Friday, 9 March 2007

The Great Global Warming Swindle?

Last night I watched The Great Global Warming Swindle on Channel 4. It was a very interesting programme, whether or not one believes in anthropomorphic global warming. In essence, it argued that

1) Our climate is always changing. The current change is not out of the ordinary if one considers the Little Ice Age of C16-C18th, or the Medieval Warm Period

2) Man produces only a small amount of carbon dioxide compared with natural causes

3) Changes in carbon dioxide do not precede global warming. They follow global warming

4) If the theory of climate change science is correct, temperatures should be rising more rapidly in the troposphere. This is not the case

5) Global temperatures are dependent on cloud formation, which in turn are seeded by sub-atomic particles from the sun. In periods of high solar activity, such as now, fewer particles reach the earth leading to fewer clouds and therefore more warming

6) Support for global warming science began in the 1980s with an unholy alliance of anti-capitalists and anti-coal Thatcherites; after the death of communism, environmentalism became a useful rack on which to hang otherwise-discredited socialist beliefs

7) Promoting climate change was a great way for climate scientists to leverage money for their research. It has since become a way for any researcher to attract cash. It has spawned a massive industry that is now devoted to protecting its “rents”.

8) The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change is a political body, and its findings are shaped by politics, not science. Of the thousands of scientists listed as contributing, many are not scientific contributors but reviewers and government officials. Other scientists that demurred from the agreed position had their names added to the IPCC’s list of supporting scientists anyway. Sceptical portions of the IPCC’s report were excluded in the final draft

9) The global environmental movement has been radicalised by its own success: once they became mainstream, movements such as Greenpeace could only continue to make headlines and generate revenue by becoming ever more extreme (e.g. their campaign to ban chlorine, an element!).

10) Efforts to convince Third World nations to limit their development to the use of renewable energy sources will retard their economic development and leave them mired in poverty.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten large parts of it, but I think that’s a reasonable prĂ©cis. Other viewers are welcome to add (or disagree with) bits.

What was interesting was that the programme interviewed many physical and climatic scientists from renowned institutions (including MIT and Harvard), as well as Dr. Patrick Moore, co-founder and critic of Greenpeace and now a hate figure for some environmentalists. On the one hand this would appear to undermine the suggestion that only a few kooks and petrophiles still question the “global warming consensus”. On the other hand, at least one blogging colleague has suggested that some of these academics and researchers may not be all that they seem.

Other criticisms include The Independent saying that many of the scientific objections have already been addressed long ago (certainly no.1 is not new), and suggestions that the producer of the programme, Martin Durkin, has in the past used selective editing and misrepresentation to present interviewees’ beliefs in a manner that supports his views (though, to be fair, the people interviewed last night seemed fairly categorical).

Personally, this reminds me of much of the debate that flies around many major issues. It is a debate between scientists, which we poor mortals are obliged to look upon with increasing incomprehension as the debate becomes ever-more arcane. As we have been warned many times, the tyranny of “experts” is one of the most dangerous of all; we need to keep strict democratic control of policy, while trusting neutral and well-informed people to judge the evidence and advise accordingly.

However, if there is one accusation within the programme that is undoubtedly true, it is that those who dissent from the “global warming consensus” are increasingly being treated not as mistaken or even stupid, but as callous or wicked. As liberals we should be open minded to debate. As I have argued elsewhere in other contexts, we need sceptics. If we are correct then they will help sharpen our arguments and iron out any inaccuracies in our theories; if we are wrong they will save us from disaster.

So I welcome Mr. Durkin’s programme (as long as it was not deliberately disingenuous or based on misrepresentation or lies), not because I believe that the “climate consensus” is exaggerated, but because I believe that it is important that people question received wisdom.

Let the debate roar on!


Tony Ferguson said...

Brilliant very helpful. I did not watch it and this is a very useful summary

Nathan Rive said...

Debate is indeed useful, but not of the type in this documentary.

I undertook a detailed (and annotated) deconstruction of the documentary here. I hope you find it useful.

Joe Otten said...

See also here:

I didn't see the program, but the makers have a track record of dishonesty.

