Category Archives: Science/Environment

A Case Study of Personal Harassment and Amplification of Nonsense by the Denialist PR Machine

A Case Study of Personal Harassment and Amplification of Nonsense by the Denialist PR Machine
, by John R. Mashey

Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) – the idea that recent temperature rises are substantially caused by humans is supported by a very strong scientific consensus. But for ideological or economic reasons some people are absolutely sure that it cannot be true, frequently attack it and are often called contrarians or denialists as a result. They try to manufacture doubt on the consensus among the public, not by doing good science, but by using PR techniques well-honed in fights over tobacco-disease linkage. These are amplified by widespread use of the Internet, which is at least as good at propagating nonsense as truth.

A recent, well-coordinated transatlantic attempt to attack the consensus included:
-A not-very-good anti-consensus paper written in the UK by an NHS King’s College endocrinologist, Mr Klaus-Martin Schulte, not obviously qualified for this task,
-of which much was posted by Viscount Christopher Monckton at a Washington, DC denialist website of Robert Ferguson, and publicized by Marc Morano of Senator James Inhofe’s staff.
-The non-story then propagated rapidly and pervasively through the blogosphere.
-This expanded further into personal harassment of a US researcher, Naomi Oreskes

The Scientific Consensus on Climate Science

by Naomi Oreskes

Policy-makers and the media, particularly in the United States, frequently assert that climate science is highly uncertain. Some have used this as an argument against adopting strong measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, while discussing a major U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report on the risks of climate change, then–EPA administrator Christine Whitman argued, “As [the report] went through review, there was less consensus on the science and conclusions on climate change”. Some corporations whose revenues might be adversely affected by controls on carbon dioxide emissions have also alleged major uncertainties in the science. Such statements suggest that there might be substantive disagreement in the scientific community about the reality of anthropogenic climate change. This is not the case.

Letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown

Cambridge Zero Carbon Society

1, Parker Street,



27th October 2007


Dear Prime Minister,



We are a group of concerned scientists, economists and students from the University of Cambridge and are writing to you regarding Britain’s CO2 reduction targets as set out under the draft climate bill. We believe the climate bill is a crucial element of strategy aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions to a safe level and supports our international efforts to tackle climate change. We see the best approach as being a positive one and that Britain should lead by example, reducing its emissions to a sustainable level in a timescale that avoids dangerous climate change. Economic evidence suggests that conversion to a net zero carbon economy, when promoted by efficient economic instruments can be achieved at low cost or even with net benefit to the UK.


We feel it is important that the targets are chosen based on clear thinking and the most reliable up-to-date scientific evidence. We also understand the importance of a comprehensive or holistic approach taking into account pressures from the different parts of government and society.


Today we have been educating the public in London regarding these issues. It is important to simplify as much as possible this complex issue and demonstrate the choices we now face. We would like to draw your attention to the enclosed information sheet summarizing the fact that to prevent a 2°C increase in average global temperatures a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 is needed in the UK.

For further information on some suggested policies or to hear more from us please feel free to visit our website and contact us, We warmly welcome a response to this letter.


Yours sincerely,



Stephen Stretton


Economist, Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research


Stephen Rowley


Physicist, Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge


Carbon offsets: adding is not enough

Following a recent Cambridge Energy Forum meeting on carbon offsetting and a subsequent email dialogue between myself and Philip Sargent, I would like to clarify some terms and describe a critical problem with carbon offsetting.

The Gold Standard and other sets of rules for carbon offset projects rely on a test of “additionality”. This test basically states that, for a carbon offset project to meet the standard, it must be demonstrable that the reductions in carbon emissions would not have happened anyway. Examples of projects that would pass the additionality test are a wind farm in China that would not otherwise have been funded; energy saving light-bulbs in South America that would not otherwise have been provided; and projects to filter HFC23 from factory emissions that would not have happened otherwise. Critically, the test of additionality is only made within the scope of the carbon offset project.

The are various problems with the concept of additionality – such as the virtual certainty of moral hazard coming into play (e.g. wind farms might not be funded another way simply because China knows carbon offset money is available) – but I believe the most significant flaw is that the test is incomplete. The problem is that we are dealing with an open system – global energy production and consumption – and not a series of closed systems. The easyJet flight you offset, VAT free, for £1.77, and the Chinese windfarm are not the end of the story.

