Friday, November 12, 2010

Think the Earth's resources are finite? Think again

When modern Malthusians insist that resources are finite, they only expose their historical illiteracy, misanthropy and social pessimism. "What makes something a resource?" is the question they fail to consider. I have been pointing that out since 1974 with negligible impact but I hope that the two excellent articles immediately below will be more persuasive -- JR

Brendan O'Neill

The main Malthusian idea I think we should challenge is the idea that resources are finite. The idea that the Earth itself is finite. The idea that we live on a finite planet and therefore we can only have a certain number of people, living in a certain number of homes, eating a certain amount of food.

Because it seems to me that the population-control lobby’s obsession with finiteness really exposes what it is all about. It reveals the historical illiteracy and the social pessimism that underpin the pseudo-scientific movement of Malthusianism. The Malthusians’ focus on finiteness explains firstly why they are always wrong about everything; secondly why they are so misanthropic; and thirdly why they put forward such illiberal proposals, dressed up, of course, in the language of ‘female empowerment’.

On the first point, Malthusians are simply wrong to say that resources are fixed, that we can measure and predict when they will run out. It seems commonsensical to say that the Earth is finite, and a bit mad to say that it isn’t, but it’s important to recognise how fluid and changeable resources are. It’s important to recognise that the usefulness and longevity of a resource is determined as much by us – by the level of social development we have reached – as it is by the existence of that resource in the first place.

Resources are not fixed in any meaningful sense. Resources have a history and a future, just as human beings do. The question of what we consider to be a resource changes as society changes.

So in Ancient Rome, one of the main uses of coal was to make jewellery. Women liked the look of this glinting black rock hanging around their necks. No one could have imagined that thousands of years later, coal would be used to power massive steam engines and an entire Industrial Revolution, forever changing how we produce things and transport them around the world.

Two thousand years ago, the only way people used uranium was to make glass look more yellow. It was used to decorate windows and mirrors. You would probably have been locked up, or subjected to an exorcism, if you had suggested that one day uranium might be used to light up and heat entire cities – or indeed destroy entire cities at the push of a button.

The exact same resource can do very, very different things, depending on social and technological development. It was social limits, not physical limits, which meant that Ancient Romans could not use coal to make things move and other ancient communities could only use uranium to make glass look yellow. And the main problem with resource-pessimists such as Malthusians is that they continually misinterpret social limits as physical limits. They naturalise social limits, reinterpreting and re-presenting problems of social development as problems of nature’s shrinking bounty. They make the fatal flaw of arguing that the main barrier to progress and human comfort is the barrier erected by nature’s limited resources, when in fact it is the barrier erected by crises of social imagination.

That is why they are wrong about absolutely everything, why every prediction made by every population scaremonger throughout history has failed to materialise. A very early resource panicker was the second-century Christian philosopher Tertullian. In 200AD, Tertullian said: ‘We are burdensome to the world, the resources are scarcely adequate for us… already nature does not sustain us.’

But back then, there were only 180 million human beings on the entire planet – about the same number that currently lives in the eastern part of the United States. The problem for Tertullian was his understandably limited imagination. In his time, pretty much the only known resources were animals, plants and various metals and minerals. Tertullian had no way of conceiving of the enormous abundance of resources inside the Earth, which lay dormant because of social limitations not natural ones.

Thomas Malthus himself, the messiah of modern-day Malthusianism, argued in the early 1800s that food production wouldn’t be able to keep pace with human reproduction, and as a result there would be ‘epidemics, pestilence and plagues’ that would sweep off millions of people. Yet in his era, there were only 980 million people on Earth – today there are more than that in China alone and they all have food to eat. Malthus’s problem was that he also saw natural limits where in fact there were social limits. His fundamental pessimism meant he considered it impossible for mankind to develop beyond a certain, nature-enforced point. And yet, shortly after he made his population pronouncements, through the industrial revolution and various social revolutions, mankind did overcome many social limitations and found new ways to make food and deliver it to people around the globe.

It is their limits-obsessed outlook which means that Malthusians are always spectacularly wrong. You would be better off listening to Mystic Meg than the Optimum Population Trust (OPT). Malthusians pose as a science-based, rationalist movement that has worked out through equations and pie charts what the carrying capacity of the Earth is. But actually they continually make a schoolboy scientific error. Their error is to imagine that population is the only variable, the only thing that grows and grows, while everything else – including resources, society, progress and discovery – stays roughly the same.

But the truth, as history shows us, is that population is not the only variable. Resources are a variable, too. So is mankind’s vision, determination, and ability to rethink and tackle problems. These things grow and change just as population does. Malthusians’ mathematics doesn’t add up, because their social pessimism means that they fail to factor in possibly the most important and decisive variable of all: mankind’s ingenuity.

It seems very clear to me that today, still, the main problem we face is absolutely social rather than natural. We now live under a cult of sustainability, a social and political framework which says that we should never overhaul what exists and should instead make do with the world as it is. The idea of sustainability is anti-exploration, anti-experimentation, anti-risk – all the qualities we need if we are going to make the kind of breakthroughs that earlier generations made with coal and uranium and other resources. In contrast to the past, today human society is accommodating to social limitations, and accepting the idea that they are natural, rather than trying to break through them. The Malthusian mindset is winning, and that is a tragedy for all of us.

