1 Introduction: ‘A cruel and absurd delusion’
The climate change story is now 100% political.
Hardly a week goes by without another lurid prediction of impending doom. What is alarming in such claims, of course, is not their obvious silliness, but the fact that they can be made without either any pretence at objectivity, or any requirement to demonstrate a basis for the claim in empirical science. For example, one would expect that the existence of the Loch Ness Monster would have to be established in fact before its demise could be attributed to any cause, “global warming” included (perhaps it is merely the first of the million or so species that are expected to be at or near the point of extinction by 2050 as a result of “global warming”).
Regrettably, the state of the climate debate is such that assertions of this nature, no matter how apocalyptic or flatly bizarre they may be, are met with resigned acceptance rather than the scepticism that they so clearly deserve. We have reached the point where calm, temperate, scientifically-grounded counterarguments simply cannot be heard over the cacophony of climate alarmism. In such circumstances, reasoned discourse leading to the development of sound, scientifically justifiable policy is all but impossible.
The dread with which the spectre of global warming has come to be regarded is depressingly reminiscent of another shadowy menace that gripped European and North American populations not that long ago.
An epidemic terror seized upon the nations; no man thought himself secure, either in his person or possessions, from the machinations of the devil and his agents. Every calamity that befell him he attributed to a witch. If a storm arose and blew down his barn, it was witchcraft; if his cattle died of a murrain – if disease fastened upon his limbs, or death entered suddenly and snatched a beloved face from his hearth – they were not visitations of providence, but the works of some neighbouring hag…
The consequences for European society – and especially for those accused of witchcraft – were severe. “Thousands upon thousands of unhappy persons,” Mackay laments, “fell victim to this cruel and absurd delusion.”
One need only replace the references to supernatural forces in Mackay’s passage with the words “global warming” to recognize that we have been here before. The witch mania of the Middle Ages – one of the “extraordinary popular delusions” described by Mackay in his eponymous book – is uncomfortably analogous to the present debate over the sources and consequences of climate change. One of those consequences is the extent to which ideology and moral panic have been permitted to displace science and reason as the basis for debate. Given the potential economic impact of the billions likely to vanish via carbon taxes, emissions trading schemes, “green jobs” programmes and the conversion of cropland to biofuels production, the great climate panic – our generation’s answer to the witch mania – is on course to outdo its medieval predecessor in terms of the number of humans likely to be adversely affected, probably by several orders of magnitude.
The predisposition to charge every conceivable ill to the account of global warming – or “anthropogenic global warming”, to give the demon its proper name – is the inevitable result of giving a theory primacy of place over observed data, in direct contravention of the principles of scientific inquiry. The theory in question is, of course, that the Earth is warming and that human emissions of greenhouse gases – principally carbon dioxide – are largely to blame. The shorthand version of this theory was best expressed by the IPCC in its Fourth Assessment Report – Summary for Policymakers (2007): “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.” To expand this into a more useful form, the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) thesis proposes, first, that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the key factor driving global temperatures; second, that the observed increase in average global temperature since the onset of the Industrial Age in the late 18th Century was driven primarily by carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activities, in particular, the consumption of fossil fuels; and third, that unless draconian measures are immediately taken not only to curb, but vastly to reduce, human emissions of carbon dioxide, temperatures will rise rapidly over the coming century, and environmental catastrophe will ensue.
The nature and extent of the predicted catastrophes, of course, varies widely; depending upon the source, “climate change” is expected to produce, for example, a rise in sea levels of eight to twenty-four inches over the course of the 21st Century (according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC); of twenty feet or more (according to former US Vice-President, Nobel Laureate, Oscar winner, and celebrated global warming lobbyist, Al Gore); or of 246 feet (according to Gore’s outspoken mentor in climate science, Dr. James Hansen). Such extraordinary predictions illustrate both the susceptibility of the climate debate to the most egregious hyperbole, and the eagerness with which its prophets divorce themselves from historical observations. The average global sea level in fact rose a grand total of eight inches during the whole of the 20th Century. Moreover, according to observed data – satellite measurements maintained by the University of Colorado – it has not risen at all since the beginning of 2006. At this rate, it will be quite some time before Al Gore will have to sell the waterfront condominium that he purchased in San Francisco in 2005, the same year he predicted that sea levels would rise by 20 feet.
