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A Reply to John Mason

Following is an annotated reply from Patrick Moore, PhD, to John Mason’s critique of Patrick’s recent interview with the Washington Times.

Excerpts from Moore’s interview, chosen by John Mason, are in italics.

Unpicking a Gish-Gallop: former Greenpeace figure Patrick Moore on climate changePosted on 25 August 2012 by John Mason: See: http://www.skepticalscience.com/moore-2012.html

Who recently said this?

“If we stopped using fossil fuel today, or by 2020 as Al Gore proposes, at least half the human population would perish and there wouldn’t be a tree left on the planet with[in] a year, as people struggled to find enough energy to stay alive.”

JM. And some people call us ‘alarmists’!!

The excerpt comes from a recent piece (please read the entire interview, PM) in the Conservative-leaning Washington Times, to which links are being circulated in the certain quarters of the Blogosphere. The source? Patrick Moore – not the famous TV astronomer, but a former early member of Greenpeace, with which he was involved at various levels between 1971 and 1986, before leaving the organisation to take up salmon-farming in British Columbia and then going on to become involved in PR consultancy for various industries. He managed to exasperate his former organisation sufficiently to have a press release dedicated to him in 2008, and two years later he came under journalist George Monbiot’s beady eye in this article, published in The Guardian. Now he’s back, with an interview entitled ‘Patrick Moore on the facts and fiction of climate change‘. Reading down the page, beyond the paragraph from which the above statement was taken, one is treated to a classic example of a well-known debating tactic, the so-called Gish-Gallop. As this is a frequently used ploy by fake-sceptics, it’s worth using this example to explore what a Gish-Gallop is and how it works.

 

PM. My account of my 15 years in the leadership of Greenpeace can be found here. The “various levels” I was involved with include being a founding director of the Greenpeace Foundation, Ecologist on the first voyage of Greenpeace against hydrogen bomb testing, leader of many campaigns and voyages, including the voyages to save the whales, co-founder of Greenpeace International with David McTaggart, and a director of Greenpeace International for my last six years in the organization. I am not a PR consultant. I am a PhD ecologist working to assist governments and industries to adopt sustainability as a core value. I also help them fend off the more misguided policies of the “green” movement, such as the idea that it is beneficial to build massive wind and solar farms. Finally, in terms of George Monbiot, while I disagree with his 2010 view of my work and my organization, in the intervening two years since he wrote the piece you mentioned, he has earned my great respect for his ability to change his mind on certain key aspects of the global energy discussion. His recent views on the safety of nuclear power post-Fukushima are, in my view, worthy of your consideration and, indeed, of Al Gore’s consideration as well.

 

Origin

JM. Duane Gish (b. 1921) is an American biochemist and a prominent member of the creationist movement. A former vice-president of the Institute for Creation Research and the author of numerous publications on the subject, Gish is well-known for relishing confrontational publicly staged debates with evolutionists, employing a technique where arguments and topics are presented in a rapid-fire but scattergun manner for a prolonged period. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, has dubbed this approach the “Gish Gallop,” describing it as “where the creationist is allowed to run on for 45 minutes or an hour, spewing forth torrents of error that the evolutionist hasn’t a prayer of refuting in the format of a debate”. The phrase has stuck and indeed so has the tactic, being used in front of audiences by all manner of advocates of all manner of things from creationism to ‘faked’ moon landings to climate change denial, where it is a popular way of appearing to be winning a debate. The word ‘appearing’ is the important one here.

 

PM. This opening is nothing more than a setup for a personal attack. I was not in a debate but rather in an interview. I am not by any means a creationist but a PhD ecologist with a firm belief in and understanding of evolutionary biology. Stephen Jay Gould is one of my favorite authors. Personal attacks are not arguments but rather diversions from the real issues. “Gish-Gallop” is just a diversion from the topic at hand, and a silly one at that.

 

Dissection

JM. When one is stuck in a live debate and faced with such a torrent, Eugenie Scott is quite correct. However, when a Gish-Gallop appears in print, it’s a bit easier to unpick at leisure. In the Washington Times piece, interviewer Joseph Cotto asked a straightforward question:  Cotto: In the past, you have said that human activity is not the only cause for climate change. What do you believe is the greatest contributing factor? What followed was a 631-word volley of disconnected factoids spliced together with pieces of meaningless arm-waving. If this were a live debate, answering the points in detail would be impossible (for the purpose of the Gish-Gallop is just that). However, here we have the advantage that an example has been provided in writing. So let’s take our time, split the whole thing into individual, numbered italicised points (I’ve put horizontal lines between each one to make it a little easier to follow) and examine them for their accuracy. Moore opens fire with:

[1] First, we don’t know precisely how the many factors affecting climate contribute and interact in producing the earth’s climate at any given time.

JM. Reality: Arm-waving. We have a good understanding of the prime drivers of planetary climate.

 

PM. A “good understanding” is quite different from “knowing precisely” how the various factors interact. What I meant was we can’t predict future climate by just loading a computer model with all the earth’s wobbles, the solar parameters, and the chemistry of the atmosphere, and then “calculate” the future climate. John Mason may want you to think he knows this with certainty but he is wrong. Computer models are not crystal balls.

