Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Donald Trump's Paris climate pull-out puts him on a collision course with market forces (?)

At last! Something more than abuse from the Left about Trump's Paris pullout.  Given his assumptions, the author below is in fact being reasonable in what he predicts.  His assumptions are however very questionable.

He assumes that CO2 reduction will remain a worldwide goal and that a CO2 price will therefore be inevitable.  He is an Australian writer so that is particularly blind on his part.  A Leftist Australian Federal government did enact such a price a few years ago but the next government -- a conservative government -- campaigned on a policy of abolishing the tax and promptly did so when elected.  Where is the inevitability there?  Given the extensive similarities between Australia and the USA, I think we have in the Australian case a pretty good guide to the likelihood of a carbon tax in the USA.

What I think is inevitable is that Mr Trump's move will make others downgrade their concerns about CO2. He has made a carbon tax less likely worldwide.  Inevitable it is not.  The fanatical Greenies of Germany may wear a carbon tax but they are also busily building new power plants burning brown coal, the most polluting fuel of all.  Germany is best seen as an example of insanity only. Adolf has modern-day descendants.

The author below is right in saying that coal mining is most unlikely to return to its halcyon days but his talk about natural gas overlooks the fact that gas installation has taken off not only because of cost but also because of the touted benefits of gas in putting out less CO2.  Now that Mr Trump has dismissed such concerns, it remains to be seen whether gas can compete on price alone.  I expect that power plants located near coalfields -- which most of them are -- could still be competitive on costs.  Work to convert or replace them is costly and may simply not be worth the capital expenditure.  As it is, coal orders in the USA have shown a recent upturn. Some miners are working again, partly in response to orders from China.  And how about this little recent snippet?

Coal consumption in the U.S. is expected to continue growing going into the summer, the government's Energy Information Administration said Tuesday in its latest monthly short-term outlook.

"U.S. coal production is expected to rise this year due in part to expected higher coal-fired electricity generation," said acting EIA Administrator Howard Gruenspecht. At the same time, "the amount of electricity generated from natural gas this summer is forecast to be lower than last summer, reflecting higher natural gas prices," he said. The summer is also expected to be cooler than last summer, the EIA said.

Natural gas has displaced coal as the top fuel for power generation in much of the U.S., but in recent weeks coal is beating out gas in some regions such as the East Coast.

Pesky! And another:

The key is the price of U.S. natural gas. Last April front-month futures were below $2.00 a million British thermal units and Friday morning they fetched $3.33 a million British thermal units.

Arch Coal reckons that at prices above $3.00, coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming, where they and Peabody have enormous reserves, is competitive with natural gas almost anywhere in the contiguous 48 states. The EIA predicts output in the region will rise by nearly 9% next year.

The universal prophecy was that Trump's reforms would not revive the coal industry but some revival is in fact now evident.  Another failure of Greenie prophecy.

Our author's final point that solar power is cheap is also too sanguine.  The example of heavy reliance on renewable power in South Australia showed how disastrous that can be.  It even killed unborn babies and inflicted huge costs on industry. The South Australian government is as a result now building a big new fossil-fuel power plant to make up for the unreliable output of "renewables".  You can use renewables some of the time but you have to have conventional backup for when the winds don't blow and the sun doesn't shine.  And, given that, there's not much point in renewables at all. They just double your capital costs of power provision.

And the talk about health costs of coal depends on figures which have subsequently been debunked.  The whole article is "Good try but no cigar"

He may be the leader of the free world, but Donald Trump is about to learn the hard way that he cannot control the free market.

The US President's declaration that America would withdraw from the Paris Accord on climate change largely was met with derision by big business, even fossil fuel giants Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips.

The reason? The business world has moved on. The argument about climate change has passed and most now accept the inevitability of a carbon price.

Regardless of who sits in the White House, America has always been in the business of creating opportunities through innovation and by reinventing itself. It didn't become the world's economic powerhouse by looking backwards.

This is the nation that for generations has led the world on automation and information technology, spawned the likes of Silicon Valley and delivered the personal computer and the internet.

Unlike Australia, it has never relied solely on selling minerals and energy to the rest of the world.

And therein lies Donald Trump's dilemma.

American business has been at the forefront of renewable energy development. According to the US Department of Energy, renewable energy generation employs around 880,000 Americans while a further 2.2 million are employed in its design, installation and manufacture.

Trump's real choice: Coal or gas?

Despite the presidential posturing, this is not simply a battle between renewable energy and the old guard, Republicans and Democrats or America and the rest of the world.

The President's push to rejuvenate America's flagging coal industry is likely to set him on a collision course with the rising star of the US fossil fuel sector, liquefied natural gas.

