Sir Nicholas Stern

Friday saw a real eye-opener down here in the Berkeley area. Sir Nicholas Stern (of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change) was speaking at the UC campus, and there was quite a buzz.

Sir Nick is a celeb for sure, and all sorts were there: left, green dead-enders like myself, lots of climate and energy scientists, and a good smattering of new energy VCs, like the fella behind me from Nth Power (which, by the way, isn’t giving up on silicon for thin film just yet).

First thing: Sir Nick is a nice guy. And I say this despite our disagreements. His job, after all, was to neutralize the "do nothing because it doesn’t make economic sense" crowd, and while he hasn’t quite succeeded (see William Nordhaus’ response to Stern here [PDF]), he did move the goalposts. Inaction will be expensive, it’s harder now to pretend otherwise, and Nick gets his share of the thanks. And if the cost of this progress was a bit high — the Stern Review, alas, was very "conservative" when it came recommendation time, and has been widely cited to the effect that the "2C target," in which we try to hold total surface warming to just another 1.2 degrees C, would be too expensive to reach — well, what the hell. Not his job.

Anyway, the farce came in the guise of a fantastically brainwashed group of LaRouchites. Here’s a link (PDF) to the pamphlet they were pushing on the "Gore Hoax," which includes a nice picture of some of their young militants. And boy, are they — like Trotskyites of old, to which the LaRouchites, who not coincidentally love nuclear power above all things, have, I believe, some sort of vague genealogical link.

It was a quite scene. Shouted interruptions at planned intervals from different parts of the hall. Staid Berkeley academics trying to engage them in earnest dialog. Shouts of "solar genocide." Even one outraged prof trying to get a (much younger and, frankly, dangerous looking) young thug to "take it outside."

The good news, such at it is: The ’60s, with venture capital! The bad news: Actually, it was the dark end-days of the ’60s.

The real bad news: Nick Stern is a reasonable gentleman. When he writes off the 2C target, it’s not because he doesn’t think it necessary (there’s an air of a guilty conscience about the Stern Review’s dismissal of true emergency climate goals), but because he thinks it counterproductive. Ask for what we really need and you wind up getting less — that sort of thing. It’s because he thinks that even holding the warming to 3C is going to be "very hard."

On this point, alas, I’ll have to agree.