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Spot the climate spiv

The Guardian discusses Bjorn Lomborg's work today in a podcast which can be found here. The panel chosen to take part consisted of Chris Hope, Mark Maslin and Adam Vaughan. And if that doesn't put you off, a couple of minutes listening to it will do the trick, or at least it did me.

Just before nodding off, I did take in Mark Maslin's claim that renewables only appear uncompetitive because fossil fuels are subsidised so heavily. (Why the Guardian thought to raise this topic with Maslin, a geographer, is beyond me). Given that the vast majority of subsidies of fossil fuels are applied outside the European Union, this is of course entirely irrelevant to policy decisions in the UK, and it is grossly misleading of Maslin to suggest otherwise.

In passing Maslin also cited an IMF working paper that claims that fossil fuels are subsidised to the tune of $5.6 trillion per year. This is an astonishingly thin work, which has been "doing the rounds" in recent weeks. If you take a look at it, you find that it is not in fact a study of subsidies, but instead is an attempt to add up every harm that could even conceivably be linked to fossil fuels in some way, with the now traditional (but still breathtakingly dishonest) attempt to rebrand as "subsidy".


[This paper] focuses on the broad notion of post-tax energy subsidies, which arise when consumer prices are below supply costs plus a tax to reflect environmental damage and an additional tax applied to all consumption goods to raise government revenues.

And of course the estimates of environmental damage are very, very big indeed. But notice one thing. Even you accept the climate-spiv definition of a subsidy, this is still only an estimate of costs. Benefits do not come into it. So when Maslin is claiming that renewables are competitive, he is making this claim by loading fossil fuels with a bunch of costs of doubtful veracity and not doing the same for renewables.

This is climate spivvery of the first order.

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Reader Comments (39)

This is climate spivvery of the first order.
You expected something different?

May 29, 2015 at 10:26 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Also, most actual fossil-fuel subsidies are consumption subsidies, not production subsidies, so they help poor people, whereas production subsidies on renewables help rich people. Euan Mearns estimates that the world subsidises renewables about ten times as heavily as fossil fuels per giga joule.

May 29, 2015 at 10:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterMatt Ridley

No way will I listen to this. No matter what ridiculous claims are made about fossil fuel subsidies, renewables such as wind and solar (without some yet undiscovered storage mechanism) cannot compete with synchronous nuclear or fossil power stations which are needed to provide baseload and load follow and to ensure grid stability. Of course none of the people who you hear on the MSM understand any of the practicalities of electricity generation (or anything else of practical application). Hence it's a waste of time listening to ignorant people.

May 29, 2015 at 10:26 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Interesting to note that what you do not pay in tax is now a subsidy, which means that the tax-payers are subsidising me to the tune of about 70% of my income – as the rest of any “profit” I am making is going in tax, I obviously need such a heavy subsidy! Who’da thunk it?

So, what is the tax-payers’ money paid to (un)renewables classed as, as they can in no way pay for themselves otherwise?

May 29, 2015 at 10:28 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

If "fossil fuels are subsidised to the tune of $5.6 trillion per year", that means every man, woman & child on the planet is subsidies by approx $1000. A primary schoolchild could work out this claim is sheer nonsense!

May 29, 2015 at 10:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterIlma

Unreliables would be so much more reliable if we all paid a sunshine and wind tax, and all money went to Grauniad shareholders and readers.

This is just another pathetic attempt to try and con the public into believing that unreliables are a good idea.

If all else fails, Blair and Blatter could be available as a double act fairly shortly, for advice on ripping people off.

May 29, 2015 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Outside the climate bubble nobody gives a tinkers cuss what these people are saying. These types are spectacularly irrelevant as far as the majority of the population are concerned. They have not noticed through their puffed up feathers as yet, nor are they likely to ever notice as long as the food train remains in the station. The leftist agenda is a bust as was proved by the majority at the election. They cannot even add the non voters to their tally as it seems that that section of the community were content with the status quo and did not vote against the largely conservative agenda of the last government. The price of petrol is important. The tax regime or subsidy is not. The price of food is important. It's origin is not. The availability of schools and hospitals are important. Their "sustainability and "carbon footprint" are not. Even Cameron must slowly be waking up to this reality. Ask any family....many politicians did in the election and knew they were on their way out before the press and pollsters woke up.

