A Guide to Climate Change theory

The BBC now assert daily the climate change orthodoxy, using many of their news and documentary style programmes to press home their view of climate change. I find the more they do this, the more many members of the public take a different view. There is a danger of climate change fatigue setting in, given the endless repitition of the litany.

There are 3 central precepts in the orthodoxy:

1. The world is warming up
2. This is caused by the human element in CO2 production, which is increasing.
3. There has to be a substantial reduction in human CO2 production to save the planet.

As the BBC now tell us, 1 and 2 are facts established by the scientific community. All that remains is for debate and action to ensure 3 happens.

The public tends to take a different view. Many people tell me

1. They accept the world is now warming up.
2. They think governments and political parties go on about climate change because they see it as a good way to raise taxes, in order to spend the money on other things
3. They do not feel they can have any impact on the problem, given the huge increases in CO2 likely from China and India in the years ahead.

Ministers also seem to take a different view in practise from the view they express. The government would say it agreed with the BBC orthodoxy, yet they show by their own actions they do not really believe it is a serious problem. If they did they would stop jetting around the world so much themselves. They would get out of the Ministerial car more often. They would change the heating, lighting and control systems on public buildings and get on with the task of making large cuts in the huge energy bill the government itself pays. Daily I see evidence of enormous energy waste throughout Whitehall, and am one of the few people who ever bothers to highlight it, or to turn a light off where there is a switch that allows me to do so when leaving a room.

In practise there are several more possible view points than the 3 set out for us by the BBC and the political elite.

1. The world is warming up. Yes, but it was cooling down between 1940 and 1975 – so much so that many of the climate change experts then were predicting a new mini ice age from continued global cooling. There needs to be more explanation of what was going on in this earlier period.

2. This is caused by human CO2. Some people think it may be caused by the much more voluminous natural CO2 and other greenhouse gases, some by changing patterns in the sun’s output.

3. We must curb our carbon output to save the planet. Some think it would be easier and cheaper to adapt the planet to the possible harmful consequences. It would be possible to build flood barriers to protect main settlements, and to install proper water supplies in areas subject to drought or shortage.

There are also a number of other important disagreements about how to green the world.

1. Multilateralism or unilateralism. Should the UK anyway raise green taxes and impose green regulations, even if others are not? Unilateralists say we should, as a rich country we should give a lead. Multilateralists say that one country action will simply export energy intensive actions elsewhere, losing us jobs but not curbing total carbon output worldwide.

2. Curbing the car and plane, or taking action against the whole range or carbon generators? Some left wing politicians are just the old haters of flexible private transport and international travel who have repackaged their dislikes. They think carbon (and dirty diesel fumes) coming out of a train is fine, but out of a car is evil. They wish to target around 15% of carbon output, ignoring the bulk of it which comes from residential central heating, domestic appliances, commercial space heating, power generation and industrial process. They do not look at the full carbon account. With a train journey they ignore the carbon component of the journey getting to and from the station, and when recommending cleaner vehicles they ignore the carbon production from making the new vehicle.

3. Doing it by incentives or by taxes and controls? Many seem to think it is best to try to change human behaviour by taxing and regulating people more. Others think it better to offer incentives.

So come on BBC – there are some good debates to be had here. Not everyone who fails to agree with your 3 "facts" is foolish or immoral.

I myself do believe we need to curb our energy use, by adopting new technologies to save fuel and to generate electricity in greener ways. The biggest impact the UK could have would be to build a new generation of power stations urgently that produced less carbon and wastee less fossil fuel, and to export these technologies to the developing world. I also favour incentives to people and busiensses to curb energy use and be more fuel efficient. I do want the government to take a lead, and make significant reductions in the energy use of the public sector. I also want urgent action to strengthen our flood defences and to improve our water supply.


  1. Patrick
    November 15, 2007

    Green is no longer a colour but a religion. If you challenge the othordoxy you are a heretic and will be treated as such by the fundamentalists. Seeking to persuade a fundamentalist by way of reason is a futile watse of energy in itself.

    Most people are starting to tire of this religion a bit now and I’m sure that public opinion will trend towards the ‘OK let’s deal with the consequences’ side more than the ‘let’s go back to the stone age’ end of the market.

    The best way to undermine religious fundamentalists is to make them look ridiculous. Don’t argue with them just laugh at them.

  2. Brian Tomkinson
    November 15, 2007

    You put forward a thoughtful and reasonably argued case which I fear will fall on deaf ears, not least, regrettably, amongst members of your own party. Without the scare of what was once called global warming, now conveniently named climate change, the politicians will lose what they see as the opportunity to raise taxes without incurring public opprobrium. We now hear, in the language of your own party, expressions such as "good" taxes or taxes on "bad" things based on this propaganda. However, I do hope that you will not be deterred in your determination to have the facts properly stated and understood.

  3. marty
    November 15, 2007

    Keep up the good work John. The BBC have no right to assert that the subject is beyond debate. They needlessly worry ordinary people, who will start to believe, and teach their children, that they have to worry and fret all day long about every switch they use, and every mile they drive. But how can a contrary voice be heard above the BBC din?