 

[2] The cause of the onset of Ice-Ages, one of which we are presently experiencing, is a puzzle we don’t fully understand.

JM. Reality: Whilst there are many areas of interesting research with respect to the glacial-interglacial cycles of the Quaternary, we have a good understanding of the primary drivers i.e. orbital variations occurring over cycles of tens of thousands of years. We also have a good understanding of the feedbacks and how they interact e.g. warming between glacials and interglacials is amplified by carbon dioxide released as permafrost melts. Of course, we are currently in an interglacial, and the last glacial is often referred-to as the ice-age. Presumably Moore is referring to all of the Quaternary here, because we are most certainly not in a glacial phase right now!

 

PM. I am referring to the Pleistocene, the past 2.5 million years during which there have been a number of major glacial advances, some lasting 100,000 years or more, followed by much shorter inter-glacial periods, one of which we are in now. We call the present inter-glacial the Holocene but it is still part of the Ice Age, as were the other interglacial periods, which do not have specific names. It is true that there are a number of hypotheses as to what caused the relatively rapid swings in climate during this 2.5 million-year period, together known as the Quaternary. But there is not a clear understanding of why, after 65 million years of a much warmer climate during the Tertiary Period, the climate plunged into an Ice Age. There have been five Ice Ages in the 4.6 billion years since the earth was born. Four of those have been in the last billion years, three of which have occurred since modern life forms arose 550 million years ago. The Ice Ages have been very short compared to the Greenhouse Ages (or Hothouse ages as John Mason calls them in order to make it seem they were too hot). During the Greenhouse Ages there were no ice sheets on either pole and all the land was tropical and sub-tropical. Just read the Wikipedia entry on Ice Ages,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_age  and you will see that there is no certainty around the cause of their onset or their eventual end.

 

[3] I explain in my presentations that as a scientist who is fully qualified to understand climate change, I seem dumber than the people who say they “know” the answers because I do not profess to know the future, especially of something so complicated as the global climate.

JM. Reality: Again, this is meaningless arm-waving. Projections of future climate changes in different emissions-scenarios are accompanied by error-bars representing the range of uncertainty. We have a good understanding of the range of possibilities and the uncertainties involved. If Moore is ‘fully qualified to understand climate change’ then he ought to understand that.

 

PM. The charge of “arm-waving” is not an argument but only a rather meaningless metaphor, meant to be negative. If one waves one’s arms to bring attention to something important it can be a positive thing. Anyway it makes no sense here, as I am not waving my arms.

Mason thinks that he knows the “range of uncertainty” and again claims there is a “good understanding” of the “range of possibilities”. I simply do not agree that computer models are the equivalent of a crystal ball that can predict the future with accuracy. There are too many variables operating globally in a non-linear dynamic system to be so confident as Mason professes to be. He demonstrates all the hallmarks of a true believer, simply accepting the current dogma as certainty, that cannot be questioned. In that way he is perhaps closer to Gish’s camp than I am. He is entitled to his opinion, but it is an opinion, an attempt at a prediction, not a fact. As Yogi Berra said, “predictions are difficult, especially when they are about the future”.

As for my qualifications I have an Honors BSc in biology and forest biology, a PhD in ecology, an honorary Doctorate of Science from North Carolina State University, was the recipient of a Ford Foundation Fellowship, and in 2009 was presented with the National Award for Nuclear Science and History by the Einstein Society which is affiliated with the Smithsonian.

I would be interested to see John Mason’s qualifications.

 

[4] One thing is certain, there is no “scientific proof” as the term is generally understood, that human emissions are the main cause of climate change today. Even the IPCC only claims that it is “very likely” (a judgment, in their own words, not a proof) that human emissions are responsible for “most” of the warming “since the mid-20th century” (1950).

JM. Reality: There is no such thing as scientific proof so this point is simply nonsensical. However, the notion of ‘proof’ is a frequently-seen misconception about science. Science does not ‘prove’ things: it validates or falsifies theories by the weight of evidence. Proof only exists in pure mathematics and logic, as explained in this very readable piece in Psychology Today, written by Satoshi Kanazawa. This is why the IPCC uses terms like ‘very likely’. It’s the language of probability. To explain further: if you try to run blindfold across a busy motorway, it’s very likely you will be run over and seriously injured or killed. It’s not 100% certain, but just how lucky do you feel?

 

PM. I don’t get my philosophy of science from Psychology Today. We are 100% certain that gravity is a fact and we know precisely the acceleration of a falling object in a vacuum caused by the gravity of the earth. The IPCC claims that “very likely” equals a 90% probability. This is a pure fabrication. The number “90” is not the result of a calculation or a statistical analysis. It is pulled out of the air in order to mask what is actually a “judgment”, i.e. an “opinion” and not a known probability. The IPCC actually uses the word “judgment” in the paragraph in which they explain the meaning of “very likely”. See: http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/syr/en/mainssyr-introduction.html

 

[5] Therefore they [IPCC] are not claiming that humans caused the 0.4C warming between 1910-1940, but they are claiming that we are the main cause of the 0.4C warming between 1970 and 2000. Yet they provide no opinion as to what did cause the warming between 1910-1940. There is a logical inconsistency here that has never been addressed.

