THE only event comparable with the international fixation on climate change was that scam on which billions were spent to ensure the world would keep running after the end of the last millennium.

As the seconds ticked down, those involved in the Y2K non-phenomenon looked around anxiously, then nodded sagely when nothing happened (which they knew all along), and happily reviewed their bulging cheque accounts.

This time the scam is built on something that is happening, and that makes it all the harder to counteract. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, climate change is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity.

I have reservations about that. This is a violent planet, shaken by meteor storms, bombarded by asteroids, subjected to cosmic rays, rent by shifts in its tectonic plates and subjected to convulsive volcanic activity. Climate change was around billions of years before humans. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change now agrees that probably at least half of the warming that has been observed (up to the mid-1990s) is natural.

But the scaremongering about it and its anthropogenic nature has created a new industry, mostly reserved for scientists, and populated on its fringes by crackpots. Many lies have been told — and many have been exposed. Unfortunately, we are gripped by a universal hysteria. Given the human propensity to delude ourselves, this is hardly surprising. Reversing it in the age of instant communications will probably require another global, pretentious calamity-in-the-making.

Climate change has also come as a godsend to national treasuries, South Africa is at the forefront. Its first paper on carbon tax came out of Pretoria in 2010. In May this year we got the carbon tax policy paper, all 91 pages of it to justify this new tax.

As I put it to Treasury deputy director-general Ismail Momoniat last week, the Treasury is forever seeking new ways of imposing taxes on an unwilling citizenry. He denied it, but then he would, wouldn’t he?

The trouble with a carbon tax is that it will impose yet further strain on the economy and, what’s more, it is constructed on a false premise. Where is the vast increase in temperatures we were told was on its way; worse, was already here? On the contrary, there is now sufficient evidence that points at a cessation of warming in the mid-1990s.

There is plenty of data that fingers chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as the primary cause of the "hole" in the ozone layer (which protects life by absorbing ultraviolet light). From the 1930s, CFCs were used in fridges, aerosol sprays, propellants, degreasing solvents and other things. When CFCs reach the stratosphere, they break up, releasing chlorine, which promotes ozone destruction. The ban imposed by the Montreal Protocol (1989) has enabled the ozone layer to begin repairing itself.

By and large, carbon gets the rough end of the stick in all this. It is lumped in with all nasty greenhouse gases, yet carbon is an essential food for all plants, and the significantly increased quantity now in circulation has contributed meaningfully to a perceived "greening" of deserts.

Making grandiose commitments to the misplaced fight against climate change ignores our irrelevance in the scheme of things, and that what we can contribute is so small as to be almost meaningless.

It will, nevertheless, cost the economy disproportionately.

For example, though the Treasury refers approvingly to Australia’s recently introduced carbon tax, it has left that country with the world’s highest carbon price. The new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, now wants to ditch the tax his own party pushed through last year. Is this the example we seek to follow?


FORMER Anglo American CE Cynthia Carroll was dedicated to the use of the Gulfstream corporate jet. Some commentators thought she overused this nice-to-have toy.

But new CE Mark Cutifani is having none of it. I hear he’s either sold the aircraft or intends to. Given that he’s on a stringent cost-cutting exercise, this makes eminent sense.

Corporate culture takes its lead from the top, and demonstrating he’s not exempt from his own rules is a good place to start.


Water: what was actually written

I WROTE at length last week about the new power station, Medupi, and the possibility that it might face genuine water constraints in the future. Were that so, it would obviously affect a range of economic activities.

I have also received a number of calls and e-mails concerning the numbers I quoted in the column, and Eskom’s GM for water and environmental operations, Nandha Govender, took issue with me in a letter to the editor. What I have found, however, is that there’s a sharp difference between what I wrote and what some think I wrote.

Govender said the first phase of the Mokolo Crocodile River Water Augmentation Project is the construction of a 43km pipeline, not the 100km I quoted. But I didn’t mention the first phase. I wrote about the project and its 100km pipeline, which is correct. He also said it would cost R2.14bn, not the R15bn I quoted. Again, I was writing about the project as a whole, and R15bn is the amount referenced in Engineering News (June 29 2012).

I am rebuked for using the Mokolo Dam’s full supply as 44-billion litres, when Govender says it is actually 145-billion litres. The figure I used comes from an Eskom article published as part of the South Africa Water, Energy & Food Forum in 2011.

Much of the information I quoted was from a paper published in the Journal of Energy in Southern Africa (Vol 23, No 4, Nov 2012) by James Blignaut. Govender paid no attention to the arguments set out by Blignaut, much to my disappointment.

And I did omit to mention that I am told there will also be a transfer from the Hartbeespoort Dam to supplement the water supply to Medupi. I haven’t discovered what quantity this will account for.