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.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Time to be adult about ‘global warming’.....

The ‘Bushwhacking’ of the Kyoto protocol and the failure of the public to respond to increasingly shrill hype about 'global warming' have plunged Europe, and the UK in particular, into apoplexy. ‘Green’ organisations, politicians, a pantheon of environmental correspondents, and a remarkably compliant and uncritical media are wilfully spreading gloom and doom about the Earth. Why? Because they are increasingly terrified of anyone who dares to challenge their most precious myths - that the science of climate change is ‘known’, that humans are the prime cause, and that we must all mend our ways at once if we are to save the planet.

In UK bien pensant circles, ‘global warming’ has become one of the grand narratives of the ‘New Age’. To argue against it immediately transforms you into a lackey of the fossil fuel lobby, a paid patsy of industry, an eccentric sceptic, or, to use the Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen’s, phrase, ‘an enemy of the people’. I hope I'm none of these, but I must ask: ‘Is the science really known?’ ‘Are humans the single cause?’ And ‘Are the Kyoto protocol and 'climate management' the most effective ways of facing climate change?’ On all counts, I doubt it, and increasingly so.

Despite the allusions to ‘science’, to rising emission curves of CO2, to melting ice caps, and to this or that climate model, the construct of ‘global warming’ has little to do with ‘science’. It is fundamentally a socio-political idea that can be firmly dated to 1988, when it replaced the earlier ‘threats’ of a nuclear winter and a plunge into another Ice Age.

The CO2 curve has been known since the late-19th Century, but only in 1988 did it come into its own to legitimise the new ‘Green’ agenda of curbing population, industrial development, fossil fuel use, the car, America, capitalism, and globalisation. Here was a ‘science’ that could be employed to horrify the world into action, to verify the ‘grand narratives’ of Rachel Carson, of ‘Small is Beautiful’, and of ‘The Limits to Growth’, which, by the late 1980s, had been melded into a ‘Green’ view of the world. Moreover, any extreme climate event, a hurricane or a flood, could be claimed as a product of ‘global warming’, and thus of our own evil actions and selfish greed. The ‘morality’ of the new ‘Green’ agenda was deliberately linked to a carefully-garnered ‘scientific’ legitimation, yet it is important to note that the basic agenda had already been formed well before the ‘science’ was used retrospectively as a tool of legitimacy.

But ‘global warming’ isn’t climate change. The truth is that, despite all our best efforts, we have no grasp of what is really happening to climate. We can all agree that there has possibly been a small rise in temperature since around 1800 AD, but this is hardly surprising when you recall that we are emerging from a ‘Little Ice Age’ that ended around 1880 AD. Moreover, from the end of the 1940s to the 1970s, there was a cooling trend. Yet more, in 1200 AD we were 1 to 2 degrees C warmer than we are now (despite ‘global warming’). Further, our climate models remain primitive, more primitive than Lara Croft, and they ignore many factors, from soot to Pacific ‘vents’ to the cosmic ray flux. The 'vents' alone could reduce warming estimates by as much as one third. It is vital to remember that all the dramatic projections we see in the media are just politically-selected ‘scenarios’ taken from fundamentally limited models.

More significantly, climate change is governed by millions of factors, some gradual, others catastrophic, ranging from the flip of a Monarch butterfly’s wing, through the character of the Earth’s surface (albedo), volcanoes, oceans, water vapour, the geometry of the Earth, solar cycles, dust, space debris, and chaotic attractors. The idea that we can predict the future direction of long-term climate change based on the human semi-control of just one factor is unbelievable.

Yet worse, the Kyoto and climate control/management agendas are flawed for another reason. In tempting people to think that we have the power to halt climate change, - surely one of the biggest myths of all time -, this distracts us from the need to recognise that change is the norm and that humans have always coped with change, not by trying to play God with an entity still beyond our comprehension, and utterly beyond our predictive control, but by adapting to change where and whenever it appears, hot, cold, wet, or dry. There is no such thing as a stable climate; even a grinning Mr. Blair cannot change this fact. It is a utopian dream, but one which could undermine our drive for flexible development in the face of inexorable change. Like a King Canute, we must admit that we cannot control the elements, although we can improve our planning for them, as with the dreadful Indian Ocean tsunami.

It is time to be adult about climate. Cutting ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions will not halt climate change. The Kyoto protocol and 'climate control' are no bases for sensible policy-making. During the next few months we are going to be assaulted by a massive media and government propaganda machine to make us all bow to the Great God of 'Global Warming'. We must stand our ground with dignity and with thoughtful and courteous argument. We must weather the storm.

Philip, in fighting mode. Coffee.

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

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