The vast uncertainties inherent in the predictive methodology employed by the proponents of the AGW thesis are an unavoidable result of attempts to model a coupled, interdependent, non-linear system like global climate, and lends itself to concomitant imprecision in argumentation by the theory’s principal spokesmen. If you don’t understand how a phenomenon works, you cannot model it. Uncertainty and imprecision lend themselves to exaggeration, which can serve as a useful political tool for individuals who may stand to gain, politically or otherwise, from openly subscribing to (if not actively promulgating) the climate panic. On 29 December 2008, the aforementioned Dr. Hansen, an employee of NASA (and therefore of the US federal government), published an open letter to President-elect Barack Obama alerting the incoming Chief Executive to, inter alia, the “urgent geophysical fact” that “burning all the fossil fuels will destroy the planet we know” – which, according to Hansen, is “the planet of stable climate in which civilization developed.” Apart from the unverified (and inherently unverifiable) nature of the “facts” Hansen cites – including his argument, which flies in the face of all archaeological evidence, that human civilization evolved in anything even remotely resembling a “stable climate” – what is remarkable about his letter is its apocalyptic tone. Outrageous hyperbole may be a routine tool of politics, but it is anathema to sound science.
Hansen’s missive was published worldwide by countless mainstream media outlets, accompanied by the sort of headlines one associates with chiliastic cults rather than the sombre halls of academe. One especially memorable example was, “Barack Obama has only four years to save the world.” Obama has himself encouraged such language, having famously said that the world would look back upon his nomination as Democratic candidate for the Presidency as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” One would have thought that King Canute’s demonstration to his earls a thousand years ago would have settled once and for all the question of whether political leaders – even divinely anointed ones – are able to command the rise and fall of the waters.
When scientists, public servants and journalists – all of whom are supposed to demonstrate professional objectivity – use language indistinguishable from that employed by ideological activists, politicians, and millenarian prophets, then one may reasonably conclude that the discussion has departed the realm of science.
The extreme politicization of the climate change debate has little precedent in modern scientific endeavour or discourse – and yet it is the credibility of the science underlying their arguments to which the theory’s advocates repeatedly appeal when attempting to pressure governments to act in accordance with their recommendations, or face calamity. James Hansen is only one offender among many in this regard, and he is hardly the most intemperate of the lot. Al Gore’s Oscar-winning film, “An Inconvenient Truth”, made innumerable references to the “science” underlying the AGW theory, all the while systematically distorting and misrepresenting it. Gore’s distortions were so pronounced that his film is the only Oscar-winning documentary ever found by judgement of a court to be riddled with errors and misrepresentations on the key points it purports to convey. The end result was a masterpiece of propaganda more reminiscent of the work of Leni Riefenstahl than of a genuine endeavour to explain complex and highly uncertain science to a scientifically incurious, and often scientifically illiterate, public.
Extremist oratory is a feature of religious or political movements, not science. History is replete with examples of demagogues prophesying catastrophe in order to convince people to take one course of action and eschew another. As I will demonstrate over the course of this paper, misrepresentation and hyperbole, while deeply corrosive of science, have historically been invaluable tools for confidence men, hoaxsters, and seekers of power. In these enlightened times, of course, overblown rhetoric tends to resonate poorly in populations of free and reasonably literate citizens – except in this one regard: when those pronouncements are cloaked in the language and trappings of science.
Because the proponents of the AGW thesis ground their arguments in science, the scientific credibility of their arguments is subject to review. This, after all, is one of the founding principles of scientific inquiry: that any scientist announcing a discovery must make his data and methods available to all, so that his results may be independently verified. This challenge function is what separates science from politics and theology, neither of which offers the possibility of independent confirmation, and it is what gives the scientific method both its remarkable investigative power, and its credibility – earned over the course of the centuries since the Enlightenment – as a method for interrogating nature.
