Benoît Rittaud: History of a Climate Catastrophe

This is a presentation given by Benoît Rittaud at the recent climate conference in London. I’ve made a couple of corrections and condensed it slightly, with his permission.

I would like to tell you an incredible and very enlightening story. It is almost unknown, and also it is, of course, perfectly authentic. It is the story of a global illusion.

Towards the end of the century, several researchers observed a very puzzling phenomenon, so they tried to understand what was going on. They made careful observations, with the latest techniques, to provide strong foundations for their emerging theory.

And results followed. The initial observations were confirmed at a high level of confidence. Strongly supported by scientists from all parts of the world, the phenomenon and its consequences quickly seemed to be proven beyond any doubt.

This was an event of major impact: silently, a tragedy had begun, at a global scale, caused by dramatic climate change. Excessive warmth was generating droughts, lack of resources, and so on. No area on the planet would be safe.

The slow agony was probably irreversible. Among other things, the evolution of polar ice was regarded as the conclusive proof of the phenomenon, the canary in the coal mine.

So, was this world condemned to extinction, despite its prodigious technology? Obviously, nothing less than worldwide solidarity, together with huge efforts, would be necessary to save it. But maybe it was already too late…

All of this was a powerful argument to work for a better world, free of selfishness and injustice. As scientific research went on, newspapers all around the world reported its results. In the beginning of the new century, more and more people were aware of the work of scientists in the field. Dozens of books were written. Inspired scenario writers used the new theory to imagine scary end-of-the-world stories. A new culture was rising. New questions were asked. No one could remain indifferent.

Then, objections started to be raised. From the very beginning, some researchers were skeptical. But, quickly, any skepticism was regarded as a sin, since it might impede the momentum behind the progress of mankind. Few people even heard the names of such skeptical researchers. Since, as usual, the newspapers were more willing to report exciting announcements than skeptical arguments (apart from questioning the competence of those skeptics), the consensus appeared to be real for the vast majority of the people.

The consensus was strongly supported by an American, a former diplomat, who spent most of his life in successful conferences on the issue. He became a living symbol. Several scientists were with him. One of them is still known today for his use of dendrochronology to study past temperatures of the Earth.

Already heard that before? My apologies for wasting your time. Let me finish as briefly as possible.

Even if newspapers did not report it, skeptics had three major reasons to challenge the theory. First, it was a priori strange that so many and such precise results could be extracted from a object so difficult to investigate. Second, complementary atmospheric analysis were impossible to reconcile with the theory. Third, several analyses that seemed initially the best supports to the theory were nothing more than artifacts.

As time went on, more and more faults in the theory were discovered. All its arguments, from the simplest to the most subtle, appeared for what they were in reality: empty shells.
So… several years after the first announcements, the glorious story faded away. Some people never acknowledged that the skeptics were right, and the story finally ended fully a century after its beginning. The coup de grâce was given in July the 20th, 1976. At that date, the American spacecraft Viking I landed on Mars, definitely proving that no life ever arose on that planet.

So the story I am telling you is not the one you expected? Let me explain.

At the end of the nineteenth century, propitious astronomical configurations made especially easy the observation of Mars, allowing astronomers to map its cartography. A strange phenomenon was then reported: several straight lines seemed to appear all over the surface of the planet. These lines were too straight to be natural, so the idea arose that these “canals” were an indubitable sign of the existence of a living civilization on Mars. The amazing size of the canals was the proof that the Martian civilization was extremely advanced. The Suez and Panama canals, contemporary with the “canals of Mars”, were tiny in comparison.

The canals of Mars were not born from the imagination of some joker. Their discoverer was Giovanni Schiaparelli, a respected scientist, director of the Milan observatory. Thus, it was not surprising that many scientists decided to take these observations seriously.

But… why did the Martians built such enormous canals? The answer was given by Percival Lowell, who resigned his position as a diplomat to become an amateur astronomer. He built a top modern observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, to study in detail the canals of Mars.

