Updated 12th April 2008 (see 'the Big Melt' below)
1 Channel 4 Documentary
2 The Big Melt
3 US Sabotages Bali
The global warming denial industry is alive and well, thanks to generous sponsorship from vested interests in the fossil fuel sector. In particular, Exxon have secretly funded dozens if not hundreds of 'scientific' groups and 'environmental' think-tanks, though strangely enough the same names keep cropping up in the lists of members and associates. Many of these groups have close links to the Project for the New American Century, an influential organisation dedicated to maintaining US military and economic global dominance.
All this has been well documented by Greenpeace. As recently as February 2007, Exxon were offering funding for scientists who would publicly contradict the findings of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).All this is very disturbing and raises the question of whether organisations which deliberately set out to delay the implementation of measures to combat the effects of climate change should be held accountable for energy crimes? Given that tens or even hundreds of millions of people will be very adversely affected by the global warming, these crimes should be viewed as being on a par with genocide.
Channel 4 Documentary
In Ireland and the UK, many television viwers will have seen last year's C4 documentary, the Great Global Warming Swindle, which attempted to portray the findings of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as "lies". The director of the program, Martin Durkan, is perhaps best known for his 1997 three part series, Against Nature, which attracted widespread condemnation for comparing environmentalists to Nazis. (See George Monbiot, 'The Revolution Has Been Televised,' The Guardian, December 18, 1997;
Several interviewees who appeared in the film felt they had been misled about the programme-maker's agenda. Responding to complaints, the Independent Television Commission (ITC) found that the editing of interviews with four contributors had "distorted or misrepresented their known views".
In addition, the ITC found: "The interviewees had also been misled as to the content and purpose of the programmes when they agreed to take part." (Paul McCann, 'Channel 4 told to apologise to Greens,' The Independent, April 2, 1998) Ten years on, it appears that history may have repeated itself. The following is an extract of a letter sent by the makers of the Great Global Warming Swindle, Wag TV, to Professor Carl Wunsch, a leading expert on ocean circulation and climate who subsequently appeared in thefilm:
"The aim of the film is to examine critically the notion that recent global warming is primarily caused by industrial emissions of CO2. It explores the scientific evidence which jars with this hypothesis and explores alternative theories such as solar induced climate change. Given the seemingly inconclusive nature of the evidence, it examines the background to the apparent consensus on this issue, and highlights the dangers involved, especially to developing nations, of policies aimed at limiting industrial growth."http://ocean.mit.edu/~cwunsch/papersonline/channel4response
Wunsch comments: "I am angry because they completely misrepresented me. My views were distorted by the context in which they placed them. I was misled as to what it was going to be about. I was told about six months ago that this was to be a programme about how complicated it is to understand what is going on. If they had told me even the title of the programme, I would have absolutely refused to be on it. I am the one who has been swindled."
(Geoffrey Lean, 'Climate change: An inconvenient truth... for C4,' The Independent, March 11, 2007;
Durkin's film presented viewers with an apparently devastating refutation of the "theory of global warming". Its message was that the world's climate scientists are guilty of the most fundamental error imaginable: increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is not the cause of higher temperature, as the experts claim. Quite the reverse: increasing atmospheric CO2 is itself the “result” of rising temperature.
As evidence for this contention, Durkin argued that global surface temperature dropped dramatically between 1945-1975, at a time when CO2 emissions were rapidly rising as a result of the postwar economic boom.
According to Durkin, if CO2 emissions were responsible for increasing temperature, then temperature should not have fallen between 1945-1975. Clearly, then, some factor other than CO2 emissions must have caused the subsequent global temperature rise.
But Real Climate, an internet site run by climate scientists, such as NASA's Dr Gavin Schmidt and Dr William Connelley of the British Antarctic Survey, describes Durkin's discussion of the 1945-75 period as "deeply deceptive". (Real Climate, March 9, 2007;
Durkin's "four decades of cooling", implying a relentless temperature drop over 40 years, is not an accurate description of the trend over this period. There was some cooling for “part” of this time but also some plateauing, with fluctuations up and down. But why did the temperature not simply rise in line with the post-war increase in greenhouse gas emissions?