JM. Reality: Wrong again.  From AR4, Working Group 1, Chapter 9:

“A number of studies detect the influence of external forcings on early 20th-century warming, including a warming from anthropogenic forcing. Both natural forcing and response are uncertain, and different studies find different forcings dominant. Some studies indicate that internal variability could have made a large contribution to early 20th-century warming. Some observational uncertainty in early 20th-century trend (Sections 9.3.3.2, 9.4.1.4; Figures 9.4, 9.5).”

 

PM. This is a lot of bafflegab. The IPCC actually states that early 20th century warming is “very likely due in part” to human emissions. http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch9s9-7.html “In part” is very different from “most of the warming”. It could mean 2% or less. The point is the IPCC is not claiming that human emissions caused “most” of the warming between 1910-1940. The question then is “what was the main cause of the warming between 1910-1940?” Apparently, given the IPCC’s statement that humans are the main cause of warming since 1950, it was something other than human emissions. But what? We don’t really know.

 

[6] It is also important to note that the IPCC does not speak of “catastrophe”, that is left to the fanatics and perpetual doom-sayers.

JM. Reality: Wrong again. In the AR4, working group 3 devotes an entire sub-section to the risk of ‘catastrophic or abrupt change.’

 

PM. Whereas the public statements of the IPCC do not dwell on the word “catastrophic” it is true that in their 2007 AR4 report they appear to have allowed the alarmists a chapter on the subject. So, indeed, the IPCC is in the company of fanatics and doomsayers. This has been demonstrated on many occasions such as their prediction that Himalayan glaciers would all melt by 2035. I was trying to be diplomatic towards the IPCC because they are not as alarmist as Greenpeace, Al Gore, James Hansen, or Michael Mann.

 

[7] The causes of climate change are first the sun, as it is responsible for the existence of climate. Then there are many cycles of earth rotation around the sun and on its own axis. Then there is the chemistry of the atmosphere which seems to be the only factor that matters, and only CO2 concentration, for the true believers/warmists/climate catastrophists etc.

JM. Reality: This is a mixture of accurate and inaccurate points. Firstly, the sun is a cause of climate change, but it is not responsible for the existence of climate. Here, Moore appears to misunderstand what climate actually is. If Earth were somehow blasted into interstellar space, it would still have a climate – it would be an iceball. The orbital cycles are, as mentioned above, recognised to be of importance in the glacial-interglacial cycles of the Quaternary. The chemistry of the atmosphere is a third prime driver of the Earth’s climate. Solar activity has been in slight decline since the late 1970s whilst temperatures have trended steeply upwards. The orbital cycles work over many millennia. Indeed, out of the three prime drivers, the only one that has seen major changes in the past few decades is the chemistry of the atmosphere, as a consequence of the emissions from burning fossil fuels. The point ends in more arm-waving.

 

PM. Perhaps I should have said that the sun is “responsible for the existence of the earth’s climate”. There is a “climate” in the absence of the sun, something approaching absolute zero, not much of a climate. Interestingly Mason admits here that the chemistry of the atmosphere is “a third prime driver” of the climate. The sun and the various wobbles and eccentric rotations are the first and second drivers, as they have been all through the history of the earth. The atmospheric concentration of CO2 has fluctuated wildly during the past 500 million years and is only weakly correlated with global temperature. When modern life emerged during the Cambrian Explosion 550 million years ago, CO2 was at about 5,000 ppm. An Ice Age occurred 450 million years ago when CO2 was about 4000 ppm, 10 times higher than today.

 

[8] What most people don’t realize, partly because the media never explains it, is that there is no dispute over whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and all else being equal would result in a warming of the climate.

JM. Reality: Inaccurate. Many elements of the media have explained the properties of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas clearly and concisely, although there are some other elements that still try to pretend it’s all a great big hoax. Whilst there is no dispute in mainstream science about the properties of carbon dioxide, among the climate change ‘skeptics’, there are two clear camps: those who accept that the carbon dioxide greenhouse effect is real (but who argue that the effect is small) and those who refuse to accept that the carbon dioxide greenhouse effect even exists!

 

PM. The websites that Mason provides are not scientists but cranks that dispute everything about greenhouse gas theory. No reputable scientist argues that CO2 is not a “greenhouse gas” in that it lets more energy in than it lets out. Just because there are a few fringe elements that go so far as to claim CO2 is not a greenhouse gas has nothing to do with the points I am making.

 

[9] The fundamental dispute is about water in the atmosphere, either in the form of water vapour (a gas) or clouds (water in liquid form). It is generally accepted that a warmer climate will result in more water evaporating from the land and sea and therefore resulting in a higher level of water in the atmosphere, partly because the warmer the air is the more water it can hold.

JM. Reality: We both agree that warmer air can hold and transport more moisture. This is expressed by the Clausius-Clapeyron Relation, something that has been understood since the 19th Century, as noted in part 1 of our History of Climate Science. But I will address your ‘fundamental dispute’ in the points below where you attempt to make a case for it.

