Monthly Archives: December 2009

Kiran Stacey

Imagine you are Ed Miliband. You have just got back after an exhausting two weeks’ negotiation at Copenhagen and you did not sleep from Wednesday until Saturday. What’s the first thing you do? Pen an 870-word piece for the Guardian of course, giving your view on what went right and what went wrong.

I’m sure Mr Miliband had help with the article, but that doesn’t change how hard he has worked recently. In the first version of the history of the Copenhagen summit, he is one of the few that comes out well. That’s the view of John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, as well as The Telegraph’s Will Heaven.

After the confusion of the weekend, during which reporters and commentators, many of the highest profile of whom had not even been let in, tried to figure out what kind of a deal was in front of them, they now have the chance to analyse it in a more clear-headed way.

And the response has been surprisingly low-key on both sides of the debate. Even in the extremely sceptic Wall Street Journal, which might have been expected to congratulate China and America in not giving too much ground in compromising growth for emissions cuts, doesn’t seem particularly excited. While its editorial talks of “less tangible harm” and China’s “understandable” bargaining position, it is far from triumphalist in tone.

But in the States, the issue does not seem to have the punch it does in Europe and elsewhere. Even the liberal New York Times does not seem particularly het up about Copenhagen, and its response today is limited to a single fence-sitting editorial.

In fact, the US papers are taking a line not dissimilar to that of their Chinese counterparts. China Daily, the state-run English language newspaper, calls the meeting a “small but essential step”. language remarkably similar to that in the New York Times, which calls the agreement “not trivial”, saying “the hard work has only just begun”.

Commentary in the British papers has been more robust. Jonathan Porritt in The Times begins: “From Hopenhagen to fiascohagen in 12 dire days”, while the FT’s leader calls it a “dismal outcome”.

But possibly the best thing about the lack of any real global agreement on climate change is that politicians cannot simply spin their way out of it. Each one goes home knowing others at the summit are likely to break ranks and start telling the truth about what went on behind so many closed doors.

So when Ed Miliband accuses China and other countries of “holding out” on an agreement then maybe we can start to get past the platitudes on climate change and work out where each country really stands. As so many have suggested, from China to the US, at least it’s a start.

James Mackintosh

According to the stock market, apparently not. Paul Kedrosky has a very nice chart showing the US market, inflation-adjusted, over the past four recessions. Almost 27 months since the “Great Recession” started, the market has recovered from being the worst-ever performance, at its low point earlier this year, to be better (for investors) than after 1929, 1973 or 2000.

This is not, of course, because the markets had it wrong on the way down and now have it right. It is simply, as Kedrosky points out, that world governments have put so much taxpayer money to work that it has boosted asset prices. With the pain delayed – as all the stimulus has to be paid for – we should be even more wary than usual of assuming that the markets tell us anything much about our future wellbeing.

Kiran Stacey

The Telegraph
George Osborne, The threat of rising interest rates is a Greek tragedy we must avoid
Philip Johnston, Winter happens, let’s put up with it

The Guardian
Ed Miliband, The road from Copenhagen
Michael Tomasky, US healthcare: half a loaf is better than none at all

The Times
William Rees-Mogg, Heed the great stabiliser’s words on banking
Editorial: Failed state

The Independent
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The London Olympics are failing their racial promises
Editorial: Eurostar was not just a mechanical breakdown

The New York Times
Paul Krugman, A dangerous dysfunction
Edward Lu, Faster, Nasa, faster

The Wall Street Journal
Nigel Lawson, Time for plan B
Rachel Ehrenfeld, The British threat to American free speech

From the FT’s comment section:
Clive Crook: The honest case for a bungled healthcare reform
Max Hastings: The end of Britain’s long weekend
Kemal Dervis: Developing economies can help cure global imbalances
Editorial: Dismal outcome at Copenhagen fiasco
Editorial: Mexican reforms a boon for citizens
Money Matters blog: Lucy Warwick-Ching, Twelve ways of giving this Christmas
Global Insight: Alan Beatti, Bah, humbug. For rich nations, this is not the season for giving
: The agenda-setting column on business and finance

From the FT’s comment section:
Edward Luce: He’s not perfect but Obama deserves at least a B
Christopher Caldwell: Efficiency is no test for Trident
Ludovic Hunter-Tilney: Outside Edge: Rage against the wrong machine
Matthew Garrahan: Man in the News – James Cameron
Pilita Clark: Air travel: Delayed, not cancelled
Editorial: Uncertainty weighs on world economy
Editorial: Halo insurance
Editorial: Going bananas
Lex: The agenda-setting column on business and finance

James Mackintosh

Bored of Copenhagen? Find that even the prospect of an Obama speech to the Danes can’t make the endless debates exciting? Perhaps more on the hacked climategate emails will help. Patrick Michaels has been digging through them and, as one of the “sceptics” attacked by the climate scientists in the emails, has some revealing warnings. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Michaels documents the efforts made by scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, Penn State and Colorado’s University Corporation for Atmospheric Research to restrict the publication of peer-reviewed science.

