The grand journalistic tradition of old fools getting with the program

What hope do we have when even senior, supposedly sober Telegraph columnists engage in such ludicrous reasoning on climate change as this:

If it’s a choice between Trump and Greta, I’m with the teenage zealot …


Where have our winters gone? I miss them .. It is hard to recall an old-fashioned winter where it would snow at least two or three times between December and April.

You mean you’ve already forgotten those bitingly cold winters we’ve been having in the last decade?

I am reluctant to attribute what might prove to be temporary weather glitches to long-term climate change, but there is clearly something going on that cannot be ignored.

Reluctant? You’ve just done that.

We don’t have to buy into the apocalyptic angst of Greta Thunberg, on show again in Davos yesterday, to recognise that something has to be done.

He actually said ‘Something Has To Be Done’. How about we do a snow dance, Philip? That’s ‘something’.

Whether or not you are a sceptic about the impact of CO2 on the climate or question man’s involvement in producing the greenhouse gas, our energy future is a non-carbon one, like it or not.

Our energy future involves a lot of talk about non-carbon energy sources, while relying on ‘carbon’ for a long time to come.

Virtually every government has committed to this as an overt aspect of public policy and those that haven’t, like China or the US, have a rapidly growing green energy sector poised to exploit the move to a carbon‑free future.

You mean the China that’s building coal-fired power plants at a rate of knots? That China?

Perhaps Mr Trump would be persuadable if he were to recognise there is a hard‑headed economic imperative here. He should listen to someone like Marco Alvera, an oil and gas CEO who understands what is going on and has ideas to address it.


At a conference in Venice at the weekend, he said we should commit to the one clean energy source that is plentiful, easy to transport and getting cheaper to produce.

Ah, another ‘journalist-went-to-a-talk’ story. This is where all this is coming from.

Mr Alvera likes to adapt the argument known as Pascal’s wager to our climate change conundrum. The 17th‑century French philosopher and mathematician asked what we should do if we had to bet our lives on the existence of God. Pascal posited that the rational response was to behave as though he did exist because we have nothing much to lose if it turns out that he doesn’t, but risk eternal damnation if he does.


Climate change is the same. If Greta is right then the consequences of doing nothing are calamitous. But if she is wrong, changing to a cleaner energy future is a good thing in itself and can even generate growth and prosperity.

Seriously? Pascal’s Wager, which has been long ridiculed by most scientists and philosophers and thinkers, is now the basis for the largest and riskiest economic and political transformation in human history?

Pascal’s Wager justifies any proposed change in response to any possible threat. It’s possible that all the ducks in the world are really super-intelligent and they’re about to launch a takeover, so we need to kill them all. It’s possible that nylon stockings are eventually going to cause a nuclear explosion. Make your own ones up. The consequences of doing nothing, should these claims turns out to be true, are calamitous. In fact, they’re far more calamitous than most of the possible climate change scenarios.

Proper risk analysis, on the other hand, tells us to look at probabilities of the possible bad outcomes, not just how bad some possible bad outcome would be, were it true. The catastrophic climate change scenarios all have tiny probabilities. Even the IPCC admits that.

(James Delingpole tackled the Pascal’s Wager argument a decade ago in Watermelons in a clear fashion, see pp. 126-8.)

Then we have to look at the costs of the proposed action. The real costs, that is, not just vague claims like ‘Oh, moving everything to solar energy would be, like, you know, cool, my friend went to this talk once and she said that apparently solar works just as well as coal’. The costs – the real costs – are what needs be weighed against alternative courses of action.

The costs of abandoning fossil fuels are not zero. Not even remotely. Changing to renewables will be massively expensive, destroy jobs, and hinder prosperity, because they cannot provide anywhere near the energy we need. ‘Generate growth and prosperity’ is nonsense, and Johnston should be ashamed of himself for falling for this.

Besides, nothing we do will make much difference to CO2 levels. We can all start taking holidays on sailing boats instead of planes and the difference it will make will round up, for all practical purposes, to zero.

In the past, hydrogen has been too expensive relative to fossil fuels but that will change as new taxes are loaded onto coal and gas to meet CO2 targets and the cost of renewable energy continues to fall.

