Retired NHS nurse died of Hepatitis after blundering hospital staff infected her with dirty throat probe
Third-world level of hygeine
A retired NHS nurse died after surgeons used a dirty ultrasound throat probe to examine her heart – infecting her with Hepatitis B, an inquest heard yesterday. Grandmother Nancy Lane, 68, contracted the deadly blood infection from the ultra-sound throat probe known as a ‘magic eye’ after it was used on another infected patient moments earlier. The magic eye probe had not been properly sterilised – and Hepatitis B was passed to Mrs Lane.
The inquest ruled former health visitor – who worked for the NHS for more than 30 years – died as a result of inadequate decontamination at Morriston Hospital in Swansea.
Her family yesterday told how they were ‘devastated’ by her tragic death. A spokesman said: ‘Nancy dedicated herself to the NHS, she worked for the NHS and had total trust in the people and organisation looking after her. ‘We feel that she has been completely let down.’
Mother-of-two Mrs Lane was making a good recovery after heart surgery and was ‘living life to the full’.
But she was readmitted two months after her operation when health chiefs at Morriston Hospital realised there was a risk from the probe.
Mrs Lane, of Aberdare, South Wales, died of acute liver failure three months after her heart operation. Following her death a post mortem examination revealed she had contracted hepatitis B, which caused her death.
Dr Bruce Ferguson, medical director for Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, told the inquest Mrs Lane had received a heart valve replacement.
He said: ‘During the operation it is common practice to use a transoesophageal echocardiogram (TOE) probe to monitor the heart.
‘The probe was covered in a protective sheath while in use and inspected and cleaned with a disinfectant wipe after the operation. ‘There were no national guidelines outlining the correct decontamination process of the probes at the time of Mrs Lane’s operation in March.’
Coroner Louise Hunt recorded a narrative verdict that Mrs Lane caught hepatitis B because of failures in decontaminating an ultra-sound probe.
Ms Hunt said: ‘The likely source of the virus was probably the probe that had not been cleaned enough. ‘In my view the changes introduced since the death of Mrs Lane are sufficient to avoid similar incidents in the future.’
The hospital apologised unreservedly to Mrs Lane’s family and friends, admitting it had not provided a high standard of care.
An independent report later made 32 recommendations to improve standards at the 750-bed NHS hospital.
But Mrs Lane’s family claim that dirty and even bloody instruments were being used on patients at the hospital two months later.
The spokesman said: ‘We were told that the Health Board had made changes following notification of her death in June 2011. ‘But in August 2011 when the Review Panel attended the hospital they identified items of equipment reported to be clean and ready for use which were visibly contaminated, often with blood.
‘We accept that some changes have been implemented, but we feel that not all the issues behind hospital infections have been addressed such as poor and inadequate training.
‘All Health Boards should make sure that staff training, as well as facilities in place, are fit for purpose so that staff can carry out high quality infection control, cleaning and decontamination.’
Mrs Lane’s family has asked the Welsh Government to hold a public inquiry into the management of infection control at the hospital.
Their solicitor Stephen Webber said: “This has been a tragic event for the Lane family and has brought to light serious issues within the NHS.
‘The evidence showed that before Mrs Lane’s operation the procedures in place were inadequate, including the cleaning of the probe, training, and the culture as a whole.
‘Some changes have been made, but the NHS needs to be vigilant. ‘A formal review should take place in 12 months to ensure all changes have been implemented and infection control procedures are safe.’
Cotton wool culture is damaging our children says British Health and Safety Executive
But didn’t their rules and regulations create problem in the first place?
A ‘Cotton wool culture’ has eroded children’s freedom to play outdoors, health and safety watchdogs admitted yesterday. They say a blizzard of regulations is being used as an excuse to deny children scope for fun.
The statement, by the Play Safety Forum and the Health and Safety Executive, was condemned as ironic, as HSE rules and regulations are blamed by many for creating the culture in the first place.
But critics said they hoped it marked a turning point and the start of a more commonsense approach to what constitutes danger. Warning that play had become ‘sterile’, they insisted children must be allowed to learn about risk.
