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Discussion > The Moral and Intellectual Poverty of Climate Alarm

In my view, the alarm over CO2 and climate has not been raised by outstanding scientists, nor led and promoted by particularly impressive individuals. The climategate revelations have revealed many of the backroom boys as having both poor intellects and poor ethics. As have the various hockey-stick fiascos. The videos 'An Inconvenient Truth' and 'No Pressure' span the showmanship, sleight of hand, contempt for humanity, and gross irresponsibility of the publicists who have seen advantage in 'the cause'.

How then did we reach the sorry state we are in with regard to political and educational interventions in the name of 'climate change'? I think the possibility of using rising CO2 as a vehicle for attacking industry in general and 'the West' in particular was spotted by Maurice Strong and others in the Club of Rome, and they could also not have failed to notice the dramatic impact that prophets of doom bearing tablets made from computer model outputs had in the 1970s.

The basic mechanism of gentle warming by rising CO2 has been noted for over 100 years, and has until recently generally been seen as both speculative in realised details, and generally beneficial. This applied right into the late 1970s at least, as evidenced by the US government sponsored survey of expert opinion 'Climate Change to the Year 2000', published in the 1970s. The most extreme warming scenario there was not at all alarming other than predicting drought in the one country best equipped to cope with it, the USA. Most other places saw benefits, e.g. extended growing season, fewer monsoon failures, and more. Somehow, without any breakthrough in scientific knowledge that I am aware of, this was transformed into what some have called the greatest crisis we have ever faced. How come?

This began two generations ago, in 1972, when we were warned (by computer models developed at MIT) that we were doomed. We were supposed to be pretty much extinct by now, or at least miserable. We are neither. So, what went wrong?

That year begat "The Limits to Growth," a book from the Club of Rome, which called itself "a project on the predicament of mankind." It sold 12 million copies, staggered The New York Times ("one of the most important documents of our age") and argued that economic growth was doomed by intractable scarcities. Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish academic and "skeptical environmentalist," writing in Foreign Affairs, says it "helped send the world down a path of worrying obsessively about misguided remedies for minor problems while ignoring much greater concerns," such as poverty, which only economic growth can ameliorate.

From an article by George Will, behind a paywall here

Hat-tip Greenie Watch: (where a long extract can be found)

I think we have indeed been ‘worrying obsessively about misguided remedies for minor problems’ as far as rising CO2 levels are concerned.

In my opinion, these problems were elevated to global crisis level by the orchestrations of the IPCC and others. Only a handful of not particularly impressive scientists, geographers, and computer modellers were involved in the 'causes of climate change' corner as opposed to the thousands looking at effects, real or projected, of such change.

Lubos Motl has some harsh words about the physics side of things here: . He notes in his usual vivid style that the best physicists have never been drawn to meteorology nor climatology. Of course, there are excellent people to be found in those fields, often attracted to them from an early age by being fascinated by the sky. Let me just mention some whose surnames happen to begin with L. Lindzen is an example. The late Frank Ludlam is another. And of course the late Hubert Lamb came across both as a decent man, and a dedicated scholar of climate history. Lorenz was a fourth who produced deep insights. There are no doubt many more good men and women in science who would or do seem admirable to me in these areas, and many who, often from outside scientific endeavours, have appeared to help clarify what has been happening in particular instances. Continuing down the alphabet to the Ms, I think of McIntyre, McKitrick, Monckton, and Montford. But any such list is pernicious unless exhaustive and I do not have the knowledge for that.

I do wonder if my views are so blinkered by my horror at what has happened around climate, not least in some of the despicable materials directed at children, that I am failing to see the good in those who have promoted alarm around human impact involving CO2. There's a passage in Matthew (7:3) which comes to mind, even for an old atheist like me:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Am I way out of line? How do others see the 'climate movement'? Is there anything or anyone to admire in it?

Apr 6, 2013 at 5:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

JS - you are spot on.