May 29, 2015 at 10:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

Acceptance of such blather requires an immense amount of non-thinking.

May 29, 2015 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterSlywolfe

@ golf charlie: What a brilliantly simple use of language! Whilst I always expalin to people that "renewables" are unreliable, it never occurred to simple old me to rebrand them as "unreliables"!

May 29, 2015 at 10:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Adding up real and imagined costs, now re-defined as subsidies, has been the first refuge of an alarmist for decades. Benefits come a distant second, except for windmills and aromatherapy.

Thus we have the cost, usually to 'society', of the common cold; the cost of motor accidents; the cost of alcohol; the cost of cholesterol (not including the cost of broken eggs on supermarket floors causing accidents, which will have its own separate cost calculation); the cost of broken alarm clocks; the cost of making fatuous calculations of risks and costs... The list is endless.

Duplicate overlapping costs (such as alcohol and motor accidents) is one reason why if they were all added up, the total cost would be astronomically higher than the sum of human wealth. And everybody knows they are inflated, wildly inaccurate guesses from the start. At best.
More often they are simply calls for funding/political action, or are a transparent promotional tool for a commercial product.

Because fossil fuels are essential for almost everything we do and make, they can have every "cost" imaginable laid at their door. Green voodoo economics 101.

May 29, 2015 at 11:13 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Golf Charlie: I too shall be using the term you coined. However, I shall also reflect base-load and renewables as 'Reliables' vs 'Renewables' - and let the listener draw the inference.

As to the IMF report on subsidies, didn't I read on here, or elsewhere (WUWT?), the the report is not from the IMF at all. (I'll dig a bit...)

May 29, 2015 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

An incredible amount of time is wasted nowadays just by using an obviously poor assumption.

But you cannot square the popular meme that renewables are now competitive with the alternative meme that they'd be competitive if everything else was so expensive. Which is true? And anyway, expensive fuels still make folk poorer so how is that in any way a societal benefit?

May 29, 2015 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

michael hart, "cost of fatuous calculations" . I think one of the biggest hidden costs, is adding up all the money, that has been rippied off from us mere common people, to fund the lavish lifestyles, that some of these people consider they are entitled to.

It has taken a lot of other people's money to preserve the integrity of the IPCC and FIFA, and getting the 'correct' results, is what the game is all about. It is great to know where Grauniad support lies.

May 29, 2015 at 11:41 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

More spivvery: When challenged about this, Maslin on twitter claims that
"out of the $5.6 trillion that IMF estimated $1.3 trillion was for CC damage - still leaves $4.3 trillion direct subsides".

Even the Guardian acknowledges that direct subsidies are only 6% of the total.

May 29, 2015 at 12:03 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

If the subsidies (harm) outweigh the benefits, how come everybody is prepared to pay a high price for fossil fuels and nobody is prepared to give them up?

May 29, 2015 at 12:07 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Paul Matthews, $1.3trillion of climate change damage. Is that like all of the climate change refugees that no one has actually seen?

The IMF seems to be very good at quantifying invisible costs, that no one else has noticed.

Elf and Pixie taxes next, to pay for Unicorn stabling and Mermaid pedicures.

May 29, 2015 at 12:29 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Meanwhile on the Today programme this morning Juliet Davenport, OBE, of Good Energy, claimed that renewables provide 15% of the UK's energy. They actually provide just over 5%. The 15% figure refers to installed capacity, but as we all know, wind turbine and solar panels don't operate all the time. Naturally her claim went unchallenged.

May 29, 2015 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterContendo

'And of course the estimates of environmental damage are very, very big indeed. But notice one thing. Even you accept the climate-spiv definition of a subsidy, this is still only an estimate of costs. Benefits do not come into it. So when Maslin is claiming that renewables are competitive, he is making this claim by loading fossil fuels with a bunch of costs of doubtful veracity and not doing the same for renewables.'


Nailed it. A totally one-sided propaganda con job from start to finish. Pure Greenwash.