In fact, as is well-known, the absence of a global rise in temperature between 1945-75 is explained by the release of large amounts of industrial pollutants, called sulphate aerosols, into the atmosphere. These particles have a braking effect on global warming, known as "global dimming". By shielding some of the incoming solar energy, sulphate aerosols mask the underlying warming effect generated by rising levels of CO2. By the 1980s, however, stronger warming had exceeded this masking effect and global temperature has since continued to rise. As Real Climate notes, by failing to explain the science behind this phenomenon the programme makers were guilty of "lying to us by omission."
The film repeatedly gave the impression that mainstream science argues that CO2 is the “sole” driver of rising temperatures in the Earth's climate system. But this is not the case. Climate scientists are well aware that solar activity plays a role, though a minor one at present, as do long-term periodic changes in the Earth's orbit, known as Milankovitch cycles. (See:
The point is that there is a vast body of evidence that very strongly supports the hypothesis that greenhouse gas emissions, of which CO2 is the most important, are “primarily” responsible for “recent” global warming. The 4th and most recent scientific assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes:
"Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely [.i.e. probability greater than 90%] due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations." ('Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis,' Summary for Policymakers, IPCC, February 2007, page 10;
Much has been made of the 10% uncertainty by the global warming denial industry. This should be seen in the context of what happens if we do nothing to tackle global warming but wait another 5 or 10 years until the degree of certainty rises to 95 or even 98%. Even then, however, there will still be detractors.If there is a 90% chance our children will be hit by a truck if they play on a busy dual carriageway, would we still allow them to do so?
We then come to one of the film's most misleading arguments. Antarctic ice cores show that rises in levels of CO2 have lagged 800 years behind temperature rises at specific times in the geological past. This, argued Durkin, “proves” that CO2 cannot be responsible for global warming – instead global warming is responsible for increasing levels of CO2. But this was a huge howler. What Durkin's film failed to explain was that the 800-year lag happened at the end of ice ages which occur about every 100,000 years. (See:
Scientists believe that the end of an ice age is likely triggered when the amount of heat reaching the Earth rises as a result of a periodic of Geosciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, explains why the rise in CO2 initially lags behind the temperature rise: "The reason has to do with the fact that the warmings take about 5000 years to be complete. The lag is only 800 years. All that the lag shows is that CO2 did not cause the first 800 years of warming, out of the 5000 year trend." (Real Climate, 'What does the lag of CO2 behind temperature in ice cores tell us about global warming?', December 3, 2005;
The best current explanation for the lag of 800 years is that this is how long it takes for CO2, absorbed by the ocean in an earlier warm period, to be "flushed out" at the end of an ice age. Once that CO2 has been released into the atmosphere its heat-trapping properties as a greenhouse gas lead to even stronger warming: an example of positive feedback. (See Caillon et al., 'Timing of Atmospheric CO2 and Antarctic Temperature Changes Across Termination III,' Science, 14 March 2003: Vol. 299. no. 5613, pp. 1728 - 1731)
Professor Severinghaus summarises: "In other words, CO2 does not initiate the warmings, but acts as anamplifier once they are underway." Durkin's analysis, then, was way off the mark.
The film's claim that solar activity might account for recent warming is also without credibility. In September 2006, the Times reported the latest findings from researchers writing in the top journal, Nature: "Scientists have examined various proxies of solar energy output over the past 1,000 years and have found no evidence that they are correlated with today's rising temperatures. Satellite observations over the past 30 years have also turned up nothing. 'The solar contribution to warming... is negligible,' the researchers wrote in the journal Nature." (Anjana Ahuja, 'It's hot, but don't blame the Sun,' The Times, September 25, 2006)
The film's other scientific claims can be similarly dismissed. Carl Wunsch - who, as discussed, appeared in the film - comments: "What we now have is an out-and-out propaganda piece, in which there is not even a gesture toward balance or explanation of why many of the extended inferences drawn in the film are not widely accepted by the scientific community. There are so many examples, it's hard to know where to begin, so I will cite only one: a speaker asserts, as is true, that carbon dioxide is only a small fraction of the atmospheric mass. The viewer is left to infer that means it couldn't really matter. But even a beginning meteorology student could tell you that the relative masses of gases are irrelevant to their effects on radiative balance. A director not intending to produce pure propaganda would have tried to eliminate that piece of disinformation."