Science is not, however, a search for “truth” (inconvenient or otherwise); this is too nebulous and non-quantifiable a goal. Science is designed to ferret out and explain facts. This is the basis of its simple and powerful method, which consists of four distinct steps:
· observation, in which the scientist notices a hitherto unexplained phenomenon;
· theorization, in which the scientist postulates a mechanism to explain the observed phenomenon, and, ideally, makes non-obvious predictions based on his hypothesis;
· experimentation, in which the scientist designs and executes a practical exercise to test the robustness of his theory, preferably against non-obvious predictions; and,
· synthesis, in which the scientist determines, on the basis of the results of his experiments, whether his thesis has succeeded (so far) in explaining the observed phenomenon; has partially succeeded, and must be modified; or has been falsified, and must be abandoned.
The scientist then publishes his work – including his observations, thesis, experimental design, methodology, data and conclusions – as an invitation to other scientists to reproduce his results in order to test their validity, and thus evaluate the credibility of his conclusions. This process might best be characterized as ‘evolutionary’ – a ‘survival of the least unfit’, as it were, through which theories endure repeated scrutiny and testing, and are considered “corroborated” only for so long as they are not undermined by – to borrow Huxley’s phrase – an “ugly fact.”
This is the point at which the AGW thesis stands today. The cornerstone of the theory is that atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is the key driver of global temperature, and that as the former increases, so will the latter. Successive iterations of IPCC reports have unswervingly predicted that average global temperatures will rise in lockstep with atmospheric CO2. This has not happened. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased steadily since the middle of the 19th Century, while global temperatures rose and fell cyclically, following a slight upward trend. More recently, despite a continuing increase in carbon dioxide concentrations, global temperatures peaked in 1998, levelled off for several years, and have, since 2002, steadily declined. Global temperatures have been falling for the past seven years. This is not opinion; it is not the output of an elaborate computer model; it is observed data, gathered using the most accurate global temperature-measuring equipment ever devised. And it directly contradicts the predictions of the AGW thesis.
At this point, any scientist who respected the strictures of the scientific method would return to the drawing board and attempt to devise a new theory that better explains the observed, cyclical nature of climate. But the proponents of the AGW thesis have instead retrenched, clinging to their theory, indulging in increasingly fantastic rhetoric, offering ad hominem arguments in place of sound science, appealing to public hysteria, and even, in some cases, appearing to play fast and loose with results and the statistical interpretation thereof – all in an attempt to firm up the rapidly dissolving ground upon which their “beautiful theory” rests. These tactics have been combined with unprecedented political pressure, both at the national level and in international fora, aimed at convincing politicians to take quick, radical and irrevocable action to respond to the alleged climate crisis. Qui bono – who stands to gain? – is a vital question in any legal proceeding. Politicians being pressured to enact costly measures to respond to something that does not appear to be a crisis at all owe their constituents the courtesy of asking it.
This paper does not purport to offer an overview of the multifarious aspects of the AGW thesis; these have been well-publicized in recent years, and ought to be familiar to all readers (indeed, supremely familiar; no movie about Maxwell’s discovery of the displacement current, or Einstein’s work on relativity, or even Newton’s invention of the calculus, has ever won an academy award for “best documentary”). Rather, it aims to enumerate the principle objections – largely scientific, but also historical, economic, political and strategic – to that thesis, and their implications for the Western countries that are preparing to cripple their economies in obedience to the demands of the alarmists.
This is not, in short, an examination of the relative merits of two equally meritorious points of view. By the standards of empirical science, the AGW thesis has been proven to be devoid of merit, and lies dead at the hands of data it is unable to explain. This paper enumerates and discusses the “ugly facts” that killed it.
The first four chapters of this paper discuss scientific observations and analyses that demonstrate that the AGW thesis has been falsified. These are:
· first, that it is not unusually warm;
· second, that it is in fact getting colder;
· third, that there is no significant correlation between either atmospheric carbon dioxide or human industrial activity and average global temperature, and therefore no evidence that anthropogenic CO2 emissions play a significant role in driving climate; and,
· fourth, that there is a significant correlation, suggesting a causal relationship, between solar activity and global temperatures, suggesting that the Sun, not human-produced greenhouse gases, is the principal driver of the Earth’s climate.
