Category Archives: catastrophism

Global Warming May Be Just European

Readers of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report – Working Group 2 (AR4-WG2) may be forgiven to think a colossal misreading of available data may be at the foundation of contemporary Climate Change/Global Warming scares.

That report contains a map of “significant changes” (SC) already observed around the world. It is repeated throughout, and you can see it in the Summary for Policymakers, page 10, Figure SPM.1.

A total of 29,459 SCs are reported. An impressive number, at first glance.

Only, 96% of those changes regard just Europe.

The IPCC itself could not list more than 1,225 SCs not related to Europe.

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This enormous geographical bias does not get better when we count how many of those SCs are actually “consistent with a warming world”.

Planet-wise, there are 26,285. Of those, 96% are in Europe. Actually, 25,022 are European SCs related to “biological systems”.

That’s 95% of the total.

That means that outside of Europe, the IPCC could not find more than 1,150 SCs “consistent with warming”.

Compare that to the number of European SCs NOT-“consistent with warming”: 3,100

We have twice as many changes that are INCONSISTENT with warming in Europe, than CONSISTENT with warming in the rest of the world.

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Note also the distribution of the other “observed changes”. Only 7 for the whole of Africa, 114 for Asia, and 144 for the Polar Regions.

But what is most notable is that in the whole of North America (where, one would expect, a lot of researchers reside), only 810 SCs have been reported. Of those, 752 are consistent with warming.

That’s 3% of the total.

So for a summary: 96% from Europe. 3% with North America. Almost nothing for everywhere else.

How global can that be?

Preventative Nobel Peace Prize a Sign of the Times

After a (disastrous) preventative war in Iraq in 2003, we are going to see a (potentially disastrous) preventative Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Al Gore and the IPCC on December 10 at a ceremony in Oslo.

Why can’t we deal with real-and-present problems, and have to make up fantasies of new ones, I wonder?

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What will people make of our climate change circus in 50 years’ time is anybody’s guess.

Surely though, they will still question what Al Gore and the IPCC had actually done, by the middle of 2007, to deserve a prize. No Kyoto-II agreement has been reached yet, no CO2 emission cutting program has been implemented by any Government yet, and no “smoking gun” for greenhouse-gas-induced climatic change has been found yet.

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Things are actually a-moving, and the still-ongoing Bali conference may come out with a document asking developing countries to develop rather less. Who would have thought that “global warming” rhymes with “neocolonialism”?

And yet, there is some hope. The bandwagon has become so huge, it will be next-to-impossible to steer. Expect ridiculous targets nobody will ever try to reach, set for times unbelievably far in the future.

Until one day, the Sun will cool us down, and so will die the mad dream of anthropogenic climate change.

Ban Ki-Moon’s Remarks on Chilean Children

In “Alarming UN report on climate change too rosy, many say” (IHT, Nov 18) Elisabeth Rosenthal and James Kanter report that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has “described […] children in Chile having to wear protective clothing because an ozone hole was letting in so much ultraviolet radiation.

Is that actually happening in Chile?

I have not been able to find any evidence supporting such a strong statement.

(1) Pubmed through keywords “chile”, “ultraviolet” and “children” shows an article by Aranibar et al [Association between sunburn in children and ultraviolet radiation and ozone layer, during six summers (1996-2001) in Santiago, Chile (33,5 degrees S)] Rev Med Chil. 2003 Sep;131(9):1011-22.

I cannot find the original article, but the abstract seems to report that the behaviour of children 6-10 is at risk of sunburn (hardly world-shattering).

(2) From that article I was able to find more relevant stuff. There is one by Abarca JF, Casiccia CC., “Skin cancer and ultraviolet-B radiation under the Antarctic ozone hole: southern Chile, 1987-2000. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2002 Dec;18(6):294-302.

It reports that people of whiter skin may suffer in Punta Arenas due to repeated exposure, and increased rates of skin cancer may be occurring, and recommends further research.

(3) Another related article is by Abarca JF, Casiccia CC, Zamorano FD., “Increase in sunburns and photosensitivity disorders at the edge of the Antarctic ozone hole, southern Chile, 1986-2000”, J Am Acad Dermatol. 2002 Feb;46(2):193-9.

It indicates the worries but lists no actual skin cancer data.

(4) Then of course there is Molgó M et al, [Sun exposure behaviors and knowledge among Chileans] Rev Med Chil. 2005 Jun;133(6):662-6. Epub 2005 Jul 22. In Spanish.

It’s a survey and reports risky behaviours. Once again, no data on Skin Cancer.

(5) I then visited the website for CONAC, the Chilean ONG about Cancers. The pages of the National Network of Ultraviolet Medicine mention a prevalence of 10/100,000 among Chileans for skin cancer

(6) As a comparison, in England the prevalence among Europeans is 13/100,000

(7) “Environmental Journalist” Stephen Lehay writes a year ago that “Ailments Surge as Ozone Hole Widens” indicating that “Diagnoses of malignant melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, have doubled in recent years, leading Chilean health authorities to recommend avoiding direct exposure to the sun between 11:00am and 5:00pm, and especially to protect children”.

No sources and no absolute values are reported for this information.

(8) The same Lehay writes a couple of months ago “Skin Cancer Rising Despite New Ozone Deal to Cut CO2 Emissions” making a controversial connection betweeen skin cancer rates in the USA and a “crippled” ozone layer.

Being an environmental article (here in full) it can’t help predicting soaring numbers of cancer victims by 2060

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In conclusion:

(a) Peer-reviewed work has not find much interest in Chilean children, or better yet in any Chilean skin cancer.

(b) At best, CONAC (the Chilean ONG on Cancer) is recommending protection in the middle of the day, but that is good advice the world over especially in summer, and nothing special about Chile.

Either children in South America are risking their lives as we speak among a global indifference, or the UN Secretary General has “sexed up” the truth.

One wonders.

Solution to Fossil Fuel Worries

With crude oil likely going to pass $100 any time now, some people have started arguing that we may be near peak production with a gloomy future awaiting us.

But there is a solution and it has been waiting for us for almost 5 billion years…

It consists of around 36 thousand billion metric tons of methane, good for another couple of thousand years.

Since the known natural gas reserves are 52 million billion cubic feet (corresponding to 1.2 million billion kilograms), it all comes down to an untapped reserve 31 times as much as what is currently available. With around 80 years between now and exhaustion of Earth’s natural gas deposits, we can burn our way through perhaps another 2,400 years of cooking

The upshot is that by the time we’ll be able to source such a giant methane deposit, the technological advances needed for the endeavour will likely have made all fossil fuels a thing of the past.

The downside is that this newly-found source is a bit far.

How to Be Right About the Climate: Always!

Vincenzo Ferrara, the scientist advising the Italian Environment Minister on Climate Changes, explains how to become a famous Climatologist in a 1982 article (“(”Rivista di Meteorologia Aeronautica”, Vol XLII n. 1, Jan-Mar 1982).

The following is an abridged translation:

If you are a climatologist and you want to survive as a climatologist, perhaps even increasing your reputation, all you have to do is provide the exact diagnosis and prognosis that people expect.

To the question “Is the climate changing?“, by all means, never, ever reply “No, everything’s normal“, or “It’s just fakery pumped up by newspapers and on television“: because people would unanimously conclude that you understand nothing about metereology, and nothing about climate.

It would be the end of your career.

The only sensible answer is: “Of course it is changing! It’s a well-known fact, scientifically confirmed and one that none cannot argue against“. You can then launch yourself in forecasting for the next hundred years a climate identical to the current one, amplifying the latest phenomena to extreme consequences.

If it is cold you’ll therefore predict “ice ages“, if it’s warm a “torrid period“, and if there are signs of strong variability “short-term climatic extremes” and more-or-less the same climate in the long term.

You may be wondering, how can a serious climatologist provide impossible, mutually-excluding forecasts without looking silly? Fear not: science will provide all the support needed.

Because climatology has already thought of everything and will supply the right solution in every circumstance, even in the most hopeless cases.

So if it is cold, here’s what you will have to say: “The climate is changing and we are approaching an Ice Age.

This fact has already been scientifically assessed because since 1940, the average temperature of the northern hemisphere has diminished by approximately 0,4°C, probably because of a decrease in atmospheric transparency due to air pollution.

The cooling of the air causes an increase in the extension of glaciers and of snow fields, furthering lowering temperatures with their highly reflecting (high albedo) surfaces. Glaciers therefore increase even more, in a positive feedback that will bring us to a new Ice Age in a hundred years or even less“.

What if it is warm? Then the discourse becomes: “The climate is changing and we are approaching a Torrid Age.

