David Rose: Is This The Tipping Point For Climate McCarthyism?

  • Date: 18/05/14
  • David Rose, Mail on Sunday

Some climate scientists have long been warning that the planet is approaching a tipping point. Future historians may one day reflect that we reached it last week. 

If they do, they won’t mean that this was when global warming became unstoppable. Instead, they’ll be pointing to the curious affair of Professor Lennart Bengtsson of Reading University as the moment that the rigid, authoritarian campaign to shut down debate on climate science and policy finally began to unravel.

For several years, this newspaper has been at the forefront of efforts to publicise the highly inconvenient truth that real world temperatures have not risen nearly as fast as computer models say they should have, thanks to the unexpected ‘pause’ in global warming which has so far lasted some 17 years.

As Prof Bengtsson has now discovered, anyone who draws attention to this will be vilified  and accused of ‘denying’ supposedly ‘settled’ science. 

The dogma – the insistence, as Bengtsson put it yesterday, that ‘greenhouse gas emissions are leading us towards the end of the world in the not-too-distant future’ – dominates many aspects of our lives, from lessons taught in primary schools to the vast and rising ‘green’ energy subsidies on household fuel bills. 

To be sure, Bengtsson’s treatment is not encouraging. As a former director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, he is one of the world’s most eminent experts.

Yet last week, he was accused of having joined the equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan and the Flat Earth Society, and of peddling ‘junk science’ – all because he accepted a place on the council of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. 

So great was the pressure, he feared for his health, and decided to resign. The most cursory look at the GWPF’s website makes clear  it does not ‘deny’ any aspect of  the science of global warming, nor that this has happened in response to human activity. 

Its focus (as its name rather suggests) is on policy, where it has indeed been critical  of the approach thus far. But for the climate enforcers, that was enough. Bengtsson said: ‘I was labelled a heretic. I felt as if I was dealing with the medieval church.’

It also emerged that a paper he co-authored, arguing that temperatures would rise by  only half as much as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claims, had been rejected by a prestigious journal  – after an anonymous reviewer said publishing it would be ‘harmful’ to the environmental cause, because it was bound to be reported by media sceptics. 

Nevertheless, there are grounds for optimism. Perhaps it was simply that a man of Bengtsson’s stature who is still producing research at the age of 79 deserves respect, but the story was reported – not favourably, from the enforcers’ point of view – around the world. It even made the front page of The Times.

Some of those who deplored the ‘climate McCarthyism’ that Bengtsson experienced, such as Prof Judith Curry of Georgia Tech in Atlanta, have received similar treatment for saying global warming may not pose the imminent threat so many want us to fear.

Others, however, were from the very centre of the climate science mainstream, such as Prof Mike Hulme of King’s College, London.

He condemned scientists who ‘harassed’ those with whom they disagreed until they ‘fall into line’. 

But if this really was a tipping point, it will be because the areas of uncertainty in climate science are simply too big to be ignored: claiming the debate is over does not make this true. 

As former Nasa scientist Roy Spencer put it: ‘We might be seeing the death throes of alarmist climate science.  They know they are on the ropes, and are pulling out all the stops in a last-ditch effort to shore up their crumbling storyline.’

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