Friday, March 09, 2007

The Great Global Warming Swindle

A shattering programme on Channel 4 last night: The Great Global Warming Swindle, and perhaps an opening volley in the forthcoming backlash against the concept of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) currently being predicted by AOG and David.

Amongst its many heretical claims:

1) That, contra Al Gore, the ice records show that increases in carbon dioxide lag behind temperatures by an average of 800 years, so although high carbon dioxide levels and high temperatures are related – a key piece of evidence in An Inconvenient Truth – the former cannot have caused the latter.

2) That the sun is the primary cause of all climate change and none of it is our fault.

3) That there has been no correlation between the rate of industrialisation and the rate of global warming.

4) That volcanoes alone produce much more carbon dioxide than all human industry, planes, cars etc. And volcanoes produce virtually nothing compared to plants and animals. And plants and animals produce virtually nothing compared to the oceans. And that it doesn't matter anyway because carbon dioxide makes no difference to global temperature.

5) That the arctic glaciers break up dramatically every year and always have done.

6) That environmental scientists and the new breed of ‘environmental journalists’ now have to be sensational to have any chance of being funded and published.

7) That there is a huge constituency of people dependent on the multi-billion industry that is the global warming research/scare lobby. Sceptics are ostracised.

8) That, according to Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore, the environmental lobby is founded in the rump of the anti-capitalist, anti-US left that has been left directionless by the collapse of communism and socialism as a viable model

10) That the draconian measures imposed by the Precautionary Principle will have a disastrous effect on the world’s poorest. For example, the environmental lobby is demanding that African nations depend on the hopelessly unreliable and impossibly expensive solar and wind power rather than investing in using the continent’s coal and oil to generate the electricity that could immediately transform millions of blighted lives. This is where the environmental lobby becomes morally repugnant.

I have long been a waverer on AGW.

Like all lay people, I rely on what the media tells me is the scientific consensus, but a) I remember spending hours on ridiculous admin work to 'cover' our business in the advent of the Millennium Bug; and b) I have always been very sceptical about people who want to change our lifestyles based on weather forecasting, which ranks pretty high on the list of Things We Know Sod All About.

Following this programme, I am even more bewildered and befuddled, with an additional sense that I have a right to be angry with somebody. I’d like to see a point-by-point rebuttal of the programme, because so much of it was convincing.

As with so many things these days, we laypeople have both too much and too little information.

What seems absolutely clear is that we must not take any drastic action to reverse any technological and lifestyle improvements merely because the environmentalists demand it. We have to have a period of stopping and thinking. Or rather, carrying on and thinking.

Perhaps the next big question will be: which scientists, journalists and pundits will be the first to break ranks and admit they were hopelessly, humiliatingly wrong about AGW? And once the trickle starts, will it soon be a flood, leaving the anti-capitalists as stranded and embittered as they were after the failure of communism?

UPDATE: Gordon McCabe has a crucial clip from the programme here.

UPDATE: Part 2 on this programme here.


monix said...

I align myself with your reactions and concerns following the programme. The Telegraph, and I'm sure other papers, have taken a contrary stance but they do appear to have a vested interest.

Your intelligent appraisal has left me free to take my usual flippant approach!

Duck said...

What seems absolutely clear is that we must not take any drastic action to reverse any technological and lifestyle improvements merely because the environmentalists demand it.

Exactly. That's been my opinion all along, whether AGW was true or not. We simply have no choice. Drastic action along the lines demanded by the Greenpeace crowd would result in worldwide depression, and probably governmental collapse. But it would never come to that because noone in their right mind would sacrifice their livelihood to follow a ridiculous international protocol. International activists way underestimate the power of self-interest.

Gordon McCabe said...

Indeed, a fabulous documentary, and a very nice summary of the main points Brit. However, I think that because of the strength of the belief in AGW, there is a tendency for the sceptics to exaggerate the counter-evidence.

For some months on my own blog, I've been pointing out that in the first half of the twentieth century, temperatures rose considerably, but there was a negligible increase in CO2. Hence, CO2 cannot explain this temperature increase. The sunspot cycle explains this temperature increase very nicely. From 1940 to 1975 there was then a temperature decrease. This can be explained as a consequence of SO2 in the upper atmosphere from a number of volcanic eruptions. (SO2 has a cooling effect). From 1975 onwards, however, there has been another temperature increase, comparable to that in the first half of the twentieth century. CO2 levels did rise considerably during this period, and, crucially, the relationship with the sunspot cycle breaks down during this period (which last night's programme didn't point out). My conclusion, therefore, is that the current global warming is the combined effect of the sun's behaviour, and CO2 emissions.