For further help in understanding the weakness of the film's claims, see the following resources:
Real Climate, 'Swindled',
Campaign Against Climate Change, including a rebuttal to the film by Sir John Houghton, who chairs the Scientific Assessment Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:
Royal Society: Facts and fictions about climate change:
In his letter of complaint to the film-makers cited above, Carl Wunsch writes: "I have some experience in dealing with TV and print reporters and do understand something of the ways in which one can be misquoted, quoted out of context, or otherwise misinterpreted. Some of that is inevitable in the press of time or space or in discussions of complicated issues. Never before, however, have I had an experience like this one. My appearance in the 'Global Warming Swindle' is deeply embarrassing, and my professional reputation has been damaged. I was duped---an uncomfortable position in which to be. "At a minimum, I ask that the film should never be seen again publicly with my participation included. Channel 4 surely owes an apology to its viewers, and perhaps WAGTV owes something to Channel 4. I will be taking advice as to whether I should proceed to make some more formal protest."
Eight of the scientists in the film - John Christy, Paul Reiter, Richard Lindzen, Paul Driessen, Roy Spencer, Patrick Michaels, Fred Singer and Tim Ball - are linked to American neo-conservative and right-wing think-tanks, many of which have received tens of millions of dollars from Exxon. Greenpeace provides a fascinating online 'map' detailing how Exxon funds these climate sceptics. Go to:
In his book, Green Backlash, environmental journalist Andrew Rowell noted that Fred Singer has also attacked scientific and environmental stances on other green issues such as ozone, acid rain, automobile emissions and even whaling. Singer has worked for companies such as Exxon, Shell, Arco, Unocal and Sun.
According to the Environmental Research Foundation, a non-governmental organisation: "For years, Singer was a professor at the University of Virginia where he was funded by energy companies to pump out glossy pamphlets pooh-poohing climate change." (Quoted, Sharon Beder, Global Spin, Green Books, 1997, p.94)
Rowell wrote that a quarter of Patrick Michaels' research funding was reportedly received from companies such as Edison Electric Institute, the largest utility trade association in America. Michaels' magazine, World Climate Review, was funded by the Western Fuel Association and a video produced by him was funded by coal companies and distributed by the Denver Coal Club. (Rowell, Green Backlash, Routledge, 1996, p.143)
Both Singer and Michaels represented the fossil fuel lobby's Global Climate Coalition and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a leader in global warming scepticism. Journalist Ross Gelbspan noted that in May 1995, Richard Lindzen and Patrick Michaels were hired as expert witnesses to testify on behalf of Western Fuels Association, a $400 million consortium of coal suppliers and coal-fired utilities. Gelbspan said of Lindzen: "I don't know very many supporters of Mr Lindzen who are not in the pay of the fossil fuel lobby. Dr Lindzen himself, his research is publicly funded, but Dr Lindzen makes, as he told me, $2,500 a day consulting with fossil fuel interests, and that includes his consulting with OPEC, his consulting with the Australian coal industry, his consulting with the US coal industry and so forth.
That's not to say Dr Lindzen doesn't believe what he says, but it is to say that he stands in very sharp distinction to really just about virtually all of the climate scientists around the world." (Tony Jones, 'Journalist puts global warming sceptics under the spotlight,' Australian Broadcasting Corporation, March 7, 2005;
Journalist George Monbiot wrote of Philip Stott: "Professor Stott is a retired biogeographer. Like almost all the prominent sceptics he has never published a peer-reviewed paper on climate change. But he has made himself available to dismiss climatologists' peer-reviewed work as the 'lies' of ecofundamentalists." (Monbiot, 'Beware the fossil fools,' The Guardian, April 27, 2004;
Paul Driessen is a fellow at two right-wing think tanks in the US, which are part of the Wise Use movement. One of the think tanks is headed by Ron Arnold, who has spent the last twenty years attacking the environmental movement. His fellow director is a fundraiser for America's gun lobby. The list goes on...
