Global Warming's Pause For Thought

Stu has an article up on Spiked about the reaction to Paul Hudson’s BBC article ‘What Happened to Global Warming?’:

A BBC News journalist’s willingness to report more than climate orthodoxy should be encouraged not condemned…

While we’re on the subject, it’s strange that no one seems to have mentioned the far more pronounced temperature plateau/decline that occurred between the mid-1940s and the early 1970s. The orthodox explanation for that one is that the cooling effect of white aerosols such as sulphates – released from coal and oil burning – was masking the warming effect of greenhouse gases until various clean air acts allowed the anthropogenic warming trend to re-emerge.

We wrote last year about how alarmists have wielded the aerosol-masking theory to beat down anyone who suggests that the post-war slump is a problem. Here’s George Monbiot:

Temperatures declined after the Second World War as a result of sulphate pollution from heavy industry, causing global dimming. This is well-known to all climate scientists. The exclusion of this information from [The Great Global Warming Swindle] was straightforward scientific dishonesty.

For Bob Ward, the Swindle‘s omission represented one of ‘five major misrepresentations of the scientific evidence’ in the programme.

The Independent’s Steve Connor also made a meal of it:

The programme failed to point out that scientists had now explained the period of “global cooling” between 1940 and 1970. It was caused by industrial emissions of sulphate pollutants, which tend to reflect sunlight. Subsequent clean-air laws have cleared up some of this pollution, revealing the true scale of global warming – a point that the film failed to mention.

The trouble is that there remains little empirical evidence to support the idea, as we were surprised to find out when we talked to UC San Diego atmospheric physicist Veerabhadran Ramanathan about his research showing that another type of aerosol – black carbon – had a significant warming effect:

Climate Resistance: What are the implications of this work for the idea that the post-war temperature decline is the result of sulphate aerosols masking the warming effect of CO2 emissions?

Veerabhadran Ramanathan: After the 1970s, when the West was cleaning up pollution, there was a rise in temperatures. We stopped burning coal in cities etc, and coal puts out a lot of sulphates, and sulphates mask global warming. At the same time, in the tropics, China and India, they were growing fast and putting a lot more Black Carbon.

CR: So the sulphate component must have been reduced more than the Black Carbon component for the aerosol masking theory to hold? We now need empirical data to compare the effect of black and white aerosols during the post-war temperature slump?

VR: Exactly.

CR: Do we have that empirical data?

VR: No. The data we have is for 2002-2003. We don’t know what happened in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. The implication of this study is that we have to understand what is the relative change in the sulphur emissions versus the Black Carbon emissions – and we don’t know that.

CR: So what is the empirical evidence that, 50 years ago, white aerosols were masking GW due to CO2?

VR: It’s pretty flimsy. The main information we have […] is our understanding of the SO2 emissions by coal combustion, and oil. But we need to know not so much how much SO2 we put out, but how much was converted to sulphates, how much was removed [etc]

CR: So you don’t even know the life cycle of the SO2 and sulphates?

VR: No. All the information we have is from models… It could still be true [that white aerosols account for the post-war temperature slump]

CR: But it could not be true?

VR: Yes. The picture is complicated. But this paper is not saying it is wrong[…]

CR: So we now have a better idea of what is happening aerosol-wise in the present, but what was going on in the 1950s/’60s is still elusive?

VR: Yes, There’s a lot of research needs to be done on that – what happened in the ’50s and ’60s, and then why the rapid ramp up [from the ’70s]. I’m not saying our current understanding is wrong, just that it is a more complicated picture. I would say it’s uncertain.

We wouldn’t suggest the aerosol-masking theory is wrong either. What’s interesting is how a neat idea is sold as an established fact, how a working hypothesis has become a truth ‘well-known to all climate scientists’, how ‘scientists are investigating’ becomes scientists ‘have explained’. Without the masking theory, the orthodoxy would have a serious problem. The research that shows that decade-long periods of static/declining temperatures are to be expected against the background of a warming trend (see the Spiked article above) makes no claims that such natural variation could account for the much longer post-war slump.