The HSE said health and safety laws were being ‘wrongly cited’ as a reason to deny children play opportunities.
The statement cited ‘shocking’ ICM research that half of children aged seven to 12 are not allowed to climb a tree without an adult present and that one in five children in the same age group have been banned from playing conkers.
It said children should be exposed to a degree of risk to help prepare them for the ‘realities’ of daily life, where ‘risk is ever-present’.
Councils, schools, charities and other providers should use ‘sensible adult judgments’ instead of allowing misplaced fears of prosecution to rid play spaces of fun and challenge.
‘When planning and providing play opportunities, the goal is not to eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits,’ it says.
‘No child will learn about risk if they are wrapped in cotton wool.’ The approach accepts that the possibility of ‘serious or life-threatening injuries cannot be eliminated’ – only managed.
While some risks are unacceptable, such as poor maintenance of equipment, a degree of controlled risk allows children to ‘reap the benefits of play’. It is wrong to believe that ‘mistakes and accidents will not happen’.
The HSE’s admission follows numerous examples over the years of the absurd lengths officials have gone to to avoid litigation. They include bans on conker games in case they cause nut allergies or requiring children to wear protective goggles while playing.
Over-zealous safety clampdowns have seen climbing frames, see-saws, swings, roundabouts and slides ripped out of playgrounds.
Officials have also been accused of scrapping equipment altogether when only minor modifications were needed. The welter of rules mean many childhoods are more sheltered than a generation ago.
‘Accidents and mistakes happen during play – but fear of litigation and prosecution has been blown out of proportion,’ the statement says. ‘In the case of the most serious failures of duty, prosecution rightly remains a possibility, and cannot be entirely ruled out.
‘However, this possibility does not mean play providers should eliminate even the most trivial of risks.
‘Provided sensible and proportionate steps have been taken, it is highly unlikely there would be any breach of health and safety law involved, or that it would be in the public interest to bring a prosecution.’
Robin Sutcliffe of the Play Safety Forum, an umbrella group for organisations involved in children’s play, said: ‘This will be a landmark statement, helping councils, schools, charities and others to give children and young people greater freedom to experience challenging and adventurous play and leisure opportunities.
‘The implications for society will be far reaching and my thanks go to the HSE for embracing this concept and working with PSF so positively.’
HSE chairman Judith Hackitt said: ‘Health and safety laws are often wrongly cited as a reason to deny children opportunities, contributing to a cotton wool culture.’
Frozen embryos better for IVF treatment
Surprising but there’s some logic to it
Using frozen embryos in all IVF treatments rather than as a last resort could lower the risk to both mother and baby, a study claims.
Babies which grow from frozen embryos are less likely to be born preterm or underweight and have a lower risk of dying in the days after their birth, a study found.
Using embryos which have been frozen and then thawed, rather than being implanted shortly after being created, also reduced the risk of bleeding in the mother during pregnancy.
Researchers said the increased reliability of frozen embryos could be down to the delay between removing the eggs from the mother and implanting it back in the mother after fertilisation.
In IVF treatment, doctors stimulate the ovaries to produce a number of eggs, and remove and fertilise them all. The healthiest-looking ones are implanted three to six days later, and the remainder are frozen for future use.
Fresh embryos can be implanted a matter of days after they are removed from the mother, meaning the lining her womb may not have fully recovered from the invasive procedure and could be damaged, researchers said.
The fact that only the healthiest embryos survive the freezing and thawing process could also increase the likelihood of the pregnancy going according to plan, it was claimed.
Previous studies have suggested that drugs used to stimulate egg production which would still be circulating in the mother’s body at that stage could have a harmful effect on the pregnancy.
Existing research has also shown there is no difference in pregnancy rate whether fresh or frozen embryos are used.
Experts from Aberdeen University reviewed 11 previous studies which followed more than 37,000 pregnancies from implantation of either fresh or thawed embryos to birth.