By contrast, Greenpeace spokeswoman Mhairi Dunlop said her organisation had been interviewed by Durkin but none of the material had been included in the film: "They interviewed us but I guess what we said didn't fit in with the [story] they were peddling." (McCandless, op. cit)
Following the film's broadcast, Professor Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society - the government-sponsored academy of sciences for the United Kingdom - has said that many factors contribute to global warming but it is clear that emissions of "greenhouse gases," particularly CO2, are to blame for most of the current temperature rise. Rees added: "Those who promote fringe scientific views but ignore the weight of evidence are playing a dangerous game. They run the risk of diverting attention from what we can do to ensure the world's population has the best possible future." (Ibid)
On March 11 the Observer published a letter from a group of climate scientists responding to Durkin's film: "This programme misrepresented the state of scientific knowledge on global warming, claiming climate scientists are presenting lies. This is an outrageous statement... "We defend the right of people to be sceptical, but for C4 to imply that the thousands of scientists and published peer-reviewed papers, summarised in the recent international science assessment, are misguided or lying lacks scientific credibility and simply beggars belief." (Alan Thorpe, Natural Environment Research Council, Brian Hoskins, University of Reading, Jo Haigh, Imperial College London, Myles Allen, University of Oxford, Peter Cox, University of Exeter, Colin Prentice, QUEST Programme, letter to the Observer, Sunday March 11, 2007;
Viewed from one perspective, Channel 4 has done a huge public disservice in spreading absurd and mendacious arguments guaranteed to generate confusion. This at a time when a fragile momentum is building on the need to take urgent action on the very real threat of catastrophic climate change. But from another perspective it may well be that this film does for climate scepticism what Tony Blair's "dodgy dossiers" did for the pro-war movement ahead of the invasion of Iraq. Wildly distorted propaganda often does have a powerful initial impact. But stretched beyond a certain point of unreality, it also has a tendency to turn on, and bite, the propagandists.
Durkin's grandiose prediction that his film "will go down in history" will surely prove correct, although perhaps not for the reasons he imagined.
This report was compiled by medialens.org.
The Big Melt
According to a recent scientific study, Arctic sea ice is meling many times faster than the worst case scenario predicted by the IPCC report released earlier this year. The summer ice minimum area this year was 22 percent down on 2005, which in turn was the lowest ever recorded.
The findings of the study have been published in a document -the Big Melt- published in October 2007 by Carbon Equity. The report predicts that summer ice may be gone from the Arctic Ocean by 2013 and that this in turn will speed up the disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet.
The Big Melt reports that global carbon emissions are increasing even more rapidly than the most pessimistic of the IPCC scenarios. It also noted that there was a 54 percent probability that a doubling of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations
would result in a rise in global temperature greater than the
range predicted earlier by the IPCC (2-4.5 Celsius).
Among the dire consequences predicted by Carbon Equity was a rise in sea level of up to 5 meters by 2100. A rise in sea level of this magnitude would effect up to 1 billion people. Recent
satellite data shows that sea levels are already rising much faster than expected.
The report stated than in order to re-establish ice cap and sea ice stability, it would be necessary to reduce atmospheric
greenhouse gas concentrations to 320 ppme (parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent), well below current levels of about 430 ppme and even further below the targets set by the IPCC.
To download this document, right click on 'the Big Melt' below, and then click 'save link as':
The Big Melt
Bali: Hot air wins the day but the whole world loses
It is quite astonishing the the recent Bali conference on climate change can be heralded as an 'historic agreement' when actually, nothing has been agreed at all, except to have more negotiations. The EU entered these talks looking for a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25-40% by 2020. Environmental organisations had demanded a target of 3% reduction per annum, beginning immediately.
Many climate change scientists have stated very clearly that even reductions of this order are not going to prevent global temperatures rising at least another 2 degrees and causing catastrophic climate change by the end of the century. The hope was that an agreement to reduce emissions by a 25% or more by 2020 would still leave the door open for more radical reductions.
Some European countries, notable Germany, have already committed themselves to big reductions by 2020. Germany has stated it will reduce emissions by 40% in the next 13 years. This comes on top of a 15% reduction since 1990.
But instead of a firm global agreement to reduce emissions according to a specific timetable, the nations meeting in Bali have essentially agreed nothing at all. They have agreed to 'negotiate for the next two years' with a view to setting reduction targets in 2009 which will only begin to be implemented by 2013.
