Sunday, 4 May 2014

Nigel Lawson Speaks Sense - not really

Regular readers of my sort of blog will know that I love hypocrisy.  I love it so much that I like to shine a spotlight on it.  I just have to do it.  It is something I am drawn to.

So when WattsUpWithThat publishes a piece based on a speech by Lord Lawson, the former Nigel Lawson, now more commonly known as the father of celebrity cook and domestic goddess(TM) Nigella Lawson.  Oh, and he's known for being a prominent member of a think tank that, sadly, doesn't actually do the real thinking - do we actually know what we're talking about.

Anyway, I have to agree with one thing that Lawson says in his speech/article:
I have never shied away from controversy, nor — for example, as Chancellor — worried about being unpopular if I believed that what I was saying and doing was in the public interest.
Nope.  Those who lived through the 1980s in Britain would have come to be firmly acquainted with Lawson's relationship with controversy.  That would be the fake boom he created in the late 1980s that produced high inflation at the same time as it managed to reduced unemployment and led to crippling increases in interest rates and, you'll like this, a recession that made the early 1990s a particular misery.  So those people whose houses were repossessed as a result of the good Lord's policies have much to thank him courting controversy for.  [Conflict of interest declaration: I used to read the Daily Telegraph .]

But apart from that, all I can see in his piece (archived here) is self pity and whining.  He should learn a lesson from his daughter, when facing the might of an extremely rich man and his legal team in court, who fessed up to making a silly mistake and got on with her life with a lot more dignity. 

Anyway, character assassination aside, Lawson just whinges.
But I have never in my life experienced the extremes of personal hostility, vituperation and vilification which I — along with other dissenters, of course — have received for my views on global warming and global warming policies.
That might be because Lord Lawson is wrong.  Unlike politics, science is not about opinions but evidence.  And funnily enough, although "dissenters" moan about being insulted and threatened, I don't see their evidence.  But climate scientists certainly are insulted and threatened.  Deniers have thing skins.
Lord Lawson in command of the detail as ever

No, sorry.  Let me take it all back as Lawson does give evidence:
For example, according to the Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, the global warming dissenters are, without exception, “wilfully ignorant” and in the view of the Prince of Wales we are “headless chickens”. Not that “dissenter” is a term they use. We are regularly referred to as “climate change deniers”, a phrase deliberately designed to echo “Holocaust denier” — as if questioning present policies and forecasts of the future is equivalent to casting malign doubt about a historical fact. 
Wow.  That's it.  That's the smoking gun, the best he can do to support his assertion about the  "extremes of personal hostility, vituperation and vilification".  I take it he's forgotten the comments from the opposition benches during his time in the Commons.

Wait, there's more:
The abuse I received after appearing on the BBC’s Today programme last February was far less restrained. Both the BBC and I received an orchestrated barrage of complaints to the effect that it was an outrage that I was allowed to discuss the issue on the programme at all.
Perhaps, perhaps not.  AndThenThere'sPhysics did a good job at showing Lawson up for his BBC appearance.  And it is not enough to say, as Lawson does, that he has written a "thoroughly documented book about global warming" because that doesn't make it right, and furthermore it is odd not to say thoroughly referenced. 

The whinge goes on:
The BBC received a well-organised deluge of complaints — some of them, inevitably, from those with a vested interest in renewable energy — accusing me, among other things, of being a geriatric retired politician and not a climate scientist, and so wholly unqualified to discuss the issue.
 Well, Lord Lawson, you aren't a climate scientist and many who deny human causes of climate change are supported by the fossil fuel industry.  This gives us a stalemate of sorts.  But you do follow that logic:

I must admit I am strongly tempted to agree that, since I am not a climate scientist, I should from now on remain silent on the subject — on the clear understanding, of course, that everyone else plays by the same rules. No more statements by Ed Davey, or indeed any other politician, including Ed Milliband, Lord Deben and Al Gore. Nothing more from the Prince of Wales, or from Lord Stern. What bliss!
And there would be no comments from (take a deep breath) Lord Monckton, Anthony Watts, Steve McIntyre, Roger Pielke Jr, Willis Eschenbach, Jo Nova, Roger Tallbloke, James Delingpole, Richard Tol, Mark Steyn, Bjorn Lomborg, me and dozens, if not hundreds of others.  We would be left with the thousands of climate scientists who accept the consensus on one side, and the handful (like Roy Spencer and Judith Curry - though she might hesitate) on the other.  The BBC would not be able to get much balance.  Not that there is a discussion to have a balance about.