The second important thing about the Malthusians’ focus on finiteness is that it helps to explain why they are so misanthropic.

Over the past 200 years, Malthusians have tended to look at people as simply the users-up of scarce resources. They have tended to view nature as the producer of things and mankind as the consumer of things. And their view of people as little more than consumers – almost as parasites – inevitably leads to them seeing human beings as the cause of every modern ill, and therefore reducing the number of human beings as the solution to every modern ill. Their focus on finiteness means they conceive of humanity as a kind of bovine force, hoovering up everything that it comes across.

The ascendancy of the Malthusian outlook can really be seen in the way people are frequently discussed these days: as exploiters, the mere users of resources, the destroyers of things.

So mankind’s building of cities and factories is increasingly referred to as an ‘eco-footprint’, as if it is something dirty and destructive. Our use of natural resources such as wood and oil is referred to as ‘the rape of the planet’. Even our use of water is now problematised, with various charities telling us to measure our ‘water footprint’ and only to shower every other day. We are encouraged to be ‘water neutral’. In the past there was another word for ‘water neutrality’ – death. No living creature known to man can survive without water and yet today we’re supposed to feel guilty about using it.

This popular depiction of mankind as gorging on nature’s fragile resources is not actually based on scientific fact or hard proof of widespread resource depletion. That is clear from the fact that even water is now included in the list of resources we should use rarely and sparingly – only a mad person could believe that water will ever run out. No, this view is based on a profound, philosophical shift in our attitudes towards ourselves, a shift from viewing humanity as the tamer of the planet and the creator of society, towards viewing humanity as a plague on the planet and the destroyer of our surroundings.

It is a spectacularly one-sided view of people. Because we don’t only use resources; we also create them. We are not only consumers; we are also producers. In fact, I would argue that we have realised the potential of this planet. Without us it would just be another ball spinning through space stuffed with useless coal and pointless uranium. We extracted that coal and uranium and made something amazing with it: modern human society. We created the social conditions in which the Earth’s resources could be used to their full potential; we created the means for extracting and transforming those resources; we created cities, workplaces and homes on the back of those resources; and every time, we managed to get more and more stuff from fewer resources and created new resources along the way.

The Malthusian view of humans as little more than consumers leads to some very dodgy ideas. So last year, the OPT launched a website called PopOffsets, which involved encouraging well-off Westerners to offset their carbon emissions by paying for people in the Third World to stop procreating.

The idea is that you log on, enter information about a flight you recently took or how much you have been driving your car, and then the site tells you how much carbon you have used and therefore how much you should donate to a Third World reproductive charity. That charity makes up for your carbon-use by cutting back on the pitter-patter of tiny carbon footprints in countries like Kenya. So if you took a round-trip from London to Sydney, that adds up to 10 tonnes of carbon, in which case you are asked to donate £40 to help prevent the birth of one child in Africa.

That is the value that modern-day Malthusians put on new human life: it is roughly equal to 10 tonnes of carbon, or one holiday Down Under. Apparently these lives have no intrinsic worth, no moral or cultural meaning; they’re simply bargaining chips in some wealthy Westerner’s desire to absolve himself of eco-guilt.

Such misanthropy is a direct result of the fetish of finiteness. Because when you view human beings as the ravenous users of resources, then you start to see human life itself as a pollutant, a drain on the planet. That is why Malthusians constantly refer to every newborn child in Africa as ‘another mouth to feed’. In their worldview, another child is not something to celebrate; it is simply an eating machine that needs to be attended to. We have lost sight of the fact that human beings are not just mouths to feed – they are also brains that can think, minds that can create, and hands that can work.

And thirdly, and finally, the elevation of the Malthusian idea of finiteness gives rise to authoritarianism. When you see everything as running out, when you believe that anarchy is potentially just around the corner, then you become a bit like those strange men in Alabama who think the world is coming to an end, so they stock up on guns and baked beans and never leave the house. You develop a siege mentality. You see other people as a tsunami of destruction, and almost any measure can be justified to hold back that tsunami.

Of course, the Malthusians have learned from their past. They have learned from their earlier dalliances with eugenics in the 1930s and forced sterilisation in India in the 1970s, and from their complicity in the development of China’s one-child policy in the 1980s; they know that population authoritarianism is not popular. Women don’t like being told what to do with their wombs, and men don’t like being forced into vasectomies. So modern-day Malthusians have adopted the language of ‘reproductive choice’ and ‘female empowerment’ instead. But this is deeply, deeply disingenuous.

Because when you promote family planning on the basis that too many children will destroy the planet, on the basis that women are creating future pollutants, on the basis that our offspring will turn into planet-rapists, then you are not giving women real reproductive choice, which is something I fully support; no, you are giving them an ultimatum. You are instructing them that if they carry on breeding, then they will be responsible for natural disasters and carnage on a Biblical scale. That is coercion; it is an invasion of women’s free will. And it is the end result of a misanthropic outlook which says that the worst thing a human being can do is create another human being.