This fact has already been scientifically assessed because since 1850 the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere has progressively increased and just in the last twenty years has gone from 315 to 334 parts for million. That means that in 2020 the accumulation of carbon dioxide will have more than doubled, taking into account the continuously increasing energy demands and consumption of fossil fuels.

The increase of carbon dioxide reduces the Earth’s long-wave emissions to space (greenhouse effect) so within half a century the average air temperature will increase by approximately 2 or 3°C; the polar ice will dissolve and a sizeable sea level increase will submerge several coastal cities“.

This can inspire a new version of an old joke:

An atmospheric physicist, a metereologist and a famous climatologist are interviewed for a position as climatologist. The atmospheric physicist is asked: “What do you predict for the climate next year?” and proceeds to answer: “I am not sure, but give me a supercomputer and I will set up the calculations for a rough forecast“. It’s now the metereologist’s turn, and the answer is: “I am not sure, but provide me with the seasonal charts and the observations from previous years, I will set up the calculations in order for a rough forecast“.

The famous climatologist is finally asked “What do you predict for the climate next year?“. To that, the answer is “Whatever you want me to predict…“.

Affluence’s Curse

When everything is due, anything that goes missing causes a tragedy

Why is it that the most affluent societies are the ones where the fear of the future becomes some kind of collective Phobia of the Novelty, mixed up with a morbid fascination for dreaming up their own, however improbable, catastrophes?

Conversely, what makes quite poor people keep their hopes high for the future? If we could restrict ourselves purely to risk analysis, the opposite would be true.

Being rich means having a multitude of metaphorical cushions protecting one’s fall, for example being able to buy actual insurances.

For many instead, being poor means finding oneself wondering if there will be anything to eat for dinner.

And yet it’s in the Affluent West, plus Japan that blatant absurdities like the Principle of Precaution are fashionable.

I won’t even mention how many people are hooked into believing in toto the interminable series of catastrophical environmental reports that nowadays grace newspapers almost as commonly as gossip columns.

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One way to understand such a paradox is via what can be called “the Curse of Affluence“.

Humans naturally being hoarding animals, they have no qualms in pretending that everything they can get their hands onto is actually due to them.

Therefore, the more they have, the higher their fear some, any of it may disappear.

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Imagine one earns $25,000/year. Having been particularly good at their job, he/she gets a promotion and a salary of $40,000.

The happiness that brings disappears quickly though, and the following year the new level will be considered a given, not an achievement.

One will soon start to yearn for a higher salary still. Not only that: the new income will have surely brought a few more luxuries in one’s life. Losing those would feel like an abysmal failure: anxiety for the future will therefore kick in.

If left unchecked, that anxiety will increase more and more with increasingly higher salaries.

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If we apply the same line of thought to a society of people, then we can understand why they would all live in fear of losing their affluence rather than trying to enjoy it while they have it.

If everything is due, then anything that goes missing is in itself a tragedy (it works the other way around: if nothing is due, than anything that is obtained is a cause for celebration).

At the end then, a whole nation of rich people may as well stop functioning, with each one of them paralyzed by the fear of losing any of their innumerable luxuries, life included.

With the trap of a pessimistic Decadence bubble growing larger and larger, progress is then passed on to those that are not yet rich enough. And so on.

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To free affluent societies from their fears, first of all risk management should be made part of the school curriculum, like literature or maths. Also, people must be reminded for example via museums of the terrible aspects of non-affluent life.

In general, anything that would expose them to the practicalities of being dirt poor will definitely help. Just as (of course!) the spreading of a simple concept: that the neverending accumulation of stuff can only kill all hopes.

Sense and Global Warming

From a message by Willis Eschenbach:

I also think that increasing GHGs [greenhous gases] will warm the earth … but that is not the real question to me. The real question is, how much it will warm the earth. To date, I have not seen any “useful quantitative results” regarding that question […] …

Once those quantitative results are in, we can proceed to the next question: is a warmer earth better or worse on balance?

The globe has warmed quite a bit since the 1600s, and in general this has been of benefit to humans. The sea level rise from the historical warming has not been a significant problem. In addition, a warmer world is predicted to be a wetter world, which overall can only be a good thing.

So, will warming be a problem, or a benefit? This is a very open question, and one which will be difficult to answer as some areas will win and some will lose. To date, however, recent warming seems to be occurring outside the tropics, in the night-time, in the winter … this does not seem like a bad thing.

And at some future date when those questions are answered, we can proceed to the final question, viz: If GHGs are determined to be a major cause of the warming (as opposed to land-use changes, or black carbon on snow, or dark colored aerosols, etc) and if we determine that the warming will be on balance a negative occurrence, is there a cost-effective way to reduce the GHGs, or are we better off putting our money into adaptation?

Until we can answer all of those questions, we should restrict ourselves to actions which will be of value whether or not there is future warming.

The key is to realize that all of the problems that Al Gore is so shrill about are here now with us today – floods, heat waves, famine, rising sea levels, droughts, cold spells, and all of the apocalyptic catalog are occurring as I write this.

Anything we can do to insulate the world’s population from these climate problems will be of use to everyone no matter what the future climate holds.

That is, “anything we can do to insulate the world’s population from these climate problems” “here and now.

And that’s exactly what climate change catastrophists (not to mention climatofascists) cannot seem to grasp, with their fixation on GHG reduction, and their absurdist mixing of known problems with potential issues, like in the recent UN Geo-4 report.

IgNobel Peace Prize A More Likely Contribution to Peace than Al Gore’s

Apparently one of the reasons for Al Gore and the IPCC to receive the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize relates to “green” being nowadays equal to “peace”.

This is absolutely a fantasy as there are many, many wars and conflicts around the world and not even one can honestly be related to climate change or global warming.

The one example that is always used is the remote possibility that increased drought would be behind the Darfur genocide. Such a link has been fabricated in a recent UN report and it is a shameful way of abandoning all those women and children while providing a ready-made excuse for the people committing the genocide.

All that, because a bunch of rich people fear that world temperature may go up 2C in 40 or 100 years, and can only get their worries on top of everybody’s agendas by stocking up fears?

The issues about Darfur have nothing to do with climate. And in any case, on the entire rest of the surface of the planet there is not a single other place where armed conflicts can be even remotely connected to any presumed, measure or modelled change in the climate.

Israel is bombing nuclear targets in Syria and Damascus did not even complain, and we think that peace will come from lowering CO2 in the atmosphere??

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The contribution by Al Gore and the IPCC to present or future peace remains a mystery indeed. And other big questions remain open:

  • Why give a Prize before the fact, when we do not even have a Kyoto-II Agreement?
  • Why a political award to what is supposed to be a non-policy-making international body of scientists like the IPCC?
  • Why not a Nobel Prize in Physics for the IPCC if the science of global warming is strong enough to justify their efforts that earned them a Peace Prize?
  • Why can’t concerned IPCC scientists group themselves outside of the Panel, thus separating Science from politics?

All in all, this year’s IgNobel Peace Prize does seem a more likely contribution to peace than what Al Gore and the IPCC have not yet done:

PEACE: The Air Force Wright Laboratory, Dayton, Ohio, USA, for instigating research & development on a chemical weapon — the so-called “gay bomb” — that will make enemy soldiers become sexually irresistible to each other.
REFERENCE: “
Harassing, Annoying, and ‘Bad Guy’ Identifying Chemicals,” Wright Laboratory, WL/FIVR, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, June 1, 1994.

A bit far-fetched, perhaps, especially about attracting annoying creatures, eliciting halitosis and the extraordinary application of the old slogan Make Love Not War to the battlefield: still, the Wright Laboratory’s efforts were (are?) about changing the nature of the armed conflicts of today, not the ones some very worried people are imagining now will happen in five or more decades.

Nobel Peace Prize awarded to alarmist prone to shout off questioners…

…and to Intergovernmental Panel that discards all commentaries that are not “on-message”.

Fortunately Lysenko has been dead for a few years otherwise next year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry would have been his.

And it’s the first time in history that a Nobel Prize has been assigned not in recognition of the past, not as a reward for the present, but for reasons that may, perhaps, happen sometimes in the future…


A reminder of Al Gore’s attitudes:

…after the interview [Al Gore] and his assistant stood over me shouting that my questions had been scurrilous, and implying that I was some sort of climate-sceptic traitor.”

Here also a link to the full reasons for a British High Court Justice to state that “some of the errors, or departures from the mainstream, by Mr Gore in An Inconvenient Truth in the course of his dynamic exposition, do arise in the context of alarmism and exaggeration in support of his political thesis“.

