Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sniggering at Greens

This rather leaden post on Samizdata accurately captures a common - usually right-wing - attitude to environmentalism. Basically the greens are priggish busybodies and the scientists are, as usual, crying wolf. These attitudes are, as far as they go, fair enough. The scientists have, unquestionably, too often cried wolf. And the greens, as I recently posted, should have some terrible disasters on their conscience. Furthermore, the sceptics are quite right to doubt the efficacy of much of what the greens are advocating. If the prevailing scientific orthodoxy is correct and if the recent indicators about the unexpected rapidity of the warming process - here's the latest from NASA - are accurate, then even massive cuts in carbon emissions will achieve nothing. Indeed, the first effect would be that things would get much worse. Carbon burning creates a haze which provides some cooling; if this were to go tomorrow, the world would suddenly become a lot hotter. European emission cuts are thought by some to explain the heat waves in recent years. But ignorant, macho scepticism of the Samizdata type is very dangerous. There is no doubt that global warming is happening. The only serious disputes are about whether it is caused by human activity and whether it is a long term phenomenon or merely a cyclical variation. Personally, I am persuaded that it is anthropogenic, but that's just my lay opinion and, like yours, it is worthless other than as an aspect of the political calculus. Whether it is cyclical is irrelevant because the central point is that, leaving aside the disputes, the balance of evidence is overwhelming - the planet will warm, probably catastrophically, over the next century. This, surely, should render mere opinion and all political posturing irrelevant. It should even sideline arguments about the effects of emissions, since any reduction now will not work, though it would seem to be wise to stop burning carbon in oxygen over the very long term. Radical solutions are now in the air, some of them making highly imaginative use of the planet's own processes. Tedious sniggering at the greens may affect the political climate sufficiently to prevent these being implemented. In that event, the sniggerers will, one day soon, have an awful lot of human suffering to explain.


  1. I dismiss most of what the greens emit. Many years ago they came out with the an argument for population control. But the object of their control was never themselves. Living room was the goal. And when we heard that the last time it vomited from a similar theory.

  2. "Personally, I am persuaded that it is anthropogenic..."

    Like yourself I am a lay person and my opinion is equally worthless but I do believe paleo-climatology has established CO2 to be a symptom, not a cause, of previous global warmings and that the "greenhouse" effect of CO2 in the atmosphere is a scientific theory that has been falsified by the experiments designed to establish its veracity.

    I am curious what you have read that has persuaded you to the opposite conclusion.

  3. Anthropogenic global warming is arrant nonsense.

    Please explain away the medieval warm period and (the real killer) that according to NASA photographs the Martian ice caps are melting how exactly? Little green men driving around in SUVs?

    Dare to buck the dreary consensus for once in your life.

  4. Hi Bryan:
    Check out Josie Appleton's Measuring the political temperature . Among other things worth pondering is this: "In the 1890s, the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius predicted that the doubling of atmospheric CO2 would lead to a temperature rise of between five and six degrees Celsius – estimates close to the IPCC’s current estimates. Both he and many subsequent scientists thought that, on balance, this would be a good thing, increasing global crop production."
    We say the Earth is warmer than it was 150 years. But we have no precise idea of the temperatures before that. So it's now warmer than it was when we started taking reliable measurements. It's the prediction of catastrophe that I balk at. It is a prediction. And I cannot bring myself to believe that we can predict meteorological conditions 50 years from now - or even next month - with any confidence whatsoever.

  5. Sigh. Read my post more carefully, Perry. My argument is precisely that whether it is anthropogenic or not should not now be the issue. Your statment that the case is 'arrant nonsense' is no more than another opinion that, like mine on this matter, is worthless.
    And Ade, the CO2 as symptom is a hypothesis that has not been proved and is very much a minority view. I have been persuaded by my friend James Lovelock, probably the most brilliant man I have ever known,and, anyway, I find it absurd to think that chucking 26 gigatons of CO2 into the air would not increase atmospheric carbon.

  6. Bryan, you're leaving us with a very narrow range of snigger-worthy people.

    The science is inconclusive but of course we should try to consider the issue sensibly.

    What I fear is an imbecilic consensus where nobody is allowed to go anywhere they can't cycle.