A Primer on Natural Resources and the Environment

by George Reisman

There is a fundamental fact about the world that has profound implications for the supply of natural resources and for the relationship between production and economic activity on the one side and man's environment on the other. This is the fact that the entire earth consists of solidly packed chemical elements. There is not a single cubic centimeter either on or within the earth that is not some chemical element or other, or some combination of chemical elements. Any scoop of earth, taken from anywhere, reveals itself upon analysis to be nothing but a mix of elements ranging from aluminum to zirconium. Measured from the upper reaches of its atmosphere 4,000 miles straight down to its center, the magnitude of the chemical elements constituting the earth is 260 billion cubic miles.

This enormous quantity of chemical elements is the supply of natural resources provided by nature. It is joined by all of the energy forces within and surrounding the earth, from the sun and the heat supplied by billions of cubic miles of molten iron at the earth's core to the movement of the tectonic plates that form its crust, and the hurricanes and tornadoes that dot its surface.

Of course, in and of itself, this supply of natural resources is largely useless. What is important from the perspective of economic activity and production is the subset of natural resources that human intelligence has identified as possessing properties capable of serving human needs and wants and over which human beings have gained the power actually to direct to the satisfaction of their needs and wants, and to do so without expending inordinate amounts of labor. This is the supply of economically usable natural resources.

The supply of economically usable natural resources is always only a small fraction of the overall supply of natural resources provided by nature. With the exception of natural gas, even now, after more than two centuries of rapid economic progress, the total of the supply of minerals mined by man each year amounts to substantially less than 25 cubic miles. This is a rate that could be sustained for the next 100 million years before it amounted to something approaching 1 percent of the supply represented by the earth. (These estimates follow from such facts as that the total annual global production of oil, iron, coal, and aluminum can be respectively fitted into spaces of 1.15, 0.14, 0.5, and 0.04 cubic miles, based on the number of units produced and the quantity that fits into one cubic meter. Natural gas production amounts to more than 600 cubic miles, but reduces to 1.1 cubic miles when liquefied.) Along the same lines, the entire supply of energy produced by the human race in a year is still far less than that generated by a single hurricane.

In view of such facts, it should not be surprising that the supply of economically usable natural resources is not something that is fixed and given and that man's economic activities deplete. To the contrary, it is not only a very small fraction of the supply of natural resources provided by nature but a fraction that is capable of substantial enlargement for a considerable time to come. Mining operations could be carried on at 100 times their present scale for a million years and still claim less than 1 percent of the earth.

The supply of economically usable natural resources expands as man increases his knowledge of nature and his physical power over it. It expands as he advances in science and technology and improves and enlarges his supply of capital equipment.

For example, the supply of iron as an economically usable natural resource was zero for the people of the Stone Ages. It became an economically usable natural resource only after uses were discovered for it and it was realized that iron could contribute to human life and well-being once it was forged into various objects. The supply of economically usable iron was one thing when it could be mined only by means of digging for it with shovels. It became substantially greater when bulldozers and steam shovels replaced hand shovels. It became greater still when methods were found to separate it from compounds containing sulfur. And so it has been, and can continue to be, with every economically usable natural resource. Their supply has increased and can continue to increase for an indefinite time.

The fact that the earth is made of chemical elements that man neither creates nor destroys implies that, from the point of view of physical science, production and economic activity can be understood as constituting merely changes in the locations and combinations of the chemical elements. Thus, for example, the production of automobiles represents a movement of some of the world's iron from such locations as the Mesabi Range in Minnesota to the rest of the country and, in the process, the separation of the iron from elements such as oxygen and sulfur and its recombination with other elements such as chrome and nickel.

The changes in the locations and combinations of the chemical elements that constitute production and economic activity are not at all random but rather are aimed precisely at improving the relationship of the chemical elements to human life and well-being. Iron in automobiles and appliances and in the steel girders that support buildings and bridges stands in a far more useful and valuable relationship to human life and well-being than does iron in the ground. The same is true of oil and coal when brought into a position in which they can be used to heat and light homes and provide power for man's tools and machines. The same is true of the relationship between all chemical elements that have come to constitute the material stuff of products compared with those elements lying in the ground.

Insofar as the essential nature of production and economic activity is to improve the relationship between the chemical elements constituting the earth and man's life and well-being, it is also necessarily to improve man's environment, which is nothing other than those very same chemical elements and their associated energy forces. The notion that production and economic activity are harmful to the environment rests on the abandonment of man and his life as the source of value in the world, and its replacement by a nonhuman standard of value — i.e., the belief that nature is intrinsically valuable.

With man and his life as the standard of value, the environment is improved when it is filled with houses, farms, factories, and roads, all of which serve directly or indirectly to make his life easier. When nature in and of itself is seen as valuable, then the environment is harmed whenever man creates any of these things or does anything whatever that changes the existing state of nature, for he is then destroying alleged intrinsic values.

A final inference that may be drawn is that a leading problem of our time is not environmental pollution but philosophical corruption. It is this that underlies the belief that improvement precisely in the external material conditions of human life is somehow environmentally harmful.


