Can anyone identify as a climate scientist?

A paper signed by 11,000 ‘scientists’ was not all that it seemed.

Rob Lyons

It’s not often that an opinion piece makes headlines around the world. But last week, a ‘viewpoint’ article in the science journal Bioscience did just that. ‘World scientists’ warning of a climate emergency’ featured the grandiose byline ‘William J Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M Newsome, Phoebe Barnard, William R Moomaw, and 11,258 scientist signatories from 153 countries’. While the intent may have been to give the impression that the scientific community had come together to sound the alarm, the article actually seems to demonstrate that there is no ‘climate emergency’ at all.

Much fun has been had at the expense of the authors – members of the self-proclaimed Alliance of World Scientists – and their puffed-up claims because it has been shown to be pretty easy to put fake names on the list, including ‘Micky Mouse’ (sic) from the ‘Micky Mouse Institute for the Blind, Namibia’. The headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, also makes a guest appearance. The list of signatories was withdrawn at one point to allow for a cull of obviously made-up names.

But such leg-pulling aside, the real problem was that the definition of ‘scientist’ was so broad as to be pretty much meaningless. This was not just a list of experienced academic researchers in climate science and its associated fields — it also included biologists, geographers, social scientists, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and others.

Of course, anyone should have the right to declare their concerns about climate change or any other issue. But the implication of the article, as amplified through the media coverage of it, is that these authors and signatories speak with authority. They are the experts, we are the numpties, therefore we should all just shut up and pay attention to every pearl of their wisdom. In truth, the vast majority of the signatories are not experts on the issue of climate change, never mind having the authority to tell the rest of us what we should do about it.

More strangely, the article seems to demonstrate the opposite of what the authors claim. If we are living in a ‘climate emergency’, what would that look like? Perhaps it would be a state in which living standards plummet, food supplies run short and we live a miserable existence, if we even survive at all. So what does the article tell us?

The article helpfully provides us with a myriad of different graphs – what the authors call ‘vital signs’ – showing the changes going on over the past four decades. Human population is shooting up (graph 1a), but birth rates have fallen sharply (graph 1b). That means that people are living longer lives than before. We’re farming more livestock (graph 1c), presumably because we’re eating more meat (graph 1d). World GDP is rising by 80.5 per cent each decade (graph 1e). This all sounds incredibly good to me, but the eco-worrying authors call these changes ‘profoundly troubling’.

Global forest cover is down, says graph 1f, but the authors also admit that: ‘Forest gain is not involved in the calculation of tree cover loss.’ They counted the trees lost, but not the ones gained. Data compiled by the World Bank suggests the total area of land covered by forest worldwide has fallen from 31.6 per cent in 1990 to 30.7 per cent in 2016 – a fall of less than one percentage point in 26 years. Even the authors of the Bioscience study have to admit that the rate of loss of the Amazon rainforest has fallen sharply since the early 2000s, though it has accelerated a little recently.

To summarise, we have a bit less forest than before and the decline of the Amazon rainforest, with its considerable biodiversity, has slowed down a lot. Not a perfect picture, but hardly worthy of being called an ‘emergency’.

Energy consumption has risen sharply, which is surely good news for poorer people, but not much of it is wind or solar power (graph 1h). The situation with air travel (graph 1i) is truly exciting, with the number of passengers carried by plane rising by over 64 per cent per decade. Wow! (Again, this is one of those ‘profoundly troubling’ trends, apparently.) Greenhouse-gas emissions are rising, of course, but that seems a price worth paying for wealthier and healthier lives – especially when global temperature has risen by just 0.183 degrees Celsius per decade over the past 40 years (graph 2d).

Other graphs show that there has been some melting of ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic, though simply putting this down to rising global temperatures is tricky. Ocean ‘acidity’ is increasing, but what that really means is that the oceans are slightly less alkaline than before. The change is not huge at all.

Overall, it is clear that the world is changing. It is different to the way it was before. This raises some problems. But in terms of human welfare, the changes of the past 40 years represent the greatest, fastest leap forward in history.

What really gives the game away is the authors’ mini-manifesto for what we should do about all of this: stop using so much energy, leave fossil fuels in the ground and transfer resources from the greedy developed world to the developing world. They also say we should restore ecosystems (even when they are constantly changing anyway), eat mostly plant-based foods, reorganise the economy away from GDP growth, and control population. This, they claim, ‘promises far greater human wellbeing than does business as usual’.

In truth, most of these ideas are reactionary, a way to ensure the continuation and exacerbation of poverty. Such claims are an insult to the wonderful and profound achievements of science and human ingenuity in increasing human knowledge and improving lives across the world. These so-called scientists should stop taking the name of science in vain.

