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Climate change and other alarms

The Satanic Gases
Patrick J. Michaels & Robert C. Balling
Cato Institute, Washington DC, 2000

Adapt or Die: the Science, Politics and Economics of Climate Change
Edited by Kendra Okonski
Profile Books, London 2003

Challenging Environmental Mythology: Wrestling Zeus
Jack W. Dini
SciTech Publishing Inc, Raleigh NC 27613

The Satanic Gases I found a somewhat difficult but reassuring book, published in 2000, so presumably not too out of date. In the overview at the beginning, the authors state: “Assuming a constant sun, we find that planetary surface warming should average around 1.3 degrees Celsius in the next century,” with twice as much warming appearing in winter as in summer (p. 3, 210), with warming occurring most at night (p. 137). Other mitigating features are that the tropics warm least (p. 182) and the coldest air-masses are warming most (p. 91), both according to observations and to modelling. Also, as is already known, higher carbon dioxide levels greatly benefit plant growth (Ch. 10). Some of these features will also be found in the other two books reviewed here.

The authors set out, in Ch. 11, p. 191-198, how government funding has strengthened the alarmist consensus, though they point out that any scientific paper denying it that gets past the rigorous peer review has greater impact. This is the silver lining” (p. 197), but it seems rather thin and faint, with the political opposition wielding, at the time of writing, a big vice-presidential stick (by Gore, p. 198). The public perception of what has been happening is also distorted by claims that anything in the way of bad (even unusually cold) weather can be put down to global warming. Clinton and Gore are guilty in this respect, Gore especially, with some over-the-top quotations included here (p. 198) from his Earth in the Balance.

The El Nino phenomenon (the periodical change from cold to warm masses of water arriving off the South American coast) has distorted temperature records, and sometimes not been taken into account (Fig. 5.5, p. 82). It is not related to global warming, having been in existence, and recognized, as a periodic effect long before the rise in carbon dioxide. This did not stop it being dragged into the debate as a symptom of global warming, all the same (p. 47). The alarmist Newsweek cover of 22 Jan 1996 (p. 140) the authors find “disappointing, to say the least” (p. 147) and “infamous” (p. 174). Some scares can be refuted: there are fewer hurricanes, less drought and more rain than there used to be – and that indeed, is consistent with computer modelling (Ch. 7). Underlying all the controversy is the problem of devising computer simulations which match the known observations which themselves must be disentangled from “contaminants” such as urbanisation which tends to overgrow land-based weather stations. Michaels was accused (by Gummer, p. 202) of “using pseudo-science . . . to promote a particular and prejudiced view” after he had exposed a very blatant manipulation of a graph (Fig. 6.3, p. 98). Delegates from several nations opposed to signing an emissions treaty naturally seized on it as evidence for not needing to do so. I have confirmed that, as the author says, it also appeared in National Review of September 3rd 1996 on pp. 60-61.

For six predictions for the next fifty years see pp. 209-211:

  1. 1. The Kyoto protocols will make no difference to the climate
  2. 2. Carbon dioxide emissions will continue to increase
  3. 3. Scientists will confirm that although the functional form of the climate models is correct, the amount of warming is already dictated by nature.
  4. 4. The earth’s average surface temperature will warm 0.65°- 0.75&deg C by 2050.
  5. 5. As a result of increases in carbon dioxide alone, crop yields by 2050 will have risen by enough that the rise alone would feed one quarter of today’s world.
  6. 6. On a population-adjusted basis, temperature-related mortality will decline.

If the world’s temperature was going up (or going down) without any human agency being involved (as it has in the past), what would we do? Adapt or Die, as this collection of eleven essays, edited by Kendra Okonski, starkly states. Even although our addition of “greenhouse gases”, especially carbon dioxide, may be the cause of global warming, attempts to reverse the trend will be as useful as wearing a hair shirt to avert the plague. Certainly the hair shirt tendency is in full voice; I interrupted writing this review to listen to a bloke on the radio who had just published a book explaining that we will all have to have energy ration books and since a transatlantic flight will consume a year’s ration…