A reply to a civil Warmist

One Warmist tries rationality -- but Matt Ridley shows that if this is their best shot at arguing their case, the case is lost

Some weeks ago I wrote an article for The Times about why I no longer find persuasive the IPCC's arguments that today's climate change is unprecedented, fast and dangerous.

I was delighted to receive a long and courteous letter from David MacKay, the chief scientific advisor to Britain's Department of Energy and Climate Change. With his permission I am publishing my reply to that letter.

The remarkable thing about this exchange is that far from weakening my doubts about the IPCC case, it has strengthened them. The letter explains why. Essentially, I have realised that almost the only weapons left in the alarm locker are the retreat of the Arctic sea ice and an event that happened 55m years ago and was probably not caused by CO2 at all. Everything else -- the CO2-temperature correlation in the Antarctic ice core, the hockey stick, storm frequency, phenology, etc etc -- no longer supports the argument that something unprecedented in magnitude or rate is happening. Remarkable. Here is my letter:

Dear David

I am honoured that you liked my book and I liked yours very much indeed: a brilliant and necessary contribution to the debate. Though it arrived late in my writing process, I managed to squeeze in several references to it in the penultimate chapter of mine.

Thank you for taking the trouble to give such a detailed reply to my Times article – much longer than the constraints of the Times op-ed page allowed for me! I shall now indulge in a longer reply. It is certainly nice that the political `climate’ (sic) now allows articles like mine to receive serious replies, rather than accusations of heresy or sin or threats of prosecution as a criminal against humanity. I appreciate that very much. I surmise from your covering note that perhaps your letter is circulated more widely among DECC colleagues and I would be glad for you to circulate this reply, not least to the secretary of state who showed you my article. I shall post this letter on my blog.

I am surprised to find that I agree with much of your letter, but it changes almost none of my conclusions. How can this be? The gap between the science and how it has been presented is huge. This is as much the fault of bodies like the Royal Society, which should have been a brake on politically inspired extreme statements but was not, as it is of the media. You say scientists know how big the uncertainties are and that the failure to ensure that uncertainties are reported has contributed to the problem. I agree and I wish that the science establishment had paid this issue more attention. They allowed and encouraged their spokesmen to peddle the very opposite impression.

Consider this statement for example: `Earth's climate can only be stabilized by bringing carbon dioxide emissions under control in the twenty-first century.’ That is the opening sentence of a paper in Nature Geoscience last month. It is shocking that it got past the editors and reviewers. After 4 billion years of climatic volatility, much of it not caused by CO2 but by orbital variations, solar cycles and so on, how on earth are we to `stabilise’ earth’s climate by adjusting just one forcing factor? I refuse to accept that the climate could ever be stabilised, let alone by adjusting one factor. That sentence has no place in a scientific journal.

Taking your points in turn, then:

You say most climate scientists are nicer than their caricature on the web. I agree, but so are most sceptics. The image of the politicised, right-wing, anti-science zealot fits some, of course, just as the reverse fits Jim Hansen, Bob Ward and Joe Romm, but the ones whose work I have got to know, such as Andrew Montford and Steve McIntyre are quite different. The polarisation of this issue is a real problem. I learned from writing about the nature-nurture debate that arguments get polarised because people only read their friends’ caricatures of their opponents’ works; it is vital that we all read all sides of the argument.

Next you criticise my argument that current warming is not `unprecedented’ by reference to the Arctic sea ice graph. But this only goes back to 1979! Blackpool’s Football League table position is unprecedented since 1979. In a brief period of warming, of course the warming is unprecedented. You will know the ample anecdotal evidence that Arctic sea ice retreated just as much in the 1920s and 1930s: remember `Warming island’ for example. There is also good evidence from wave-made beaches and driftwood in Northern Greenland of probably ice-free summer months in the Arctic 7,000 years ago. A study published in the journal Quaternary Research of sea sediment cores in the Chukchi Sea shelf in the Arctic Ocean concluded that `during the middle Holocene the August sea surface temperature fluctuated by 5°C and was 3-7°C warmer than it is today'.

(Incidentally, I am keen to see a proper test of the hypothesis that black carbon is the main cause of the Arctic sea ice summer retreat of recent years and that cleaning up Chinese coal power stations will reverse the trend. The argument seems quite plausible – and it might explain why Antarctic sea ice has been expanding during the same period -- but it needs a test.)

To be honest, whenever that sea-ice graph is used as an argument, I become a little bit more sceptical. If that is the best evidence of something unprecedented, then the case must be weaker than I thought. It is a change that is not even likely to threaten human or animal livelihoods: even with a total late-summer melt (I presume you do not belong to the school of thought that the ice could fail to reform in winter), there is no great albedo feedback at such latitudes because of the angle of the sun in August, and polar bears will expand their range further north or will survive ice-free summer months onshore as they do already in Hudson’s Bay, on Wrangel island and parts of Svalbard (where one once walked round my tent while I slept).