His conclusions were dramatic: Martians had built their canals to preserve their planet from a massive drought, caused by global climate change. The combined efforts of all Martian civilizations were necessary to build those canals, which facilitated the transportation of water from the poles to irrigate the whole planet.

How fantastic this united Martian civilization must have been, providing us with a wonderful example of solidarity! Those who have seen Al Gore’s climate alarmist movie An Inconvenient Truth will easily recognize the very same sentiment, the only difference being the planet involved.

Lowell can hardly be regarded as a philanthropist with a passion for astronomy. His authoritarian behaviour is well-established. For example, he forced some of his employees to support his affirmation that canals were also present on the surface of Venus. One of his employees was Andrew Douglass, eventually fired because of his doubts. An amusing fact: Douglass was also the main founder of dendrochronology, which recently gave rise to the infamous “hockey stick chart”, long considered as a conclusive proof of man-made global warming on Earth.

Now, let’s be clear: the fact that there are no canals on Mars does not disprove the theory of anthropogenic global warming. This talk is nothing more than an analogy. It is not intended to prove anything. It is only meaning is to stimulate thinking.
Yes, scientists sometimes make mistakes. Yes, their personal beliefs can sometimes alter their views. And when science and morality are mixed up, when confusion appears between science and politics or philosophy of life, then science loses itself.

The world at the time of the discovery of the canals of Mars was fascinated by technology, engineering and, more generally, modernity, that is: the idea that, as Descartes said, we would some day become «masters and possessors of nature».

Now, we live in a world of postmodernity: we consider that we possess the world, but that we are unworthy of our power over it. It is this general philosophy of life, shared by so many intellectuals, that explains why the doubtful theory of anthropogenic global warming could gain so much credence. The idea that our planet is a living body, some kind of a goddess who demands repentence and sobriety, makes some climate alarmists (not all of them of course) examples of postmodern pseudoscientists.

As I see it, the climate affair is the newest avatar of what I call the exponential fear — the fear that humanity is growing exponentially fast — in the mathematic sense of the word — and that the world is fundamentally finite, so we will soon crash into our ultimate limits.

Let me quote James Hansen to illustrate my point. In 2007, he wrote in a peer-reviewed article that sea rise due to melting ice “was small until the past few years, but it is has (sic) at least doubled in the past decade and is now close to 1 mm/year (…). As a quantitative example, let us say that the ice sheet contribution is 1 cm for the decade 2005-15 and that it doubles each decade until the West Antarctic ice sheet is largely depleted. That time constant yields a sea level rise of the order of 5 m this century.”

So, in a sense, the climate fear is the newest avatar of the irrational exponential fear. It is not the first one. And it is probably not the last. Hence, we should be concerned by the fact that, sooner or later, it will be replaced by another one. Possibly the « Anthropocene ».

May we be able to prevent its emergence.
Thank you all.

Benoît Rittaud.

Benoît Rittaud is the author of:
La Peur exponentielle (Presses Universitaires de France, 2015);
Le Mythe climatique (Seuil, 2010);
Ils s’imaginaient sauver le monde – chroniques sceptiques de la COP21 (Books Editions 2016)

45 thoughts on “Benoît Rittaud: History of a Climate Catastrophe

  1. “As a quantitative example, let us say that the ice sheet contribution is 1 cm for the decade 2005-15 and that it doubles each decade…” (quoting James Hansen)

    James Hansen obtained a B.A. in Physics and Mathematics with highest distinction in 1963, an M.S. in Astronomy in 1965 and a Ph.D. in Physics, in 1967, all three degrees from the University of Iowa.

    I find it disturbing that a scientist should use such an example to support his views, extrapolating one decade’s observations (1996-2006) to the end of the century, doubling each decade, giving a factor of 2 to the power of 11 (2^11 = 2048).

    Hard to believe that a person of director rank trained in physics and mathematics could publish such a deceptive example. Yet this man was not only employed by the US government, but he was director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

    Little wonder that NASA’s Earth science budget is now at risk.