The hair shirt mentality pervades the environmental consensus that has spawned the Kyoto Protocol. Its rules exclude nuclear power as a substitute for fossil fuels – and this was before anyone thought of nuclear power stations as terrorist targets (p. 127, 183). And just to make the matter more clear, the target for the most crippling energy reductions was the United States – 40% by 2012. There is, however, no limit on greenhouse gas emissions for (along with a lot of others) either India or China, each with populations of around a billion and only at the start of their urbanization and industrial revolutions. If the one-off costs of Kyoto are US$344 – US$1,507 billion (a somewhat sloppy estimate, p. 95), it is disconcerting, to say the least, to find that calculations by its advocates suggest that by the end of the century the temperature would be only 0.15° Celsius less than if nothing had been done at all (p. 155, 212). Of course, this may simply mean that Kyoto is a mere gesture, to be followed by something much tougher. All the same, surely all that money could be spent in better ways?

Quite so. “Assessments of present-day and future impacts of human-induced climate change indicate that it is not now, nor is it likely to be in the foreseeable future (i.e., into the 2080s), as significant as other environmental and public health problems” (p. 72) concludes Indur M. Goklany, after surveying some of the factors we have to worry about because of climate change. It should be obvious, for instance, that to spend money on flood prevention (the estimate is $1bn per annum) would be cheaper than to try to reverse global warming in order to prevent a rise in sea level of 50cm. Similarly, funding agricultural research would almost certainly be more efficient in making up any deficit in crop production, apart from the fact that the rise in carbon dioxide would result in a natural increase anyway (as mentioned above).

Kyoto becomes even more unreal when it is realised how much of the world lives in “energy poverty” and will need conventional modern resources – coal, oil and gas – to replace “traditional” ones – wood, crop residues and dung. India at present uses about equal amounts of these two, modern and traditional, the latter the energy supply for 95% of the rural population, collected with effort and detrimental to both health and the environment. The country as a whole uses only about one-fifth of the energy per capita that the rest of the world does (and about 3.5% of what the US does). The notion, promoted by Greenpeace and The Body Shop (p. 98) that there is such a resource as “sustainable energy” that will close this enormous energy gap, is simply sheer fantasy. Further unreality is introduced with the concept of “carbon trading” between states with high and low emissions, complete with a bureaucratic nightmare of penalty enforcements.

Although “those with the power and the influence have decreed that global warming is occurring [and] its effects will be bad” (p. 119), the degree to which it is happening and what the bad effects are is very much a matter for debate. The report of the International Panel for Climate Change in 1991, stated that “between 1990 and 2100 global temperature might [note the word!] increase from 1.4 to 5.8° Celsius”, in other words, between something to welcome and something to worry about – perhaps. But then it concedes “the current observed rate of warming . . . is likely to lie in the range of 0.1 to 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade over the next few decades” (p. 62). Thus depending on how many “a few decades” are, it is not something that is going to affect people in the near future, who will rightly be reluctant to undergo austerity in the present to benefit those who will live in a future that is generally admitted to be beyond forecasting. There are some scary statistics (p. 159) – but they are on what the EU has in mind for us as early as 2010: a 57 and 59% increase in the price of natural gas and electricity respectively, with worse to follow by ten years later. This comes close to pure masochism, difficult to put across to any electorate.

The ill effects of global warming when looked squarely in the face, turn out to be more bearable than one might expect from all the fuss. Initial estimates of sea-level rise (in 1980) were 25ft. They are now about one foot (hence the possible need to protect against a rise half as much again, noted above). As to the overall world temperature, it is conceded that any rise will take place more in the winter than in the summer, more at night than during the day, as noted by Michaels and Balling. To put it another way, the world will get less cold, rather than more hot. This will almost certainly be a good thing for world mortality arises more from excess cold than excess heat. The increase in carbon dioxide (the source of supposed problem) is also a good thing, because plants can use a lot more than is in the atmosphere now, as we have already seen.

