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« Malaria maths | Main | Environmentalism may not be perfect! »

Kelly on Stern

Mike Kelly has a long piece in Standpoint magazine looking at Lord Stern's magnum opus and some of the big questions of the climate debate:

Those building the biblical Tower of Babel, intending to reach heaven, did not know where heaven was and hence when the project would be finished, or at what cost. Those setting out to solve the climate change problem now are in the same position. If we were to spend 10 or even 100 trillion dollars mitigating carbon dioxide emissions, what would happen to the climate? If we can’t evaluate whether reversing climate change would be value for money, why should we bother, when we can clearly identify many and better investments for such huge resources? The forthcoming Paris meeting on climate change will be setting out to build a modern Tower of Babel.

Well worth a read.

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Reader Comments (40)

The paragraph sums up the obvious paradox. The problem, real though probably exaggerated is not one that is solvable by money or technology. The climate is chaotic and will respond in multivariant ways, the fact that more notice is taken of a parish priest masquerading as an authority on climatology tells us where this sorry trial of logic is taking us.

Sep 24, 2015 at 11:15 AM | Unregistered Commentertrefjon

I thought that Mike Kelly's piece was right on the money (at least for a lukewarmer ^.^). Kelly focussed on the logic of the whole situation and was not side tracked by ideology, science or politics.

Sep 24, 2015 at 11:22 AM | Registered CommenterDung

Unless we take steps now, to halt further expenditure on stopping climate change, our grandchildren are all going to die laughing.

Sep 24, 2015 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

golf charlie
Or as a return to the LIA as the talk is of reversing climate change?

Sep 24, 2015 at 12:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

This article is far too defeatist. I am sure King Cnut could have controlled the tides if only he had asked his advisers to undertake a long-term programme of research on the problem and had raised taxes enough to give them everything they could think of asking for.

We must make sure that our penny-pinching governments don't make the same mistake as Cnut did.

Sep 24, 2015 at 12:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Lord Stern is earning loads of money, telling people to spend more money to prevent something happening that he is clueless about.

He is a great example of how the Green economy doesn't work for 99.97% of the population, and what motivates so many failures to become earthy sciencey pollytrickery financial con artists.

Truthful Economists, they know it makes financial sense for them, even if it is all false.

Sep 24, 2015 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Kelly makes good arguments & sense with it! Enjoy the Inter-glacial, while it lasts that is!

Sep 24, 2015 at 12:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

SandyS, there is talk of a return to an Ice Age. Truthful Economists will want to tax freezers and frozen food. Greens will be very worried that this will be a death sentence for polar bears, and anyone moving from the UK to Spain will be classified as a climate change refugee.

Truthful Economists know how to spread truth so thinly, nobody notices a thick report has almost nothing in it.

Sep 24, 2015 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

I'm surprised that people still think that there is any relevance to anything written on climate issues by Stern or any of the usual suspects, or that there was ever any intention to be relevant. This is a bureaucratic process and, as with all bureaucracies, the process is the entire point of the exercise, and the only point. It's a classic kids toy - Turn the handle and watch the machine do nothing.

Sep 24, 2015 at 1:59 PM | Registered CommenterMique

For one side effect of policies to cut man made CO2 you need look no further than the current crisis engulfing VW - which has been found to have installed a cheat device in its US 2 litre diesels to pass US NOx emission standards.

Unlike the USA, where car diesels account for a very small share of the market, in the EU diesel sales have been encouraged, often with tax breaks, because they emit lower CO2 than petrol engines (and offer better fuel economy too). Unlike the USA, the EU has less stringent NOx standards.

Last night, on BBC Newsnight, a professor was moved to say that the imposition of these EU regulations was the worst public policy mistake for the past twenty years - because they failed to reduce NOx pollution. Some claim that it is responsible for up to 5000 premature deaths a year. Almost needless to say, the politician who appeared on the programme (the Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport) appeared quite clueless about the content of and differences between EU and US standards.

This is a story that will run and run, partly because it affects VW, but also because it throws into sharp relief the consequences of ill-considered so-called climate change policies.

A good summary of the story from a US perspective can be found here:
but the ramifications in Germany, the EU and the UK for VW, the industry and green legislation are likely to be huge.

Sep 24, 2015 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

Just ignore the Fool.

Sep 24, 2015 at 2:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

@oldtimer: A word of warning, beware quoting figures using the expression "up to XXX", as they invariably have to include the figure zero by default!