Lawson has four questions:
First, other things being equal, how much can increased atmospheric CO2 be expected to warm the earth? (This is known to scientists as climate sensitivity, or sometimes the climate sensitivity of carbon.) This is highly uncertain, not least because clouds have an important role to play, and the science of clouds is little understood. Until recently, the majority opinion among climate scientists had been that clouds greatly amplify the basic greenhouse effect. But there is a significant minority, including some of the most eminent climate scientists, who strongly dispute this.
Note, he doesn't name any of these climate scientists.  I won't answer his question though, preferring the excellent site to do it for me. I will borrow their graphic though.  Even an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer should be able to understand this:

Second question:
Second, are other things equal, anyway? We know that, over millennia, the temperature of the earth has varied a great deal, long before the arrival of fossil fuels. To take only the past thousand years, a thousand years ago we were benefiting from the so-called medieval warm period, when temperatures are thought to have been at least as warm, if not warmer, than they are today. And during the Baroque era we were grimly suffering the cold of the so-called Little Ice Age, when the Thames frequently froze in winter and substantial ice fairs were held on it, which have been immortalised in contemporary prints.
The "it's always varied" argument.  Well, so what.  We know that conditions are different now and partly that's down to our fossil fuel habit.  It's argument number 1 at scepticalscience.  Real scientists, the ones who really do "thoroughly" document their work with lots of fiddly little references and, shock, horror, evidence, know better than Lawson.  What a surprise!

Number 3:
Third, even if the earth were to warm, so far from this necessarily being a cause for alarm, does it matter? It would, after all, be surprising if the planet were on a happy but precarious temperature knife-edge, from which any change in either direction would be a major disaster. In fact, we know that, if there were to be any future warming (and for the reasons already given, “if” is correct) there would be both benefits and what the economists call disbenefits. I shall discuss later where the balance might lie.
Funny argument this one. Lawson ought to know that were the temperature of the Earth to go down, entering another mini-Ice Age, there would be lots of problems. It wasn't all Ice Fairs and frozen Thames paintings, you know.  Crops failed, people died.  And the question assumes that all the effects of global warming are to be in raised temperatures.  Er, no.  Rising sea levels, changes in weather patterns, changes in extreme weather...  The Thames Barrier opened in 1984 but was operational in 1982.  Up to 5 March this year it had closed on 174 occasions, 48 in 2014 alone.  That may or may not be the result of climate change but there are those who wonder if the Barrier may need a bigger replacement to cope with an increasingly rising sea level.
Thames Barrier

Ice Fair, seventeenth century (Museum of  London)

And at number 4:
And fourth, to the extent that there is a problem, what should we, calmly and rationally, do about it? 
Well, that's what I'd expect a policy foundation to do and Lawson doesn't really get down to answering it but goes deep into denier territory before bothering to answer it (quoting Judith Curry along the way):
The answer is — or should be — a no-brainer: adapt. I mentioned earlier that a resumption of global warming, should it occur (and of course it might) would bring both benefits and costs. The sensible course is clearly to pocket the benefits while seeking to minimise the costs. And that is all the more so since the costs, should they arise, will not be anything new: they will merely be the slight exacerbation of problems that have always afflicted mankind. 
Is that it?  It might be a bit of a problem so adapt when it happens, if it happens.  It's a bit wishy washy and, to be frank, Lawson just seems to wave a hand as if he can, in the manner of Paul Daniels (Tommy Cooper more like), bring a rabbit out of a hat.  His rabbit is a scrawny specimen:
This means measures such as flood defences and sea defences, together with water storage to minimise the adverse effects of drought, in the UK; and better storm warnings, the building of levees, and more robust construction in the tropics.
The same is equally true in the field of health. Tropical diseases — and malaria is frequently (if inaccurately) mentioned in this context — are a mortal menace in much of the developing world. It clearly makes sense to seek to eradicate these diseases — and in the case of malaria (which used to be endemic in Europe) we know perfectly well how to do it — whether or not warming might lead to an increase in the incidence of such diseases.
And the same applies to all the other possible adverse consequences of global warming. Moreover, this makes sense whatever the cause of any future warming, whether it is man-made or natural. Happily, too, as economies grow and technology develops, our ability to adapt successfully to any problems which warming may bring steadily increases. 
It doesn't convince me that Lawson has a handle on this.  We might know how to eradicate malaria but knowing and having the wherewithal to do it are different things.  The US Center For Disease Control neatly sums up the reasons why global malaria eradication hasn't happened:
The emergence of drug resistance, widespread resistance to available insecticides, wars and massive population movements, difficulties in obtaining sustained funding from donor countries, and lack of community participation made the long-term maintenance of the effort untenable. Completion of the eradication campaign was eventually abandoned. 
 But strangely, in choosing to highlight malaria, Lawson has highlighted mitigation rather than adaptation.  Prevention rather than cure.  The reason we eradicated malaria in Europe and the USA is because it is an unpleasant disease that kills people.  By eliminating it, the need for a cure, the need for adaptation is removed.  Adaptation alone makes no sense when considering global climate change.  Make better flood defences now and the communities behind those defences will be better protected now, against those floods were get now, and against those worse floods that global warming will bring.  The Thames Barrier was built because 307 people died in flooding in London in 1953 when a storm surge pushed the North Sea on land.  Adaptation would have been to have waited for the next flood and hand out sandbags.  Mitigation was to build a flood defence.