  7. I can't compete with James Lovelock but I will say this:

    - if CO2 increases post-date temparature increases, it doesnt matter how small a minority are aware of that evidence, it's pretty conclusive proof of the symptom over cause theory

    - I don't see why any volume of CO2 in the atmosphere should change its temperature unless there is a process for it do so. The process that has been hypothesised - the greenhouse effect - has implications for atmospheric temperature distribution that have been established not to be the case, ergo the greenhouse effect doesnt work, ergo there is no viable theory explaining how CO2 densities change global temperature.

    i.e. there is no evidence that CO2 levels can cause changes in global temperature and no evidence that they have in the past.

  8. Your post reminds me of decent folks with a charitable concern about poverty urging me not to be too critical of those hardcore leftists--they care, after all.

    By and large, Greens have succumbed completely to preaching censorship, totalitarian dirigisme and, as you point out, a disastrous, murderous contempt for people. And it isn't just the loonies, either, it has become very mainstream. When my twelve year old son brought critical articles by reputable scientists about climate change for his teacher(the class had been "studying" it), the teacher refused to read them and asked him in front of the class whether he also believed the world was flat. He then tried to arrange a "presentation" by the Sierra Club. I'm still waiting for one iota of evidence that anything bad has befallen anyone in the West from climate change.

    It is a reversion to feudal thinking--the world is a static autarchy composed of zero-sum economies and demographics. "We'll all die unless we stay poor and cut our populations drastically. We hope to convince you all to cooperate, but if we can't..."

    Unfortunately, the combination of a feudal mindset with secular amorality and modern, techologically-driven incidents of political control can and has lead to some very nasty places.

  9. Most people abhor the idea of waste, and generally we waste too much. The endless argument however is about the amount we consume rather than what we waste and hence how it harms the world – though like many others I remain to be convinced by "experts," many of who are merely noise-makers and even (perish the thought) journalists in search of an emotive opinion piece.

    Given that politicians these days can only tax us more and legislate to limit our freedoms (though rarely theirs) in response to any event we are likely to to be more taxed and further restricted by the state monolith if global warming can vaguely be thought to be "our" fault. Proof even isn't required, which is fortunate as any evidence is somewhat sketchy.

    Quite how having less freedom and a greater tax burden (with the obligatory new expensive departments and targets to monitor it all) will solve matters remains to be seen. In the meantime we can be sure to be harangued on a regular basis by greens foaming at the mouth over carbon emissions before quietly slipping off for their long-distance holidays.

  10. "the balance of evidence is overwhelming - the planet will warm, probably catastrophically, over the next century."

    Surely you meant to say that the balance of evidence is overwhelming that the planet warmed over the last century.

    What it will do over the next century is not yet known. It is not know how much, or even if, it will warm. It is not known if that's necessarily a bad thing. It is not known what capabilities we will have to deal with it if it does turn out to be bad in some way. Compare what we could do a hundred or even fifty years ago to what we can do today. How can you possibly predict massive human suffering, or anything else, that far ahead?

    Environmentalist doomsday predictions have a poor track record, I do know that.

  11. Bryan, when you say that "Carbon burning creates a haze which provides some cooling," do you not mean that sulphur dioxide emissions have a cooling effect, and that the reduction in such emissions over the past couple of decades has had a warming effect?

    Laboratory measurements and radiative transfer calculations demonstrate that CO2 absorbs infrared radiation, and is therefore a greenhouse gas. The fact that CO2 emissions in the past were caused by temperature increases, does not entail that CO2 emissions cannot themselves cause temperature increases.

    In the past century, there have been two distinct phases of global warming. During the first, there was only a negligible increase in global CO2 emissions. During the second, there was a significant increase in CO2 emissions. It therefore seems reasonable to postulate that some of the global warming is anthropogenic, and some isn't.

  12. I really don't know what all the fuss is about - there isn't any such thing as 'global warming'.
    Since records began in 1781, there has been a moderate rise of 2.2 degrees C - in 226 years - which isn't a whole hill of beans by any standards.
    This earth of ours has been warming and cooling in a cyclic manner for hundreds of millions of years, and no matter what mankind gets up to on the surface, will continue in much the same way until the Sun eventually becomes a red giant.
    Likewise, if all the pollutants emitted by industrial nations over the past thirty years were quantified, the total would still be less than a hundredth of the emissions from the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in the first day of the event.
    Mankind has an unfortunate predisposition to accrediting himself with far more importance than is warranted in the greater sphere of things; we need to remember that despite instant communications and jet travel, this planet is still a massive place, and we are but microscopic organisms by comparison.
    Cllr Johnny Bramham,
    Solihull M.B.C.