We need another test, which I term “subtractability”. That is, there needs to be an onus on the carbon offset provider to prove that the carbon emissions saved really are subtracted from total global carbon emissions. Several types of carbon offset project fail this test and must be consigned to the fig-leaf category.

Of the 3 examples I gave earlier, the first two both fail the “subtractability” test. They run into what I have previously termed “the displacement fallacy“. For example, China is using energy as fast as it can produce it. The wind-farm may simply mean they produce and use more energy than they would have done otherwise. Similarly, people given energy-saving lightbulbs may simply be able to afford more electricity for something else, or power cuts may become a little less frequent in their country. [Note that I am not arguing that such projects themselves are not worthwhile – I’m merely pointing out that they most likely will not successfully offset your carbon emissions].

Projects that directly remove or destroy GHGs, such as those to capture HFC23 from factory flues, pass the subtractability test, but may run into other problems, as we heard at last week’s Cambridge Energy Forum. In fact, since the types of project that pass the subtractability test – such as tree-planting – tend to fail in other ways, it’s difficult to see how carbon offsetting can do more than salve peoples’ consciences.

UK Targets “Not Enough To Prevent World Extinction”

UK Targets “Not Enough To Prevent World Extinction”

Stephen Stretton, Cambridge

1st August 2007

The current UK greenhouse gas targets are not enough to avoid a world
extinction on a scale last seen with the end of the dinosaurs.

Even if we hit the government’s target of reducing Carbon Dioxide
pollution, and most other countries adopt a similar approach – the
world could be committed to up to six degrees of climate change.

The impacts would include collapse of the Amazon rainforest and most
of the world’s fertile farmland turning to desert. Rising seas would
flood major cities such as London, New York, Shanghai and Calcutta. It
would lead to the extinction of most life on earth.

If the UK is to lead, it must lead much more strongly. Current targets
are simply not enough. We to avoid 2C of climate change based on
convergence to safe and fair equal per-capita emissions. This may mean
a 90% reduction in all greenhouse gases by 2030 in the UK.

Summary of Climate Bill Response: Not Enough

Full response to climate bill (pdf)

Continue reading UK Targets “Not Enough To Prevent World Extinction”

“The Great Global Warming Swindle”: Response by Geoff Wexler

“The Great Global Warming Swindle”: Response by Geoff Wexler

This programme shows that artificially created CO2 is not the cause of global warming. This is a remarkable achievement considering that so much research on the attribution problem points to CO2 as being the main cause of the last thirty years global warming. It had looked as if the alternative explanation based on sunspots was not doing at all well during the last few years because the sunspots had leveled off whereas the temperature had just kept rising. So what was wrong? The idea behind the new approach is quite revolutionary, it involves overthrowing the calendar, the evidence and the physics.

No, it is not 2007 now as you have been told. The date is now 1975 or 1988 depending on which source you use. Applying these corrections has the effect of removing most of the contentious warming from the data. What’s left correlates quite well with the length of the sunspot cycle especially if you start with an obscure set of temperature data , pull it about a bit and attribute it to NASA for the sake of familiarity. Going back in time there was a shortage of sunspot data, so it is convenient for educational reasons to make it up. After all, it makes it easier to see the relationship between the two curves if they coincide completely.

Continue reading “The Great Global Warming Swindle”: Response by Geoff Wexler

What is Climate Change and What Can Be Done About it?

There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that the earth’s atmosphere is warming up due to the release into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases due to human activity. The atmospheric level of carbon dioxide is now far higher than any time in the last 400 thousand years (the last 4 ice age cycles). So far, the global temperature has risen by about 0.5C against the long run average. Over the next 100 years, global temperature is likely to increase by a further 1.5 to 6C (according to the UN panel the IPCC, although the UK’s Tyndall centre believes their is a potential for even higher rises of 8C, if positive feedback is taken into account).
Such climate changes will have widespread effects across the earth.

