Friday, March 09, 2007

Global Warming: Panic, Panic Over, Panic Again...

The Great Global Warming Swindle

The thing is I didn't see the programme. I saw essentially the same programme by the same maker from 1997. They had to apologise after that one, and I wonder if that will happen again.

The thesis is summarised here and unpicked here. Bad science also gives it a mention despite, wisely, avoiding green stuff in his column as a rule.

For a rather more mature contrarian polemic I would recommend Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist. This book attracted a lot of criticism - much of it justified - for challenging environmental agendas. But it illustrates what can be done if you select your evidence in order to prosecute a particular case, rather than taking on board all the evidence and trying to find out what is actually going on. Even Lomborg, however does not deny global warming. He suggests we shouldn't worry about it too much, arguing that there are more pressing problems.

It is in the nature of science that you can always ask why, you always take some piece of evidence and take it apart and ask whether the assumptions behind it are correct, whether the methodology was sound, and so on and so forth. Karl Popper famously said that science is not built on rock - rock is not available - it is built on mud, but we can drive the piles as deeply into the mud as we like - that is to say we can keep questioning and examining and nitpicking as long as we like. Science never stops the questions by saying that something is off limits.

What this means when it comes to the use of science in political discourse, unfortunately, is that we are all inclined to accept at face value the evidence that we like, and nit pick the evidence we don't. The Monbiots of the world are perhaps as guilty of this as the Lomborgs and the global warming deniers.

Lomborg's narrative is that things are pretty good and getting better, and in many respects he is right. The evidence he backs this up with show some particular things getting better, and I daresay some of that is sound. Polemically that works, but scientifically there is no case made: "things are getting better" is just to vague to substantiate or refute. Lomborg picks some nits with the IPCC work, but all in one direction, all to argue for a lower global warming impact. This is a good sign of a work being polemical rather than truth-seeking. Of course this sort of work does no harm to the science - criticism can only improve science, if some assumption is poor or some methodology is unsound, this can be addressed. Scientifically we should be glad that there are nitpickers on both sides. Politically, Lomborg caused some justifiable outrage.

The Great Global Warming Swindle goes beyond nitpicking with misdirection and suggestions of conspiracies. This is of course not helpful - some people have completely lost interest in the evidence because they have concluded that their opponents are acting out of evil, and there is some vast mainstream conspiracy to destroy the environment/economy (delete according to preference).

The creationism/intelligent design movement holds a very similar view towards the science of biology. They make much of the fact that scientific theories may turn out to be mistaken. Of course none of their reasons for thinking that evolution is mistaken stand up to scrutiny - although they don't seem to have noticed that. And even though you could say Einstein showed Newton was mistaken, you could say he showed Newton was 99.99% right.

If you take evidence about sunspots or natural sources of carbon dioxide, all well known to climatologists, and included in the models, and present that to the public as if it were something new: "See! this is the real cause!", you will mislead, and deliberately so. Sober science takes all the factors affecting global temperature trends and tries to understand and quantify them. Polemic takes this one or that one and trumpets it.

Believe the latest polemic, and either the world will end tomorrow and the IPCC or the Stern report are blasé, and happy for global warming to happen as long as it can be taxed, or something; or its all a communist-green-nazi conspiracy, blah blah blah. Neither position is conducive to taking the level-headed proportionate measures that are necessary, such as the Green Tax Switch and investing in renewable energy and related technologies.

There is a background level of panic over global warming, and I daresay it is worth attacking, although I don't see it having much influence on policy. The influences that concern for global warming is having on policy are of the level-headed variety. Lomborg, for all his rhetoric, is arguing for the status quo.

Perhaps I am naive, but I think that excessive panic over global warming can be defeated with reason and evidence and truthfulness, and much the same goes for the anti-panic (and anti-reasonable) panic of The Great Global Warming Swindle.

Not panic, nor indifference, but determination is what we need.


Bishop Hill said...


In case you missed it, there's a couple of us questioning one of your comments over at this thread

Joe Otten said...


I was referring to comment 43 on

Have posted the full quote there.

Bishop Hill said...

The commenter seems to have a problem with truthfulness.

A little digging gives us this which refers to Tim Bell having a career of 28 years at University of Winnipeg researching the historic climate. (They've misspelt his name in one place).

Philip Stott's page on Wikipedia is here.

Could you explain how you think the way either of these men were described is misleading?

Joe Otten said...

... that neither of the departments referred to exist.

The first link you give shows only that Tim Bell gave a presentation once.

Actually ... looking at the Stott page ... I would agree that there is a lot of Barthesian myth out there in the environmental movement. Awareness of this fact doesn't of course make the contrarians and their myths any sounder.

Bishop Hill said...

Ha! I've worked out why I was finding information on Tim Bell. He's actually called Tim Ball! Wikipedia page here.

I don't think there's any reasonable person can dispute that he is someone who spent a long time researching historic climate.

You think that referring to someone who researched biogeography in a georgraphy department is discredited in some way if they are referred to as being a professor in a biogeography department? Why?

Joe Otten said...

I suppose if the names and departments are wrong, that may be a case of real academics masquerading as fake academics.

Anonymous said...

Here is an url that you can send to friends and family that will direct them to the video "The Great Global Warming Swindle".

For more information on the documentary you can go here.

Joe Otten said...


I notice your comment has been spammed across a number of blogs mentioning the swindle programme.

If you'd bothered to read before spamming, you'd have noticed that I'd already linked to the channel 4 site.

I'm just venting here, obviously you're not going to read this. Still it confirms all my comfortable prejudices about bad guys being spammers.