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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Climate change: Grumpy's verdict

I haven't done climate change yet. It's high time I told you all what to think. Pay attention, please.

I was reading Melanie Phillips' latest on this, and I thought I'd check out some of the stuff that impresses her. Hmmm...

Item one: Christopher Monckton in the Sunday Torygraph. He assures us that, although he's advised Margaret Thatcher, he's had 'not a red cent from Exxon'. That's good to know. I'd be even more reassured to be told that he's had no red cents from any lobby organization, think tank or whatever funded by the oil industry. I mean, I never imagined that climate change sceptics get plain brown envelopes stuffed with notes handed over personally by oil company operatives. As it stands the disclaimer is just a little reminiscent of the Gorgeous One's protestations that he's 'never seen a barrel of oil'.

Some of his scientific case looks quite impressive. When I read an expert refutation I am sure that will also look impressive. So I'll stick to two little details that caught my eye. Firstly, Mr Monckton makes much of the 'medieval warm period', and cites a piece of evidence for this: 'There was little ice at the North Pole: a Chinese naval squadron sailed right round the Arctic in 1421 and found none.' The relevance of this is not quite clear given that it appears just after a graph which shows that by 1421 the warm period was well and truly over and the climate had plummeted to well below the 20th century average.

Then there's this:

'And the snows of Kilimanjaro are vanishing not because summit temperature is rising (it isn't) but because post-colonial deforestation has dried the air.'

- where I'm just interested in that throwaway 'post-colonial'. It may be that this is something Mr Monckton has researched thoroughly, and that he could demonstrate, if pressed, that the colonial administration in Kenya had a strictly enforced 'no felling trees around Kilimanjaro' policy, whereas the timber started falling as soon as the country gained its independence. Or it may be that this is just his ideological slip showing. And I'm not sure how much confidence I want to place in the views on climate change of a man who still hasn't got over the end of Empire.

Item two: Mel links to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works. What is supposed to be so authoritative about this particular bunch of (until today) Republican politicos remains unclear. One of the gems of information they offer us is:

'On April 6, 2006, 60 scientists wrote a letter to the Canadian Prime Minister asserting that the science is deteriorating from underneath global warming alarmists.'

Well, I've got wise to these Round Robin letters. Go to the source and you'll find the signatories artfully arranged. If you were in a hurry you might look down the first few names and conclude that these are 60 Canadian climatologists. Pretty weighty. But if you scroll down a bit you find that the net has been cast a wee bit wider than that. By the time you reach the professor of social anthropology at Liverpool John Moores University it doesn't look quite so impressive. When I did a bit of social anthropology in my first year at uni I learned all kinds of fascinating stuff about kinship systems, but bugger all about climate change.

None of this is meant to suggest that dodginess is confined to the sceptics. Shuggy has a good post on the idiocies emanating from the other side. Possessed as he is of a neat turn of phrase (he's a teacher, you know), he characterizes George Monbiot as an 'annoying twat'. Ah, yes, I think that must be why I stopped reading him. The thing is, of course, that that doesn't necessarily mean the science he quotes is wrong.

There's an increasingly shrill and emotive debate being conducted by people who haven't a hope in hell of evaluating the science but have taken sides based on their ideological predispositions. It seems to me that as a layman all I can do is hold on to the apparently undisputed fact that a majority of the experts believe:

(a) global warming is happening

(b) its net effects will (notwithstanding the sunny prospects for English winemakers) be harmful

and (c) it is to a significant degree manmade.

The science is evolving and the consensus may change, but that seems to be where we are today. Pace Shuggy, the Galileo analogy is not really apposite. The consensus he was up against had precious little to do with science. Rather, it was based on theology at best and religious power politics at worst.

Unless, of course, that is precisely why the analogy is apposite. The challenge for Melanie Phillips, Christopher Monckton and their ilk is to convince me that:

(a) the majority are faking it to curry favour with left-wing ideologues

whereas (b) the dissentient minority can be trusted even though what they say is so congenial to both right-wing ideologues and big business.

I think that is a tall order, but I'm open to persuasion.

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