Interestingly, there are nine inaccuracies that as a consequence of a court’s decision “have to be specifically drawn to the attention of school children“:

  • The film claims that melting snows on Mount Kilimanjaro evidence global warming. The Government’s expert was forced to concede that this is not correct.
  • The film suggests that evidence from ice cores proves that rising CO2 causes temperature increases over 650,000 years. The Court found that the film was misleading: over that period the rises in CO2 lagged behind the temperature rises by 800-2000 years.
  • The film uses emotive images of Hurricane Katrina and suggests that this has been caused by global warming. The Government’s expert had to accept that it was “not possible” to attribute one-off events to global warming.
  • The film shows the drying up of Lake Chad and claims that this was caused by global warming. The Government’s expert had to accept that this was not the case.
  • The film claims that a study showed that polar bears had drowned due to disappearing arctic ice. It turned out that Mr Gore had misread the study: in fact four polar bears drowned and this was because of a particularly violent storm.
  • The film threatens that global warming could stop the Gulf Stream throwing Europe into an ice age: the Claimant’s evidence was that this was a scientific impossibility.
  • The film blames global warming for species losses including coral reef bleaching. The Government could not find any evidence to support this claim.
  • The film suggests that sea levels could rise by 7m causing the displacement of millions of people. In fact the evidence is that sea levels are expected to rise by about 40cm over the next hundred years and that there is no such threat of massive migration.
  • The film claims that rising sea levels has caused the evacuation of certain Pacific islands to New Zealand. The Government are unable to substantiate this and the Court observed that this appears to be a false claim.

Climate Supremacists Cannot Tolerate Any Dissent

I have just stumbled into two examples of all that is wrong with Climate Supremacists’ mindset of impending doom by climate change/global warming: their absolute inability to tolerate any form of dissent, however mild.

First, have a look at Bill McKibben’s review of Bjorn Lomborg’s new book “Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming” (The New York Review of Books, October 11, 2007).

McKibben’s review is a series of invectives against Lomborg, with ample space dedicated to denigratory remarks and the one, solitary invite to visit www.lomborg.com to read anything positive about the Danish author.

I simply cannot remember any article of comparable vitriol on the NYRB during the past 2 years at least. Evidently McKibben holds some grudge against Lomborg: from the former’s remarks, it is apparent that the issue is Lomborg’s questioning of the received wisdom of having to be very, very worried about the evolution of the world’s climate.

It is important to note that Lomborg believes in the scientific consensus of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Alas, he commits the radical sin of trying to think for himself, of pointing out there are other issues to tackle, and (the shock! the horror!) of having received “right-wing support“.

For all of the above, Lomborg’s work cannot simply be reviewed by McKibben: it has to be demolished along with its author’s reputation, over and over again in sentence after sentence.

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The second example is an inadvertently hilarious piece by Roger Harrabin, BBC Environment Analyst (“The heat and light in global warming“, BBC News Website, October 11, 2007).

After a long analysis on all that is wrong with people that don’t think it appropriate for the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” to be shown to youngsters in schools, Harrabin remarks about his own experience after asking an inconvenient question to Al Gore:

“…after the interview [Al Gore] and his assistant stood over me shouting that my questions had been scurrilous, and implying that I was some sort of climate-sceptic traitor.”

Once again, Harrabin is a firm believer that AGW is happening, and he even shows all signs of worry for the future: still, the one time he tries to think for himself, immediately he’s considered a “traitor”.

Will Roger Harrabin ever connect the dots, and understand that Al Gore’s message on climate is an ideological, all-encompassing, freedoms-destroying credo that cannot leave any space whatsover to any dissent? Some hope!

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It is a constant of history that leaders have been able to curtail freedoms in the name of public safety and a brighter future.

As Climate Supremacists ominously follow those earlier examples, stopping their dictatorial attitudes is the duty of every libertarian and of anybody that takes liberty into consideration.

Power Lines, Cancer and the Meaning of Statistics

Another day, another bunch of medical results draped in statistics. What is the right way to interpret them?

This article on Power Lines and Cancer provides the basic tools. In a sentence: take with a grain of salt all results based purely on statistics, where the risks or the benefits are less than 300%.

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Do overhead Power lines cause cancers, especially leukaemia in children?

Like in a “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern” match of oratorical tennis, two sides of a supposedly scientific debate have not been able to get down to a reasonable conclusion after 30 years of research.

One month, we are told that Science has demonstrated that Power Lines induce leukaemia and other diseases. Cue schools asking for pylons to be removed; and people selling their houses before values start sliding down.

The following month (or year), we are told that scientific studies have shown that the danger, if it exists, is not discernible at all. Cue schools asking for pylons to be removed anyway. And so on and so forth.

How can one make any sense out of this? After all those children either get, or do not get leukaemia. Should that be a matter of debate?

In an era where Science appears to be tugged in all kinds of directions (think of the MMR vaccine debate; the forecasted disasters of Climate Change; the purported obesity epidemic), an analysis of the Power Lines and Cancer debate can teach important lessons on the limits of translating Science into Policy; the need to exercise critical thinking, also about “Authorities”; the perils of letting the media interpret the world for you; and the danger that scientific analysis, endlessly manipulated by unscrupulous hacks and pressure groups, will be used to dent our freedom.

The Science

Studies on adverse effects of electromagnetic fields have been concentrating recently on Power Lines and Mobile Phones [2]. Power Lines are a source of electrical and magnetic fields in their proximity and these can interact with biological material [8]. However, for the frequencies and strengths involved with overhead Power Lines, there is no indication from laboratory studies of any negative effect, for example on rats or cell cultures.

An alternative line of investigation is through epidemiological studies, using statistics to identify adverse effects if any. For example, an increase on the incidence of diseases in children living near Power Lines (“cases”), compared to children living far away from them (“controls”).

Results are usually provided in terms of Relative Risk (RR), the ratio between the percentages of people developing an illness among the “cases” and among the “controls”. A value of 1.0 for RR means there is no difference between cases and controls. A value less than 1.0 indicates that the “cases” are safeguarded against the illness more than the general population. A value above 1.0 is evidence that the “cases” are at greater danger to fall ill than usual.

For example, the RR of developing lung cancer is around 40 23 for habitual (male) smokers. In other words, a smoker’s chance to get lung cancer is 2,300% that for a non-smoker.

The first report on higher leukaemia rate for children living near high-voltage Power Lines is the Wertheimer & Leeper study of 1979 and another by Savitz et al. in 1988 [2]. Much work has been done afterwards by organizations such the US-based Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) mostly disproving the findings above. The United Kingdom Childhood Cancer Study UKCCS (UKCSS) found no evidence for increased “risk for childhood leukaemia, cancers of the nervous system, or any other childhood cancer” in reports in 1999 (about electricity supply), in 2000 (proximity to electrical installations including Power Lines) and 2002 (electric fields in general) [5].

The most important recent scientific epidemiological results for Power Lines and cancer have been published in June 2005 by Professor Gerald Draper of the University of Oxford’s Childhood Cancer Research Group [4]. In the study:

• Children within 200 m of high-voltage Power Lines had a relative risk of leukaemia of 1.69
• Those between 200 and 600 m had a RR of 1.23. This is not compatible with current knowledge on biological effects of magnetic fields. At 200 m, fields from Power Lines are less than the average fields in homes from other sources.
• RR appeared to decrease with distance. There is less than 1% probability that this finding is purely due to chance (an estimate usually indicated with “p<.01”)
• No excess risk for other childhood cancers correlated to proximity to lines

Conflicting interpretations

At first glance, there may be something about children leukaemia, likely associated to proximity to Power Lines. Still, there is no known mechanism, and the relative risk is minimal. As pointed out in the editorial accompanying the Draper article, Power Lines may account (if they do) for no more than five cases of disease per year in the UK, compared to more than 200 children dying because of traffic accidents, and 32 in house fires [8]. Furthermore, there is no indication of effects for any other form of cancer [5]. This means that at present there is no incontrovertible data clearly indicating a cancerous danger in power lines for children and adults.

But it is not possible to design a study proving the negative, that Power Lines do not cause any risk of cancer. The consequence is that the public controversy is likely to stay with us for the foreseeable future. The diversity of comments to the Draper study is in fact truly remarkable [4].

Take for example the opinion of Denis Henshaw, Professor of Human Radiation Effects at the University of Bristol [3] (my emphasis): “[Draper’s] latest findings not only strengthen further the evidence that children living in proximity to high voltage power lines are at increased risk of childhood leukaemia, but in finding effects up to 600 metres away they invoke electric field corona ion effects as a possible causal mechanism”.

