A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Our Friday essay: confusing 'global warming' with climate change.....

What do Sir David King, 'The Guardian' and 'The Independent' have in common? They all fall into the trap of confusing the myth of 'global warming' with the reality of climate change.....

'Global warming' as myth
© Philip Stott 2004

In any discussion of climate change, it is essential to distinguish between the complex science of climate and the myth, in the sense of Roland Barthes, or the 'hybrid', following Bruno Latour, of 'global warming'.

The latter is a politico-pseudoscientific construct, developed since the late-1980s, in which the human emission of 'greenhouse gases', such as carbon dioxide and methane, is unquestioningly taken as the prime driver of a new and dramatic type of climate change that will inexorably result in a significant warming during the next 100 years and which will inevitably lead to catastrophe for both humanity and the Earth. This, in turn, has morphed, since 1992 and the Rio Conference, into a legitimising myth for a gamut of interconnected political agendas, above all for a range of European sensibilities with regards to America, oil, the car, transport, economic growth, trade, and international corporations. The language employed tends to be authoritarian and religious in character, involving the use of what the physicist, P. H. Borcherds, has termed the 'hysterical subjunctive'. Indeed, for many, the myth has become an article of a secular faith that exhibits all the characteristics of a pre-modern religion, above all demanding sacrifice to the Earth.

By contrast, the science of climate change starts from the principle that we are concerned with the most complex, coupled, non-linear, chaotic system known and that it is distinctly unlikely that climate change can be predicted by reference to a single variable, or factor, however politically-convenient that factor. Above all, in approaching the science, as distinct from the myth, it is necessary to exercise precision with regard to three specific questions.

First, is climate changing? The answer has to be: "Of course, climate is changing." Evidence throughout geological time indicates climate change at all scales and all times. Climate change is the norm, not the exception, and the Earth, during each moment, however temporally defined, is either 'warming' or 'cooling'. If climate were ever to become stable, it would be a scientifically-exciting phenomenon. To declare that "the climate is changing" is thus a truism. Here we encounter the first major contradistinction with the 'global warming' myth, in which, classically, the myth harks back to a lost 'Golden Age' of climate stability, or, to employ a more 'modern' sensibility, climate 'sustainability'. Sadly, the idea of a 'sustainable climate' is an oxymoron. The fact that we have re-discovered 'climate change' at the turn of the Millennium tells us more about ourselves, and about our devices and desires, than about climate. Opponents of 'global warming' are often snidely referred to as 'climate change deniers'; precisely the opposite is true. Those who question the myth of 'global warming' are passionate believers in climate change. It is the 'global warmers' who deny that climate change is the norm.

Secondly, do humans influence climate? Again, the answer is: "Of course, they do." Hominids and humans have been affecting climate since they first manipulated fire to alter landscapes at least 750,000 years ago, but possibly as far back as 2 million years. Recent research has further implicated the development of agriculture, around 10,000 years ago, as an important human factor. Humans thus influence climate in many ways, through altering the albedo (the reflectivity) of the surface of the Earth, through changing the energy balance of the Earth, by emitting particles and aerosols, as well as by those hoary old favourites, industrial emissions. Here, therefore, we encounter the second major contradistinction with the 'global warming' myth. Human influences on climate are multi-factorial. Unfortunately, we know precious little about most of them. My own instinct is that our ability to change the reflectivity of the Earth's surface will, in the end, prove to have been far more important. After all, if Lex Luther covered the Tibetan High Plateau with black plastic sheeting, even Superman might have problems dealing with the monsoons.

Thirdly, will we be able to produce predictable (the operative word) climate change, and a stable climate, by adjusting, at the margins, just one human variable, namely carbon dioxide emissions, out of the millions of factors, both natural and human, that drive climate? The answer is: "One hundred per cent, no." This is the seminal point at which the complex science of climate diverges irreconcilably from the central beliefs of the 'global warming' myth. The idea that we can manage climate predictably by adjusting, minimally, our output of some politically-selected gases is both naïve and dangerous.

The truth is the opposite. In a system as complex and chaotic as climate, such an action may even trigger unexpected consequences. It is vital to remember that, for a coupled, non-linear system, not doing something (i.e., not emitting gases) is as unpredictable as doing something (i.e., emitting gases). Even if we closed down every factory in the world, crushed every car and aeroplane, turned off all energy production, and threw 4 billion people worldwide out of work, climate would still change, and often dramatically.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, the myth is starting to implode. The conservationist and Green guru, Professor David Bellamy, has recently called 'global warming' "poppycock". Serious new research at The Max Planck Institute has indicated that the sun is a far more significant factor; Dr Bill Burrows, a climatologist and a member of the Royal Meteorological Society, has concluded: "Perhaps we are devoting too many resources to correcting human effects on the climate without being sure that we are the major contributor." The recent temperature 'spike', known as 'the hockey stick', has been unmasked as a statistical artefact, while the 'Medieval Warm Period' and the 'Little Ice Age' have been statistically 're-discovered'. Moreover, the latest research has shown that there has probably been no real warming, except that which is surface-driven. And in Russia, 'global warming' has been likened to infamous Lysenkoism.

