We’ve discovered that we own an island. But dreams of independence and tax-havenry evaporate when we try to picnic there on Easter Sunday: we watch it submerge slowly beneath the incoming tide. It’s a barnacle-encrusted rock, about the size of a tennis court, just off the beach at Cambois, north of Blyth, which for some reason ended up belonging to my ancestor rather than the Crown. Now there’s a plan for a subsidy-fired biomass power station nearby that will burn wood (and money) while pretending to save the planet. The outlet pipes will go under our rock and we are due modest compensation. As usual, it’s us landowners who benefit from renewable energy while working people bear the cost: up the coast are the chimneys of the country’s largest aluminium smelter — killed, along with hundreds of jobs, by the government’s unilateral carbon-floor price in force from this week.
There were dead puffins on the beach, as there have been all along the east coast. This cold spring has hit them hard. Some puffin colonies have been doing badly in recent years, after booming in the 1990s, but contrary to the predictions of global warming, it’s not the more southerly colonies that have suffered most. The same is true of guillemots, kittiwakes and sandwich terns: northern colonies are declining.
It’s not just here that the cold has been relentless. Germany’s average temperature for March was below zero. Norwegian farmers cannot plant vegetables because the ground’s frozen three feet down. In America snow fell as far south as Oklahoma last week. It’s horrible for farmers. But in past centuries, bad weather like that of the past 12 months would kill. In the 1690s, two million French people starved because of bad harvests. I’ve never understood why people argue that globalisation makes for a more fragile system: the opposite is the case. Harvest failures can be regional, but never global, so world trade ensures that we have the insurance policy of access to somebody else’s bumper harvest.
Never has an undercover video sting delighted its victims more. A Greenpeace investigation has caught some Tory MPs scheming to save the countryside from wind farms and cut ordinary people's energy bills while Lib Dems, Guardian writers and Greenpeace activists defend subsidies for fat-cat capitalists and rich landowners with their snouts in the wind-farm trough. Said Tories will be inundated with fan mail.
Hot summers are invoked as support for climate alarmism; cold winters are dismissed as weather - Image - John S. Dykes
I argued last week that the way to combat confirmation bias—the tendency to behave like a defense attorney rather than a judge when assessing a theory in science—is to avoid monopoly. So long as there are competing scientific centers, some will prick the bubbles of theory reinforcement in which other scientists live.
For constructive critics, this is the problem with modern climate science. They don't think it's a conspiracy theory, but a monopoly that clings to one hypothesis (that carbon dioxide will cause dangerous global warming) and brooks less and less dissent. Again and again, climate skeptics are told they should respect the consensus, an admonition wholly against the tradition of science.
What it would take to persuade me that current climate policy makes sense
I have written about climate change and energy policy for more than 25 years. I have come to the conclusion that current energy and climate policy is probably more dangerous, both economically and ecologically, than climate change itself. This is not the same as arguing that climate has not changed or that mankind is not partly responsible. That the climate has changed because of man-made carbon dioxide I fully accept. What I do not accept is that the change is or will be damaging, or that current policy would prevent it.
For the benefit of supporters of climate change policy who feel frustrated by the reluctance of people like me to accept their assurances, here is what they would need to do to change my mind.
1. I need persuading that the urban heat island effect has been fully purged from the surface temperature record. Satellites are showing less warming than the surface thermometers, and there is evidence that local warming of growing cities, and poor siting of thermometers, is still contaminating the global record. I also need to be convinced that the adjustments made by those who compile the global temperature records are justified. Since 2008 alone, NASA has added about 0.1C of warming to the trend by unexplained “adjustments” to old records. It is not reassuring that one of the main surface temperature records is produced by an extremist prepared to get himself arrested (James Hansen).
SIR – In your special report on the Arctic (“The melting north”, June 16th) you said polar bears are “struggling” and it is “nonsense” that they are thriving. Anything other than a cursory reading of the data shows no such thing.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates, polar bear numbers are at least twice as high as in the 1960s. Of the eight populations said to be decreasing, the official data table and map produced by the Polar Bear Specialist Group shows that two are only “thought” or “believed” to be declining entirely due to hunting; four are in decline only according to computer models, despite some claims by “traditional ecological knowledge” (ie, locals) that they are thriving; one has more than doubled but is now said to be “currently declining” because of crowding; and one showed a real decline that has recently been reversed. Meanwhile, the four populations you described as unknown include the huge Barents Sea population, which has seen dramatic increase in sightings, damage to huts and devastation of barnacle goose colonies on the west coast of Svalbard, all prima facie evidence of “thriving”. There is a strong smell of “policy-based evidence making” here.