Then you say that if I mean `not unprecedented on 100m year timescales’... But those are not the only two options! I mean not unprecedented in centuries and millennia, ie in human history. It is hugely relevant whether the warming of 1910-40 was as fast as 1980-2010 (it was). It is hugely relevant if the climate was as warm in 1100 AD as now (it probably was) both in attributing cause and in making conclusions about sensitivity.

You will have seen this graph, one of many now making it amply clear that the warmth of the Holocene optimum, peaking about 7,000 years ago, was both global in extent and considerably warmer than today:

Next you disagree with my characterization that recent warming is not `fast’. Phil Jones himself confirms that the rate of warming in 1975-2009 is statistically indistinguishable in rate from the two other periods of warming in the past 150 years: this is from his interview with the BBC.....

I contend that none of these rates are `fast’. Contrast them with the rate of change now known from 12,000 years ago, characterized by `local, regional, and more-widespread climate conditions [which] demonstrate that much of the Earth experienced abrupt climate changes synchronous with Greenland within thirty years or less’ (Alley 2000. Quaternary Science Reviews 213-226), including `a warming of 7 °C in South Greenland [that] was completed in about 50 years’ (Dansgaard, White and Johnsen 1989, Nature 339: 532).

That is a change roughly nine times as fast as has happened since 1980 – in Greenland or anywhere else. Another study gives even bigger numbers, saying that the `abrupt warming (10 ± 4 °C)’ at the end of the Younger Dryas and the warming at the end of a short lived cooler interval known as the Preboreal Oscillation `may have occurred within a few years’ (Kobashi et al 2008 Earth and Planetary Sciences 268:397). Nor was this rate of change confined to Greenland. As one article summarises, `temperatures from the end of the Younger Dryas Period to the beginning of the Holocene some 12,500 years ago rose about 20 degrees Fahrenheit in a 50-year period in Antarctica, much of it in several major leaps lasting less than a decade.’ (Science Daily, Oct 2 1998).

You concede that the rise is running at just 1C per century over the past 50 years, though you do not recognise the degree to which even this is only true of the instrumental record, as adjusted and homogenised by the USHCN and similar bodies. These adjustments have come under question recently since it has become clear that far from correcting for urban warming they seem to be exaggerating it. So the true figure, without adjustments, is probably much closer to that recorded by the SST record and the satellite record, considerably lower than 1C. Here is the US raw data:

The climate is going to have to get a move on if it is hit 3C this century. One-tenth of the century now over and no significant warming yet. This should have been the fastest bit: since the curve is logarithmic, the first 100 ppm of CO2 should produce as much warming as the next 200 ppm.

You then say we should not be blasé about 2C in 200 years. I am sorry but I do not find this convincing for four reasons:

If anybody had adopted a policy in 1810 to affect the climate in 2010, they would have made absurd decisions because of uninvented technologies, etc.

There is lots of evidence that climate change is positive in its impacts up to 2C, especially if it takes 200 years to get there.

Remember most of this warming is predicted to be in cold regions, in winter and at night. The daytime temperature changes in temperate regions in summer would be less than 2C.

The thing I think we should not be blasé about is the cost of measures we are taking today. Biofuel policies have caused real hunger. Wind power policies have caused real fuel poverty. Yet these measures would do a statistically insignificant asterisk towards solving the problem even if the warming was happening fast. I refuse to be blasé about the jobs not created, the landscapes spoiled, the deaths caused by indoor air pollution in Africa because people cook over charcoal and above all the distraction and diversion of funds from real problems, including environmental ones.

You then ask me what I think the sensitivity to CO2 doubling is and you guess that I must think it is outside the range 1.5-4.5C. Actually, I think there are lots of sensitivities within that range that are `fairly minor problems’ and so do many of the studies cited by the IPCC. For Malaria, for example, 2C will produce less than 30,000 extra annual deaths on the million we see today. I think the million is a major problem, the 30,000 in a century’s time is a minor problem. Water shortages? The evidence of Arnell 2004 suggests that 2C of warming will reduce the net number of people at risk of water shortage. Etc etc.

So what do I think the sensitivity is? I have no idea. It could be 1C or lower, it could be 3C, but I think it very unlikely from the latest data that it is going to be as high as 4.5C. (Actually, IPCC says that is unlikely, too, if you read the probability right.)

I do know this though: the IPCC’s estimates of the sensitivity are utterly worthless because they all – all – assume net positive feedback. You are quite right that we do not know that clouds have negative feedback for sure, but there is good evidence that they probably do, and just 2% change in the albedo of cloudiness could reverse all CO2’s marginal effect. And you imply that Spencer is a lonely voice in arguing this case. May I refer you to the Nature Geoscience paper quoted above. Despite its catechistic opening sentence, it goes on to say:

"It is at present impossible to accurately determine climate sensitivity (defined as the equilibrium warming in response to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations) from past records, partly because carbon dioxide and short-lived species have increased together over the industrial era. Warming over the past 100 years is consistent with high climate sensitivity to atmospheric carbon dioxide combined with a large cooling effect from short-lived aerosol pollutants, but it could equally be attributed to a low climate sensitivity coupled with a small effect from aerosols. These two possibilities lead to very different projections for future climate change."