Professor Henshaw, whose work is funded by the charity “Children with Leukaemia”, goes as far as stating that “this may be the tip of the iceberg […] in terms of the many other illnesses also associated with magnetic fields such as adult leukaemia, adult brain cancer, miscarriage and depression”.

Which side is “right”? The “Authority” of the “Authorities” is not an answer: because Science is not about following the Authorities; and there are well-known scientists and organizations either side of the debate. Among those skeptical of any cancerous danger in Power Lines, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (2001); the International Agency for Research on Cancer (2001); the U.S. National Institutes of Health (2002); and the U.K. National Radiological Protection Board (2004) [8].

Obstacles on the road to a good Policy

Where Science cannot reach, opinions start kicking in, and competing interests maneuver to cajole us in one direction or the other. In the case of Power Lines and Cancer, the controversy has indeed been “sustained by uneven reporting on this issue by the mass media” and “lay-oriented books that allege that there has been a conspiracy to conceal the health risks of power-frequency fields” [8].

“Uneven reporting” is visible on the BBC News Website. Again in response to the publication of the Draper article [1], there is an article that presents the issue in scarier traits at first: “leukaemia rates are significantly higher among children who live close to power lines”.

It then progressively mellows “In the past, evidence suggested that low frequency magnetic fields, generated by high voltage cables, may be implicated in some way – a theory which hasn’t been endorsed by [Draper’s] Childhood Cancer Research Group” before ending with “we also spoke to Dr David Grant, director of the Leukaemia Research Fund. He told us he thought the higher incidence of leukaemia near pylons was a coincidence”.

Statistical indicators are explained poorly and in an alarmistic manner. For example, a Relative Risk of 1.69 is described as a 69% increased probability to develop leukaemia. Such a reporting is mathematically right, conceptually wrong and frankly misleading. Is there as 400% growth in increasing one’s savings from £1 to £4? Yes, but it’s still just £4. Moreover, as explained below, values of RR less than 3 seldom are considered worth of note in epidemiological studies.

Perhaps, given that the page is from the Breakfast section, the BBC’s was a clumsy, rather misinforming attempt at eliciting controversy and comments from the audience (see form at bottom of page). That’s bad news for present-day Britain, where its media-conscious Government gives “insufficient weight to available evidence” placing “too great a reliance on unsubstantiated reports that often have their origin in the media” [12]

There is concern also reading on the bias of the published scientific literature. For example, a study done in Montecito [6] reported as much as seven cases of children with leukaemia or lymphoma around a school in the vicinity of overhead Power Lines. However, “five of the seven Montecito children […] attended the school. Of those five, two attended the school for a very brief duration, leaving only three with plausible cases for school exposures as a possible cause” [7].

The Montecito study is one of the scientifically flawed pillars behind the most famous “conspiracy” book, “The Great Power-Line Cover-Up” written by Paul Brodeur [10]. Mr Brodeur set out to demonstrate the cancerous effects of high-voltage power lines, and to denounce a world-wide conspiracy to keep such evidence hidden from the public.

Long rebuttals have been published since [7]. In a telling sign that there may have been a case of “investigative journalism with a purpose”, few if any opinions of the “conspirators” were either solicited or included in the book, leading to a commentator to state that “Brodeur’s criticisms of the people […] are no more than unsupported innuendo, gross exaggeration, and serious misstatement.” [7].

Dealing with epidemiological studies

Epidemiology is a powerful tool. It can even provide estimation on the likelihood that the outcome of a study is due to random coincidences, rather than an actual casual link. The Draper article cited above scientifically asserts that there is less than a 1% chance (“p<.01”) that such its findings are due to a random quirk in the measurements, instead than actual physical processes.

That 1% may appear a very low figure. On the other hand, it also means that among the epidemiological studies published every year with a similar p, one out of every 100 will on average report irrelevant findings.

Trouble is, we do not know which one. An epidemiological study like Draper’s may indicate a link childhood leukaemia-Power Lines. But there is always the possibility that by a run of bad luck, that study is the one out of 100 that “got it wrong”.

And with values of p around .05, incorrect findings will affect one out of every 20 of the great majority of Power Lines and Cancer studies. This problem is further compounded by the normal “reporting bias” (when “multiple studies are done but only some are reported” [8]). A result labeled with p<.05 may have no real meaning: when 20 or more measurements are performed, one of them will be randomly positive.

With other issues at play like “confounders”, (non-electromagnetic causes like traffic density and socioeconomic class); and “publication bias” (as “positive studies are more likely to be published than negative studies”) [8], epidemiology alone cannot suffice in understanding a phenomenon. What else is needed to complement it? Here’s a checklist [7]:

1. Epidemiology should find a strong association (i.e. a high value for RR, e.g. above 3)
2. A very specific disease should be involved (for example, one type of leukaemia)
3. There should be a consistency between studies and with data from laboratory work, cancer incidence trends and other sources. In fact, “when two studies with similar designs find different results and the differences cannot easily be explained or rationalized, neither study is accepted as definitive” [7].
4. The results should be preferably not involve a rewriting of biology and physics

Obviously, an enormous RR could be used to justify investigations on how to rewrite biology and physics. Vice-versa, a very plausible biological mechanism only needs a relatively low value for RR.

Future investigations?

As of June 2006 criteria 3 and 4 (consistency and plausibility) are still missing, and relative risks are no more than 1.5-2.5 (sometimes, they are less than 1.0).

More of the same types of epidemiological studies are unlikely to resolve anything [8]. Decades of laboratory studies have shown “little evidence of a link between power-frequency fields and cancer” even in “life-time exposure of animals”. And despite the increasing use of electricity, a 1993 report by the World Health Organization and an analysis for Sweden from 1960 to 1991 have found no discernible changes in leukaemia incidence in adults or children [7].

Perhaps it may be interesting to finally identify the role of the “confounders” [8]. But this may be like shooting in the dark: and there may really be no need to invest resources in trying to identify a link between Power Lines and Cancer.

Lessons learned

One side of the debate states that leukaemia cases do not depend on the presence of overhead power lines: because there is no evidence in that direction. The other side goes as far as to say that children, if not everybody, should be kept at distance from those same lines, in order to lessen the chances of getting leukaemia and other disease: because there is no evidence that power lines are safe.

I do not see any reason to fear power lines. More in detail: for power-line-induced leukaemia to be actually happening, a small, yet peculiar but not impossible rewrite of biology and physics is necessary. We would need very hard evidence to back that up. And there are a lot of other causes of deaths that kill much more than 5 children per year in a country like the UK.

An opinion, but that is the whole point. The problem is if and how we translate a potential risk into a policy, a set of guidelines defining our course of action. If we leave the interpretation to interested parties and sensationalistic media, they will be in charge of regulating our lives in ways unwarranted by our own scientific data.

Do we have to evacuate all areas around power lines because there is some possibility that they will cause leukaemia? Or should we agree that it is much wiser to keep living our lives, unless something is ultimately proven dangerous? To put it simply: shall we move forward only if we can get an “all clear”? Alternatively, shall we stay put only if there is any clear danger in moving?

Are we for being very cautious, or ready to embrace progress? The natural answer for Humanity seems to be the latter. Our brains are hard-wired into recognizing and appreciating the novelties in our environment. From very early childhood, we find it natural to explore, investigate. And walk. Who among us would refuse to walk until checking the ground ahead at every step?

Some have suggested to resolve the controversy by implementing “Prudent Avoidance”, one kind of Precautionary Principle, “taking steps [of modest costs] to keep people out of fields, both by re-routing facilities and by redesigning electrical systems and appliances” [7]. For example, underground lines have been suggested. But they are expensive, and “difficult, time-consuming and expensive to repair […] (and they do break)” [8].

“Prudent Avoidance” is quite dangerous for a free society [12]. It may end up becoming the hijacking tools for vocal individuals and organizations to lock up resources that could be better spent in making everybody’s lives freer and easier, instead of in the futile attempt to eliminate all chance of risk.

==============

The Power Lines debate is not just about electrical power, and is not just about personal choice. It is a matter of societal power.

The definition of the very rules governing our society is at stake: if the Ultra-cautious Party wins, it will be one of the first steps in the future prohibition of most of what it is new. After all, who can demonstrate that there is no danger at all in using WiFi to get to the Internet? Or that there are no negative consequences in distributing ideas through online magazines?

