I was digging into the website of the Grains Research and Development Corporation the other day, searching on behalf of a colleague who needed some information that I thought I could find there. I wasn’t wholly successful, but on the way I was staggered at the amount of stuff there was available about ‘climate change’. It was everywhere. To give you a sense of scale, there were 576 references to consider if you searched within the website for ‘improved crop yields’, something that every grain farmer would be interested in. There were 655 references in the same website to ‘climate change’.
Carbon dioxide is not the enemy, in the grain world. That is nitrous oxide, N2O, the fourth most powerful greenhouse gas after water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane; it has an adverse effect on the ozone layer as well. Much of it is produced naturally by bacteria in the soil, but we humans do our bit in growing crops. The Grains R&DC isn’t suggesting that farmers stop growing crops, you’ll be pleased to learn, but it is interested in their mitigating N2O production.
I suddenly saw, though I should have seen it long before, that the term ‘climate change’ comes with heavy emotional baggage. First, it is the sort of change that is BAD, change that we shouldn’t want (unlike, for example, losing weight). Second it is therefore a PROBLEM, and we must do something about it. Third, we have to DO IT TOGETHER, because none of us individually can deal with such a global issue. Whatever the state of the science, that emotional baggage, it seems to me, infects the phrase every time it is used. It has become a term of our time, and will be with us for a long while. ‘Global warming’ is not so powerful. Americans and Canadians, I am told, think that warming is a good thing.
All this came back to me when I came across an editorial by the Chief Editor of Science, Dr Marcia McNutt. There aren’t many examples, she writes, of global threats so far-reaching in their impact, so dire in their consequences, and considered so likely to occur that they have engaged all nations in risk mitigation. But now with climate change, we face a slowly escalating but long-enduring global threat to food supplies, health, ecosystem services, and the general viability of the planet to support a population of more than 7 billion people.
Yes, she is plugging the line that Paris meeting in December is vitally important. Before I go on, note that there is no reference to anything written, in that long assertion. In my most recent essay I provided a well-referenced account of just how it is that in fact the world is improving, food supplies increasing, pollutants declining, greening almost everywhere. Here what you get from the Chief Editor of one of the world’s two main science journals (the other being Nature) is a flat statement to the contrary, with no attempt at any kind of argument. Why?
Because, she writes, The time for debate has ended. Action is urgently needed. That is very like what I heard Al Gore say to a reporter off the stage when he received his half of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. When I hear people say that, what I think I am hearing is someone telling us to shut up — they’re in charge and they’re going to do whatever it is. The time for debate would be over if the argument was irresistible and the evidence rock-hard — we’d all move on. Websites like this one, WUWT and Climate etc wouldn’t exist — we’d all find something else to write about. That we are still here, and growing in audience size (mine only a fraction of the other two), suggests that Dr Marcia is wrong.
She is cross with India, which is determined to build more coal-fired power stations, and cross with nations that aren’t promising to cut their emissions. [D]eveloped nations need to reduce their per-capita fossil fuel emissions even further, and by doing so, create roadmaps for developing nations to leapfrog technologies by installing low-CO2–emitting energy infrastructure rather than coal-fired power plants as they expand their energy capacity.
Where does she think these leapfrogging technologies are coming from? If they existed we’d be using them ourselves, and exporting them to these developing nations. As the old saying goes, ‘If I had some ham, I could have ham and eggs, if I had any eggs’. Actually, we’re not even exporting coal-fired paper stations in any number.
She applauds Pope Francis’s Encyclical, which seems to me about as reliant on real science as her editorial. And at the end we get the by now obligatory reference to the moral obligation we have to our descendants: all of us … are borrowing against this Earth in the name of economic growth, accumulating an environmental debt by burning fossil fuels, the consequences of which will be left for our children and grandchildren to bear? Let’s act now, to save the next generations from the consequences of the beyond-two-degree inferno. The Pope would be proud.
The two-degree inferno? This is a reference to the political decision in 2010 to regard a two-degree increase in average global temperature measured against the estimate for 1780, or thereabouts, as potentially dangerous for humanity. Satellite measurements of global temperature show it has been virtually flat for almost two decades. Other global datasets show similar but shorter plateaus. We are in an incipient el Nino period, and that could lead to a slight increase in global temperature if that el Nino continues for the rest of the year. But if that happens, what we will have seen is that the only increases in temperature in twenty years seem to have been associated with el Nino conditions, which is hardly a sign that carbon dioxide is pushing us into an inferno.
Dr McNutt is the journal’s Chief Editor, and editorials ought to be conveying the ‘position’ of the journal, which is what I take to be the case in this instance. If these were only Dr McNutt’s opinions, then a statement to that effect, familiar to us all, ought to have been added. There is no such statement. If Science does indeed assert that ‘the time for debate has ended’, then it seems, at least to me, that Science is letting down the science community. Surely the real test of a paper’s worth is its inherent quality, argument, evidence and presentation.
As it read it, Science will not consider any paper in climate science that does not support the orthodoxy. That does seem to be an extraordinary position for a leading journal to take.