Man-made global warming, the notion that mankind is changing the world’s climate in a dangerous way, never had much grounding in science. It has now departed from proper science altogether and become a millennial religion of rich people in rich countries.
We can expect the well-funded Jeremiahs of climate change to produce apocalyptic warnings of disaster (sea levels rising by metres, disappearing ice caps and other such nonsense) before the Copenhagen climate negotiations in December, where the faithful hope to persuade governments to damage their economies with foolish efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions.
There is overwhelming scientific evidence that the slight warming of the 20th century was perfectly natural – no different from previous natural warming periods. It had little, if anything, to do with rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2).
During the medieval warm period, which was worldwide, from about 900 to 1200 AD, temperatures were rather higher than now, while CO2 levels were lower.
This is confirmed by hundreds of scientific studies and by historical record. During this period the Vikings had a colony in Greenland, growing crops where it is now too cold for them.
CO2 is a minor greenhouse gas (by far the most vital is water vapour), whose only significant absorption band is already saturated. CO2 has never been seen to affect global temperatures, although of course temperatures can affect it, because cooling oceans dissolve more of it, removing it from the air, and vice versa with warming oceans. In the past 500 million years, CO2 levels have averaged above 2 000 parts per million (ppm).
They are now below 400ppm, extraordinarily low, way below the optimum level for most green plants, upon which we depend.
The main cause of climate change seems to be solar variation, especially as it affects cloud formation. Clouds are all-important in determining our climate. Cosmic rays from beyond our solar system penetrate our atmosphere and produce low clouds by giving them nucleation sites.
The low clouds cause cooling by reflecting away incoming sunlight. (You look down upon them when you are flying.) The more cosmic rays, the more low clouds, and the colder it gets.
When the sun is active, the solar wind deflects the cosmic rays, there are fewer low clouds – and the warmer it gets.
The coldest climate of the last 10 000 years happened in the 17th century during the “Maunder minimum”, when the sun was unusually inactive. By contrast, the sun was active in the 20th century, which may explain the warming then.
Since 2007, CO2 levels have risen, the sun has become very quiet and global temperatures have plunged, bringing record cold and snow at locations around the world. This, perhaps the biggest environment story of the past two years, has been almost entirely ignored by the big media.
We do not know if the cooling will continue, but let’s hope not, because cooling is far more dangerous than warming.
The head of the Church of Global Warming is the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It contains good scientists, bad scientists, political activists and functionaries. Its managers select, distort and ignore evidence to promote one view only: that mankind is damaging the climate. It is essentially a politically funded advocacy group. It is rich and powerful.
The defining moment for the IPCC came in 2001 in its third assessment report, when it published the infamous Mann curve, or “hockey stick curve” showing temperatures in the northern hemisphere dropping slightly from the year 1000 to 1850, then suddenly rising to unprecedented highs in 2000.
The embarrassing medieval warm period had been removed from history!
The Mann curve was instantly hailed by the faithful as the revealed truth. In fact, it was a piece of scientific quackery and has since been utterly discredited. Ross McKitrick, a statistical expert, has written a detailed and devastating account of this perversion of science, What is the Hockey Stick Debate About? (The perpetrators of the hockey stick now run an overheated website called www.realclimate.org.)
Climate alarm seems to fit some deep-rooted human need for a religious moral: we have sinned (by our industrial society), we face disaster (by the planet warming dangerously) and we must repent and change our ways (by forsaking fossil fuels).
It is a lucrative religion, providing jobs, funding, travel and conferences for a huge international congregation of academics, journalists, activists and bureaucrats.
I am struck by the fact that so many of those promoting the scare have no training in the physical sciences or even a basic grasp of thermodynamics and heat transfer, upon which understanding of the climate depends. They have nothing but faith and simply recite the litany of the IPCC and former US vice-president Al Gore’s atrocious film.
By far the best technology to reduce greenhouse emissions is nuclear power – clean, safe, economic, sustainable and emitting among the least greenhouse gases over the full energy cycle.
The worst technology is the one favoured by most of the faithful, wind turbines – hopelessly expensive, unreliable, and a proven failure wherever they have been used. You need massive machines to give even small amounts of electricity. “Gigantic is Beautiful!” might well be the slogan of the wind lobby.
To provide the same amount of electricity as a standard Eskom coal station, you would require more than 5 500 wind turbines, each more than 90m high – higher than the Statue of Liberty (assuming 25 000 gigawatt hours a year for the coal station, two-megawatt capacity for each wind turbine and a generous 25 percent load factor for wind power). These would come at enormous cost, massive disruption to the environment – and on a still day they would give you not one kilowatt-hour of electricity.
Man-made global warming is an expensive and wasteful distraction from the real environmental problems of our planet: disappearing wildlife, polluted water, land degradation and the ravages of mass poverty.
Fortunately, hundreds of the world’s leading scientists, growing in number, are publicly explaining and speaking out against the superstition of climate change, the greatest folly of our age.
Andrew Kenny is a consulting engineer with degrees in physics and mechanical engineering. His career, which has lately focused on thermodynamics, has spanned working in Eskom power stations, research at the University of Cape Town and the nuclear power industry