The fact that CO2 emissions have lagged behind global temperatures in the past, entails that it wasn't the initial cause of global warming in the past, but it doesn't entail that CO2 isn't capable of causing global warming.

In the presence of uncertainty, it's always a good idea to hedge your bets, but I agree that doing this shouldn't involve restricting economic growth in either the developed or developing worlds. Instead, we should be investing more heavily in solar power research.

Toque said...

I'm no expert but I tend to agree that the hedging of bets is a good idea.

Developing carbon neutral technology, lowering consumption and stabalising the World's population can only have beneficial consequences - so why not do it?

Personally I agree with Gore - we are all going to hell in a hand basket. But I agree with Bush too - it's too late to simply cut emissions and expect everything to be OK, we need scientific solutions.

Brit said...

My position was like yours, Toque, but now I think that the emphasis has shifted dangerously to "We need to do something at all costs, just in case."

The question should be: "What are the costs?"

I am in favour of investment in alternative technologies, but that's primarily because it isn't healthy for the west to depend on oil.

Peter Burnet said...

How many leftists and hangers-on can you name who broke ranks and admitted they were hopelessly, humiliatingly wrong about socialism? It's going to take a lot more than documentaries and outspoken dissident scientists to reverse this tide. In fact, I suspect it will take a generational revolt of some kind. We are now at the point where this issue has so intertwined science and cult that you almost have to see this as a psychological de-programming challenge rather than an objective evidentiary one. The will to believe is astounding, as is the "spiritual" succor so many are getting from this.

Global warming resonates with just about every popular and populist anti-West impulse since the sixties. As the truth is lost in inaccessible computer modelling mumbo-jumbo and the "science" is entirely future-based, it is gloriously impervious to experimentation, validation, etc. It can neither be proven or disproven (which reminds you of what?). Sceptics like we tend to think the faithful are really alarmed by the predictions and would be relieved if it was all shown to be a crock or we solved the problem. I don't believe that anymore that I believe the tranzis would be happy if they eradicated poverty in Africa. Especially if it was done using proven free market/rule of law/property rights tools.

Nice fisking, Brit, but to the extent that your #7 implies hypocrisy or thick-headedness among well-entrenched careerists, I think that misses the point. When you see stuff like this, you realize you are tilting against the whole zeitgeist and that the faith has completely captured the minds of many of our best and brightest. We are up against secular eschatology here and a collective self-hatred that would impress the wildest Christian millenialist.

Brit said...

Those are the programme's points rather than mine: I'm just repeating them.

My position is that of Confused Layman.

Brit said...

One other extraordinary thing in the programme I didn't mention:

They showed clips from a BBC science show from the 70s. In that, the overriding scientific consensus was that we faced a crisis in the form of Global Cooling. The earth was getting colder and man would soon be wiped out by an Ice Age.

One lone voice stood out against this: a Swedish climatologist who suggested that man would be able to combat global cooling by producing more CO2 through burning coal and oil. He was dismissed as a crank by all the others.

Susan's Husband said...

One thing anyone who is serious about this issue needs to do is be very clear about the difference between climate change and anthropogenic global warming. A lot of effort goes in to conflating these two things, but they are not the same and the appropriate responses are not the same.

In my view, if we think global warming (regardless of cause) is a bad thing, we should seek solutions that prevent global warming regardless of cause (such technologies exist or we know how to develop them). Expanded solar power and reduced carbon technologies won't help if increasing CO2 isn't the cause. Wouldn't it be better to bet on something that covers all options?

The most interesting thing I have heard on this subject is the view that we should have gone back in to an Ice Age but AGW has prevented it. Moreover, it's easier to cool down the planet than heat it up, and that an Ice Age would be far more damaging than the currently projected temperature increase. Therefore, the less dangerous thing to do is let the warming continue while we develop better data and technology.

monix said...

They showed clips from a BBC science show from the 70s. In that, the overriding scientific consensus was that we faced a crisis in the form of Global Cooling. The earth was getting colder and man would soon be wiped out by an Ice Age.

There's always a new crisis waiting in the wings. Before the ice-age prophecy, we had the Cold War. We used to get terribly serious women, in unforgivable bottle green uniforms, coming to talk to us in school about what to do when the 4-minute warning siren sounded. I've never taken anything seriously since.

Gordon McCabe said...

Great post Peter! I especially liked the phrase 'secular eschatology', which I shall henceforth drop into polite conversation.

And Monix, think yourself lucky: at my primary school, all we got were the nit-nurses!

Brit said...


Though frequently Completely Wrong about things, and suffering from the unfortunate condition of Being Canadian, Peter has a habit of writing great posts.

