Greenpeace co-founder talks biotech, nuclear and climate
Why do they hate science, and why are they so miserable?
We do not have a problem growing enough food today. We have a distribution issue, and poverty – but if they could distribute it better there'd be no problem providing it. Then there are issues of corruption and civil disorder, wars, that prevent the food getting through sometimes. But it's not a big problem to take some of that and use it for fuel. In Brazil 50 per cent of fuel once came from sugar cane – it's still high today.
“We're a special species. We have self-awareness and technology.”
AO: Having lived in California, I find the British response is very strange – such as the Transition Towns movement, and the delight in telling people not to do things. Do you think it's a British trait to promote this asceticism and self-denial? No other nation's environmentalists seem to enjoy being killjoys as much – don't fly, reuse your teabags, shiver in the cold, and so on.
PM: Well, when I see the NGOs themselves in sackcloth and ashes, then I might put some truck by what they're saying. I was in Cancun in December, and they were all staying in five star hotels at the highest end resort in Cancun, with beautiful restaurants and palm trees swaying. I was amazed at this. That was 12,000 NGOs – not counting the bureaucrats. There tens of thousands more bureaucrats. And there are four of five of these conferences a year. Yet here they are telling us we all must stop flying ...
AO: I saw a report recently prepared for a group of MPs, the All Party Peak Oil Group. It recommended household energy rationing and trading. But it recommended that each household be rationed slightly below what it actually needs. This was so people would think more about energy.
PM: Well, why stop there – why not bring back the lash? [laughs]
Yes, it is particularly British. The Germans have a different flavour. They don't think people should freeze to death, and not travel anywhere, and live in thatched houses, and live with their animals at night. I remember that farce "No Sex Please We're British" – now it's " No Carbon Please, We're British".
AO: Isn't there an element of self-loathing in it?
PM: Yes there is. It externalises our fears of the future – it's the original sin idea revisited.
My friend James Lovelock is a classic example of that. I have a section in the book called 'The Enigmatic Dr LoveLock'. I invited myself to his house and took the train out to the West Country. We walked through countryside, and had dinner. That was when he convinced me that nuclear energy was a silver bullet for the future; he's a big proponent of nuclear energy. And I agree with that 100 per cent. I put it to him that if Earth was a self-regulating mechanism, we were part of it, and perhaps nuclear showed we were regulating our carbon emissions.
But he insisted that humans were a rogue species. Apparently, we're the only one. We are "anti-Gaia".
I said, "Jim, why can't you think of humans as part of Gaia, and perhaps doing Gaia's bidding, and and getting us out of this Ice Age we've been locked in?"
We're in an interglacial, but we're in a longer-term Ice Age. If we look at local temperatures, we're still in an Ice Age. It's 14.5°C , peak 12°C, but in the greenhouse period ice ages are short and sharp; Greenhouse Ages are long and steady and last 10 million or 100 million years. The Earth's averaged 22°C in these periods. So when people say global temperature is going to go up 2°C, and we're going to die, I just laugh. We're a tropical species. We haven't adapted to cold and ice, except we have fires.
“We're a tropical species – we haven't adapted to cold and ice. When people say temperature is going to go up 2°C and we're going to die, I just laugh.”
People also say isn't it only the UK that's getting colder? No. New York, where I am now, is an icebox. We're having the worst winters since the 1960s, but NASA and CRU say 2010 tied for warmest year in history. The record has exaggerated the Urban Heat Island effect when NOAA dropped thousands of climate stations.
They did same thing with polar ice. If you go to the Cryosphere Today website, you can see up-to-date figures for the ice extent. Look at Arctic Ice decline – then below they have Antarctic sea ice graph which shows a prominent increase in sea ice extent. We don't really know the historical sea ice extent in the Arctic, because ice doesn't leave a footprint. But the Arctic decline has been from 15 to 16 million km2 to 14.5 to 14 million km2. It's not that large.
AO: You also touch on climate change in the book. Would you call yourself a skeptic?
PM: I do not believe we are capable of determining the extent to which our CO2 is part of a trend in climate change. In 12 years, temperature hasn't increased – it's leveled since 1998, which was the warmest year on record. So there's no increase in global average temperature, all the while we've been spewing more CO2 every year over the previous year.