May 29, 2015 at 12:51 PM | Unregistered Commentercheshirered

Yet renewables (or unreliables) do produce a consumer surplus, as this equation shows:

cs = 1/2(Ime X He),

where Ime = ideological marginal utility and He = hypno-externalities (with the sign reversed, obviously). We can't argue with mathematics, can we? That would be tilting at windmills where the sun don't shine! On a lighter note, David Suzuki used CBC airtime to denigrate Rex Murphy--for not being convinced of global warming. A class act, that Dr. D.

May 29, 2015 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterramspace

In the light of comments above, is there anything about 'Green' that is reliable? Science, facts, economics, accountancy, reporting, journalism, politics, ethics? It is just fail, fail and fail again.

It is only Green luvvies and numpties who still believe the globe is warming.

May 29, 2015 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

I wonder how much benefit versus damage this kind of lying does to the warmist cause. Sure, the twitter generation may lap up the headline but the people that the warmists need to convince will read the story. They know the difference between a subsidy and what the Stern paper is pushing. It doesn't take a genius to work out they're only loading one side of the scale. People don't like to be lied too and this is crude enough that people can't help but spot it. Eventually it dawns on people that if warmists lie about the easy stuff they're lying about the science too.

May 29, 2015 at 1:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

The narrative is simply wretchedly corrupted here, and twisting to evil by misunderstanding the actual subsidies which help the poor.

It's bad, and the worst worsen.

May 29, 2015 at 1:47 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Harry Passfield, the comment on WUWT about the IMF may have been this one:

That is the view of Lord Stern not the IMF.
The Guardian headline is in error. Strangely, they haven’t got around to correcting it yet despite the comments pointing this out.

Following the link from the Guardian to the paper gets:

Disclaimer: This Working Paper should not be reported as representing the views of the IMF. The views expressed in this Working Paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the IMF or IMF policy. Working Papers describe research in progress by the author(s) and are published to elicit comments and to further debate

May 29, 2015 at 1:48 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

The link below is a bit OT but has parallels with climate change. It claims that conservatives view left / liberals as well meaning but misguided while the left / liberals see conservatives as simply evil. Now, replace conservatives with sceptics and it does look familiar.

It may explain some of the polarisation, hatred and inability to listen to reasoned scientific argument that we see from some sections of the media, academia and activists.

May 29, 2015 at 1:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

Re: Paul Mathews

> "out of the $5.6 trillion that IMF estimated $1.3 trillion was for CC damage - still leaves $4.3 trillion direct subsides"

They count things like the 5% VAT rate on domestic energy being a 15% subsidy because VAT rate is set at 20%.

They also count tax breaks* on lower yield oil fields as being a subsidy.

* By tax break I mean they might only pay as little as 65% tax on their profits as opposed to the normal 85% for oil companies.

May 29, 2015 at 2:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

golf charlie, Green stupidity is pretty reliable.

May 29, 2015 at 2:27 PM | Registered Commenterdavidchappell

Direct from the Department of Thought Control.

May 29, 2015 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterBeth Cooper

Rajendra Pachauri must be watching FIFA shenanigans, and wondering why Blatter is the only one not charged.

FIFA and IPCC are unreliable in the integrity of justice.

It would be a fitting retirement present for Rushbridger, if the Grauniad was able to provide inside information on climate science fraud. They always seem the first to report on major breaking stories, especially those that subsequently reveal misinformation.

May 29, 2015 at 3:46 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Has anyone ever attempted to calculate the financial benefits that "reliables" have brought humanity over the years? Surely they must be immense. Increased crop yields alone (due to increased CO2 in the atmosphere) must be very significant. If people are going to play the game of calculating the financial downsides of reliables, then they must also factor in the benefits accrued from them.

May 29, 2015 at 3:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterTC

TC: I would suggest that 97% of all the wealth generated since the beginning of the industrial revolution has been the result of the use of fossil fuels - plus the benefits in terms of increase in human health and lifespan. A bit of that wealth is now being destroyed due to the large scale deployment of unreliables.

