Climate hysteria pushed car industry towards diesel


“Mr. President,

It is clear that Volkswagen has deliberately broken the law, and deliberately misled both regulators and customers.  It was wrong to do so.  It should rightly face appropriate and proportionate penalties.

But we must understand the regulatory environment in which this scandal has emerged.  The truth is that legislators were consumed by climate hysteria and carbon-phobia, and as a result we pushed car owners, and the auto industry, towards diesel, which was seen as a lower-emission fuel.

In fact its CO2 emissions are only marginally less than petrol, and in any case CO2 is not a pollutant.  It is a natural, non-toxic trace gas which is essential to life on Earth.  But as we are now realising, diesel’s other emissions – SOx and NOx and particulates — are highly toxic, and our dash for diesel has done more harm than good.

VW was trying to follow regulatory pressure by moving to diesel power, but found that it was unable at the same time to meet emissions targets, so it decided to cheat.  It was wrong to do so, but so were we, as legislators, wrong to impose conflicting and contradictory demands on the industry.

I see a parallel here, Mr. President, with our ill-judged rush to promote bio-fuels, before we understood the issues of energy inputs to agriculture, and the implications of Indirect Land Use Change.  By mandating 10% biofuels, and then later rowing back, we sent confused signals to industry and caused great damage to investors.

It is no part of my job to defend German industry.  But nor is this a time for schadenfreude.  I am concerned that the potential hit to Volkswagen could damage all of us – especially if, as many expect, other companies are drawn into the scandal.

With the prospect of multi-billion dollar fines in several countries, recall costs, class actions from owners and so on, it is not inconceivable that VW could fail.  That is an outcome we should seek to prevent.”



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Plus ça change…

IMG_21461                                  ADAMS20151002_3460562k

By an extraordinary coincidence, I came across two cartoons today that despite decades between them seemed joined at the hip.  The first (I’m told) has been knocking about on the internet, and is claimed by some to have been “leaked” from a secret archive in the KGB (or whatever initials the Russians are using these days).  Sadly I can’t confirm the provenance, but the style and content (for what they’re worth) seem to add some credibility to the claim.

We’re back in the days of the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact, signed in August 1939 – effectively a non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin.  The pact was so successful that it held for nearly two years – until Hitler stabbed his Russian ally in the back and started his ill-fated march to Moscow in 1941.

The cartoon, or propaganda poster (which it appears to be), shows a Russian and a German pilot rather improbably shaking hands in the air, from planes travelling in opposite directions, while German and Russian bombs fall in a steady shower on London.  The Russian text at the bottom (I am reliably informed) celebrates the coming destruction of Britain’s capital city.

Fast forward seven or eight decades to the Adams’ cartoon in the Daily Telegraph of October second.  Again, two planes.  And bombs.  Russia still represented, this time by president Putin, the modern incarnation of the Tsar of all the Russias (or at least one of them).  And in the other plane, the USA, represented by President Obama.  Putin shouts “Bombs away” as his weapon descends onto Obama’s cockpit.

I don’t suggest for a moment that Adams had the Russian cartoon in mind (or was even aware of it), but the parallel is uncanny.

In 2015 as in 1940 we have a shaky sort of alliance between major powers, including Russia.  Again, we have some pretence of cooperation and coordination.  Again, there is deep suspicion and cross purposes.  We have Russia and America, to all appearances, in Syria, fighting different wars against different enemies in the same airspace.  Bizarre.

Karl Marx is credited with the famous quotation “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce”. There is no doubt that the Second World War was a tragedy.  But this time, despite the humour of Adams’ cartoon, I fear that the situation in Syria is a tragedy too.

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A new front in the climate debate – could the observed increase in atmospheric CO2 levels be natural, not man-made?


One of the common elementary errors in scientific analysis is to confuse correlation with causation.  If two phenomena, A and B, are strongly correlated, it is very likely that there is a causal link.  But it doesn’t prove that A caused B.  Perhaps B caused A.  Or perhaps some other phenomenon, C, caused both A and B.  (Timing can be a factor here: if A precedes B in terms of time, we can be pretty sure that B did not cause A).