Anyway, you agree that climate sensitivity could conceivably be as low as 1C, which is more than the IPCC does, so I should accept this concession with gratitude and I do. It’s a huge change from what was being said by the science establishment two years ago and is still being said by many, namely that 2C is unavoidable.

Then you describe the PETM (it is the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum – the Pliocene came much later), suggesting that I might not know of it. I not only know it but know the more recent data suggesting that carbon emissions can no longer be reliably interpreted as the main cause of warming then. Gerald Dickens of Rice University last year concluded that CO2 did not even double during the PETM and that something other than carbon dioxide caused much of the heating.

I do think it is revealing how much scientists who are alarmed about climate refer to the PETM. Imagine if the sceptics relied heavily on one episode of uncertain causation and effect, little known and not repeated for 55m years! You would say: is that really the best they can do?

You mention the Toarcian event of 183m years ago, which is new to me, but sounds interesting (by the way I do long to get back to a world where one can discuss paleoclimatic episodes as thrilling stories in their own right without having to draw political lessons from them). Yet the very first abstract I read on the subject after googling it talked about species shifting range in response to `a rapid cooling and their gradual return to former habitat areas in the period of warming’. I will need more evidence that carbon was cause rather than effect here: sounds more like a classic volcanic winter story.

Next you say that sea level is a case where the IPCC has been too conservative. But the graph you show has a trend of 3.1mm per year. This equates to 31cm in a century, comfortably within the IPCC’s estimate of 18-59cm in the present century.

Let me make two final points. I have argued that the two main examples you cite – the Arctic sea ice retreat and the PETM – are weak examples on which to build your case. Five or ten years ago I suspect that you would have cited the Vostok ice core record, showing CO2 and temperature in lockstep, and the Hockey Stick graph, showing recent temperature rises to be unprecedented in a thousand years. These two graphs were very, very important in persuading me to rejoin the consensus view in the mid 2000s, after I had moved towards cautious scepticism in the late 1990s.

The fact that both are now discredited as evidence of CO2 attribution has been very, very important in sending me back towards scepticism. When the facts changed, I changed my mind. The Vostok graph now unambiguously shows that CO2 rises follow rather than precede warming. The impact of that discovery is huge. The Hockey Stick graph is largely a statistical artefact caused by the inappropriate use of short-centred principal component analysis and heavily reliant on geographically narrow and methodologically suspect samples of tree rings. If you have not read Andrew Montford’s The Hockey Stick Illusion to understand this, I do beg you to do so.

My last point is this. We always discuss climate change in isolation, as a unique issue. Yet we cannot ignore the history of past environmental alarms, which I catalogue in my book: on population, famine, pesticides and cancer, desertification, sperm counts, acid rain, GM crops, and many other issues, we have been promised catastrophe, often with the backing of peer-reviewed science, and repeatedly these hopes have been dashed. (You may need to remember to switch your sarcasm detector on when reading the last sentence.)

My position is heavily influenced by having been science editor of The Economist during the acid rain scare and having been a full-scale alarmist at the time myself. In 1984 I wrote: `Forests are beginning to die at a catastrophic rate. One year ago, West Germany estimated that 8% of its trees were in trouble. Now 34% are...that forests are in trouble is now indisputable.’ Experts told me all Germany’s conifers would be gone by 1990 and the Federal Ministry of the Interior predicted all forests would be gone by 2002. I was wrong. German forest biomass increased during all these years. Of course, the boy who cries wolf may be right one day. But we are right to grow more sceptical when he keeps being wrong.

Now, if for the past 20 years we had been told that there is a probability of some change in the climate due to CO2, and a very small possibility that it is likely to lead to a drastic lurch, then I could join with you and the consensus. Instead of which I have been repeatedly told that trillions must be spent urgently because there are only a few months to save the world and it is the most urgent problem, more urgent than hunger, malaria and indoor air pollution, likely to lead to the collapse of the entire economy and moreover that the science is settled and to question it is to be equivalent to a criminal.

So, apologies if I sound a little exercised on this, but as a huge champion of science I feel very, very let down by the science establishment, especially the laughably poor enquiries on the emails published this year. Ask yourself if these emails had been within a drug company about a drug trial, whether the establishment would have been so determined to excuse them.

Again, I thank you for the courtesy of a proper reply. This is more than I get from most scientists and journalists on this topic. I do not envy the difficult decisions you and your political colleagues face, but I do beg you to review the latest evidence and increase your doubts about the likelihood of catastrophe; also to increase your concern for the costs and damages caused by renewable energy policies.

More HERE (See the original for graphics etc.)

Climate campaigners' classroom turpitude captured for future studies of depravity at work

'Why did they think ruthlessly killing children was funny? –
because in their heads, they weren’t killing children, …they were killing deniers.'

Jo Nova has done sterling work in documenting and providing insight into what led to the 10:10 video in which the producers fantasise about utterly destroying, at the press of a button, those who show the slightest reluctance to toe the party line on climate. Including young children in a classroom.

