Chimneys are smoking, smoke is over D±browa…  

Andrzej Koraszewski 2017-11-20

Climate is a serious issue. I’m not a specialist, I just live in a climate, I breathe, I read, I feel climate. In my childhood I was taught a poem about smoking chimneys, and these chimneys were supposed to fill me with pride. The chimneys indeed were smoking, it was more and more difficult to breathe, but for some unexplained reason there were no more goods in the shops. Newspapers explained it by mainly pointing to the guilt of capitalism, and at home I got the explanation that that’s the way socialism works: it just smokes and that’s it.

Chimneys are smoking, smoke is over D±browa,

over Sosnowiec, ŁódĽ, over ¦l±sk,
they are smoking festively, they are smoking anew,
trains go incessantly through Poland
Tractors go, they have been going since dawn,
anvils are ringing, machines are
The Polish People’s Republic is growing.

Chimneys are smoking! Chimneys are smoking!


There was secret talk that people lived better under capitalism, from which one should have drawn the conclusion that chimneys smoked more there. Various things have collapsed, and now we know with absolute certainty that all the rest is going to collapse because of smoking chimneys. We have global warming and assurances that this global warming is a punishment for smoking chimneys.

Global Warming is a fact, the sin of smoking is a fact as well; apparently you can argue about the link between sinning and warming. But arguing about a link between a sin and an alleged punishment for sins is never welcomed. We are sinners, we like to feel guilty, and our feeling of guilt is sometimes slickly used by politicians, and not only politicians. We have in our hands irrefutable facts: the temperature is rising and we are smoking. Some say that once upon a time we didn’t smoke and the climate still changed; people suspected changeable solar activity, and scientists discovered that when it comes to climate, the oceans are doing all sorts of things that no normal human would suspect them of, so when you are not a specialist you probably ought to shut up. But the climate surrounding climate prompts some questions. Some questions are asked by people who allegedly are specialists, and then others who are also specialists (and those who write about specialists) are shouting at them intemperately and calling them the worst names. And here a question arises: where did this hot climate of discussion come from and who warmed it so?

Let’s look at it through the eyes of a layman, an observer of the discussion, who doesn’t have a chance to decide who in this argument is right, but who knows that the choice of reaction to global warming will have serious consequences for the fate of the world.      

If fears that our energy consumption is threatening humanity are justified, we should radically cut down the consumption of energy, but this will diminish our capacity to produce food, deliver health care, build homes and roads; it will lower standards of living on Earth, which will hit the poorest people the hardest. If, in spite of all this, such action will turn out to be ineffective (either because warming is not linked to emissions produced by humans as closely as we are told, or because this type of action has very low effectiveness), it can happen that we will invest astronomical sums of money, we will deeply harm millions of people, and we will not gain anything while forfeiting the possibility of protecting ourselves against the effects of warming we couldn’t prevent. That’s how the Copenhagen Consensus led by Bjorn Lomborg presents this dilemma: arguing that the strategy of defence against the effects of warming would be more effective than the so far totally ineffective attempts to stop it.  

This reasoning seems interesting and it is certainly worth making oneself familiar with it in details that are not based on pure feelings but on very meticulous calculations. Because the discussion about climate has become a clash of ideology, even a very wise friend of mine informed me that he would not be familiarising himself with these details because he “read that Lomborg is a denier”.

A sociologist has to wonder how it happened that even people who are otherwise rational, who in a discussion about anything else would ferociously exclaim that an argument from authority is no argument at all, eagerly commit this fallacy here. If I do not have any qualifications to independently decide in the dispute about the degree to which greenhouse gases produced by humans cause global warming but I see that the question alone triggers a blockade of rational thinking, it’s worth asking the next question: how did this climate of discussion get so hot? Can this feverishness have something to do with politics? There is no firm proof, but there is an intriguing sequence of events.

In 1925 in the Swedish town of Nyköping a boy was born who was named Bert. The same year in the English town of Grantham a girl was born who was named Margaret. The boy became a scientist and was working in meteorology; the girl studied chemistry but she became Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979 when the Labour government lost its battle with the unions, especially with the coal miners. This struggle was connected to the catastrophe caused by the decision in1973 of the OPEC states to limit the extraction of crude oil, after which there followed a dramatic rise in the price of this raw material and a collapse of the car industry, the ship industry, and a few more. At the same time there was an “economic miracle” in Japan and a few other Asian tigers, i.e. Asian countries learned how to manufacture complex products of good quality but much cheaper, and undermined the monopoly enjoyed for this type of product by Western countries. Workers (and especially the union officials representing them) had trouble understanding that it was not capitalists who were pocketing the money but a reality that had changed dramatically. The model of financing pay rises and social benefit rises with the profits from exports stopped working, but union leaders believed that they could force it to work through strikes and protests. The loudest and most violent were the miners’ protests. 

