Climate Weekly Special Report


Apocalypse No: Assessing Catastrophic Climate Change


Proceedings of the Scientific Alliance Conference

Royal Institution, 27 January 2005




To raise awareness about scientific uncertainties surrounding the supposed consensus on climate change, and produce a challenge to the international process behind the Kyoto protocol process, by raising a number of pertinent questions, such as:


Are extreme weather events on the increase due to global warming? Are the world's glaciers melting? Is Europe facing a new Ice Age due to global warming? Will rising sea levels flood parts of Britain? Will global agriculture suffer because of global warming?




The conference was chaired by Professor Sir Colin Berry of Queen Mary College and the Scientific Alliance.  Following the Chairman's introduction, a Keynote Address was given by Professor David Bellamy OBE.  The conference then held two sessions on global warming and climate change in which two presentations were given in each session, followed by a plenary discussion.


1. Session One:  Is Global Warming Cause for Alarm?


Professor Richard S. Lindzen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Professor S. Fred Singer, Science and Environmental Policy Project


2. Session Two:  Will Global Warming have a Catastrophic Impact?


Professor Nils-Axel Morner, Stockholm University


Dr. Benny Peiser, Liverpool John Moores University


After Session two, closing remarks were made by Professor Sir Colin Berry.          






Professor Bellamy introduced the conference to the United Kingdom's official position on global warming and the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions with the ultimate aim of preventing global temperatures from rising.  Secondly, Professor Bellamy discussed the practicality and usefulness of wind power, the Government's favoured alternative energy source to fossil fuels.


Professor Bellamy argued that the UK government has been pushing a political agenda that believes global warming is a significant threat.  The signing and future implementation of the Kyoto Protocol is evidence of this.  In 2003, the government promised to decrease carbon dioxide emission by 10% by 2010, whilst increasing the use of renewable energies by 10%.  However, reducing UK CO2 emissions by 10% would not yield positive results.  Even if emissions were reduced to zero, there would be a 50-100 year lag where things would continue on the same course.  In addition, developing countries such as China and India are exempt from the Kyoto protocol, and may continue to emit large levels of CO2.  This means that global emissions will not be significantly reduced.


Despite this prediction, the government is continuing with its pledge to reduce fossil fuel use, whilst increasing development of renewable energy.  The Government has been strongly focused on wind power.  Embraced by the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), the UK has consistently pushed for an increase in wind turbines across the country.  However, the past 20 years have shown that wind power is an unpredictable source of energy, often with low yields.  A sustainable national grid, therefore, would pose tremendous problems, as well as costing Britons an extra 1 billion in increased electricity bills. 


Professor Bellamy argued that the Government truly believes that global warming is a catastrophe; however, they are attempting to solve the problem in the wrong way.  A renewable energy obligation set by the government does not make economic or environmental sense.  Firstly, due to the nature of the Kyoto Protocol, which allows countries to "buy" credits from those countries that have emission credits to spare, there will be little to no net reduction in fossil fuel emissions.  Secondly, the extensive reliance on wind power is wholly impractical and unworkable. 


As the public perception of the catastrophic threat of global warming grows and becomes warped by the media, the Government will feel an increased pressure to act.  Yet these actions are illogical and will fail to cause any significant reduction in fossil fuel emissions and mean global temperature.







Professor Lindzen examined the basic arguments and evidence that support catastrophic global warming, illustrating that both the arguments used by policymakers and the media, and the methods used to draw conclusions, are inherently flawed and misleading.


The public are assured that the problem is serious and that there is a scientific consensus.  In fact, the Prime Minister claims there is an "overwhelming consensus."  However, when the consensus is analysed, it is found to imply little if any alarm.


There are some points that are agreed upon by the majority of scientists, and it is these points that are generally referred to as the "consensus."  Firstly, that global temperature is always changing and that the global mean temperature has increased about 0.6C over the past century, secondly that CO2 emissions should contribute to warming, and finally that man has been responsible for the recent rise in CO2 emissions, though climate itself can also affect this change in concentrations.  Professor Lindzen referred to these points as the "basic agreement." Some groups further claim that the temperature increase is due to an increase in CO2 emissions. Though such a claim is not really sustainable, it too fails to have alarming implications.


