The BBC's retreat from balance in their global cooling story is now being laughed at all over the place -- e.g. here and here. One lot of mockers even squeezed a brief comment about it out of the BBC -- in which the Beeb calls balance "ambiguous". And we can't tolerate ambiguity, can we? According to received wisdom among psychologists, intolerance of ambiguity is a sign of narrow-mindedness, bigotry and dogmatism -- so who am I to argue with that?
THE 'NEW AGE OF UNREASON'
An email from Michael Martin-Smith [firstname.lastname@example.org]. Dr Michael Martin-Smith, BSc MRCGP FBIS, physician, amateur astronomer, and writer, is author of "Man Medicine and Space"
For those of us with a historical perspective, it is interesting, if somewhat chilling, to reflect that the idea that the Natural Order, or, in today's parlance, the Climate, requires great human sacrifice for its maintainance, is not unique to our climate activists. Human original sin is clearly raising its head again, and is being invoked to instil guilt all round.
There are, however, old and darker traditions which have laid upon humans the need to offer up sacrifices to keep the natural show on the road. It is not politically correct to remember that the Conquistadors, in imposing the joys of the Inquisition on Mesoamerica, were to a degree an improvement on their predecessors. The blood drenched temples of the Aztec Ahuitzotl and the earlier Mayan Yikin Can Kaw'ill were built to preserve the Order of Nature, and, if Unreason prevails, will doubtless return in modern PC guise. Evil is not unique to modern civilisation or the free globalised market, as the Environmental cultists tend to suggest. The ideological bureaucrat can be as deadly, if not as colourful, as the bejewelled and befeathered priest.
It has to be said that neither the Aztecs nor the Mayas benefited from their orgies of human sacrifice. Their gods remained coldly indifferent.
THE BBC, CLIMATE HYSTERIA AND THE CRISIS OF DEMOCRACY
An email from John A [email@example.com] of Climate Audit
Can it be any more apparent that the BBC is actively engaged in laundering environmental reports especially on climate to satisfy a few extremists? That what we read about climate history changes faster and more efficiently than even Winston Smith could have managed with his Speakwrite? Witness the constant changing of historical temperature data by James Hansen now being dissected on Climate Audit.
This is not simply a scandal, it is a crisis reaching to the foundations of our democracy - that news and information be disseminated by a Free Press without fear or favour to the Powers that be, nor to extremists and radicals seeking the overthrow of democracy by stealth through a crisis which bears all the hallmarks of being manufactured?
Just imagine, for a moment, what a global emissions trading scheme would look like: no Western democracy would have any control over the price of energy even in its local markets, its entire economy being subject to minute bureaucratic control of everything from the gas heater in the house to energy required to produce steel. Without any control of the cost of energy, food prices would inevitably rise and a black market in basic foodstuffs would appear (this is what happened during the fall of the Soviet Union) including a resurgent Mafia-style criminal underclass.
What then, would be the point of voting for any party? Or of democracy itself? What state could withstand the inevitable social turmoil when basic foodstuffs become more expensive than the poor can afford because the market has been rigged?
It is axiomatic that any State, no matter how brutal, must eventually fall when it has lost control of the price of food - witness Zimbabwe right now, or the fall of the Soviet Union, or the fall of Suharto in Indonesia, or the Weimar Republic in the early 1930s.
Make no mistake, and speaking as a classical liberal, we are looking at the most serious attempt to collectivize the world economy since the fall of Communism in the 20th Century and to render democracy moot in the Western World and beyond. Who speaks for the farmers of Kenya whose exports into the EU and beyond are the only thing between themselves and starvation and whose products are now being labelled with airmiles by Western environmental extremists?
Did any of us vote for the imposition of world energy cartel? I can't remember such a proposition being on any manifesto. But that's what it is.
All of this makes the betrayal of the BBC even to its own charter that much more dangerous to all of us who hold liberal democracy so dear. In the "Green Room" we see academics and activists talk blandly about population control (really? how?), the marginalization of democracy through a consensus of self-appointed "experts" and the need to somehow control the absolutely uncontrollable (the Earth's climate) via trying to moderate a single variable, carbon dioxide concentration, whose ability to control climate in any meaningful way is entirely absent from any paleoclimatic proxy?
