The Earth’s climate is changing in a dramatic way, with immense danger for man and the natural systems that sustain him. This was the frightening message broadcast to us by environmentalists in the recent past. Here are some of their prophecies.
- The facts have emerged, in recent years and months, from research into past ice ages. They imply that the threat of a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery for mankind. (Nigel Calder, former editor of New Scientist, in International Wildlife, July 1975)
- The cooling has already killed thousands of people in poor nations…. If it continues, and no strong measures are taken to deal with it, the cooling will cause world famine, world chaos, and probably world war, and this could all come about by the year 2000. (Lowe Ponte, The Cooling, 1976)
As recently as January 1994, the supreme authority on matters environmental, Time magazine, wrote:
- The ice age cometh? Last week’s big chill was a reminder that the Earth’s climate can change at any time…. The last one [ice age] ended 10,000 years ago; the next one – for there will be a next one – could start tens of thousands of years from now. Or tens of years. Or it may have already started.
The scare about global cooling was always the same: unprecedented low temperatures; the coldest weather ever recorded; unusual floods and storms; a rapid shift in the world’s climate towards an icy apocalypse. Now, however, the scare is about global warming. To convert from the first scare to the second, all you have to do is substitute ‘the coldest weather ever recorded’ with ‘the warmest weather ever recorded’. Replace the icicles hanging from oranges in California with melting glaciers on Mount Everest, and the shivering armadillos with sweltering polar bears. We were going to freeze but now we are going to fry. Even the White House is making cautionary sounds about warming.
What facts have emerged to make this dramatic reversal? Well, none really. The most reliable measurements show no change whatsoever in global temperatures over the last 20 years. What has changed is the perception that Global Warming makes a better scare than the Coming Ice Age.
A good environmental scare needs two ingredients. The first is impending catastrophe. The second is a suitable culprit to blame. In the second case, the ice age fails and global warming is gloriously successful. It is not the destruction itself of Sodom and Gomorrah that makes the story so appealing but the fact that they were destroyed because they were so sinful. One of the real threats to mankind is the danger of collision with a large asteroid. It has happened in the past with catastrophic effect, and it will probably happen again. But there are no conferences, resolutions, gatherings, protests and newspaper headlines about asteroid impacts. The reason is that you cannot find anyone suitable to blame for them. If you could persuade people that President Bush or the oil companies were responsible for the asteroids, I guarantee that there would be a billion-dollar campaign to ‘raise awareness’ about the asteroid danger, with sonorous editorials in all the papers.
Global warming has the perfect culprit: naughty, industrialised, advanced, consuming, Western man, who has made himself very rich by burning a lot of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas). This, so the scare goes, is releasing a lot of carbon dioxide, which is dangerously heating up the world. There are two facts in the scare. First, it is true that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas – one which traps heat on Earth. (Without it, the Earth would be too cold for life.) Second, it is true that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising. The rest is guesswork.
The global warmers said that the most accurate measure of climate change would be air temperatures. For the last 20 years or more, air temperatures have been measured with extreme accuracy. They show no warming whatsoever. Surface temperatures are much less reliable since the recording stations are often encroached on by expanding cities, which warm the local environment. The curve most often used by the global warmers is one showing surface temperatures rising by about half a degree in the last 100 years. (The curve, incidentally, is a bad match against rising carbon dioxide but a good one against solar activity, which suggests the sun might be the reason for the warming.) However, there are accurate methods of measuring sea temperatures going back much further. Past temperatures for the Atlantic Ocean have been found by looking at dead marine life. The isotope ratio of carbon-14 in their skeletons tells you when they lived. The ratio of other isotopes tells you the temperature then. Thus we are able to know temperatures in the Atlantic and northern Europe going back thousands of years. They make nonsense of the global warming scare.
The last ice age ended about 10,000 years ago. Temperatures rose to the ‘Holocene Maximum’ of about 5,000 years ago when it was about 3°F higher than now, dropped in the time of Christ, and then rose to the ‘Mediaeval Climate Optimum’ of about 600 ad to 1100 ad, when temperatures were about 2°F higher than now. This was a golden age for northern European agriculture and led to the rise of Viking civilisation. Greenland, now a frozen wasteland, was then a habitable Viking colony. There were vineyards in the south of England. Then temperatures dropped to ‘The Little Ice Age’ in the 1600s, when the Thames froze over. And they have been rising slowly ever since, although they are still much lower than 1,000 years ago. We are now living in a rather cool period.
What caused these ups and downs of temperature? We do not know. Temperature changes are a fact of nature, and we have no idea if the postulated 0.5°F heating over the last 100 years is caused by man’s activities or is simply part of a natural cycle. What we can say, though, is that if Europe heats up by 2°F it would do it a power of good. We can see this from records of 1,000 years ago. Moreover, increased carbon dioxide makes plants grow more quickly, so improving crops and forests.
The Earth’s climate is immensely complicated, far beyond our present powers of understanding and the calculating powers of modern computers. Changes in phase from ice to water to vapour; cloud formation; convection; ocean currents; winds; changes in the sun; the complicated shapes of the land masses; the ability of the oceans to absorb carbon dioxide – all of these and a thousand other factors operating with small differences over vast masses and distances make it practically impossible for us to make predictions about long-term climate patterns, and perhaps make such predictions inherently impossible. The computer models that the global warmers now use are ludicrously oversimplified, and it is no surprise that they have made one wrong prediction after another.