His blog is highly recommended.

Ali Choudhury said...

Susan's AOG mentioned maybe using sunshades at the L1. A friend who does believe in AGW said would be a bit expensive.

"Given the equatorial radius of the earth and a nominal low orbit of 222 km, the radius of the sphere in which the sheet, or parasol, is to be located is 6.6 × 103 km. Then the area of the sphere to completely wrap the earth is 5.5 ×
1014 m2. To compensate completely for the greenhouse warming from a doubling in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, 3,4 the parasol must cover 1 percent of the area, or 5.5 × 1012 m2.

If this parasol must be 1 micron (µm) thick, 5.5 × 106 m3 of material is required. At a density of 1 g/cm3, 5.5 × 109 kg would have to be lifted into low earth orbit. The cost of establishing such a project is dominated by the cost of putting the parasol into orbit. At an optimistic cost of $1,000/kg, the cost of lifting the material into orbit would be $5.5 trillion.5 Such a parasol would mitigate about 1000 Gt of carbon emissions, for a cost of about $5.5/t C mitigated or about $1.5/t CO2 (rounding the number). At current launch costs of $10,000/kg, the cost would be $55/t C mitigated or about $15/t CO2."

So that's a $5 trillion cost not including manufacturing expenses.

He also said:

"If we had to embrace a technical fix, we could start tomorrow building long-duration stratospheric balloons - pain them black on the bottom, silver on top; fill them with helium and send them up into the stratosphere.

You'd likely need a few billion of them to make a real difference but its real off-the-shelf tehcnology we coudl use immediately - and if it turns out we ARE wrong about the extent of global warming we can modulate the number of balloons much quicker and cheaper than we could with large spaceborne structures."

Peter Burnet said...


Thank-you, and of course thanks to dear old Brit for the unqualified praise. It is all very bizarre. The global warming activists are all screaming "science, science, science", but the very last thing they want is to allow the agenda to be driven by cold, empirical observation or to admit there is anything more we should or need to know before consigning ourselves to penury. And many are profoundly upset by any suggestion that there may be technological solutions. Here's an experiment. If you know any of these groupies or even ordinary, decent fellow-travellers, tell them that there is some new promising research that suggests the problem may be overstated, solvable or manageable. Then watch their facial muscles tighten.

erp said...

Ali, I had no idea you were so good looking and a cowboy to boot. Great picture and your analysis of numbers, while floating mostly over my head, allowed me to glean out the info that launching billions of balloons into the stratosphere was perhaps not a good idea.

monix in solidarity with our sex, I will also take my usual flippant approach. I imagine they'll let us know when to start paying attention again.

Ali Choudhury said...

Thanks erp.

I'm not sure US Grant was ever a cowboy. He might have shot a few though.

erp said...

Ali, Gosh is my face red! I didn't know the General when he was young and handsome. The man remember looked more like this.

Hey Skipper said...


Mixing coal dust in jet fuel would, at virtually no cost, mimic the reflectivity of volcano dust in the stratosphere.

In the midwest US, upper atmosphere conditions can be very close to allowing long lasting jet contrails. Unfortunately for weather forecasters, the tipping point is very tough to predict.

Sometimes, therefore, contrails propagate unexpectedly, and can cause daytime highs to be as much as 5 deg C lower than predicted.

The coal dust provides the reflective effect of contrails regardless of weather, but would come at the cost of somewhat more spectacular sunsets.


It is ironic that those who most reject religion are completely unable to identify their own "secular eschatology".

Meanwhile, religionists are most able to.

Harry is right, true sketpics are very thin on the ground.

Harry Eagar said...

Even the arch GW skeptic Pat Michaels accepts 0.5 degree of real warming in the 20th century; while the somewhat less arch Brearley will go for 0.8.

Others like 0.6.

Do the math. The global warmers don't even agree what the 20th c. warming was within 60%. The error bar is, perforce, even bigger for the 19th c.

It is entirely possible that the globe is not warming at all.

Susan's Husband said...

Mr Choudhury;

$5T seems like a good first cut, but I think the actual price would be much smaller for various reasons.

The first would be that launch costs would come down dramatically if we started doing it on a regular basis. $100/kg or even $10/kg is plausible, in that there's no physical reason for it to be more expensive.

Also, if you use L1, you only need the cover the 2-dimensional projection, not the surface of the sphere, which reduces the size by a factor of 4.

We would also get a thriving space industry, which would do more to drive a long term solution to any warming than the direct technological fix.

Harry Eagar said...

About as useful as Black Jumbo's umbrella, if you ask me?