Meanwhile, it will be worth watching to see how the tactics of the climate orthodoxy change as – and if – the present slowdown in temperature rise continues. The slump has already robbed the orthodoxy of much of its potential for short-term alarmism about record temperatures, and the Met, for example, seems already to have ditched its yearly climate forecast in favour of a decadal one. And how long before serious efforts are made to explain the slump in causal terms – not to mention how quickly those investigations are deployed as proof that climate science has nailed it?

Gordon Browns His Trousers and Goes Green

When Gordon Brown spoke of ‘catastrophe’ yesterday, he wasn’t talking about his premiership or worrying about the UK under a Tory government.

Brown has always been rather quiet on climate change. His government hasn’t, but he has. We’ve always had the impression that he went along with the greening of New Labour a tad reluctantly. It’s as if he thought there were more pressing matters, even if he wasn’t quite sure what they were.

He suddenly seems to be making up for lost time

PM warns of climate ‘catastrophe’

The UK faces a “catastrophe” of floods, droughts and killer heatwaves if world leaders fail to agree a deal on climate change, the prime minister has warned.

Gordon Brown said negotiators had 50 days to save the world from global warming and break the “impasse”.

Fifty days?! Talk about the zeal of the converted.

Radio 4’s The World Tonight summoned climate change secretary Ed Miliband to ask him if Brown was exaggerating:

No, I don’t think he was… The science is very clear about this…


Which would seem like a good moment to remember the cautionary words of climate scientist Mike Hulme:

The language of catastrophe is not the language of science. It will not be visible in next year’s global assessment from the world authority of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)[Note: AR4]. To state that climate change will be “catastrophic” hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science.

Brown’s catastrophism and the catastrophic state of his premiership and government are linked of course. As his authority continues to melt spectacularly, his desperation to connect with the media, the electorate and his party is forced to the surface. A few strong words about catastrophic climate change are about the only straws he has left to cling to. Not that it will cut any ice at the ballot box. Brown is just one more green obstacle for the electorate to navigate around.

Here’s the entirety of what Brown said:

In every era there are one or two moments when nations come together and reach agreements that make history. because they change the course of history. And Copenhagen must be such a time. There are now fewer than fifty days to set the course for the next few decades. So as we convene here, we carry great responsibilities, and the world is watching. If we do not reach a deal in the next few months, let us be in no doubt. Once the damage from unchecked emissions growth is done, no retrospective global agreement in some future period can undo that choice. By then it will be irretrievably too late. So we should never allow ourselves to lose sight of the catastrophe we face if present warming trends continue.

Only last week we saw new evidence of the rapid loss of Arctic sea ice.

Brown is talking here no doubt about Professor Peter Wadhams’s announcement that the Arctic is set to be ice-free in summer. This was in no way ‘new evidence’, however. Wadham was speaking at the launch of the findings of the Catlin Arctic Survey, and was simply reiterating, in equally vague terms, what has been bandied about for years. His statements were effectively a damage limitation exercise on behalf of the Catlin expedition, an insurance-sponsored venture that spectacularly failed to provide much at all in the way of data.

And in just twenty-five years, the glaciers in the Himalayas which provide water for three-quarters of a billion people could disappear entirely.

What’s happening to the glaciers? If they are melting, then there is no reason why there should be less water for the millions of people who live downstream. Glaciers which neither grow nor shrink must have equal output as input. Meanwhile, if there is a growing water shortage problem (whatever its cause), a global deal at Copenhagen won’t help those facing it to build new water infrastructure. Nor will it give them one

IPCC estimates tell us now that by 2080 an extra 1.8 billion – equal to a quarter of the world’s current population – could be living and dying without enough water.

The only claim to this effect that we could find in the IPCC’s literature was this PDF of a presentation. It says:

A 3°C temperature increase could lead to 0.4 –1.8 billion more people at risk of water stress.

Notice that Brown omits to inform us what could produce the effect, which is a particularly high estimate anyway, and takes the upper range of the effect, which is more than four times higher than the lower. Moreover, the figure is premised entirely on those who are likely to experience such effects being unable to develop any water infrastructure. Even the worst-case projection/scenario considered by the IPCC in AR4 does not estimate that global temperature could increase by 3 degrees until 2080 – 70 years in the future. That’s plenty of time to start building water infrastructure.