If we’re loading new taxes onto coal and gas then most of us will be poorer. On the one hand people like Johnston say ‘It’s like Pascal’s wager, it doesn’t cost anything to change to renewables, so we should do it anyway’, but the reality is cripplingly high energy bills for most people. Which people like him wave away with exactly this sort of comment:

No one pretends the transition will be straightforward

If I had a penny for every time I heard an environmentalist use the euphemism “No one pretends the transition will be straightforward”. It’s doublespeak for ‘Many of you will be crying with fear every time you get an energy bill, but that’s worth it because we have to be doing something’.

but if there’s widespread adoption of the technology and the necessary infrastructure, it will become increasingly affordable.

Translation: ‘Possibly your grandchildren, or maybe your great grandchildren, will see a day when energy poverty doesn’t rule their lives. Although don’t bet on it. But at least the temperature of the Earth will have only gone up 0.0012 rather than 0.0013 degrees’.

You do not have to be a teenage zealot to see sense in that.

You don’t have to be a teenage zealot to think this makes sense, but being an old fool seems to help.


Social media

9 thoughts on “The grand journalistic tradition of old fools getting with the program

  1. “You mean you’ve already forgotten those bitingly cold winters we’ve been having in the last decade?”

    Just what I was thinking. The first time in my life I – or anyone I know – can remember food shortages in the centre of Glasgow due to snow was two years ago. Has that been flushed down the memory hole already?

    The first time my school closed due to snow was when I was 15, in the mid-’80s. Almost my entire childhood was spent in frustration that there was never enough snow to build a decent snowman. Yes, anecdote isn’t evidence, but if you’re going to start on about “What happened to the winters of our youth?”, it’s falling on deaf ears around here, matey.

    “At a conference in Venice at the weekend, he said we should commit to the one clean energy source that is plentiful, easy to transport and getting cheaper to produce.”



    “But at least the temperature of the Earth will have only gone up 0.0012 rather than 0.0013 degrees”*

    *+/-0.01 degrees.

  2. And then he goes on and on about how hydrogen is the fuel of the future. Does he say where the hydrogen wells are? Reader, he does not – he simply asserts that “it’s all around us”. Well so it is, tightly bound to Oxygen atoms, from which liberating it requires enormous amounts of energy – obtained using the effect of sunshine on cucumbers, no doubt. He also hasn’t noticed that hydrogen is difficult to contain, almost completely impossible to liquify, and hideously explosive if mis-handled.

    Really, where do they get them from?

    AEP is just as bad btw.

  3. How can we make it stop? This avalanche of nonsense from every bloody direction. Oh noes oh noes, there will soon be millions of climate refugees fleeing the devastation of mild winters.

    Pascal’s wager has been refuted countless times. The most obvious rebuttal is that it is a false dichotomy. The argument assumes that there is only one religion and that Pascal has chosen the correct one.

  4. Remember the old days, when Peak Oil was going to happen and we were all going to freeze to death in the dark? Happy times! Now apparently we have so much fossil fuel we are going to turn Siberia into one big Russian Riviera with room for everyone (and that is supposed to be a bad thing?).

    The geologist M. King Hubbert whose name is forever associated with Peak Oil titled his seminal 1956 paper “Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels”. It is an upbeat document, well worth reading. He postulated that the fossil fuel age would be a blip in the long history of humanity, and we would move forward for the next couple of thousand years with nuclear fission keeping us warm and happy.

    While hypocritical Germany is shutting down its trouble-free nuclear power plants, China and Russia are furiously building more. The human race will survive Ms. Thunberg.

  5. Well done. I only managed two paragraphs into the newspaper article, before my wife complained that my cries of ‘F*ck *ff!’ were interrupting her game of solitaire.

    I miss the days when the Telegraph used to have news in it. If it wasn’t for the fact I’m leeching a free digital subscription off my Dad’s paper one, I’d have given up altogether (I gave up my paid subscription years back)

    (edited to clarify that I failed to read the newspaper article, not this one!)

  6. “Where have our winters gone? I miss them .. ”
    Oh yes, I remember, we now have Central Heating and double glazing, so the current house is nice and warm, whereas as a child the house leaked heat like money.
    Isn’t it nice our standard of living has climbed so much in 50 years.
    And to cap it, the article then spouts Hydrogen nonsense.
    Anyone selling The Hydrogen Economy is always either a crook or a moron. Usually both.

  7. Paul Homewood has highlighted a handful of sceptical newspaper articles recently so I’m starting to feel a little less despondent about it all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.