This particular confusion bedevils a great deal of climate science.  In Al Gore’s famous movie “An Inconvenient Truth”, he demonstrates a close correlation over hundreds of thousands of year between atmospheric CO2 levels and mean global temperatures, and BINGO!  He’s proved that it was CO2 wot dun it.  But he is hung out to dry on the timing issue, because on more detailed analysis the temperature peaks precede the CO2 peaks by around 800 to 1000 years.  If anything, it looks as if temperature drives CO2, not vice versa.

On the face of it, the case for anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is pretty clear.  The level of atmospheric CO2has been increasing steadily as long as we’ve had good records.  This has all taken place during the period since the Industrial Revolution started, with a steady increase in fossil fuel use.  (Leave aside, for the moment, the fact that the current slight warming started well before the Industrial Revolution got into its stride).

Everyone (well nearly everyone) accepts that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and therefore might have some climate impact.  Challenges to the orthodoxy usually focus first of all on the “Sensitivity” of the climate system to CO2.  Because the theoretical warming effect of CO2 is negative logarithmic, CO2 has to increase geometrically to achieve a linear increase in temperature.  So sensitivity is expressed as the temperature increase resulting from a doubling of CO2 – which (other things being equal) will always be the same.  A doubling from 100 ppm to 200 ppm would cause the same temperature rise as a doubling from 400 ppm to 800 ppm – although the latter involves a four times larger increase.

The climate is so chaotic and the weather so variable that it is quite difficult to decide what the sensitivity might be.  The IPCC likes to work on 3 to 4oC per doubling.  Some scientists believe the figure is much lower.

The other main ground of debate is “feed-back mechanisms”.  For example: warming could increase the level of water vapour, a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, so augmenting warming – a positive feedback.  But water vapour results in more cloud cover, higher albedo, less sunlight reaching the earth’s surface, so less warming – a negative feedback.  The IPCC tends to assume that the aggregate of all feedbacks is positive.  Some scientists believe they may be negative.

The failure of global temperatures to increase for the last 18 years, despite continuing increases in CO2, argues for low sensitivity and possibly negative feedbacks.

But although I have been involved in this debate for a decade, it had never occurred to me to question the first link in the chain – that rising CO2 reflects anthropogenic emissions.  I mean, it’s obvious, isn’t it?  Obvious, but maybe not true.

I have often remarked on the 1000 year cyclical pattern of temperature which we have observed for at least ten thousand years.  On that basis, we should have expected a recovery from the Little Ice Age in the 17th century – and that is exactly what we have observed.  It is entirely reasonable to suppose that the observed warming since then would have taken place even without human activity.

The key insight is this: that natural cyclical changes in temperature can themselves drive levels of atmospheric CO2.  The rise we have seen may be partly, or largely, natural and not anthropogenic.  If so, then the vastly expensive measures we are taking to “combat climate change” and to reduce emissions are even more futile than they appear already.  It is worth recalling that man-made emissions are dwarfed by the scale of the natural carbon cycle.  They represent only around 3% of the total.

The mechanism is very simple.  There is an awful lot of CO2 in the atmosphere.  On one estimate, 3000 gigatonnes (3 x 1012). But there is a great deal more in the oceans – again, on some estimates, fifty times as much.  And the relationship between the two is dynamic, not static.

Those who challenge my position on these issues often accuse me (wrongly) of ignoring basic science. Well here’s some basic science they’ve ignored: cool water can hold more CO2 in solution than warm water.  If the ocean cools, it will dissolve more CO2 out of the atmosphere, and atmospheric CO2 levels will drop.  Vice versa, if the water gets warmer, CO2 will be released out of solution and into the atmosphere – raising levels of atmospheric CO2.

It is conceivable that much, or most, of the increase in atmospheric CO2 which we have observed is entirely due to natural causes, in which case our efforts to curb emissions, which already look totally ineffectual, will be even more futile.

There are two objections to this idea, which I expect to be raised by the alarmist brigade.  First, the balance of 12C vs 13C (isotopes of carbon) is claimed to support an anthropogenic/fossil fuel source for the increased CO2.  Second, the current level of CO2 at 400 ppm is higher than that recorded for previous interglacials (by about 100 ppm).  There are satisfactory explanations of both of these points – though they rather go beyond the reasonable bounds of a political blog.  However they are dealt with by Professor Murry Salby of Macquarrie University and the University of Colorado

Professor Salby’s thinking is covered in more detail in a booklet written by Mike Haseler, Chairman of the Scottish Climate and Energy Forum, for The Bruges Group,  “Climate: What we know, and what we don’t”.  I recommend it.  Professor Salby also presents intriguing evidence that CO2 emissions from land surfaces are greatly enhanced by increases in surface temperature and soil humidity – more evidence that temperature drive CO2, rather than the orthodox view, which is the opposite.