When frozen embryos were used, there was a 30 per cent lower risk of bleeding during pregnancy, 30 to 40 per cent less chance of the baby being born underweight, 20 per smaller risk of it being born preterm and 20 per cent less likelihood of it dying shortly after birth.
The study by Dr Abha Maheshwari of Aberdeen University was published in the Fertility Sterility journal and will be presented at the British Science Festival in Aberdeen today (TUES).
Speaking ahead of the festival Dr Maheshwari said: “We found pregnancies arising from the transfer of frozen thawed embryos seem to have better outcomes both for mothers and babies when compared to those after fresh embryo transfer.”
Although no changes in fertility practice should be made until the study’s findings have been backed up by a controlled trial, the findings could one day lead to a shift in clinical practice to improve the chance of success at the first attempt, she added.
“Our results question whether one should consider freezing all embryos and transfer them at a later date rather than transferring fresh embryos. This represents a major paradigm shift in assisted reproduction.
“We are all very aware that a postcode lottery still exists [in NHS fertility treatment]. Most clinics only provide one cycle and that does not include the frozen treatment, only the fresh treatment.”
Vindictive British police imprison home defender
It is very unlikely that he will be convicted of anything so why was he arrested, let alone held in police cells? Like a Los Angeles street gang, the police were just protecting their “turf”. They don’t want anyone else doing the job that they have failed to do
A businessman arrested for allegedly shooting two burglars was “living in fear” after police failed to catch thieves who had broken into his secluded cottage three times previously, according to his family.
Andy Ferrie and his wife Tracey were released last night after being held for almost three days on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm but remained on police bail.
It came as two men from Leicester, aged 27 and 33, were charged with burglary. They are due to appear before magistrates in Loughborough today.
Gill Walker, Mr Ferrie’s aunt, said he would have been “suffering immensely” after being held in custody.
She said the 35–year–old, who runs a caravan and motorhome repair service in rural Leicestershire, was constantly worried that his home would be targeted after police failed to catch burglars who struck three times before.
She told The Daily Telegraph: “Andrew is a placid and calm person. He is extremely hard–working and someone who is just trying to keep his head above water like any other decent law–abiding person.
“His home has been burgled three times before and I know they were living in fear of it happening again. No one was ever caught as far as I know and it is in such a remote location that they made an easy target.
“It is disgusting that he has even been arrested, let alone been held for this long.
He has never been in trouble with the police and will be suffering immensely being locked up. He does not deserve this.”
John Towell, Mrs Ferrie’s stepfather, told a newspaper: “Shoot their legs? I’d have blown their bloody heads off. Four of them came in. Andy and Tracey did what anyone would have done.”
Mr Towell said the law should now be changed to protect property owners acting to defend themselves in burglaries.
Mr Ferrie’s other aunt, Kathleen Merry, said: “Living in such an isolated place, had made them an easy target for thieves. He and his wife want to go to Australia but with this hanging over them they might be refused entry. His life could be ruined because someone else came into his home and tried to burgle him.”
The couple were arrested just after midnight on Sunday when Mr Ferrie rang police to report that some people had broken into their house in Welby, near Melton Mowbray.
He told officers he had grabbed the legally owned shotgun the couple possessed and fired it at the burglars.
Mr Ferrie and his wife, 45, who is believed to hold a gun licence, were arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm after two of the suspected burglars were taken to hospital suffering gunshot wounds.
By yesterday afternoon, both men had been released from hospital and were later charged by police. Two alleged accomplices aged 23 and 31 were bailed pending further inquiries.
The Ferries’ case has reopened the debate about the rights of householders to use force against intruders.
The couple have been supported by Alan Duncan, their local MP and a Government minister, who said they were the real victims and it would be a crime if they were prosecuted for defending their home.
Earlier this year, ministers said they would clarify the law to make it clear that anyone who uses reasonable force to repel an intruder will not be punished.
Leftists attack free speech
A tiny EDL march in London would have been insignificant were it not for the OTT response of left-wing groups
The fewer English Defence League supporters that can be mobilised for a demo, it seems, the more left-wing campaigners feel the need to go out and counter them. On Saturday, there were about 150 far-right EDL members marching in Walthamstow, London. But that didn’t stop a counter-protest 20 times this size taking place in an attempt to ‘crush’ the EDL.
