18, 2015 at 9:42 AM | Registered Commentershub

@ His Grace

Sir I recently started what I knew would be a controversial discussion thread, I did so because I knew you would not want it on the blog pages.
The ultimate 'Hit and run merchant' on Bishop Hill; a certain Mr Betts has chosen to make a comment about me and about that discussion on this blog thread. Do you think that this thread is the appropriate place for that comment?

Apr 18, 2015 at 10:30 AM | Registered CommenterDung

Bishop Hill: ‘Asking someone their response to something is therefore not a complex question.’

So you’re at a party and your host is extolling the vital importance of fossil fuels, especially to the third world.

‘You know,’ he opines. ‘Only those with a callous disregard for human life or who have genocidal intent would deny fossil fuels to the third world.

‘So,' he continues. 'What’s your position on fossil fuels for the third world?’

Apr 18, 2015 at 11:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrendan H

Lord Beaverbrook: ‘The response to the question is individual each to there own level of morality without the need of group think...... scary eh!’

Well, morally difficult. Only scary if you suspect entrapment.

Apr 18, 2015 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrendan H

Mark J and Brendon H

Global Warming has been promoted on fear and guilt. Loss of polar bears. Drought and famine. Flooded island states. Global warming refugees. Loss of the Gulf Stream. Loss of polar bears, again.

Global Warming has been indoctrinated with state support, into the impressionable minds of children, so they can apply emotional blackmail on their parents.

The globe has not warmed. Nothing has happened.

Where were the howls of protest?

It is a very simple question, that global warmists refuse to answer.

They would rather point the finger of blame at the people raising the question. I am sure it is something to do with emotional guilt, combined with denial of responsibility.

Apr 18, 2015 at 12:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

I cant remember lefties being worried about loaded questions
In their long damaging history

Apr 18, 2015 at 3:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterWortSalad

@aTTP, Noble Cause Corruption like yours can easily accommodate third world deaths. Now, try being less integrity corrupt then re-evaluate your dogma.

Apr 18, 2015 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterSun Spot


Isn't a more probable party scenario one in which some wine sipping Masters degree holder carries on about all the poor people suffering because of Hurricane ________ and how it's all "our" fault, and then asks "what do you think"?

Apr 18, 2015 at 4:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn M

John M, no self respecting global warming addict would dare ask such a question, unless they had strict control of the invitation list. Vetting would not be required, because you would have to apply to be invited in the first place, and a committee would be able to establish, just with a simple glance at their bank account, education, employment, police record, known associates etc, whether they might ask anything difficult.

Apr 18, 2015 at 5:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Golf Charlie and John M. You’re trying to change the subject and thereby evading the issue: the ‘invitation’ to discussion was a loaded question seemingly designed to act as a ‘gotcha!’

In the current posting, the Bishop has made his intentions clearer in seeking ‘condemnation of the attempts to prevent Africans getting access to fossil fuels’.

That’s an improvement, but still not satisfactory, for two reasons:

1. Demanding a loyalty oath is a poor precursor to discussion.
2. Condemnation isn’t discussion.

So the Bishop still has some distance to go to provide evidence of a genuine desire for discussion.

Apr 19, 2015 at 1:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrendan H

There is an old philosophical question that I think may be of relevance here.

Alice is in favour of policy X
Unknown to Alice Policy X inevitably causes result Y among other things
Result Y causes great misery

The inevitable result of Alice's preference is misery
Does Alice therefore favour misery?

Apr 19, 2015 at 2:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterTom Gray

Tom Gray,

Except in this particular case, Alice knows what policy X will do. So, knowing that she knows the misery that policy X will prolong, what are we to make of Alice's choice to continue favouring it?

Apr 19, 2015 at 3:32 AM | Registered CommenterLaurie Childs

Brendan H, you have changed the question and issue, and your reference to gotcha! is straight from wikipedia.

Bishop Hill can answer for himself, even if you need help with responses and rhetoric

Declaring the science is settled, is a poor precursor for debate.

Contamination isn't discussion, seems to counter your own statement, on this thread at april 18 7.55am

You appear to have learnt well from your mentors about faux outrage, avoiding inconvenient questions, and guilt transfer

Apr 19, 2015 at 9:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Apologies, please substitute "condemnation" for "contamination" at 09:31.

Maybe Brendon H confuses the luxury of outdoor barbequeue lifestyle with the necessity of indoor dungfire cooking. Easy mistake to make, especially for those that can afford a gas barbeque.

Apr 19, 2015 at 10:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Let me make some assumptions that neither side will like but stick with me and only answer the question at the end.

1) That AGW is large and/or dangerous
2) That significantly cutting CO2 is near impossible and very painful
3) The line of least resistance will be to keep low CO2 countries low, rather than effect major changes in high CO2 countries first.
4) That preventing developing countries from having cheap useful energy will be bad for them (if it’s possible).