The trouble with hard science is that inevitably lay people will have misconceptions. So it is always easy to attack those misconceptions in order to discredit the science.

Creationists do much the same.

Having said all that, if they are attacking the Monbiots of this world, they probably have a point. If they are attacking the Sterns, they probably don't.

Joe Otten said...

Oh, and that is the Dr Patrick Moore, who is a "hate figure for some environmentalists", precisely for advocating nuclear power as a way to combat global warming?

Tom Papworth said...

Hello, Joe.

Thanks for the link. I note that the author of Bad Science has lifted most of his comments on Durkin from Monbiot's piece (which I linked to in my article). That's not to say that Monbiot is not right about Durkin, but it would help if Bad Science added some value rather than just conveying the story.

I agree with your point about science, though I also think that it can be used to baffle and so persuade the lay man.

And yes, it IS that Patrick Moore. He is that most reviled of figures, the apostate :oD

Man in a shed said...

A useful summary.

Hopefully this is the start of a real debate. Because we could be wasting vast amounts of money and human potential on green fantasies. ( All three main political parties could be guilty of this. )

Also the general population will not trust 'science' or environmentalism for a whole generation to come if they have be lied to.

Edis said...

The Open University has an unit on climatic change available on its Open Leaning site.


I would be interested in your comments on the arguments there - do they meet any of the points you highlight from the Channel 4 Programme?

Introductions says:

This unit provides an introduction to global warming. We will be considering the history of global warming by looking at the pattern of ice ages and analyisis of recorded temperatures. We will aim to gather meaningful information from this data. We will briefly assess the impact and influence of humans on global warming and, finally, we will examine climate models and how to predict future changes.

Joe Otten said...


I saw the 1997 programme which was dishonest, so consider that a personal endorsement of the 'track record of dishonesty' claim.

Blogged here.

Anonymous said...

>>>but the makers have a track record of dishonesty.

You disagree with them, therefore they must be dishonest. Probably evil too. Bad people, so to speak. Should be burnt at the stake. Just like a religion.

How about all the scientists who disagree with Gore? Evil too?

Anonymous said...

LGF has posted the documentary online for your viewing pleasure:

You probably won't watch it though, because nobody wants their religion rebutted.

Anonymous said...

Here it is:

Joe Otten said...


You have bad timing, I had just posted on my blog here that many believers in crackpot anti-science theories are sincere.

I don't happen to think Durkin is sincere, but who does, given his methods, come on.

Anonymous said...

>>>I don't happen to think Durkin is sincere, but who does, given his methods, come on.

I do, and it seems plenty of others, precisely BECAUSE of science, not "anti-science". I see no "anti-science" in any of the rebutalls to Al Gore.

Regarding "anti-science", the witchunting from your side is too vitriolic to be scientific. It's something else entirely. Watch the documentary, you might learn something new.

Joe Otten said...

OK, Anon, give me a link to your best science, your answersingenesis, or whatever it is called. The nth rebuttal of the rebuttal of the rebuttal. I certainly wouldn't learn anything from the watching dumbed down version on Channel 4. Seen it all before, mate.

Tom Papworth said...

It is great watching this debate roll on.

Anon: the claims about dishonesty are based on more than just dislike of what Durkin is saying. If you follow the link to you will see a story (which he basically copied from Monbiot) about Durkin being officially censored by the television regulator for misrepresenting the nature of his programme to interviewees and using selective editing to portray them in a bad light. I must say I though that that sort of thing was par for the documentary-course but either I am unduly cynical or he is unusually bad about it.

Which is not to say that this documentary was misrepresented. All the academics were categorical. I wish I had the time to read all the points and counter-points.

Hans Erren said...

from your list #2 is not true: On an annual average man produces more than nature, and #3 is not relevant, as the dominant cause of ice ages is not CO2.

Anonymous said...

Science has a history of believing a particular paradigm until its proved incorrect.(So I guess its marginally better than most other religions in that respect.)Scientists are adroit at finding evidence to reinforce a particular paradigm. Changing a paradigm requires a samll number of dissident voices to keep pointng out that the emperor is actually rather lacking in clothing coverage.