So far as I can see, they are nearly all third/fourth raters. Phil Jones admitting he has to get someone to do a regression analysis for him using Excel. Jones admiring Mann as a statistical/computing genius.

The modelling using unvalidated models, or the belief that if a model can reproduce the past, it can predict the future.

The half-true explanations indication a partial understanding (at best) of the physics - "greenhouse gasses trap heat". "The back radiation warms the Earth".

The clumsily managed data, adjusted in undocumented ways, with the original data being "lost". The lack of concern of the urban effect. The lack of concern on monitoring stations sited near air con outlets, on tarmac, near runways.

The lack of falsifiable predicitions as tests of knowledge.

The way that new explanations are found when things don't pan out as forecast.

The recent Marcott fiasco provides confirmation of all that is wrong with climate science. The Met Office's trumpeting of the paper provided further confirmation.

For me, another symptom is the verbosity and impenetrability of nearly all climate science research papers. If you stick at it, you can make out what they are saying, but it is like swimming in treacle.

I said on another recent posting something like "it's guesswork dressed up to look like physics". To call climate science is a misuse of the word science.

Apr 6, 2013 at 7:11 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Excellent thread, JS.

Examine this, folks:

how was a young ignorant charlatan like Michael Mann able to soar from getting his PhD in 1998 to instant Rock Star status with MBH98 and MBH99, instant appointment to Lead Author for the IPCC's TAR etc.??

So very many scientists (and ppl in other fields) toil their whole lives without a glimmer of the instant status and eminence given to Michael Mann..... for what?

The details surely reflect the intellectual weaknesses of the field, the politicization of the IPCC and academe and the journals, and the overall low quality of climate scientists.

Only in such a setting could a young Michael Mann seem like such a prodigy of climate Alarm.

Apr 6, 2013 at 9:10 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

I'd say that we can see a number of things finding a common cause:

A dreamy, idealistic environmentalism from the 60s and 70s.


A big state, Animal Farm mentality,

Practical politicians discovering how tremendously convenient this thing was.

Money making opportunities; big scams, little scams, jobs.

A scare or craze. It was easy to sell to the public in the mid years of the last decade because the costs weren't obvious and then every attempt was made to disguise them.

Aspects of a religion.

The other thing I've noticed is that in the 60s, science was seen as a force for good and was approachable. Now it's seen as threatening and incomprehensible. There's a growing love affair with the irrational, the fanciful and the silly. Something else I'd add is aspects of a pseudo-science. Somebody claims in a book that there's such a thing as morphic resonance, so if you position a blunt razor blade in a pyramid it will be sharpened because the crystals align and the Ancient Egyptians..... Well hey wow. No one bothers to check. I did and it's bollox.

Increasingly, this thing infected the various establishments like a fungal mycelium.

The reason that no one in authority noticed it was based on dubious foundations, was that their critical faculties had been disarmed or they found it much more within their ends for it to be true. Now it's looking dodgy because the climate system isn't cooperating. Oh dear! Blag it out, slip quietly away, or find a new purpose for the machinery which has been constructed.

Apr 6, 2013 at 10:24 PM | Unregistered Commentercosmic


Mann was a seed which happened to land on particularly fertile ground. It was immensely convenient for him to have found the key and immensely inconvenient to have him shown up as a tosser.

I keep thinking of Lysenko.

Apr 6, 2013 at 10:30 PM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

John Shade, well done, you know the names of four scientists whose names being with L and four non-scientists whose names begin with M. Shame we didn't get your list of A-K and N-Z, it would have been illuminating, I'm sure. Maybe those are coming in a future instalment.

Are you way out of line? Well gee, what do think people here are going to say? But there are a dozen or more lines of research that come together as climate science and there are probably thousands of good, decent, honest, hard-working scientists working in those fields, people just like you who have never been involved in anything deceitful in their lives. They are just like the folks who toil in any other line of research or engineering, or music or arts or commerce for that matter. Is any one more admirable than any other?

