140. The Great Global Warming Swindle

A Channel 4 documentary to be broadcast in the UK this Thursday evening and entitled The Great Global Warming Swindle argues that global warming is real, but that it is caused by entirely natural cyclicity in solar insolation.

Predictably this sensationalist claim has already been seized upon by the media. It will doubtless be interpreted by many as proof of the hoary old chestnut that ‘the scientists are divided’ on global warming. Those same people will find easy and equally inaccurate confirmation that there is no need to muzzle their gas-guzzling SUVs or to take the slightest care of our energy resources.

Debate on such an important subject is surely healthy, but I wonder if this programme is really constructive since it appears to be built around little more than blithely damaging misrepresentations of scientific opinion (and fact).

It seems irresponsible that Channel 4 is determined to give peak airtime to this unfounded viewpoint when the arguments to be presented can be dismissed by any qualified scientist (or indeed the average A-level science student) within five minutes and with the aid of a couple of simple graphs.

Natural variation in global insolation does affect climate on a long-term and cyclical basis, and such changes may have been partly responsible for the cooling trend seen in the middle of the 20th Century. But of course this effect is merely superimposed upon (and is now more or less completely swamped by) the enormously larger anthropogenic effect on our climate of increased atmospheric CO2.

The blunt fact is that the sheer scale and rapidity of the global warming we are now experiencing is unparalleled in the history of this planet, and that global insolation is not the cause.

Sadly, many of our influential policy-makers and a majority of our journalists have a very limited background in or understanding of basic science, so that they are vulnerable to such misinformation presented from an apparently trustworthy source. As indeed is the wider public.

I’m not sure of the best way of addressing this – whether through letters or articles in the national press, or by writing to government or to Channel 4. But I’d be interested in any ideas about how to respond most effectively in this case.


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15 responses to “140. The Great Global Warming Swindle

  1. Conspiracy theories sell, the anti global warming crowd is sound more like the 911 conspiracy crowd every day. If big business is willing to destroy the earth in order to keep their profits up, it shouldn’t be a surprise they are willing to cash in on stuff like this. Someday maybe we will evolve into an intelligent species and real civilization will develop, but I’m not holding my breath. JMO –Doug

  2. “Debate on such an important subject is surely healthy, but I wonder if this programme is really constructive”

    So a debate in which only one side is allowed to speak. I’m not sure you’ve quite grasped the concept of free speech.

    “dismissed by any qualified scientist ” so Professor Singer or all of the 17,000 scientists who signed the Oregon petition are “unqualified”. Have you some evidence of this assertion, or is evidence something catastrophe enthusiasts prefer to steer clear of.

  3. Roads,

    I think the best thing you can do is present the science, so that doubters can be convinced. I’m not sure why you posted those graphs; clearly data only going back 150 years is completely meaningless and it doesn’t do anything to help the cause. As a one-time average A-level science student, when I see “blunt facts” being stated then I want to see some supporting data. Give us your best links, my friend!


  4. Thanks for that comment, Doug, and good to hear from you again, Dan.

    Yes, there is a sensationalist tendency in sections of the press which looks for conspiracies within any widely-accepted wisdom. My argument here is that this isn’t a case where information has been withheld by the establishment, but rather where widely available information simply has not been understood.

    There is indeed a temperature graph with a much longer time scale within my earlier post ‘Running low on fuel’. I’ll seek out some solar cyclicity data tomorrow to go with it.

    The longer timescale puts the scale of recent climate change into its rightful perspective, Dan, as you say, and most dramatically of all perhaps, it really highlights the severely steepening gradient or ‘the hockey stick’ within the temperature curves.

    That’s very alarming, since the ice core data on which the temperature curves are based don’t record any similarly rapid warming events. We have progressed some way into unknown territory already and that makes it harder to predict what the effects of the continuation of those steeply rising curves will be.

    ‘Positive feedbacks’ (self-reinforcing effects) from global warming are not yet well enough understood, but a big concern is that have the potential to make the prognosis a whole lot worse.

    Thus the melting of polar and glacier ice inevitably causes a reduction in the amount of solar radiation (heat) reflected back into space, and this in turn will result in more warming. Likewise, a rise in CO2 levels results in the absorption of more carbon dioxide by the oceans, but the more this process continues, the less able to absorb yet more CO2 that the oceans become.

    The nightmare scenario (which may already be happening) is that such feedbacks may eventually be sufficiently powerful to create a vicious circle resulting inexorably and unstoppably in further heating, whatever we do, until a catastrophic and unstoppable tipping point is reached. We have to hope that we can act before that point is reached

    If it hasn’t already passed us by.

    – Roads

  5. Dan,
    I’ve added in that temperature curve.

    The historic correlation between atmospheric CO2 concentration and temperature is very clear. The logical and inevitable upward continuation of the temperature curve following the recent and continuing dramatic rise in CO2 levels is the reason for the climate change we are currently living through on this planet.

    Now I’ll seek out some solar radiation data.

