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  • Writer's pictureTony Herbert

Should we be "fighting climate change"?

Updated: Nov 24, 2023


This is a response to statements I’ve been referred to that support the so-called

“scientific consensus” on climate change. Please relax! I am not a climate change denier and don’t think I’m aware of anyone who is. But I am definitely a sceptic about the policies being widely proposed in the West and even adopted, particularly the extreme versions of Net Zero.

Actually, many governments seem to be backtracking on the policies, but largely on the basis of cost. Sensible though this is, my scepticism goes beyond concern about the horrendous costs. I am sceptical about the whole rationale for the policies. I’m therefore finding that writing this is a good opportunity to work out what I do think.

I read increasingly that what some refer to as climate catastrophism is a new secular religion, so I may be missing the point by trying to follow the science and trying to be rational.

I had hoped that the statements I’ve mentioned would provide scientific and/or other facts that would at least cause me to question my sceptical views. But mostly they seek to denigrate the people and institutions that oppose the “consensus”. Let me start by reacting to this, largely by saying who I do tend to listen to - and pointing out that they are certainly not mouthpieces of the oil industry. But then, I’d like to get on to the main point: Am I wrong to be very sceptical, to put it mildly, about the policies?

Who I listen to

I started to be interested in the subject of climate change - or global warming, as it was then called - because of an article in the Spectator by Nigel Lawson nearly 20 years ago. He himself had become interested because he participated in an all-party House of Lords committee deputed to look into it. He had no previous knowledge of the subject at all. His enquiries made him deeply sceptical about the policies (not the science as such) that were even then being proposed. He wrote a book about it (An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming) and founded a body called the Global Warming Policy Foundation, whose objective was and is to focus on policy and to provide reliable analysis based on rigorous research. I mention this because I confess that I pay a lot of attention to what they publish and to the lectures they arrange.

Followers of the “scientific consensus” are inclined to accuse the GWPF of being funded and influenced by the oil industry. Let me quote Lord Lawson:

“The Foundation’s Board of Trustees decided from the outset, that it would neither solicit nor accept any money from the energy industry or from anyone with a significant interest in the energy industry. And to those who are not - regrettably - willing to accept my word, I would point out that among our trustees are a bishop of the Church of England, a former private secretary to the [late] Queen and a former head of the Civil Service. Anyone who imagines that we are all engaged in a conspiracy to lie is clearly in an advanced stage of paranoia”.

The GWPF

The people who have spoken at meetings of the GWPF, and written papers for them, include these. Richard Lindzen, former Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He, I remember Nigel Lawson saying, as he introduced him at one of the GWPF lectures, was one of the most impressive contributors to the House of Lords committee he sat on. Because of his stand on climate change, he has certainly been the subject of much denigration, but people can hardly dispute his credentials.

Another is Professor William Happer, Professor emeritus of Physics at Princeton University. He has spent much of his career studying atmospheric physics. He has advised the US government and was brave - and probably unwise - enough to speak in complimentary terms about Donald Trump. He gets a lot of flack from the “consensus” and is indeed at the extreme end of the spectrum of climate sceptics, even maintaining that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be a good thing.

Yet another is Professor Ian Plimer, Emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne, who has written extensively on what he calls the Climate Change Delusion, his particular focus being on the damage being caused by the policies in Australia.

All of the above are members of the Advisory Council of the GWPF. As is Dr Matt Ridley, who may be better known to us all, partly because he is English, although those who disagree with his sceptical views like to dismiss him because he was on the board of Northern Rock when it went bust.

Enough about personalities. I describe them largely because the attacks on climate change scepticism are so often ad hominem, often accusing them of ulterior motives. I seriously doubt the accusations, but there is no doubt that they get a lot of abuse thrown at them as a result of their views. This is one reason why sceptics tend to be people like Lindzen and Happer, who are retired and well past caring about their careers.

CLINTEL

There is another aspect of the ad hominem accusations. The Climate Intelligence Foundation (CLINTEL) was set up a while back by various scientists, to counter what they perceived to be the prevailing climate alarmism. Lindzen and Happer are among its supporters, but I note that the immense amount of criticism it has attracted includes much of the ad hominem variety. Clintel published a Declaration setting out various points, including the brave statement that “There is no climate emergency”. They invited signatories - including me! I did not sign, thinking that I was not appropriately qualified, but many - doubtless similarly unqualified - obviously did sign. This has enabled critics to say, probably correctly, that many of the signatories aren’t scientists, let alone climate scientists. But it would be more helpful if critics would explain why the scientists involved, including some of the most eminent climate scientists in the world, have got it so wrong.