Apr 7, 2013 at 3:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Thank you, John, for this excellent and thoughtful summary of the way we are (so to speak). Well, at least that's the view from here ;-)

In my opinion, these problems were elevated to global crisis level by the orchestrations of the IPCC and others. Only a handful of not particularly impressive scientists, geographers, and computer modellers were involved in the 'causes of climate change' corner as opposed to the thousands looking at effects, real or projected, of such change.

Bingo! Which reminds me, perhaps you might consider adding Laframboise to your L-list :-) But that aside ...

Let us not forget that the IPCC is a mere "child" of the many-tentacled (and more recently "elevated" in status) United Nations Environment Program (UNEP): a manufacturer and promulgator of scary stories since 1972.

What might also deserve "honourable mention" in your essay (IMHO) is the over-archingly insidious entrenchment (by the IPCC's "primary client", the UNFCCC) of the so-called "precautionary principle" (PP); notwithstanding the fact that PP is an obviously post-normal adaptation of Pascal's Wager, the latter being remarkably (in the current era of alarmism) rooted in a discussion of religious "belief" - in the conspicuous absence of, well, "evidence".

Without the invocation of the PP, is it likely that the unholy demon, human-generated CO2, could have so permeated so much propaganda for so many years? YMMV, but I don't think so.

The PP has been a "transformative" hook to enlist the support of the (otherwise) self-interested all-green-all-the-time NGOs which - in turn - has facilitated the participation of an unthinking, unquestioning, uncritical fast-asleep-at-the-switch press.

This PP paves the way for one damn scare after another, the latest two of which would seem to be the alleged latest and greatest threat-to-the-future-of-the-planet, "loss of biodiversity" - and the up and coming meaningless slogan of "planetary boundaries", the crossing of which Rubicon or Styx (take your pick!) will, of course, lead to an inevitable and inexorable future of doom and gloom.

It must be so, because, well, because a member of a UN Panel has said so (apparently with the NYT's Revkin's blessing):

"Human Life Dependent on ‘Planetary Boundaries’ That Should Not Be Crossed, Says Panellist in Second Committee Special Event".

Pielke Jr. has a discussion on "Planetary Boundaries" which he suggests might well be a "power grab". It's a must read, IMHO.

Apr 7, 2013 at 4:25 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

Thank you for all these comments, and esp. for the flattering remarks about the post! So far we all seem to be largely in agreement. This may not be the best place in the world to look for people who might have found anything or anyone admirable in the climate scaremongering 'community', but it is still a place to start.

Hilary, I'd put Laframboise in the A-list without the slightest hesitation. I did think of her and some other leading investigators I could name, but I was beginning to feel I was already taking the alphabet stuff a bit far, and that it might distract more than just me from other points! I think when the People's Encyclopaedia on Carbon Dioxide Driven Climate Alarmism is published, an A to Z of major contributors to the exposure and analysis of this particular madness of crowds could make a useful volume all by itself.

Apr 7, 2013 at 12:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade


I see this as being like hypochondria. An obsessive interest in health and a willingness to buy all sorts of expensive quack treatments which becomes an end in itself, and pradoxically, the victim could overlook a serious health problem.

The solutions such as windmills, carbon taxes and biofuels don't work and are a huge misdirection of resources.

If you don't accept the fundamental premise that human CO2 emissions are likly to cause catastrophe, how can it be justified, especially in view of the immense expense and misdirection of resources? Whatever reasons you can come up with, which are not self interest, how can it be right to push them with a dishonest scare?

Apr 7, 2013 at 2:24 PM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

But Europe spends €500 billion annually on oil imports. That is current expenditure, not investment. Imagine investing the same on windmills, solar panels and storage for a few years. It wouldn't take very long to become oil (and coal/gas) free.

Apr 7, 2013 at 6:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

BB - please can you do us a rough outline of the numbers to support your case?

Apr 8, 2013 at 12:05 AM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Let's see for oil. Fuel for aviation, road and rail transport, shipping and agriculture. Relatively little oil is used for heating or electricity generation. Base for petrochemicals, particularly plastics.