References

[1] Power lines and childhood cancer, Friday, 3 June, 2005, from the BBC Breakfast programme

[2] Michel Ianoz, ‘Biological And Health Effects Of Electromagnetic Fields’, IEEE EMC Society, 2004

[3] Reported in “Responses to the CCRG study of power lines and childhood cancer”

[4] Gerard Draper et al., ‘Childhood cancer in relation to distance from high voltage power lines in England and Wales: a case-control study’, British Medical Journal 2005; 330: 1290

[5] ‘EMFs and childhood cancer’, by the British company National Grid’s EMF Unit Public Information Line

[6] R Kreutzer et al., ‘Investigation of the Montecito Leukaemia and Lymphoma Cluster Final Report [Draft]’, California Department of Health Services, 1990

[7] R D Miller, ‘Unfounded Fears: The Great Power-Line Cover-Up Exposed’, IEEE EMBS Committee on Man and Radiation (IEEE, 1998)

[8] J Moulder, ‘Power Lines and Cancer FAQs’, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisc, U.S.A,

[10] P Brodeur, ‘The Great Power-Line Cover-Up’ (Little, Brown 1993)

[12] J Luik, “Risk vs. Liberty”, TCS Daily, 27 June 2006

A Fred Fisher Moment for Climate Supremacists

The beginning of the end of Senator McCarthy’s 7 years in the spotlight was surely and improbably his mentioning of young Boston lawyer Frederick G. Fisher, Jr.: whose left-wing past the Senator unwarrantedly used to undermine US Army’s attorney Joseph Welch. On live TV, June 9, 1954, Welch famously retorted “Have you no sense of decency, sir?

Having seen what excesses the Senator could reach in his campaign to uncover Communists, public opinion turned against him.

Are we witnessing something similar about Climate Change? Have the catastrophists finally overreached, to the point of toppling themselves over? The indications are all there: because after Newsweek’s 9-page-tirade against anybody that dares to doubt anything about anthropogenic climate change (Aug 13, 2007), the tide is starting to turn.

In fact, no less commentators than Jeff Jacoby on the Boston Globe, and Robert J Samuelson in the next issue of the very same Newsweek magazine, have recently denounced the absurd attitudes of people apparently allergic to any form of dissent in matters of climate change.

For years, in the best of circumstances one has been labeled a “skeptic” (as if there were anything wrong with that!) at the first hint of not following the exact line behind the likes of Al Gore, James Hansen and the IPCC. Some of us had to repeatedly answer charges of “denialism”, a slur meant to create the impression of equivalence between those skeptical of a _possible_ FUTURE catastrophic change in the climate caused by human activities’ carbon dioxide emissions, and those still doubting the historical, PAST _fact_ of the Holocaust.

Note that I haven’t even mentioned the veiled and not-so-veiled threats of future trials ‘a-la-Nuremberg.

Between that and a complete picture of Climate Change Supremacism, only violence appeared to be missing in the actions of those carrying out a hard-headed campaign bent on stifling any hint of opposition to upcoming grand, poorly-thought-out lifestyle-changing plans such as carbon-emission-rationing.

Who knows, perhaps crosses will start burning on somebody’s lawn as soon as a zero-carbon-emission flame becomes readily available? But then, psychological violence has already started creeping in. How else to characterize President of the American Council on Renewable Energy, Michael Eckhart’s threat of career destruction against Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute?

That must surely be the most egregious example of the poisonous atmosphere concocted up by climate totalitarians. But it is just the latest and the biggest in a series.

Martin Durkin, author of the Great Global Warming Swindle documentary found himself under an unduly heavy barrage of condemnations of various sorts, including highly-browed calls for censorship by esteemed Professors. Steve McIntyre, the blogger/statistician that has recently discovered a bug in the software used by NASA to incorrectly attribute the warmest of US years to 1998, has seen his website crushed by an apparent DOS attack just hours later.

My own views (a basic question: if the climate is changing, where is the change in weather, not just temperature?) have been abused at times to “demonstrate” I wasn’t worthy of engaging in a discussion in a completely different area.

We literally live in the middle of an escalation of tones. Even people genuinely worried about Global Warming must understand how dangerous and ultimately self-defeating the attitudes of climate totalitarians and climate supremacists are.

If there really is an upcoming disaster, shouldn’t efforts concentrate on getting the world prepared, rather tan on stamping out differences of opinion?

Jacoby is right when he specifies that good intentions are not an excuse. All revolutions are avowedly meant for the betterment of Humanity. But whilst the American one led to the Constitution, the French Revolution brought years of guillotined Terror.

There is no need to remind the horrors perpetrated by Italian Fascists, German Nazis and Russian Communists, believe it or not all in the name of great ideals of peace and prosperity.

Justice Louis Brandeis is quoted by Jacoby as saying “The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.

We are the children and grandchildren of the millions that either fought to contain and defeat dictatorships, or were misguidedly seduced into selling out their freedoms to monomaniacal, homicidal types with illusions of omnipotence.

History will not and cannot forgive us, if we let that happen again.

Recover from Live Earth – Join Apocaholics Anonymous

Apocaholics Anonymous

(April 20, 2007) Hi, I’m Gary and I’m a recovering Apocaholic. I am currently Apocalypse free for nearly 18 years. I left the church of the Religious Apocalypse in 1976, over 30 years ago, and I resigned from the secular church of the Financial Apocalypse in 1989. Yes, I still feel the urge to proclaim the end of all things, from time to time, but I white-knuckle my way to a history book for a little perspective, and then I breathe easier. If you wish to join AA, the only requirement is that you give up the adrenaline rush of media-fed fantasies.

Since I spoke to you last on this subject, in 1994, we have survived “Bankruptcy 1995” (the original epidemic of Hockey Stock charts), the Big Bang in Hong Kong, years of Y2K scare stories, a SARS epidemic, Mad Cow disease, Bird Flu, a real threat on 9/11, Triple Deficits (Budget, Trade and Balance of Payments), wars in Serbia/Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, Deflation in 2003, Inflation since then, The Perfect Storms of 2005 (Katrina, Rita and Wilma, the 3 Witches of the Bermuda Triangle), and today’s reigning fears of Global Warming, $200 Oil and the Sub-prime Housing Loan Crisis Implosion […]

Save the Planet, Freeze Hell Over!

Dear Friends and Colleagues

With carbon dioxide levels shooting up to unprecedented levels, it is high time we group together for a concerted action against the huge amounts of climate-change-inducing emissions…from fires in Hell.

Known GHG polluter, local manager and evildoer Mr. Lucipher can indeed be stopped…all we have to do is abolish taxes, defeat prostitution or whatever else will make the place of eternal damnation turn into a glacial wasteland!

From the Neo-cons to the Neo-warms

(Letter to the IHT – published on April 28, 2007 – reply from other IHT reader published on May 2, 2007)

Dear Editors

The phraseology of one of your Op-Eds is quite clear: the new “terror” is called “climate stress, and it will cause a long list of disasters and upheavals if “nations fail to aggressively limit carbon dioxide emissions and develop technologies and institutions” “to cope with a warmer planet.”

(“Terror in the weather forecast” by Thomas Homer-Dixon, IHT April 25, 2007)

And so: just a few years ago the neo-cons pushed for an ill-judged preventative “war on Saddam” to protect us against fantasized Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

And to export the institutions of Democracy.

Nowadays it’s the turn of the neo-warms: recommending a preventative “war on carbon dioxide” to protect us against (future!) climatic changes of just as massive (predicted) destruction potential.

Ominously, this too will mean exporting political institutions.

Don’t we ever learn?

My Correction Printed on the New York Review of Books

I had sent a rather longer letter on March 15 but I appreciate their honesty in recognizing their mistake.

The New York Review of Books
Volume 54, Number 8 · May 10, 2007
Letter – CORRECTIONS By The Editors – In response to Warning on Warming (March 15, 2007)

In Bill McKibben’s “Warning on Warming” [NYR, March 15], the caption to the two photographs of the Upsala Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina, taken in 1928 and 2004 should have said that most of the glacier visible in the 1928 photograph had melted by 2004. Today the glacier still covers over eight hundred square kilometers.

Gulf Stream Myths

Myth #1: The Gulf Stream will fail if a massive outpour of freshwater will come out of Greenland glaciers due to increasing temperatures.

Answer: No, it most definitely will not. As explained by Carl Wunsch, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physical Oceanography at the MIT in Cambridge, Mass. (USA), in a letter published on The Economist:

The Gulf Stream is a wind-driven phenomenon (as explained in a famous 1948 paper by Henry Stommel). […] Shut-off would imply repeal of the law of conservation of angular momentum […] focusing on near-impossible Gulf Stream failure is an unproductive distraction

Myth #2: The Gulf Stream is responsible for the milder weather in the United Kingdom and part of Northern Europe than North American regions at similar latitudes.

Answer: No, it most definitely does not. As explained by Richard Seager, Senior Research Scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in an article published on American Scientist:

That the Gulf Stream is responsible for Europe’s mild winters is […] nothing more than the earth-science equivalent of an urban legend.