Question – will shying away from talking about any one of the four issues, make the outcome any better?

It doesn’t matter if the Bish’s question is loaded or not, it should be asked and answered. It’s easy to err on the side of climate caution if you only have one issue to consider. The Precautionary Principle is pointless without putting it into context with all the other precautions.

Apr 19, 2015 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Golf Charlie: ‘Brendan H, you have changed the question and issue, and your reference to gotcha! is straight from wikipedia.’

Sorry, I don’t follow. What question and issue are you referring to? You may also want to clarify your Wikipedia reference.

Apr 19, 2015 at 11:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrendan H

Brendan H
You and your precious (as in "refined, fastidious") friends are the ones avoiding the issue.
It has long been accepted (one might almost say there is a consensus) that one of the major causes of poverty in Africa has been the lack of access to those things which allowed Europe to overcome poverty and improve health and longevity. Paramount have been access to clean water and fossil fuels. Personally I know of no-one who seriously disputes that assessment.
Environmental organisations such as Greenpeace have made it abundantly clear that they are opposed to anyone having easy, or any, access to fossil fuels and while that might just possibly be of less concern to the developed countries, though I would dispute it, it is certainly a path which will condemn most of the African population to ill-health and early death.
The rationale for this stance is that anthropogenic CO2 is causing and will continue to cause global warming which is likely (if you are an activist) or at least has the possibility (if you are more cautious) to be catastrophic.
So it is not unreasonable to ask the climate science community whether or not they agree with the environmental stance that Africa should be denied access to fossil fuels.
It's a simple question, with a yes/no reply.
Which the Climateers are scared to answer in case it makes them either look bad (if they agree) or has the potential to undermine "the cause" (if they disagree).
Nobody else has yet used the phrase so I will. It's a "Catch-22 situation" and I have no sympathy because they have impaled themselves on this particular hook by trying over the years to run with the hare of science while at the same time hunt with the hounds of activism.
Pardon the mixed metaphor.

Apr 19, 2015 at 11:09 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Brendon H why both? Especially when anybody else can look it up just as easily as you.

Do you want to discuss Dungfire yet?

Or is pointless prevarification the best form of defence?

Apr 19, 2015 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Mike Jackson, thank you for explaining that so simply.

No doubt Brendan H will want to focus on the mixed metaphor.

Apr 19, 2015 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Brendan H,

You really must be attending the most 'swell' parties.

Apr 19, 2015 at 12:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

Lord Beaverbrook, the world learns more about the failure of politicised climate science, when it has to resort to semantics, and still shoots a foot off.

With one leg left to stand on, firing at the other foot, would redefine insanity.

But this is climate science, where the coughs and splutters that surround distant dungfires, are drowned out by climate science's 'friendly' 'green on green' gunfire.

Apr 19, 2015 at 12:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Brendan: you obviously understand the meaning of the point that the Bishop was trying to convey, but you appear to be arguing with the semantics of the question. To me, that is an argument from someone who has no counter for the original point, but wishes to distract others from that fact by focussing on the wording.

Let me try and make the point simpler: do you think it immoral that people who have all the benefits that ready access to affordable energy can give should actively discourage those who do not have such benefits the right to gaining their own affordable energy?

If your answer is, “Yes,” please explain why you think that the poorer nations should not be allowed to have reliable energy stations installed that are powered by the cheapest available fuels.

Apr 19, 2015 at 1:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Dungfight at the RC Corralled wagons.

Apr 19, 2015 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Since 2010 or so, the World Bank has been due reforms which have been blocked by the US. The World Bank in particular financed coal plants and the US plays its politics through the World Bank/IMF. Development aid is the arena of ideological politics and captured easily by trends and fads, and simultaneously the nutcracker to open up new markets. Because the US won't lend for construction of coal plants, the BRIC countries are trying to set up a BRICS Bank. China now floats the AIIB based on Chinese currency to circumvent the World Bank-mediated blockade on coal plant construction, and many countries have joined the bank including the UK. Secondly, in delicious irony, the UN 'Green Climate Fund' is itself sought to be used to finance coal plants. Clearly, Obama and his environmentalist friends overplayed the World Bank card. Banks are useful as tools in international politics - only as long as they eventually lend money. Coming into Paris therefore, the US is fighting on two fronts - on for climate-based regulations and two, a challenge to the Bretton Woods aid system by BRICS/AIIB/UNGCF.

Look at this article by the Sierra Club for a taste for how climate is a brazen political tool for green activists to influence development in far-flung areas they have no connection with:

Apr 19, 2015 at 1:31 PM | Registered Commentershub

shub, I wonder why the BBC/Grauniad are not covering this story about using financial might to oppress the poor and needy? Or is there a semantics problem with "needy"? Lack of political correctness even?

