I try to answer as many enquiries as I can from people who want to discuss “global warming”. I wrote this letter in reply to a “global warming” fanatic who, it is not unfair to say, had never actually thought about the superstition to which he subscribes. Perhaps this letter will make him think a little more and believe a little less.
Dear Enquirer, – Thank you for taking the trouble to write to me. If I may, I shall highlight various passages from your letter in bold face, and then respond to them seriatim in Roman face.
“I am not a climate scientist, and so I can only go by the overwhelming consensus amongst scientists that man-made climate change is occurring and that it poses a grave threat to humanity.”
First, science is not – repeat not – done by consensus. Aristotle, in codifying the dozen worst fallacies to which mankind is prone, described this one as the “head-count fallacy”, or, as the mediaeval schoolmen called it, the argumentum ad populum. Merely because many people say they believe a thing to be true, they do not necessarily believe it to be true and, even if they do, it need not necessarily be true. Abu Ali Ibn al-Haytham, the astronomer, mathematician and philosopher of science in 11th-century Iraq who is credited as the father of the scientific method, said this –
“The seeker after truth does not put his faith in any mere consensus, however broad and however venerable. Instead, he subjects what he has learned from it to scrutiny using his hard-won scientific knowledge, and he verifies for himself whether it is true. The road to the truth is long and hard, but that is the road we must follow.”
More recently, T.H. Huxley, in the famous debate in which he defeated Bishop Soapy Sam Wilberforce in Oxford on the question of evolution, put it this way –
“The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the very highest of duties: blind faith the one unpardonable sin.”
Secondly, the “consensus” you speak of does not in fact exist. Schulte (2008) reported that, of 539 scientific papers dated January 2004-February 2007 that contained the search phrase “global climate change”, not one provided any evidence that any anthropogenic influence on any part of the climate would prove in any degree catastrophic. That, if you do science by consensus, is the consensus.
Thirdly, during the pre-Cambrian era CO2 concentration was 300,000 parts per million, or 30% of the atmosphere, 773 times the 388 parts per million (<0.04%) in today’s atmosphere. Yet at that time glaciers came and went, twice, at the Equator and at sea level. The appearance of glaciers in this way could not have happened if CO2 had the exaggerated warming effect, derived by modelling rather than by measurement, that the IPCC imagines.
Fourthly, although the IPCC says more than half the 0.5 C “global warming” since 1950 was manmade, in fact four-fifths of it, or 0.4 C°, is known by measurement to have been caused by a naturally-occurring reduction in cloud cover from 1983-2001 (Pinker et al., 2005).
Since the warming actually observed from 1983-2001 was also 0.4 C°, during that period of more than 18 years there appears to have been no contribution whatsoever from CO2 or from any other greenhouse gas, even though the IPCC’s central estimate is that the increase from 342 to 370 ppmv CO2 over the period ought to have caused a warming of 4.7 ln(370/342) = 0.4 C°. So there should have been a warming of 0.8 C° over the period, but there was not.
From observations such as these, it is not possible to place any faith in the IPCC’s values for climate sensitivity, which have always been highly speculative. In fact, global temperature since 1980 has been rising at half the rate originally predicted by the IPCC in its First Assessment Report in 1990, and, since 1995, has not risen in any statistically-significant sense at all.
“Certainly if you told me that there was a mere 1 in 100 chance that the plane on which my daughter was about to crash I would not let her take it, because the potential downside would be so disastrous.”
Here, with respect, you have misunderstood what is misleadingly called the “precautionary principle”, though it is not a principle at all. For it is essential – but all too often forgotten – to ensure that the precautions you adopt do not do more harm than whatever it is you are taking precautions against. To take your example, if your daughter was on a volcanic island that was erupting, and if the scientists told you that if she remained on the island she would certainly die, and that the only way to escape was on an aircraft with a 1:100 chance of crashing, you would surely let her take the plane.
Mutatis mutandis, one should look at the precautions that are being taken in the name of Saving The Planet from the non-problem that is “global warming”. The biofuel scam, for instance, has taken so much farmland out of growing food for people that need it that world food prices doubled in just two years, causing mass starvation, food riots and death in a dozen major regions of the world. These food riots went almost entirely unreported in the mainstream news media. In Haiti, long before the recent tragic earthquake, the poor had been reduced to eating mud pies made with real mud, and then the doubling of world food prices meant they could not even afford the mud pies. So they died, as millions of others pointlessly died, because self-indulgent environmentalists in the West were not willing to do the science more carefully, and were not willing to apply the precautionary principle to the precautions that they had themselves so enthusiastically but foolishly and cruelly advocated.
“I am writing to find out why the proposed solutions to the problem of climate change make you so angry.”