=============

Seager’s comments are particularly telling on how current Climatology is self-destroying by way of catastrophism:

Pretty much everything we had found could have been concluded on the basis of results that were already available […]

All Battisti and I did was put these pieces of evidence together and add in a few more illustrative numerical experiments. Why hadn’t anyone done that before? […] The blame lies with modern-day climate scientists who either continue to promulgate the Gulf Stream-climate myth or who decline to clarify the relative roles of atmosphere and ocean in determining European climate. This abdication of responsibility leaves decades of folk wisdom unchallenged, still dominating the front pages, airwaves and Internet, ensuring that a well-worn piece of climatological nonsense will be passed down to yet another generation.

Sustainable People

Planet-wide Overpopulation?

(a) Acres needed to feed a person at US dietary standards = 1.2 (= 0.49 hectares)

(b) # of people = 6.5 billions

(c) Land needed to feed them = (a) * (b) = 31.5 million sq km

(d) Land available = 74 million sq km (from Wikipedia = half of the planet’s “dry” land area)

—-> “Current occupation index” = (c) / (d) = 42.4%

In other words, even if all humans were fed according to US dietary standards, there would be space for 15 billion people.

Even by being very conservative on the figures, it is hard to imagine why the planet would not be able to feed 10 or 12 billion humans.

==============

Interestingly, in an article published in Nature (“The end of world population growth” Nature 412, 543-545, August 2001), Lutz et al. forecast a maximum of 8 billion people, around 2075.

And I haven’t even mentioned likely, incremental agricultural improvements.

Planet-wide Overpopulation, then? Not at all.

And there goes another myth of contemporary catastrophism…

Blair and Gore Cannot Be Wrong on Climate Change

UK PM Tony Blair, former US VP Al Gore and so many other politicians: why have they been so eager to jump on the Climate-Change-is-Humanity’s-Fault bandwagon?

A cynical explanation is in order: because they can’t lose by joining in.

They risk losing a lot instead, by staying out.

In fact, if (a) they can appear to be doing something about Human-induced Climate Change (CC):

  • a1. If CC doesn’t happen, they will claim victoryor
  • a2. If CC does happen, they will blame us all for not trying hard enough, and introduce ever harsher policies in order to… appear to be doing something about CC

On the other hand, the opposite position, of (b) publicly expressing doubts that Climate Change is caused by humans if it is happening at all, will mean:

  • b1. If CC doesn’t happen, they will claim victory, but
  • b2. If CC does happen, they will be blamed by us all for not trying hard enough

Worse, as climate is bound to naturally change if we just observe it for long enough a time, the “If CC doesn’t happen” options are simply immaterial.

It is self-evident then that (a) provides unlimited reward and no risk, while (b) vice-versa carries little reward and career-breaking risks.

Only naive or honest politicians, provided they exist, will refrain from shouting that Humanity is bound to destroy the planet by overheating it with carbon dioxide.

If anybody believes that the above is going to inspire good policies, I’ve got a bridge to sell them

(blog inspired by messages on the Climate Sceptics mailing list)

Prozac for the Climate People

or “The Unholy Alliance of Climatologists and Newsmedia

An additional positive-feedback mechanism in the realm of Catastrophic Climate Change may have gone un-noticed so far.

Look for example at the WMO Statement on the Status of the global Climate in 2006: “persistent extreme heat”, “heat waves”, “record temperatures”, “long-term drought”, “moderate-to-exceptional drought”, “severe drought conditions”, “heavy precipitation and flooding”, “heavy rainfall”, “historic flooding”, “deadly typhoons”, “ozone depletion”, “sea-ice decline”.

One is left shocked-and-awed by such a display of gloom. Even words such as “mild” and desert-area rainfall sounds ominous in the context of the WMO statement.

But wait: where is the list of places where conditions were OK or even good throughout the year, and so went un-reported?

Where is the mention for example of the end of long-term drought in most of the Sahel area, south of the Sahara desert?

In truth, that WMO statement does not report on the “Status of the global Climate”.

It reports on the “Status of everything that was unusual with the global Climate”: very useful indeed, but not to understand the overall picture.

It’s newspapers and magazines that need that kind of stuff. They know they don’t sell on good news. They live off a steady stream of bad news to get as many readers as possible.

And who can be better at providing that than present-day Climatologists?

Yet another unhealthy incentive for people to get noticed by predicting disasters.

===============

ADDENDUM

A couple of articles on LiveScience point to similar problems in the reporting of Medical studies

A Third of Medical Studies are Wrong

[…] Ioannidis said scientists and editors should avoid “giving selective attention only to the most promising or exciting results” and should make the public more aware of the limitations of science.[…] “We all need to start thinking more critically.”

============

Media Omit Basic Facts in Medical Reports

[…] Journalists sometimes go to these conferences looking for the interesting nuggets and a chance to report on potential breakthroughs before the competition. But the media often omit basic facts in stories they report from professional medical conferences, a new study concludes. […] “Readers should approach the news with a healthy skepticism,” Schwartz suggested.

Interpreting the Climate Change Predictions – Free Guide

Your Free Guide on How to Interpret Climate Change Predictions

(written with the unaware “help” of Friends of the Earth’s International Climate Campaigner, Catherine Pearce)

“This report will show with unquestionable certainty that we are to blame for the last 50 years of warming”

Translation: “All the stuff we have been whinging about so far was not based on evidence strong enough. Sorry we didn’t tell you that before. Anyway, we are trying our luck again”.

“The recorded changes in our climate, which had been predicted to start many years from now are already upon us”

Translation: “Who needs them models anyway? Whatever they predict for the future, we’ll be able to find it right here and now, no matter the blatant contradiction”.

” – and with some bleak predictions to come.”

Translation: “Train yourself by scaring little children if you want to work for us”.

“We can no longer afford to ignore growing and compelling warnings from the world’s leading experts.”

Translation: “Years and years of work have so far come to nothing as they have been completely ignored by the real world. Once again, we are trying our luck , blissfully unaware of the possibility that there is something inherently wrong with our data, our interpretation of the data, and/or our whole way of trying to bring this forward by corralling scientists, cajoling people and burying dissent”.

Climate Change Calamities’ (paper) Climax

Jim Hansen is a renowned scientist and top NASA manager, apparently animated by reasonable objectives such as avoiding waste of resources and taking care of the natural world.

Why would he then have to resort to images of doom and gloom as in The Threat to the Planet” (The New York Review of Books, July 13, 2006)?

The article is a remorseless barrage of wanton destruction. We learn that animals are abandoning their roaming areas, migrating without a choice towards natural barriers ready to “spell doom” on their species. “For all foreseeable human generations”, the world “will be a far more desolate place”.

We should ready ourselves to ice sheets beginning to “collapse”, seas rising half a yard per decade, and “repeated [urban] retreats from transitory shorelines” translating into a “calamity for hundreds of cities […] far larger than New Orleans”.

If we don’t mend our ways, there will be a “sea level rise of eighty feet”, “global chaos” and (who would have guessed?) “fewer resources”.

As much as 60 percent, and no fewer than 20 percent of “today’s species” are going to go the way of the Dodo.

Remarkably, all available space is devoted to global warming calamities. Even if it were to happen as catastrophically as portrayed, surely we (and Dr Hansen) should be able to predict something good coming out of Climate Change, somewhere, for example, concerning areas such as northern Canada, northern Siberia and some of the present deserts?.

The disasters described by Dr Hansen are indeed so encompassing and overwhelming to fall squarely in what has been labelled “Climate Porn” by left-wing UK think-tank the IPPR (see my my article Saying No to ‘Climate Porn’?”, TCS Daily, Aug 16 2006).

The climax (pun intended) is reached when Dr Hansen writes that “if CO2 emissions are not limited […] all bets are off”.

Is the article’s very title seriously suggesting that Earth itself is under threat?

Not even the darkest forecasts can be used to make current climate change equivalent to, say, a 10-km size asteroid slamming against our planet: but I may be wrong.

I know Jim Hansen is one of many writing so dramatically about climate change. Without moving very far, similar questions could be posed to another article on The New York Review of Books, Tim Flannery’s “Endgame” (August 11, 2005).

In that case, alongside the usual “changes in sea levels, weather patterns, and the fate of many species” we are told that “continuing to burn coal […] is a threat to existence itself”.

Cue Paul and Anne Ehrlich writing about “ecological suicide in our time” (“One with Nineveh: Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future”, Island Press/Shearwater 2004).

For his part, Dr Hansen’s efforts to find ways to prevent the gloomy future so spectacularly depicted must be commended.