Our “carbon footprints

So, to the real issue. Should we all “reduce our carbon footprints”, to use the popular phrase? Or, to put it more precisely, should we adopt policies aimed at reducing the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? This is where I desert the “consensus”. I cannot see the merits of doing so and I can easily see the problems in trying to. What are my reasons?

The first reason is obvious. We in the UK account for a tiny proportion of global emissions (around 1%, I believe). No one can seriously think that, even if we closed down completely, this would have any effect on the earth’s temperature. I also understand that, even if all the

adherents to the recent international climate accords, did what they promise, it would either have no effect or an effect so minimal as to be almost un-measurable.

My second reason for scepticism is that there is no evidence that, even if the policies were implemented by others than little us, they will actually work. What am I missing? Interestingly, the arguments deployed in the various statements I’ve been referred to are very light on this. I have never detected any confidence that reducing emissions of carbon dioxide will stop the warming in its tracks. Indeed, as already indicated, even if all the participants in the recent climate conferences were to do what they promise, the impact on the climate would be trivial. We seem to be faced with policies that will impoverish us, only to be confronted by the likelihood that the climate will continue doing whatever it is doing and will continue to do, whatever we try to do about it - presumably causing the planet to get warmer.

What to do about it

These are my reasons for being sceptical about the policies aimed at reducing emissions of carbon dioxide. Essentially, that they won’t work. But what should we do? Here it’s obviously relevant to look carefully at what the climate is actually doing and what might be in store for us. Specifically, are we really facing catastrophy?

Is there an emergency?

Here we get into wildly disputed territory. There is no doubt, and no argument, that the planet is getting warmer. What I have read over the last many years is that the warming is at the rate of about a degree Celsius over about a century and that it started in the late 18th century, after the so-called “little ice age” of the previous centuries.

There was apparently a period during the late Middle Ages when temperatures were higher than today. Similarly, it was warmer in the days of Ancient Rome, perhaps making it more

agreeable wandering around in a toga.

The problem about this is that it is plainly inconsistent with the alarmist narrative. None of the above can be explained by reference to levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, let alone emissions of carbon dioxide by human beings. The latter has been happening - and is certainly increasing - in the last 50-100 years. But levels of carbon dioxide during those

historic periods were lower.

In the face of this, I am aware of statistics and complex graphs that deny what I have described. In some, the medieval warm period has been abolished; and temperatures over the last few hundred years have been flattened so that they are more consistent with the theory that all is dependent on carbon dioxide, which has in fact been at unchanging levels - until recently.

Another problem with the narrative has been that there has been very little, if any, warming during the first decades of this century - again, according to people I listen to. But now, I see alarming charts indicating massive increases of temperature in recent years.

What to believe? It does certainly seem to depend on who you trust. And I’m afraid I tend to go back to those I have followed now for very many years, particularly Professor Richard Lindzen and Professor William Happer, both of whom are certainly specialists in the atmospheric physics that are relevant to these questions. The best I can do is to point to a relatively short interview with both of these learned men, put out by Sky News Australia and available on YouTube. Essentially they say that the alarms have nothing to do with science and that they are politically driven. I recommened trying to find it on YouTube - never easy in my experience - but so far it hasn’t been “cancelled”!

Are there benefits in carbon dioxide?

There are other related issues, the first being whether there are benefits deriving from the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We must put on one side for the moment its effect as a greenhouse gas. It is such and accordingly must have some influence on global warming, although the amount is disputed. Putting that aside, its known and current effects are wholly beneficial. It is a vital food for plants. The increase in carbon dioxide has caused substantial increases in green vegetation around the planet. Why I wonder does this get no publicity? I have even seen attempts to deny it (although many of us learnt the underlying science at school). Where is the contrary evidence?

Is warming always bad?

Similarly, warming. If, for a moment, we put on one side the fear of excessive warming, the amount we have so far experienced must be good. Fewer people die of warmth than of cold - yes, everywhere, even in the tropics. Also, growing seasons are longer. Why aren’t we told this?

What about extreme weather events?