One thing that never seems to cross anti-EDL campaigners’ minds is what it would be like if the EDL was simply allowed to march without obstruction. The EDL did little to no mobilisation in Waltham Forest, the borough in which Walthamstow sits – it was the ‘We Are Waltham Forest’ anti-EDL campaigners who spent almost two months fliering, putting up posters, holding meetings, getting people to sign petitions, knocking on doors and running stalls in Walthamstow town centre.
Without the efforts of We Are Waltham Forest, 150 EDL members would have turned up on the bleak crossroads by Blackhorse Road station, and trudged for a mile or two towards their planned rallying point at Walthamstow Town Hall, causing minimal disruption. Walking along the largely empty Forest Road, they would have appeared slightly daft and pathetic. Indeed, for much of the route, with their ‘Allah is a paedo’ banners and feamongering chants drawing the attention of only a handful of passersby, that is exactly how they came across. (They really only came snarling to life when spurred on by anti-fascist protesters and photographers who were following the protest from a safe distance on the other side of the road.)
But the idea that the EDL could march unchallenged would be anathema to anti-fascist campaigners who are convinced they are witnessing the birth of a neo-Nazi party, or an angry swarm of Anders Breiviks-in-the-making. Indeed, many wanted the march banned altogether, with local Labour MP Stella Creasy leading the call. At a special meeting last month, she said of the EDL: ‘When they talk about marching on any day, it’s a no go for me. That’s a point when our welcome draws a line in the sand and says no.’
‘When you come with those views’, she continued, ‘when you come with that vision of our local community, it’s not what we expect, it’s not representative, and it’s not what we will accept’. Evidently for Creasy, and the hundreds of people whose views she claimed to represent, only people with the ‘right’ views are welcome in Waltham Forest. Lib-Con home secretary Theresa May and the police ignored the request for a ban, however, and the EDL’s march went ahead.
Some anti-EDL campaigners saw fit to attack May as a result. One furious campaigner started screaming hysterically at the police, who were keeping him apart from the EDL march: ‘It’s Theresa May’s fault, it’s her fault, how could she let them come here?’ One seller of a left-wing newspaper was challenged by a photographer about why he wanted the EDL banned. Are you not in favour of free speech and democracy?, he was asked. ‘Fundamentally, I’m against fascism’, he responded.
The idea that the left can gain unity through being against the EDL – perceived to be the twenty-first century frontline of fascism – was pushed by speakers and protesters. One prominent left-wing blogger tweeted: ‘The stereotype that the British left are best at mobilising AGAINST things is truest… when it comes to resisting fascism.’
For all the bravado about ‘smashing’ the EDL, and chants comparing it to the Nazis and ‘stringing them up like Mussolini’, when the anti-EDL protesters got a chance to take on the individuals who share the ‘same hatred’ as Anders Breivik, they did, erm, nothing. With the EDL march diverted down side streets due to a ‘sit down’ protest by anti-fascist groups, the EDL’s leaders – including founders Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll – found themselves surrounded by about 500 anti-EDL protesters. Robinson took the opportunity to mock the crowds through a loudspeaker system, asking questions along the lines of: ‘If the sun didn’t set during Ramadan, would you rather starve than eat?’
Despite the EDL leadership being outnumbered 100 to 1 by protesters, and buffered by just a handful of policemen, all the protesters did was chant, ‘if it wasn’t for the coppers, you’d be dead’ (to the tune of ‘She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain’). Their failure to act rather gave the lie to the idea that they genuinely believe Robinson and his cronies to be the new Nazis. The Battle of Cable Street this wasn’t. The anti-fascist protest was exposed not as a groundswell of community members, willing to take to the streets to fight the fascist threat, but rather as an army of censors calling upon the state to ban the obnoxious, lager-swilling, working-class louts of the EDL.
If Tommy Robinson really was the same as Breivik, why did protesters just whine when they had him cornered?