Yet the opinions given by academics on subjects well away from their areas of specialization are published as if those opinions are unquestionable truths. Comments are censored prior to publication to prevent serious criticisms being made, and a false impression of support for the ludicrous and dangerous propositions is thereby created.
No right of reply is ever allowed except by that favourite abuse of propagandists - the "skeptic sandwich". Note that twice now, the BBC has announced that the work of Svensmark has been debunked, and twice Svensmark has replied showing that the studies are flawed and the BBC has refused to publish those replies.
NIGEL LAWSON IS NOT ALONE!
An email from David Lord Howell [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Many commentators on Lawson have obviously not read the book I published last summer, in my capacity as deputy leader of the Conservatives in the House of Lords, which warned against climate and green hysteria and pointed to a more balanced way forward. The book, 'Out of the Energy Labyrinth' is published by I.B. Tauris. I am in Tokyo today, launching the Japanese edition. Lord Lawson is definitely not alone!
Lord Howell of Guildford, Energy Secretary under Margaret Thatcher
CUTTING CARBON EMISSIONS IS FUTILE
Will cutting our carbon emissions really make any difference to the planet? The answer is a definite no, and most of the proposals to do so are ludicrously inadequate anyway. Take Australia, for example, where about 135 million incandescent light bulbs are in use. The Government wants to ban them by 2010 to cut the nation's greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 800,000 tonnes a year by 2012. If this sounds a lot, bear in mind that it represents a reduction of just 0.14 per cent.
American journalist Robert Samuelson derides such tiny cuts as part of a feel-good political culture that is mostly about showing off, not curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and is made worse by politicians who pander to green constituents who want to feel good about themselves. Grandiose goals are declared, he writes, but measures to achieve them are deferred or don't exist. He adds that it's all just a delusional exercise in public relations that, while not helping the environment, might hurt the economy.
Samuelson is right that such puny cuts are ludicrous as a means of preventing global warming. Why? Just take a look at China, which is scheduled to build 562 coal-fired power plants over the next five years. That's more than two a week. China's annual carbon emissions of 1.3 billion tonnes have already overtaken those of Europe and will exceed those of the United States this year. This will make China the biggest emitter on the globe. China, in fact, accounts for half the rise in the world's CO2 emissions since 1992, and Chinese pollution affects the entire Northern Hemisphere, including significant amounts of smog over the western United States.
China is, in fact, doubly responsible for emissions, since it drives much of the world's deforestation. According to the Washington Post, large swathes of the globe's forests are being cut at an alarming pace to feed a global wood-processing industry centred in coastal China. Mountains of logs, many of them harvested in excess of legal limits aimed at preserving forests, are streaming towards Chinese factories where workers churn out such products as furniture and floorboards.
At the current pace of cutting, natural forests in Indonesia and Burma will be exhausted within a decade, writes the Post, while forests in Papua New Guinea will be consumed in as little as 13 years, and those in the Russian Far East within two decades. These forests are a bulwark against global warming, capturing carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to heating the planet.
Chinese gangs bribe local officials, who look the other way. In the process, whole ecosystems are being wiped out. If we were to calculate China's total contribution to global warming, it would far exceed that of any other country on earth. This is the most troubling aspect of the entire global warming issue: why should the rest of the world go out of its way to reduce greenhouses gases, when China belches out fumes and tears down forests with impunity? The relatively trivial savings the rest of us make in greenhouse gas emissions are more than offset by China's determination to pollute as much as it wants.
How can greenhouse gas emissions possibly be curtailed when such global population growth and high emissions rates in China (and India) are undoing whatever cuts the rest of the world makes?
World Health Organization joins the panic -- and ignores the facts
In reply to the nonsense below, I will simply quote Lord Lawson: "As to health, in its most recent report, the IPCC found only one outcome which they ranked as "virtually certain" to happen - and that was "reduced human mortality from decreased cold exposure". This echoes a study done by our own Department of Health which predicted that by the 2050s, the UK would suffer an increase in heat-related deaths by 2,000 a year, and a decrease in cold-related mortality of 20,000 deaths a year - something that ministers have been curiously silent about."
