The Silliest Climate Change Article Ever?

by | Aug 19, 2011

All sorts of claims are made about climate change. The excellent Number Watch site by John Brignell keeps a list of things (claimed to be) caused by global warming. Pointless speculation about climate change is rife. This is perhaps the most absurd instance of it.

Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civilisations, say scientists
Rising greenhouse emissions could tip off aliens that we are a rapidly expanding threat, warns a report

There’s no need for sceptics to ‘distort science’ when scientists are perfectly capable of doing it all by themselves. Ian Sample — the article’s author — is even more daft.

It may not rank as the most compelling reason to curb greenhouse gases, but reducing our emissions might just save humanity from a pre-emptive alien attack, scientists claim.

Watching from afar, extraterrestrial beings might view changes in Earth’s atmosphere as symptomatic of a civilisation growing out of control – and take drastic action to keep us from becoming a more serious threat, the researchers explain.

This highly speculative scenario is one of several described by a Nasa-affiliated scientist and colleagues at Pennsylvania State University that, while considered unlikely, they say could play out were humans and alien life to make contact at some point in the future.

Sample is the Guardian’s science correspondent. But it seems that he has more correspondence with science fiction than science proper. How can any discriminating journalist — which is their job, after all — not have seen the report, and thought to themselves… ‘oh, for ****’s sake’, and either ignored it, or given it the ridicule it deserves?

Never mind human-haters from another planet. The more immediate problem is the journalist’s and scientists’ deeply ingrained misanthropy, right here on Earth. It’s not just speculation that is the problem; it’s what the speculators are speculating from. They presume to sit in judgement of the rest of us, as aliens. That’s got nothing to do with science.


  1. TDK

    But the evil alien plan is so subtle. CO2 emissions are so dangerous most of us will die one way or another. Consequently they will kill us all over again.

    Truly a fate worse than a fate worse than death.

  2. geoffchambers

    The Silliest Climate Change Article Ever? There’s just so much competition. From the Guardian, 3 Jan 2007: John Vidal: “For the sake of the environment, we must put an end to bovine flatulence”.

  3. Gogs

    Have a quick look at “alien” your dictionary:

    alien : noun
    a foreigner, esp. one who is not a naturalized citizen of the country where they are living

    Then re-read the article. It takes on a whole new meaning.

  4. Alex Cull

    Bovine flatulence could actually be a last-ditch secret weapon we could deploy against the aliens once they attack Earth to stop AGW going galactic. If cows were retrofitted with Methane Capture and Storage units, we could launch whole herds of them, like four-legged GHG-powered ramjets, up at the invaders – “V” (for Vidal) Weapons of Mooing Destruction! Mind you, if the ETs are reading this blog, I’ve just given the game away – damn.

  5. geoffchambers

    here’s another:
    “No more flights of fancy” by Sue Blackmore:, 11 January 2007
    “My decision to give up flying is based not just on the fuel the plane uses but the whole crazy, wasteful enterprise of travelling the world…
    “This decision, that I once thought impossible, really made itself. I was sitting one day in a huge 747 when, before my lunch, served in a disposable plastic tray, the steward brought me gin in a disposable bottle, tonic in a throwaway can, a plastic cup to drink it out of and, for good measure, a spare plastic cup in which to put the little plastic stirring stick.
    I realised that it’s not just the fuel the plane uses but the whole crazy, wasteful enterprise of travelling the world. There’s not only the plastic, the bottled water, and the ludicrous practice of duty-free alcohol, but the luxury hotels I’m lucky enough to be put in, with all those unnecessarily frequently washed sheets and bright white towels…”
    A year later, Sue Blackmore was back (Guardian: 5 April 2008)
    “I’ve been to a conference that has turned upside down my idea of what a conference should be like… When I was invited to speak at TED the organisers made a lot of what I thought were ridiculous promises. This would be the best conference of my life… I was sceptical, very sceptical… So why did I succumb? … First was their promise to offset flights…”
    [Sue doesn’t say so, but the TED conference was in Monterey, California]

