Monday, March 12, 2007

The Great Global Warming Swindle (part 2)

Janet Daley hits the proverbial nail in The Telegraph:

There is big money to be made now out of climate change, and not just by huge supermarket chains and manufacturers cashing in on the government grants and the contracting market which will be produced by eliminating smaller suppliers.

Clever entrepreneurs have seen an opening: "carbon offsetting" is a completely unregulated growth industry that offers to take your money in return for cancelling out your contribution to global warming, by all sorts of dubious means such as planting forests, which may or may not survive. Rather like the medieval papacy selling indulgences, the offset people give absolution to the better-off in return for cash.

But the lower-paid in Europe will be less hard hit in the green scenario than the wretchedly poor of the developing world. One of the disturbing points in the Durkin documentary was that some of the most desperately backward areas of sub-Saharan Africa are being told that they must not exploit their oil reserves to create electricity because more use of fossil fuel would damage the planet. Without using oil to electrify the countryside, these African nations will be effectively prevented from bringing the benefits of modern life - safe water supplies, irrigation and lighting - to the mass of their peoples within a generation. Well, the green apologists say, even if our computer models are flawed, and our extrapolations prove unsound, isn't it better to "clean up the planet" anyway? Why not take the steps to reduce carbon emissions and pay the hard price just in case it is all true?

I don't know about you, but before I can feel comfortable asking people in emerging economies such as India to forgo the benefits of economic growth and mass prosperity, before I can sentence some of the poorest people in the world to living indefinitely without modern technology, before I am even prepared to ask the lower-paid of this country to give up the improvements in their quality of life to which they have only just become accustomed - I want to hear any and every argument that is to be had about this theory.

And to the comrades in the green movement, I would say this: before you slam the lid on debate, and put your invasive restrictions into place to deny people freedoms and comforts that have transformed their condition, you had better be damned sure that you are right.

Gordon Brown delivers his Budget next Wednesday. For reasons too tedious to go into, I will have to write about this in my real life. We've already prepared ourselves for a whole new taxation concept: that of 'Green Taxes'.

I regard environmentalism as I do all religions: I neither begrudge people their beliefs, nor do I scorn them for their beliefs. Some of their beliefs might even be true. I don't even mind millenarianism . All so long as they don't insist on imposing them on everybody else.

But I do get progressively more concerned according to the degree to which the importance of improving the lives and prospects of actual people alive now is downgraded in favour of The Grand Theory.


Duck said...

Rather like the medieval papacy selling indulgences, the offset people give absolution to the better-off in return for cash.

That's an excellent analogy.

Harry Eagar said...

I first saw it on Lubos Motl's blog. I recommend it as perhaps the best-grounded commentary on warming.

erp said...

In this, as in all things, follow the money.

Gordon McCabe said...

So Brit, where will you be writing about the Budget?

Brit said...

Sorry Gordon, if I told you I'd have to kill you.

Gordon McCabe said...

There was a report on Newsnight tonight (Monday evening), which featured last week's Channel 4 programme, 'The Great Global Warming Swindle'. Newsnight broadcast a 5 minute excerpt of the most crucial points from the programme, and then attempted to have a studio debate. This never really took off because they chose the expert on malaria to defend the Channel 4 programme, and he didn't want to talk about climatology!

Brit said...

Gordon, if you or anyone can link to a point-by-point rebuttal of the GGWS programme, I would be very interested.

Gordon McCabe said...

Well, I'll have a look, but I know what I'll find:

1) The point that the programme made that global temperatures lead CO2 levels over the long-term is indisputable. Long-term glacial and inter-glacial periods were caused by variations in solar radiation, mainly thought to be caused by variations in the Earth's orbital parameters.

2) The programme failed to point out that the relationship between global temperatures and the sunspot cycle has broken down since 1970.

3) Atmospheric CO2 levels have indisputably increased from about 280 parts per million in pre-industrial times to about 380 parts per million today. The programme misleadingly claimed that the emission of CO2 from natural sources like volcanoes is far greater than human emissions. This is true, but prior to the industrial revolution, the amount of CO2 emitted from natural CO2 sources was balanced by the amount of CO2 absorbed by natural CO2 sinks, such as the oceans. Anthopogenic CO2 emissions have caused a net increase in atmospheric levels of CO2 by adding another source.

Brit said...

My first thought is: the areas referred to by points 1 and 2 are completely different orders of information.