 

PM. Nice that we agree on something.

 

[10] All of the models used by the IPCC assume that this increase in water vapour will result in a positive feedback in the order of 3-4 times the increase in temperature that would be caused by the increase in CO2 alone.

JM. Reality: Wrong. Models don’t “assume”. They model.  3-4 times? Wrong again. The net feedback roughly triples the CO2 forcing, but water vapor, while being the biggest single feedback, is just one of a number of feedbacks.  The water vapour feedback roughly doubles the CO2 forcing. Skeptical Science covered this in 2007 in a piece entitled ‘Evaporating the Water Vapour Argument‘.

 

PM. Not so wrong. Mason agrees that the “net feedback” is triple the effect of CO2 alone. The main point here is that if the “net feedback” is negative rather than positive the entire “catastrophic” prediction is out the window. He states “Models don’t ‘assume’.  They model”. Yes, they model based on a number of inputs, including some assumptions, one of which is that water and other factors will have a positive feedback around three times CO2 alone.

 

[11] Many scientists do not agree with this, or do not agree that we know enough about the impact of increased water to predict the outcome.

JM. Reality: Given how wrong the previous statement is, it is not surprising that many scientists wouldn’t agree with it!

 

PM. The point is that many scientists do not believe we know enough about water vapor and clouds to make a reliable prediction about the effects on increased CO2 in the atmosphere. There are many scientists who do not agree with the alarmist approach to climate change. Earth scientists, geologists, geographers, astrophysicists, evolutionary biologists; scientists that have a long view of the earth’s history. Most people in the alarmist camp are focused on the past 100 years, or on denying the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period over the past 1000 years. But to get a more informed view one must study the past 500 million years at least.

 

[12] Some scientists believe increased water will have a negative feedback instead, due to increased cloud cover. It all depends on how much, and at what altitudes, latitudes and times of day that water is in the form of a gas (vapour) or a liquid (clouds). So if a certain increase in CO2 would theoretically cause a 1.0C increase in temperature, then if water caused a 3-4 times positive feedback the temperature would actually increase by 3-4C. This is why the warming predicted by the models is so large.

JM. Reality: You can count the number of climate scientists who believe water vapour feedback to be negative on one hand (out of thousands). Then we’re back to the plain wrong stuff again: it has already been pointed out above that 3-4 times positive feedback from water vapour is incorrect (it’s roughly 2x). So that is not why modelling has produced scenarios with larger temperature rises. Skeptical Science has covered cloud feedback here, and as an interesting aside, amongst many papers on this subject, Dessler has a new paper on water vapour feedbacks in the Journal of Climate.

 

PM. That is simply not true, unless Mason only accepts people as “climate scientists” who agree with him. Many scientists question the assumption that atmospheric water is automatically a positive feedback to increased CO2. If atmospheric water were always a positive feedback we would have had runaway global warming a long time ago and all or most of life would be gone already. The argument for negative feedback from water is strengthened by the fact that the climate has tended to stay within certain bounds.

John Mason knows that there is no way to accurately predict how much of the increased atmospheric water will be in the form of a gas versus a liquid and what the distribution of clouds will be in time and space in a warmer climate.

 

[13] Whereas if there was a negative feedback of 0.5 times then the temperature would only rise 0.5C.

JM. Reality: The data say otherwise: it’s already gone beyond 0.5C

 

PM. A misunderstanding I suppose. I did not say that the temperature had increased by 0.5C. I was speaking of a hypothetical increase for the purpose of explaining the different outcomes of negative vs. positive feedback from water vapor, which Mason should have easily understood. Read the entire interview in the Washington Times to get the context.

 

[14] The global average temperature has now been flat for the past 15 years, as all the while CO2 emissions have continued to increase.

JM. Reality: Did global warming stop in 1998, 1995, 2002, 2007, 2010 (select unusually warm year of choice as start-point)? We take a look here and here. It did not: the entire planet is accumulating heat due to an energy imbalance. Oceans are accumulating energy. Land absorbs energy and ice absorbs heat to melt – as witnessed by the unusually-strong melt-out of Arctic sea ice this year. What Moore does here is to pick a short timescale with a start-point cherrypicked for its notable warmth, due to the global warming trend being powerfully superimposed by the exceptionally strong 1997-98 El Nino. Similar highpoints have occurred in the past too: let’s use a graphic to highlight the problem with short-termism when interpreting climate trends, which are defined as over 30 years or more:

 

PM. Here is the HadCRUT graph for the past 15 years:

It is very clear that there has been no upward trend during this 15-year period. This can’t be explained by El Nino alone. Of course I recognize that global average temperature has been in a general rising trend since the Little Ice Age ended around 1850. The end of the Little Ice Age cannot be attributed to human emissions. My main points are, first, we do not know if global temperatures will continue to rise in this century. It may eventually reach a peak and fall off like it has done many times before. Second, there must be other factors at work or the temperature would not have remained flat for 15 years while CO2 levels continued to rise.