Something that comes in for occasional mention, though not alluded to in any of these three sources, is the possible abolition of the Gulf Stream which is responsible for keeping the climate of North West Europe (on the same latitude as Labrador) as warm as it is. The response of any expert I have heard seems to be that this is extremely unlikely, often given in a tone of voice suggesting disappointment. The Gulf Stream cools and sinks at the end of its journey, but if the polar ice was melting, it would be unable to do so and come to a halt. Fortunately, according to Jack W. Dini (p. 26) “The West Greenland Ice Sheet, the largest mass of polar ice in the Northern Hemisphere, has thickened by up to seven feet since 1980.” For those worried about Antarctica, “new evidence suggests the ice cap is actually thickening after 10,000 years of thinning.” Yet on the Radio 4 programme The Material World (20/5/04) two experts agreed that the “disaster movie” The Day After Tomorrow, though quite absurd, with its sudden imposition of an ice age over North America, might be beneficial in raising public consciousness on climate change. We have heard that kind of talk before: it may be exaggerated or untrue, but if it convinces people of our case…

A far-fetched reason given to prevent global warming is to keep tropical diseases from spreading into the Northern Hemisphere. Malaria in particular, an example of a “mosquito-borne disease… a prominent topic in this debate” (p. 22), is dealt with by Paul Reiter in the opening essay of Adapt or Die. He points out that it was, in fact, widespread in southern Europe even in the last century and in the north in the previous one. To encourage the idea that parasitic diseases could spread, invulnerable to medical science, to regions a few hundred miles north from locations where attempts to eradicate them have been at best half-hearted and inefficient, is merely the manipulation of alarmism.

Malaria is also one of the topics dealt with in Jack W. Dini’s Challenging Environmental Mythology, an attack on a broader front against environmentalist excesses. In a short section (Ch. 8, DDT: The Real Story, pp. 44-53) he exposes a real scandal, “one of the most horrific acts in history”, the DDT ban, beginning with Rachel Carson’s accusation in 1962, in her book Silent Spring, that it was a killer of birds, fishes and wildlife. She claimed incorrectly that the American robin was on the verge of extinction, while other birds almost extinct had arrived at that situation before DDT had come into use. Likewise the “eggshells were getting thinner” claim was nonsense; they were getting thinner before DDT and got thicker after. Nor is DDT resistant to breakdown in the environment nor are tests for it infallible: “false positives” were found in soil samples sealed up in 1911.

In 1972 a U.S. federal hearing lasting 7 months, hearing 150 experts, and generating a 2,000 page report, found that “DDT was not a carcinogenic, mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man; the use… does not have a deleterious effect on fish, estuarine organisms.” However, the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, William Ruckelhaus, banned it anyway, entirely for political reasons – i.e., public hysteria; DDT may have been the only insecticide most people had ever heard of. Because such hysteria was already worldwide and DDT taken out of use, malaria, which had been extirpated from the Northern Hemisphere by using it, made a big comeback in the rest of the world and is now believed to be killing a million people every year. For a dramatic example: in the early 1950s Sri Lanka suffered 12,000 deaths annually and 3 million cases. By 1963 there were only 17 cases and no deaths. The next year DDT was banned; five years later there were half a million cases (the number of deaths is not given).

In 32 succinct chapters in his book of only 207 pages (including the Index) Challenging Environmental Mythology, Jack W. Dini deals with approximately as many distinct myths, rather too many to even mention here, let alone give any account of. An omission is any discussion of, indeed any allusion to, Genetic Modification (GM), perhaps because it has not aroused in the US. the antagonism is has elsewhere. It is certainly a subject on which the facts need to be known, and the issues debated.

One myth about nuclear radiation has become establishment dogma: that no dose is too small to be harmless, the Linear No-Threshold Model. There is, in fact, considerable evidence that low doses significantly higher than background radiation may in fact be beneficial, an effect that has been called hormesis. Whereas, over the next 70 years, the conventional calculations forecast 10,000 excess cancer deaths from the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the dispersed radiation is low enough to suggest its hormesis effect will bring about 20,000 fewer deaths. The radioactive gas Radon, where present in houses, seems to reduce lung cancer rather than cause it. One implication of hormesis is that enormous sums of money are being spent in eliminating traces of radiation that might even be doing good – and the money could be spent to better purpose.