The reality is the earth is a self regulating system which is little understood by the so called experts - the same experts who were predicting a new ice age in the 70's based on the "hard science" and the "hard evidence." Science is just a secular religion and it doesn't have all the answers.

Lets not kid ourselves that the planet needs saving. If we pose a threat to the planet we will disappear like countless other species. The planet will still be here.Change is the natural order of things - adapt or die.

Angela said...

I did not see the programme, but I ran into many articles and blogs online about the fact that some statements have been taken out of the context.

Still, there are theories that bring valid arguments and enough proves to sustain their content, even if they present controversies.

JR said...


Good summary. And yes, debate is good. Yesterday there was an Oxford style debate on the motion "Global Warming Is Not A Crisis" with prominent, credible debaters on both sides of the argument. It should be available for download from NPR in the near future.

Nick H said...

I am one of those people who thought the relationship between CO2 and disastrous global temperature change was absolutely cut and dried.

So much so, I have not flown for 5 years, and have adopted measures to reduce my power consumption by 20% year on year. (I am well on my way). I have also seen an inconvenient truth, which only strengthened my conviction.

Al Gore provided a compelling presentation demonstrating the relationship between CO2 and earth's temperature. The clear implication was that CO2 levels drive global warming. Furthermore, given how high CO2 is now, we're in for a roasting!

In fact, the CO2 levels follow, not lead the temperature. Temperature clearly dives CO2 levels, not vice versa. Al Gore's film was extremely misleading. I have found the figures and verified this since watching. I at least thank Durkin for pointing this out. It was a breath of fresh air. (Nick stands by for a torrent of flaming puns).

Since Durkin's film, with the associated disorientation and concern for the scientific process under political influence, I am now looking for raw data to draw my own conclusions using 'scientific' literature as a pointer, and take everything I read/hear WRT global warming with a big pinch of salt. That includes assertions in Durkin's film, and in Al Gore's film.

Mark said...

Very interesting and well written.
I completely agree with you on the issue of skeptics. More people should be skeptical.
But being a 'skeptic' means that you are hard to convince and do not accept things at face value. Instead they wait for a hard body of evidence and are often continually questioning what has been presented. This, as you said, leads to stronger answers, as the questions they ask are addressed and further research is done. It can also lead to discovering a flaw in a previously suggested truth. Which is beneficial.

However, when it comes to the issue of global warming, most 'skeptics' are not actually skeptical, they are just stubborn and enjoy picking and choosing what information they wish to believe, while throwing everything else out. And, although I have seen this stubbornness on both sides of the argument ("I refuse to believe that the warming of the planet could have anything to do with anything but increase in CO2" and "There is no human produced warming, it is all just liberal propaganda"), I have seen more of this behaviour from the 'skeptics' side. I think more people should look into this subject with a more open mind and be willing to believe points from both sides (which is most likely where the truth lies). This isn't a black and white issue but too many people treat it as such. As for this documentary, I fear that there might be quite a bit of misrepresentation going on. Here is a link to a response from one of the scientists who was interviewed for the film.

I have no problem with skepticism or a presentation of opposing thoughts, but I do have a problem with someone realizing that the only way they can support their argument is to modify the truth so it fits. I also have a problem with anyone who accepts one piece of suggested evidence, such as a documentary as truth, without doing further research. On its own, this documentary proves nothing. Nor does An Inconvenient truth.

and Nick H:
Whether or not the science is clear on how and why CO2 levels naturally fluxuate, there is never anything wrong with conserving energy and resources. I commend you on your attempt to reduce your fuel consumption.

Nick H said...

Hello Mark. Thanks. I have been researching a lot since the documentary. I have read people stubborn on both sides of the argument, and have a raft of questions which I have not been able to properly answer.

I understand most of the energy from the earth's surface will be re-radiated at wavelengths >4um. CO2 is usually characterised as having a single absorption peak interesting to greenhouse climatologists centering on 15um which overlaps with H2O vapour. According to NASA, CO2 actually has >60,000 absorption lines. Consequently, most models including, it appears, the IPCC use gross over simplifications.

I have read about thermal interactions between different gas molecules in the atmosphere, about CO2 absorption spectra, O2 and N2 emission spectra.