Miffed that he wasn’t going to be able to address his supporters at the rally, Robinson bellowed down the loudspeaker, ‘What about our democratic rights? What about free speech?’ One voice in the crowd responded: ‘Fuck your free speech!’
Such an attitude sums up the censorious approach of the anti-Nazi left-wing campaigners. The EDL is cast as hate incarnate, needing to be banned for holding views that the likes of Stella Creasy MP deem unacceptable. The EDL can’t just be countered, it seems, it must be silenced.
The left has cried wolf over the rising threat of the EDL. Should it return soon – as it promises to – it’s unlikely such numbers will turn out from the community to protest against the EDL. Moreover, when faced with the perfect opportunity to ‘crush’ the ringleaders of the movement, these great anti-fascist protesters balked. Perhaps they realised that should the great fascist spectre of the EDL cease to exist, they would have to go through the effort of hyping up another threat instead.
Sam Brick stirs the pot again
I think there’s a lot of truth in what she says
Samantha Brick caused a stir when she declared that she is hated by other women for her beauty, but the Daily Mail journalist, who became the fourth person to be evicted from Celebrity Big Brother last Friday, says her experience on the show has only strengthened her views on the subject.
The 41-year-old insists that the fact that all of the evictees from the series so far have been women, proves her point that females are often against each other.
‘Women don’t like each other very much,’ she said during an interview on Celebrity Big Brother’s Bit On The Side.
‘The fact is, there were seven women in that house and now there are just two. Had we bonded together and formed a clique like the guys have done, there would still be seven of us in there and just two guys. ‘But the guys are smart, they grouped together and had each other’s back.’
She says that many of the male housemates, particularly comedian Julian Clary and Spandau Ballet star Martin Kemp, have been flying under the radar in the house, saving their best lines for the diary room.
‘The guys are like extinct volcanoes,’ she added. ‘Martin just works on his sun tan, and Julian sits there looking bored out of his mind. Except when they get to the diary room and it all explodes!’
Samantha, who lives in France with her husband Pascal, is desperate to be a mother and has recently been undergoing IVF treatment. She admits that she enjoyed mothering younger housemates such as Olympian Ashley McKenzie and Jersey Shore star Michael Sorrentino.
‘People have commented on the fact that I was like a mother figure in the house and that I looked after all the young ones like they were my own and I really liked that,’ she said in a recent interview. ‘I think there is no shame in saying I would like to be domestic or a good housewife as a career choice and maybe that’s what I’d like to do next. ‘I loved it when people called me mum in the house, as that’s my biggest aspiration right now.‘
During her time in the house, Samantha was particularly critical of Danica and Rhian, who she accused of emotionally manipulating the male housemates.
But she says her opinion of Julian has changed considerably now that she’s had time to watch episodes of the show
‘He’s a misogynistic snob isn’t he?’ she exclaimed. ‘He doesn’t like women. He doesn’t like working class people. He doesn’t like my accent. I don’t think I could ever have won him round.’
Samantha also insisted that she had no regrets about the article that brought her into the spotlight. ‘That story I wrote in April was my idea,’ she said. ‘It came about when I noticed one of my female neighbours consistently ignoring me and it stemmed from there.
‘I was made to feel that she not only didn’t like me but also that she didn’t want me in her social circle at all, purely because she felt threatened and thought I might fancy her husband.
‘Well, that made me angry and I thought I would write down the very thing that I know lots of women have experienced but are too scared to say out loud.’
UK Government Signals End Of Green Obsession
Britain sent a clear signal of support to its oil and gas industry when it named an advocate of shale gas fracking as environment minister and a wind farm sceptic as energy minister.
The appointments in Prime Minister David Cameron’s ministerial reshuffle on Tuesday mark a departure from his pledge to run Britain’s greenest government, in favour of the fossil fuel sector that generates billions of pounds in tax revenue.
The government last year put a brake on the development of shale gas extraction due to environmental concerns after it triggered two small earthquakes near Blackpool.
