Yes, it's Global Warming again. You know you love it. Go on, admit it …
One of our readers recently wrote "I'd just like to say thanks to this Grumpy Old Sod in his attempt to convince the world that man-made global warming is a ploy by the media/gov to make themselves popular …" Flattering, but if only … if only we could realistically hope that our views could ever influence those who make the decisions in this country. We know very well that many people - indeed, sometimes we are tempted to think most people - agree with us, but still the UK is set to become the only country in the world where carbon emissions will be limited by law.
Still, we soldier on! Here is a collection of bits and pieces on the subject we have culled from the internet and the newspapers in the last couple of weeks. It's quite a long read, so make yourself a cup of coffee and get comfortable …
Christopher Booker writes in The Telegraph …
The scare over global warming, and our politicians' response to it, is becoming ever more bizarre. On the one hand we have the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change coming up with yet another of its notoriously politicised reports, hyping up the scare by claiming that world surface temperatures have been higher in 11 of the past 12 years (1995-2006) than ever previously recorded.
This carefully ignores the latest US satellite figures showing temperatures having fallen since 1998, declining in 2007 to a 1983 level - not to mention the newly revised figures for US surface temperatures showing that the 1930s had four of the 10 warmest years of the past century, with the hottest year of all being not 1998, as was previously claimed, but 1934.
On the other hand, we had Gordon Brown last week, in his "first major speech on climate change", airily committing his own and future governments to achieving a 60 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 - which is rather like prime minister Salisbury at the end of Queen Victoria's reign trying to commit Winston Churchill's government to achieving some wholly impossible goal in the middle of the Second World War. Mr Brown's only concrete proposal for reaching this absurd target seems to be his plan to ban plastic bags, whatever they have to do with global warming (while his government also plans a near-doubling of flights out of Heathrow).
But of course he is no longer his own master in such fantasy exercises. Few people have yet really taken on board the mind-blowing scale of all the "planet-saving" measures to which we are now committed by the European Union. By 2020 we will have to generate 20 per cent of our electricity from "renewables". At present the figure is four per cent (most of it generated by hydro-electric schemes and methane gas from landfill). As Whitehall officials privately briefed ministers in August, there is no way Britain can begin to meet such a fanciful target (even if the Government manages to ram through another 30,000 largely useless wind turbines).
Another EU directive commits us to deriving 10 per cent of our transport fuel from "biofuels" by 2020. This would take up pretty well all the farmland we currently use to grow food (at a time when world grain prices have doubled in six months and we are already face a global food shortage). Then by 2009, thanks to a mad gesture by Mr Blair and his EU colleagues last March, we also face the prospect of a total ban on incandescent light bulbs. This compulsory switch to low-energy bulbs, apart from condemning us to live in uglier homes under eye-straining light, is in practice completely out of the question, because, according to our Government's own figures, more than half Britain's domestic light fittings cannot take them.
This year will be remembered for two things. First, it was the year when the scientific data showed that the cosmic scare over global warming may well turn out to be just that - yet another vastly inflated scare. Second, it was the year when the hysteria generated by all the bogus science behind this scare finally drove those who rule over us, including Gordon "Plastic Bags" Brown, wholly out of their wits.
Then there is Dr.Chris de Freitas, Associate Professor in the School of Geography, Geology and Environmental Science, University of Auckland …
Seldom if ever is the question asked: Where is the evidence for catastrophic climate change from human action? Rather than search for the evidence, groups like Greenpeace defer to authorities, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a political entity which appears to have a monopoly on wisdom in global warming matters. Rather than debate the issues, they attack those who disagree, using defamatory labels. Yet the opposite of scepticism is gullibility.
Moreover, vote counting is a risky way to discover scientific truth. Scientific validity is not determined by a show of hands. Pronouncements from Greenpeace or the IPCC do not and cannot change the facts. No one doubts humans affect climate. The debate is whether the effects are "dangerous". There is no hard evidence that increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere put there by human activities are causing or will cause dangerous change to global climate.
The Earth's surface has warmed slightly over the last 150 years, but research shows that floods, droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes have not increased in frequency.The climate facts are well established and well recorded, but often ignored when it comes to global warming catastrophism:
There have been four periods of global warming in the past 1500 years.
Data clearly shows the Earth cooled during a recent 35-year period despite the continuing rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
In recent times, global temperature has been steady since 1998, despite the continuing rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Average global sea level rise has shown no acceleration over the past 300 years.
And it is an uncontroversial fact that all climate models are unreliable, so their output is not evidence of anything.