These “solutions” that you speak of, which would make not the slightest difference to the “problem” of “global warming” even if there were one, are killing my fellow-citizens of this planet by the million. Of course I am angry.
“Will the production of oil and gas not surely peak and decline, if not imminently then in 20 years’ time?”
A third of a century ago, the Club of Rome decided that by now there would be no oil or gas reserves left anywhere in the world. Yet, despite massive increases in consumption of oil and gas worldwide, proven reserves today are larger than they were 30 years ago. As the reserves become scarcer and more expensive to extract, the price will rise. As the price rises, so alternative sources of energy will become less unviable economically. There is no role for governments in trying to pick future winners in energy supply: the free market will do it better and more economically, and without the need for over-taxation or over-regulation on the part of the State.
“Are the prices of fossil fuels and in fact nearly all commodities not subject to increasing volatility year by year?”
No. In the 1970s the volatility in the oil price was many times greater than it is today. And any attempt to ban the use of fossil fuels would merely add greatly and unnecessarily to the price of all commodities. Yet it would make not the slightest difference to the climate, even if you believe the IPCC’s sevenfold exaggeration of the true (and negligible) warming effect of CO2. Shutting down the entire carbon economy of the world, which would amount to much the same thing as shutting down the entire world economy, with an unimaginable increase in the number of deaths already being caused worldwide by misguided policies in this field, would forestall just 1 C° of “global warming” every 41 years. The mathematics are not difficult: we emit 15 billion tons of CO2 per part per million by volume in the atmosphere, and we emit 30 billion tons a year at present worldwide, equivalent to an increase of 2 ppmv per year in atmospheric CO2 concentration. Shutting down the economy would stabilize CO2 concentration at today’s levels, preventing this 2 ppmv/year rise. So, given the 388 ppmv CO2 in the atmosphere at present, each year without any CO2 emissions at all would forestall 4.7 ln (390/388) C° of warming, or 1/41 C°. Now you will begin to see what I mean by counting the cost of the precautions. Shutting down the entire world’s carbon economy would kill billions, and cost trillions, and yet our instruments would hardly be able to measure the difference it made to the climate. And this, you will recall, is on the basis that the IPCC has not exaggerated the warming effect of CO2 as prodigiously as numerous peer-reviewed papers have demonstrated that it has.
“Are western trade deficits not reaching crippling levels, at least in part because of our addiction to and utterly profligate use of imported fossil fuels?”
No. Trade deficits tend to be a feature of Socialist administrations. During the Thatcher era, for instance, UK trade ran for much of the time at a surplus, particularly when errors in the official figures were accounted for (one could demonstrate these errors by adding up all of the published trade deficits and surpluses in the world, whereupon it appeared that there was a massive trade deficit with outer space). It is the right of individuals to decide whether they want to pay the price of imported oil, and they do. I bet you have at least one car, for instance. If you give it up, like me, and use a motor-cycle, you will do much to reduce both the trade deficit and the congestion on the roads.
“Are those imports not vastly enriching some of the worst regimes on the planet?”
Yes. So give up your car. Give up electricity. Your letter was written electronically, for it has justified type, which a manual typewriter cannot achieve. Go back to the Stone Age, but remember not to light a carbon-emitting fire in your cave. Even if we all went back to the Stone Age (and that would involve the deaths of billions of our fellow-citizens), remember that we should forestall no more than 1 C° of “global warming” in 41 years – or, if I am right in suspecting that the IPCC has exaggerated CO2’s warming effect sevenfold, in almost 300 years.
“I cannot see how becoming much more efficient in our use of energy and other resources can be anything but a good thing.”
That, of course, is already happening, and by leaps and bounds. As energy prices rise, people learn to use energy more efficiently, to insulate their houses, to use their cars less often or use motor-bikes instead, and so forth. But, once again, there is no role for government here. The overhead cost of any government-driven activity doubles not only the cost of that activity but also the resource consumption associated with that activity. Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize for Economics for explaining exactly why that multiple is so.
The fastest way to reduce resource consumption, including energy consumption, is to make government smaller. Yet I have never heard any environmentalist advocate that, for – as my good friend Eric Ellington, a founder of Greenpeace who died this week, told me on many occasions – Greenpeace and many other environmental groups founded by people who, like Eric, genuinely cared for the environment were rapidly taken over by totalitarians with not the slightest genuine interest in the environment, because they saw the environmental movement as a Trojan Horse that could be used to collapse the economies of the West from within.
I am against that Marxist/eco-Fascistic entryism, not least because the totalitarian countries have done far more damage to the environment than the nations of the free West. By all means use energy more efficiently, but don’t involve government in the process, or any benefits will be very heavily outweighed by the overhead cost of the extra bureaucrats and their lavishly-heated offices. “Keep it simple, stupid,” as the saying goes, and let the free market do what it does best – allocate resources in a far cheaper and more efficient manner than any totalitarian, however pious his intention.