Sep 24, 2015 at 3:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

connie Hedegaard, setting eu policies and soforth, believes it does notmatter how many trillions
are wasted because her pay and pension fund isnt affected at all!

Sep 24, 2015 at 3:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterVenusNotWarmerDueToCo2

Life expectancy is a concept with little statistical meaning but the authors of such Nox-death drivel have even failed to remove the general increase in life expectancy overall thanks to better health care, nutrition and generally living in the 1st world with heating/power from those self-same fossil fuels. Better to use the air quality index. I'm sure soot from Diesels is far worse for us than Nox emissions.

Sep 24, 2015 at 3:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Off-topic - Does anyone know what has happened to Matt Ridley's blog? Last evening and today I have not been able to access it.

Sep 24, 2015 at 4:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterMorley Sutter


I think your theory applies to Cameron, Rifkind, Straw, all the expense fiddlers, Lord Dobbin, Uncle Tom Cobbly and all (sorry - et al).

Sep 24, 2015 at 4:04 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Mr. Kelly's essay has many good points but the last paragraph on page 2 includes comments on the behaviour of the sun. There is speculation** but not much certainty regarding solar aspects and climate. In US west there is a saying that a person has a big hat but no cattle.
[ **See Willis E's Sept 22 post on WUWT]
Then, there is this statement:
One possible scenario for 2050, no less possible than any projected on the basis of climate models, is that we are in the middle of a deep solar minimum, and it is only the CO2 pumped into the atmosphere over the previous 100 years that is staving off cold climates that would lead to crop failure and mass starvation."

Many skeptics argue that CO2 has very little effect on temperature – if it isn't going to heat us to doom level, it will not prevent us from freezing either. This is not the first time I've seen this sort of comment – and I am always perplexed by it.

Sep 24, 2015 at 4:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Hultquist

From Kelly's article:

The World Bank predicts that by 2035 the middle class will grow from 3 billion to 5 billion out of a total population of 8 billion. BP estimates that the world demand for energy will increase by another 40 per cent in total; more than 80 per cent of that will again be provided by fossil fuels.
It would be immoral to stop that process.
Further comment is superfluous.

Sep 24, 2015 at 4:49 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

John F.

The people on Bishop Hill do not share a common view of climate change, what we share is the knowledge that CO2 is not going to cause catastrophic warming, that it is plant food and not a pollutant ^.^.
Regarding Solar aspects: there is absolutely no doubt that there is some link between sunspots and temperature and that we do not understand what exactly it is. However we do know that solar cycles look almost identical to those at the start of the Little Ice Age. There has to be at least a possibility that the Little Ice Age might be repeated.

Sep 24, 2015 at 5:12 PM | Registered CommenterDung

This NOx scare is perplexing. The figures I have seen show that levels have fallen quite massively in the US and UK since 2000, which suggests that regulation has been effective, which suggests that this VW thing is some kind of bizarre panic/scare-mongering/anti-foreign company attitude in the US. The attitude of Obama to BP is confirmation that the US is deeply against international trade.

It seems hard to get any real data on measured NOx emission trends but here is one for the UK:

and here is the Pacific Southwest of the USA, which includes the heavily polluted Los Angeles mega-city:

and here is the USA

Sep 24, 2015 at 7:00 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

John F, I would say that anybody who looked at any evidence would say that the global warming brigade took one hell of an unlucky guess to assume more CO2 equals higher temperatures.

They do not want to admit it though.

I am honest enough to admit I fell for the scam. They took the peese out of me so I like to show them appropriate respect.

Sep 24, 2015 at 7:06 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

This was my favourite part:

"Past pessimists such as Thomas Malthus, William Stanley Jevons and Paul Ehrlich have been proven comprehensively wrong in their predictions of gloom, and I am confident that Nicolas Stern will join them."

Greens in general have been making doomsday prophesies since the 1960s, I even recall there being a pop song called The Eve Of Destruction.

Sep 24, 2015 at 7:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

The late Yogi Berra would sum it up something like this "It's only a problem if it's a problem."

Sep 24, 2015 at 7:14 PM | Unregistered Commenterson of mulder

Excuse my ignorance, but who is Mike Kelly? The engineering professor who took exception to 'climate scientists' talking about performing 'experiments' with climate models?

Sep 24, 2015 at 8:54 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

@ Martin A
Yes, I think that was him. Cambridge Boffin. Sensible chap and better qualified than a lot of the climate alarmists.