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A reply to Professor Michael Merrifield of Nottingham University


Recently the good Professor posed a question to me on Twitter. I’m afraid I didn’t identify him at once, but he’s come back and posed it again.

He writes:
1. Sadly, you seem to have got the wrong end of the stick, Roger. My question to you, “Come on Roger, you can do it: show you know at least a little physics and can think at least marginally,” was apropos of a very specific, really rather simple question. Namely, why do NASA’s measurement of rising ocean levels give systematically different answers when they calculate the effect using a gravitational probe as compared to the direct measurement of ocean height? In fact, here’s where I ask it and show the data in question.

If you would care to address that straightforward question, I’d be happy to engage with you on the altogether more complex misunderstandings that you lay out in this blog post.

So I am happy to reply.

Dear Professor Merrifield,

I am sorry that you feel I ignored your question as first asked. I ignored it because it seemed completely irrelevant – and also, I have to say, because it seemed to me to be couched in rather patronising and divisive terms. (People who take debate seriously do not usually start out by characterising their opponents’ arguments as “misunderstandings”). I have not written – at least recently – about the issue of sea level rise. I do not claim any expertise in the area. I have no experience of gravitational probes. And I see no reason to answer trick questions from astronomers – or indeed from Journalists. I think that George W. Bush was perhaps ill-advised to take a question on who was the Prime Minister of India, which he failed to answer on the spur of the moment.

I am a politician, not a scientist, but as a politician I try to be aware of sources of information. If I were seeking an answer to your question, I might well enquire of Nils-Axel Mörner, whose work I have read and who seems to understand the issues.

The fact is that I simply don’t know why there is a large discrepancy between the trajectory of sea level based on satellite observations, and that based on direct measurements, though I note that it is discrepancies of this sort that engender doubts about some of the confident assertions of climate scientists.

If you want me to speculate, I will. I guess there may be some read-across from the similar discrepancies between mean global temperature figures based on ground stations and based on satellites. Ground stations don’t give anywhere near universal coverage, and those who manage the data are all too willing to interpolate. The available set of ground stations varies over time (many cold-climate stations were lost on the break-up of the USSR, for example). Moreover the immediate microclimate of individual ground-stations varies over time. You will be familiar with the research that finds that urban sprawl and air-conditioners and tarmac have influenced many ground stations. For these reasons I feel that the satellite data have more credibility.

The problems with local measurements of sea level are even more severe. Natural movements in the sea (waves and tides) are orders-of-magnitude greater than the couple of millimetres a year which you’re trying to measure. Local topography and local weather influence currents and sea level in all sorts of unpredictable ways.

Then of course you have the question of tectonic plate movement. We hear how sea level rise is affecting Bangladesh, but few people recall that the relevant tectonic plate is being subducted (under the India plate, if I remember), so the issue is less the sea rising than the land subsiding.

Nor should we ignore tectonic effects in the UK. The village of Dunwich  disappeared under the North Sea centuries before the current slight warming – we can hardly blame that on anthropogenic emissions.

The big picture on sea level rise is that at the beginning of the current Interglacial, ten to twelve thousand years ago, there was very rapid glacial ice-melt which led to serious sea level rise – hundreds of feet in a few hundred years. This inundated the open country where the North Sea now is, and it created the English Channel. Since that time, the rate of rise has generally declined, and is now at a very low level indeed, which may be primarily an issue of thermal expansion.

It is interesting to reflect on the status of small islands and coral atolls, whose leaders will be in Paris shortly with their begging bowls, demanding climate reparations from Western countries. Do you believe that all these islands were exactly the same 400 feet (or so) above sea level in 10,000 BC, and that it’s just coincidental that they’re all a few feet above sea level now? Or do you recognise (as Darwin did) that coral atolls grow with sea level, and will always be roughly the same height above the surface?

Of course it is true that there is some melting of glaciers and ice caps, which might cause sea level rise (though the Arctic ice-cap is mostly floating, so will not add to sea level). But there is good geological evidence that glaciers advance in cool periods and retreat in warm periods (so far so obvious), and it seems overwhelmingly likely that the ice caps behave in the same way. As the world did not drown during the Minoan Optimum, or the Roman Optimum, or the Mediæval Warm Period, I feel very confident that it won’t drown in the current 21st Century Optimum.