One of the most persistent features of the alarmist narrative is that we are experiencing more extreme weather events. Any flood or drought or hurricane or even heatwave is attributed to climate change. Detailed studies I have seen show no trends whatsoever in the freequency of any of these events. Again, why is this ignored? Where is the evidence that contradicts it? For evidence of the lack of trends, see presentations on YouTube by Dr John Christy, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. (Older Brits like me may remember his near-namesake at Ten Rillington Place - important to get the spelling right!)

Why do people stick so firmly to the “consensus”?

I regard this question as a diversion, although an important one. It is a diversion because even if the alarmist narratives turn out to be correct, or even partially correct, we still have to confront the simple points I’ve already mentioned - that the policies being adopted won’t prevent the disaster happening. The planet will still presumably go on getting warmer.

The question is why do some of the above facts get ignored.

Certainly one important reason is that scientists, and indeed others, are hesitant about putting their heads above the parapet. Two examples: Susan Crockford of British Columbia; and Professor Peter Ridd of Queensland, Australia. Plus a comment by Nigel Lawson.

Susan Crockford was an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.

Following much publicised fears about the fate of polar bears, Dr Crockford published reports saying that polar bears were thriving and at no risk of extinction from climate change. This was not what those funding the research wanted to hear. She lost her status at the University, no reasons being provided.

Peter Ridd was a professor at James Cook University in Australia. In the face of fears that the Great Barrier Reef was being destroyed by climate change, he published research showing that the Reef was in good shape and questioning the fears. He pointed out that there is an industry employing thousands “to save the Great Barrier Reef”. If the Reef is not endangered, a lot of people are out of a job. He was fired by the University.

Nigel Lawson, who bravely got involved in the climate debates some years ago, commented that “I have never in my life experienced the extremes of personal hostility, vituperation and vilification which I have received for my views on global warming”.

No wonder that people, particularly public figures or those with careers to worry about, tend to stick to the narrative.

End of my diversion! Back to the real issue . . .

What should we do?

It would obviously be unwise to ignore the facts of climate change. But we need to get away from the delusion that we can stop or even delay the changes that are likely. In word, we need to adapt. We need to enjoy the benefit of those changes that are useful - the fewer deaths; the longer growing seasons; the increased green vegetation; the retreat of deserts - and protect ourselves from those that could harm us (New York and London under 6 meters of water, in one of Al Gore’s more imaginative projections).

Actually, rising sea levels is a good example of what we should consider. Alarmists, such as Al Gore, have tended to focus on global average sea levels, although the facts don’t give much support to the “consensus”. Sea levels have been rising on a global basis by a staggering 100 meters over the last 20,000 years, that is since the last ice age, with virtually none of it, in relative terms, happening in the last 8,000 years. Obviously, none of that can be attributed to human activity of any kind.

But the serious point is that sea levels do rise, and indeed fall, differently in different locations. So the recommendation of scientists is that policies should be focussed locally. A good example of this was the construction of the Thames Barrier in 1982 and a plan that is currently in place to protect the Thames Estuary. The conclusion of a study done for the GWPF in 2014 was that using a global rate of sea level change to manage specific coastal locations is irrational and should be abandoned.

Let me put it another way. Let’s assume that certain locations are in danger of being inundated (London? Venice? the Maldives?). Do we spend vast sums trying to stop it happening - knowing that, as with so many human endeavours, our efforts may not work? Or do we spend much less doing what the Dutch have been doing for centuries? A no-brainer, as the Americans like to say!

Conclusion

I have to confess that I find it bizarre that almost everyone talks of the need to “fight climate change”. This implies that we humans can fight the climate, frankly even if we have some responsibility for getting us where we are. All the main UK political parties and almost all the media assume we can. No one even contemplates the possibility that the net zero policies might not work. Even though a luminary like Professor Lindzen is happy to refer to the policies as “absurd” and “ludicrous”. It seems that we would rather bet everything on the assumption that experts like him are wrong.

Postscript

There is another related point that deserves a mention. Plainly, there are other reasons for reducing our use of fossil fuels. The most obvious is that they will eventually run out. Not by 2030, or even 2050, or even by 2100. But at some point in the future, necessarily. Also, burning coal and oil isn’t the cleanest way of supplying our energy needs. We need alternatives. We should support efforts to find them, driven not by panic but by the kind of serious scientific research that has been successful in the past. It is alarming that one of the most promising alternatives, nuclear, has been sidelined as a result of just the kind of panic that we need to avoid.

Tony Herbert

13 October 2023

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