The more I read, the more I feel people have been sitting in front of their computer screens coming up with fancy predictions rather than measuring our physical world.

If I had access to a wide-band high resolution spectrometer, there are some measurements I would like to make to reconcile IPCC claims against what I now know about CO2.

Perhaps there is a new market - mass-market high resolution spectrometers for everyone to make their conclusions about anthropogenic global warming.

John said...

Pay a tax, change the weather. I don’t think so. Humans account for only 3 percent of the carbon dioxide released into the biosphere annually (Google: carbon cycle). Congresswoman Pelosi's and Senator Reid's plans for regressive new carbon offset and green tax legislation are designed in concert with UN and Kyoto Accord mandates. The goal is to reduce human CO2 production by 1/3. How high would new carbon offset taxes on transportation and heating fuels need to be to motivate you and everyone else to cut back by 1/3? At best that level of taxation will reduce annual CO2 production by a mere 1 percent globally. Not much mitigation or hope there. Certainly 1% is not enough to make a difference in the perceived problem of anthropogenic (human) global warming gases. The impact of such draconian tax measures can only be imagined. However, it does beg the question, "If humans can't really be expected to make much of an impact on global warming gases, how can they possibly be blamed for warming in the first place?" Why are people compelled by politicians and the media to feel responsible and guilty for causing global warming? For the answers, Google "blame, shame and guilt used as political controls", read "Unstoppable Global Warming" and “The Chilling Stars" for the scientific facts and "State of Fear" for the political dynamics behind this renewed eco-tax controversy. Those party faithful that think this debate is over are sorely mistaken. It’s a little late, but welcome to George Orwell’s “1984”. Watch -

John said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nick H said...

Hello John

I agree that in terms of annual emissions, anthropogenic CO2 is a tiny proportion. However, the natural CO2 emissions are in equilibrium. The nett CO2 released by the natural world balances the CO2 absorbed by the natural world. Anthropogenic emissions aren't part of that equilibrium so they tend to accumulate in the atmosphere and oceans.

The doubters of anthropogenic global warming that I have read aren't generally arguing that humans aren't responsible for increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. And I wouldn't find that argument persuasive without good evidence.

The arguments I have been reading, which I find fairly persuasive, is that increased concentrations of CO2 have little incremental effect on the natural greenhouse effect.

The line of reasoning goes: Greenhouse effect is caused by water vapour, water droplets and other greenhouse gases such as methane, CO2, O2 and O3 absorbing infrared radiation emitted from the surface of the earth, then re-radiating it back to the surface of the earth keeping the planet at a habitable 33c warmer than it would otherwise be without any greenhouse effect.

Water vapour, methane, CO2 O2 and O3 each have specific absorption spectra. That means, at different wavelengths (or frequencies, depending on how you look at it) each greenhouse gas absorbs it's preferred wavelengths, leaving others untouched. A bit like a radio tuned in to several radio stations.

The argument goes: If a greenhouse gas is already at a high enough concentration to absorb all it's preferred frequencies in a very short distance, those frequencies of infrared will never escape the earth's atmosphere and the heat will instead be absorbed by O2 and N2 then re-radiated at much lower frequencies. Half of which re-radiates to the ground, warming the planet, half which re-radiates to space. The nett result would be equal heat escaping to space irrespective of CO2 concentration.

That's why I would find high resolution spectroscopic results on air with different compositions of CO2 and H2O interesting. To discover first-hand

1)whether the IPCC representation of CO2 absorption is true, or if they are actually using a spectrum density distribution plot. NASA state CO2 has >60,000 absorption lines, which makes me imagine IPCC are using a distribution plot. This is very relevant. If the plot is formed from absorption lines which absorb essentially all or none, increasing the gas density may not have such a large effect at the edges of the plot.

2)To account for every absorption line of H20 and CO2 to determine which absorption lines overlap/cancel out, and which re-enforce.

3)Create a distance/absorption relationship for CO2 at current atmospheric density.

Maybe I can find this information on the web. Still looking...

Anonymous said...