Would not wish to upset Climate Semantists fot the sake of tens of thousands of lives, when a change in temperature of 00.001 (+/- 00.01) degrees is at stake.

Apr 19, 2015 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

The number of Dung fires is increasing exponentially :(

Apr 19, 2015 at 2:02 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Laurie Childs writes

Except in this particular case, Alice knows what policy X will do. So, knowing that she knows the misery that policy X will prolong, what are we to make of Alice's choice to continue favouring it?

There is no identification in the problem statement that Alice is aligned with either the skeptic or advocate side of the AGW issue. What I see in the issue is that the sides advocate incompatible policy choices and do so by pointing out the "misery" that will be created if the opposite sides policy choice is implemented.

Now in the last 40 years, there has been no improvement in the confidence range of climate sensitivity. The science behind AGW just does not support any more accurate claims. Even scientifically supported claims from AR5 are discounted by each side if these do not support their favoured policy choices. So for me, the climate debate is just a realization of this philosophical problems. each side claims that the other is unwittingly promoting the creation of misery by their policy choice and therefore the ugly rhetoric of favouring "misery" is used by both sides. Each side protests vehemently when the tactic is applied to them but this does not diminish the relish with which they apply it to the other.

Apr 19, 2015 at 2:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterTom Gray

Dung, may all your emissions be regular, and returned to soil ecology, as nature intended.

Apr 19, 2015 at 2:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie


1. Demanding a loyalty oath is a poor precursor to discussion.
2. Condemnation isn’t discussion.

So the Bishop still has some distance to go to provide evidence of a genuine desire for discussion.

Hoping that a discussion would result in a condemnation doesn't preclude a discussion. After all, all participation in discussion does so for ends... "I hope to convince you...", for example.

"Condemnation isn't discussion". And chicken is not paint. Nonetheless, discussion can produce condemnation. Hence political party conferences will test delegate's commitments to propositions, and debating society's consider motions such as "this house believes that [X] is [Y]".

I'm sure that Andrew would be open to suggestion in discussion that the green movement in general is aware of and concerned about the consequences of its own arguments in developing economies. However, he has good reason to believe that the green movement has failed to develop sufficient concern for development. After all, the Eco-Modernist's manifesto criticises the green movement for exactly this failure.

One reason for that failure is the environmentalist's antipathy towards debate and criticism -- especially from without. These 2 axioms you have supplied seem to me to be an attempt to project that failure onto Andrew.

Apr 19, 2015 at 2:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

Sorry,Tom, but that's either wilful misunderstanding or more obfuscation.
Nobody is requiring Alice to have any view on climate or global warming.
According to what Laurie Childs appears to be saying she agrees that without fossil fuels Africa will remain in poverty. So a policy of refusing to allow Africa access to fossil fuels will ensure it remains in poverty.
With all that that entails.
So far you can leave climate and global warming out of it.
Except that you can't, because the justification put forward by Greenpeace et al is that fossil fuels ought to banned (forgive the simplification) because they might be a major cause of global warming through their emission of CO2.
So if she supports Greenpeace she is of the view that trying (no matter how futilely) to combat future global warming is more important than allowing Africans to improve their lives and life chances in the present.
With all that that entails.
Never mind "sides" in the global warming debate. The simple question (which you may or may not choose to answer) is about sides in whether Africans should be allowed to use any means they choose to better themselves or whether anyone (in this case a group of environmental activists) should be allowed to dictate certain means that are to be forbidden to them.
And your answer is ........

Apr 19, 2015 at 2:50 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Ben Pile, it is almost as though Brendan can not respond without approval first.


Apr 19, 2015 at 2:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

I think that using poverty in Africa as a means of justifying any and all courses of action to reduce or end that poverty is a waste of time. Africa has always had everything it needed to leave poverty behind and become a modern and prosperous continent. Pouring more cash into Africa will achieve nothing apart from making some very rich people even richer. Until and unless the politics of Africa can be changed then poverty will remain.

Apr 19, 2015 at 3:45 PM | Registered CommenterDung

I have a number of problems with this one . First of all, the use of poor Africans as some kind of political football in an argument where they are not represented. Secondly the apparent proposal of coal or other fossil electricity, and a grid, and so on as the unquestioned solution to dung fires. If the problem is dung fires and indoor smoke, maybe the immediate answer is stoves, chimneys and wood/coal/coke. It occurs to me that my Daktari-based image of mud/grass huts, kraals and villages unchanged for millenia may not reflect reality. Maybe somebody who is familiar with Africa might help out here. Are the actual poor of Africa represented by this picture, or would I be more likely to find that the truth is one of shanty towns where the country folk have moved to the city to improve their lives?

I believe the Bish's question would be more easily answered without gotcha if it was 'What are your plans for poor people in Africa?' which I think the best answer is: 'That is up to the Africans.'