Since the 1970s the population of white whales around Svalbard has increased, as have walrus and barnacle geese numbers. Protection from hunting has had, and is likely to have, a much bigger impact on Arctic wildlife than climate trends.
This week probably saw the Arctic Ocean's sea ice reach its minimum extent for the year and begin to expand again, as it usually does in mid-September. Given that the retreat of Arctic ice has become a key piece of evidence for those who take a more alarmed view of global warming, it's newsworthy that 2012's melt was the greatest since records began in 1979, with sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere shrinking to about 1.3 million square miles, or about half the 1979-2008 average.
As this column has sometimes pointed out ways in which the effects of global warming are happening more slowly than predicted, it is fair to record that this rate of decline in Arctic sea ice is faster than many predicted. Although an entirely ice-free Arctic Ocean during at least one week a year is still several decades away at this rate, we are halfway there after just three decades.
Arctic melts on this scale have happened before, however. Svend Funder of the Danish Museum of Natural History and his colleagues recently studied the northern coast of Greenland, where the land-fast sea ice never breaks up, even in a year like this. Yet evidence of wave action in the past (indicating open waters) and waterlogged driftwood show that for 2,500 years in the "Holocene Optimum" period, when Arctic summer temperatures were two to four degrees Celsius warmer than today, the summer melt of the Arctic Ocean routinely left half as much ice as this year.
The Chicxulub impact and the dinosaur extinction coincided
My latest Mind and Matter column for the Wall Street Journal, published the day after a big asteroid missed the earth by 17,000 miles and a smaller one blew out windows in Russia, is about the huge one that extinguished the dinosaurs just over 66 million years ago:
The future has a richer past than the past did. By this I mean that one of the great benefits of modern science is that it enriches our knowledge of the past. Imagine how thrilled Charles Darwin would have been to learn this week that it's now all but certain that the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by an asteroid (much bigger than the one that missed us this week) slamming into Mexico about 66,038,000 years ago. In fact, I might send him an email to explain.
Hi, Charlie (if I may),
You know how you championed the cause of "uniformitarianism" in geology? For instance, that fossils of sea creatures on mountain tops weren't put there by big catastrophes, like Noah's flood, but by unimaginably slow and gradual changes of the same kind we see today acting over immensely long periods. Well, you were mostly right, but there's now an important exception.
A flurry of recent scientific papers has tried to measure the warmth of the “Medieval Warm Period” (MWP) of about 1,000 years ago. Scientists have long debated whether it was cooler or warmer than today, and whether the warmth was global or regional. The point for nonscientists: If recent warming has precedents, some might find it less alarming.
Until the late 1990s, researchers generally agreed that the MWP was warmer than today and that the “Little Ice Age” of 1500-1800 was colder. Then in 2001 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change adopted the “hockey stick” graph devised by Michael Mann at the University of Virginia and colleagues.
Using temperature indicators such as tree rings and lake sediments, the graph rewrote history by showing little warmth in the 11th century and little cold in the 17th, but a sharp spike in late-20th-century temperatures. That graph helped to persuade many people (such as me) that recent temperature rises were unprecedented in scale and speed in at least 1,400 years.
But critics of the graph pointed out that it used a statistical technique that overemphasized hockey-stick shaped data from unreliable indicators, such as tree rings in bristlecone pine trees and Scandinavian lake sediments influenced by 20th-century land-use changes. Four recent studies have now rehabilitated the MWP as a period of unusual warmth, though they disagree on whether it was as warm or warmer than today.
Evidence points to a further rise of just 1°C by 2100. The net effect on the planet may actually be beneficial..
Forget the Doha climate jamboree that ended earlier this month. The theological discussions in Qatar of the arcana of climate treaties are irrelevant. By far the most important debate about climate change is taking place among scientists, on the issue of climate sensitivity: How much warming will a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide actually produce? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has to pronounce its answer to this question in its Fifth Assessment Report next year.
The general public is not privy to the IPCC debate. But I have been speaking to somebody who understands the issues: Nic Lewis. A semiretired successful financier from Bath, England, with a strong mathematics and physics background, Mr. Lewis has made significant contributions to the subject of climate change.