Millions of people could face poverty, disease and hunger as a result of rising temperatures and changing rainfall expected to hit poor countries the hardest, the World Health Organization warned Monday. Malaria, diarrhea, malnutrition and floods cause an estimated 150,000 deaths annually, with Asia accounting for more than half, said regional WHO Director Shigeru Omi. Malaria-carrying mosquitoes represent the clearest sign that global warming has begun to impact human health, he said, adding they are now found in cooler climates such as South Korea and the highlands of Papua New Guinea.Warmer weather means that mosquitoes' breeding cycles are shortening, allowing them to multiply at a much faster rate, posing an even greater threat of disease, he told reporters in Manila. [Looks like we had better start using DDT again, then. That's VERY effective against mosquitoes in any climate]
The exceptionally high number cases in Asia of dengue fever, which is also spread by mosquitoes, could be due to rising temperatures and rainfall, but Omi said more study is needed to establish the connection between climate change and that disease. "Without urgent action through changes in human lifestyle, the effects of this phenomenon on the global climate system could be abrupt or even irreversible, sparing no country and causing more frequent and more intense heat waves, rain storms, tropical cyclones and surges in sea level," he said.
In the Marshall Islands and South Pacific island nations, rising sea levels have already penetrated low-lying areas, submerging arable land and causing migrations to New Zealand or Australia, he said. [Name one! It's a myth]
Omi said poorer countries with meager resources and weak health systems will be hit hardest because malnutrition is already widespread, with the young, women and the elderly at particular risk. He said unusual, unexpected climate patterns - too much rain or too little - will have an impact on food production, especially irrigated crops such as rice, and can cause unemployment, economic upheavals and political unrest.
Dr. John Ehrenberg, WHO adviser on malaria and other parasitic diseases, said unchecked human development has contributed to the problem. That includes deforestation and an unprecedented level of human migration. As people move, so do diseases. Omi said governments need to strengthen current systems providing clean water, immunizations, disease surveillance, mosquito control and disaster preparedness.
Good science isn't about consensus
Below is an edited extract from a paper recently presented to the Planning Institute of Australia by Professor Don Aitkin, a historian and political scientist. Don is a very smart guy. He has navigated his way to the top of the Australian academic tree (He has been a university President) yet even in my discussions with him when we both at Macquarie univerity many years ago, I was impressed by his realism and honesty -- neither of which are conspicuous academic virtues in my experience, with notable exceptions, of course
AUSTRALIA is faced, over the next generation at least and almost certainly much longer, with two environmental problems of great significance. They are, first, how to manage water and, second, how to find acceptable alternatives to oil-based energy. Global warming is not one of those two issues, at least for me, and I see it as a distraction.
I am going against conventional wisdom in doing so. But Western societies have the standard of living, the longevity and the creativity we have because we have learned that conventional wisdom has no absolute status and that progress often comes when it is successfully challenged. If you listen hard to the global warming debate you will hear people at every level tell us that they don't want to hear any more talk, they want action. I feel that the actions I have seen proposed, such as carbon caps and carbon trading, are likely to be unnecessary, expensive and futile unless there is much stronger evidence that we are facing a global environmental crisis, whether or not we have brought it about ourselves.
The story about anthropogenic global warming (AGW) doesn't seem to stack up as the best science, despite the supposed consensus about it among "thousands of scientists". Indeed, the insistent use of the word consensus should cause those who are knowledgeable about research to raise their eyebrows, because research and science aren't about consensus, they are about testing theories against data.
In any case, there exists vigorous debate throughout the climate change domain. For example, there is disagreement about whether 2007 was a notably warm year (it had a hot start but a downward cool trend). And all that is simply about measurement. In climate science I see no consensus, only a pretence at a contrived one.
Despite all the hype and the models and the catastrophic predictions, it seems to me that we human beings barely understand climate. It is too vast a domain. Though satellites have given us a sense of the movement of weather systems across the planet, portrayed every night on television, we still know little about the oceans, one of the crucial elements in climate processes, not much more about the atmosphere, another such element, a little about solar energy and the effect of the sun's magnetic field on Earth, and only a little about the land. The Earth is a big place.
