Global Warming: a debate re-visited.

I have posted a near final draft of what became chapter 9 of my book Risk, published in 1995. The process of writing it transformed me from a firm believer in man-made global warming into a climate change agnostic – a position to which I still adhere. In 1995 it seemed  to me that most of the explanations being offered for what was happening to the climate were extraordinarily crude and simplistic relative to the complexity of  the system that the participants in the debate  purported to understand. I choose to call myself an “agnostic” rather than a “sceptic” because this appears to me to still be the case. The sceptics cast doubt on the “fact” of anthropogenic warming – I simply don’t know.

However my sympathies have shifted in favour of the sceptics in response to the disgraceful treatment of Professor Lennart Bengtsson after he recently proclaimed his scepticism and joined the Global Warming Policy Foundation. It is difficult to imagine a scientist more honoured and qualified to comment on this issue. The vicious personal response to his expressions of scepticism to me speaks volumes for their lack of confidence in the strength of their case.

I intend soon to post a review of these almost 20 year old thoughts – after deciding which ones I still agree with.  But meanwhile …

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8 pings

  1. Rob Schneider says:

    Looking forward to seeing what you think.

  2. AV says:

    These are my sentiments on the issue, filmed in 2009

  3. Matthew Squair says:

    I must confess to a somewhat parochial view of climate change as I live in a country that of all the developed countries will be hit hardest by increasing temperature, and in fact is being affected by rising temperatures right now, so this is not an academic debate for me.

    I did however start out as a skeptic, as I was aware of all the “New Ice Age” hype of the 1970s, and as you say you need to look at multi-decade trends. Definitely a degree of bandwagon jumping going on, but then anyone can propose a theory its the facts that will dispatch it.

    However the state of the science, and the data, has moved along considerably since then so I now come down on the ‘good enough proof to action it’ side. Multiple convergent and supporting lines of evidence are convincing in summary.

    In contrast I find none of the proposed alternative theories as to global warming put forward to be at all convincing. There is no Galileo moment to be had amongst the skeptics, just a lot of ad-hoc defenses and muddying of the water to ensure that what they propose can never be put to the test in the Popperian sense. In the absence of a robust disprovable alternative theory I decline to advance them the courtesy of deeming their efforts worthy of a scientific debate.

    I’ll look forward to seeing what you think. The politics of course are fascinating like watching an aircraft crash in slow motion.

  4. Mark Miller says:


    I am looking forward to the update! I tried to download the draft- no such luck. I’ll check back in a few days to see if I can download the updated chapter 9.

  5. Dermot says:

    Hello John,

    Are you still going to “post a review of these almost 20 year old thoughts”? I would be interested to see in more detail what your misgivings are.

  6. Beaumont says:

    John, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. As a professional model builder, I feel the need to point out that models are not evidence. Unfortunately, the alarmists are using little but models to make the extraordinary claim that although the earth has had more CO2 in the past as well as warmer temperatures, that this time is different. Furthermore, their “treatment” of the risk which requires voluntary abandonment of cheap energy would have catastrophic effects on the global economy–especially the poor.

    In order for me to agree that we should cut 1/3 of our energy use (and therefore 1/3 of our economy) I require more than a computer model. The skeptics, far from “muddying” the debate have simply pointed out that the data is contradictory, flawed, and at times flat out manipulated. The models are then fed this flawed data and 100 year projections are made.

    Perhaps it is best to ask who among you would invest 1/3 of your total wealth based on a computer model of the market predicting values 50 years from now and based on data that someone else changed? essentially, that is what the alarmists want, and folks like me are still requiring true evidence beyond models of a system which we are yet to understand.

  7. Joel Rice says:

    I have subscribed to Science and Nature in addition to more entertaining magazines such as Scientific American and New Scientist for over 40 years. There is no doubt that there is a general consensus among scientists that global warming is happening and it is largely the result of human civilization.

    Anyone can “build a case”, but if you don’t trust the general consensus of scientists what do you trust? The ego and the dark matter of the mind are very misleading and dangerous. This is what makes individual opinion so irrational.

  8. Ray says:

    I have taken a number of physics courses with names like thermodynamics and analytical mechanics and none of my professors ever told me that there is a general consensus among physicists that Newton’s laws of motion are correct and therefore I should believe them. Consensus is a term from politics and has nothing to do with science. So called scientific consensus is politics masquerading a science, i.e. pseudoscience.

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