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Tide is turning on climate change

GOOD news for the tourist industry. The UK's Met Office calculates that next year will be the warmest since records began in 1860. Time to dig out those bathing suits after a succession of washed-out summers. True, it also said that 2007 would be the warmest on record, and in the end -- oops -- it wasn't. Even so, the announcement ought to be manna from heaven for climate-change campaigners, especially at a time when world leaders have gathered in Copenhagen to put the finishing touches to the latest treaty to tackle global warming.

So why, with so much going their way, are climate-change campaigners looking shaky right now? Partly it's because of the release of hacked emails from the University of East Anglia which suggested that some of the world's leading climate-change researchers may have taken liberties with their data.

Equally significant is the fact that climate-change sceptics have finally got their act together and started presenting their case more eloquently than ever before, posing uncomfortable questions about the often dodgy methodology employed by the climate-change industry.

Politically, the tide is turning, too. American conservatives, tired of being the one-dimensional stage villains in a pantomime written and directed by global-warming campaigners, are fighting back against efforts to put a cap on growth; while in Australia, a government bill on carbon trading was defeated in parliament, and the leader of the opposition Liberal Party, who had supported the bill, was forced out and replaced by a vocal climate-change sceptic. Other Australian sceptics, such as geologist Ian Plimer, a recent guest on a lively edition of Pat Kenny's radio show, and fellow geologist Cliff Ollier have headed to Copenhagen to put the case against man-made global warming directly to the policy-makers. Opinion polls suggest that support for such views is growing fast.

Naturally, climate-change advocates are crying foul. They're not used to being challenged so vigorously. Their real problem, however, is not illegally intercepted emails or an outbreak of scientific ignorance among the general public. It is that they exhibit such a hysterical hostility to what can be broadly called the western way of life that once they get into their rhetorical stride, it is hard not to see the whole movement which they represent as a sort of Trojan horse, sneaking old-style leftist social engineering past the gate in disguise.

It's surely no coincidence that environmentalism as a political movement only really hit its stride just as communism was collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. The workers couldn't bring down capitalism, the thinking seemed to be, but maybe the whales and polar bears could.

In fact, listening to climate-change campaigners rant about the evils of industrial development, you can't help suspecting that, even if technological solutions were to be found which allowed consumerism and production to continue at the same rate with no adverse effect on the climate, the global warmers would be disappointed rather than relieved, because the real enemy is not CO2 emissions, but capitalism itself. The agenda is one of moralistic reform of imperfect human nature rather than a disinterested concern for the ecosystem of the planet.

These misanthropic Luddites have been predicting doom and gloom for humanity since the invention of the wheel -- and, reassuringly, they've always been wrong. Far from wrecking the world, human beings have generally made life progressively better for one another, but the miserablists still can't find a good word to say about their fellow man. Instead, they declare grumpily that Armaggedon has been postponed, not cancelled.

They're certainly going to have to work harder than this to convince people that slowing down their economies is the answer to whatever future problems face the climate, especially when a decelerating economy hasn't exactly been a terrific experience for most of us in Ireland over the past couple of years. Even at our most graspingly capitalistic during the Celtic Tiger years, we were responsible for only 0.2 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases. And for this we should face higher energy costs, even more unemployment, limits on growth, and, of course, lots of shiny new taxes to make us mend our sinful ways?

No wonder increasing numbers of people find themselves attracted to the alternatives. Tony Abbott, Australia's new opposition leader, summed it up best: "I don't say there aren't problems, but I refuse to be terrified of the future. The world has been significantly hotter and significantly colder than it is today. We've coped."

We've coped: now there's a narrative to inspire rather than depress. But then optimism will always trump pessimism, because optimism is about hope, and that's integral to human nature, too. As is not wanting to be landed with an estimated €36trn bill to prevent something that might not happen anyway.

And you thought €4bn in cuts was a tall order?

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