The whole thing deserves deep study. The paper by Jo Nova has been published by the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI), and can be downloaded as a pdf from here: (1)

Kudos to the SPPI for publishing this. Kudos to Jo Nova for creating it. She gives a summary and background at her own blog (2).

It provides some provocative speculations as to what led to the creation of the video, speculations which deserve to be shared widely and investigated further. Given that the scientific case for alarm about CO2 in the atmosphere is so shoddy, the motivation for such an arrogant, aggressive, and deeply malevolent video must come from elsewhere. Is it the same motivation that drove Maurice Strong to call for the destruction of industrial civilisation? (more background on Strong here: refs (3) below). Is it the same motivation that led James Lee to terrorise the employees of a broadcasting company in the States? (4). Or, at the milder end of this sorry spectrum, was it what led three women to barge their way into the offices of a newspaper whose editorials they happened to disagree with? (5)

Meanwhile, and more in the background, there seems no end to the initiatives aimed at pushing children into conformance to the party line on climate. Here is a recent report of one in the States called ACE (6). Links to many more can be found on the Page on climate sites aimed at schools (7). Many of them do not hesitate to use scary imagery and doomladen notions to win attention and obedience.

This is a veritable moral swamp that needs to be drained. Standing at the edges of it, we can see unpleasantness, scaremongering, arrogance, ignorance, intolerance, brutality, destructiveness, and terrorism. Quite a result to follow from the speculative insertion of a dramatic effect for CO2 into computer models of the climate! Fortunately the real climate has displayed no such role for this beneficial gas. In our world, the dramatic role for CO2 is found in its impact on plant growth.

More HERE (See the original for links)

Why are young people more likely to be Warmist believers?

For the same reasons why they tend Left generally -- but most people drift rightward as they grow up and learn more about reality

The midterm elections brought an unprecedented number of climate skeptics into Congress, with no incoming Republicans acknowledging the existence of man-made climate change. Environmentalists have all but given up on passing significant climate legislation in the near future, but in the long term, it may be difficult for climate skeptics to hold their ranks: Young Americans are significantly more concerned about global warming than older generations, and there are no major organizations of young climate skeptics.

This raises the question: What will come of climate skeptics as young people begin to rise to positions of power?

The Washington Independent put this question to Warren Meyer, who runs the website Meyer, in an email, said younger generations are drawn to “the ‘civilization in peril’ line,” and he suggested that people’s views change over time. “The lack of teenage skeptics today is meaningless for whether there will be skeptics in 20 years,” he said.

Meyer said young people will eventually become more attuned to the economic cost associated with lowering greenhouse gas emissions. “This seems really compelling to the young,” he said. “Until you understand that on the other side of the equation is a 100% chance of really high economic costs.”

There is evidence to suggest that older people care much more about the cost of policies like cap-and-trade than younger people. A June National Journal/Society for Human Resources Management poll shows that while 65 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds favor “protecting the environment” — to 29 percent concerned with “keeping prices low” — those numbers change for older people: 40 percent of people over 65 care about protecting the environment, while 47 percent are concerned with keeping prices low.

Overall though, the issue breaks down along party lines. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that about 79 percent of Democrats and just 38 percent of Republicans believe the earth is warming. Among Republicans who identify with the Tea Party, just 23 percent say there is solid evidence of climate change. The majority of Tea Partiers are over 45, with just 7 percent between the ages of 18 and 29, according to an April New York Times poll.

In an effort to find young people who question the science behind global warming, I allowed Meyer to put a call out on his blog. During the last several weeks, I’ve heard from about half a dozen young people who question climate science.

Andrew Funk, a 27-year-old biologist at the Department of Agriculture, is one of those people. Funk rejects the term climate skeptic in favor of “rational optimist.” In a phone conversation, Funk said he believes climate science is “pretty shaky.” He added, “I think it’s a shaky platform to re-engineer large portions of society.”

In a city flush with young Democrats, Funk said he has found a small group of like-minded individuals. “I end up hanging out with friends that are more independent, a little more libertarian-minded,” he said.

Other skeptics preferred to remain anonymous. For example, one 26-year-old graduate student at the University of Maryland said in an email:

It would be imprudent of me to let my heterodoxy on this issue be publicly known, as, sadly, I feel this has become more of a political matter in academic circles than a scientific one. I would rather my name not be associated with dissent on this matter.

The student’s comments say a great deal about the way young people think about climate change and the potential implications for somebody who questions the broad scientific consensus on the issue.

Anthony Watts, a prominent climate skeptic who runs the popular and controversial site “Watts Up With That,” blamed the “liberal” education system for the lack of young climate skeptics. “I suppose such a group would be unlikely because our children are conditioned by textbooks and a generally liberal education process to believe in the [man-made global warming] premise as factual and without question,” he said.

“In colleges, there are so many activist groups recruiting to ‘save the planet’ that skepticism generally gets drowned in the cacophony,” he added.

Polling shows that climate skepticism has increased significantly in the last couple of years, as the issue has heated up in Congress. A recent Pew Research Center poll shows that between April 2008 and October 2009 — a period that saw the passage of a cap-and-trade bill in the House and the beginning of debate on a similar bill in the Senate — the percentage of Americans who believe there is “solid evidence” that the earth is warming fell drastically, from 71 percent to 57 percent.