Rob Lyons is science and technology director at the Academy of Ideas and a spiked columnist.

Picture by: Getty.

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Dodgy Geezer

6th December 2019 at 2:01 pm

“…..Greenhouse-gas emissions are rising, of course, but that seems a price worth paying…..”

Greenhouse-gas emissions are rising, of course, and that is an added bonus.

There. Fixed that for you.

All people concerned about CO2 levels should be asked what the ‘correct’ level is, and why. It should be noted that the pre-industrial levels of around 300ppm were associated with freezing climates and limited plant growth due to the shortage of their essential ‘breathing’ gas. Between 200 and 300ppm they are struggling to survive.

The level of 400 ppm today has resulted in greatly increased agricultural productivity. I would like to see it at 600ppm – though I recognise that human input, even if we tried very hard, would be pretty insignificant compared to the natural variations.

For those who would like to see it lower, I would point out that plants cannot tolerate much below 200ppm, and will die in these conditions. That would be ALL plants. The death of plants would rapidly result in the death of herbivores, and then the death of all life on this planet. Including us.

Michael Roberts

14th November 2019 at 7:36 pm

The authors and supporters of the Bioscience article don’t deserve to be taken seriously; Rob Lyons’s article provides Ripple et al with a good dose of ridicule.

We are told by Ripple et al that they are profoundly troubled by signs of sustained increases in human populations; population growth, it seems, is ‘among the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions’, in response to which ‘bold and drastic transformations regarding population policies’ are needed.

Without saying how humans drive increasing CO2 emissions or how CO2 causes climate change, Ripple et al and the so-called Alliance of World Scientists propose that ‘the world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced—within a framework that ensures social integrity’. This conclusion is arrived at without reference to the ‘correct’ number of humans (and, of course, who decides), the ideal CO2 content of the atmosphere (ditto) or the world’s ‘proper’ temperature (ditto again; but, please not the Alliance of World Scientists).

Lest we should be in any doubt, Ripple et al propose that a reduction in human numbers would be achieved gradually, if circumstances are ideal; otherwise, therefore, our population is to be stabilised and reduced by non-gradual means.

Should the allegedly imminent climate catastrophe (alleged) will not await the ideal, gradual reduction in the world’s human population, it seems clear that an expedited version will be imposed. Meanwhile, a framework that ensures social integrity will be introduced, which sounds like a policy to keep hoi polloi from doing anything rash that would disrupt the Ripple Troop’s plans for a climate utopia.

The ideal version of population stabilisation is outlined: fertility rates are to be lowered by the introduction of ‘proven and effective policies’. Population control policies promoted by a group that is unable to distinguish between a cartoon mouse, a fictional wizard and a World Scientist? — the mind boggles!

Another innovative thought promoted by Ripple et al and the Alliance of World Scientists, sounds less like a crime against humanity, but is equally sinister and inhuman:
‘ Most public discussions on climate change are based on global surface temperature only, an inadequate measure to capture the breadth of human activities and the real dangers stemming from a warming planet. Policymakers and the public now urgently need access to a set of indicators that convey the effects of human activities on GHG emissions and the consequent impacts on climate, our environment, and society. Building on prior work, we present a suite of graphical vital signs of climate change over the last 40 years for human activities that can affect GHG emissions and change the climate, as well as actual climatic impacts’.

Because I didn’t get that memo, I continue to believe that rising global surface temperature is still the reason that climate hysteria continues to be encouraged. Never mind, Ripple et al are proposing an expanded list of hysteria triggers, or, ‘a suite of graphical vital signs of climate change … for human activities that can … change the climate’. To avoid wasting time on the laborious task of linking cause (human activities) and effect (climate change) via the suite of vital signs, Ripple et al do the job in advance, noting, incidentally, that the targeted global human activities are mere indicators that are linked at least in part to climate change. This is puzzling, because such tenuous and partial links cannot seriously be proposed as the basis for ‘bold and drastic transformations regarding population policies’.

This failure to link cause and effect is consistent with the warmist obsession with CO2 emissions, which continue to increase while average global temperatures have remained stubbornly resistant to alleged human forcing for about 20 years. The solution seems to be that CO2 emissions are to be buried in the suite of vital signs!

steve moxon

14th November 2019 at 8:09 pm

Furthermore, the non-, indeed anti-scientific anthropogenic global warming ‘groupthink’ mob is ignorant also of demography: all demographers point to a massive reduction in global population likely beginning circa 2050, albeit they don’t understand the cause: it would seem to be biological (see my paper on this).

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