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  2. Here is the text of the Hansen paper that Benoit refers to, complete with typo.

    Scientific reticence and sea level rise

    Abstract:
    I suggest that a `scientific reticence’ is inhibiting the communication of a threat of a potentially large sea level rise. Delay is dangerous because of system inertias that could create a situation with future sea level changes out of our control. I argue for calling together a panel of scientific leaders to hear evidence and issue a prompt plain-written report on current understanding of the sea level change issue.

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  3. The analogy in the story is weak. The canals theory rested solely upon low resolution images from millions of miles away and a good imagination. The science of the climate relies on physics and a whole lot of research and measurement over decades.

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  4. LEN MARTINEZ
    “The canals theory rested solely upon low resolution images from millions of miles away and a good imagination.”

    Whereas the CAGW theory relies on low resolution images from the future and a complete lack of self-awareness.

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  5. TinyCO2, how does opinion come in to it? Is there any evidence beyond telescopic observations of Mars? As for climate science there is a large literature available dating back a century.

    Geoff, where does self awareness come into it? Given the appreciable research that has gone into determining what the result of carbon emissions will be, one just has to look at that dispassionately.

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  6. Pingback: Le texte de Londres | Mythes, Mancies & Mathématiques

  7. LEN MARTINEZ

    “the appreciable research that has gone into determining what the result of carbon emissions will be” has been going on for 30 or 130 years, depending who you listen to, we’ve been putting CO2 into the atmosphere since 1750, or 1950, and measuring global temperatures since 1860 or 1972, and “what the result of carbon emissions will be” still hasn’t manifested itself. It’s long-life deep-frozen chicken entrails all the way down. That’s what I mean by a lack of self-awareness.

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  8. “Given the appreciable research that has gone into determining what the result of carbon emissions will be, one just has to look at that dispassionately.”
    Right. IPCC reports contain predictions. The IPCC FAR predictions are old enough to allow a comparison with what happened. The predicted temperature trends are two or three times what they should have been if carbon dioxide was a major player. Serious revisions to the initial theory should be considered.

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  9. The Hansen paper that Benoît quotes, to which Paul Matthews links (comment at 12 Dec 16 10:56 am above) is well worth reading.

    In it Hansen talks about the “… threat of a potentially large sea level rise. Delay is dangerous … future sea level changes out of our control … future disasters…. disastrous disintegration…” and opines: “..it seemed to me, and I believe to most scientists, that the scientists preaching caution and downplaying the dangers of climate change fared better in receipt of research funding.”

    It’s about the dangers of `Scientific reticence’.

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  10. Geoff, global temperatures are rising at about 2C per century, in parts the rise is faster. There is plenty of evidence for the effect of CO2. What you seem to want to do is throw out the science in favour of chicken entrails (i.e. once you throw out the science that is one of your better remaining tools).

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  11. It’s the fools like Hansen who are “throwing out the science in favour of chicken entrails”, with ridiculous alarmist claims about sea level rise doubling every decade and imminent disaster. This is the “exponential fear” that Benoît Rittaud has written about.

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  12. Len, you think that the science is fine and we think it’s chicken entrails. A lot of people agree with us sceptics and a lot more are secretly unpersuaded and so act like they’re deniers. So who needs to up their game?

    As a CAGW beleiver I don’t expect you to get the right answer.

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  13. What is it you think people, beyond the small numbers of vocal sceptics, don’t believe and how do you know either what parts of climate science they do or don’t believe or what they understand of what you think they believe? And what significance does that have to whether the science is correct or not?

    You might as well be saying that “a lot of people agree with evolution sceptics (or vaccine sceptics, or name your persuasion) and a lot more are secretly unpersuaded” for all the scientific, moral or educational value that statement has.

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  14. TinyCO2. Whose science? Both consensus-believing and sceptical people have their own bits of science that they believe and bits they ignore or refute. Both claim the high ground and try to trash the position of their opponents. In normal science the situation would be resolved without much rancor, but too much is at stake with CAGW for this to happen, and both sides have dug so far in that it resembles trench warfare. This whole thread is a typical example of conflict on multiple fronts.