Anyway, he definitely loses this reader when the text verges toward close-minded paranoia.

Dr Hansen complains that in the media, “fringe ‘contrarians’ supported by the fossil fuel industry” are given “equal time” to express their skepticism (since when has Science progressed on consensus rather than real-world data?).

He then laments that fellow scientists are presenting climate change too “clinically” (before and after making plenty of citations from other catastrophists).

Finally, he states that somehow only climate change catastrophists such as Al Gore will be able to give the public “the information needed to distinguish our long-term well-being from short-term special interests” (of energy companies, above all).

One would hope for a more convincing set of arguments from a distinguished scientist, especially if Dr Hansen truly believes that the end of the world as we know it is near but we can still make a difference.

His forays into titillating catastrophism can only increase one’s skepticism, sounding as they do like the claims of some millenarian cult (a point recognised by the IPPR in the report mentioned above).

Faced with such a long list of absurdities, one is practically forced to put into question the very basis of Dr Hansen’s concerns.

Let’s ask ourselves then, are we really witnessing any significant change to the climate, caused by human activities?

Personally, I will be persuaded when and if “change” will be more meaningful and incontrovertible than melting glaciers, strong hurricanes, hot summers, cold winters (and one may add, wet water).

How about finding instead the one weather pattern changed anywhere in the world due to global warming?

Literally anything would do: recurring hurricane seasons in the South Atlantic; an alteration of prevailing regional winds in the Mediterranean; a different monsoon path; or any other stable weather pattern settling into a new status.

There is no report of any so far.

Remaining unconvinced of the upcoming perils of climate change and global warming, am I a “fringe contrarian”? Perhaps (but then I have no relationship whatsoever with the fossil fuel industry and energy companies apart than as paying customer).

But is it really too much to ask to leave catastrophism to the propagandists, and to keep a scientific debate focused on the real world?

Global Warming: Science, Politics and Deimocracy

Contemporary apocalyptic fashionable undertones in the area of Climate Change are pointing us away from Democracy, the power of The People, and towards Deimocracy, the power of Fear.

—————————–

(1) Disaster Talking

We are showered with news of doom: AIDS and SARS epidemics, Terrorisms and Wars on Terror, Overpopulation, Immigrants in hordes, Global Warming: calamities ultimately “explained” as of our own making

It will be news, a day without news of species candidate for extinction, the planet destined to burn up, and our lifestyles destroyed by al-Qaeda or a virus, because we are not enough green, and/or not energy savers, and/or virtuous

That’s the zeitgeist, the Spirit of (Our) Time for Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”, forecasting floods, droughts, hurricanes, cold and heath-waves, hunger and misery (locusts included) to governments and individuals, whose culpable inertia is apparently enriching Big Bad Oil Corporations while sullying the Earth

It is a “language of disaster” that belongs also to:

  • Jim Hansen, the NASA climatologist reporting only the scariest predictions
  • Tim Flannery, the Australian of the Year 2007, a scientist who believes that coal-burning will bring humanity to an end
  • Jared Diamond, the former-skeptic now converted to Paul Ehrlich’s unflinching pessimism to accuse the enslaved, decimated inhabitants of Easter Island of consumerism and ecocide; and to many more

Is it really necessary to force people to “duck” under ever more monstrous Terrors to protect the environment from technological growth, ourselves from terrorism, our species from overpopulation?

Since when has Fear become the only instrument of persuasion?

Is this because a “stupid electorate” is easily manipulated by the titillation of tragedy and disaster, or perhaps even by the millenarian attitude that permeated as expected the end of the last Millennium (Nostradamus prophecies, Y2K, etc.)?

But then, Democracy itself would be alien or absurd

Or is this because reaction can be elicited by hitting us hard before problems do?

That means considering our species to be “Homo Insanus”, not “Homo Sapiens”, “wise man”. Given the choice, it sounds definitely better to entrust us then to the “Politics of the Day After”, chasing the front pages of newspapers (standard practice for more than one politician…)

(2) Deimocracy

Actually, the suspicion is that this “Empowerment of Fear Itself” otherwise called Deimocracy (from the Greek: deimos “terror, dread”) is a way to propel new forms of social engineering by inoculating us with the idea that in such dire straits, our only hope to survive cataclysmic planetary changes is to accept exceptional, anti-freedom measures

Al Gore’s solution is for “leaders” to corral unwilling voters, whatever their opinion, into accepting coercive measures.

Sir Nicholas Stern in the meanwhile came up with yet another gloomy report, telling in no uncertain terms to spend some 20 billions today not to have to spend 200 billions or more in 100 or 150 years’ time (never mind the dubiously low discount rate and the continuous need to “explain” and “clarify” that he wasn’t talking about our lifetimes)

In a society where “science” and now “economics” foretell our future, we are told to follow their recommendations… or else!

The UK’s Royal Society recently reprimanded evil Exxon, guilty of financing “anti-environmentalist lobbies” belittling the risks of Climate Change (actually: some associations publicly saying that Climate Change will not happen, or will not be catastrophic)

The fallacy of judging anybody not following the Global Warming line as “anti-environmentalist” shows the Royal Society as less eager of defending Science against manipulation, than of taking Climate Change as an article of faith

(3) Global Warming as a new Religion

Millenarian Global Warming is indeed assuming the character of a cult, as repeatedly pointed out by Michael Crichton.

British newspaper The Guardian’s editorialist George Monbiot writes that (on Climate Change), “He (Monbiot) Is Watching Us”. Margo Kingston remarks on the Australian Daily Briefing that those Global Warming “deniers” are guilty of a Crime against Humanity. Others have suggested a Nuremberg-style trial.

If we do not stop to produce carbon dioxide within ten years, the world will be gone, some say. Others tell sinners that without repentance, they will not be among the 144 thousand saved in the Apocalypse. Spot the difference.

And in a Market of the Indulgences Al Gore pays to plant trees to compensate for the jet-setting he undertakes to instruct us… to fly less! (Is it time for SUV owners to grow trees on the bonnet?)

(4) Skepticism: the Root of Science

Mystical visions of doom are obviously not on par level with forecasts by obviously bright intellects such Hansen’s and Flannery’s. And yet, one can be just as seriously skeptical of their conclusions, in the ways of Carl Sagan: extraordinary claims of catastrophes must be backed by extraordinary evidence

Science is indeed a collection of “theories”, models of reality as objective and as complete as possible. The task of the scientist is to (boringly) expand on such models or to (Nobel-prize-winningly) refute them and put forward new, more precise models.

Truly there is no such a thing as “democratic science”, weighing the number of papers going in different directions. It is instead like a boiling ocean where competing models fight to reach the surface through the grinding by mechanisms such as “peer review” by experts (usually without authors’ names to avoid “subjective” interference, e.g. of “bad blood”)

Nonetheless, the infrastructure of Science feeds on reputation. No editor of scientific publication, no manager of research fund will want to look gullible: it is then obviously more difficult to publish anything against the “current consensus”, and easier to receive funds to repeat established experiments

With Science pushed and pulled in incompatible directions, the scientific debate cannot be closed: otherwise, it is not scientific. And its infinite detail will never be fully shown in scientific publications or accompanying press releases

(5) From Science to Politics

In politics the situation is radically different. Politics can not simply abandon one model for another, to “try out” something else. Social effects are not negligible, and it will be difficult to carry along the electorate at every turn: impressions, however subjective they may be, do count.

Translating Science into Politics therefore creates four problems: Technicism; Manipulation; Inaction and Causal Monomania

Technicism is the misinterpretation of scientific research as the “end word” on a topic: like eugenics, fashionable and admired cause of several million human deaths

In Manipulation, politicians pick and choose the most convenient scientific results: as in the 1920 US’s immigration policies discriminating against Southern Europeans for scientific, unassailable reasons (alleged inferior IQs)

Inaction is when Governments do nothing against clear forecasts by scientists and engineers. Just as predicted by many experts, New Orleans’ badly-financed and badly-constructed levees, built to withstand the direct hit of a category-3 hurricane, failed even if category-3 Katrina actually missed the city

Finally, in Causal Monomania an issue is fogged by explaining everything with a single reason: Global Warming, of course, where catastrophist propaganda couples with alarmist Deimocracy to deny political space to all opponents: whilst in the scientific arena, almost every work is bound to “rediscover” the same thing: how bad we are, and how bad Climate Change is going to be

In Al Gore’s movie, glaciers retreat, floods devastate, the natural world dies: all of that, because of Global Warming.