In fact, an "iron triangle" appears to exist with respect to the issue of raising alarm over issues such as global warming.  It begins when scientists make meaningless or ambiguous statements.  Then, advocates and the media translate these statements into alarmist decisions.  Finally, politicians respond to alarm by feeding scientists more money, which in turn leads to more statements that are meaningless from scientists, perpetuating the cycle. 


Models play a major role in promoting the notion that increased CO2 will lead to significant warming.  If CO2 simply doubled, and other greenhouse substances like water vapour and clouds remained constant, then it is easily shown that a doubling of CO2 would lead to only about 1C warming.  However, models commonly predict 4C because in models water vapour and clouds act to greatly amplify the effect of increasing CO2.  However, as the IPCC text acknowledges, the model treatment of water vapour is questionable, and of clouds is clearly wrong.  Indeed, it turns out that increases in greenhouse substances due to man have already led to increases in radiative forcing amounting to about three quarters of what one expects from a doubling of CO2.  Thus, if models are correct, man has accounted not merely of some of the warming over the past century, but for about six times as much as has been observed. The small warming actually observed suggests that human influence may be small.


The most common defence of climate models consists in the claim by the Hadley Centre that their model can simulate the record of the past 150 years if account is taken of such things as solar variability, volcanoes, and aerosols.  But each of these factors is, in fact, unknown.  Thus, including these factors simply amounts to including adjustable parameters that permit one to achieve simulation by tuning. This is simply an exercise in curve fitting, yet the IPCC uses these models to conclude in summaries for policymakers that greenhouse gases contribute substantially to global warming, even though the IPCC, in the body of the 2001 report, indicate that the accuracy of these models is limited by uncertainties in estimates of internal variability among other things.  Clearly, the summary for policymakers, and subsequently the media and general public, is inaccurate.


Attempts to determine climate sensitivity directly from observations (as opposed to models) have lead to sensitivities to doubling CO2 on the order of 0.5C - consistent with the observations over the past century which show a warming that is, in fact, small.  Claims that the warming is 'record breaking' and 'unprecedented' simply serve to obscure the fact that the warming has been small.


Equally as questionable as the defence of the models' excessive sensitivity, have been some of the claims for alarming consequences of warming.  For example, basic physics implies that a warmer world will generally have weaker storms and less variability.  However, since this tends to leave the public unimpressed, exactly the opposite is claimed while dishonestly claiming that this is what models predict (which, to their credit, they don't) and that this is a part of the scientific consensus (which it clearly isn't).  This abuse of the truth in order to panic the public is more worrisome than climate change itself.





Professor Singer continued Professor Lindzen's theme of misunderstanding of global warming by the public.  First, he highlighted recent "absurd" claims from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), who stated that there is a scientific consensus on catastrophic global warming, and that dealing with this catastrophe can be done in a painless and inexpensive way.  This statement was made by a group of politicians with no expertise in climate science.  Their scientific consultant, the chair of the U.N.-IPCC, has no perceptible qualifications in climate science either.  This illustrates another aspect of Professor Lindzen's arguments on confusion and misrepresentation that policymakers and the public tend to accept statements when they come from "scientists" or "experts," even when these have no expertise in the area. 


He commented briefly on the just published report in Nature magazine [of 27 January] that suggested the possibility of a global temperature rise of more than 11 C for a doubling of atmospheric CO2 levels.  This entirely unrealistic result was obtained when one "tweaks" several of the many adjustable parameters that enter into the model calculations.  Rather than raising concerns or fears, it simply demonstrates the extreme sensitivity of model results to arbitrary assumptions by the modellers.


Professor Singer then continued by examining the questions put forth by Professor Sir Colin Berry during opening remarks.  First, as to the question of whether global warming will cause weather extremes: There is no evidence - either observational or theoretical - to support such a claim.  Even the 2001 IPCC report says as much. 