Apr 19, 2015 at 4:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

Good Lord, Dung! You actually made a statement I wholly agree with!

Apr 19, 2015 at 4:20 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Quite why people should be talking about “sides” puzzles me, unless what is meant is that one “side” is where those who accept a fact, irrelevant of personal ideology, and the other “side” being those who do not.

Apr 19, 2015 at 4:28 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

I covered a lot of South Africa and Botswana. It's a very mixed picture with city folk in good accomodation, townships with the shanties and villagers living in mud huts. In many villages the people not in mud huts were in shanties. The donkey cart is a common sight outside the cities as are the cowboys in the Kalahari :)

I would guess that a quarter of the habitations were mud hut, over a half were shanties. The shanties had electric and telephone poles, many had satellite dishes. There were occasional power cuts.

Outside of these two, relatively, well off countries, I have no knowledge

Apr 19, 2015 at 4:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterEternalOptimist

EO, thanks, nice to have the blanks filled in. Of course we are talking about a continent and should avoid generalisations or solutions that look good from five thousand miles away and have no informed basis.

So, I'd go back to basics when approaching a problem. In this case I'd say what IS the problem we are trying to fix? And who is responsible?

Whatever the problem is the answer to question two is African governments. So far we have a policy, in the west, of active interference which is not necessarily working, and passive hand-wringing, which is not working at all.

The very best thing we ought to do is to answer question one. Climate change has nothing to do with it, nor has any historical baggage.

Apr 19, 2015 at 5:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

Eternal Optimist / Rhoda
In the first place I think it is absolutely right that the solution to any ingrained poverty in Africa has to come from the Africans and I also think you are right, Rhoda, to suggest the immediate answer is stoves with chimneys.
My longstanding concern is that the very organisations that have the highest profile — I'm thinking Oxfam, Christian Aid, CAFOD and its Scottish equivalent SCIAF (regrettably all supposedly Christian-based or inspired charities) — are very good at disaster relief but over the decades have been equally good at never quite putting the effort into poverty relief.
In a blog post in December 2011 I said (quoting an article by Matt Ridley)

Over the past 60 years, Ridley points out, crop yields have trebled on the major cereal crops and maize and wheat prices — in real terms — have halved over the same period.
While admitting that Oxfam is right that the presence of obesity and hunger on the same planet is a scandal, he adds:
"If Oxfam were really serious about malnutrition it would stop writing reports about corporate greed, climate change and the need for world governance and start trucking nitrates."
I agree with Dung up to a point because in the same article I referred to research by Harvard University which claimed that
Africa can feed itself. And it can make the transition from hungry importer to self-sufficiency in a single generation.
In a related article in the Guardian, Professor Calestous Juma was quoted as saying
- one in three Africans is chronically hungry in spite of almost £2bn being spent on food aid annually and ten times that amount being spent on food imports;
- Africa is the only continent with land readily available to expand agriculture;
- southern Sudan alone could feed all Africans if it was properly developed.

I realise this is in danger of wandering slightly off-topic but the point I'm trying to make is that Africa is perfectly capable of feeding itself and reaching the same level of development as the developed world (or whatever level its people consider appropriate for them — we shouldn't dictate) and I offer the above as evidence that I have been saying this for years.
What is holding Africa back is not its people but ours. Southern Sudan needs the technology to turn it into the breadbasket of Africa, according to Juma, but that means we have to divert money from the pockets of warlords and dictators (which is where most of it seems to go at the moment) into desalination plants, irrigation channels and, as Ridley says, bags of nitrate fertiliser.
And, to come back on track, we need to stop dictating to them what fuels we will condescend to allow them to use and what industries we will permit (the two go hand-in-hand) because it would be a lot better if they were making those stoves and chimneys than if we or the Chinese were and thereby simply making them dependent on us in a different way.
But having nailed my colours to the mast I still think that Andrew's original question was quite legitimate and requires an answer and not just from climate scientists and climate activists who at the very least need to examine their consciences.

Apr 19, 2015 at 5:52 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

MJ: “Africa can feed itself. And it can make the transition from hungry importer to self-sufficiency in a single generation.

Probably THE problem with poverty in Africa lies in the leadership. Witness Zimbabwe – when it was Rhodesia, it was the bread-basket of the region, feeding the nations surrounding it, despite being an international pariah; the locals were well-fed, and the personal wealth of most individuals was increasing. Within a few years of being Zimbabwe, it became a major importer of food from its neighbours, to plummet downhill to the basket-case it is now.

You are right, though – we are starting to wander a bit too far off-topic. Any aid to Africa should be to ensure that the general populus has access to affordable energy, in whatever form is the most economical – with our present technology, that means from coal, oil or gas.

Apr 19, 2015 at 6:10 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

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