Windmills and solar panels are going to replace this how?

Gas is somewhat different, but the requirement for spinning reserve shows that windmills save no gas. Solar panels are a nonsense, in the UK anyway.

Has this got any bearing on "The Moral and Intellectual Poverty of Climate Alarm", say by way of an attempt to claim the alarm is justified, or is it merely a gambit to blow the thread off course?

Apr 8, 2013 at 12:42 AM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

Cosmic, my post was triggered by your: "The solutions such as windmills, carbon taxes and biofuels don't work and are a huge misdirection of resources.". If you can slag-off alternative energy without being off-topic, then I think I am justified in discussing it.

NBY, I think Desertec originally talked of €400 billion cost for supplying 15% of Europe's electricity requirements. And solar panel prices keep falling. So ten years investing at that sort of rate, not necessarily in the desert, should get us substantially off fossil fuels.

Apr 8, 2013 at 3:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket


Dismissing something that plainly doesn't work very well and certainly not to the standards required or hyped, and that huge amounts directed in such a direction is morally offensive, is not slagging it off.

If you seriously believe that renewables can replace oil in the applications I mentioned and that the scheme to have huge numbers of solar panels in North Africa even starts to be practical considering the engineering and political problems, then respectfully I suggest you are living in a dream world.

Apr 9, 2013 at 10:05 AM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

Your applications? Trials of non-fossil aviation fuel are and have been successfully carried out. If it works for aviation, it will work for shipping. Fertilizers etc can be produced without fossil fuels. You think these are game stoppers but they are just bumps in the path. Fossil fuels are dead in the long run. Engineering problems are what engineers are good for (but I said "not necessarily in the desert"). They don't sit back and say, "oh no, too difficult", they roll up their sleeves and get it done.

Apr 9, 2013 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Cosmic, I can see moral aspects of your (2:24PM) comment. Some have argued that no matter if the climate scare is misguided, the things it drives us to do (under their guidance of course) are nevertheless good for us. A variant of the ends justifying the means, but no cigar. Affordable energy in large quantities has been crucial for world development, and long may it continue as most of the world's poorest people - the great populations of India and China in particular - are now seeing the benefits as their governments relax their ideological straitjackets just enough to let some real progress in. Trying to nix their coal-fired hopes is immoral. Trying to diss our coal-fired achievements as part of indoctrinating our young is also. Adding to energy costs worldwide by foolish deployments of solar (e.g. in Germany!) and wind power (in Europe!, where we were the first to escape it thanks to coal and innovation) is also far from admirable. It serves to enrich the already wealthy who own the land and the companies by adding to costs of taxpayers and electricity consumers. There will be instances, for example remote communities benefiting from solar or wind power, and of course the yachting fraternity benefits from both, but overall I see nothing admirable in the wholesale imposition by legislation of avoidable increases in energy costs.

Apr 9, 2013 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade


I see solutions, to what's only arguably a problem, which are ineffective on the advertised terms, being paid for disproportionateley by the economically weak and the old, and being profited from by the well-off. It's worse than money wasted, it's put to counter-productive ends.

This 'product' is sold by wall to wall scaremongering propaganda and the payments inflicted by legislation and extracted by stealth.

To me, it's clearly wrong.

As for forcing us to do what we ought to be doing, it presupposes some wise, benevolent overseers with a better idea of what's good for us than we have ourselves. It's altogether a dangerous path, especially when sold under false pretences. Come to that, I don't see much evidence for wise, benevolent overseers; quite the opposite.

Apr 9, 2013 at 3:43 PM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

In the thread 'Beta Blockers' the climatists tried to make the point that they were somehow 'brave' to engage with sceptical voices. From their perspective we are 'scary'.

And the implication is that by being seen to talk to us, they risk their careers and/or their reputation within 'the community'.

What better indication could there be of the intellectual poverty of climatology as a field?