Michaels describes their (successful) campaigns as “akin to filtering what goes in the bible”; if the scientists did what he said, that’s an accurate summary. Peer-reviewed publications are the canon of science, assumed to be true since the research has been checked by other scientists, who are generally a sceptical-minded bunch. Here’s what Michaels said:

Mr. Mann [at Penn State] called upon his colleagues to try and put Climate Research out of business. “Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal,” he wrote in one of the emails. “We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board.”

After Messrs. Jones [from East Anglia] and Mann threatened a boycott of publications and reviews, half the editorial board of Climate Research resigned. People who didn’t toe Messrs. Wigley, Mann and Jones’s line began to experience increasing difficulty in publishing their results.

A similar line, calling for a move beyond peer reviews, is taken by the (sceptical) Marshall Institute in its latest update.

When it comes to climate science, there may be a lack of sceptical publications in scientific journals, but there is no shortage in the newspapers or on the web. The WSJ alone has two more today: Peter Lilley, the Conservative MP, points to the parallels in “groupthink” between the climate change lobby and the millennium bug and Iraq war lobbies; and its misnamed Best of the Web launches fierce attacks on two rather pompously written AP articles on climate change, the role of “experts” and the danger of uninformed bloggers.

There has been no shortage of pointers to the theme of environmentalists refusing to listen even to the most reasoned and reasonable criticism (Mike Moore penned a piece drawing parallels between religious zealots and climate change zealots in the FT) but recently the focus has shifted to “official” channels suppressing debate.

The current approach of the environmental camp – ignore the sceptics, focus on scare stories for the public and politicians and try to brand any questioning as “denial” – is not going to work. It is true that it is hard to educate the public, let alone the media, on the science. But pretending that the only opposition comes from unreasonable publicity-seekers or from lobbyists in the pockets of the oil companies will not stifle the debate, and will make the environmental groups look like unscientific ranters as more people start to pay attention.

(As an aside, Skeptical Science does a great job at explaining the various myths around climate science, in plain English but with the full scientific papers referenced, and without the zealotry of most climate blogs)

From the FT’s comment section:
Philip Stephens: A global order swept away in the rapids of history
Martin Wolf: Why new challenges need new people
Guo Shuqing: Reforms that will help China maintain its growth
Gareth Evans and Yoriko Kawaguchi: A plan to eliminate nuclear weapons
John Gapper: How America let banks off the leash
Alexander Monro and Dana Denis-Smith: China taps into the heart of Turkmenistan’s gas fields
Editorial: Planning for death without disruption
Editorial: Adjust your sets
Editorial: Dealing with Iran
Global Insight: Quentin Peel, Russia aims to modernise without compromise
Market Insight: Gillian Tett, Secrets strengthen case for CDS exchange
Notebook: Jonathan Guthrie, Ruby rises from rock bottom
Lex: The agenda-setting column on business and finance

James Mackintosh

Back in the autumn of 2008, when bans on short-selling banks were slapped on hedge funds around the world, hedge fund Man Group was not happy. There was no ban on shorting the shares of the FTSE company, which remained one of the few financial stocks available for those wanting to bet against the sector. Not surprisingly, its shares tumbled.

Now it is seeing the benefits of not being a bank: no tax on its bonus payments. You win some, you lose some. I think Man got the better deal.

Kiran Stacey

The Independent
Steve Richards, The politics of ownership could define the next decade
Matthew Norman, Locking up children shames us

The Wall Street Journal
Oliver Debouzy, How to stop Iran
Gerald O’Driscoll, Obama vs the banks

The Times
Catherine Ashton, Quiet diplomacy will get our voice heard
George Walden, Hardliners realise Britain is a soft touch

The Guardian
Timothy Garton Ash, This parody of a nanny state helps neither children nor adults
George Monbiot, Mr Obama, here’s your Copenhagen speech

The Telegraph
Edmund Conway, There’s only one escape from our debt trap
Editorial: A positive vision from the chaos of Copenhagen

The New York Times
Editorial: Two days and counting
Gail Collins, Sorry Senator Kerry

James Mackintosh

By Matěj Baťha under creative commons license

Playing Settlers of Catan

For anyone still looking for a game to play at Christmas, I thoroughly recommend Settlers of Catan. It looks horribly complicated but is actually dead simple. According to my sister, who introduced the game to Kabul, it has been a hit with the expat community there, while the Wall Street Journal reports that it has “gone viral” in Silicon Valley, with the chief executives of Firefox producer Mozilla and of Linkedin playing Catan.

The game involves (peacefully) expanding your empire, blocking rivals and trading to boost your resources. Escapism in Afghanistan, but more of the same for the hard-driving techies of San Francisco.

FT dot comment

FT dot comment is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Politics, economics, high finance and morality – this blog addresses the issues being considered by the FT’s comment team, and their thoughts.

FT dot comment: a guide

Christopher Cook is an FT editorial writer. Before joining the FT in 2008 as a Peter Martin Fellow, he worked for three years for the Conservative party.

Lorien Kite is deputy comment editor, a post he took up in 2009 after four years as a commissioning editor on the analysis page. He joined the FT in 2000.

Ian Holdsworth became assistant features editor in 2009 and was previously chief production journalist for the features pages.