  13. Bryan,

    Now that i have my hands back on the levers of power (no thanks to your readers, I might add), I was hoping you might explain this global warming thing to me. Everybody I speak to seems to have a different take on it, and I can't get my head around it at all. Am i right in tinking it's all a load of hot air?

  14. Gordon,

    Sulphur emissions: what he means is that aerosol emissions (which include sulphates) are poorly measured and highly uncertain, which means you've got a major fudge factor to play with in your climate models. You figure out how much aerosol cooling you need to dig yourself out of the hole and postulate that's how much it was. You don't check how much you actually got and see if it fits, because you can't.

    CO2 is, of course, a greenhouse gas. What is under debate is the sensitivity to its effect. The Kiehl-Trenberth radiation budget (look it up) reports approximately 340 W/m^2 of back-radiation from the sky which constitutes the 'greenhouse effect' (misnamed, because greenhouses don't work like that). This gives about 32 degrees C of warming (calculated from the Stefan-Boltzmann radiation law). That means every W/m^2 is giving about 0.1C of warming. Doubling CO2 adds 4 W/m^2 to the radiation budget (as reported by the IPCC), which therefore raises temperatures by 0.4C. Doubling it again (which won't happen for more than a century, if ever) would add roughly another 0.4C. Not the 3C they're predicting.

    You get the same sort of figure if you compare summer/winter temperatures, polar/tropic temperatures, or cloudy/clear temperatures. But the scaremongers pick sensitivity figures 5-10 times higher, and postulate unknown and unproven feedbacks to explain it, and massive (unproven) ocean heat sinks to explain why it hasn't had the predicted effect so far. You can argue for 2 times higher, but 10 is dubious.

    If you let them get away with saying "CO2 is a greenhouse gas, therefore." it sounds quite reasonable. If you force them to explain all the details, caveats, unknowns, assumptions, corrections, complications, stuff that doesn't fit, and so on, it's not quite so convincing. They usually have explanations for most stuff, which you often have to dig quite deep to discredit or doubt, but they rely on most people not having the time or energy.

  15. Bryan,
    "the balance of evidence is overwhelming - the planet will warm, probably catastrophically, over the next century."

    Could you give some link to the science that supports your view as quoted above. As far as I can see the scientific consensus is that, yes it is warming and will probably continue to warm and that this is in some large part due to CO2 released by people.
    However, I don't find consensus which extends this to catastrophe. See

    I'd be genuinely interested to see some science predicting catastrophe but I don't find it. Please let me know. Thank you

  16. Bryan, you should try harder to hide the fact that the Samizdatistas get your goat. It is so much fun to watch you squirm that one almost feels sorry for you. (Almost.)

  17. Sub-literate self-importance does tend to find the goat in me, Jackie.

  18. Bryan,
    You are missing the point of the Samizdata post. It's not so much telling global warming to "bring it on" as it is satirizing one of these do-good schemes to get everyone to do the right thing that is bound to backfire. It is the same principle behind the "Joey Deacon" phenomenon that Brit illustrates. Do-gooder thinks "if we just provide the people with the right information, they will use it to do the right thing." But that assumes people are decent, altruistic folks who are only held back from doing the right thing by lack of access to accruate information.

    No problem will ever be solved by appealing to the innate goodness of the common man.

  19. All of what Greenies do smells of the same weird conservation impulse, producing statism, while the subject is Climate CHANGE.
    BTW, I think you should ditch Lovelock and switch to Deutsch: problems are soluble, problems are unavoidable.
    Last but not least: how do you know that warming will be catastrophic? Is there an ideal climate for both planet and man? Humans may live with warming thanks to some technofix, all other life usually resorts to good ole evolution. Crude, but it does work. Oh well, it doesn't matter. This is fantasyland, like greens and their fellowtravelers are listening.

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