And now, Professor Merrifield, you may pull your rabbit out of your hat and explain to a waiting world how you explain NASA’s discrepancy.

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Roger Helmer speech UKIP conference 2015


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Closed Minds


The 140 character restriction on Twitter is inimical to serious intellectual debate, but too many people – and especially climate alarmists – seem to regard it as a licence for restricting themselves to abuse and sarcasm, while avoiding substantive issues.

Someone called Michael Merrifield, sailing under the pseudonym @ProfMike_M, seems rather good at it.  He derides any hint of climate scepticism, but has little to say about the actual issues.  He accuses me of failing to understand physics, and of an inability to think. This was one of his milder offerings: “Come on Roger, you can do it: show you know at least a little physics and can think at least marginally”.  In fact I got an excellent result at Physics “A” Level, and subsequently a Cambridge Maths degree.

Of course it’s tough to respond in 140 characters, so I resort to the blog, with some thoughts for Professor Mike.

First of all, is he aware that satellite data show no warming trend in the last eighteen years?  That may not prove anything by itself – but it critically undermines the credibility of all those climate models on which alarmists rely, since they all predicted rising temperatures.  Is he aware that virtually all the climate models on which alarmism depends predict a “tropical hot spot” in the atmosphere between five and ten km high – but that observations show that no such hot spot exists?  And does he understand that science fundamentally depends on the ability to falsify predictions?

Is he aware of the cyclical pattern of climate over at least the last ten thousand years (and very probably longer) with an approximately 1000 year periodicity, which gave us (inter alia) the Minoan Optimum, the Roman Optimum, the Mediæval Warm Period – and now, apparently, a new 21st-century optimum?

Has he paused to wonder why these warm periods are called “Optima”?  Perhaps because human societies generally prosper in warmer periods, and do better than they do in cooler periods?  Does he realise that the slight warming in the last century (around 0.7oC) is entirely consistent with that cyclical pattern?  And that therefore it requires no special or anthropogenic explanation?

Does he know that anthropogenic CO2 contributes only about 3% to the global carbon cycle?  Is he aware that there is very much more CO2 in the oceans than in the atmosphere – but that the oceans’ ability to retain dissolved CO2depends critically on water temperature?  So the increase in atmospheric CO2 over the last century may well be caused by cyclical temperature-driven out-gassing from the oceans as much (or more) than by human activity?  Does he know that over geo-historical time, atmospheric CO2 levels have been up to ten times – or more – higher than today – and that those periods of very high atmospheric CO2 were not associated with warming – indeed on some occasions coincided with ice ages? That no “tipping point” was ever reached, and that no “runaway global warming” ever took place?

Indeed is he aware that even at 400 ppm (the current level, more or less), the atmosphere is impoverished in CO2compared to the geo-historical perspective? And that levels much lower would compromise plant growth, bio-mass formation and crop yields?

Does he know that the admitted greenhouse effect of atmospheric CO2 is governed by a negative logarithmic equation – or in simple terms, a law of diminishing returns? That the relationship is not linear?  That the effect of a given ppm increase in CO2 gets less and less as the absolute level increases?  And that we are so far up the curve that it takes a very great deal of CO2 to have much effect?

Does he follow the debate on the climate sensitivity to CO2?  Is he aware that the IPCC assumes a sensitivity figure of 3oC plus per doubling of CO2, while many prominent scientists argue for a much lower figure?  And that recent climate trends tend to lend support to a lower figure?

Does he follow the debate about positive and negative feedbacks?  And the question whether the aggregate of all feedback mechanisms is positive or negative?  Does he know that the climate system is complex and chaotic (in the mathematical rather than the vernacular sense), and that any attempt to define a simplistic linear relationship between mean temperatures and some other single variable is doomed to failure, and frankly farcical?

Has he followed the correlation between sunspot activity and climate, first identified by astronomer Edmond Halley in the Eighteenth century?  And the effect of the Dalton and Maunder Minima in the Little Ice Age?  And does he still maintain that atmospheric CO2 is the only significant driver of climate?  Is he aware of the view of some astronomers that the current low levels of solar activity could presage a period of global cooling?

