The Economist's Hot Air on Climate Change
The November 28, 2015 issue of The Economist magazine has a 14 page special report on climate change. It is a pathetic example of how the media intellectual elite can get science wrong. It is apparently very easy for the self-interested and crony capitalist driven global warming establishment to fool the media elite. When The Economist does get a few important things right, it fails to draw the obvious conclusions. I don’t think it is just a matter of economics majors not understanding science. The problem is that the economics majors are listening to special interests without a proper degree of skepticism. They should have consulted with and listened to some of the many distinguished scientists that are protesting the climate scare. (See, for example, here, here, here and here.)
The promoters of the climate scare are loud and very positive that they are right. They accuse the skeptics of being tools of the fossil fuel companies, an outright lie. This crude approach seems to work, at least with The Economist or The New York Times.
One thing the Economist gets right is that wind and solar are ruinously expensive and create ancillary costs borne by other parts of the electric grid. Wind and solar are not the answer to reducing CO2 emissions. But, The Economist fails to draw the obvious conclusion that nuclear power is the solution. Nuclear power is proven and does not emit CO2. (The discussion is academic because there is little reason to undertake CO2 limitation. The science that predicts global warming doom is flimsy and global warming has been absent for a long time.)
Incredibly, The Economist does not bother mentioning the massive benefits of having more CO2 in the atmosphere. Plants take in CO2 from the atmosphere and create plant bodies from the carbon in CO2 and the hydrogen in water. It is an observed fact that plants grow faster when the atmosphere is enriched with CO2. Greenhouse operators often place CO2 generators in their greenhouses to promote growth. Enriching the air with CO2 makes plants more drought resistant. In one experiment soybean yield was increased by 68% when CO2 levels were doubled. There is no doubt that the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere during the 20th century greatly benefited agriculture, creating billions or even trillions of dollars of increased production.
Any objective analysis of the effects of CO2 must balance the undoubted agricultural benefit against the supposed evil of global warming. Any analysis that hides the benefits of CO2, as the Economist does, is one sided.
The Economist points out that the Gulf Stream is not going to collapse from climate change but fails to point out that that Gulf Stream collapse was always one of the many irresponsible scares generated by the global warming establishment. (The Gulf Stream is driven by the natural circulation of the global wind and there is no chance that those winds will go away.)
The evidence for dangerous global warming comes from computer models. Unfortunately the computer models disagree with each other, by a lot, and given 18 years of no warming, there is every reason not to trust the computer models. The most plausible explanation for 18 years of no warming is that the models are wrong.
The Economist repeats the propaganda press releases of the global warming establishment, that this year or that year is the hottest on record. The “record” only goes back to 1900 or so, and the record is not very good before 1979 when satellite measurements began. Since we are at the tail end of a long warming trend that began hundreds of years ago, it is not surprising that it is warmer now than in 1900. It does make sense to take a year as the period of measurement, a year being a natural period of the Earth’s climate, but it makes no sense to declare that the year always begins on January 1st and ends on December 31st. Nature pays no attention to the human calendar. If we start looking at various one-year periods, then no recent year was significantly hotter than the El Nino year of 1997-1998. For the last 18 years the global temperature has been flat with small ripples. If a small ripple makes one calendar year hotter than another, it is not statistically important. The record is also compromised by evidence of tampering by the global warming establishment, lowering temperature measurements in the past and raising more recent ones, to make it seem that global warming is progressing faster.
The Economist claims that the science behind global warming is straightforward and then proceeds to give a simplistic explanation of the science. The science is actually very complicated and dependent on processes that are poorly understood and poorly measured. For example, the greenhouse effect mainly takes place in the stratosphere many miles above the ground. The moisture feedback that is supposed to triple the amount of warming depends on stratospheric moisture controlled by complicated and poorly understood mechanisms.
The dishonest promoters of climate change have invented a climate newspeak designed to obscure the truth. For example, referring to CO2 as “pollution” is designed to confuse the issue and associate CO2 with noxious gases and particles emitted by poorly managed combustion. CO2 is, of course, invisible, odorless and not in the least dangerous to breathe in the quantities that are in the atmosphere now or in any conceivable future. The air we breathe out is 4% CO2, or a CO2 concentration more than 100 times higher than exists in the atmosphere. The Economist repeatedly and incorrectly calls CO2 emissions pollution and then, correctly, refers to Chinese sulfate emissions as pollution.
The Economist reveals a crude political bias with this:
“That climate change is happening, that it is very largely man-made and that it is exceedingly dangerous, are all now hard to deny (though America's leading Republican presidential candidates routinely try).”
The truth is just the opposite of The Economist’s attempt to depict Republicans as scientifically ignorant. The Republicans, particularly Ted Cruz, are getting climate change right. The Democrats are mostly mouthing the most extreme and unscientific claims of the climate mafia. The Democrats depend on extremist environmental groups, like the Sierra Club, for political support.
The global warming establishment’s attempts to re-engineer the electric grid are the equivalent of having a 14-year old perform brain surgery. The grid is fragile and is undoubtedly the target for hostile terrorist groups and small nations that see an opportunity to essentially destroy the American economy and kill a large part of the population by bringing the grid down for a year or more. If a significant proportion of the massive transformers, generators and turbines that are the critical components of the grid are destroyed there will be no quick recovery. Unfortunately, as described by the Foundation for Resilient Societies, the grid is extremely vulnerable. The Sierra Club is bound and determined to take out all the coal generating plants, something that makes the grid even more vulnerable. Coal plants generally have a pile of coal big enough to continue generation for 30 to 60 days. Natural gas plants, the main alternative to coal, are dependent on just in time delivery of gas via a pipeline. Those pipelines are likely to go down when the grid goes down, or the grid may go down because the pipelines are sabotaged. The Sierra Club campaign against coal is motivated by global warming but their propaganda is pure junk science. (Your children will get autism, asthma and lower IQ’s from coal.)
The many wind farms and solar electricity plants are a monument to the ascendency of special interests operating under the guise of science. Even The Economist acknowledges this. Yet The Economist persists in one-sided reports that uncritically follow the politically correct line regarding global warming.
Norman Rogers, a retired physicist and entrepreneur, is a member of the American Geophysical Union, a member of he advisory committee of the CO2 Coalition, and a Senior Policy Advisor for the Heartland Institute. He writes often about climate and other subjects. He maintains a website here and here.