Secondly, there is often reporting that the melting of glaciers has increased significantly over the past 30 years.  However, observational evidence indicates that one half of glaciers have stopped shrinking, and many are now growing, whilst the other half are melting.  This illustrates either that there is no global warming, or that one cannot use glaciers as reliable indicators of temperature change - or both.


Thirdly, with regards to the notion that Europe may face a new Ice Age due to global warming: on the contrary, there is credible scientific support for the hypothesis that global warming could delay the onset of the next Ice Age.


Fourthly, as to the question of rising sea levels and how they might affect the coasts of Britain, there is no evidence of accelerated sea-level rise in the recent past.  In fact, global sea levels have been rising consistently for the past 18,000 years, since the last glacial maximum, by about 120 meters.  Initially, sea levels rose more rapidly as the continental ice sheets covering Europe and North America melted, but during the last 5000 years they have risen at a roughly constant rate of 18 cm per century.  All evidence indicates - and here Professor Singer departs from the IPCC - that they will continue to rise at that rate, no matter what we do.


Finally, there is often a question of whether global agriculture will suffer due to global warming.  Much evidence indicates that an increase in CO2 will make plants grow faster and, coupled with a longer growing season, this will lead to increased yields overall.  In addition, an increase in temperature would lead to more evaporation from oceans, hence more precipitation on average and more fresh water, which is often a limiting factor in agriculture.


In addition, Professor Singer discussed in more detail the Kyoto Protocol.  The Protocol calls for industrialised nations to reduce average greenhouse gas emissions by 5% relative to 1990 levels. The UK is aiming for 12.5%. However, this Protocol is flawed for many reasons.  Firstly, countries can buy unused emission rights from other countries, like Russia.  This results in an income transfer but no overall reduction in emissions.  In addition, there is no enforcement or inspection mechanism to combat the possibility of cheating.  Finally, even if one assumes that the Protocol is obeyed completely, the reduction in temperature by 2050 would only be an undetectable 1/50thC, and is therefore completely ineffective.  In order to stabilise the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the IPCC calls for a 60-80% reduction in emissions by all nations, this is unrealistic.


In conclusion, it appears that the Kyoto Protocol is not worth the huge cost imposed on citizens and governments of participating countries.  Indeed, respected economists argue that higher CO2 levels and moderate global warming increase GNP and, on average, are economically beneficial.  Hence, it is regrettable - and somewhat puzzling - that the media have ignored these well-published conclusions.






Climate models are difficult to construct, partly because of the problems of the quality of data that form the input.  In all modelling, feedback is used to refine the current model but should not be used to provide preferred explanations.  A major difficulty has been that it has proven nearly impossible to make predictions regarding aerosols.


There appears to be a global PR effort that overemphasises the importance of computer models. This has lead to inaccurate predictions and alarmist statements.  This over-reliance on models must be altered.


The question of whether the IPCC or other similar agencies are ignoring dissenting views was raised;  it was considered that much of this was due to the general difficulty of publishing "negative" results. However, the danger that the perception of a "consensus" view was damaging to the scientific method was raised.  It is not safe to simply ignore aberrant data.


In the highly unlikely event that we are undergoing catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, the methods aimed at reducing such a temperature change (wind power, Kyoto Protocol) are ineffective and will not change anything.







Professor Morner concentrated on the "Flooding Concept"; the idea that sea levels are rising, which is often referred to as evidence of global warming, especially by the IPCC.  Indeed, an increase in sea levels is often regarded as the most serious side effect of global warming.  However, Professor Morner argued that, contrary to what the climate models are predicting, observational evidence indicates that overall sea levels are not rising, and used the example of the Maldives to illustrate this point.


Professor Morner has spent much time in the Maldives gathering evidence of the supposed rise in sea levels.  Rather than using only computer models, he has used observational evidence, which has led him to conclude that there is no sea level rise present in the Maldives.  In fact, the highest observed sea levels in the region date from the Medieval Period, when the sea levels were 0.6m higher than today.  Contrary to what is usually believed, sea level fell significantly in the 1970s and has remained stable thereafter.  Satellite altimetry shows that there is no trend of sea levels rising.  In addition, combined observational records for the past 300 years show variations but no trend of rising sea levels.


