A few weeks ago the chairman of the UK government’s Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben, held a meeting in a village hall on the banks of the Deben river. Having been following the arguments about climate change for years – I remember Anthony Watts setting up the survey of weather stations that found many of them were, because of siting problems, not fit for purpose – I thought it would be instructive to see how one of the most important issues of our time is being tackled by the UK’s ruling class of which Lord Deben is a prize specimen. The village hall was packed with friendly, cooperative people, nice to chat to, and I saw a few people I recognized even though I was forty miles from home.
Then the meeting began. I thought for a moment that I’d strayed into a revivalist happy-clappy rally by mistake. Those nice, cooperative people were transformed. Lord Deben, he who was John Gummer before being translated to higher things, was dressed rather like a trendy vicar, complete with plum-coloured trousers, and spoke of sin and redemption. The Reverend Gummer spoke about the original sin of burning fossil fuels and his congregation moaned agreement. He spoke of the anti-Christ that is known as CO2 and they applauded when he warned of its coming. They cried out the words ‘climate catastrophe’ and ‘climate crisis’ as he prophesied about rising sea levels and the melting of the polar ice caps.
I just don’t buy it.
The world is warming – the latest figures show that it has warmed about 0.4 deg C since 1979 when the satellites began to monitor temperatures, so that bit of the science is true (-ish, it’s warming at half the expected rate), but the computer models also predict anomalous warming in the troposphere, a warming caused by water vapour feedback. It’s not there. The tropospheric hotspot does not exist. Well, it doesn’t exist unless you work out the tropospheric temperatures using wind patterns rather than the thermometers which fly on weather balloons. Why should someone try to work out temperatures from weather patterns when they’ve got two perfectly good measured temperatures already? You may well ask! It’s politics. Or it may have crossed the line into religion. When a scientist advances increasingly unlikely explanations for the failure of his/her theory to match reality we are in the realms of belief, not science.
Let’s be perfectly clear about this. According to climate science, the global temperature is only going to increase at a dangerous rate if the CO2-induced warming triggers water vapour warming. Water vapour warming should induce a tropospheric hotspot. Balloons and satellites have looked for the hotspot. It is not there.
Without the water vapour feedback the computers show a warming rate that is half the accepted crisis/catastrophe value. So do the thermometers. I think I’d trust the thermometers more than politicised science.
In these circumstances it is foolish to set CO2 targets.
If there is no water vapour feedback there is no crisis, no catastrophe, not yet. But the world is warming and it might indeed become dangerous. How can our civilisation respond in a rational manner?
First, fund research into why the water vapour feed-back is not performing as the computer simulations predict. It could be – difficult to believe I know – that the simulations are wrong. If so there are warming/cooling factors that are not being considered. Find out what those factors are before costing the taxpayer trillions of pounds and closing down our civilisation. I’d suggest looking at ocean pollution by oil and plastic or nutrients such as nitrogen fertilisers, quantifying plankton population changes, dissolved silica run-off, black carbon albedo change on snowfields, but I’m sure readers can suggest others. It would seem sensible to address the real causes of warming, including CO2 of course, rather than betting the farm on a hypothesis which so far has failed to produce one single prediction that has worked out. Remember ‘twelve years to save the world’?
Second, do some pre-emptive development of the only technology which could support a CO2 neutral civilisation. The Greens won’t like it, what with their DNA being mainly derived from CND, but nuclear power can deliver. Not the stupid big reactors that are getting more expensive and further behind schedule every day: we need small modular reactors that can be factory build and shipped to site on barges or railway. Rolls Royce already has most of the technology, so it should be comparatively easy and a cheap insurance policy if the crisis is really a crisis. Get the SMR designs ready for production and then wait for the science to become clear.
Third, build a couple of prototype cloud ships as designed by Salter and Latham. If the design works these ships will increase the amount of cloud cover and reflect sunlight back into space. Not ideal as a solution but if it’s a crisis then you have to prepare to match the crisis with crisis measures. Build a couple and deploy them in the areas of the ocean where the introduction of salt aerosols will create low level cloud, increasing the albedo and bouncing the short wave radiation straight back to space. Satellite measurements can quantify the effect and allow us to fine-tune global temperatures if that is needed.
Fourth, demand a prediction from climate science, something unequivocal, something definite. An accurate prediction would greatly enhance their credibility. This is meant to be science. Whatever the Rev Gummer and his happy-clappies demand, faith is not enough.
No crisis, not yet. No catastrophe. If our politicians act like grown-ups there will be neither in our future. You remember grown-ups? It’s what politicians used to be, before they decided to listen to 16 year-olds for political and scientific advice.