… and this snippet from Craig James …
The air temperatures in the Arctic were warmer in 1940 than now. The sea ice extent began to diminish in 1950 as air temperatures were going DOWN. If there is no correlation, there can be no causation. Also, never once mentioned in the mainstream media is the fact that the southern hemisphere sea ice extent was at a record MAXIMUM this year.
… and on the excellent spiked website, Rob Lyons …
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the final part of its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) at the weekend, bringing together material from the reports of three working groups published over the past year into one 'synthesis report'. But despite the alarmist words of senior UN and IPCC officials, the report does not make the case that a climate timebomb is about to explode. We should not allow a vision of climate catastrophe - aka 'The Science' - to railroad society into policy decisions that might leave humanity worse off.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, speaking at the launch of the new report in Valencia, Spain on Sunday, described climate change as 'the defining challenge of our age', though stressing that 'concerted and sustained action now can still avoid some of the most catastrophic scenarios'. In an earlier statement in September this year, Ban told a high-level climate change meeting in New York: 'Today, the time for doubt has passed. The IPCC has unequivocally affirmed the warming of our climate system, and linked it directly to human activity. The scientists have very clearly outlined the severity of the problem. Their message is quite simple: we know enough to act; if we do not act now the impact of climate change will be devastating; and we have affordable measures and technologies to begin addressing the problem right now. What we do not have is time. The time for action is now.'
In other words, there is no longer room for doubt and we need to start negotiations to replace the Kyoto treaty with a new, emissions-cutting treaty that includes both developing and developed countries in its remit. But before we get bounced into this position, it is worth sounding a few notes of caution.
The report doesn't match the alarmism
The headlines from the new report, as presented by IPCC chairman Rajendra K Pachauri, include: warming of the climate system is unequivocally happening, with increasing global air and ocean temperatures; rising global average sea level; reductions of snow and ice; greater frequency of extreme events like flood-inducing rain and droughts; increased risk of species extinction; increased problems of water supply, declining food production and disease in many parts of the world.
However, behind the more alarmist statements made in press conferences, the actual IPCC working group reports - certainly as regards the physical basis for climate change - have at least engaged to some extent with alternative explanations and forecasts for warming, and have couched their assessments more carefully and cautiously than either the public pronouncements of IPCC officials or popular discussion of climate change would suggest.
So, for example, while the headlines would suggest that the Greenland ice sheet is about to melt, catastrophically resulting in sea level rises of seven metres, the report makes clear that this process would take millennia. The report actually suggests that sea level will rise over the next century by 18-59 centimetres. Meanwhile, the report says: 'Current global model studies project that the Antarctic ice sheet will remain too cold for widespread surface melting and gain mass due to increased snowfall.' In other words, unless great chunks fall off the edge of the South Pole's ice sheet, the mass of ice is likely to get bigger. While the overall rise in sea levels could still be damaging to very low-lying coastal areas, there will be no need to build an ark any time soon.
You would never get this more balanced impression from the mainstream media, however. For example, the UK Independent on Sunday ran the headline: 'A world dying, but can we unite to save it?' A recent environmentalist survival guidebook claimed that planet Earth is 'speeding into a troubling void'. Such melodramatic outbursts have been widespread in the British and European media over the past couple of days. Television documentaries, commentators and politicians seem to be suggesting that civilisation itself is under threat, as they hint that we are heading for a future where a few hardy survivors will inhabit a scorched earth devoid of other animals or plant life, like something out of Mad Max. The truth is very different.
A damaging distraction
What the IPCC reports actually talk about are the more prosaic problems of water supply, agricultural production, disease, extreme weather events and flooding: all of these are already-existing problems, and all of them are potentially resolvable through relatively simple societal and technological developments.
Yet rather than discussing the need for more development, and a concerted global strategy to tackle social problems as they exist right now - not just in 100 years time - all of the attention and energy of political leaders is being focused on how we can stop producing so much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Any really serious attempt to cut greenhouse gas emissions - demands for a 50, 60 and even 90 per cent cut are being bandied around - would require a dramatic cut in travel and goods distribution, energy production and construction (because cement production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions), or some other radical changes in the way that we do these things.
To attempt to force through emission cuts without having in place new, low-carbon technologies and the social infrastructure required to employ them would mean not simply cutting economic growth, but also downsizing developed economies and ditching any attempt to modernise and develop poor countries. On the basis that climate change would be detrimental to the welfare of some people, the suggestion is to impoverish everyone - to be on the safe side. That is simply irrational, and inhumane: it would leave the world's poor as they are, while making Westerners poorer, too.