Accordingly, the predication of government, and United Nations', policy for energy growth on the unsustainable myth of 'global warming' is a serious threat to us all, but especially to the 1.6 billion people in the less-developed world who have no access to any modern form of energy. The twin curses of water poverty and energy poverty remain the real scandals. By contrast, the political imposition on the rest of the world of our Northern, self-indulgent ecochondria about 'global warming' could prove to be a neo-colonialism too far.

Philip, calling for a concerted effort to fight back for climate change against the myth of 'global warming'. Coffee time.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Truth at last on 'global warming'.....

Philip makes the front page of Pravda.ru (ПРАВДА.Ру): 'Disgraceful behaviour of British delegation to recent climate change conference in Russia' (Pravda.ru, August 4). Here is the link to the full letter for when we lose this illustrious spot.

Philip, getting out the samovar at once. Tea all round.
Dingoes are far more interesting than 'global warming'.....

I think it's time for a summer holiday from 'global warming' - even I'm becoming bored to my key pad with the nonsense out there: one summer storm, and again we are all doomed! Yesterday's London flooding (folk should live somewhere where they really know about storms) is all too explicable, I fear. As Mayor Ken points out, for the last twenty or so years, the London boroughs have played down the need to spend money to clean out their drains properly. Unsurprisignly, therefore, at the drop of rain cloud, London becomes gunge city. We should also take note that, locally, storms are likely to be more common and fierce because the 'urban heat island' footprint of London is now so large. Accordingly, this was a wonderful combination of surface-driven heat and short-sighted councillors.

Hey, but I said I was taking a holiday from climate change! And so I am. The best story by far at the moment is the report on the work, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tracing the origins of that most enigmatic of dogs, the Australian dingo: 'Dingo's origins tracked by DNA' (BBC Science/Nature News, August 2):

"A genetic analysis of the Australian dingo suggests the dogs tagged along on an epic expansion of people out of southern China around 6,000 years ago. An international team claims dingoes descend from a small group that could have been introduced to Australia in a 'single chance event' from Asia.

Evidence from mitochondrial DNA suggests that the wild dogs arrived on the continent around 5,000 years ago.

Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues think the introduction of the dogs may be associated with the spread of seafaring Austronesian-speaking people throughout South-East Asia.

The Austronesian culture had its origins in south China, expanding from Taiwan via the Philippines to Indonesia.

Although dingoes are now wild, they descend from domestic dogs that accompanied these Austronesians on their voyages....." (read on)

Now, one doesn't want to be dogmatic, and one may be barking up the wrong gum tree, but this has always been my own dogged assertion about these rangy animals. It's certainly interesting to see mitochondrial DNA adding credence to good old biogeographical instinct.

Mind you, when they got there, it was quite a dingo-dongo with the Tasmanian 'woof'!

Philip, now isn't that more fun than "global 'boring' warming"? Time for a peppermint tea.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

'To wipe or not to wipe?', a question that faces us all.....

The new all action Series of the critical environmental programme, 'Home Planet', continues again on BBC Radio 4 today.

This third week's topics include, inter alia, our wipeoholic world, Eucalyptus, Nauru, and 'Do scientific expeditions destroy the planet?'. Great fun! Don't miss Stotty wiping the floor with wipes!

If you are in the UK, the programme is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 every Tuesday afternoon at 15.02 BST, directly after the news summary; if you are outside the UK, you may still listen to it, online, via the BBC 'Home Planet' Web Page:

(a) on the day in question at 15.02 BST, choose the 'Listen Live' button; or, (b) for one week after the first broadcast, choose the 'Listen Again' button; or, (c) after one whole week, select the relevant date under 'Previous Programmes'.

Philip, off for his morning coffee. I must wipe down that garden table.....! Too many birds dropping in!

Monday, August 02, 2004

All BBC sound and fury, but signifying little.....

I have received various e-mails expressing genuine outrage at the BBC's coverage of the climate change debate last week, and it certainly does seem to have plumbed the depths. One or two of the comments made on the television programmes are beyond parody, and the BBC (television far more than radio) unfortunately seems to have lost any critical cutting edge and to have been presenting pretty blatant propaganda.

Yet, I would ask people to stand back a little and to deconstruct the sound and the fury. Having monitored this debate in the UK for over ten years, I have noticed that, during the last year in particular, the rhetoric has been growing in stridency. Indeed, the language employed in government, by the Green movement, and on the BBC has moved into what one physicist has so brilliantly dubbed 'the hysterical subjunctive'. The crescendo is now deafening at a truly Mahlerian fff.