May 29, 2015 at 4:41 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Phillip B: I would suggest that 97% of all the wealth generated since the beginning of the industrial revolution has been the result of the use of fossil fuels.

97% - that's a credible number in this context!

May 29, 2015 at 5:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterTC

This is lala land reporting, where the Russians supposedly "subsidize" 40% of their economy on fossil fuels only!

If only someone would tell them, the things they could if they werent "subsidising" fossil fuels.

May 29, 2015 at 6:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterVenusNotWarmerDueToCO2

Thanks, M Courtney (re Stern paper in Guardian/IMF). Memory intact, but a tad slow. :-)

BTW: And very o/t (sorry, Bish): but it concerns memory. My brother was diagnosed with vascular dementia (with a cat-scan) and was exhibiting all the terrible signs of the disease. Fortunately, he was strong enough to not take it lying down and he and his wife found a doctor willing to get him an MRI. Turned out to be water on the brain! And a great neurosurgeon fixed that with a shunt and now he is back in the land of the 'aware', functioning 'normally'. Lovely story, I think. Sorry to interrupt the topic.

May 29, 2015 at 7:11 PM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield


May 29, 2015 at 9:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnother Ian

When it comes to real subsidies (as opposed to alleged damages), a few countries (IIRC) account for a large percentage of world subsidies because they are oil producers who supply their domestic markets at very low retail prices.... Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Venezuela come to mind. Greens mislead by including these kinds of countries in the totals for "subsidies" when in reality it does not matter to anyone outside those countries that the govts opt to buy off their populations with cheaper energy. It's not the kind of evillll "subsidy" of western multinational energy corps. that Greens are trying to conjure up.

p.s. But if the reply is that it matters just as much to reduce emissions in countries such as those named, by eliminating "subsidies" of the usage of fossil fuels in those countries, well, those are just about the last countries on earth which are going to accept any (risky) consumer sacrifices in their energy economies in order to please the predilections of international energy-phobes.

May 30, 2015 at 1:25 AM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

The most thoughtful comment here is TinyCO2's (May 29, 2015 at 1:25 PM) and I disagree with it most strongly. Tiny says:

“People don't like to be lied too and this is crude enough that people can't help but spot it. Eventually it dawns on people that if warmists lie about the easy stuff they're lying about the science too.”

But how will they spot it if they don't read it, let alone read the refutations? This is green academics having their tummies tickled by green journalists on a podcast that no-one will ever read (unless Alex Cull or I transcribe it) in which case it will be read and commented on by the same few dozen people who are commenting here. It will never be read or examined critically anywhere where it matters, but it doesn't need to be. It just adds its dense formless mass to the advancing blob that engulfs all. The politicians and opinion leaders who need to read it are too busy, too stupid, or too immersed in the Green Blob to ever come across it or analyse it critically.
It is almost impossible to express how bad this stuff is without coming across as a ranting conspiracy theorist. I've been unashamedly ranting for years, but I hope others will keep a level head, and I'm bothered that the likes of His Grace have started to rant lately, talking of spivs and so on. He won't get invited on the BBC that way.
But meantime the rest of us can rant way. I'm wondering if it's not time to drop the pretence (necessary for civilised discourse) that these are reasonable people who have been lead astray by their support for a noble (though possibly misguided) cause. They're shameless liars. Whole university departments, media organisations, governments made up entirely of liars.

There, that's better.

May 30, 2015 at 8:54 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Spot the climate spiv

With world football apparently giving Blatter support to carry on for another 5 years, and allegedly being exonerated of any wrongdoing, am I alone in thinking there are similarities with the various "Inquiries and Investigations" that followed Climategate, and found no evidence of wrongdoing?

Blatter is already coming out with conspiracy theories. Maybe he will write a book.

May 30, 2015 at 2:06 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Hannah Devlin said that Bjorn Lomborg wasn't a sceptic in the climate change denial sense....doesn't that say it all about her journalistic depth.

May 31, 2015 at 5:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterBedts

This Mark Maslin chap looks more of a political activist than a scientist

Take a look at the photos and videos...

Jun 1, 2015 at 10:38 PM | Unregistered Commenteroioi

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