Inconvenient nonsense infiltrates Australian classrooms

Al Gore's flawed climate change film is to be included in the new national English curriculum. Amusing that it's not in the science curriculum, though

In 2006, former US vice-president Al Gore made a movie and companion book about global warming called An Inconvenient Truth. Gore undertook many speaking tours to publicise his film, and his PowerPoint slide show has been shown by thousands of his acolytes spreading a relentless message of warming alarmism across the globe.

But while audiences reacted positively and emotionally to the film's message - which was that human carbon dioxide emissions are causing dangerous global warming - some independent scientists pointed out that An Inconvenient Truth represented well-made propaganda for the warming cause and presented an unreliable, biased account of climate science.

For nowhere in his film does Gore say that the phenomena he describes falls within the natural range of environmental change on our planet. Nor does he present any evidence that climate during the 20th century departed discernibly from its historical pattern of constant change.

In early February 2007, the Department for Education and Skills in Britain, apparently ignorant that the film was scientifically defective, announced that all secondary schools were to be provided with a climate change information pack that contained a copy of Gore's by then notorious film. Many parents were scandalised at this attempt to propagandise their children on such an important environmental issue.

One parent, school governor Stuart Dimmock who had two sons at a state school in southern England, took legal action against the secretary for education in the High Court, and sought the film's withdrawal from schools.

In a famous judgment in October 2007, Justice Burton, discerning that Gore was on a "crusade", commented that "the claimant substantially won this case", and ruled that the science in the film had been used "to make a political statement and to support a political program" and that the film contained nine fundamental errors of fact out of the 35 listed by Dimmock's scientific advisers. Justice Burton required that these errors be summarised in new guidance notes for screenings.

In effect, the High Court judgment typed Gore and his supporters as evangelistic proselytisers for an environmental cause.

Fast forward to this month and many Australian parents have been surprised to learn Gore's film "will be incorporated in the [new] national [English] curriculum ), as part of a bid to teach students on environmental sustainability across all subjects".

It is, I suppose, some relief the film has not been recommended for inclusion in the science syllabus. Instead, Banquo's ghost has risen to haunt English teachers, doubtless in class time that might otherwise have been devoted to learning grammar.

Some Australian English teachers may feel competent to advise pupils on the science content of An Inconvenient Truth, but I wouldn't bank on it. Of course, the same teachers have to feel competent also to shepherd their flock on to the green pastures of sustainability, that other pseudo-scientific concept so beloved by the keepers of our society's virtue.

Australian schools are being transformed from institutions that impart a rigorous education into social reform factories that manufacture right-thinking (which is to say, left-thinking) young clones ready to be admitted into the chattering classes. This process is manifest in other aspects of the new syllabuses.

Two other biases in the public debate about global warming have occurred recently. The first was the launching of the website Power Shift 2009, which describes itself as "Australia's first national youth climate summit. It's the moment where [sic] our fast-growing youth movement for a safe climate future [whatever that might be] comes together".

In reality, this is simply another website aimed at indoctrinating children regarding global warming, and while it's not surprising to see Greenpeace and GetUp are involved, it is disappointing to see the involvement of persons with the mana of Ian Thorpe.

The second recent bias has been the broadcast on ABC Radio National of the George Munster Award Forum from the Sydney University of Technology. Here, a panel of "Australia's top journalists" examined the proposition: "Telling both sides of the story is a basic rule of journalism, but should it apply to reporting climate change?"

Stellar contributions made by the journalists involved included the notions that carbon dioxide is a pollutant, that 97 per cent of all climate scientists agree that dangerous human-caused global warming is happening, and that there is no real debate about climate change. Independent scientists who question these specious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change orthodoxies - for the good reason that they are untrue - were referred to as denialists, fruitcakes, clowns and fools who had "invaded the ABC". Giving them airtime was said to "attack the essence of journalism".

The reporting of email leaks from the University of East Anglia last year was "a terrible and wrong disturbance" in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate conference, and the astonishing claim was even made that Fairfax and the ABC "have delivered the objective, factual scientific stories on climate change".

This farrago of nonsense was described by one US scientist who listened as "probably the most horrifying and disturbing Big Ideas-Small Minds discussion by journalists I have ever heard". Book-burning parties for Ian Plimer's Heaven and Earth or my own Climate: the Counter Consensus can't be far away, and if the persons involved in the forum were Australia's top environmental journalists, then God help us all.

Australia is rightly vigilant about preventing child abuse and guarding the freedom of the press. Why, then, are we so willing to tolerate the abuse of educational indoctrination of our children and the deliberate limitation on the scope of the media discussions they will be exposed to as adults?

Gore's movie and book are an embarrassment to US science and its many fine practitioners, a lot of whom know (but are often unable to state publicly) his crusade is mostly based on junk science.

If allowed in Australian schools at all, An Inconvenient Truth belongs not alongside Jane Austen and Tim Winton, nor with Charles Darwin and Richard Feynman, but with the works of authors such as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells in the science-fiction section of the library.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here


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