Science vs 'The Science'
In truth, when global leaders suggest that we must make swingeing emissions cuts, they almost certainly do so in bad faith. Such cuts are not desirable or achievable at present. However, the current concern about the environment provides leaders with a moral mission through which they can prop up political life. In an era when There is No Alternative to the free market, and the future is usually envisaged as a bleaker version of the present, politics - perhaps even society itself - appears to have no purpose. Trying to avoid global catastrophe seems the nearest thing to a big idea that can bring us all together, even if the underlying message - 'humans are screwing up the planet' - is a misanthropic one.
Hence the heat and bitterness with which IPCC reports are dissected and discussed. Because if the problem seems anything less than urgent, then there's the possibility that it will be ignored by the mass of the population, or, more likely, carefully compared to other problems to see which are the most pressing. Thus, the IPCC process is a thoroughly politicised one, and it has been been since day one, as Tony Gilland has before noted on spiked (see Digging up the roots of the IPCC). The widely publicised policy documents are the result of scientific reviews being scrutinised by a rag-tag of political appointees and campaigners to produce a statement that suits a variety of agendas. Ironically, after years in which the IPCC reports have been accused of being hijacked by greens, green campaigners are now arguing that the reports are being watered down for political ends.
The reason the IPCC matters so much in public debate is not because it provides us with a summary of current climate science (which the workgroup reports do attempt to do, for better or worse), but because it provides leaders, commentators and activists with something else entirely: 'The Science.' This product may look like a set of scientific statements, but is in many ways the exact opposite of science. 'The Science' is 'unequivocal' rather than sceptical and cautious in its conclusions; 'The Science' is built on an artificial consensus rather than on a real battle of competing ideas that admits the possibility that current thinking could be completely wrong; 'The Science' very strongly implies a particular direction for policy (greenhouse gas emission reductions) which is apparently above politics, rather than merely informing a political debate about how we take society forward on the basis of human need and desire.
Armed with 'The Science', campaigners and politicians demand all sorts of sacrifices based on one of the few remaining sources of authority that still cuts any ice with the majority of the population. Perversely, the very success of science in improving our lives is being latched on to as a means of potentially making our lives worse in the future.
The way forward
No doubt some scientists are honestly trying to get to grips with an enormously complex system: the world's climate. And as a precautionary response to climate change, we might quite reasonably decide that efforts should be made to replace some current technologies - for example, those based on fossil fuels - with low-carbon alternatives. This would be a path that we might well choose to take even if climate change were not an issue, since viable low-carbon technologies could increase energy security and reduce other forms of pollution. We could also introduce adaptive measures now - from better flood defences to more secure forms of water supply in both developed and developing countries - that would be beneficial regardless of whether or not climate change proves to be extreme.
This kind of thing has been illustrated in Bangladesh in recent days. In 1991, a tropical cyclone brought destruction and flooding that killed about 130,000 people. Since then, the government of Bangladesh has created cyclone shelters and an early warning system. Last week's cyclone killed at least 2,000 people, and the final death toll may exceed a monumentally tragic 10,000. Yet the recent storm was, if anything, stronger than the one in 1991. If communications and infrastructure could be improved further, it is possible that widespread loss of life caused by storms in Bangladesh could become a thing of the past. It would be tragic indeed, and ironic, if we let scare stories about possible future storms distract us from improving people's living standards in Bangladesh and elsewhere right now.
While we should respect science and development, we should have little respect for 'The Science'. If the more alarmist statements of the past few days are to be believed, we should all accept that we must be less well-off because our consumption would hurt people like those in Bangladesh. This scientifically suspect moral blackmail to further the aims of politicians and campaigners is - unequivocally - a change for the worse.
We don't know what this has to do with Global Warming.
We just thought it was time for a nice picture …
Sean Gabb is Director of the Libertarian Alliance. At the college where he teaches (he doesn't tell us which it is) lecturers are required to introduce one environmental lecture into each course (a bit tough if you're teaching, say, music!). This is his contribution …
Environmentalism in an historical context
According to all the newspapers and television stations and all the politicians, we are facing a serious environmental crisis. We are told that global temperatures are rising, and that they are rising because of economic development, and that, unless we make radical changes to the ways in which we live, sea levels will rise and the world in general will become less pleasant.
I am not a scientist, and I am not competent to examine the detailed claims about the nature and extent and causes of global warming. But I believe these claims are all lies. I believe they are the latest attempt by some very nasty people to stop the progress of the human race to unlimited self-improvement.