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  15. The evidence for what people believe is in what they do. It’s as simple as that Len. They are looking at the evidence of CO2 danger (as filtered down to the public) and the benefits of cheap fossil fuel and voting with their feet. Vaccine sceptics do likewise – but are often ‘persuaded’ when there is a local disease outbreak. Evolution sceptics are never tasked to prove their belief.

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  16. Alan Kendall, their own view of whatever science that has come their way. It always comes down to individual minds. I’ve always said that the main driver of public scepticism is the consensus output. When people go looking for what sceptics actually say, most of them are already confirmed sceptics.

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  17. A lot of people say that they believe in ghosts but rarely act as if they do. Similarly god botherers are often at odds with their stated belief. ‘Belief’ is a sorry condition that many people put on or take off like a hat. If their actions are different to their stated beliefs, it’s invariably social pressure that causes the divide. They say what they think they should say. ‘Being in denial’ is a much rarer condition than just lying to yourself and others about your real feelings.

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  18. Tiny CO2. My experience is different. Most first-year undergraduates had already been indoctrinated at school with the “orthodox” interpretation of CAGW. Some were died-in-the-wool tree-huggers, but most were supporters but not very well informed. They accepted CAGW because they had never been exposed to contrary evidence or argument. A few (the best) were often concerned because they had detected problems with what they had been told. When presented with evidence and argument used by sceptics many were appreciative. Some adopted a sceptical stance, but I suppose the greater majority didn’t. A few were antagonistic to anybody who challenged their beliefs.
    I don’t believe I ever knew a teenager student who arrived as a sceptic. Mature students were confirmed sceptics or warmists long before they arrived at university.

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  19. But at that age it doesn’t seem to cost them anything to believe, just the opposite because fitting into the green scheme is good for advancing in the education system. But do they give up on flying or consumerism? Do they plan to use public transport for the rest of their lives or do they dream of a fast car? Only when their own actions are called into question do they begin to shift uneasily in their green seats. It’s easy to believe at that age that CO2 is someone else’s fault. Grownups realise that fine political ideals cost THEM money. I love watching ATTP et all squirm when it’s suggested that they put their CO2 where their mouths are.

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  20. Personally I blame the Catholics for introducing the concept of being forgiven for your sins, just because you were penitent. God may forgive you but the Gaia doesn’t give a sh*t whether you’re sorry or not.

    There was a big drive for kids to nag parents to get behind the AGW bandwagon. Someone made a comment that their kid was on their case. I said that there was a simple solution – make the kid live by low CO2 rules. Turn the heating off in their room and give them a second hand woolly clothes instead. Feed them locally sourced, in season food, like lots of cabbage. Make them walk to school. Give them hand made toys without batteries or power cables. Stop taking them on foreign holidays and make them spend a miserable week in a Welsh caravan. In other words, treat them exactly how we were treated as kids. The rebellion would soon be over.

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  21. Tiny CO2. I think you are treating teenage students too much as a homogenous grouping, whereas in fact they are incredibly diverse. You cannot stereotype them – although some individual students do conform to other peoples’ stereotypes. It is true that the majority have not had sufficient time to resolve inconsistencies in their approach to life – so that, as you point out, green aspirations often do not fit with their lifestyles. Others, especially those who have had gap years in less developed countries, are much more mature and open to logical argument.
    Mature students and those who had gap year experience were always more susceptible to alternative explanations (not just upon climate), whereas the less mature students, in general, were less willing to entertain the new or the not settled. In particular they became upset when different interpretations were offered for the same data (which often happens in my subject area – geology). Such students hankered for school where scientific truth came out of their textbooks or their teachers’ mouths. They believed science is “settled”. Do those who think climate science is settled come from this cohort perhaps?

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  22. Invariably there are exceptions to the rule, but in cutting CO2 it has to be the norm not the outlier. I’m sure that some will go on to walk the walk, just as there are some who live by the most onerous demands of their religion. Some will assume that they are cutting CO2 but never examine their own impact in order to find out.