“Similarly the development of alternatives to fossil fuels, such as anaerobic digesters that use food and farm waste to generate heat and electricity, or solar thermal panels on our rooftops to heat our bathwater.”
Anaerobic digesters are all very well on country estates and in large town houses with their own land, but they are impractical in most cities, and their cost often outweighs any environmental benefits. As for solar panels, the CO2 emitted in their manufacture easily exceeds any CO2 that will be saved in their relatively short lifetime. Maybe that will change one day, but that is and has long been the case. CO2 emissions don’t worry me, but, if they worry you, then forget solar panels.
“Is the decline in manufacturing in the West not a trend that can be reversed by the rise of a huge industrial-efficiency, clean-technology and renewable-energy industry?”
No. The decline of manufacturing in the West is chiefly attributable to the excessive cost of government and the intrusiveness of regulation. The last steelworks on Teesside has just closed because we have a no-doubt-piously-intended EU emissions-trading scheme which prices UK-made steel right out of world markets. If and when there is a market for the types of industry you mention, even then the cost of manufactures in those markets will almost certainly be cheaper almost anywhere else in the world than in the benighted, overtaxed, over-governed, over-regulated, over-pious EU. It is no accident that the last major manufacturer of wind-turbine blades in Britain has recently closed, precisely because the EU is no longer open for manufacturing business – thanks to carbon trading, which is a rigged market that favours those who rig it (governments and absolute bankers) at the expense of everyone and everything else, including the jobs of our workers.
“What about the aim of slowing and ultimately halting the clearance of the tropical rainforests on which surely all life depends? Is this not worth a global pact now, whether we believe in man-made climate change or not?”
A shame that you overstate your case here, because I agree that deforestation is undesirable and that reafforestation should be encouraged. I also agree this is one area where government, and even inter-governmental co-operation, has a role. But it is silly to say that all life depends on the tropical rain-forests. It doesn’t, though we should all be poorer for their passing.
“If I were to discover man-made climate change to be nothing more than an elaborate hoax created by the world’s scientific establishment, I would not reveal it, because all of the changes that its existence will bring about are changes which we absolutely must be making right away, irrespective of the climate.”
Since one of the “changes” that the climate scam has caused is the deaths of millions by starvation, I cannot and will not agree. Also, the lies and exaggerations peddled with such enthusiasm by the environmentalist movement will scarcely win it any friends when – as is already happening with great rapidity – the world wakes up to the fact that it has been lied to. In the end, it is always better to adhere absolutely to the truth, because no one heeds a proven liar, as the environmentalist movement will rapidly learn to its cost.
It is also questionable whether the “changes” you mention would be a good idea in their own right. There is a direct correlation between CO2 emissions per head and life expectancy, and a direct anti-correlation between CO2 emissions per head and child mortality, for instance. Also, CO2 is plant food: if we were able to double its current concentration, the yield of many staple food crops would increase by up to 40%. So curbing CO2 emissions, the principal objective of the environmentalist movement at present, would do great harm. In particular, it would prevent the cheapest and surest way of lifting people out of poverty: the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity. Populations that become free of poverty stabilize themselves, while countries compelled to remain poor continue to suffer an excessively rapid birth-rate. The perverse but inevitable effect of any success that the environmentalist movement may have in trying to limit emissions of CO2 will be to increase world poverty, to increase world population, and ultimately to increase the world’s carbon footprint. I don’t mind about the carbon footprint, which would be harmless and beneficial, but increasing the world’s population by forcibly keeping it poor is surely cruel madness.
“I have yet to see you touch on the now virtually undisputed fact of ocean acidification by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the consequences of which are predicted to be catastrophic.”
Ah, ocean “acidification”, the fall-back position of those who have realized that there has been no statistically-significant “global warming” for 15 years, and a rapid global cooling trend for nine of those 15 years. Once again, you overstate your case by talking of the “virtually undisputed fact” of ocean “acidification”. In fact, as you will find from the little book on the subject by my distinguished colleague Dr. Craig Idso of www.co2science.org, the overwhelming opinion of scientists in the literature is that ocean “acidification” is a chemical impossibility.
So let us end this letter with a little science. First, with this as with all scientific subjects, we need a sense of proportion. So let us get a few things clear straight away. The acid-base balance of water is measured on a logarithmic scale of the proportion of hydrogen ions in the water. This proportion is labelled the pH. The pH of seawater is 7.9-8.2; the pH of neutral or pure water is 7.0; and the pH of rainwater is 5.4. Any value greater than 7.0 is alkaline; any value less than 7.0 is acid. So seawater is pronouncedly alkaline, and rainwater is pronouncedly acid.