However, the IPCC continues to claim not only that sea levels are rising, but also that they will continue to rise at an accelerated rate, and that this rise is due to an increased global temperature.  In reality, this connection is not clear or necessarily causal.  The IPCC has relied too heavily on models, instead of observations, and its scenarios therefore handle changing sea levels badly.


Therefore, Professor Morner and colleagues have estimated, based on all observational data, that the year 2100 will see a rise in sea levels of 5cm +/-15cm.  In other words, no discernable rise will take place.  The "Flooding Concept" is therefore wrong; it is highly unlikely that low-lying islands and coastal areas will face future flooding.





Dr. Peiser focused his presentation on how humans and civilisation have adapted to climate change in the past, how the public is reacting to the predicted catastrophes of global warming, and how society has been adapting to recent climate change. His objectives were to address contemporary apocalyptic fears about climate change, discuss climate change's impact on societal evolution and examine cases of social devolution and the failure of agrarian societies. He also showed how the modern warm period coincided with the rise and extraordinary success of hyper-complex, high-tech civilisations all over the world.


Many politicians, scientists, and authors have utilised the politics of doom-and-gloom to promote actions to address the perceived threat of global warming. A number of politicians, such as Michael Meacher and Sir Crispin Tickell, have argued that global warming is the greatest threat to humankind ever. Eminent scientists like Stephen Hawking and Martin Rees also create fear and hysteria by directly linking global warming to the prospect of human extinction. In contrast, scientists and policymakers who exhibit scepticism about these doomsday predictions are perceived as a menace to true believers. Throughout history, episodes of apocalyptic fervour and hysteria have often led to witch-hunts, civil wars and social upheaval.


In reality, humans have been extremely successful in adapting to climate change since the emergence of our species. The last Ice Age made things difficult for our ancestors, but the Ice Age retreat led to the development of agriculture and complex civilisations. Because of this favourable climate, the human population increased over time which has all but eliminated the ancient fear of human extinction.


Throughout the Holocene era, there have been climatic fluctuations that have influenced the advance and regress of civilisations. However, temporary breaks and interruptions have has never been unmitigated or total. Most ancient societies recovered after periods of decline and regularly emerged more robust and dynamic.


However, it is misleading to assume that climate change (or ecological suicide for that matter, as Jared Diamond incorrectly claims) is the driving force behind the fall of civilisations. Indeed, there are many more significant reasons why some societies have failed in the past. Besides, natural disasters, key factors such as warfare, economic failure, fanaticism, intruders, and civil war all affect the success of a particular society. 


In a historical review of human calamities that led to disasters with 10 million or more deaths, Dr Peiser showed that the main cause of societal failure and decline was almost always due to pandemics, wars, famines, or genocide, none of which were directly linked to climate change. In fact, these key problems are the same that affect the human populace today.

However, following the Industrial and Scientific Revolutions, societies today are better prepared than ever to adapt to any future climate change. Today's hyper-complex societies are able to withstand climatic changes that some ancient societies found difficult to cope with. Whereas agrarian societies are extremely vulnerable to climatic stress, high-tech civilisations are much better sheltered from possible disaster. Given the accelerating pace of technological progress, there are good reasons for optimism rather than climate angst.




Politicians may benefit from global warming: taxing the use of greenhouse gases increases revenue and gives them more to spend.  However, by constraining emissions of CO2, economic activity itself is constrained.  It was also noted that actions aiming to address climate change also pose political risk, especially if action is taken that will not yield positive results.


The "consensus" was criticised and there was a strong expression of view that politicians should not rely on generic "experts", but should consult specialists in the subject at hand.  In addition, the media must try harder to become aware of dissenting opinions, which exist in scientific peer-reviewed journals, but are often not examined by the mainstream press.


In 10-20 years, Europe will be in stiff competition with India and China. The government must have regard to this when taking environmental decisions, considering that any changes we make to our environmental policy may in turn result in an economic disadvantage. If this does occur, reality will soon catch up with politicians.



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