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  23. “The evidence for what people believe is in what they do.”.

    Only someone who has never knowingly done what they knew to be wrong (and thinks everyone else is the same) could entertain such a fantasy. I conclude that TinyCO2 is either a saint or a robot.

    As for suggesting a necessary link between accepting scientific opinion on anything and adjusting behaviour to match that opinion shows a distinct lack of awareness of the human condition. Hence, a robot is my best guess.

    And suggesting that personal action is appropriate to solving a problem whose characteristics are those of the tragedy of the commons shows a failure to understand the depth of the problem.

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  24. “Only someone who has never knowingly done what they knew to be wrong”

    How about doing the right thing SOME of the time? How many CO2 sins do you allow yourself if you care about AGW? What carbon footprint is ok for a non denier? Or do you think you’ve done your bit by whining at us for a few minutes every day? Come on. Put a figure on your piety. Sure, everybody does the wrong thing some of the time but those who do it regularly should avoid preaching to others.

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  25. TinyCO2, your concentration on personal action from those who accept the science of climate implies that you really don’t appreciate the scale of human emissions or of the task ahead in reducing them. Maybe you should read around about how thoroughly fossil fuels dominate our industry and society to get an idea of how difficult it will be.

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  26. Len. Do you really believe that anyone posting here is unaware of how much our societies are dependent on fossil fuels, not only for energy but also as feedstocks for the petrochemical industries? So dependent are we that it is fantasy thinking to believe that we will be reducing their use any time soon. The only remote possibility that something else might replace the energy use of fossil fuels is if electricity from thorium reactors can can compete for price.
    Despite protestations from politicians and scientists that have little understanding of raw politics, any real move to drastically reduce fossil fuel use (thereby increasing cost and reducing reliability) is doomed to failure. Politicians proposing such measures, when the results will markedly and adversely affect the voting population, will be thrown out on their ears. Humanity will use all of the available fossil fuels currently known and will continue to look for more.

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  27. Alan, how should I know how much readers know. But TinyCO2 gives the impression of not knowing – else why would he appear to think that someone doing the equivalent of pissing on a forest fire (that he denies exists) is going to help?

    The only remote possibility that something else might replace the energy use of fossil fuels is if electricity from thorium reactors can can compete for price.

    From what you have written, you appear to be a geologist. It is thus not clear to me that you are in a position to know enough about the Thorium (or any other) fuel cycle to make such a statement. Apologies if you are actually a nuclear physicist.

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  28. Alan has it right.

    Having worked in both the power industry and in a company that went from a famous profitable business to closure, purely on the effects of energy prices, I probably know far better that you Len what a near impossible task reducing CO2 would be. There are three possible options.

    1) A miracle new energy source is developed – nice but not likely in the next few decades and then there would be decades more as we roll it out.
    2) We go hell for leather for nuclear – too much opposition.
    3) We have less, do less, consume less and travel a lot less.

    Or you can keep on frittering money on useless renewables and whining at sceptics for objecting. It won’t reduce CO2 but you can feel superior without actually doing anything unpleasant.

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  29. Len. You appear to have commented upon numerous topics. It is thus not clear to me that you are in a position to know enough to comment on such a wide variety of subjects. Apologies if you are actually a polymath.

    I fail to understand why a geologist should not know about nuclear fuel cycles, especially one who was involved in nuclear waste disposal.

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  30. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/11/britain-facing-energy-crisis-could-could-see-families-pay-extra/

    Britain facing energy crisis that could see families pay extra to keep the lights on while neighbours ‘sit in the dark’

    That is a warning of how option 3 could be forced on people. They just make energy more and more expensive so that people have no option but have less. Is the reason why it doesn’t other you Len, because you think you’ll be one of the ones able to keep the lights on?

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  31. TinyCO2, if you possess such knowledge why do you appear to think that people who accept scientific opinion on climate should do the equivalent of pissing on a forest fire (that you deny exists) to put the fire out? It is illogical.