Since taking office, the President has cosied up to both sides, pledging his allegiance. Unfortunately, gas competes with coal and is a major cause for the woes that have afflicted the US coal industry. At some stage, he's going to have to choose.

New extraction technologies such as fracking have transformed global energy dynamics. Where the United States once was a hostage to the OPEC cartel and the oil-producing countries of the Middle East, it now has become not just energy self-sufficient, but in a position to be a major energy exporter.

Natural gas is a cheaper and cleaner alternative for Americans and no amount of posturing on the global stage will alter that. Coal is in decline because the economics have moved against it.

Before the Obama administration, coal-fired plants provided a little over half of America's electricity plants. That's now fallen to around 30 per cent following the closure of around 400 coal-fired generators, replaced by cheaper gas-fired plants.

Carbon price? When, not if

It's not just the immediate cost advantages of gas. Business leaders globally long ago abandoned the debate as to whether carbon emissions should be penalised, by way of a price.

That's now a given. The only question is when. That's the reason no bank is willing to finance the construction of new coal-fired generators in Australia and why the owners of our ageing coal-fired generators are shutting them down rather than spending extra money updating them.

Power stations are long-term investments. No-one is willing to risk billions of dollars on a 50-year plan to build a facility that could become a white elephant once a carbon price is introduced.

Coal jobs lost forever

Then there is coal mining itself. Pulling out of the Paris Accord won't boost coal prices or employ more American miners.

Even Robert Murray, noted climate science critic and the founder and boss of America's largest privately owned coal miner, has cast doubt on Mr Trump's ability to boost coal industry employment.

"I suggested that he temper his expectations," he told The Guardian. "Those are my exact words. He can't bring them back."

In the 1970s, coal mining employed a quarter of a million Americans. By 2015, fewer than 100,000 people were employed in US mines.

Political opportunists have whipped up outrage among the army of unemployed, citing the Obama administration's clean energy policies and climate agreements such as the Paris Accord.

In fact, most of the lost jobs were a result of improved coal mining technology. The decline has been hastened in recent years by the rising competitiveness of gas and renewable energy which has seen a collapse in coal prices that sent many miners to the wall.

The renewable energy revolution

The great attraction of renewable energy, apart from the zero emissions, is that the feedstock, the main input, is free. Sunshine comes without cost. So too does wind. It was the capital cost of harnessing that energy that previously was prohibitive.

That's why governments devoted subsidies and grants to kick-start the industry in the same way they once built coal-fired electricity generators.

In recent years, as economies of scale have gained momentum, the cost of solar voltaic panels has plummeted, which has increased the competitiveness of renewables.

Mass production, particularly in China, has seen the average cost of solar cells decline from $US76.67 per watt in 1977 to just 74c in 2013.

Those cost declines have since accelerated with installed prices — the cost of everything including panels, electronics, hardware and the installation itself — falling to $US2 per watt for large scale solar farms.

According to Scientific American, much of the price declines since 2012 have been in ancillary electronics such as inverters, which convert DC power to AC, and in lower installation costs as panel prices have stabilised.

The hidden costs of coal

But there are other costs that the President has ignored with his decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord. Most of those relate to the health of Americans.

According to the US Environmental Protection Authority — which has been neutered under the Trump administration — the Clean Power Plan would prevent around 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks among children and 300,000 missed work and school days each year.

Trump's economic own goal

The health benefits of cleaner energy have not been lost on China. In Beijing, Shanghai and a swathe of cities through the Pearl River delta, the air is so thick with smog and pollutants, visibility is reduced to just a few metres.

As the world's second most powerful economy, the Middle Kingdom is facing pressure from its citizens not just for a more affluent lifestyle but for a healthier environment; calls the leadership has recognised it would ignore at its peril.

Over the weekend, Beijing reiterated its commitment to the Paris agreement and the European Union pledged to side-step the White House and deal directly with American business leaders.

After last week alienating European leaders on defence issues, Donald Trump may just have unwittingly ceded global economic leadership to China, and placed himself, not only on the wrong side of history, but in the unrelenting and unyielding path of American capitalism.


USGS Study Reaffirms: No Fracking Contamination of Groundwater in Gulf Shale

Water is life. The slogan began as a catchphrase at the Dakota Access Pipeline this summer, but has been rapidly adopted by various other green groups concerned by potential environmental contamination from energy development. For years, fracking, which involves injecting pressurized fluid (often brine) into the ground to crack open bedrock and release petroleum supplies trapped underneath, has been of particular concern. A new report from the United States Geological Survey found that fracking in the Eagle Ford, Fayetteville, and Haynesville shale formations in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas are not a source of benzene or methane contamination in drinking water. The USGS study provides support for the energy industry, which has long argued that fracking is safe.