Next, we need to gain some idea of the amount of CO2 in seawater. Seawater at the surface is 1100 times denser than the atmosphere, and it contains 70 times as much CO2 as the atmosphere. From this it is easy to see that the amount of CO2 in seawater is very, very small, for it is minuscule in the atmosphere. Now, suppose that we were to double the partial pressure of CO2 in the atmosphere. In accordance with Henry’s Law, about 30% of the extra CO2 in the atmosphere would end up in the oceans. Accordingly, the amount of CO2 in the oceans would increase by 1/233, or less than half of one per cent. Is that enough to “acidify” the oceans? Obviously not. At most, it would move the pH by an immeasurably small amount towards neutralization.
In fact, however, it would not even do that. Why? Because CO2 is only the seventh-most-prevalent of the substances dissolved in the oceans that can alter its acid-base balance. And CO2 has a special role as the buffer that preserves homoeostasis in the acid-base balance of the oceans. In the pre-Cambrian era, for instance, the CO2 in the oceans reacted with the superabundant calcium and magnesium ions in seawater to precipitate out dolomitic rock. As the partial pressure of CO2 fell, the CO2 reacted with calcium ions to form limestone or chalk (CaCO3), which contains 44% CO2.
In the Cambrian era, when CO2 concentration was 7500 parts per million, or around 18 times today’s, the first calcite corals achieved symbiosis with algae, then the only plant life on Earth. In the Jurasic era, when CO2 concentration was around 6500 parts per million, the first aragonite corals came into existence. For most of the past 750 million years, CO2 concentration in the oceans has been at least 1000 parts per million, compared with <400 today. Why were the oceans never acid throughout this time, notwithstanding the high partial pressures of CO2? Because the oceans run over rocks, and rocks are pronouncedly alkaline. As long as there are rocks beneath and around the oceans, the oceans cannot and will not acidify.
One final point about so-called “acidification”. Believe it or not, calcium carbonate shells and corals dissolve 15 times more readily in the strongly-alkaline seawater of today than they would in neutral water of pH 7.0. If it were possible to neutralize the oceans somewhat, shells would be less at risk of dissolving, not more at risk. I do not know how much chemistry you have, but I can show you the chemical equations underlying this topic, if you like. There was not and is not any sound scientific basis for believing that a little extra CO2 in the atmosphere will have any appreciable effect on the oceans.
Let me conclude by observing that it is not appropriate to try to politicize science. The environmentalist movement, by seeking to push the science beyond reason or reality in its attempt to frighten schoolchildren and the feeble-minded, will find that as the truth emerges the world will turn its back on those who have baselessly cried “Wolf!” many times too often. It will then be seen that nothing has done more harm to the cause of true environmental concern than the attempted capture of the environmental movement by people who care nothing for the environment and everything for the narrow, poisonous, politicized faction with which they unwisely identify themselves. Great is truth, as the Book of Life says, and mighty above all things.
VISCOUNT MONCKTON OF BRENCHLEY
Chief Policy Adviser: Lord Monckton, UK: – Christopher, Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, was Special Advisor to Margaret Thatcher as UK Prime Minister from 1982 to 1986, and gave policy advice on technical issues such as warship hydrodynamics (his work led to his appointment as the youngest Trustee of the Hales Trophy for the Blue Riband of the Atlantic), psephological modeling (predicting the result of the 1983 General Election to within one seat), embryological research, hydrogeology (leading to the award of major financial assistance to a Commonwealth country for the construction of a very successful hydroelectric scheme), public-service investment analysis (leading to savings of tens of billions of pounds), public welfare modeling (his model of the UK tax and benefit system was, at the time, more detailed than the Treasury’s economic model, and led to a major simplification of the housing benefit system), and epidemiological analysis. On leaving 10 Downing Street, he established a successful specialist consultancy company, giving technical advice to corporations and governments. His two articles in the Sunday Telegraph late in 2006 debunking the climate-change “consensus” received more hits to the newspaper’s website than any other in the paper’s history: the volume of hits caused the link to crash. His contribution to the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 – the correction of a table inserted by IPCC bureaucrats that had overstated tenfold the observed contribution of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets to sea-level rise – earned him the status of Nobel Peace Laureate. His Nobel prize pin, made of gold recovered from a physics experiment, was presented to him by the Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Rochester, New York, USA. He has lectured at university physics departments on the quantification of climate sensitivity, on which he is widely recognized as an expert, and his limpid analysis of the climate-feedback factor was published on the famous climate blog of Roger Pielke, Sr. His lecture to undergraduates at the Cambridge Union Society on climate change has been released by SPPI as Apocalypse? NO!, a full-length feature movie on high-definition DVD (available from www.greatswindle.com). Apocalypse? NO! been described by Professor Larry Gould of the University of Hartford, Connecticut, “as one of the best films ever made…”