One of the yardsticks of the debate is average global temperature. We can all imagine what it might mean: an average of the temperatures taken in a multitude of carefully plotted points across the globe, measured the same way, providing a single figure that could be measured over time to show trends. The actuality is much less. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Science, the National Climate Data Centre and the Hadley Climate Research Centre in Britain produce the data. All use temperature data recorded 1.3m to 2m above Earth's surface and obtain an arithmetic average of the maximum and minimum temperatures over 24 hours. None covers the entire planet, and the southern hemisphere is not as well measured as the northern.
A recent study of one-third of the sites in what is arguably the best temperature measuring system, that of the US, showed that in a majority of the sites surveyed the instruments were inappropriately located: close to buildings, on asphalt or concrete, next to parking areas, on top of roofs, and so on. Common sense tells us that if our knowledge of climate and weather cannot provide forecasts with much accuracy past 24 hours, we don't know enough about the inter-relationships inside the model, no matter how much data we have, even supposing it to be perfect data. Models are models: they are highly simplified versions of reality and cannot provide evidence of anything.
What I see, rather, is something that political theorist Paul Feyerabend wrote about a long time ago in Against Method (1975): the tendency of scholars to protect their theories by building defences around them, rather than being the first to try to demolish their own proposition. We seem to be caught up in what a pair of social scientists has called an "availability cascade": we judge whether or not something is true by how many examples of it we see reported. Fires, storms, apparently trapped polar bears, floods, cold, undue heat: if these are authoritatively linked to a single attributed cause, then almost anything in that domain will seem to be an example of the cause, and we become worried. I should say at once that climate change has become the offered cause of so many diverse incidents that, for me at any rate, it ceases to be a likely cause of any.
Greens and environmentalists generally welcome the AGW proposition because it fits in with their own world-view, and they have helped to popularise it. Governments that depend on green support have found themselves, however willingly or unwillingly, trapped in AGW policies, as is plainly the case with the Rudd Government. The hardheads may not buy the story, but they do want to be elected or re-elected. In short, AGW is now orthodoxy, and orthodoxy always has strong latent support. Because AGW is supposedly science, even well-educated people think it will be too hard for them.
David Henderson, a respected British economist and former Treasury official, has called the orthodoxy in climate change a case of "heightened milieu consensus", in which prime ministers and other leaders tell us that nothing could be more serious than this issue. These are not statements of fact; they are no more than conjecture. But they have become, in his phrase, "widely accepted presuppositions of policy". Intellectually, AGW is what is known in politics as a done deal. But on the evidence that is available, I think it has to be said that the assertion that the increase in carbon dioxide has caused the temperature to rise is no more than an assertion, however attractive or worrying the association may be. There is simply no evidence that this causal relationship exists.
Earth's atmosphere may be warming but, if so, not by much and not in an alarming or unprecedented way. It is possible that the warming has a "significant human influence", to use the term of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and I do not dismiss the possibility. But there are other powerful possible causes that have nothing to do with us. If this were simply an example of scientists arguing among themselves, we might recognise that this is how science proceeds and move on.
But if there is no true causal link between CO2 and rising temperatures, then all the talk about carbon caps and carbon trading is simply futile. But it is worse than futile, because one consequence of developing policies in this area will be to reduce not only our own standard of living, but the standard of living of the world's poorest countries. As someone who has worked closely with ministers in the past, I cannot imagine that I could have advised a minister to go down the AGW path on the evidence available, given the expense involved, the burden on everyone and the possible futility of the outcome.
Some readers of drafts of this paper have raised the precautionary principle as an indication that we should, even in the face of the uncertainty about the science, take AGW seriously. Unfortunately, as I see it, the precautionary principle here is very similar to Pascal's wager. Pascal argued that it made good sense to believe in God: if God existed you could gain an eternity of bliss, and if he didn't exist you were no worse off. Alas, Pascal didn't allow for the possibility that God was in fact Allah, and you had opted for belief in the wrong religion.
The IPCC's account of things seems to me only one possibility, and the evidence for it is not very strong. For that reason, I would counsel that we accept that climate changes, and learn, as indeed human beings have learned for thousands of years, to adapt to that change as rationally and sensibly as we can.