Unlike previous studies, the report analyzed the presence of methane and benzene in relation to the age of the groundwater. This allowed the researchers to separate naturally-occurring benzene and methane from contamination from leaking wells.

“Understanding the occurrence of methane and benzene in groundwater in the context of groundwater age is useful because it allows us to assess whether the hydrocarbons were from surface or subsurface sources,” said Peter McMahon, USGS hydrologist and study lead. “The ages indicate groundwater moves relatively slowly in these aquifers. Decades or longer may be needed to fully assess the effects of unconventional oil and gas production activities on the quality of groundwater used for drinking water.”

The researchers studied water samples from 116 domestic and public-supply wells. The nearest well was a mere 360 feet from a fracking station.

The USGS study determined the age of groundwater by looking at its depth and calculated the presumed rate at which hydrocarbons buried underground would rise towards the surface in order to come into contact with groundwater. They found that, for some instances of contamination, the sources occurred deep underground and had nothing to do with fracking.

“Eight of nine samples containing benzene had groundwater ages of more than 2500 years, indicating the benzene was from subsurface sources such as natural hydrocarbon migration or leaking hydrocarbon wells,” the researchers wrote. The report went on to describe the methane contamination as “biogenic,” rather than from a shale formation.

Benezene was detected in 8 percent of the wells, but at very low concentrations. The highest concentration researchers found was still 40 times lower than the federal standard for drinking water.

Steve Everly, a spokesman for Texans for Natural Gas, praised the USGS study, noting that it was not the first study proving that fracking did not contaminate groundwater.

“This report comes less than a year after the U.S. EPA’s landmark study that also found no evidence of widespread water pollution from fracking,” Everly said. “It’s time to put to rest the false claim that the shale revolution has threatened Americans’ drinking water supplies, because the science clearly does not support it.”

The report is significant since the Haynesville shale formation is part of one of the largest fossil fuel resources in the United States. In April, the USGS studied the Bossier and Haynesville Formations on the Gulf Coast, discovering that the Haynesville formation alone contains an estimated 1.1 billion barrels of oil, 195.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 0.9 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.

Since these estimates presume existing extraction technology, the present supplies of natural gas and oil may be larger still.

“Changes in technology and industry practices, combined with an increased understanding of the regional geologic framework, can have a significant effect on what resources become technically recoverable,” said Walter Guidroz, Program Coordinator of the USGS Energy Resource Program. Guidroz explained that such technological advances are part of way the USGS revisits oil and gas basins to reevaluate its estimates of technically-recoverable resources.

Results like those of the USGS study are encouraging to the industry, which has encountered resistance from groups fearing that fracking and other oil exploration will cause environmental contamination.


It's now 17 years since global warming killed us all

Jun. 29, 1989 10:49 PM ET

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ A senior U.N. environmental official says entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000.

Coastal flooding and crop failures would create an exodus of "eco- refugees,' ' threatening political chaos, said Noel Brown, director of the New York office of the U.N. Environment Program, or UNEP.

He said governments have a 10-year window of opportunity to solve the greenhouse effect before it goes beyond human control.
As the warming melts polar icecaps, ocean levels will rise by up to three feet, enough to cover the Maldives and other flat island nations, Brown told The Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday.

Coastal regions will be inundated; one-sixth of Bangladesh could be flooded, displacing a fourth of its 90 million people. A fifth of Egypt's arable land in the Nile Delta would be flooded, cutting off its food supply, according to a joint UNEP and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study.

"Ecological refugees will become a major concern, and what's worse is you may find that people can move to drier ground, but the soils and the natural resources may not support life. Africa doesn't have to worry about land, but would you want to live in the Sahara?" he said.


NOAA: Record 139 Months Since Major Hurricane Strike in USA

The 2017 hurricane season begins today, June 1--a record 139 months after the last major hurricane made landfall in the continental United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA is currently predicting that an "above normal Atlantic hurricane season is likely for this year."

The last major hurricane to  hit the continental United States was Hurricane Wilma, which made landfall in Florida on Oct. 24, 2005. That year, four major hurricanes hit the continental United States, according to NOAA. They included Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

But since Wilma hit on Oct. 24, 2005, no Category 3 or above hurricane has made landfall in the continental United States, making May 24, 2017, the end of a record 139 months without a major hurricane strike.

Prior to this, the longest stretch on record in which a major hurricane did not hit the contintental United States, according to NOAA's records, was the 96 months between September 1860 and August 1869. NOAA has published data on all hurricanes striking the United States since 1851.

A "major hurricane" is defined as one that is Category 3 or above on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which means it has sustained wind speeds of more than 111 miles per hour and is capable of causing “devastating” or “catastrophic” damage.

"For the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November 30, forecasters predict a 45 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 35 percent chance of a near-norman season, and only a 20 percent chance of a below-normal season," NOAA says on its website.

