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Byers must listen to the global warming experts, not his master's voice

By Neil Collins

(Filed: 07/02/2005)

It's time to return to the subject of my old friend Stephen "Bozo" Byers. Well, he's not exactly my friend, but I'm eternally grateful to him.

Without his pig-headed determination to bankrupt Railtrack, I would never have had the chance to write a series of splenetic articles explaining the stupidity of forcing the company into "railway administration", and how ruinously expensive his proposal to replace it with a company owned by nobody would turn out to be. I even won some award as a result.

It seemed obvious at the time, although not to him, and perhaps half the money that the Government has showered on to the railways since has been wasted. Bozo is out of the Cabinet as a result, but he's not quite out of the woods.

The small shareholders in Railtrack were so cross that they launched a legal action, and have chipped in enough money to buy some fine legal brains. The case comes up in the summer, and Mr Byers is expected to be a star witness. It'll be a cracking show, with the Department of Transport desperately trying to justify a bad, and possibly illegal, decision.

Whatever happens in the High Court, Bozo has no desire to return to his former life as a law lecturer at Newcastle Polytechnic (as it then was). He wants to be back with his best friend St Tony, and how better than to become an evangelist for the PM's current obsession, global warming?

On the radio the other day, Bozo reminded me of Danny Blanchflower extolling the virtues of a plan to win the football pools, all those years ago on Radio Luxembourg: "When I first heard of Horace Batchelor's infra-draw method, I was frankly sceptical." It was only after he became co-chair of the International Climate Change Taskforce that the scales fell from Stephen's eyes, and he found himself in total agreement with his master about the terrible threat to the planet from our way of life.

Since so many people say as much nowadays, the "taskforce" (sounds so much more dynamic than "committee", don't you think?) went further, warning that it may already be too late to avoid catastrophe, thanks to the carbon dioxide we've generated so far.

We might just escape the worst if we all cut down on the CO2, and persuade those squandering Americans to do the same.

The report, Meeting the Climate Challenge, was timed to coincide with last week's boondoggle in Exeter. Its conclusions can be simply stated: 1) Try to stop the temperature going up; 2) Talk about the subject more; 3) Spend twice as much on research; 4) Subsidise biofuels.

It would be instructive to learn what the taskforce thinks about nuclear power, which offers the only serious possibility of cutting oil consumption while maintaining our current lifestyle. And here it is, buried in tiny print in one of the source references: "The taskforce has not taken a position on nuclear energy." Perhaps the co-chair is waiting for his leader to take one first.

The committee has consulted widely. Yet it seems to have ignored those who believe that the Kyoto accord, that beacon of international co-operation in a naughty world, is based on bad science. In this, Mr Byers was also following His Master's Voice. Amid the bitter cold of Davos last month, there was much talk of global warming. Curiously, though, no room could be found for Andrei Illarionov.

A year ago, the organisers of the World Economic Forum, as the Davos boondoggle is formally called, had invited Mr Illarionov, President Putin's economics adviser, to play a key role in a discussion on climate change. As recently as December, discussions seemed to be progressing well.

Suddenly, the Davos organisers decided that they didn't need a debate on the science, and certainly not with him. He was out in the cold. He sees the baleful hand of the British government, not for the first time, and is spitting tacks.

He's not alone in being shut out from the discussions on global warming. Almost anyone who dares challenge the received wisdom that we're all doomed unless we turn off the lights and leave the car in the garage is ostracised - after all, it's a global industry nowadays, and the last thing its proponents want is evidence that they're wrong. Careers are at stake.

There is little doubt that, New York blizzards notwithstanding, the Earth is getting warmer. It's much less obvious why, or what the consequences will be. Last week's sole dissident in Exeter was another Russian, Yuri Izrael, who invited the delegates to look on the bright side. He points to longer growing seasons and more vigorous plants, stimulated by the extra CO2, along with lower heating bills for Canadians (and Russians for that matter).

He's difficult to shut out, since he's vice-chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body that put forward the "scenarios" which, turned into firm forecasts by political alchemy, form the basis of the Kyoto treaty. It comes into force next week. The same conference heard about dramatic signs of melting of the Antarctic ice sheet. Curiously, global sea levels do not seem to be rising, even if more ice is indeed falling off its shelves.

We've been blasting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, but low-lying islands such as the Maldives and Tuvalu are still just that - they have failed to disappear. More recently, satellite measurements of sea levels have not detected any change. Perhaps we should remember that the natural forces in the Earth's weather machine dwarf anything we can manage short of a nuclear device.

So here's a special message for Stephen "Bozo" Byers, last seen trying to work his way back into government, from Pierre Gallois: "If you put tomfoolery into a computer, nothing comes out of it but tomfoolery. But this tomfoolery, having passed through a very expensive machine, is somehow ennobled and no one dares criticise it."