We get to 1 by analysing millennia. The period since 1970 is a relative blink of an eye and nothing can be concluded from it.

If 3 is correct, then yes, the programme was very misleading.

Gordon McCabe said...

There's a rebuttal here, although the wrong graph is displayed for point 3.

Brit said...

Thanks for the link. Consistency requires that I treat both pro- and anti-AGW conspiracy theories with equal suspicion.

The scientific consensus is always, by its very nature, being proven wrong. The ability to be wrong is built into the system.

My gut instinct however is that our primary duty is towards the human beings alive on the planet at the moment.

What frightens me about the environmentalists is that they not only lack this instinct, they scorn it.

Adelephant said...


Your primary instincts are towards the people alive on the planet at the moment - an apparently noble sentiment, but one that concerns me.

1) You raise the argument about Africa's resources. This is a very comefortable argument for us. By arguing that environmentalists are immoral because they are preventing the use of oil in Africa, and thus preventing a more satisfactory way of life (if, indeed, this is true)we justify our own use of oil. This way we are winners on all fronts - we are morally superior in the short-term, and if it all goes wrong and it does turn out we were responsible for global warming, it will be those same Africans who suffer most. Vast areas of Africa will be totally uninhabitable, and we will be a better holiday destination.

2) Whilst I am reluctant as any to give up my car and foreign holidays, I am loathe to pin my hopes on a technological advance or last minute reprieve. It smacks of the thinking of Easter Islanders, Grand Banks' cod fishermen, Polynesian colonists, and slash and burn agriculturalists everywhere.

The fact is we don't like change that might make our own lives even slightly "worse", and it is human nature to defend this position at any cost - especially if the cost is not incurred by ourselves. I don't like the idea of drastic change any more than you do, but am prepared to admit why the arguments really concern me.

Brit said...


I think we should try to be less dependent on oil for all sorts of reasons.

What concerns me far more than that is the danger that governments will make misguided and harmful decisions based on controversial science, because the movement has got out of control.

Harry Eagar said...

Gordon, check out E.-G. Beck's piece on carbon dioxide. It may be that carbon dioxide has not been increasing in a smooth, linear fashion over the last 150 years.

Hey Skipper said...


This is true, but prior to the industrial revolution, the amount of CO2 emitted from natural CO2 sources was balanced by the amount of CO2 absorbed by natural CO2 sinks, such as the oceans. Anthopogenic CO2 emissions have caused a net increase in atmospheric levels of CO2 by adding another source.

Unfortunately, that is both true, and largely, perhaps totally, meaningless.

The amount of "natural" CO2 emissions was balanced by natural CO2 sinks, leading to an average CO2 concentration of 280 ppm.

The contemporary total of CO2 emissions is still balanced by natural CO2 sinks. That the current concentration is 380 ppm doesn't alter the basic nature of the carbon cycle.

The real question then, is not whether man's activities have disrupted the carbon cycle -- they haven't.

Rather, the question is whether man's activities, which amount to adding roughly 10% to natural emissions of a greenhouse gas both far less effective and abundant than water vapor can lead to catastrophic consequences.

Given all the feedback loops, and the earth's climatological history, that notion, at a gut level, seems patently silly: if the climate is that sensitive, it would be too chaotic for us to even exist.

Also, I noted from the rebuttal link this statement the new CO2 that resulted from heavy post-WWII industrialization had not yet taken effect ...

Which begs a very unanswered question: why would it take so long for increased concentrations of CO2 to have such an effect?

The treatment of evidence seems very selective. Volcanic activity and aerosols have almost instantaneous impact, but CO2 somehow doesn't, but for no apparent reason.

My post hoc detector is nearly in the red.

Harry Eagar said...

Beck's piece, not yet peer-reviewed or published (forget where I found it) suggests that it isn't even true that CO2 is up, at least not in a smooth, linear climb.
This would be surprising in one view: we are, after all, burning carbon.

On the other hand, natural sources of CO2 might be pretty large. In Boston, they talk about the Big Dig. Kilauea volcano has been pumping out 650,000 cubic yards of lava every day for the past 24 years.

Including SO2, a greenhouse gas.

And there are lots and lots of other volcanoes, of variable activity. Though I don't know that it's so, if it turned out that in the 18th c. the natural output of CO2 was notably higher than in the 19th c., so that CO2 levels were falling a hundred years ago, it would not surprise me much.

Kilauea's output is negligible compared to Iceland's in the 1780s.