"Forecasters predict a 70 percent likelihood of 11 to 17 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher)," says NOAA, "of which 5 to 9 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 2 to 4 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4, or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher)."

"An average season," said NOAA, "produces 12 named storms of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes."


Western climate change alarmists won’t admit they are wrong

By Clive James, Australian/British literary figure and wit

When you tell people once too often that the missing extra heat is hiding in the ocean, they will switch over to watch Game of Thrones, where the dialogue is less ridiculous and all the threats come true. The proponents of man-made climate catastrophe asked us for so many leaps of faith that they were bound to run out of credibility in the end.

Now that they finally seem to be doing so, it could be a good time for those of us who have never been convinced by all those urgent warnings to start warning each other that we might be making a comparably senseless tactical error if we expect the elastic cause of the catastrophists, and all of its exponents, to go away in a hurry.

I speak as one who knows nothing about the mathematics involved in modelling non-linear systems. But I do know quite a lot about the mass media, and far too much about the abuse of language. So I feel qualified to advise against any triumphalist urge to compare the apparently imminent disintegration of the alarmist cause to the collapse of a house of cards. Devotees of that fond idea haven’t thought hard enough about their metaphor. A house of cards collapses only with a sigh, and when it has finished collapsing all the cards are still there.

Although the alarmists might finally have to face that they will not get much more of what they want on a policy level, they will surely, on the level of their own employment, go on wanting their salaries and prestige.

To take a conspicuous if ludicrous case, Australian climate star Tim Flannery will probably not, of his own free will, shrink back to the position conferred by his original metier, as an expert on the extinction of the giant wombat. He is far more likely to go on being, and wishing to be, one of the mass media’s mobile oracles about climate. While that possibility continues, it will go on being danger­ous to stand between him and a television camera. If the giant wombat could have moved at that speed, it would still be with us.

The mere fact that few of Flannery’s predictions have ever come true need not be enough to discredit him, just as American professor Paul Ehrlich has been left untouched since he predicted that the world would soon run out of copper. In those days, when our current phase of the long discussion about man’s attack on nature was just beginning, he predicted mass death by extreme cold. Lately he predicts mass death by extreme heat. But he has always predicted mass death by extreme something.

Actually, a more illustrative starting point for the theme of the permanently imminent climatic apocalypse might be taken as August 3, 1971, when The Sydney Morning Herald announced that the Great Barrier Reef would be dead in six months.

After six months the reef had not died, but it has been going to die almost as soon as that ever since, making it a strangely durable emblem for all those who have wedded themselves to the notion of climate catastrophe.

The most exalted of all the world’s predictors of reef death, former US president Barack Obama, has still not seen the reef; but he promises to go there one day when it is well again.

In his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic convention, Obama said — and I truly wish that this were an inaccurate paraphrase — that people should vote for him if they wanted to stop the ocean rising. He got elected, and it didn’t rise.

The notion of a countdown or a tipping point is very dear to both wings of this deaf shouting match, and really is of small use to either. On the catastrophist wing, whose “narrative”, as they might put it, would so often seem to be a synthesised film script left over from the era of surround-sound disaster movies, there is always a countdown to the tipping point.

When the scientists are the main contributors to the script, the tipping point will be something like the forever forthcoming moment when the Gulf Stream turns upside down or the Antarctic ice sheet comes off its hinges, or any other extreme event which, although it persists in not happening, could happen sooner than we think. (Science correspondents who can write a phrase like “sooner than we think” seldom realise that they might have already lost you with the word “could”.)

When the politicians join in the writing, the dramatic language declines to the infantile. There are only 50 days (former British PM Gordon Brown) or 100 months (Prince Charles wearing his political hat) left for mankind to “do something” about “the greatest moral challenge … of our generation” (Kevin Rudd, before he arrived at the Copenhagen climate shindig in 2009).

When he left Copenhagen, Rudd scarcely mentioned the greatest moral challenge again. Perhaps he had deduced, from the confusion prevailing throughout the conference, that the chances of the world ever uniting its efforts to “do something” were very small. Whatever his motives for backing out of the climate chorus, his subsequent career was an early demonstration that to cease being a chorister would be no easy retreat because it would be a clear indication that everything you had said on the subject up to then had been said in either bad faith or ­ignorance. It would not be enough merely to fall silent. You would have to travel back in time, run for office in the Czech Republic ­instead of Australia, and call yourself Vaclav Klaus.

Australia, unlike Rudd, has a globally popular role in the ­climate movie because it looks the part.

Common reason might tell you that a country whose contribution to the world’s emissions is only 1.4 per cent can do very little about the biggest moral challenge even if it manages to reduce that contribution to zero; but your eyes tell you that Australia is burning up. On the classic alarmist principle of “just stick your head out of the window and look around you”, Australia always looks like Overwhelming Evidence that the alarmists must be right.

