Guy Stenhouse

One of the growing orthodoxies of the 21st century is that we have a climate emergency. Run with the consensus and you get to be on the front covers of magazines and make speeches at the UN . Dare to say that things are being overplayed a bit and you are ridiculed as a Denier, you don’t yet go directly to jail but there is still time for that.

I don’t doubt that weather patterns are changing, ice caps reducing and sea levels rising. What I’m not quite sure about though is the sense of our reaction to it. Politicians are rushing to compete with each other over when we will become carbon neutral. We are told that we must change our cars, go on fewer foreign holidays, eat less meat etc etc .

These may be perfectly sensible steps for other reasons but they rest on a fallacy and a conceit.

The fallacy is that what man is doing is the primary cause of unprecedented climate change. In fact the climate is always changing. We are currently in the middle of an Ice Age - the Quaternary, which is characterised by alternating periods of glaciation lasting about 80,000 years on average and warmer interglacial periods in between these, such as the one we are in now, of about 20,000 years. Based on the previous pattern you would judge that we are towards the end of one of these interglacial periods. The climate may well cool in the longer term rather than become hotter. You can quite plausibly argue that Northern Europe, Asia and America being covered in sheets of ice and the sea being several hundred feet lower than it is today is a bigger problem than global warming and that the impact of man’s activities has helpfully delayed the next intense Ice Age .

The view that today’s climate, sea level, the flora and fauna of the world are normal, as things should be,

static - as long as we are good boys and girls - is just not true. Over time climate and our environment have changed significantly and will do so again. Man’s impact on the planet is more rapid than the normal influences but the planet is dynamic - it changes and even from one decade to another the natural changes can be quite significant.

The conceit is that man will be able to prevent the changing climate, the rise and fall of oceans, the alterations in habitat. The reality is that the ebb and flow of solar activity, changes in gravitational fields, the oscillations of the earth, will dwarf our impact.

Why am I telling you all this in the Business Section of a newspaper? Because we are gearing up to spend trillions of pounds on a project - to stop climate change - which seems to me doomed to fail. In the short term I fear it will fail because I just don’t see us giving up on flying to the sun , shipping goods around the world , or building coal fired power plants in China. In the long run it will fail because we will be overwhelmed by forces much more powerful than us.

Instead of competitive posturing , Governments and business need to think more about adapting to climate change. For example, when a railway line just above the beach gets washed away do you reinstate it in the same place or do you move it inland? Should we stop building new houses in flood plains ? A more effective use of economic resources may be to build climate change into our planning and actions rather than a heroic effort to prevent the inevitable .

Coupled with this the environmental focus needs to shift more towards the real problem - which is our fault and we can prevent - which is that we are poisoning the planet. It is not C02 which is the primary villain but oxides of Nitrogen and Sulphur , Particulates , heavy metals and plastics. These are the menaces we must target genuinely urgently.

Guy Stenhouse is a Scottish financial sector veteran who wrote formerly as Pinstripe.