That they are so collectively unsure of their own work that they are frightened to discuss it with people who are not fully convinced of its worth?

A 'groupthink' that 'out there' is full of bad people funded by even worse 'bad corporations'. A bunch of people who are frightened of two-way conversations with their main stakeholders - Joe and Jenny Public.

I have seen this sort of behaviour before...inward looking, paranoid, frightened, closed. A 'circle the wagons' mentality. Any textbook on how religious cults survive and grow shows how these are the behaviours they try to induce in their followers. And how difficult it is to break away from the mentality. Judith Curry (no shrinking violet she!) has written well about the difficulties she faced when she first allowed herself to move a little away from mainstream climatism.

So maybe those who do engage (like Tamsin Edwards) do display a form of courage. But I think in reality it is not the courage of the engagers, but the intellectual timidity of the rest that is the hallmark of climatology. Weak people and weak scientists hiding behind their castle walls frightened to engage with the outside world.

And I mean no personal disrespect to him when I say that Prof. Betts - in person one of the mildest-mannered and self-effacing guys you could hope to meet - has more chutzpah in his little finger than a score of the rest put together. But I'm sure he'd agree that the bar is not set very high. The rest of his colleagues would do well to follow his example.

Apr 12, 2013 at 12:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

The extract below does not mention climate alarm but there is an overlap since so many NGOs seek to sing from the same hymn sheet on everything.

Note the intellectual poverty of the facile ‘few people's interest span both technology and aid policy’ as a dismissive remark about the difficulty being addressed. Yet 'aid policy' is often a harmful, although not to Oxfam which thrives on it, and a damaging part of world development efforts compared with trade, and technology is the key to industrial and agricultural progress.

A UK-based charity's struggle to recruit a technology policy advisor highlights a dearth of interest in technology among Western NGOs and funding agencies, insiders say.

Practical Action (PA), a charity that supports the use of technology to tackle poverty, is now re-advertising the senior policy and practice advisor role. The lack of interest in the post could be symptomatic of development organisations' dismissive attitudes to technology.

"Technology is not seen as pertinent to poverty reduction," says Astrid Walker Bourne, PA's policy director.
When NGOs talk about poverty reduction, she says, they focus on food, health or education. "People see health, but they don't see the fridge and the health centre that need energy. That's a technology," she says.

Duncan Green, strategic advisor for Oxfam GB, says that people within the NGO community "don't like talking about technology".

He is unsurprised that PA is having trouble finding the right person for the policy role as few people's interests span both technology and aid policy.


These people are not just ignorant, they are barriers to progress. These are the kind of people whose moral poverty allows them to jump on the climate alarm bandwagon despite the misery it has brought and will bring to the poorest of the poor.

Apr 22, 2013 at 5:37 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Lord Christopher Monckton recalls the days when universities were places where different views could be expressed in an environment of tolerance - but not any more.

Apr 22, 2013 at 8:49 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade


Have you read HSI?

Apr 23, 2013 at 1:12 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Health and Safety? No not my line.

Apr 24, 2013 at 1:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

When you think about the effects of global warming hysteria, you might think of higher electricity prices, not people being thrown off their land and having their homes burned down. But that is exactly what’s been happening in the East African country of Uganda, where a British company called New Forests has been seizing land to grow trees and then sell the so-called “carbon credits” for a profit that could reach nearly $2 million per year. According to reports published in the New York Times and Telegraph of London, New Forests is backed by the World Bank and has been using armed troops, with the government’s permission, to forcibly evict over 20,000 poor people from their homes. This certainly gives terrible new meaning to the concept of Green neo-colonialism.

Apr 25, 2013 at 11:11 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

If you pointed this item to the folk at the Met Office or UEA, I am sure they would be utterly unable to see a cause and effect relation between their work and the fate of poor Ugandans.

Apr 25, 2013 at 11:19 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Please let this not be another thread of 'renewable' energy discussion.

Apr 25, 2013 at 1:29 PM | Registered Commentershub