Even now that the global warming scare has completed its transformation into the climate change scare so that any kind of event at either end of the scale of temperature can qualify as a crisis, Australia remains the top area of interest, still up there ahead of even the melting North Pole, ­despite the Arctic’s miraculous ­capacity to go on producing ice in defiance of all instructions from Al Gore. A C-student to his marrow, and thus never quick to pick up any reading matter at all, Gore has evidently never seen the Life magazine photographs of America’s nuclear submarine Skate surfacing through the North Pole in 1959. The ice up there is often thin, and sometimes vanishes.

But it comes back, especially when some­one sufficiently illustrious confidently predicts that it will go away for good.

After 4.5 billion years of changing, the climate that made outback Australia ready for Baz Luhrmann’s viewfinder looked all set to end the world tomorrow. History has already forgotten that the schedule for one of the big drought sequences in his movie Australia was wrecked by rain, and certainly history will never be reminded by the mass media, which loves a picture that fits the story.

In this way, the polar bear balancing on the Photoshopped shrinking ice floe will always have a future in show business, and the cooling towers spilling steam will always be up there in the background of the TV picture.

The full 97 per cent of all satirists who dealt themselves out of the climate subject back at the start look like staying out of it until the end, even if they get satirised in their turn. One could blame them for their pusillanimity, but it would be useless, and perhaps unfair. Nobody will be able plausibly to call actress Emma Thompson dumb for spreading gloom and doom about the climate: she’s too clever and too creative. And anyway, she might be right. Cases like Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett are rare enough to be called brave. Otherwise, the consensus of silence from the wits and thespians continues to be impressive.

If they did wish to speak up for scepticism, however, they wouldn’t find it easy when the people who run the big TV outlets forbid the wrong kind of humour.

On Saturday Night Live back there in 2007, Will Ferrell, brilliantly pretending to be George W. Bush, was allowed to get every word of the global warming message wrong but he wasn’t allowed to disbelieve it. Just as all branches of the modern media love a picture of something that might be part of the Overwhelming Evidence for climate change even if it is really a picture of something else, they all love a clock ticking down to zero, and if the clock never quite gets there then the motif can be exploited forever.

But the editors and producers must face the drawback of such perpetual excitement: it gets perpetually less exciting. Numbness sets in, and there is time to think after all. Some of the customers might even start asking where this language of rubber numbers has been heard before.

It was heard from Swift. In Gulliver’s Travels he populated his flying island of Laputa with scientists busily using rubber numbers to predict dire events. He called these scientists “projectors”. At the basis of all the predictions of the projectors was the prediction that the Earth was in danger from a Great Comet whose tail was “ten hundred thousand and fourteen” miles long. I should concede at this point that a sardonic parody is not necessarily pertinent just because it is funny; and that although it might be unlikely that the Earth will soon be threatened by man-made climate change, it might be less unlikely that the Earth will be threatened eventually by an asteroid, or let it be a Great Comet; after all, the Earth has been hit before.

That being said, however, we can note that Swift has got the language of artificial crisis exactly right, to the point that we might have trouble deciding whether he invented it or merely copied it from scientific voices surrounding him. James Hansen is a Swiftian figure. Blithely equating trains full of coal to trains full of people on their way to Auschwitz, the Columbia University climatologist is utterly unaware that he has not only turned the stomachs of the informed audience he was out to impress, he has lost their attention.

Paleoclimatologist Chris Turney, from the University of NSW, who led a ship full of climate change enthusiasts into the Antarctic to see how the ice was doing under the influence of climate change and found it was doing well enough to trap the ship, could have been invented by Swift. (Turney’s subsequent Guardian article, in which he explained how this embarrassment was due only to a quirk of the weather and had nothing to do with a possible mistake about the climate, was a Swiftian lampoon in all respects.)

Compulsorily retired now from the climate scene, Rajendra Pachauri, formerly chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Clim­ate Change, was a zany straight from Swift, by way of a Bollywood remake of The Party starring the local imitator of Peter Sellers; if Dr Johnson could have thought of Pachauri, Rasselas would be much more entertaining than it is. Finally, and supremely, Flannery could have been invented by Swift after 10 cups of coffee too many with Stella. He wanted to keep her laughing. Swift projected the projectors who now surround us.

They came out of the grant-hungry fringe of semi-science to infect the heart of the mass media, where a whole generation of commentators taught each other to speak and write a hyperbolic doom-language (“unprecedent­ed”, “irreversible”, et cetera), which you might have thought was sure to doom them in their turn. After all, nobody with an intact pair of ears really listens for long to anyone who talks about “the planet” or “carbon” or “climate denial” or “the science”. But for now — and it could be a long now — the advocates of drastic action are still armed with a theory that no fact doesn’t fit.