But Owen Paterson, a member of Cameron’s Conservative Party who was appointed Environment Secretary in the reshuffle, has hailed the potential economic benefits of shale gas, a message likely to sway the country’s decision in favour of the drilling method.
“If developed safely and responsibly, shale gas could generate massive economic activity and a wealth of new jobs,” Paterson said in May, when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
He said huge shale gas deposits in Northern Ireland could be exploitable, adding that discoveries in the United States had shrunk its gas price to a quarter of British levels.
“(Shale gas) has also ended America’s dependence on unreliable and dictatorial regimes,” he said.
The decision on whether Britain will resume shale gas fracking, a method of drilling through shale deposits to retrieve gas by injecting liquids and chemical, is in the hands of the energy ministry, but support from the Department for Environment could speed up a decision.
In his final media interview as Energy Minister, Hendry said a decision on shale gas was not imminent, but that Britain could not ignore its impact on the U.S. energy market.
Hayes has been a vocal opponent of wind farms, a technology the government regards as key to meeting climate change goals.
“Such tall structures will have a detrimental impact on the quality of life for local residents, the attractiveness of the area and its potential for tourism,” Hayes said at a local council meeting, reflecting the views of his constituents campaigning against the construction of a wind farm.
He said wind farms would always be backed up by conventional power plants because of their unreliability and that they had a detrimental impact on wildlife.
“Wind power (considerably) increases the average household energy bills as the profit-hungry energy companies continue to chase the taxpayer funded subsidies and credits,” the new Energy Minister said.
Eco-nomics: Was Stern ‘wrong for the right reasons’ … or just wrong?
Perhaps greens just aren’t the good guys
Analysis “Why should we sacrifice 10 per cent of our income today to make Bill Gates better off?” asked an MP. “As the world’s [second] richest man, he doesn’t need our sacrifice.”
The second richest man in the world, Bill Gates, is a proxy in this rhetorical question. The MP, a former Cabinet minister, is raising a fascinating and rarely asked moral question. Should we make ourselves poorer to save the rich of the future some insignificant amount of money: an amount so small, it will be a rounding error? The argument he builds is that government spending on climate policies is in fact a form of regressive wealth distribution. And the question the minister poses is far from rhetorical; it’s at the heart of the climate policy debate.
For an issue that is discussed in stark moral terms – good guys favour cutting carbon emissions, and bad guys don’t – things are not what they seem, suggests former Cabinet Minister Peter Lilley. Poverty is the greatest killer on the planet, robbing societies of the ability to protect themselves, and look after their most vulnerable. A legacy of our obsession to cut carbon dioxide emissions aggressively may be to trap billions in poverty, and the avoidable suffering that goes with it.
It’s all about economics. Six years ago the Stern Review landed with a thud that could be felt on the Richter Scale. The 700-page blockbuster – The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, to give it its full title – was commissioned by the UK government, written by UK bureaucrats led by a former economist to the World Bank, Nicholas Stern. It made the case for urgent climate mitigation policy: we’d be better off making sacrifices now to alleviate damage – both social and economic – in the future, Stern argued.
The MP, former Cabinet Minister Peter Lilley, has called foul. Lilley and economist Richard Tol have written a 100-page analysis of the Stern Review, published today by policy think-tank the Global Warming Foundation (PDF). The study asserts that Stern’s economic arguments can no longer form the basis for policy. Government should focus on a series of more practical measures instead, the study argues. These range from practical carbon emission reduction policy, to greater energy efficiency programmes, to the distribution of aid.
Stern’s summary was simple. Climate change would cost 5 per cent of GDP “now and forever”, he advised, yet we could avert disaster with policy that would set us back just 1 per cent of GDP. So the benefits outweighed the costs.
It’s astonishing to re-read Stern’s government-commissioned report today and be reminded that the ‘bedrock’ of climate economics itself rests such a flimsy base. But at the time, the watchdogs didn’t bark. Only a few of Stern’s economic peers, when they finally got the chance to examine his logic and mathematics, were critical, and their voices were confined to academia, argues Lilley, referring to a Yale Center for the Study of Globalization seminar held the year after the review’s publication. Lilley writes that the report received a “comprehensive battering” from attending environmental economists. Lilley also contended that British media had “amplified uncritically” the report’s “most stark and dramatic conclusions”.