    Alan, you may know a little, or even a lot, about fuel cycles, but I very much doubt you are in a position to know that Thorium is the only remote possibility for replacing fossil fuels. Read Mackay’s book (http://www.inference.eng.cam.ac.uk/sustainable/book/tex/sewtha.pdf) to get some idea of the difficulties and possibilities.

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  32. Len, you’ve heard the phrase ‘many hands make light work’. It is entirely possible to cut CO2. I’m reliably informed that more than 50% believe in CAGW – so get on with it. Stop hoping someone else will solve your problem for you. Alternatively we’ll all say ‘no, YOU first’ and nothing will happen to CO2 levels. Why does the science matter if you can’t be arsed to do anything significant about it? Or are you one of those sly types who hopes some poor sods at the bottom of the heap won’t be able to afford fossil fuels at all and do the lion’s share of CO2 reduction? Even better if they’re a nasty denier eh?

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  33. Len I spent a decade discussing and arguing with an engineering colleague about energy. He taught a module upon renewable energy (in which I contributed elements on geothermal, nuclear waste disposal and nuclear safety) and I taught a complimentary module on fossil fuels (in which he contributed elements on clean coal technologies and power generation). We second marked exam papers of each of our modules. This meant that, over time, I became familiar with most aspects of energy generation and provision. So I can write with a fair degree of confidence that, today, only thorium reactors have the potential, on a long-term basis, to replace fossil fuels as cheap and abundant energy source. Unless something dramatic has happened in the past four years has happened, I stand by this opinion.

    I have lost count of the number of texts I have read/consulted that deal with renewable energy systems. So I respectfully decline your suggestion to consult yet another that will proselytize their potential.

    Your qualifications to question this statement/opinion are?

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  34. Discussion of energy policy is way off-topic. Benoît’s presentation is about the relevance of the history of science to current science and science-based policies. I accept that won’t interest everyone, but it seems to me important to widen discussion sometimes.

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  35. Sorry Geoff, but you did disappear for 2 days. Conversations naturally drift.

    “Now, we live in a world of postmodernity: we consider that we possess the world, but that we are unworthy of our power over it. It is this general philosophy of life, shared by so many intellectuals, that explains why the doubtful theory of anthropogenic global warming could gain so much credence. “

    No, it is that the theory is backed by 100 years of science and is probably among the most deeply researched topics in history. There is little doubt about AGW and most sceptics seem to accept this in theory at least. At least I thought that to be true, but with Will Janoschka on another thread disputing the central physics and you rejecting AGW, I’m seeing that this isn’t true. Maybe this is an emerging Trump effect – people reverting in a post-fact world to what they wanted to believe but were too restrained by facts to dare.

    BTW Aan, it is a bible, of sorts.

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  36. There is a deeper element to his analogy and that is ‘why does it happen’? Why did life on Mars become the truth that brooked no argument?

    It gained an intial boost because it was exciting and different. People wanted to believe that there was life out there. Similarly climate catastrophe is exciting. Even though it’s scary, mankind quite like a good scare and a fundamental part of climate belief is that it can be solved if only the dark forces of denial can be silenced.

    There would have been few deterrents in speculating about all things Martian, just as at the beginning there were few barriers to being a warmist. Science has that pioneering element. The pleasure of being the first into new territory. CAGW even has the bonus of being a super hero, saving the planet. What’s not to like?

    There are only two ways this issue will come back to Earth is a) the data becomes incontrovertable which could be decades away. Or b) everyone realises what a bloody expensive personal pain in the arse cutting CO2 will be. People like Len can maintain their cast iron trust in CAGW because it costs him nothing to do so. Climate alarmists delude themselves that ‘action’ is the preserve of governments and business. It’s not rocket science to realise that anything that costs governments and busines a lot of money means it will cost each and every one of us a lot of money. Perhaps those who claimed that Mars was occupied would have been much more cautious if they’d been liable for the cost of Viking I if they were wrong.