Mason cites the reduced extent of summer Arctic sea ice as evidence that the world is gaining heat. He, like other warmists, belittles the fact that Antarctic ice has been growing in extent:

In the same year, 2007, that Arctic Ice was at a minimum, Antarctic ice was at a maximum. This should at least be recognized.

In 2003, 3000 Argo Bouys were deployed into the world’s oceans. This has given us, for the first time, an accurate measure of global ocean temperatures. The bouys float free, alternately sinking to 700 meters depth and then rising slowly while taking a profile of the temperature. When the bouys surface they send the temperature record to a satellite. Here is the actual record of global average ocean temperature (heat content) vs. the prediction made by the climate models:

Clearly, there has been no upward trend in ocean temperatures since 2003.

 

[15] There are only 2 possible explanations for [this], either there is some equally powerful natural factor that is suppressing the warming that should be caused by CO2, or CO2 is only a minor contributor to warming in the first place.

JM. Reality: On short-term timelines, there are powerful natural factors that can potentially suppress temperatures: big volcanic eruptions, strong La Nina episodes and so on. If the background warming trend is around 0.2C per decade, El Nino and La Nina, with their potential +0.3C to -0.3C influences on annual average temperatures respectively, can obviously mask that trend positively or negatively in years where they are strong. As noted above, 1997-98 saw an exceptionally strong El Nino, producing a consequent temperature high that has only in recent years been equalled – hence it being a popular start-point for the ‘global average temperature has now been flat for the past 15 years‘ talking-point. Let’s think of an analogy here: unemployment. Supposing a country had seen a brief crisis twenty years ago in which unemployment spiked at 20%, falling quickly back to a more normal level of 5%. Now let’s suppose things were slowly going wrong again, with lots of job-losses on the news and unemployment slowly climbing over three years to 10% then 15%. If a Government minister then went on air to say that unemployment had fallen over the past 20 years, what would be your response? If printable, please add in the comments, below!

 

PM. Again, I am not claiming that temperature has gone down, it has obviously been in an upward trend for over 150 years. I am saying that we do not have strong evidence that we are the primary cause and that in my estimation the balance of probabilities weighs in favor of natural causes being the primary factors. Mason is correct that the apparent trend does depend on the starting point. Here are two examples, both of which are based on well–established facts:

  1. 150 Million years ago global CO2 was more than 2000 ppm. Today it is less than 400 ppm. Therefore, over the long term there has been a five-fold decline in the level of CO2 in the global atmosphere.
  2. During the Holocene Thermal Maximum, between 9000 to 5000 years ago, the climate was warmer than it is today. Therefore there has been a declining trend in global temperature for over 5000 years. If we go back 5 million years the global temperature was considerably warmer than it is today, so therefore the world has been in a general cooling trend for the past 5 million years.

 

JM. There was then a pause for breath as the interviewer asked a further question:

Cotto: Across the world, untold millions are very nervous about global warming. Do you believe it really is the sort of threat that many perceive it to be? Why or why not?

And straight off again….. the Gish-Gallop resumes for another 362 words:

 

[16] No. I do not believe alarmism and fear are the correct responses even if our emissions are causing some warming.

JM. Reality: This is not a response to the question the interviewer asked! Nevertheless, nobody is advocating mass-outbreaks of alarmism: instead what is a sensible course is one of prudent risk management.

 

PM. I’m not sure why Mason thinks I didn’t answer the question which was “Do you really believe it is the sort of threat that many perceive it to be?” The answer is “no”, which is why I don’t believe alarmism is either justified or “prudent”. It was James Lovelock who recently surmised that it might be Gaia’s intent to encourage an increase in CO2 emissions in order to stave off a new Ice Age. That may be a stretch but the point is there are large potential benefits from an increase in CO2. The growth of food crops and trees will be accelerated considerably, as the optimum CO2 level for plant growth is around 1500-2000 ppm. Large areas of the Canadian and Russian north may become capable of growing food and trees where there is tundra today. Energy use will be reduced in the cold countries where the warming would be more pronounced. This is, of course, contingent on the presumption that an increase in CO2 will result in increased temperature.

 

[17] In particular I do not believe it makes sense to adopt policies that would obviously cause more harm that the supposed “catastrophe” that might be caused by warming.

JM. Reality: Neither would it make sense to execute all smokers in case they get cancer, but it would make sense to help them to quit. In other words, more arm-waving. In terms of policymaking, the benefits of reducing carbon emissions will significantly outweigh the costs, as explored in more detail here.

 

PM. I do not believe that a rapid reduction of 80 percent or more in fossil fuel use worldwide could possibly have more benefits than costs. This is generally what the alarmists are calling for, and they are pushing wind and solar energy that will break the banks of even the richest countries if adopted on the scale that Germany proposes, for example. I do support replacing fossil fuel-based technologies with alternative technologies where it is cost-effective, such as replacing gas furnaces with heat pumps in buildings. I also support the effort to build an electric car but until we invent a battery that costs under $1000 and will go 300 miles on a charge the internal combustion engine will remain dominant.

Mason’s repetitious and continued use of the phrase ‘arm-waving’ aside, I did not propose that smokers be executed. And I do not believe that comparing climate change to tobacco makes the slightest sense. It is another ad hominum attack.