Lawson's argument for adaptation assumes that we will get better, technologically.  This is not a given.  While electronics have become better very rapidly, the physics of water isn't going to suddenly change and we aren't going to suddenly invent different pipes, or ditches. Rivers will still do what rivers have done for millennia. Roman technology and modern technology as far as controlling water are much the same.  We have powerful machines the Roman's didn't have.  But the science is always going to be the same and the engineering will still follow the properties of water.  It's a similar thing with temperature - heating and insulating buildings will follow the basic physics.

Lawson decides that his readers will not notice that he jumps a shark in this paragraph:
In particular, there is the risk that the earth may enter a new ice age. This was the fear expressed by the well-known astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle in his book Ice: The Ultimate Human Catastrophe, and there are several climate scientists today, particularly in Russia, concerned about this. It would be difficult, to say the least, to devote unlimited sums to both cooling and warming the planet at the same time.
Sir Fred Hoyle was a brilliant astronomer.  Outside of that field, he was less good. In fact, he ended his days a figure of much fun.  He authored a book claiming that Archaeopteryx, the bird/dinosaur fossil, is fake.  Not all of the fossils, just the one in the Natural History Museum in London.  The NHM put the original fossil on display to counter the publicity Hoyle was getting in 1987.  Coincidently, I was working in another London museum and needed an insect fossil identified.  The best place was the NHM.  A staff room full of palaeontologists looked at me specimen - a large robber fly preserved as a carbonaceous film on very fine grained sediment that lay on top of coarse grained rock so that it resembled an iced cake.  In the back of the specimen was a bolt and a red card arrow pointed out the insect (which was more than large enough to be seen without such help).  Puzzled as to precisely which genus of insect we were looking at, and with a specimen that looked as if it might have been painted on, one of the experts said "Don't show it to Fred Hoyle".  Much laughter ensued.  (The correct expert wasn't in the palaeontology department but in the entomology department - and he showed me drawers full of similar specimens - just goes to show that the right expert is the better source of enlightenment.)
Fred Hoyle, very bright man who got lots wrong

Hoyle published his book in 1981.  Much scientific water has passed under the Ice Age is Coming bridge since then. Hoyle thought Ice Ages were caused by large meteorite strikes, of the order of 300m, roughly every 100,000 years.  Sadly for Hoyle, the evidence for such is lacking.  And no one seriously thinks there will be an Ice Age in the next hundred years.  Global warming, on the other hand...

Lawson waffles on until he finally decides to give up arguing by using the Monckton formulation on religion:
Throughout the Western world, the two creeds that used to vie for popular support, Christianity and the atheistic belief system of Communism, are each clearly in decline. Yet people still feel the need both for the comfort and for the transcendent values that religion can provide. It is the quasi-religion of green alarmism and global salvationism, of which the climate change dogma is the prime example, which has filled the vacuum, with reasoned questioning of its mantras regarded as little short of sacrilege.
Sorry, Nigel.  It isn't a religion or even a quasi-religion. 

But then you know from the punchline to his whole shaggy dog story that Lawson isn't really bothered about whether the science is right or not:
Global warming orthodoxy is not merely irrational. It is wicked. 
Err, no.  It's neither.  Perhaps Lawson should ask his tame bishop, on his board of trustees, what wickedness is.

As to how the WUWT echo chamber lapped it up, I'm sorry but you'll have to see for yourself.

1 comment:

  1. The big give away with these people is that after the 'de-bunking' comes the 'well even if it is warming...'
    I would have much more respect if they just started with the second bit and leave the scientists alone.
    Creationists never say 'and even if we did evolve from apes...' and go on to explain how we can adapt to this fact.