Chapter 18 should raise eyebrows: “One in a million is used to assess human health risks . . . It is difficult to imagine a criterion in wider use in the U.S.” Billions of dollars have been wasted in the US to attain this target in cleanups – taking no account, of course, of the possibility of hormesis raised in the previous paragraph. Compare the ridiculous sums spent in the U.S. with what could be spent in the Third World: what about a million dollars to provide rehydration kits to save the lives of the five million there who die from diarrhoea? The chapter on Global Warming is largely one of reassurance. On the fact that during the last century the average world temperature rose by only half a degree Celsius, Dini comments: “Most of the temperature rise occurred prior to 1940, but over 80% of the additional carbon dioxide entered the atmosphere after 1940.”

The scepticism displayed by this book is rarely found anywhere in the media; its controversial theses are not even mentioned, let alone challenged, debated or refuted. Nor are its less controversial features, such as the enormous costs of eliminating low risks, brought before the public either.

A minor irritation encountered while reading books of this kind is the ubiquity of acronyms. It is true that on their first appearance, the full name they represent is given, and if the book is being read methodically, chapter by chapter from start to finish, their meaning can be retained in the memory. However, on subsequent piecemeal consultation, the Index has to be referred to to refresh it. Running through that of Adapt or Die we have:


Would it add more than a page or two or very much to the cost to a book to print out the names in full, at least of the less familiar ones.

6 comments to Climate change and other alarms

  • A fascinating round-up of environmental nonsense, thanks Findlay. Now I will have some good ammunition when I am accosted by Greenpeace pushers at the Glastonbury Festival this year. (Last year I was asked why I refused to join Greenpeace and was only able to mumble vaguely about not being convinced on global warming and nuclear power being not all that bad…)

  • Joperd

    Do any of the books speculate on when nuclear fusion would be commercially available?

  • The Satanic Gasses was pretty good. What these books tend to ignore is also ignored by the enviros. The changing sun and the amounts of radiation / particles it spews out at various times is pretty massive and tends to change in very long cycles.

    Check out the pictures from the Soho satellite on NASA.gov or the ESA web site.

  • toolkien

    The authors set out, in Ch. 11, p. 191-198, how government funding has strengthened the alarmist consensus, though they point out that any scientific paper denying it that gets past the rigorous peer review has greater impact. This is the silver lining” (p. 197), but it seems rather thin and faint

    Pseudo-scientific myth, or Science with a capital “S”, pervades the US government. It has agencies and sub-departments devoted to such activities (NOAA, NASA, NIEHS, etc etc). They, of course, aren’t blatant, but any time spent on their sites leaves one with no doubt as to their positions. And it doesn’t stop there of course, these agencies and departments are firmly connected with research activities in (usually State run) institutions of higher learning. In effect it is a whole sub-culture, steeped in its myths, operating mostly on the public dime. It is every bit as religious as any ‘proper’ religion, and it makes me laugh when there is such a hue and cry for separation of church and State (and rightly so) but call it Science and it walks on by without a second glance. I am a firm believer that any science worth being called such will be developed and fostered through market forces. Cosmological Science should be funded like any other church, by private, voluntary, association.

    Also, it is those who cry most for separation of church and State who also moan grants and contracts with business as ‘corporate welfare’ but who don’t squeek a bit when it funds the grant based laviathan of agencies and college research ‘companies’. While I agree that transfer to corporations is fundementally wrong, as the market should prevail, it shows that ideology is the root of such attacks as they don’t have any issue whatsoever supporting private gain in the world of ‘publish or perish’, tenure, and department chairs that are up for grabs, not to mention it is how these folks provide a living for themselves.

  • R C Dean

    Why am I not surprised that state-funded science tends to reach conclusions that call for a larger and more intrusive state?

    Seriously, though, the whole green movement is merely an anti-materialist millenarian movement, heavily influenced by various cults of poverty and abstinence, that has seized on “green” philosophy as its current justification. There’s nothing scientific or rational about it, and it is no accident that its prescriptions all boil down to a more austere and materially limited lifestyle.

  • Findlay Dunachie


    No. The big thing about the future is WE DON’T KNOW. These books are not explicit about what Julian Simon (a pity he’s dead) always insisted on: the Human Resource is the greatest world asset, but we haven’t the foggiest idea what it will come up with.

    Remember: the great novelist/futurologist H. G. Wells, didn’t think there was much of future for 1. radio (when it was invented) or 2. (less forgivably), television. He did think there was a great future for Communism.