  4. Serf
    November 15, 2007

    I was lucky enough to attend a talk by the head of the IPCC. I have to say, what he told us shocked me.

    I had been ready to hear the usual litany of the world is going to end, but was very plesantly surprised. He obviously believes that human caused climate change is a fact (or he would have to resign). When it comes to solutions however, he was very upbeat. The equivalent of less than $10 per barrel carbon tax would solve the problem.

    When you consider the orders of magnitude of this sum, that we already pay in the instance of Petrol / Diesel, this is not much. When you consider that such an approach, if taken by an economically rational government would be balanced by tax reductions elsewhere (income?) we are talking a costless solution (for society as a whole).

    What is immoral is not doubting what you are told, after all the Spanish Inquisition finished centuries ago, but rather Left Wing politicians revelling in environmental damage, because they can increase their power. If its really a problem, lets solve it in the cheapest way, not by taking choices out of the hands of what we used to call, "free born Englishmen".

  5. Stuart Fairney
    November 15, 2007

    JR this is as ever, a well considered post. I was not aware there was any practical distinction between CO2 produced by humans and naturally occuring CO2? Surely by definition both are molecules, if "O" level chemistry serves of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms in a covalent bond. If this is so, then the fact that humas produce only a tiny fraction of global CO2 tells us all we need to know about the need for humans to cut CO2 production?

  6. David Holland
    November 15, 2007

    The reality is that there is not an overwhelming consensus among scientists that climate change is the serious problem we are told. Just 18 scientists at most sat down to write the pivotal WGI Chapter 6 of the recent IPCC report which retained the conclusion from the 2001 report that it is warmer now than any time in a 1000 years. Only by sticking to the belief that the last 3 decades are exceptional can any credence be created for alarming forecasts. If as many believe this chapter is wrong the rest of the report is irrelevant. One of the chapter lead authors is revealed on the Internet as the scientist that emailed another in 1996 to say we must get rid of the medieval warm period

  7. Mike H
    November 15, 2007

    We may have to wait a long time before the BBC's reporting on this subject can genuinely be referred to as 'balanced'.

    Unfortunately the IPCC has undermined it's own arguments through excessive spinning regarding the supposed unanimity of the views of the contributors to the report. This does little to help the climate change cause.

    While the majority of the public may support the general principle of conservation of the world's finite and ever-dwindling resources, I think most of us are confused as to what we, as individuals, can really do towards solving the problem (that is, if it exists and if it's caused by something that we can actually control). Swapping light bulbs and not using the 'standby' button in the UK will make damn-all difference when put in the context of the growing energy needs of China and India.

  8. Julian King
    November 15, 2007

    "but it was cooling down between 1940 and 1975"

    People keep claiming this. More accurately a few scientists once said this. Hardly something to compare with the masses of scientists at the IPCC.

    "Some people think it may be caused by the much more voluminous natural CO2 and other greenhouse gases, some by changing patterns in the sun's output."

    Some people believe in fairies. The vast majority of climate scientists believe that the primary cause is greenhouse gases.

    "They do not feel they can have any impact on the problem, given the huge increases in CO2 likely from China and India in the years ahead."

    This at least is more reasonable. Polititians can have an effect by
    not spreading ill informed tripe and by proposing policies which can make a difference. Individuals can make a difference by actually taking the time to check the facts and then voting the honest polititians into power.

    Sticking our head in the sand and saying that it can't be true because it would be really awkward to deal with it won't help.

    You go on to talk about the failings of many current suggestions out there. Well done. How about you do something about it, since you are in a position of some modest amount of power, rather than just throwing stones at a random set of people, in this case the BBC seems to be helpful. The BBC keeps attempting to remove bias by letting the other side have its say, no matter how scientifically un-rigourous they are.

    Reply: You seem to misjudge the points I am making. I am making many positive suggesitons on how we can reduce our fossil fuel dependence – I did so again yesterday to the Chancellor. It is the government who have the power to do things, but they seem reluctant implying they do not really believe what they are saying about the seriousness of the CO2 problem.

  9. Bazman
    November 15, 2007

    It used to be the Greens who where seen as nutters and now it anyone who is not Green. All the evidence from the worlds most renowned scientists seems to point to climate change being linked to human carbon emissions.
    Is the right-wing going to bury its head in the sand like it does with the drug problem? No problem for you Huh! At least not directly!
    Can anyone argue against saving energy? Saving energy is saving resources making them cheaper, and must be seen this way.
    The problem is to see energy saving in the real world and not as a religion or a way to raise taxes.

    Reply: I am proposing energy saving, as my blog made clear.

  10. David Holland
    November 15, 2007

    If I may add to my earlier comment, there is a very simple common sense reason why we should all be very wary of the latest IPCC report. It lies in the logic of their argument. The Summary for Policymakers says on page 9, Palaeoclimatic information supports the interpretation that the warmth of the last half century is unusual in at least the previous 1,300 years.

  11. Dave Bartlett
    November 15, 2007

    Interesting article in The Register today.