History and Class Oppression
Until about 250 year ago, the normal situation of humanity was stagnation. There might be ages of improvement, but these hardly ever improved the lives of the poorest, and they were always followed by a decline of economic activity. This was a world in which society was shaped like a broad pyramid-a very small ruling class enjoying fabulous wealth and status, and a great mass or ordinary people at the bottom living in poverty. It was a world in which more than half of all children born died before they reached the age of five, and in which the great majority of ordinary people died in their thirties.
The libertarian revolutions of the 17th century in England led to a sudden increase in general wealth during the 18th century. By around 1800, it was plain that this was an improvement unlike any other before. For the first time, larger and larger numbers of ordinary people were enjoying cheaper and better food and clothing. Other European governments looked on this with envy, as greater national wealth meant greater military power.
But many, both abroad and in England, were concerned about the social and political impact of these developments. They meant that more and more ordinary people were moving about and improving their lives, and they were thinking for themselves, and beginning to question political arrangements that delivered immense differences of wealth and status.
The first reaction against market liberalism was purely conservative. Churches and landowning interests put much effort into defending the old order of things. Look, for example, at this verse from a Church of England hymn:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate
The meaning of this is that God had given everyone a certain position in the world, and this position had to be accepted without complaint or attempts at change. Without massive government force behind it, this sort of reaction was a failure in every place it was tried. Even there, it tended to fail. No dungeons in this world, or threats of hellfire in the next, could stifle the news of freedom and enrichment.
And so the next step in reaction was to disguise conservatism as progress. Ideologies were developed that looked progressive, but the effect of which would be to stop all further progress. That is the significance of many kinds of socialism and particularly Marxism. These doctrines spoke about equality and freedom and growing wealth, but were obviously about the exact opposite. Even before the first socialist experiments, liberals were analysing the socialist claims and announcing that a socialist society would be a dictatorship in which the great majority of ordinary people would be made poor again.
This was the result of actually existing socialism in the 20th century. Countries like Russia, East Germany and Czechoslovakia had fast economic development among their stated goals. In fact, the only really growth was in the amount of pollution their factories produced. The only liberty and equality and economic development that have ever been seen have taken place in countries like England and America and Germany and Japan- where people have mostly been left alone to look after themselves and their families.
With the collapse of socialism at the end of the 1980s, it looked for a moment as if all the barriers had been lifted to unlimited improvement for the whole human race. It seemed that we could look forward to a world in which everyone had a motor car and a refrigerator and a telephone.
Environmentalism: The Last Communist Refuge
Then the environmental movement grew big. This had been around since the early 1960s. At first, it concentrated on things like chemical pollution and rapid population growth and how the world would soon run out of oil and other minerals. The problem was that its claims were always proved to be wrong. For example, we were told in the 1960s that population growth would soon lead to mass starvation. In the event, living standards continued to rise faster and faster all over the world. Again, we were told that the oil would run out before the middle of the 1980s. In the event, more and more oil was found, and we now know that we have enough to last for centuries to come. Again we were told in the 1970s that industrialisation was leading to global cooling and that there would soon be another ice age. This also did not happen.
But, since the collapse of socialism, the environmental movement has grown bigger and bigger, and is now arguing for regulations and taxes that would soon stop all further economic growth-particularly in Asia, India, Africa and South America. That is the goal of all this endless propaganda in the media, and all the talk about carbon footprints.
Now, it may be that there really is a problem with the environment. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. But I find it historically significant that environmentalism has grown big at the very moment when every other argument against human progress has been disproved. I therefore believe that the claims of the environmentalists are lies. They are an excuse for returning humanity to a dark age of inequality and stagnation.
And lastly this contribution from ourselves …
In a Policy Forum article inspired by the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Oppenheimer et al. (2007) write in the 14 September issue of Science that "with the general credibility of the science of climate change established, it is now equally important that policy-makers understand the more extreme possibilities that consensus may exclude or downplay." Why is that? Because, as they continue, "setting aside or minimizing the importance of key structural uncertainties in underlying processes is a frequent outcome of the drive for consensus."
What does this mean?
"set aside or minimise" = "ignore"
"key structural uncertainties" = "stuff we don't know"
"underlying processes" = "the way the world actually works"
"frequent outcome" = "we often"
"drive for consensus" = "make everyone agree with us"
Therefore translation …
"In order to make everyone agree with us we often ignore stuff we don't know about how the world actually works".
Hmm. Many a true word …
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