  6. It seems there will always be those crying “wolf” on this issue.

    For a more encouraging look at things, Elizabeth Kolbert — an excellent reporter and writer who has been specializing in global warming issues over the past few years — offers this current assesment of the changing U.S. political climate (no pun intended) in the New Yorker:


    If you do a search for “Kolbert” on the New Yorker web site, you’ll pull up a number of her in-depth and well-researched pieces on global warming.

  7. Many thanks as ever, BB, for the interesting and informative link.

    I’m short of time today for a rigorous and comprehensive analysis of the insolation data.

    Nevertheless, and although it’s a little dated now, a quick trawl picked up this article which provides a neutral and clear view.

  8. I’d like to belatedly highlight an earlier comment from Neil Craig above (he has left another on my post ‘October is a Summer Month’, too). Both of those comments were erroneously suspended by the comment spam software on this site. Welcome, Neil.

    Neil makes the point that the existence and causes of Global Warming have been consistently disputed by Fred Singer. Details of Prof. Singer’s contributions to the IPCC and Kyoto Protocol debates are provided in Jeremy Leggett’s 2001 book The Carbon War, and there is also an account of Professor Singer’s achievements in Wikipedia.

    As outlined in Wikipedia, critics have questioned the scientific objectivity of Singer’s team given the financial links widely reported between his research and ExxonMobil (references cited include this link).

    The position of Singer’s fellow climate change detractor Harlan Watson has likewise been examined in an interesting Washington Post article.

  9. If anybody who has, at any time, been paid by an organisation which has a position on warming, is to be excluded, then all those supporters who have ever worked for a government which supports the IPCC must also be excluded. This will make it a very small debate.

    In fact Professor Singer is an emeritus (ie retired) professor & thus not to be swayed by grants. It has been commented on that a very high proportion of those academics who are publicly sceptical are emeritus. The implication being that the balance of outside pressure is very heavily put in support of the catastrophists.

  10. Despite what Singer might conclude, the leading scientists in the field are convinced that there is a 90% chance humans are responsible for global warming.


    Now, the nature of science is not one where the majority opinion rules, but if you’re going to make governmental policy shouldn’t you be betting on the most likely outcome?

    I look at it like buying house insurance. Even though your house is not likely to burn down you still spend money on fire insurance. Similarly, even if humans aren’t causing global warming, there is a chance we are (experts put that at 90%) shouldn’t we be insuring ourselves against a tragedy?

    Nice post by the way.

  11. Many thanks, Perry, and very good to hear from you.

    That’s an interesting article from the New York Times, so thank you for the link.

    Although many journalists don’t strictly have the scientific background to present these issues effectively and objectively, the playing out of this story in the US and European media is absolutely critical in shaping opinions about the severity of the problems here, and greatly affects our chances of achieving progress before it is too late.

    Looking at the UK media’s current handling of environment issues, it’s very much a case of two steps forward and one step back.

    London’s Sunday Telegraph rather predictably used its editorial this week to cite the example of the Channel 4 programme as proof that the global warming conclusions of the IPCC (Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change) are overstated.

    At the same time, the opposition Conservative Party in the UK (the political right and the constituency for which the Sunday Telegraph would most traditionally speak), through its young leader, David Cameron (see my post ‘A New England’) introduced a new policy committing any future Conservative government to introducing a controversial new ‘green’ tax on air travel.

    That is a radical proposal which hasn’t been introduced in other countries, so far, and it’s one which attracts mixed reactions amongst the electorate. We’ve all grown increasingly used to the convenience of low-cost air travel as well as the broadened horizons which it brings to us all.

    It’s enormously encouraging to see Cameron taking this line, since it does suggest that there may, after all, be a faint chance for the subject of global warming to transcend mere politicisation.

    There is a worrying tendency (or at least an expectation) for green agendas to appeal much more to the left than to the right.

    But we simply can’t afford for climate change to become a political issue in that sense.

    Capitalists and socialists alike have a joint responsibility towards maintaining the viability of our human habitat for future generations, and it is extremely gratifying to see David Cameron challenging his own party to recognise that fact.

  12. I seriously doubt if Mr Cameron’s position on warming has anything to do with the viability of the human habitat & everything to do with improving the viability of the Tory party. Consequently if the wheels are coming off this bandwagon I doubt he will stay around to put them back on.

  13. That’s what is so interesting here, Neil. Exactly because it was Cameron who proposed the green tax on air travel. That’s not easily identifiable as a populist policy, by any stretch of the imagination.

    The Conservative Party leadership look to be more determined to make progress on reducing carbon emissions than Labour, whose record has been good on making statements and setting targets on the environment but actually not half so good on doing much to meet them.

    Cameron’s commitment to encouraging investment in alternative energy technologies is on the record.

    That’s been a real missed opportunity since 1997.

    Alternative energy is an area which presents real economic growth potential for Britain, as well as the prospect of enhanced energy security for this country without the waste and safety disadvantages surrounding the nuclear industry.

    We’re making worthwhile progress here now, with energy for over 1 million people in the UK now coming from green sources.

    As a proportion, that figure still lags far behind Denmark and Spain, so that there is much more that we can very easily do.

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  15. Many thanks to fermi paradox for pointing to this analysis from The Independent of the flaws in Channel 4’s film.

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