There is no “smoking gun” available, no hurricane called “Climate Change”: yet, this fact is not important because, in the subculture of Global Warming, every atmospheric phenomenon is obviously caused by our misbehavior

Read this recent quote from “Cultural responses to aridity in the Middle Holocene and increased social complexity” (Nick Brooks, Quaternary International 151 (2006) 29-49):

In today’s globalizing world, traditional livelihoods are under pressure from economic liberalization, monetization of local economies and development programmes based largely on western models.

Words of truth perhaps but… they can relate to social complexity and aridity in the Middle Holocene only for people that consider contemporary Climate Change induced by human activity as an all-encompassing Monster, the root of every trouble, to be stopped also by means of disseminating irrelevant, yet negative and unrelenting mentions of it

Compare that effort to the lukewarm attitude towards preventing the one disaster that will occur with absolute certainty: our planet being hit by a small asteroid or comet

(6) Climate Change and Propaganda

Climate Change monomania details upcoming destructions to restrict individuals’ freedoms. Moreover, it is a propaganda device for politicians to hide their shortcomings

If every problem derives from Climate Change, and all effective solutions are global, what can we ever pretend from a single Nation?

Take Australia, experiencing its n-th consecutive year of “drought” (presented of course as a sign of Climate Change): and yet, during Sydney’s rainy September ‘06, local newspapers debated the absence of adequate facilities to collect rainwater. Never mind the subsidies received by farmers despite the obvious unsuitability of their farms.

And never mind the fact that Dorothea Mackellar could remember Australia as the “sunburnt country […] of droughts and flooding rains“…in 1904!

What is the real issue: “Climate Change” or “Incompetence”? Shall we really revolutionize our lifestyles and spend billions to stop emitting CO2, in order to save the Australian Government (or any other) from their own ineptitude?

(7) The End of Environmentalism?

A bigger danger exists. What if the foretold disasters fail to happen? Politicians will not be able to justify themselves by “passing the buck” to the scientists.

If the political debate could be encapsulated by the scientific discourse, we would just accept a Technocracy (again, renouncing Democracy): an untenable solution as the idea that professionals, experts, scientists do make mistakes is part of popular mythology

Large communication problems exist between Science and the non-scientific public. Actually, by putting themselves in-between scientists and the general population, catastrophists are risking to prevent the public from properly perceiving the real threats and risks

When too many a prediction will fail, people will wrongly but understandably start to think that rhinos are not in extinction danger; that there are many Siberian tigers around; and that pollution running amok is no problem.

Fear-mongering Environmentalism may indeed be sanctioning the End of Environmentalism (a point recently made by no less a commentator than Nicholas D Kristof of the New York Times)

(8) Defending the Environment – Take Two

A serious environmentalist debate must rise above simplistic policies and propaganda. Many are the priorities to handle, and difficult to manage: there is no solution in monomaniac pseudo-scientific Deimocratic shortcuts

Meaningful environment conservation is something less sexy and un-titillating, pivoted around analyses and counter-analyses of our ideals, objectives and priorities, in a system where scientific research is analyzed within its context, before being applied in the political field.

It is based on defining objectives as solution to problems, not just as desperate resorts against the End of the World

Are houses cleaned because it is the right thing to do, or just since otherwise people could be at risk of SARS or the Black Plague?

Are Human Rights to be protected for their intrinsic value, or only if and when the alternative is Genocide?

Shouldn’t oil be better employed to build plastics than burned for heating and transportation with accompanying toxic fumes?

Of course: and not just to avoid droughts, fires and a one-way trip to the Gehenna

(9) Rejecting Deimocracy

Gore, Hansen and the others may even be right on the subject of Global Warming: however, their methods of propaganda and political action must be rejected in principle.

The real risk is to accept the worst of all possible worlds, where Science is contaminated by ideology and Politics stifles debate, with little freedom and scarce if any analysis of priorities.

Will one day somebody coin the slogan “Breath less, Emanate less carbon dioxide”?

Let’s be free instead: Long Live Democracy!

And let’s firmly distance ourselves from the “Politics of Fright”. Down with Deimocracy!

Back To Basics On Global Warming

What is the actual evidence for Global Warming? With all the noise coming out this week in the media, it is interesting to go back to the basics, i.e. to the actual measurements 

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The Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (Norwich, UK) has published temperature times series from 1850 to 2006

These are average global temperature “anomalies” (i.e. amounts above or below the 1961-90 average). Of particular interest the HadCRUT3v series, as it is presented as the most accurate. Uncertainties are in the order of +-0.05C (4 times as much in the XIX century)

If you plot those values, it makes for an impressive graph, with the hockey stick shape and all that. However, a better look at the most recent figures reveals:

1995: 0.27
1996: 0.138
1997: 0.347
1998: 0.526
1999: 0.302
2000: 0.277
2001: 0.406
2002: 0.455
2003: 0.465
2004: 0.444
2005: 0.475
2006: 0.422

  1. Even if it is true that 2006 has been among the warmest years, the maximum happened in 1998. Its temperature hasn’t been even remotely reached since
  2. Since 2001, values have not varied more than the accuracy of the data. In other words, there hasn’t been much of a change
  3. If one stops claiming that temperatures have changed when the figures vary less than the accuracy, the resulting graph is much smoother, with a possible asymptote at 0.3C or 0.4C

All in all there is little or no indication that we are experiencing unprecedentedly increasing temperatures. I am aware that 2007 has been forecast as “the warmest ever”, and it will be interesting to find out if the temperature stability of the past six years will be broken either upwards or downwards

And of course the most one can reasonably say is that “it’s too early to tell“. If only Mainstream Climatology would accept such a simple wisdom!!

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What about the 2,500 scientists working for the UN at the IPCC? Well, it is not my fault if they have decided to sell their science to politics. If hundreds of bureaucrats can have a saying on the interpretation of Climate Change data, so can anybody else

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What about other evidence of Climate Change such as melting glaciers? The basic tenet of the IPCC is that so-called Greenhouse Gases generated by human activity are responsible for increases in temperatures, and these in turn are changing the climate. So it does all depend indeed on temperatures first.

Somebody, someday will realize that Climate is made of more than just Temperature

What makes people lose their cool?

Nothing makes people lose their composure as much as Global Warming

It is now the turn of Phil Plait the Bad Astronomer, a very funny, knowledgeable, interesting blogger that in fact has posted an entry about the importance of critical thinking, and of being able to concentrate oneself on the things that matter, instead of the latest scare stories

 …only to follow it up with TWO entries about “global warming”, “it’s too late”, “Exxon Mobil is evil”

Let’s apply Phil’s critical thinking here. No one in the US has died of climate change, and yet we hear about it all the time. Sure, it’s a threat, but not nearly a big one as regular climate

Climate Change’s Toothless Circus

Thousands of delegates have been flown to giant air-conditioned conference and hotel rooms in Nairobi, plus journalists, TV crews, etc etc, all eating lots of food and drinking plenty of water (and more…), neither likely to have been mass-produced locally

And the most likely outcome is…the usual wishy-washy Climate Change rubbish

Is there anything to worry about the Climate Change circus? I am starting to think, there is not

Catastrophilia at the NYRB

The juxtaposition in the Nov 16 issue of the New York Review of Books, of Bill McKibben’s “How Close to Catastrophe?” with Garry Wills’ “A Country Ruled by Faith” is deeply telling of the fashionable status of catastrophism in a varied set of social and cultural strata, from evangelical right-wingers to climate-concerned scientists

Wills laments the influence on the White House of “premillennial lack of concern for the earth’s fate as Jesus’ coming nears” and the related support of the Iraq War as “a focal point of end-time events” (in the words of evangelical writer Tim LaHaye)

For his part, McKibben may not expecting “Jesus’ coming” any time soon, but, ironically, he is really onto big thoughts about “end-time events“: perhaps of a climatic rather than theological variety; “scientific” rather than faith-based

Still, the language used by McKibben is remarkably similar to any Millennial cult’s

We are repeatedly lead towards believing in James Lovelock’s dire predictions for Earth to become a red desert. Ice is melting faster, and if we don’t do something by 2015, we will find ourselves crossing “a threshold” and creating “a different planet

Lest the reader misses any of the points, McKibben writes with conviction that “a wave large enough to break civilization is forming

Is that the same person that ends the article by suggesting that what “we need most badly is the technology of community—the knowledge about how to cooperate to get things done“?

One only wishes McKibben would practice as he preaches, and stop using the language of fear, to substitute it with a deeper appreciation and respect, also for the community of his readers

ps There is one factual error. McKibben writes about a “homeostasis” that somehow has managed to keep the planet’s “temperature, at a relatively stable level“. What stable temperatures? Global temperatures have been swinging widely for billions of years, and just a few thousand years ago ice sheets were covering plenty of the Northern Emisphere