If the global warming scare has little foundation in fact, the ice-age scare is only too solidly founded. For the last two million years, but not before, the Northern Hemisphere has gone through a regular cycle of ice ages: 90,000 years with ice; 10,000 years without. The last ice age ended 10,000 years ago. Our time is up. The next ice age is due. What causes the ice ages? We do not know. It is probably something to do with the shape and arrangement of northern land masses and the path of the Gulf Stream, but we do not know. However, a new ice age, unlike global warming, would be a certain calamity.
Of course, the ultimate irony might be that the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are warding off the ice age. In this case, we should give tax relief to coal power stations and factories for every ton of carbon dioxide they release.
When the global warmers tell us that the stakes are very high, they are quite right. Global warming has become an immense international gravy train worth billions of dollars. It is now one of the largest recipients of government research money in the world. It finances jobs, grants, conferences, international travel and journals. It not only keeps a huge army of people in comfortable employment but also fills them with self-righteousness and moral superiority, and satisfies those deep instincts in the Green movement for meddling, hectoring, controlling and censuring. It enables them to say, ‘The end is nigh unless you give us more funding, repent, and do what we say.’ Behind these exhortations is the vision of Rousseau, of a retreat from the evil industrialised world of motor cars and electricity back to the simpler, nobler world of nature (except for the Green priesthood who will still be allowed to fly in jet planes to attend conferences).
When President Bush denounced the absurd Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases, the global warmers said, ‘It’s payback time.’ They were referring to the oil companies who had supposedly made big donations to his election campaign. But, if Al Gore had won and given even more funding to the warmers, it would have been payback time in a more pointed way. The oil companies can easily diversify out of oil and into other forms of energy – they are already doing so; BP is the world’s largest producer of solar panels. The global warmers are a more constrained vested interest, who depend upon frightening the public and who need global warming. This is why they get so furious when anyone dares to challenge the scare.
The fraud of the warming scare is seen most vividly when the warmers propose their remedies for it. The best technology for avoiding the emission of carbon dioxide is nuclear power. In operation, nuclear power plants release no carbon dioxide and over their whole cycle (construction, fuel processing and decommissioning) they release the least carbon dioxide of any energy source, including wind and solar power. Half of the 300 million tons of man-made carbon dioxide that South Africa produces comes from coal power stations; South Africa could halve its total emissions simply by turning to nuclear power for electricity generation.
Nuclear power has by far the best safety record of any large-scale source of electricity. The worst-ever accident at a nuclear power station in the West, at Three Mile Island in the USA in 1979, killed no one, injured no one and had no ill effects afterwards. By contrast gas, oil, coal and hydro accidents almost routinely kill thousands of people every year. The Chernobyl accident, which after 16 years has killed about 40 people, was caused primarily by bad reactor design, which would never be allowed in the West. The waste from nuclear power is small, solid, stable and of finite life. Nuclear power is the only large-scale source of electricity that has procedures for disposing of its waste (which is easy to do). The waste from coal stations is enormously larger, much more dangerous and longer lived; it includes heavy metal toxins, which last for ever, and radioactive elements such as thorium, which has a half-life of 14 billion years. Coal waste is simply thrown on to open ash tips or hurled into the air we breathe. But the global warmers fiercely resist nuclear power. They do not want it precisely because it offers the world bountiful electricity. What they want is to turn away from the modern world of plenty to a primitive world of scarcity. They do not want people in the poor countries to obtain the standard of living of modern Americans; they want them to remain mired in noble poverty.
Incidentally, the nuclear lobby is rightly guarded about promoting itself on global warming. I am ashamed to say that in a Spectator article advocating nuclear power some years ago, I made remarks about the threat of rising global temperatures. I was wrong and now make public penance for them.
One of the biggest sources of carbon dioxide is the motor vehicle. If your speed doubles, you emit four times as much carbon dioxide. Some EU politicians, especially in Germany, are very concerned about global warming. So how about imposing a 50 mph speed limit on all roads in the EU and limiting engine size to 1000 cc? Such a measure would make little difference to most journey times but would save hundreds of lives each year and greatly reduce greenhouse emissions. Ask the German politicians who believe the warming scare: which is more important, the future of the world or an infantile desire to travel at high speed? The answer is clear: the latter. So much for serious debate.
The global warming scare uses almost every propaganda device. There are continual appeals to scientific authority. The propagandists pretend that there is scientific consensus that man’s activities are definitely changing the climate in a dangerous way. This is an outright lie. You will find no reputable scientist who says so. Graphs are carefully edited so that parts showing cooling are removed and those showing warming are kept. Cooling incidents, such as thickening of ice caps, snow in Saudi Arabia and record low temperatures, are ignored. Warming incidents, such as breaking ice shelves and record high temperatures, are headlines. This is not a co-ordinated conspiracy but a fashion and a trend in which self-interest and ideology combine, and Green activists, politicians and journalists help each other to get more funding, more sensational stories and more enemies to blame.
The climate of our planet is far too important for this nonsense. What we need is more genuine scientific research so that we can understand it better. If we do decide on the ‘precautionary principle’ of keeping carbon dioxide levels stable, we can turn to those many technologies, proven or in prospect, which release no or little carbon dioxide. Nuclear power is the obvious first choice. There is no reason why the world economy cannot continue to grow and prosper with reduced greenhouse emissions. But, for heaven’s sake, let’s start by telling the whole truth and giving all of the facts.