In short, does it ever occur to him that the “consensus” on global warming in 2015 could be about as spurious as the “consensus” on global cooling in 1975?  One of the cardinal errors in both science and (oddly enough – I have observed it myself) in business is to assume that a recent trend will continue in a linear way, causing disaster.  But in astronomy and in climate (and in business) a cyclical model is often a better guide to the future than a straight line.

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Towards a Soviet-Style economy

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Yesterday I attended a lunch debate to discuss the crisis in the steel industry – just days after the news broke of the problems in Redcar.   This morning, a breakfast meeting on the problems of the fertiliser industry, facing revisions to the ETS – the EU’s perverse Emissions Trading System, of which I have often written.

At both events I managed to get my tuppenceworth in – or (with due modesty), maybe a good sixpence’ worth.  Our man from the Commission (DG Climate Action) Mr. Jos Delbeke  was bullish in respect of the up-coming Paris Climate summit.  It differed from the Kyoto process (he said) because it involved countries volunteering their own commitments to reduce emissions, rather than the Kyoto process’s top-down approach, where targets were allocated to major emitters (but only in the developed world).

He said that commitments already tabled covered 60% of global emissions, and he expected that this figure would reach 90% by December. (My colleague Stuart Agnew suggested later that all fertiliser production would end up in the remaining 10%).

Delbeke explained that 57% of allocations of CO2 emissions permits already agreed by the European Council would be auctioned, while the remaining 43% would be allocated to large energy users to combat “Carbon Leakage” – or in plain English, to try to prevent firms from moving abroad to escape the EU’s perverse policies.  There would be an on-going process of “benchmarking”, designed to place obligations on companies to achieve and then improve on “best practice” for emissions reduction in their industry.

There would be funding via the EU Investment Bank  to finance and support R&D directed to reducing emissions.

In my response, I questioned the rosy predictions for the Paris Climate Conference.  There would be a major confrontation between the developed world and the rest, as developing countries went about with their rather large begging bowl, seeking to lay a guilt trip on the West for the “adverse climate impacts on poor countries”, and to demand compensation.  Perhaps 90% of countries would submit plans – but did anyone seriously think that those plans would be implemented?  Would developing countries sacrifice growth, progress and prosperity on the altar of climate alarmism?  I think not.

Delbeke had criticised Kyoto for its “top-down” approach, yet the ETS plan was itself a top-down approach.  A predetermined volume of emissions permits were to be allocated – but what if they were not enough?  I pointed out that our breakfast debate concerned the fertiliser industry (part of the larger chemicals industry).  Vitally important, but only one of many energy-intensive industries.  I mentioned that I’d been at the steel debate the day before, and seen exactly the same problem, and I listed some of the other industries in the same bind – aluminium, cement, glass, petroleum refining.

It is not that these industries are threatened with carbon leakage – they have been experiencing it for years, and the pace is accelerating.  Jobs are being lost.  Plants closing.  Investment moving abroad.

The EU’s ETS faces a Catch 22.  If it limits allocations, the exodus of industry will continue.  If it provides sufficient allocations to maintain competitiveness, the whole ETS will be blown away, and become a dead letter.

But there is a deeper and more fundamental problem, and that is the massive level of regulatory intervention which the Commission is now proposing.  Bureaucrats will decide what industries qualify.  What allocations they receive.  What benchmarks they are required to meet.  And what R&D funding they will get.

Think of the bureaucracy.  The field day for lobbyists and lawyers.  The barriers to entry and to investment – and indeed to innovation.

But it’s even worse than that.  The level of regulatory intervention has become so massive and all-consuming that we really can’t pretend to have a free-market economy at all any more.  It still retains some of the trappings of a free market, but regulatory control is now so far-reaching and intrusive that we are talking, in effect, a centrally-planned economy, Soviet-style.  Five year plans, Commissars in black limousines.  It’s all there.  And it’s another reason why we shall be better off out!

Stuart Agnew’s contribution:  My good friend Stuart Agnew MEP, a farmer and UKIP’s Agriculture Spokesman, spoke after me – we gave them both barrels!  He made a brilliant and telling point.  While we were discussing fertilisers, he reminded them, we should recall that the most important fertiliser of all is CO2.  “Without chemical fertilisers, I should be able to grow a limited crop.  Without CO2, I could grow no crop at all”.  Nice one, Aggers.

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