Here’s an example of Stern-logic. The Review assumes that those most affected by increasing temperatures would not adapt to them. As support for this, Stern cited a study in which yields of a particular a strain of peanut vulnerable to higher temperatures fell by 70 per cent. He omitted the rest of the study, showing that alternative peanut strains would give farmers increased yields if temperatures increased.
“Surely it is reasonable to suppose that Indian farmers would switch to the variety that would actually increase their yields, rather than passively letting their yields decline by up to 70 per cent?” writes Lilley. “Stern’s approach has been called ‘the dumb farmer hypothesis’. His selective quotation of the results might be called ‘the gullible reader assumption’.”
But the ‘Bill Gates argument’ is where Stern’s calculations, and UK climate policy are at their weakest, claims the rebuttal. Lilley argues that the concepts outlined in the Stern Review were founded on Robin Hood economics: robbing today’s poor to benefit tomorrow’s rich. By 2200, by figures the IPCC itself uses, we’ll be seven times as wealthy as today. Even on using the most pessimistic estimates, Africa will be as wealthy as the West today – although why it need take so long, when Asian economies have transformed living standards in the space of a few decades, is worth questioning. Africa has shown strong GDP growth in recent years.
Discounting the truth
The conventional economic approach to climate change is to regard the damage as an externality, which means the ‘polluter pays’, the payment being priced at the market discount rate. This is how most economists tackle the issue. But not Stern. Instead of a market rate, Stern chose an improbably low ‘discount rate’ to reach his conclusion that mitigation policy costs were lower than the benefits. This was a new kind of economics.
So what, then, is a discount rate?
“It’s the cost of doing something now, versus the benefit accrued in the future,” says Lilley. “Everyone does it; it’s a calculation we do instinctively, even if we don’t realise we’re doing it.”
Stern’s ‘trick’ was really twofold. Firstly, he used an improbably low discount rate – the exact figure, over 700 pages, he omitted to disclose. The second was the use of the word ‘forever’. Stern made a projection of the losses to infinity. The result was that the costs were underestimated by a factor of between 2.5x and 5x.
Fundamentally Stern was asking the current generation to accept a 5 per cent hit in income, so that a future generation seven times richer would not suffer 5 per cent loss of income.
“He is entitled to use a low discount rate, but only if he accepts that, logically, he should advocate investing in a Norwegian-style ‘fund for the future’, not just in mitigating climate change but in any projects with returns above his discount rate until the market rate and his discount rate converge,” notes Lilley’s study.
Stern made some other curious assumptions, Lilley points out. The World Bank has estimated that Bangladesh needs to devote 1 per cent of its GDP today to stop flooding.
“Bangladesh today is far wealthier than Holland was when it built its dikes,” says Lilley. “The idea that they can’t build irrigation, that they can’t adapt, is a racist view.”
According to the new study’s authors, other parts of Stern’s landmark study continue to defy explanation.
“The more innovative parts of the Stern Review – the non-Newtonian calculus in Chapter 13, for instance – have yet to be submitted to learned journals,” notes Tol acidly in his foreword.
Even supporters of the manmade global warming hypothesis conceded that the economics didn’t add up, argues Lilley. Economist Martin Weitzman conceded that the discount rate Stern assumed was ‘unlikely’ and rejected Stern’s “ultra-low discount rate”, preferring to use a market rate of 6 per cent per year. However, Weitzman argued, Stern was “wrong for the right reasons”, since in Weitzman’s view global warming may “destroy planet Earth as we know it”. The economist reasons that since the response of the climate to a doubling of CO2 cannot be accurately be made, the worst case must be assumed.
But far more dramatic changes in the climate have been experienced within the past 20,000 years, Lilley contends, with humans able to draw on far more primitive technological resources, and yet survive. Much depends on the belief that the climate will ‘run away’.