…I am increasingly disaffected from science as an institution.
The way it handles climate change is a big part of the reason.
After covering global warming debates as a journalist on and off for almost 30 years, with initial credulity, then growing skepticism, I have come to the conclusion that the risk of dangerous global warming, now and in the future, has been greatly exaggerated while the policies enacted to mitigate the risk have done more harm than good, both economically and environmentally, and will continue to do so.
…Why do I think the risk from global warming is being exaggerated? For four principal reasons.
1. All environmental predictions of doom always are;
2. the models have been consistently wrong for more than 30 years;
3. the best evidence indicates that climate sensitivity is relatively low;
4. the climate science establishment has a vested interest in alarm.
…I will come to those four points in a moment. But first I want to talk about global greening, the gradual, but large, increase in green vegetation on the planet.
…As Myneni’s co-author Zaichun Zhu, of Beijing University, puts it, it’s equivalent to adding a green continent twice the size of mainland USA.
Frankly, I think this is big news. A new continent’s worth of green vegetation in a single human generation.
…Now let me back to global warming.
…These days there is a legion of well paid climate spin doctors. Their job is to keep the debate binary: either you believe climate change is real and dangerous or you’re a denier who thinks it’s a hoax.
But there’s a third possibility they refuse to acknowledge: that it’s real but not dangerous. That’s what I mean by lukewarming, and I think it is by far the most likely prognosis.
I am not claiming that carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas; it is.
I am not saying that its concentration in the atmosphere is not increasing; it is.
I am not saying the main cause of that increase is not the burning of fossil fuels; it is.
I am not saying the climate does not change; it does.
I am not saying that the atmosphere is not warmer today than it was 50 or 100 years ago; it is.
And I am not saying that carbon dioxide emissions are not likely to have caused some (probably more than half) of the warming since 1950.
I agree with the consensus on all these points.
I am not in any sense a “denier”, that unpleasant, modern term of abuse for blasphemers against the climate dogma, though the Guardian and New Scientist never let the facts get in the way of their prejudices on such matters. I am a lukewarmer.
The track record on doom
I said that one reason to be skeptical about dangerous climate change is that environmental predictions of doom are always wrong.
Here’s a list of predictions made with much fanfare and extensive coverage in the media in the 1970s, when I was young and green, in both senses of the word:]
…So what is the problem? Well, the theory of dangerous climate change depends on a whole extra step in the argument, one that very few politicians and journalists seem even to know about – the supposed threefold amplification of carbon dioxide’s warming potential, principally by extra water vapour released into the atmosphere by a warming ocean, and accumulating at high altitudes.
…As the distinguished NASA climate scientist Roy Spencer has written,
“If you fund scientists to find evidence of something, they will be happy to find it for you. For over 20 years we have been funding them to find evidence of the human influence on climate. And they dutifully found it everywhere, hiding under every rock, glacier, ocean, and in every cloud, hurricane, tornado, raindrop, and snowflake. So, just tell scientists 20% of their funds will be targeted for studying natural sources of climate change. They will find those, too.”
Does it matter that our politicians panicked in the early 2000s? Surely better safe than sorry?
Here’s why it matters. Our current policy carries not just huge economic costs, which hit the poorest people hardest, but huge environmental costs too.
But there is a further reason why it matters. Real environmental problems are being neglected. The emphasis on climate change as the pre-eminent environmental threat means that we pay too little attention to the genuine environmental problems in the world.
We bang on about ocean acidification when it is overfishing and run-off that is most hurting coral reefs.
We misdiagnose climate change as the cause of floods when it is land drainage and urban development that is the cause.
We claim climate change as the cause of extinctions, when it is invasive species that disrupt and damage ecosystems and drive out rare species.
We say climate change is a threat to air quality, when it is climate policy that has hindered progress in improving air quality.
We talk about losing seabird colonies to warming seas and then build wind farms that slaughter the birds while turning a blind eye to overfishing.
Here’s why I really mind about the exaggeration: it has downgraded, displaced and discredited real environmentalism, of the kind I have devoted part of my life to working on.
….In Germany, a 20% increase in renewables between 1999 and 2014 has resulted in no change in emissions at all.