There’s an interesting blog based in Belgium called Trust, yet verify. If you’re not familiar with it, do take a look, there are plenty of good posts there. The blogger, Michel, describes in a series of posts starting here how he started out as a devout believer in what we were being told about the climate crisis, then started to look into it in more detail, asked questions, was not satisfied by the answers and the tone in which they were delivered, and gradually became more sceptical – a very familiar story.
Just before Christmas, he posted up a translation of an interview with Richard Tol, done by a Belgian newspaper. Tol is an economist whose research focuses on economy-related aspects of climate change and climate policy. He’s one of the most highly cited researchers in the field and an IPCC author, writing for WG2 about economic impacts. He is not a climate sceptic (he accepts IPCC projections of temperature rise), but is often painted as such, since he departs from the climate activist line that climate apocalypse is close unless we all take action now. His views are of interest partly because he doesn’t fit into the polarised “us vs. them” story that so many in the media and academia like to tell.
The translation of the interview is not perfect (“He sits comfortably sagging in a canteen…”) but neither is google’s translation of the original (“He sits slumped in a lovely canteen of the University of Sussex”). I have tweaked the English slightly in the excerpts below:
The world is in uproar about the climate, but you claim that climate change is not a problem?
“There is no reason to believe that climate change is so terrible at the moment. Unless you raise funds for Greenpeace or are a politician who presents themself as the savior of mankind: then you gain by exaggerating things. The reality is that the climate hardly affects our wellbeing and our prosperity. There are happy and rich people living in boiling hot Singapore, but also in freezing cold Canada. There are unhappy and poor people in boiling hot Kenya but also stone cold Mongolia. Climate change is not the main environmental problem. Dirty air causes currently roughly four million deaths each year.”
Are you concerned that the future of your children is at risk due to climate change?
“Not for a moment. It disturbs me hearing people like Al Gore say that he is worried about the future of his grandchildren. Complete madness. The best estimate is that sea level will rise half a meter this century. That is from the ground to our knees. The Netherlands has the money and the knowledge to do something about it. It is the poorest who are affected by climate change. It is the grandchildren of the people in a country like Bangladesh who are at risk from rising sea levels. But why are we suddenly concerned about the grandchildren of people that we care little about? Poverty is a bigger problem than climate change. Do you help the poor by reducing greenhouse gas emissions or by fighting poverty? An important question for which no one has a clear answer yet.”
There is also a follow-up post on a short response in the same newspaper in which an environmental activist attacks Tol, falsely claiming that he thinks only money matters and that his views contradict common sense.
Another much longer interview with Tol was carried out by BBC correspondent Roger Harrabin for his pre-Paris series on Radio 4. The full transcript is available at Carbon Brief. This interview also illustrates the bias and prejudice of Harrabin: he illustrates my point about painting, by noting that Tol is on the advisory panel of GWPF, but incorrectly describing GWPF as “a climate skeptic lobby group” (in fact they are a think tank, not a lobby group, with no official or shared view, as Harrabin could have found out if he had looked at their website). Then there’s this question from Harrabin: “Just looking at you now and from the point of view of the listeners, you look rather different from the average climate contrarian. They tend to be suited and booted and you have long hair and beard and a t-shirt. It’s a different look.” Again, from the point of view of activists like Harrabin, anyone who dares to question imminent disaster is a ‘contrarian’. But “suited and booted”? Has Harrabin met the pony-tailed Jonathan Jones? Or any members of the Cliscep team?
From this interview we learn that
- Richard Tol used to be a member of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.
- His early research was on the statistical link between greenhouse gases and climate change.
- He set out to prove Nordhaus’s low carbon price argument wrong – but ended up proving Nordhaus right.
- There is huge uncertainty in the impact and economic cost of carbon dioxide emissions.
- The UK is a model for how not to implement climate policy.
- He supports a modest carbon tax, and opposes subsidies for green energy systems.
- Many of the more dramatic impacts of climate change are really symptoms of mismanagement and poverty.
There’s also quite a bit about his withdrawal from the IPCC Summary team, on the grounds of their excessive alarmism, and his view on the benefits of warming, and much more. Other points of amusement are repeated questions from Harrabin that try to make Tol feel guilty for providing arguments for ‘contrarians’, and the mis-transcribing of Marseille as Masai.