Both found the energy choices being made today unrealistic. "Wind power would only ever be marginal," agreed Giddens.
Lawson was typically dismissive of the LibDems' position - that nuclear power must receive no subsidy, but that wind power would be allowed "massive and exorbitant subsidies … it's a curious prejudice that leads to this doctrine". Wind power is really as carbon intensive as anything conventional, because it needs fossil fuels as a backup for when the wind doesn't blow - a point Giddens acknowledged. Lawson pointed out the pioneers of wind power had all stopped: Denmark, Spain and now Germany - as all had to admit it didn't make sense. Giddens sort of agreed:
"The knock-on effects were complicated, but wind had not paid back the investment. There was a net cost to the German economy". Giddens thought money would be better spent researching other areas - such as energy storage. Lawson agreed - it had been almost thirty years since he'd been energy minister, and there had been no progress in energy storage since then.
In response to the concerns raised by retired engineer Bill McAuley, editor of Imperial Engineer, Lawson regretted that the carbon obsession was crowding out other research, even environmental research. Lawson told the story of a researcher who wanted to look into the issue of toxic waste, but was told he wouldn't get funding unless he could find a connection to climate change. Of course, there was no connection, and he didn't get his funding. Additional concerns were raised about the costs for industry and business. These rarely get a look-in on mainstream environmental coverage.
An environmental lawyer rose to his feet and attempted a grand summing up. Couldn't we all conclude, he claimed, that everyone agreed on one thing: that we all had to lower carbon consumption, and without pausing for punctuation, he continued that we would then need global legislation to enforce this, and "international courts" too.
Imagine - a lawyer calling for international eco-courts. Think of the air miles for environmental lawyers!
That's what you call chutzpah, and you don't really pull one like this over on Nigel Lawson. He thanked the lawyer for his creative interpretation, but said it didn't reflect his position at all.
And all too soon, the debate had to end.
One thought that occurred to me, listening to the mitigation vs adaptation argument, was much how the label "denier" betrays an almost existentialist fear. The adaptationists' argument is powerful precisely because it illuminates a fatal weakness in the approach that environmentalists had adopted throughout the past 15 years, and which until recently. had been so successful. The Achilles heel is the presumption that "the science" dictates "the policy", and we must all accept their (mitigation) policies without question.
Adaptation is a very well-aimed bullet indeed: if you shoot the "scientific" case, or merely question the logic, then the whole cut-carbon mitigation strategy loses its justification. And it isn't just the specific policies but perhaps an entire belief system and world view that dies with it. ®