    • Ben Pile

      Geoff, lovely quote from Blackmore there. Though she’s so utterly batsh**, I’m surprised giving up flying meant her not using aircraft, rather than giving up hallucinogens and yoga. In relation to recent discussions, she made an attempt to formulate Dawkins’ theory of memes in ‘the Meme Machine’, in which she claimed,

      … all human actions, whether conscious or not, come from complex interactions between memes, genes, and their products, in complicated environments. The self is not the initiator of actions, it does not ‘have’ consciousness, and it does not ‘do’ the deliberating. There is no truth to the idea of an inner self inside my body that controls the body and is conscious. Since this is false, so is the idea of my conscious self having free will.

      It is this order of claim, I think, that allows a lot of the ‘nudge’ stuff that’s been discussed here recently. Hence my aversion to mechanistic theories about how and why people hold ideas, and how those ideas are transmitted. Blackmore’s over-determinism robs us of agency.

  6. Lewis Deane

    Someone’s taking the proverbial p here, surely!?

  7. Lewis Deane

    Actually, it’s the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time – thanks for brightening a rather cloudy weekend (up here). I need my Star Trek fix!!

  8. Lewis Deane

    Sorry if I’m double posting – my connection is playing up.
    Last comment – you should read the commentary at the Guardian – it has me in stitches!

  9. fred streeter

    The report is too late. The atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons tipped off the aliens years ago. The Death Star is on its way.

  10. Alex Cull

    Geoff, according to a magazine article from April this year, Susan Blackmore “used to travel the world giving academic lectures, but, aware of her carbon footprint, she recently decided that that kind of life could no longer be justified – and so she stopped. Or, at least, she is rationing herself to just one flight per year.”

    Lewis, I too enjoyed the comments accompanying the Guardian article – some of course were of the usual “humanity is a virus” nature, but I note with approval that someone has quoted Larry Niven: “The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space program.”

    Fred – maybe it’s already here:
    “That’s no moon”.

  11. geoffchambers

    Sue’s opinions on the mind-body question are interesting, since she seems to spend much of her time out of both. Is that Gilbert Ryle she’s quoting? Or someone more leery?
    She seems to be quite a girl, our Sue. Big fan of third world pharmaceuticals I’d say – a sort of Sloane Square Tom Wolfe – “a line a day keeps the loggers at bay” or something.
    I never expected to see Larry Niven quoted here. Ben thinks Pratchett is for asexual physics undergrads. I dread to think what he’d think of Niven fans.

  12. j ferguson

    I’m still working on this idea but briefly; Why would those aliens be any different from the others? They will show up and expect to go on welfare straight away.

    Why are extra-terrestrials always smarter than us? What if they aren’t? What if they show up due to a navigational error, confusing meters and feet, something like that?

    I think this all started with Pogo “We have met the enemy and it is us.”


  13. Alex Cull

    The thing about aliens is that (much like deities, I suppose) they provide an excellent blank backdrop upon which people can project hopes, fears and neuroses. Hollywood is a good indicator, of course. Another is the alien abduction phenomenon; even if there are no actual space visitors luring people into their flying saucers, there are many hundreds of people who report something of the sort happening to them (which makes it a legitimate area of study, whatever the truth of the matter.)

    There is a Wikipedia article on the subject:

    “Warnings are sometimes given by the entities about the possibilities of future calamity resulting from current trends in human society such as warfare and the development of weapons of mass destruction or pollution and environmental concerns. Sometimes the entities go a step farther and issue specific prophecies of future disaster. The entities often claim that they will attempt to help humanity recover in the aftermath of the prophesied calamity. At times abduction claimants have reported that specific dates were given to them for a disaster to occur yet none of these specific prophecies has ever come to pass.”

    Is it just me, or does that paragraph contain numerous odd echoes of the environmental movement as a whole?

    Reading accounts of this phenomenon, it is striking that being shown images of nuclear and/or environmental catastrophe is apparently a fairly common theme when interacting with ETs. At the risk of descending ever further into off-topic weirdness, here’s an article about the environmental message of the aliens, also mentioning “intelligences beyond the material realm”, “ecological destruction on a scale that threatens the survival of the Earth’s living systems” and the fossil fuel lobby. What more could one want?