The last four chapters discuss historical, strategic and analytical interpretations of the sources, content and implications of the “global warming” debate, in order to provide a broader and deeper understanding not only of where the climate panic comes from, but also of what may be at stake if the Western world continues down the path urged by the alarmists. These are:
· fifth, that if history is any guide, attempts by governments to regulate carbon are an invitation to speculation, fraud and economic catastrophe;
· sixth, that ‘climate change’ is not a ‘threat’ in any sense of the word;
· seventh, that the climate panic is the result of the systematic betrayal of science, for which its proponents ought, by their peers and by the general public that they have misled, to be held accountable; and
· eighth, that attempts by governments to regulate and reduce “carbon emissions” are likely to be both costly and damaging to the economies of their states; and that to persist in such attempts in the face of scientific evidence that human-produced carbon dioxide plays no significant role in determining climate would constitute impardonable folly.
This paper does not discuss policy implications for individual government departments. This is because the potential consequences – economic, societal, strategic, political – of governments continuing to act as though the AGW thesis has not been falsified are of national, and indeed international, import. Moreover, internal departmental policies are rarely internally evolved, but tend instead to derive from federal legislation, regulations and policies. It is therefore at the national level that a change of course is required. Readers are of course free to apply my arguments and conclusions to other activities and policies below the Federal level as they see fit.
It is hoped that the following discussion of the “ugly facts” about the great climate panic will serve to shed a little long-overdue light onto a debate that has been almost entirely subsumed in political manoeuvring, pecuniary interest, ideology, and base emotion. No good can come of allowing a fundamentally scientific question to be decided on the basis of anything other than robust empirical science.
 Roger Pielke, Jr., during a Q&A with the Centre for Environmental Journalism, 8 January 2009 [http://www.cejournal.net/?p=607].
 “No matter what happens, someone will blame global warming”, Fox News, 23 December 2008 [http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,472084,00.html].
 Patrick White, “Global Warming to hit nether regions”, Globe and Mail, 15 July 2008 [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080715.wlstones15/BNStory/specialScienceandHealth/?page=rss&id=RTGAM.20080715.wlstones15].
 “Beer lovers told to beware of global warming”, MSNBC.com, 8 April 2008 [http://www.msnbc.msn. com/id/24011745/].
 Richard Luscombe, “Surge in fatal shark attacks blamed on global warming”, Guardian.co.uk, 4 May 2008 [http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/04/wildlife.climatechange].
 David Adam, “Whales losing blubber, claims controversial Japanese study”, Guardian.co.uk, 26 August 2008 [http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/aug/26/whaling.conservation].
 Josiah Ryan, “Global Warming led to ‘Blackhawk Down’, Congressman Says”, CNSnews.com, 11 July 2008 [http://www.cnsnews.com/public/Content/Article.aspx?rsrcid=32291].
 John Roach, “Penguin Chicks Frozen by Global Warming?”, National Geographic News, 2 July 2008 [http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/07/080702-endangered-penguins.html].
 Elizabeth Wise, “Pythons could squeeze lower third of USA”, USA Today online, 21 February 2008 [http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-02-20-burmese-pythons_N.htm].
 “Killer stingray found off British coast as experts warn of mass invasion due to global warming”, Mail Online, 19 June 2008 [http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/news/article-1027624/Killer-stingray-British-coast-experts-warn-arrive-global-warming.html].
 Bob Dow, “Veteran Loch Ness Monster Hunter Gives Up”, DailyRecord.co.uk, 13 February 2008 [http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2008/02/13/veteran-loch-ness-monster-hunter-gives-up-86908-20317853/].
 Ted Turner, during an interview with NBC’s Charlie Rose [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= mys_AQjM4U0&feature=related].
 For a far more comprehensive list of the projected deleterious impacts of ‘global warming’, see [http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm]. Among the many things likely to result are reduced crocodile sex, a downturn in the haggis industry, more earthquakes, an increase in witch-killings in Tanzania, a higher probability of nuclear war, and childhood insomnia (presumably caused either by the higher probability of nuclear war, or by being hectored about the size of their ‘carbon footprints’).