Some comments specifically on the part of the show that addressed climate charge and the Third World: This portrayed an extreme environmentalist view point on climate change and inaccurately applied it to developing nations. It poorly addressed how the reducing the impact of climate change practically pertains to developing countries and completely ignored the effects - current and potential - of climate change on people there... Or maybe they were just being tongue-in-cheek; I never really understood British humour, smiley faces are as sophisticated as I get :)

But anyways, as someone working in renewable energy in Nigeria, I found many of the assertions and arguments to ring particularly false to the reality on the ground. These four points in particular:

- "The polices being pushed to prevent global warming are having a disastrous effect on the world poorest people." The only part of the Kyoto Protocol's climate change policy that directly affects developing countries is the opportunity for partial sponsorship of clean energy projects in developing nations through carbon trading schemes such as the Clean Development Mechanism. CDM has been estimated to free up around $10 billion for clean energy projects in developing nations. The issue with CDM is that Africa is currently getting a meager share as governments like China and India's were more able to organize to access this funding. I don't think that's quite the "disastrous effect" Paul Driessen alleges. Since there are no proposed policies that I'm aware of requiring Africans to limit their CO2 emissions, I'm not quite clear what policy he's referring to...

- The implication that all renewable energy, particularly solar, is too expensive and inadequate. (via one improperly sized photovoltaic system!) The claim that renewable energy is three times more expensive than conventional grossly oversimplifies energy costs in Africa - where cost per unit energy can be many times that of North America. For instance, the convention in Nigeria is that anyone who can afford it buys a generator as a backup power source since the grid is only up about a third of the time. The office I'm working estimates they spent the equivalent of 10 bucks a day on fuel alone or about $50/week. Since we installed a $6000 solar system 2 months ago, we've only had to use the gen once (when the grid was off for a week straight). So our PV system will pay for itself in a little more than two years while most of the components (excluding the batteries) are supposed to last for 15-20 years. However, the majority of people don't have that much cash to put up at the onset and interest rates are 18-30% here... assuming one could get a (very scarce) loan approved for something as uncommon as a PV system. So solar is too expensive much the same way buying a house is too expensive compare to renting - it actually can be cheaper in the long term but only if people can access loans. Granted, there are quite a few other issues with solar, but it's deceptive to claim nobody in Africa can afford it.

- Africa is being told by climate change activists "Don't touch your resources" Well yes, they're right that Africa has oil. But no one, not even environmentalists, would or could argue that Africa shouldn't benefit from it. Let's just be practical about who is currently benefiting from those resources. In Nigeria, only one thousandth of the oil produced here is used by Nigerians. And the profits from the exports mainly go to the international oil companies and very rich politicians. The current climate change movement is not playing an even incremental role in keeping Africans from benefiting from their resources, especially compare to the (incredibly complex) economic and political systems that have evolved over the past two centuries. Please, let's be realistic - if this is seriously a concern then climate change is the wrong scapegoat.

- Energy infrastructure in developing nations is being [though I'm assuming they meant 'should be' ] restricted to wind and solar as part of the global warming campaign. No one is actually advocating this. There are certainly people encouraging alternative energies to be included in a diverse energy mix and for very good reasons: Africa is still expanding its energy infrastructure which making both grid connected and decentralized alternative energy option cost-competitive in some situations. However, since these technologies aren't as well-established they may not otherwise be considered. Diversification of non-fossil fuel energy also makes nations less vulnerable to fossil fuels' unpredictable costs. Most developed nations planned their infrastructure in an era when fossil fuels were assumed to be endless and benign. Now they have a host of issues because of it. Shouldn't developing countries learn from this and use it as an opportunity to develop better than the West? Due to the vastly different situations pertaining to North American and African electricity development the 'We're slow at adopting alternative energies and it's even more difficult for them to' line doesn't necessarily hold. But that's not to say that renewables, especially solar, don't have some major challenges in order to be effectively utilized. (Detailed post on that here: ) Some of those challenges do require large scale action, but not one simple solution (that would make the topic too easy and uninteresting :)

Angela said...

nick h, I appreciate alot the way you see the situation and the fact that you had a big interest in the global warming.

I got the chance to see the documentary a few days ago and I liked it alot. I have found common things to study, especially the parts that discussed the big importance of the oceans in the climate change process.