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  37. TinyCO2, a truth that brooked no argument? Do you even know that to be true?

    Also you keep conflating science and policy response as if you don’t believe the science because the options for handling it are so unpalatable. This seems to be back to front.

    My opinion for years has been that nothing substantial will be done to address emissions until it is too late. And that it will take a major event that badly hurts enough people in a rich country or India/China.

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  38. Len, I had several bookcases full of scientific “bibles”, long since given away. Texts tend to become outdated the moment they are published. I would imagine that those on energy decay faster than most. I would also bet many of them will clutter up second-hand book bins 100 days into Trump’s presidency.

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  39. Alan, Mackay’s book will last. The pdf (above) is free. It was written seemingly to dispel the wishful thinking about renewables to be found among greens. Most sceptics I have talked to seem to have read (or ar least skimmed) and appreciated it.

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  40. “You keep conflating science and policy response as if you don’t believe the science because the options for handling it are so unpalatable. This seems to be back to front.”

    Policy decisions are based on more than the science. Other factors are included, not least cost. If governments aren’t acting on climate science it’s because it isn’t persuasive enough. Because the costs are high, the credibility needs to be equally high. The determined support given by people like you is part of what stops it improving.

    When you say “that nothing substantial will be done to address emissions until it is too late. And that it will take a major event that badly hurts enough people in a rich country or India/China.” You are observing that people are not convinced by the current science and need better evidence to act.

    We know that science is not always right. What are the odds that climate science is 100% correct? Almost zero. How do we know what to trust or what to doubt? We certainly can’t expect the wider field to be cautious about endorsing new work because it refuses to admit any mistakes.

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  41. Len. Mackay’s book resembles a refocused textbook once used by the Open University. I will take pleasure in reading some sections in it. I looked up some topics with which I am most familiar and was not exactly impressed – geothermal energy identified as a renewable (when it is not), nuclear safety only given the most cursory (and largely statistical) of treatments (ignores the great advances in risk assessment techniques developed to assess nuclear safety) and as for the topic of nuclear waste, apart from determining its volume is not considered. Like most energy textbooks it spends inordinate amounts of time on energy technologies with only a small potential contribution.
    I note with approval that Mackay correctly predicts that only a small percentage of Britain’s renewable energy potential will be realized because of opposition to its installation by the public. I look forward to reading this material in more detail.

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  42. In the conclusion Benoît Rittaud says (my emphasis)

    So, in a sense, the climate fear is the newest avatar of the irrational exponential fear.

    The Hansen 2007 example of sea level rise was a direct example. There might be evidence of a doubling of ice melt in a decade, so this trend might continue. It turns out that this was a short-term blip. There was no such acceleration. A bit of understanding of the real world would tell be enough to undermine any projection that the West Antarctica ice sheet will dissolve rapidly due to global warming. If you look at average temperatures by month, they are all many degrees below freezing, so melting will be limited even with say a 5C average temperature rise. There is also a question why West Antarctica has much greater melting than East Antarctica despite being less than a fifth the size. It is increasingly evident that West Antarctica ice melt is due to volcanic activity below the ice.
    Extrapolating linearly well beyond a known range, when what is “known” is at best sophisticated guesswork and estimation, is unlikely produce accurate forecasts. But predicting that conditions will be fundamentally different on the basis of very limited knowledge of past history, is totally unscientific, unless you are prepared to build up a track record of short term predictions of an accuracy that can distinguish between a linear and the exponential trend. In terms of ice cap melt, global average temperature, or worsening hurricanes the short term data has fallen short of linear trends, let alone shown signs of acceleration that might indicate a linear trend.
    In the face of empirical reality disproving theory and belief, the climate alarmists have turned inwards to collective opinions about how the world ought to look. Facts are accepted/acknowledged or rejected/ignored on the basis of conformity to those collective and often banal opinions, whereas proper science tries to clearly formulate conjectures and confront them against data gathered as objectively as humanly possible.

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