I often fear that the future will be unimaginably terrible. Like the aristocrats before the French Revolution we ignore the abundant warning signs and party on. But are such fears justified? In some ways they are the more discomforting in being so confused and nebulous. Even my appetite for apocalyptic is, at other times, stayed by the impressive case against global warming made by , for example, Christopher Booker in his book The Real Global Warming Disaster, and by Nigel Lawson in An Appeal To Reason. To whatever aspect of the climate change debate you turn, the melting of the Arctic or the interpretation of statistics from past eras or sea level rise, Booker can produce prestigious scientists who doubt both the causes and the extent of global warming. Lord Lawson accepts that climate change is happening, but argues that even the apocalyptists agree that an average rise of three degrees above pre-Industrial Revolution temperature is most likely. We are dealing with almost two degrees quite comfortably now. With improved technologies we will take three degrees in our stride as the century progresses.
There are two powerful arguments, in particular, that they employ again and again. Much of the exaggerated case for global warming is based, they say, on the infamous hockey stick graph. Global temperature remained static for hundreds of thousands of years, but then, according to this graph, has recently begun to turn upwards as a hockey stick does at its end. Not true. In the past average global temperature has shown considerable variations just as great as those seen recently, notably in the Medieval Warm Period. Even the maddest warmists, as Booker derisively calls them, don’t claim people were using cars in the Middle Ages. Secondly, there is the inescapable fact which the warmists cannot gloss over, that, despite a steep rise in carbon emissions during the last fifteen years, average temperature has not risen as the warmists predicted. What better proof could you find that there is no connection between carbon emissions and temperature rise? Global warming is a hysteria, a fashionable fad, a devious strategy adopted by scientists to get ‘green funding’ for bogus research projects. Worse, if it ever gets taken really seriously it could derail global capitalism’s project to bring everyone on earth out of poverty. It is an assault by the liberal rich on the hapless poor.
Yet I am well aware that it is possible, especially if you are a clever journalist, to make a plausible sounding case for almost anything. Against this we have to set the unwelcome fact that the vast majority of climate scientists are well aware of Booker, Lawson et al’s arguments but still think they are wrong. The Royal Society, the Met Office, the Hadley Centre, the Tyndall Centre, NASA, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, the Climate Unit at the University of East Anglia, and just about every other official scientific body in the world, support the IPCC’s 2007 and now 2013 findings that it is at least 95% likely that global warming is being caused by human activity, and unless we stop using fossil fuels average temperatures could rise by anything between two and four, and at worst even six, degrees above pre-Industrial Revolution levels. Against Booker’s and Lord Lawson’s books we have to set Tim Flannery’s The Weathermakers or Mark Lynas’s Six Degrees: Our Future On A Hotter Planet. Lynas claims to have based his case on seven thousand scientific papers. His forecasts of what could happen as each increased degree not only devastates the earth but inexorably starts to cause the next, based on this huge arsenal of reference and meticulously referred, is deeply dismaying. Which camp should we join? Which set of scientists should we believe? On the one hand the majority supporting the consensus view is so large it would seem cavalier in the extreme to disagree with it. But on the other, minorities in science have often been right. Indeed, in his celebrated book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Thomas Kuhn argues that advances in science are almost always the work of minorities, because, although they do not yet know it, majorities still think in terms of paradigms that the minority have already shown to be inadequate. Who to believe? Rather a lot hangs on it, but it is hardly surprising that the public is confused.