The theory has always been manifestly unfalsifiable, but there are few science pundits in the mass media who could tell Karl Popper from Mary Poppins. More startling than their ignorance, however, is their defiance of logic. You can just about see how a bunch of grant-dependent climate scientists might go on saying that there was never a Medieval Warm Period even after it has been pointed out to them that any old corpse dug up from the permafrost could never have been buried in it. But how can a bunch of supposedly enlightened writers go on saying that? Their answer, if pressed, is usually to say that the question is too elementary to be considered.

Alarmists have always profited from their insistence that climate change is such a complex issue that no “science denier” can have an opinion about it worth hearing. For most areas of science such an insistence would be true. But this particular area has a knack of raising questions that get more and more complicated in the absence of an answer to the elementary ones. One of those elementary questions is about how man-made carbon dioxide can be a driver of climate change if the global temperature has not gone up by much over the past 20 years but the amount of man-made carbon dioxide has. If we go on to ask a supplementary question — say, how could carbon dioxide raise temperature when the evidence of the ice cores indicates that temperature has always raised carbon dioxide — we will be given complicated answers, but we still haven’t had an answer to the first question, except for the suggestion that the temperature, despite the observations, really has gone up, but that the extra heat is hiding in the ocean.

It is not necessarily science denial to propose that this long professional habit of postponing an answer to the first and most elementary question is bizarre. American physicist Richard Feynman said that if a fact doesn’t fit the theory, the theory has to go. Feynman was a scientist. Einstein realised that the Michelson-Morley experiment hinted at a possible fact that might not fit Newton’s theory of celestial mechanics. Einstein was a scientist, too. Those of us who are not scientists, but who are sceptical about the validity of this whole issue — who suspect that the alleged problem might be less of a problem than is made out — have plenty of great scientific names to point to for exemplars, and it could even be said that we could point to the whole of science itself. Being resistant to the force of its own inertia is one of the things that science does.

When the climatologists upgraded their frame of certainty from global warming to climate change, the bet-hedging man­oeuvre was so blatant that some of the sceptics started predicting in their turn: the alarmist cause must surely now collapse, like a house of cards. A tipping point had been reached.

Unfortunately for the cause of rational critical inquiry, the campaign for immediate action against climate doom reaches a tipping point every few minutes, because the observations, if not the calculations, never cease exposing it as a fantasy.

I myself, after I observed journalist Andrew Neil on BBC TV wiping the floor with the then secretary for energy and climate change Ed Davey, thought that the British government’s energy policy could not survive, and that the mad work that had begun with the 2008 Climate Change Act of Labour’s Ed Miliband must now surely begin to come undone. Neil’s well-inform­ed list of questions had been a tipping point. But it changed nothing in the short term. It didn’t even change the BBC, which continued uninterrupted with its determination that the alarmist view should not be questioned.

How did the upmarket mass media get themselves into such a condition of servility? One is reminded of that fine old historian George Grote when he said that he had taken his A History of Greece only to the point where the Greeks failed to realise they were slaves. The BBC’s monotonous plugging of the climate theme in its science documentaries is too obvious to need remarking, but it’s what the science programs never say that really does the damage.

Even the news programs get “smoothed” to ensure that nothing interferes with the constant business of protecting the climate change theme’s dogmatic status.

To take a simple but telling example: when Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s Vice-Chancellor and man in charge of the Energiewende (energy transition), talked rings around Greenpeace hecklers with nothing on their minds but renouncing coal, or told executives of the renewable energy companies that they could no longer take unlimited subsidies for granted, these instructive moments could be seen on German TV but were not excerpted and subtitled for British TV even briefly, despite Gabriel’s accomplishments as a natural TV star, and despite the fact he himself was no sceptic. Wrong message: easier to leave him out.

And if American climate scientist Judith Curry appears before a US Senate com­mittee and manages to defend her anti-alarmist position against concentrated harassment from a senator whose only qualification for the discussion is that he can impugn her integrity with a rhetorical contempt of which she is too polite to be capable? Leave it to YouTube. In this way, the BBC has spent 10 years unplugged from a vital part of the global intellectual discussion, with an increasing air of provincialism as the inevitable result. As the UK now begins the long process of exiting the EU, we can reflect that the departing nation’s most important broadcasting institution has been behaving, for several years, as if its true aim were to reproduce the thought control that prevailed in the Soviet Union.

As for the print media, it’s no mystery why the upmarket newspapers do an even more thorough job than the downmarket newspapers of suppressing any dissenting opinion on the climate.