Brown continues:

If the international community does nothing to assist the rainforest nations in protecting the world’s rainforests, the damage not just to climate, but to biodiversity, to watersheds and to the livelihoods of millions of people will, as you know here, be incalculable.

Which is simply meaningless.

The recent report of the Global Humanitarian Forum led by Kofi Annan suggests that 325 million people are already seriously affected by drought, disease, floods, loss of livestock, low agricultural yields, and declining fish stocks. A further 500 million people are at extreme risk, and every year the effects of climate change are already killing 300,000 people – the number killed by the Indian Ocean Tsunami. And the toll could rise to half a million each year by 2030.

We have looked at the GHF’s claims previously (here and here). And as we showed, there is no reason to take them seriously. As with the WHO’s claim that 150,000 people are killed by the effects of climate change, each and every single one of these deaths would have been avoided had there been the level of development in those regions as there is in the West. It cannot be argued, therefore, that climate change is responsible for those deaths. Poverty was responsible for them. Moreover, the number of deaths attributed to climate change is lower than for any other effect of poverty according the UN’s very own figures. Here they are again:

More than 26 million people seem to die prematurely in the developing world, yet Brown thinks their biggest problem is climate change.

98 per cent of those dying and otherwise seriously affected live in the poorest countries, and yet their countries only account for 8 per cent of global emissions. This is the great injustice of climate change. Those being hit first and hardest by climate change are those who have done least to cause it.

Brown seeks legitimacy for his climate change policy-posturing by claiming to be interested in helping the world’s poor. Yet at the same time, it appears that he is not making an argument for the world’s poor to enjoy our lifestyles, and our level of wealth. Thus he is not making an argument for them to be equipped with the means to make themselves less vulnerable to the effects of climate, and of climate change. To what extent then, is Brown making an argument for the defence of the interests of the global poor?

Brown isn’t interested in them at all. What Brown is interested in is sustaining his own role and his own function. He is clothing himself in scientific factoids and dubious statistics so that he can make-believe that he is a planet-saving super-hero. Transparently, he fails.

Newsnight of the Living Dead

For those who missed Wednesday’s edition of BBC2’s Newsnight, we highly recommend that you watch it:

When you’re asked to adapt your lifestyle to combat climate change, what goes through your head? Do you embrace the challenge, switch off the lights and reach for the hair-shirt? Or do you shut your eyes, bury your head in a carbon-luxurious lifestyle and hope it will all go away? Tonight we ask what the green movement has really achieved. Yes, they’ve brought the issue to the national conscience. But are they now becoming part of the problem by rejecting so many potential solutions? They style themselves as radical, but are they actually too conservative? Tonight we put the great and the good of the green movement on trial.

It doesn’t quite live up to the promise, but it’s well worth it for the spectacle of Caroline Lucas, Zac Goldsmith, John Sauven, Franny Armstrong et al being lined up Weakest-Link-style for self-inflicted humiliation. Available on iPlayer here if you’re in the UK.

In the Pipeline

Just a quickie to say that we’re still here, and to flag up the Battle of Ideas festival at the Royal College of Art, London, 31 Oct/1 Nov.

Ben will be speaking at the session Solving the Energy Crisis: all about lightbulbs and lifestyle? where he’ll share the mic with Brenda Boardman (Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford; author of Home Truths: a low-carbon strategy to reduce UK housing emissions by 80%); Jacquie Burgess (professor of environmental risk, University of East Anglia); Martin Haigh (energy consultant, Shell); Peter Sammonds (professor of geophysics, UCL).

There’s lots more on the programme that might be of interest. Such as:

Bookshop Barnie at the Battle: ‘Why We Disagree about Climate Change’

The Fight over Flight: what’s the problem with air travel?

Abundant, Cheap, Clean… Contentious? Why is energy a battlefield today?

A Green New Deal: can environmentalism save the economy?

A New Nuclear Age?

See you there maybe.