 

[18] The proposal to end fossil fuel use in a short time frame with no alternative is a classic example.

JM. Reality: Name one major government who has made such a proposal, Patrick. None exists.

Some advocates may be suggesting a major and rapid transition away from fossil fuel dependency, but that is completely different from the ‘no alternative’ scenario that Moore portrays. For example, Al Gore has proposed in a 2008 speech that it would be possible for the USA to make the transition away from fossil fuels in a short timespan, but not without an alternative. He said:

“What if we could use fuels that are not expensive, don’t cause pollution and are abundantly available right here at home?” and: “Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.”

This is both admirable and ambitious (after all, who wants a polluted world?), but let’s compare Gore’s vision of a clean energy future with Moore’s, repeated from the top of this piece:

“If we stopped using fossil fuel today, or by 2020 as Al Gore proposes, at least half the human population would perish and there wouldn’t be a tree left on the planet with[in] a year, as people struggled to find enough energy to stay alive.”

The one is visionary and positive, the other takes negativity to the brink of hysteria.

 

PM. You say I have overstated Al Gore’s proposal, but he clearly has an anti-fossil fuel policy and a skeptical nuclear position of a similar nature to that expressed by Greenpeace and the green movement in general. It is now fashionable to oppose all coal, all oil pipelines, all tankers, all fracking for gas, all offshore oil, all oilsands, all shale oil, and oil in general. The fossil fuel industry is vilified as a criminal element pushing a toxic product, while nuclear is said by opponents to be unsafe and uneconomic. Gore does not actually propose any alternative but simply generalizes as if it is a wish rather that anything substantive. So even if you take out “or by 2020 as Al Gore proposes” my statement is true. I make it to emphasize how dependent we are on fossil fuels, and that a rapid end to their use would have far more catastrophic results than the wildest climate scare scenario. (see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2009/mar/16/climate-change-al-gore)

 

[19] Many of the so-called “cures” for climate change would cause more damage to the patient that the so-called “disease”.

JM. Reality: This is repetition of the same debunked point for a third time. But we are about to rapidly switch themes. Rapid and apparently random theme-switches are an essential part of any effective Gish-Gallop:

 

PM. I have no idea what Mason is getting at here. I am responding to questions in an interview. John Cotto asked pretty straightforward questions about the whole range of climate issues. So there are no “random theme-switches”, I am responding to a series of questions in the order they were asked. Mentioning Gish again is disingenuous at best.

 

[20] The climate has been considerably warmer throughout the history of modern life (550 million years) for most of the time than it is today.

JM. Reality: This statement is basically meaningless because modern Human civilization has developed within and is dependent upon a reasonably stable climate. For more on this favourite talking-point, see Climate’s changed before.

 

PM. Mason’s statement is preposterous. How can the Pleistocene, which is the time-frame of the evolution of modern-day humans, be described as a “stable climate”? Humans have evolved in the most fluctuating period of global climate since the mass extinction caused by a meteor impact 65 million years ago. Humans have survived as the major glaciations have come and gone during this Ice Age. When hominids first appeared the world was warmer, and they were all in the tropics where it has been warm even during the major glaciations. There is a reason there are 24 million people in Sao Paulo, Brazil and only 800 in Barrow, Alaska. It is a testament to the adaptability of humans that they have survived the Ice Age when from an evolutionary perspective we clearly favor a climate where it does not freeze. Even during the more recent times, during the 10,000 years since the development of agriculture, the climate has varied. It was warm during the Egyptian and Roman eras, cool in the Dark Ages, warm in the Medieval Period, cool during the Little Ice Age, and warmer now. Still, the world is considerably colder now than it was before the onset of the present Ice Age. During the major glaciations the average global temperature was 11-12C. During the Greenhouse Ages it was around 25C, nice and warm. Today it stands at 14.5C, much closer to the cold end of the spectrum than to the warmer, more life-friendly Greenhouse Ages.

 

[21] These were the Greenhouse Ages, often lasting 100 million years or more, when all the land was either tropical or subtropical. Not that many millions of years ago Canada’s Arctic islands were covered in sub-tropical forests. There was no ice at either pole. The sea was considerably higher.

JM. Reality: Yes there were prolonged periods during which a Hothouse climate prevailed. This is well understood. See our April 2012 post on Eocene Park. This is not somewhere we want to go quickly.

 

PM. It depends on your definition of “quickly”. We don’t seem to be going anywhere quickly yet. In March of this year the IPCC stated that there is no discernable footprint of climate change, either natural of human-caused, on extreme weather events. Of course they went on to warn us –“just you wait” – that if we continued in our evil ways there would be an increase in extreme weather events in the future. This was a prediction, not an historical fact, but true to form most of the media coverage focused on the prediction, ignoring the conclusion that nothing had happened yet.

I do not believe that a warming of 2-3C in this century would have catastrophic consequences. Most of the warming would be in the temperate and arctic regions, places where it freezes now. If you count the species in a tropical forest compared to the arctic tundra it is obvious that far more species prefer warm climates to cold climates, including humans.

