For the next two weeks, most countries of the world will have representatives at the Copenhagen climate summit. Its a very important conference, even if its likely to be dominated in the UK media by the Pre Budget Report - for the next few days at least. Its difficult to be certain what the aim of the Conference is, but I think it's to establish a 'pathway' to an international binding agreement to reduce carbon emissions by some agreed amount by an agreed future date. I know it sounds a bit woolly. But as a principle, I support this aim, though I recognise that many others do not. We are told that the majority of scientists in the field believe that huge reductions are crucial to prevent an environmental catastrophe for planet Earth. I suspect that most British people support decisive action to reduce emissions, and quickly - but that they do not accept the scale of policy change being demanded by some. That's about where I place myself.
But this post is about the disastrous way the supporters of most radical change are presenting their arguments. Even the generally impressive Ed Miliband, the UK Government's leading spokesman has now resorted to calling those who disagree with him 'flat earthers', and dismissing their opinions as 'irresponsibility'. This approach generates hostility, both towards himself, and the argument he's trying to make. His rudeness towards Lord Lawson on the BBC last night was arrogant and patronising, and did nothing but damage to his cause. No-one likes being called a flat earther.
I hope there is real progress at Copenhagen. Not some huge photo-op where they're all trying to cosy up to Obama, and trumpeting some media soundbite that's already been prepared. We need a commitment to real actions that will make a difference, both at the state level and internationally. The sort of thing I mean at the international level, is a compensatory package which will persuade Brazil to end deforestation, thus 'Saving the Amazon'. This can be justified from a 'biodiversity' standpoint as well. And at the national level, something like scrapping the excise licence, switching the tax to fuel consumption - or a Council Tax system tied to carbon emission levels. Not sure these ideas are workable, but its the sort of scale of change needed if any difference is going to be made.
But back to the blustering refusal to consider different opinions. The 'leaked emails from the UEA have had a defining impact. The evidence suggests that some of the most influential scientists in the world, responsible for the data on which so many other scientists have based their opinion may have been manipulating, or suppressing the figures. Suddenly, the supposed scientific consensus looks anything but. Total transparency, and willingness to engage with what are rather offensively referred to as 'deniers' will be essential to restore faith in the data. Debating with Lord Lawson, and explaining why he is wrong is better than insisting he has no right to speak. Depending on blind assertion will not persuade anyone, and no amount of bullying and denigration by Ed Miliband will make the slightest difference.