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Climate change scepticism is going mainstream

By Chris Ayres, UK Times

Well, that didn't take long, did it? After six months of economic hardship and one unusually chilly winter, it seems that Americans are beginning to conclude that perhaps global warming wasn't such a big deal after all. Blowing $30,000 on a solar roof doesn't seem such a great move these days. And for the price of a Toyota Prius you can now buy a three-bedroomed house in Detroit with enough left for a pick-up truck (this isn't a joke - the median house price in Motor City is $7,500).

The ranks of America's “climate sceptics” have been growing quietly for some months now. And at the weekend a watershed was reached: the usually left-wing New York Times put the British-born physicist Freeman Dyson on the front of its Sunday magazine. The article inside revealed that Professor Dyson - 85 years old and based in Princeton - not only possesses one of the finest noodles on Planet Earth, but also happens to think that most of what Al Gore and his band of Unmerry Men preach amounts to little more than yuppie self-loathing.

“All the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated,” is how Professor Dyson puts it. He adds that while it's true that human-caused carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are rising, the Earth is still going through a relatively cool period in its history, and that most of the evolution of life took place in a warmer era. Professor Dyson is also fond of pointing out that carbon dioxide helps plants to grow - so having too much of the stuff hanging around might not be such a bad thing.

Out in the blogotwittersphere, the Greens can hardly believe that the same media that once helped Mr Gore to win both an Oscar and a Nobel prize are now promoting such heresy. To make matters more infuriating, Professor Dyson isn't even a conservative: he's a left-wing, Obama-voting, peace-marching, boho-academic genius who argues that coal-produced electricity has liberated millions in China from poverty, and that “greens are people who've never had to worry about grocery bills”.

I suspect that, as we all get used to our relative poverty over coming months and as it becomes politically impossible for President Obama to bankrupt power stations and impose carbon tariffs on imports, such scepticism will become ever more mainstream. Only last week a suggestion by California to outlaw black cars because they absorb too much heat and therefore require too much air conditioning was met with almost universal ridicule. All of which is both satisfying and unsettling - satisfying to see debate triumph over heavy-handedness, but unsettling because even if what Mr Gore was peddling was a lie, it was a convenient one, in that it seemed to be finally weaning the US off Saudi oil.

Still, honesty is always the best way.

And in America at least, it's always so much more appealing when delivered by an awkward Brit.

Don't let it bug you

One of Professor Dyson's most laughed-at theories is that “super trees” could be genetically altered to absorb hundreds of times more carbon dioxide than normal trees. Granted, it's a bit out-there. On the other hand, I'm reminded of a laboratory I visited up in Silicon Valley last summer at the height of the $147-a-barrel oil crisis, where scientists had worked out how to genetically modify bugs - single-cell yeast bacteria, to be precise - so that they would excrete a substance pretty much identical to crude oil.

Now surely, if they can make fuel out of bug poo...

Terminal madness

California's decision not to ban black cars should by no means reassure anyone that the Golden State is now run by sane people. Quite the opposite: today, as governments try to prevent deflationary death-spirals by pumping vast sums of cash into their economies, Arnold Schwarzenegger will raise statewide sales tax (ie, VAT) to more than 10 per cent in some areas, thus ensuring that even more people and businesses flee to Nevada. Meanwhile, at a gun amnesty event last week, the Governor continued to compare himself with a fictional cyborg. “The Terminator let himself down into the molten steel and he melted and he just kind of wanted to terminate himself to stop the violence and that is, uh, what this is all about,” he said.

Finally, I think that he might have stumbled upon a good idea: the terminator needs to terminate himself (from office), for the good of us all.