 

[22] Life flourished through these times.

JM. Reality: Wrong because it is a vague over-generalisation. There were mass-extinctions associated with phases of rapid climate change. Rapid environmental change tends to cause mass-extinction events because the environment alters faster than the abilities of many species to adapt. Unfortunately, there is evidence that we may be entering another such event right now.

 

PM. Just because a statement is a generalization doesn’t make it wrong. Life did flourish during the Greenhouse Ages, all the land was tropical and sub-tropical. It is Mason who is wrong. The two main mass extinction events are thought to have been caused by large meteor impacts, sending thousands of cubic kilometers of dust into the upper atmosphere. This caused a dramatic cooling and the loss of photosynthesis and the extinction of 90 percent of species in the Permian extinction and about half the species in Cretaceous/Tertiary extinction, when dinosaurs became extinct. Mason needs to do his homework here. And there is no factual evidence of a mass extinction now; this is another fabrication among many.

 

[23] They will say that humans are not adapted to such a warm climate, ignoring the fact that humans are a tropical species, and would not be able to live where there is frost without fire, clothing, and shelter.

JM. Reality: Whilst hominids originated in Africa, they migrated and colonised many latitudes – including temperate and cool zones, well before the fossil fuels were widely used – as fake-sceptics are fond of pointing out, they even colonised southern Greenland on a temporary basis during Medieval times. However, we are not generally well-adapted to exist in certain climatic belts – hot and arid or permanently cold. In both cases, there is simply not enough food available locally to support large populations, although a relatively small number of semi-nomadic hunters and/or herders may eke out an existence. The key threat here involves the expansion of hot and arid conditions into areas that currently sustain large populations: failure of other animal and plant species (including those farmed for food) to adapt quickly enough to such changes and subsequent ecosystem/agricultural collapses would obviously have massive impacts upon us. To underplay this is grossly irresponsible.

 

PM. So what’s with the reference to “fake-skeptics”? Are you saying I am faking at being a skeptic? More likely you mean that skeptics are all fakes. That is not an argument; it is an ad hominum personal attack. I am a sincere skeptic and it’s a free country. Let us focus on facts.

Yes, humans migrated out of Africa long before the age of fossil fuels, about 170,000 years before. They used wood as their fuel, which Greenpeace calls a “Stone Age fuel” even though it is organic, renewable, and produced by solar energy. In spite of the fact it was in use so long ago, wood is still far and away the most important source of renewable energy, an order of magnitude more important than wind and solar could ever be. Those early migrants also had fur and bark clothing and rudimentary shelters and caves.

It is more likely that a warmer world will be a wetter world. What is now the Sahara Desert was green and covered with lakes during the Holocene Thermal Maximum 9000 – 5000 years ago. There may be regional drying, as in the US Southwest where there has been a gradual drying trend since the end of the Little Ice Age. It is grossly irresponsible to think you know all the answers.

 

[24] I believe that a 2.0C in global average warming, or even more, would be in balance beneficial, partly because most warming occurs where it is now cold and very little occurs in the tropics. This would make northern Canada and Siberia fertile, and it would increase the number of frost-free days for food production in the temperate zones.

JM. Reality: If Moore believes this to be true then he should provide some evidence, not just unsubstantiated opinion. For example, if he knows a way of growing millions of tons of corn on recently thawed-out permafrost bog with the sunlight constraints of high northern latitudes, then he should let the rest of the world know! Fertility depends on deep rich soil development as much as it depends on temperature. More discussion on the topic of where we are heading here – and it sure ain’t where Patrick says we are heading. But hey, it’s time for another theme-switch:

 

PM. The Canadian Arctic Islands were covered in tropical forest a few million years ago and then as the climate cooled, leading into the Ice Age, were covered with temperate forest, and now with tundra as it is too cold for trees. So sunlight doesn’t seem to be a problem, especially for annual crops in the midnight sun. When climate changes soils build quickly and seeds disperse by wind, water, birds, and animals (including people who plant seeds.) Not all the taiga and tundra is a bog, and would finally dry out in a warmer world. And then there are greenhouses and hydroponics. Even today they grow tomatoes in Kamchatka this way.

During the past century, as glaciers have retreated, it is quite amazing how quickly the barren rock that was under the glacier becomes a new forest with all the attendant biodiversity. This can be observed first-hand in Alaska and British Columbia.

Again, I don’t get the point about “theme-switch” other than that you are grasping for a means to bolster the offensive and unhelpful Gish metaphor. I was asked a series of questions on different aspects of climate change. They are all on the “theme” of climate and I didn’t decide what the questions were on or what order they were in. If anyone wants to get a more comprehensive version of my thoughts on climate change they can read the chapter on climate, Climate of Fear, in my recent book, Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout – The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist. It can be obtained on Amazon.com in both print and electronic versions.

 

[25] The polar bear might be reduced in numbers but the only reason they evolved in the first place was due to the present Ice Age.

JM. Reality: So that disqualifies them from a continued existence, does it?