In Britain, The Telegraph sensibly gives a column to the diligently sceptical Christopher Booker, and Matt Rid­ley has recently been able to get a few rational articles into The Times, but a more usual arrangement is exemplified by my own newspaper, The Guardian, which entrusts all aspects of the subject to George Monbiot, who once informed his green readership that there was only one reason I could presume to disagree with him, and them: I was an old man, soon to be dead, and thus with no concern for the future of “the planet”.

I would have damned his impertinence, but it would have been like getting annoyed with a wheelbarrow full of freshly cut grass.

These byline names are stars committed to their opinion, but what’s missing from the posh press is the non-star name committed to the job of building a fact file and extracting a reasoned article from it. Further down the market, when The Daily Mail put its no-frills newshound David Rose on the case after Climategate, his admirable competence immediately got him labelled as a “climate change denier”: one of the first people to be awarded that badge of honour.

The other tactic used to discredit him was the standard one of calling his paper a disreputable publication. It might be — having been a victim of its prurience myself, I have no inclination to revere it — but it hasn’t forgotten what objective reporting is supposed to be. Most of the British papers have, and the reason is no mystery.

They can’t afford to remember. The print media, with notable exceptions, is on its way down the drain. With almost no personnel left to do the writing, the urge at editorial level is to give all the science stuff to one bloke. The print edition of The Independent bored its way out of business when its resident climate nag was allowed to write half the paper.

In its last year, when the doomwatch journalists were threatened by the climate industry with a newly revised consensus opinion that a mere 2C increase in world temperature might be not only acceptable but likely, The Independent’s chap retaliated by writing stories about how the real likelihood was an increase of 5C, and in a kind of frenzied crescendo he wrote a whole front page saying that the global temperature was “on track” for an increase of 6C. Not long after, the Indy’s print edition closed down.

At The New York Times, Andrew Revkin, star colour-piece writer on the climate beat, makes the whole subject no less predictable than his prose style: a cruel restriction.

In Australia, the Fairfax papers, which by now have almost as few writers as readers, reprint Revkin’s summaries as if they were the voice of authority, and will probably go on doing so until the waters close overhead. On the ABC, house science pundit Robyn Williams famously predicted that the rising of the waters “could” amount to 100m in the next century. But not even he predicted that it could happen next week. At The Sydney Morning Herald, it could happen next week. The only remaining journalists could look out of the window and see fish.

Bending its efforts to sensationalise the news on a scale previously unknown even in its scrappy history, the mass media has helped to consolidate a pernicious myth. But it could not have done this so thoroughly without the accident that it is the main source of information and opinion for people in the academic world and in the scientific institutions. Few of those people have been reading the sceptical blogs: they have no time. If I myself had not been so ill during the relevant time span, I might not have been reading it either, and might have remained confined within the misinformation system where any assertion of forthcoming disaster counts as evidence.

The effect of this mountainous accumulation of sanctified alarmism on the academic world is another subject. Some of the universities deserve to be closed down, but I expect they will muddle through, if only because the liberal spirit, when it regains its strength, is likely to be less vengeful than the dogmatists were when they ruled. Finding that the power of inertia blesses their security as once it blessed their influence, the enthusiasts might have the sense to throttle back on their certitude, huddle under the blanket cover provided by the concept of “post-normal science”, and wait in comfort to be forgotten.

As for the learned societies and professional institutions, it was never a puzzle that so many of them became instruments of obfuscation instead of enlightenment. Totalitarianism takes over a state at the moment when the ruling party is taken over by its secretariat; the tipping point is when Stalin, with his lists of names, offers to stay late after the meeting and take care of business.

The same vulnerability applies to any learned institution. Rule by bureaucracy favours mediocrity, and in no time at all you are in a world where the British Met Office’s (former) chief scientist Julia Slingo is a figure of authority and Curry is fighting to breathe.

On a smaller scale of influential prestige, Nicholas Stern lends the Royal Society the honour of his presence. For those of us who regard him as a vocalised stuffed shirt, it is no use saying that his confident pronouncements about the future are only those of an economist. Klaus was only an economist when he tried to remind us that Malthusian clairvoyance is invariably a harbinger of totalitarianism. But Klaus was a true figure of authority. Alas, true figures of authority are in short supply, and tend not to have much influence when they get to speak.

All too often, this is because they care more about science than about the media. As recently as 2015, after a full 10 years of nightly proof that this particular scientific dispute was a media event before it was anything, Freeman Dyson was persuaded to go on television. He was up there just long enough to say that the small proportion of carbon dioxide that was man-made could only add to the world’s supply of plant food. The world’s mass media outlets ignored the footage, mainly because they didn’t know who he was.

I might not have known either if I hadn’t spent, in these past few years, enough time in hospitals to have it proved to me on a personal basis that real science is as indispensable for modern medicine as cheap power. Among his many achievements, to none of which he has ever cared about drawing attention, Dyson designed the TRIGA reactor. The TRIGA ­ensures that the world’s hospitals get a reliable supply of isotopes.