  14. geoffchambers

    Like mediaeval scholars, scientists are allowed to speculate about stuff the rest of us wold be embarrassed to mention in the pub.
    Speculation as to what aliens might think of us has been one of the staples of science fiction since the Golden Age of SF. The problem with these speculators is that they’ve been fed on Star Wars and Star Trek, instead of Larry Niven and Arthur C Clarke. Intelligent literary speculation for the millions has been replaced by adolescent scare stories for the billions.
    The point seems to be that, as with the “four dead polar bears” story, if you’re a scientist, any silly thought that comes into your head can be peer-reviewed, and hence written up by “serious” journalists, thereby acquiring a status that your ideas and mine can never attain. Imagine the newspaper story starting “Blogger says aliens may be watching us”. It’s the PhD talking. It’s mediaeval.

  15. j ferguson

    If scientists imagine them, of course the aliens would be scientists – only scientists that everyone listens to.

  16. Lewis Deane

    What is silly is ourselves – 1st) we think anything that the venerable Guardian writes as real, 2nd) after finding out they’ve de-journalised a piece of nonsense that should not be taken seriously, they don’t correct themselves and nor do we, and, finally 3rd) when the good man comes forward, thinking that he might shed a light on this absurdity — Let us laugh and laugh loud!

  17. Step Left

    Seems this report took a few ideas out of the poor and unecessary remake of ‘the day the earth stood still’. Frankly in that film, and in this report, there is an absurd idea that humans can end all life on the planet. Im quite sceptical of the doom mongering claims of the green movement. But even if it was true, only humans would die out and the planet would still sustain life and it would most likely change again to a more habitiable climate. So If the aliens were clever enough to go faster than the speed of light, that wouldnt be a concern.

  18. Luke Warmer

    Ben, the report is especially ironic if you’re aware of the pre-Gaia work of James Lovelock on detecting signs of life on other planets via atmospheric composition. E.g. (from the CV on his website):
    “The coexistence of abundant oxygen with methane and other reactive gases, are conditions that would be impossible on a lifeless planet.”

  19. geoffchambers

    Coming soon to a blog near you – a complete searchable list of all 10,000+ articles listed at under the heading “climate change”. Choosing the silliest will be a task taking thousands of hours of work by some of the finest minds in the blogosphere.
    For 13 Oct 2009 alone, there is a choice between
    Dr Rowan Williams says climate crisis a chance to become human again
    Wildlife expert claims gorilla dung is critical to containing climate change

  20. Alex Cull

    Those articles are indeed classics. Armed with gorilla dung, the human race finds its soul again. And who could forget this one from 2008?

    Peter Tatchell warned the world about a new crisis caused by the decline of oxygen in the atmosphere. Climate Resistance reported on it (the article, not the lack of oxygen) at the time:

    I’m still disappointed at not being able to locate a copy of “The Oxygen Crisis” by Roddy Newman.

  21. Vinny Burgoo

    AC: I’m still disappointed at not being able to locate a copy of “The Oxygen Crisis” by Roddy Newman.’

    A ‘Roddy Newman’ posts book-length comments on anti-everything blogs from time to time. I suspect that he is a reincarnation of Ivan Illich, Indymedia’s favourite Austrian, who in 1971 wrote: ‘If combustion continues to increase at present rates, we
    will soon consume the oxygen of the atmosphere faster than it can be replaced.’

  22. Alex Cull

    @Vinny, this has led me to look at Illich’s “Deschooling Society” – interesting text. “Primitive man lived in this world of hope. He relied on the munificence of nature, on the handouts of gods, and on the instincts of his tribe to enable him to subsist.” “The exhaustion and pollution of the earth’s resources is, above all, the result of a corruption in man’s self-image, of a regression in his consciousness”. His way of thinking seems rather similar to that of the “deep greens”.

  23. George Carty

    @Alex Cull

    What you quoted from “Deschooling Society” also reminds me of the Unabomber’s manifesto.



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