Sep 24, 2015 at 9:12 PM | Unregistered Commentergareth

A shameless plug for what is happening on Jo Nova's site. Her partner Dr David Evans is updating his research in a series of blog posts. He is starting by explaining how the current alarmist climate models are made up (today's post has what Jo think is the first time on the Net the basic model has been laid with all the detailed maths and diagrams). He then intends to go on and show how they have got it wrong and then explain his own updated "notch theory' solar model and what it predicts. For those interested it would be best to go back to the first in the series and read through them all ( there has been 3 so far)

Sep 24, 2015 at 9:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoss

“Many skeptics argue that CO2 has very little effect on temperature – if it isn't going to heat us to doom level, it will not prevent us from freezing either. This is not the first time I've seen this sort of comment – and I am always perplexed by it” (John F. Hultquistat 4:44 PM).
Well it’s a matter of degree (no pun intended).
The LIA was about as cold as this interglacial has got, excluding the Younger Dryas, and the planet has warmed around 1C since, so I guess with a CO2 sensitivity of ~1C based on recent empirical studies, that would cancel out any LIA repeat performance — a bit warmer would be a bonus.

Sep 24, 2015 at 11:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterChristopher Hanley

That was an excellent analogy. More of this kind is needed.

Sep 24, 2015 at 11:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterSvend Ferdinandsen

The Eve Of Destruction

... was not a "green' related song.
Think refugees from the Mid-East and crime/social issues, especially in the USA, and the song still resonates. It was written in 1965.

Sep 24, 2015 at 11:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Hultquist

I did find it mildly irritating when he used this idiom (twice in a row):

Nor does Stern look at the data that is in on the physics of renewable energy sources...

This is just another flavour of the "science is in" cliche, and it's eqully hollow for data. The above reference to physics also seems gratuitous.

There was no need anyway, as it was a well reasoned article. Should leave the appeals to authority to those with weak arguments.

Sep 25, 2015 at 12:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Swan

John F Hultquist, I am always puzzled why global warmists still believe CO2 is the planetary temperature control knob.

If it was so easy to jump to the conclusion (it was presented that way, and fooled me) why has there been no proof or evidence since, especially given the amount of money fleeced for the purpose? Easy predictions, clearly visible such as polar ice, more storms hotter weather etc, were made, and nothing has happened.

All the explanations, and peer reviewed literature, have failed to identify the cause of the pause. These expert climate scientists can't even agree on how to disagree, and now they are finding reasons to dispute there is a pause, implying that their predecessors were wrong to interpret the data that there ever was a pause requiring an explanation in the first place. Meantime CO2 levels have kept rising.

And yet you are perplexed by sceptics doubting the influence of CO2? What makes you convinced?

Sep 25, 2015 at 12:34 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

A minor nitpick about Mike Kelly's article.
The photo seems to show Mt Fuji as seen from Tokyo.
The real distance between them is 100 km.
Some camera, eh?
Is there no unadjusted part of climate work?

Sep 25, 2015 at 3:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

Andrew, if may - imho this in the DAILY MAIL; is one of the best articles written pertaining to the great scam and in particular focus on the Diesel scam and the spurious justification behind HMG promoting 'clean' vehicular transport - a scam upon a scam all done on a false premise.

And here's a flavour of a few and rather memorable paragraphs from Mr. Glover:

You may say ministers didn’t realise that diesels discharge dangerous emissions — but you would be wrong. A 1993 report published by the Department of the Environment was fully aware of the potentially lethal effects of diesel cars.

A senior civil servant, who worked for the Department of Transport at the time, is quoted in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper as saying: ‘We did not sleepwalk into this. To be totally reductionist [ie, in the simplest terms], you are talking about killing people today rather than saving lives tomorrow.’

An Incredible but 'deadly' accurate observation.

and here:

Haven’t they got it the right way round? A baby being pushed by her mother in a buggy, a cyclist and even an ordinary pedestrian walking along the pavement of a busy street are being exposed to unnecessary risks as a result of the completely foreseen dangers of diesel vehicles.

And if you are the blameless owner of a diesel car, which is liable to cause damage to other innocent people, you are justified in feeling that you have been misled by weak-minded politicians, who have, in turn, surrendered their good sense to a raucous and unreasoning mob.


This mob have got their priorities in a serious twist. Surely responsible environmentalists should have concentrated on the here and now, and opposed the explosion in the number of diesel cars. But many in the Green movement have their eyes fixed on a threat over the horizon which may or may not exist, and care far less about present dangers.

