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Penguin Books, 1999
Review by David Cromwell
In January 1991, almost seven years before the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change set an overall target for industrialized countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent, one eminent meteorologist stated, Its possible there will be unprecedented climate change. This was no far-sighted warning from a cautious academic but a grudging statement from the most authoritative global warming skeptic: Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT. Lindzen, a paid consultant for major oil and coal interests, conceded the point during a public debate with Jeremy Leggett, then scientific director of Greenpeace Internationals climate campaign.
Throughout The Carbon War, Leggett stokes up the evidence for an anthropogenic fingerprint on global climate. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology prove there is only one chance in forty that natural climate variability could explain observed warming. Studies led by the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory demonstrate that climate modelling accounting for the short-term cooling effect of sulphate aerosols reveals a clear greenhouse signal. Researchers at AT&Ts Bell Laboratories report a strong correlation between global warming and a decrease in the temperature difference between winter and summer, disproving sceptics claims that changes in solar output, rather than industrial activity, underlies global warming. By 1995, the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change could confidently state, the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.
But Lindzen, and a handful of other industry-sponsored renegades, continued to misrepresent the scientific consensus to the public. Consequently, the modest deal agreed at Kyoto in 1997 was almost derailed by multimillion dollar public misinformation campaigns, corporate pocketing of politicians, vilification of IPCC scientists, and plain obstructionism by a carbon club of coal, oil, electricity, and automobile companiesand oil-rich nations. Leggett details the machinations of this unholy alliance, expressing distaste for their crimes against humanity that may have already wrecked the possibility of significantly curbing human-induced climate change. One OPEC negotiator put it bluntly: We dont want this convention. Theres nothing in it for us.
Such selfishness flies in the face of natures carbon arithmetic: if we burn just 225 billion tons of carbonless than one quarter of the worlds recoverable fossil fuel reservesthe resultant temperature increase of around 1 degree Celsius will be enough to endanger ecosystems and human populations. If deforestation continues at present rates, the carbon budget falls to around 145 billion tons. Leggett is astonished at oil company ignorance. Are you sure about these figures?, exclaims BPs chief geologist. Leggett surmises: The most basic information on the global warming debate was not getting through.
Why? Our education system and the media world are implicated. A thread running through the book is the medias antipathy towards presenting a sustained analysis of global warming and, especially, the attempts of business groupings such as the Global Climate Coalition to block any climate change treaty. Leggett recounts his unsuccessful attempts to interest the press in the global warming implications of a free-trade deal agreed by the G7 countries as aid for Russia: An agency journalist from UPI, who was one of the few who phoned me and with whom I did a 30-minute interview, told me that his editor had gutted his story. They took out all the references to global warming. The editor told me it is too controversial.
Leggett reserves much of his ire for Don Pearlman, the corporate lawyer who heads the Climate Council, another carbon-fuel front. Pearlman worked with Washington law firm Patton, Boggs & Blow whose clients included Sony, American Express, the Haitian dictator Duvalier, and the Guatemalan military. Pearlman shamelessly used the Saudi and Kuwaiti delegations as climate talk proxies for the carbon industry, the Kuwaitis even submitting proposed amendments in Pearlmans handwriting. But perhaps the most astonishing revelation is the hold that the lawyer had over U.S. negotiators. Following talks which went badly for Pearlman, he was observed publicly scolding Dan Reifsnyder, the head of the U.S. negotiating team, like an incandescent headmaster [giving] a severe finger-lashing to a recalcitrant schoolboy.
In August 1992, Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, precipitating a record $16.5 billion insurance bill. Noting that the insurance industry was bigger than the international arms trade, bigger even than the oil business, Leggett pursues a new strategypushing the insurance sector to back strong emission cuts. But by the time the climate talks move to Japan in 1997, Leggett accepts failure on this front: the most I could hope for in Kyoto was another short flying visit by a handful of insurers. His current approach, having left Greenpeace, has been to enter the market for solar photo-voltaic systems by forming his own company, Solar Century, with corporate backing.
Sadly, Leggett skates over, or is blind to, the undemocratic power behind the World Bank, IMF, and World Trade Organisation, and transnational corporations. The closest he comes to advocating structural reform of the global economy is when he says: we did not want to put [the oil companies] out of business, we merely wanted them to change the way they did business.... We wanted them to help make the solar-energy revolution happen, not stand in its way. Thus would control of energy technology, renewable or otherwise, remain in corporate hands. For many environmentalists, such as solar energy campaigners, Daniel Berman and John OConnor, this is not acceptable. In their 1996 book, Who Owns the Sun?, Berman and OConnor link a sustainable energy policy with democratic renewal: [T]o turn the tools of a solar transition over to utilities and fossil-fuel corporations, which is the present policy of [governments] and mainstream environmental organizations, is to guarantee that the coming Solar Age will arrive a century behind its time, and that it will be every bit as autocratic as todays fossil-fuel economy. We believe that a solar revolution will necessarily occur at the expense of the private energy monopolies, and that such a revolution will not take place without a passionate public fight.