Dyson served science. Except for the few holdouts who go on fighting to defend the objective ­nature of truth, most of the climate scientists who get famous are serving themselves.

There was a time when the journalists could have pointed out the difference, but now they have no idea. Instead, they are so celebrity-conscious that they would supply Flannery with a new clown suit if he wore out the one he is wearing now.

A bad era for science has been a worse one for the mass media, the field in which, despite the usual blunders and misjudgments, I was once proud to earn my living. But I have spent too much time, in these past few years, being ashamed of my profession: hence the note of anger which, I can now see, has crept into this essay even though I was determined to keep it out. As my retirement changed to illness and then to dotage, I would have preferred to sit back and write poems than to be known for taking a position in what is, despite the colossal scale of its foolish waste, a very petty quarrel.

But it was time to stand up and fight, if only because so many of the advocates, though they must know by now that they are professing a belief they no longer hold, will continue to profess it anyway.

Back in the day, when I was starting off in journalism — on The Sydney Morning Herald, as it happens — the one thing we all learned early from our veteran colleagues was never to improve the truth for the sake of the story. If they caught us doing so, it was the end of the world.

But here we are, and the world hasn’t ended after all. Though some governments might not yet have fully returned to the principle of evidence-based policy, most of them have learned to be wary of policy-based evidence. They have learned to spot it coming, not because the real virtues of critical inquiry have been well argued by scientists but because the false claims of abracadabra have been asserted too often by people who, though they might have started out as scientists of a kind, have found their true purpose in life as ideologists.

Modern history since World War II has shown us that it is unwise to predict what will happen to ideologists after their citadel of power has been brought low. It was feared that the remaining Nazis would fight on, as werewolves. Actually, only a few days had to pass before there were no Nazis to be found anywhere except in Argentina, boring one another to death at the world’s worst dinner parties.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, on the other hand, when it was thought that no apologists for Marxist collectivism could possibly keep their credibility in the universities of the West, they not only failed to lose heart, they gained strength.

Some critics would say that the climate change fad itself is an offshoot of this ­lingering revolutionary animus against liberal democracy, and that the true purpose of the climatologists is to bring about a world government that will ensure what no less a philanthropist than Robert Mugabe calls “climate justice”, in which capitalism is replaced by something more altruistic.

I prefer to blame mankind’s inherent capacity for raising opportunism to a principle: the enabling condition for fascism in all its varieties, and often an imperative mindset among high-end frauds.

On behalf of the UN, Maurice Strong, the first man to raise big money for climate justice, found slightly under a million dollars of it sticking to his fingers, and hid out in China for the rest of his life — a clear sign of his guilty knowledge that he had pinched it.

Later operators lack even the guilt. They just collect the money, like the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, who has probably guessed by now that the sea isn’t going to rise by so much as an inch; but he still wants, for his supposedly threatened atoll, a share of the free cash, and especially because the question has changed. It used to be: how will we cope when the disaster comes? The question now is: how will we cope if it does not?

There is no need to entertain ­visions of a vast, old-style army of disoccupied experts retreating through the snow, eating first their horses and finally each other. But there could be quite a lot of previously well-subsidised people left standing around while they vaguely wonder why nobody is listening to them any more. Way back in 2011, one of the Climategate scientists, Britain’s Tommy Wils, with an engagingly honest caution rare among prophets, speculated in an email about what people outside their network might do to them if climate change turned out to be a bunch of natural variations: “Kill us, probably.” But there has been too much talk of mass death already, and anyway most of the alarmists are the kind of people for whom it is a sufficiently fatal punishment simply to be ignored.

Nowadays I write with aching slowness, and by the time I had finished assembling the previous paragraph, the US had changed presidents. What difference this transition will make to the speed with which the climate change meme collapses is yet to be seen, but my own guess is that it was already almost gone anyway: a comforting view to take if you don’t like the idea of a posturing zany like Donald Trump changing the world.

Personally, I don’t even like the idea of Trump changing a light bulb, but we ought to remember that this dimwitted period in the history of the West began with exactly that: a change of light bulbs. Suddenly, 100 watts were too much. For as long as the climate change fad lasted, it always depended on poppycock; and it would surely be unwise to believe that mankind’s capacity to believe in fashionable nonsense could be cured by the disproportionately high cost of a temporary embarrassment. I’m almost sorry that I won’t be here for the ceremonial unveiling of the next threat.

Almost certainly the opening feast will take place in Paris, with a happy sample of all the world’s young scientists facing the fragrant remains of their first ever plate of foie gras, while vowing that it will not be the last.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   main.html or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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