That is also why most of them champion exorbitant wind farms, which are lethal to birds and scar the countryside, and why they induce pliable politicians to replace coal-burning power stations with far less efficient wood-burning ones. Vast forests are felled, and huge quantities of wood transported halfway across the world at a considerable cost to the environment.


In their deafness to different points of view — in fact, in their rank intolerance of opposing voices — these people often remind me of religious fundamentalists. They shout down, or seek to censor, those who don’t agree with them.

This "MOB" are now writing and helping draft the legislation FFS.

All-in-all, the whole polemic is a tour-de-force and it warrants much wider - international ciculation, thank you to Mr. Glover.

[snip-a step too far BH]

Sep 25, 2015 at 7:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

now they are finding reasons to dispute there is a pause, implying that their predecessors were wrong to interpret the data that there ever was a pause

Any psientist who does this is providing fairly clear evidence that s/he is a parti pris advocate rather than a proper scientist, IMO.

Having failed to explain the pause they deny it instead and thereby obtain an Occam's Razor sort of comfort from it. Posit nothing unnecessarily, see? So if you deny there's even been a pause, you've got what feels like a nice non-nonsense dismissal of an acute doctrinal problem.

Sep 25, 2015 at 9:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

Justice4Rinka, and then there is the slight problem of calbrating tree rings to standardised average global temperature, inorder to define rise and fall relative to any point in historical time.

In climate science, if you never define the size or location of the goal posts, every shot is on target. There is no such thing as a 'missed' opportunity.

Sep 25, 2015 at 10:31 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Full steam ahead or full steam astern?

Kelly's article was good, although I don;t think it brought anything new to the table.

Sep 25, 2015 at 3:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

Athelstan, did you see my earlier post that showed Nox measurements declining steeply during a time when more diesel cars were being sold? There is something odd about this VW "scandal ".

Sep 25, 2015 at 3:11 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes


DEFRA offer the following explanations of trends since 1970:

Increases in road traffic account for the steep climb in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions between 1984 and 1989, and road transport still accounts for just under one third of total NOx emissions. Catalytic converters and stricter emission regulations have resulted in a strong downward trend since 1990. Emissions from
power stations have also reduced significantly. The recent decrease in NOx emissions between 2012 and 2013 was due to similar reasons to those detailed for SO2.

The recent decrease in SO2 emissions between 2012 and 2013 was due to a reduction in the market price of natural gas leading to less coal being used for power generation. Also, some coal-powered Power Stations reached the end of their working lifetime and were decommissioned, reducing the overall coalburning capacity.

Sep 25, 2015 at 3:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

Where is the EVIDENCE (not computer models) showing that the current levels of NOx (reducing, as Diogenes points out) are injurious to health?

Sep 25, 2015 at 5:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

golf charlie,
I guess I wasn't as clear as I thought I was.
Also, reference Christopher Hanley at 11:04 PM.
In the "long piece" linked to, it says "and it is only the CO2 pumped into the atmosphere over the previous 100 years that is staving off cold climates."
My puzzlement is why a person writes a reasonable essay from a skeptical viewpoint and than claims CO2 is going to save us from the cold that would otherwise come. Catastrophic claims follow forecast temperatures of several degrees C. for global warming. Christopher mentions sensitivity of ~1 degree, and also relates it to the Younger Dryas.

I don't think the warming out of the YD was CO2 linked. Usually the period of interest is since major uses of coal and oil, a couple hundred years. So will the amount of CO2 now in the atmosphere keep Earth's temperature stable if there is a "deep solar minimum"? Only if the temperature might be expected to drop about ~1C.
Could human efforts raise the CO2 ppm up to 800 or 1600? 1600 would be needed if the projected temperature drop is to be 3 degrees. If one thinks the temperature might drop by 4 degrees, then CO2 needs to go to 3200 ppm to hold the temperature at the current value. Can that be done? Show me how – but I don't think so.
If I recall the numbers correctly there is enough CO2 being generated by humans to add 4 ppm per year – but only 2 ppm shows up. Where does the rest go? Well, into processes that will accelerate (think plant growth) if the concentration goes up.

Why introduce an argument that CO2 will save us from the coming cold if we can't explain how this might come about, and if we do not know that it will get cold?
The issue is about remaking our societies into something the UN thinks it can administer if only we give then control of everything.
Skeptics should stay on message.

Sep 27, 2015 at 3:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Hultquist

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