 Robert Davis, “Cost of Global Warming: 1 Million Species”, USA Today, 1 July 2004 [http://www.usatoday.com/news/science/2004-01-07-global-warming_x.htm]. In a remarkable example but highly revealing of cognitive malfunction, one environmentalist recently told Time magazine that global warming will cost the planet “hundreds of thousands to millions of species, many of which we haven’t even discovered yet.” Bryan Walsh, “The New Age of Extinction”, Time.com, n.d. [http://www.time.com/ time/specials/packages/ article/0,28804,1888728_1888736,00.html].
 Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, originally published in 1841 (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1980), “The Witch Mania”, 480.
 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007 Synthesis Report: Summary for Policymakers (Valencia, Spain: 12-17 November 2007), 5.
 IPCC, “Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report – Summary for Policymakers”, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007 [http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr_spm.pdf ],Table SPM.1, 8.
 In his 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth, Gore claims that sea levels could rise by up to twenty feet “in the near future.” This was one of nine claims subsequently found by a British court to have been a misrepresentation of sciene.
 “Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know. Carbon dioxide would increase to 500 ppm or more. We would set the planet on a course to the ice-free state, with sea level 75 meters higher.” James Hansen, “The Sword of Damocles”, an article submitted to the Observer, 15 February 2009 [http://www.sccsresources.org.uk/?p=1423].
 See J.A. Church et al., “Estimates of the regional distribution of sea-level rise over the 1950-2000 period”, Journal of Climate 17 (2004) p. 2609-2625; and S.J. Holgate, “On the decadal rates of sea level change during the twentieth century”, Geophysical Research Letters 34: 10.1029/2006GL028492.
 The data charts may be found at the University of Colorado sea level change website [http://sealevel. colorado.edu/results.php].
 James Hansen, “A Letter to Obama”, Guardian.co.uk, 1 January 2009 [http.www.guardian.co.uk/world/ 2009/jan/01/letter-to-barack-obama].
 Robin McKie, “President ‘has four years to save Earth’”, The Observer, Sunday 18 January 2009, [http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jan/18/jim-hansen-obama].
 Barack Obama, accepting the Democratic nomination for President, St. Paul, Minnesota, 3 June 2008 [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/06/03/obamas-nomination-victory_n_105028.html].
 The court ruling can be seen here [http://www.cpi.cam.ac.uk/gore/pdf/Al%20Gore%20ruling%20-%2010%20Oct.pdf]; the errors are detailed at pages 8-9. For a comprehensive but not exhaustive overview of the film’s weaknesses and outright fabrications, see Christopher Monckton, “35 Inconvenient Truths: The Errors in Al Gore’s Movie”, Science and Public Policy Institute, 18 October 2007 [http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/monckton/ goreerrors.html].
 See, for example, figure SPM.5 in the 2007 Summary for Policymakers, which show all model projections predicting increased temperatures in response to increasing CO2 concentrations. IPCC, “Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report – Summary for Policymakers”, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007 [http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr_spm.pdf ].
 Proponents of the AGW thesis tend to cleave to land-based thermometer records, which show more warming over the past 150 years, and less cooling over the past seven. Satellite temperature measurements are far more accurate, cover the entire globe (including the 70% that is not land), and are not contaminated by the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect – which, according to a recent study, can result in warming amounting to as much as 1°C per century. This is significant given that, according to the IPCC, the total warming experienced since 1850 is only two-thirds that (0.6°C) – and given the fact that, until now, the IPCC has maintained that the impact of the UHI effect on large area temperature data is “an order of magnitude less than the warming seen on a century timescale”. P.D. Jones, D. H. Lister, and Q. Li, “Urbanization effects in large-scale temperature records, with an emphasis on China”, Journal of Geophysical Research 113 (2008) D16122, doi:10.1029/2008JD009916 [http://www.agu.org/ pubs/crossref/2008/2008JD009916.shtml].
 A wide variety of “horror stories” about the suppression of scientific research contradicting the AGW thesis are detailed on the website maintained by US Senator James Inhofe, of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. See [http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Minority. Blogs&ContentRecord_id=865dbe39-802a-23ad-4949-ee9098538277].