Ethanol politics: update
Paul Krugman, who wrote in Jan 2007 that "There is a place for ethanol in the world's energy future - but that place is in the tropics" today tells his readers that even Brazilian ethanol is contributing to food shortages worldwide. Hmm, maybe ethanol is not such a great idea - who knew? So how does this affect our assessment of the Presidential candidates? Here is Krugman:
Oh, and in case you're wondering: all the remaining presidential contenders are terrible on this issue.
Oh, and in case you are wondering - Krugman is lying. Obama has consistently supported ethanol subsidies and voted in favor of those subsidies in a 2005 energy bill. Hillary favors some subsidies but opposed the relevant 2005 amendment. And John Sidney McCain has consistently opposed ethanol subsidies and voted on Hillary's (losing) side in 2005.
Yet they are "all terrible"? Or when Krugman refers to "all of the remaining Presidential contenders", does he expect us to understand that only Democrats are in contention? Details after the break, including McCain's 2006 "flip" in which he declared support for ethanol as long as it is not subsidized. Strong support indeed! (But do notice that MSNBC hides his "no subsidies" position; who could have predicted that?). I mocked other portions of the Krugman column here.
MORE: I am now on message with the Weekly Standard. On ethanol Barack Obama is probably the worst of the three remaining candidates since he has supported subsidies and lauds corn-based ethanol in his current energy plan:
Develop the Next Generation of Biofuels: Barack Obama will work to ensure that advanced biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol, are developed and incorporated into our national supply as soon as possible. Corn ethanol is the most successful alternative fuel commercially available in the U.S. today, and we should fight the efforts of big oil and big agri-business to undermine this emerging industry.
Right, "big agri-business", as represented by Archer-Daniels-Midland, has been ruthlessly suppressing ethanol for years. Hillary is not a star, but she at least voted against the ethanol subsidies in the 2005 energy bill (Barack favored it). And McCain is in a category of his own. In the 2000 Presidential race he was vocally opposed to ethanol subsidies (and skipped the Iowa caucuses). He also was on Hillary's side in opposing the 2005 ethanol subsidies. However, in what was reported as a flip-flop, McCain told an Iowa audience in 2006 that:
"I support ethanol and I think it is a vital, a vital alternative energy source not only because of our dependency on foreign oil but its greenhouse gas reduction effects."
However, there is support and there is support, as the Fortune piece goes on to explain:
In Grinnell, McCain said he still opposes subsidies but indicated his attitude softened after oil prices crossed $40 a barrel.
So, he supports unsubsidized ethanol. Surely that is not as dreadful as the Obama or Clinton position. McCain explained this to Tim Russert on Nov 12, 2006:
MR. RUSSERT: And now John McCain is embracing ethanol.
SEN. McCAIN: I'm not embracing ethanol. I said when oil is $10 a barrel, ethanol doesn't make much sense. When it's $40 a barrel, it does make sense. I do not support subsidies for ethanol and I have not supported it and I will not. But ethanol makes a lot of sense, particularly our dependence on foreign oil, and my believe that-my belief that climate change is real and is part of the solution to this climate greenhouse gas emissions problem.
MR. RUSSERT: But that is a profound change, senator. You did say here-I'll read it to you. "`Ethanol is a product that would not exist if Congress didn't create an artificial market for it. No one would be willing to buy it,' McCain said in November 2003. ... `Ethanol does nothing to reduce fuel consumption, nothing to increase our energy independence, nothing to improve our air quality.'" And when oil was $60 a barrel, you issued a press release saying that ethanol would result in higher gasoline prices for your constituents. You've changed your mind, which...
SEN. McCAIN: No, I, I, I don't, I don't think I said that at $60 a barrel. I said it when it was $10 a barrel or $9 a barrel. But I think it has a profound influence when, when oil is as high as it is.
Let's say that McCain may have flipped (probably without much conviction or knowledge) on the science by declaring that ethanol "is part of the solution to this climate greenhouse gas emissions problem" but he has been consistently opposed to subsidies, which means that in terms of policy he is miles ahead of Obama.
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