Did the so called “third way” turn out to be a blind alley? It depends on how we define it. If we define it as a combination of efficient capitalism and a welfare state, we can rather say that on the expressway a diversion sign appeared and we turned into a side road full of potholes and cobblestones. To regain the efficiency of capitalism, new leaders were needed. In the U.S. Ronald Reagan appeared, in Britain Margaret Thatcher. Besides medicines administered for strengthening the weakened competitiveness of the Western economy, a shock therapy was needed in the form of the defanging and declawing of unions (and especially the mighty miners’ union). Even earlier, Margaret Thatcher was a fan of nuclear power stations and now, when she was a Prime Minister, she saw that nuclear energy could end the tyranny of miners once and for all.

Meanwhile, the Swedish scientist Bert Bolin was working in Sweden and in America. He was fascinated by the new technology of computer models and satellite pictures, and he proposed a theory that humans are mostly responsible for climate change. Climatologists treated his revelations with scepticism, believing that he was exaggerating one factor and ignoring all the rest. Reportedly Margaret Thatcher read about his theory and asked British experts to have a look at it. Of course, she never suggested what the result should be, but because substantial governmental funds were earmarked for checking just this theory, the adherents of it grabbed the grants, and that seems absolutely understandable.

Margaret Thatcher’s strategy was wise and effective. Instead of attacking miners, one should attack coal, and miners will stop being a problem as, so to speak, a by-product. The fear of warming would lessen the fear of nuclear energy and, of course, if we stopped producing so much smoke the environment would be cleaner as well. Nothing but advantages all around.

The guilt of humans, and especially of greedy capitalists, appealed also to people on the Left, who always took the firm position that it was better to die of hunger than to watch day after day as the baker became richer. The Soviet Union lost its appeal, Mao died, Deng betrayed Party ideals, and the vision of smoke generated by humans appeared like a sun on the horizon. 

There are more people of the Left in the media than in science, and if that were not enough it was just this historical moment when media tycoons took over mainstream newspapers and built private TV stations, and for media tycoons journalistic accuracy is a far greater sin than generating smoke, and the guilt of humans generating smoke sells a hundred times better than the influences of the sun, oceans, and volcanoes all put together.

The Left eagerly followed in Mrs. Thatcher’s footsteps, and soon the financial outlays on the science of climate changed from millions to billions. The more serious the problem became the less seriously it was discussed. Computer models, invariably predicting the Apocalypse, gave rise to doubts; rapture over the propaganda of fear gave rise to doubts, the refusal to reassess the level of influence on warming  of greenhouse gases generated by humans was worrying, but the greatest doubts were about the assurances that it was possible to stop the emission of CO2 by appeals (mainly directed to poor countries) to stop energy-intensive development and trust that renewable energy would successfully replace traditional sources of energy.

Margaret Thatcher went on the warpath against the unions in 1983. Generous grants for climate research were here just one of the subchapters, but they had greater consequences than many other things. In1988 an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) affiliated to the U.N. was established and it was headed by Bert Bolin, the scientist who believed that global warming is due to the almost exclusive guilt of humans and equally firmly believed that computer models are fortune-tellers who are never wrong. 

Much water has flowed down the Vistula River since then. There was the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement, and a few more spectacular meetings from which a careful observer could draw the conclusion that the prospect of stopping global warming looks rather doubtful. Chimneys are smoking, the only country which substantially lowered its emissions is the United States, which to a great degree went over to gas-powered stations (thanks to new technologies of extracting shale gas). The development of renewable energy would probably be much faster if not for subventions which make uneconomic technologies profitable. Doubts about the predictions based on computer models are growing, but both in the case that they are accurate (i.e. there will be real significant rise in temperature and in the level of oceans) and in the case of much lower rises of temperature than the models predict, there is a risk that future generations will say that we were unable to discuss seriously a very serious matter.

Translated by Małgorzata Koraszewska and Sarah Lawson