For example:

  • There will be increased frequency of heat waves and droughts in already hot or dry areas. This may precipitate famine and conflict over scarce water supplies.
  • Hurricanes and other violent weather will increase in intensity. The 2005 Hurricane season was the most destructive on record with the greatest number of storms ever recorded.
  • Large parts of marginal semi-desert will turn into desert. In particular, much of the area directly south of the Sahara will be swallowed by the desert. Much of the Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, Greece) may become desert.
  • Sea levels will rise. Whilst this is a fairly slow process, once one of the various polar ice sheets starts to melt, it is difficult to arrest the process, since sea/rock absorbs more solar energy than white ice. The melting of the Greenland or west Antarctic ice sheets would each raise the sea level by 6.5m each (13m in total), drowning many islands and costal towns. If the East Antarctic ice sheet melted, the rise would be 84m. Melting in the ice sheets has recently accelerated.
  • The flow of cold melt water from the Arctic may interrupt the ‘gulf stream’ part of the heat conveyor that transports energy from the tropics to temperate areas. This will cause Europe and in particular NorthWest Europe to become locally much colder (perhaps 5C), and maybe to have a climate more similar to Newfoundland, Canada.
  • Tropical regions such as West Africa may become even warmer. In the last few months there has been evidence that the flow of the Gulf Stream may be as much as 30% less than previously.
  • There will be widespread changes in ecosystems including the collapse of the coral reefs (probably inevitable even with moderate climate change).
  • Increased disease frequency as e.g. malaria spreads to other areas.

A complex physical system such as the earth’s climate contains both negative and positive feedbacks. For small perturbations, negative feedback effects may dominate; otherwise the system would not persist at this point. However, such systems may have a ‘tipping point’ past which the positive feedback effects may overwhelm the negative feedback loops.

Various potential positive feedback systems have been identified for the earth. For example:

  • The melting of ice leads to a change in the colour of the earth’s surface from a reflective white, to black, which absorbs more heat.
  • Global warming may cause the collapse of rainforest ecosystems already ravaged by deforestation, releasing much stored CO2.
  • There are huge stores of Methane (a greenhouse gas) Siberia in permafrost. This permafrost may melt. (Recently scientists have seen that this may have started to happen).
  • Whilst moderate climate change (e.g. 1C) therefore may be counteracted by various natural systems, large climate change (>2C) may well be dangerous. It is clear that humans need to avoid highly polluting behaviour until and unless it is known with certainty that these effects are safe. If anything, the scientific evidence at present points to the reality of many of the proposed changes.

Human activity takes time to adjust. We need to change our methods of transport and energy production so that we emit far less CO2.

It has been estimated that the sustainable level of energy consumption is about 20% of average UK consumption and about 10% of average US consumption. This can be accomplished using a ‘personal energy quota’. (The centre for alternative technology has further info). In particular, we need to insulate our houses well, avoid low occupancy car use, dress up warmly rather than relying excessively on heating, and particularly avoid unnecessary air travel. (E.g. see In fact, this is merely a reversal to habits of a decade or two ago, where people were not noticeably less content than they are today. The author has adopted such a ‘sustainable Carbon Dioxide quota’ without much trouble. It takes a little time to adapt habits but it is not difficult to do. Those with international jobs courses, or families would have twice the usual quota (to allow for the possibility of one intercontinental flight per person per year).

We need to lobby our governments to produce energy through methods that produce little or any carbon dioxide. For example in the UK, and the other major economies with pre-existing nuclear industries (US, Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia, India and China) the ‘baseload’ energy (75% of total) that is needed 24 hours a day can be produced by nuclear energy, as a ‘stopgap’ until renewable energy or fusion power is available. (Economical, technically advanced, efficient and safe. Arguably it is safer to have a well-funded nuclear industry with new and safe reactors rather than to have many demoralised and unemployed nuclear scientists, with poorly funded and/or derelict nuclear facilities. Nuclear reactors design has improved massively over the last decades). Wind power can be used in UK (but requires some backup for when the wind isn’t blowing such as pumped storage hydro plants). Solar energy can be harnessed in other countries without pre-existing nuclear infrastructure. Once energy production is non-CO2 emitting, cars can be converted to being run from electricity, further cutting emissions.

Finally, we need to lobby our governments (particularly in the US but globally as well) to support treaties that cut carbon dioxide emission. The European Union has pioneered an emissions trading scheme which caps total emissions and then charges for permits to emit carbon dioxide. Since low carbon technologies are immature – they can still be improved, (whereas polluting technologies have little scope for improvement)- it may be that action to change energy and transport systems will pay for itself by increasing the economy’s productive capacity.