    "Recent dramatic changes in the Arctic climate – melting sea ice, warmer ocean, green fields in place of icy wilderness, etc – might not all be directly related to global warming.
    The more clement Arctic climate of recent years could have been triggered by shorter term circulation changes in the oceans and atmosphere.

    According to a team of NASA scientists, decade-long variations in ocean circulation, known as the Arctic Oscillation, have an effect on the oceans' salinity. A very salty sea is heavier and circulates differently than a less salty one, the team says. This can affect the temperature of the water in the region and thus the local climate."

  12. John Gartside
    November 15, 2007

    I have seen or read practically nothing on Global Warming which convinces me that the author has a grasp of anything beyond elementary English vocabulary and syntax.

    Bob Carter, as his name implies, is a no nonsense sort of a chap and his scientific presentation is well worth the 37 minute time investment for those who had been frustrated in their desire to understand this issue before having their own opinion.

  13. Neil Craig
    November 15, 2007

    "1. The world is warming up" Depends on your time scale but the recent proof, by Stephen McIntyre, that the alarmists had got it wrong & that, at least in US territory, 1934 was warmer than 1988 (which in any case has long been accepted as warmer than all subsequent years) means that we do not face catastrophic warming & perhpas none at all.

    "2. This is caused by the human element in CO2 production, which is increasing." – the first part is unproven, particularly since only 3% of CO2 is manmade. It is however certainly the fact that CO2 is increasing. This makes plants grow faster but may have some negative effects to & does deserve study.

    "3. There has to be a substantial reduction in human CO2 production to save the planet." is unjustified by any evidence. Current temperatures are less than in the Medieval Warming Period & significantly less than the Late Roman warming. There are also a number of technological solutions which we could do now for far less than the

  14. schober
    November 15, 2007

    “1. The world is warming up
    2. This is caused by the human element in CO2 production, which is increasing.”

    it should be emphasised that these are merely hypotheses; they are not established fact. Indeed the supporting evidence is weak and there is a growing body of evidence contradicting these ideas. Why anyone wfould base economic policy on such tenuous propositions beggars belief. Unfortunately our leaders in the 3 main parties and in the eu have failed to do their due diligence, again!

  15. Adrian Windisch
    November 16, 2007

    The world looks for leadership, what we get is excuses for doing almost nothing. Excuses are; its not true(despite all the evidence), other countries are doing nothing (someone needs to make a start or nothing will happen) and the classic, its now too late to do anything so why bother!

    Despite the rhetoric under Labour, emissions have been going up. Because of Labour, people see green tax as just another stealth tax. It could be a way of using market forces to force efficiency.

    Its not rocket science, consider the carbon cost of an action as well as the financial one. Look up carbon calculators to work out your impact, then work to reduce it. No need to live in a cave; start by reducing waste and fly less.

  16. Keith Garrett
    November 16, 2007

    So the scientists tell us one thing. The BBC accepts this. Yes there are lots of viewpoints of people who don't study this. Virtually all of the scientists who do and who have submitted research for peer review agree with the BBC's views.

    I don't want the BBC to become some extended Any Answers type debate where we have uninformed people shouting at each other. I want informed debate and programming.

    You might say that they haven't educated the public enough about the causes, problems and solutions of climate change but they are not there to give equal voice to the people who disagree with the vast body of scientific knowledge that supports global climate change. To do so would be similar to bringing on the flat earth society each time you spoke to NASA.

  17. Neil Craig
    November 16, 2007

    My typing error – it was 1998 not 1988 which previously held the claim to being the "warmest year in the last 1000" before being proven cooler than 1934.

    Alarmists here seem to be retreating into their laager shouting "consensus". Firstly there is no scientific consensus as the Oregon petition of 17,000 scientists opposing warming catastrophism proves, though there certainly is a political & media one. Secondly science does not proceed by defering to authority, that is religion, it actively tries to pull apart theories, using evidence.

  18. Mike H
    November 16, 2007

    Having just watched Prof Bob Carter's lecture I have to say that I found his arguments very convincing.

    It is said that a group of five economists will give you at least six or seven different opinions as to what is likely to happen to the economy. Well, I guess the same must be true of climatologists.

    He certainly raises doubts about the validity of the current received wisdom on climate change, and places a major question mark over the stance being taken by the IPCC and our political leaders.

    I wonder how long it will be before we are all being exhorted to produce as much CO2 as possible in order to mitigate the effects of the coming ice-age.

    I was left thinking that the only thing we can be absolutely sure about is that the climate WILL change, possibly dramatically, in one direction or the other.

    Perhaps we should really be preparing ourselves for a world that will just be very different to what we are experiencing now.

    Prof Carter's lecture is on YouTube as four separate segments:-
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOLkze-9GcI http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vN06JSi-SW8 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCXDISLXTaY http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpQQGFZHSno

  19. mikestallard
    December 13, 2007

    The trouble is that basing anything on "a consensus of scientists" is impossible. Scientists don't work by consensus, they work by scientific experiment, hypotheses and sceptical doubts.
    I seem to remember a scientist called Galileo at one point…..

    Isn't Prof Carter simply fantastic!
    Thank you all for the websites – I've added them to my collection for bedtime reading.

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