Essentially, the governments signing this 'historic agreement' have said, we will do nothing for another two years, and give ourselves the option of doing nothing for another four after that. Why does it take two years to agree to a specific reduction of emissions. What is it about the words 'emission reductions' that requires another two years of clarification?
Friends of the Earth have described the 'agreement' as a 'suicide pact'.
Kevin Anderson, a global warming expert at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research - one of the World's most respected climate change research organisations - warned that the new agreement would struggle to constrain rising temperatures.
"The changes that we're seeing in the science with the increases in carbon feedbacks, the melting of the polar ice and the early collapse of natural sinks mean that we have to make radical progress very soon," he said.
"It is simply not responsible for the US and other industrialised nations not to sign themselves up to deep cuts in the short to medium term. Emissions cannot be allowed to rise as quickly as they are for much longer, and certainly not until 2020 as this agreement suggests."
Greenpeace were reported in the Guardian as saying that the agreement had been stripped of the emission reduction targets that humanity needs.
"The Bush administration has unscrupulously taken a monkey wrench to the level of action on climate change that the science demands," said Gerd Leipold, executive director of Greenpeace International.
"They've relegated the science to a footnote."
Greenpeace said it remains confident that mounting public pressure on every continent will force governments over the next two years to agree "inevitable" deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
The group criticised the US's strategy, saying the Bush administration was "shamed" by the firm resolve of the developing countries China, India, Brazil and South Africa, who came to Bali with concrete proposals.
Nelson Muffuh, a Christian Aid senior climate change policy analyst, said: "For most of the conference, the US delegation in particular proved a major obstacle to progress.
"They appeared to operate a wrecking policy, as though determined to derail the whole process.
"A number of emerging economies put creative, flexible plans on the table, but will have little incentive to negotiate further until the industrialised world agrees deeper cuts.
"Climate change is already having a devastating impact on the lives of some of the world's poorest communities through drought and flooding."
He said the lack of clear targets in the road map leaves them exposed to further catastrophe.
"We were expecting a road map, and we've got one," said Mr Muffuh. "But it lacks signposts and there is no agreed destination." (Guardian on-line 15 December)
There is a very small window of opportunity for decisive action on global warming, and this window has now been partially closed by the failure of Bali.
Biofuel Fantasy Exposed as a lot of Hot Air
In Issue 2 of Sustainability magazine we forecast that the EU would NEVER produce the equivalent of 10% of its current transport fuel requirements from biofuels , no matter how long it had to succeed at this task. EU governments - Ireland's included - meanwhile had been talking about biofuels achieving a 10% penetration of the transport fuel market by 2020 as if it were a foregone conclusion. We are sorry now we didn't make a small wager at the local bookies.
According to a report in the Guardian on 14th January the EU is now re-examining its policy on biofuels. The European commission's environment minister, Stavros Dimas, admitted that the EU did not foresee the problems that would be raised by its policy of getting 10% of Europe's road fuels from plants by 2020. The only surprise about this is that it took the EU so long to realise the impossiblity of reaching its stated biofuel targets.
While the environmental impact of biofuel production has been cited as the main reason for this more enlightened thinking - in some cases producing biofuels in tropical countries on land formerly rainforest could actually add to global greenhouse gas emissions - this conveniently overlooks the fact that the EU originally intended to produce most of the 10% from crops grown on EU soils. It illustrates only too well the naive thinking behind biofuel production .. that foods crops could be sacrificed, genetically modified crops would drastically increase yields and that unlimited supplies of [fossil fuel derived] fertilizers would be available indefinately. No disrespect intended to second level students, but this is the sort of science fantasy thinking one might expect to find in a junior certificate (16 year age group) exam essay but is hardly worthy of an international strategy for 500 million people.
Meanwhile, a 90 page report published by the Royal Society : Sustainable Biofuels: Prospects and Challenges, has warned of the high environmental impact of biofuels. It points out that countries like the UK "will be very unlikely to achieve significant levels of fuel security by growing biofuels ...on [their] own land" and there "will always be a requirment to import crops and residues cultivated elsewhere in the world".
This problem will not be faced only by the countries with high population densities. Even in a country like the Republic of Ireland, with less than one quarter the population density of the UK, indigenous biofuels will never contribute more than a few percent of 'business as usual' transport fuel requirements.