But the reasons for this crescendo of howls should perhaps give those of us looking for a more rational approach to climate change hope rather than plunge us into despair. Throughout the debate, the volume of the hype has always increased markedly when the 'global warming' faithful feel that they are losing control. And just consider the present situation. It is now seven years on from Kyoto, and the Protocol is in tatters. Even if Russia eventually signs (which still remains to be seen), it is nothing but a thing of shreds and patches. It signifies nothing. Moreover, the British public remain resolutely uninterested in the topic, many regarding a little warming with delight. In addition, the government's foolish addiction to wind power has whipped up a new source of fierce opposition that is already blowing its plans off hill and mountain. Meanwhile, to the government's acute embarrassment, Europe is failing dismally to meet even its own miserable Kyoto targets. Further, some wiser climatologists are all too well aware that it is quite likely that we have now passed a small solar-driven peak in temperatures and that climate might suddenly start to prove unco-operative where the 'global warming' myth is concerned. And then, above all, the good folk of the UK are quite happy to mouth a few platitudes about 'sustainability', but, on the ground, they have no intention whatsoever of falling for a Green 'utopia'.

From David King downwards, what you are hearing are the howls of desperation. All myths have a 'sell-by-date', and the 'global warming' myth has been around for a long time. Moreover, listening carefully to many folk, I detect that people are becoming deeply bored by the myth and by the same old hype. The Beeb should note this.

It is thus entirely arguable that we must grit our teeth and let the government, the Green movement, and the BBC get 'global warming' out of their systems, because, I'm sure, another mighty myth is lingering out there, just waiting for its moment.

Cynical, I know; but.....

Philip, off to the Great Wen for the day.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Some energy home truths for your MP and for those puritan pundits of FoE .....

South Africa confirms plans for nuclear power development, including a 10-year Research and Development programme for a pebble bed reactor;

Ontario is to build a new nuclear power station, probably on the Great Lakes;

In the US, 25 nuclear power plants have received a licence extension from 40 to 60 years; further plants are now applying for extensions;

It is possible that Scotland is to have a new nuclear power station;

In Europe, despite all the hype about so-called 'renewables', the latest figures show that the power-mix remains essentially unchanged at 52% fossil fuels; 32% nuclear; 11% hydroelectric; and 5% (about which we witter on all the time) the rest;

UNICE calculates that electricity prices in the UK will have to rise by 20% if the British government pursues its current windy energy policies.....

And then, as Dr. John Etherington trenchantly points out:

"If we achieved (say) 10% of electricity from wind, and because power stations give only a third of our total CO2 emission, the reduction of the UK total emission would be a little over 2%.

The UK is responsible for about 2.6% of world CO2 emission so the reduction of emission by UK wind power would be considerably less than one thousandth (0.1%) of the global total.

There is no possibility that the saving of CO2 emission by UK wind power could measurably alter world atmospheric CO2 concentration, let alone reduce it by one third or more, which the climate modellers say we need to do, to make a difference.

Even if they quibble with the detail of the figures, it appears ... impossible to 'force' the wind power saving of CO2 to any level which could have a significant effect. This is the crux of the matter."

And John's case is underpinned by the economics that are discussed in 'The Renewables Obligation - a subsidy on windpower' (BBC iCan); see also Wind-Farm.org.

[EnviroSpin's good mate from Downunder, Barry Hearn, has now further refined John's calculations as follows:

"The statement: 'The UK is responsible for about 2.6% of world CO2 emission so the reduction of emission by UK wind power would be considerably less than one thousandth (0.1%) of the global total.....'

This presumably refers to anthropogenic CO2 emissions. This 2.6% would appear ~one order of magnitude greater than the UK's actual contribution to global total CO2 emission since humanity generates (liberates) ~4% of the total global carbon cycle.

I would submit that the UK's contribution is about 0.25% and so a potential reduction from wind power something less than one ten-thousandth (0.01%) of total emissions and that this is an important distinction."

Hat tip, as always, to Barry, who appears to have read this blog in Queensland just 1 minute after it was posted here in the UK on an American server! Such is our wonderful virtual world!]

Moreover, John's figures do not take account of the fact that, over the next 20 years or so, the British percentage use of global power will fall markedly as energy demand rises exponentially in China, India, and the developing world in general.

In other words, wind power in the UK will do absolutely nothing whatsoever about climate change! What a waste of our finest landscapes.

A Green spokesperson was recently reported as calling the ordinary folk who did not support wind power idiots and NIMBYs.

In the light of the above facts, I feel that there is no need to stoop to any reply.....

And meanwhile, the ever-pious and world-lecturing UK stars once again: 'U.K. will miss 2010 carbon-emissions target, Cambridge says' (Bloomberg, July 29). Well, well! Now there's a surprise!

Philip, increasingly ready to come out fighting against the nonsensical policies being developed around the great myth of 'global warming'. Coffee on the patio?

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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