As the global warming debate hots up, so the rhetoric gets steamier

Reputations and fortunes are being made as politicos join scientists on the bandwagon of a questionable interpretation of unproven research

The disturbing effect of global warming may already be seen all around us. Not in heatwaves, floods, storms, fires, droughts, famine and the extinction of a third of the earth’s species – we shall have to wait a few more years for those excitements, and even then we may be disappointed – but in the overheated self-importance of politicians, scientists, green lobbyists and wild-eyed millenarians.

To these people the prospect of world suffocation came as a prayer answered. For the politicians it was an excuse to ban things, which is the chief delight of power (and the lesser the power, the greater the relish in exercising it, witness the behaviour of local authorities); for the scientists it was an opportunity to stride from the shadows into the limelight and to be paid handsomely for it; for the greens it was a vindication of their loathing of industrialisation, capitalism and man’s precipitous rush from the golden age of hunter-gathering; for the millenarians it was the pretext for a long-awaited transformation of mankind into something more acceptable.

When you stir together these disparate interests the result is a bubbling effusion of hysteria and a terrifying collective mania. Global warming is the modern equivalent of the wave of religious fervour that swept through Europe in the late Middle Ages when the word of mystics and cranks was gospel and heretics were burned alive. Then, as now, all were deemed sinful and guilty and all were assured that they would pay a terrible price, though mercifully it could be avoided by recantation, expiation and the making of a suitable donation to the authorities. Today, we must put behind us the desire to travel by land, sea or air; we must disfigure some of the most beautiful parts of our landscape with huge wind farms; we must divide our rubbish into constituent parts and suffer to have it collected less frequently and at greater cost; we must have our carbon footprint measured just as a criminal has his fingerprints taken; all this and more we must do while those who issue the edicts are themselves absolved from obeying them. (True, David Cameron put a windmill on top of his house and Tony Blair offset his free holiday flight by planting a tree, but ministerial limousines still come and go and politicians worldwide jet to global climate conferences. And that prize eco-prig Al Gore burns enough fossil fuel in his mansion to light a small town.)

Because climate change has become the latest article in the canon of political correctness, it has assumed, like all the others, the status of a truth which may be challenged only on pain of vilification and contempt. But challenged it should be. First, it is not certain that recent climatic phenomena exceed historical norms. Satellite readings show no marked warming since 1978, and land-based thermometers record no warming since 1998. Secondly, it is far from proven that the increase in global temperature during the 20th century was caused by man-made emissions of carbon dioxide rather than by the planet’s normal behaviour.

The greater the uncertainty, the more certain are the scientists. In 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the 20th century temperature increase “could be largely due to natural variability”. In 1995, it reported that “the balance of the evidence suggests a discernible human influence on climate”. In 2001, it found ‘new and stronger evidence that most of the warming is attributable to human activities’. And this year, it declared triumphantly that there was a 90% probability that warming is due to “the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations”.

Why the increasingly scary warnings? A possible explanation is that new evidence has come to light, though you would be hard put to find it. Much of the mounting alarm is fed by the output of complex computer models costing billions of dollars, whose findings are described even by those who devise them as “scenarios” rather than predictions.

There is a further reason for not taking the scientists at their word, and that is that we have been here before. Remember the supposedly scientific studies showing the dangers of passive smoking? These were funded from the American Master Settlement Agreement, which required tobacco firms to fund anti-smoking research. Not surprisingly, scientists paid to show passive smoking was harmful duly come up with the required results, and they were phoney. The president of the American Council on Science and Health concluded, “the role of environmental tobacco smoke in the development of chronic diseases is without scientific basis”, but that was not the politically correct conclusion and so it was ignored. As with tobacco, so with global warming. Science is what you make of it, and what politicians make of it is mischief.

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