 

PM. Species come and go with changing climates, although I do believe in species protection and endangered species recovery programs. The polar bear population has actually increased dramatically since unregulated hunting was ended in the 1960s. If the world climate, over the next thousands of years, returned to a Greenhouse Age, it may not be hospitable to polar bears, but the arctic regions would be hospitable to hundreds of thousands of species that can’t survive there today. And I would not adopt policies that would threaten our entire civilization just to protect polar bears.

 

[26] Polar Bears are not even a distinct species, they are a variety of Brown (Grizzly) Bear.

JM. Reality: Wrong. Polar Bear: Ursus maritimus. Grizzly Bear: subspecies of Ursus arctos. They are regarded as distinct species.

 

PM. They have been given distinct names but they are no more different species than are the black bear and the Kermode bear (spirit bear), which is just a white variety of black bear. The definition of a species is that individuals can breed and produce fertile offspring. This is the case with grizzly bears and polar bears.

 

[27] Some penguins that live on ice might dwindle but there are plenty of penguin species that do not depend on ice, In the Galapagos, Australia, and South America, for example.

JM. Reality: Again, so that disqualifies them from a continued existence, does it?

 

PM. See above.

 

[28] I fear the irrational policies of extreme environmentalists far more that a warmer climate on this relatively cold planet (14.5 C global average temperature today compared with 25C during the Greenhouse Ages.

JM. Reality: Perhaps you live at a reasonable elevation, well inland. We do not have to lose the polar ice-caps for disastrous sea-level rise to occur, given the number of major cities situated at or close to sea-level. A partial melt would be sufficient for the need to relocate millions and in addition the loss of fertile low-lying agricultural lands would have many severe consequences.

 

PM. The sea-level has been relatively stable for the past 5,000 years or more. Yet the sea was about 400 feet lower at the height of the last major glaciation 18,000 years ago. The relatively rapid rise in sea level occurred mostly during the Holocene Thermal Maximum 5,000 – 9,000 years ago when the large mid-latitude, low-elevation glaciers melted. It is extremely unlikely that the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps could melt in less than thousands of years. It took millions of years for them to accumulate. And we are quite capable of adapting to sea level rise, look at what the Dutch have done, reclaiming the seabed for farmland. After devastating wars whole cities are rebuilt in a matter of a few years. And if the warming is natural, it seems we would be better served by focusing on adaptation rather than holding back natural trends which are inevitable.

 

JM. In conclusion, this is a barrage of meaningless arm-waving that links a series of statements that are almost entirely incorrect. It’s political rhetoric, in other words, but rhetoric that does not stand up to scrutiny. However, this is not the first example of such from this source. In researching the background to this post, I discovered that Moore’s opinings were being highlighted over at Climate Depot, a website that likes to disseminate climate change misinformation. There, I found another set of Moore quotes from a month or so earlier. Take a look at this:

“There is no ‘abrupt’ increase in CO2 absorption, it is gradual as CO2 levels rise and plants become less stressed by low CO2 levels. At 150 ppm CO2 all plants would die, resulting in virtual end of life on earth.”

This is repeating a suggestion from James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, and – again – it is wrong. It is also irrelevant given that we have gone from 280 to nearly 400 ppm CO2 over the past 150 years and are still rising fast. Back to the science, and how plants respond to high (or low) carbon dioxide levels is an interesting enough topic to warrant a full post in its own right, given the amount of research that has been done in this field over recent years (hint – they do not die out at 150ppm), so stay tuned. In the meantime, the best advice would be to treat anything Patrick Moore says on climate change with due skepticism.

 

PM. I would prefer to think of it as meaningful arm-waving, if it is indeed arm-waving. Mason accuses me of being “almost entirely incorrect”, at least admitting that I am somewhat correct.

He accuses me of “political rhetoric” even though I do not employ political language, other than to differentiate between skeptics and warmists.

Apparently I am to be shunned for appearing in the Climate Depot, Marc Morano’s skeptical blog that takes extremists to task for, well, being extremist. Mason says Climate Depot “disseminates climate change misinformation”. That’s his opinion. I say Climate Depot does the world a service by exposing the frauds, charlatans, extremists, and doomsday fanatics who think humans are the enemy of the earth. We are of the earth.

Mason may discount James Lovelock but I do not. I don’t accept everything Lovelock says but I do accept him as a brilliant thinker and one of the most knowledgeable scientists on atmospheric chemistry, because he darn well is.

Mason claims that plants “do not die out at 150 ppm” CO2. Where does he get this idea? It is a well-known fact that plants stop growing around 150 ppm CO2. Bring on your “full post” on this topic.

It is ironic, and sad, that the EPA has declared CO2 to be a toxic pollutant when it is the most important nutrient (food) for all life on earth. Through the miracle of photosynthesis, green plants turn CO2, water, nitrogen, and a pinch of minerals from the soil into the food that we and all other animals, insects and invertebrates use as our means of survival. To vilify CO2 is to vilify life itself. Carbon is the currency of life and we are part of that life so we should pay homage to CO2 and the carbon it provides.

I welcome any comments or feedback on this exchange and the subject of climate in general.

My websites are www.greenspiritstrategies.com and www.greenspirit.com

 

 

 

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