A little knowledge is a dangerous thing…..

Leicester Grammar School, Great Glen, Feb 26th. Question Time event. L to R: RFH; Aaron Porter, NUS Vice Chairman; BBC's Kylie Pentelow; History Teacher and Chairman Trevor Allen; Labour candidate Eric Goodyer; Green activist Sue Mallender

Last night (Feb 25th) I did a question time event at Leicester Grammar School in Great Glen with inter alia Eric Goodyer (him of the Gatling Gun delivery), Labour candidate for Charnwood (good luck, Eric — you’re gonna need it!), and Green activist and former euro-candidate Sue Mallender.  At one point, speaking about proportional representation, Sue said “a green vote is never a wasted vote”.  But last June she demonstrated the opposite.  Some thousands of votes were cast in the euro elections in the East Midlands for her Green Party list, yet no Green was elected, so every one of those votes was wasted.  The idea that proportional representation means “no wasted votes” is a nonsense.

Inevitably, the climate question came up.  Sue trotted out the “overwhelming scientific consensus”, while admitting that “one or two scientists” might disagree.  I pointed out that tens of thousands disagreed, including IPCC panellists; that hundreds of prominent sceptical scientists would gather in Chicago in May for the Heartland Conference, and that I looked forward to meeting them; that since the CRU and IPCC scandals broke, more and more scientists have been emboldened to come out of the woodwork and voice sceptical opinions; and that the Amazon non-fiction list features a raft of sceptical books on climate (I’m reading “The Hockey Stick Illusion” by Montford at the moment).

Eric Goodyer, an uncritical believer in all modish fads like the EU and climate change, tried to take an authoritative tack.  He was a scientist.  He knew all about it.  CO2 was a greenhouse gas.  It blocked a significant segment of the infra-red spectrum.  This was trapping heat in the atmosphere and causing warming.  QED.

Sadly he doesn’t know quite enough about it.  Yes, atmospheric CO2 blocks a segment of the infrared spectrum (two segments, in fact, as it happens).  But what Eric didn’t know (or wasn’t going to tell us) was that it can’t block the rest of the spectrum, and that at current levels (around 390 ppm), CO2 is already blocking virtually all outgoing infra-red radiation in those two segments.  Higher concentrations of CO2 will therefore make little or no difference.

The equation governing the “climate forcing effect” (greenhouse effect) of atmospheric CO2, as I have written so often, is well-understood, and is logarithmic.  The curve flattens out.  It is a law of diminishing returns.  And we’re already so far up the curve that further increases in CO2 will have little effect.

So Eric might like to reflect on that.  He also might like to reflect that global temperatures were warmer than today’s a thousand years ago, in the Mediaeval Warm Period.  And two thousand years ago, in the Roman Optimum.  And 5000 years ago, in the Holocene maxima.  And on none of these occasions did we witness any “tipping point”, or any “runaway greenhouse effect”.  On the contrary, they formed part of well-understood, long-term, natural climate cycles — as does our present climate.  Eric may also like to recall that while the current CO2 level is somewhat higher than we believe it has been for some thousands of years, it is actually rather low by geo-historical standards.  CO2 levels in the atmosphere have been more than ten times as high in the past.  And was there runaway global warming?  There was not.  In fact, there was one of the biggest Ice Ages the world has ever seen.

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20 Responses to A little knowledge is a dangerous thing…..

  1. Phil Ball says:

    You say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and I am inclined to agree with you. You also say there is some debate on climate destabilisation theory, which I also agree with.

    However, your constant attacks on the global warming theory (which incidentally, is a small side theory to the larger and more expansive theory of global climate destabilisation) indicate that you have difficulty seeing the bigger picture, which may suggest you do not having the knowledge required to understand the larger aspects of the debate with regards to climate and sustainability.

    I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of any research papers you have either published or been cited in with regards to the areas of climate science that you claim to be very knowledgeable in.

    If you understand the fundamentals of science then you will realise that when a theory is still a theory and has not yet been proven beyond doubt, that does not mean it has therefore been disproven. In order to disprove a theory, you have to provide proof beyond doubt that the theory in question is not true. I am yet to see definitive proof for either side of the global warming theory, (and as a point of interest, the global dimming theory makes for an interesting read).

    However, some people choose not to be so narrow minded as to focus on one small aspect of climate and instead, look at sustainability, improvements in which are likely to lead to longevity of the human species with a higher quality of life. Don’t forget, sustainability is about reducing our negative impacts on the biosphere (which includes our social constructs) that sustains us, not about whether or not we are warming up the world.

    You argue a tired point that does not address the real issues we face as a society today. I have to admit that I agree with you on several issues that concern you in our society, but your attitude towards sustainability is disturbing.

    You say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and it is, so maybe you should start reading more widely and acknowledge the fact that just because other people don’t know everything, it doesn’t make you right. It simply puts you on a level with all those people you try so hard to rise above through false profession and assumption.

    • As the focus of media and legislators on this “one small aspect” (as you put it) threatens to destroy our economy and leave our grandchildren destitute, I make no apology for addressing it. And in science, it’s not for me to disprove a theory — it’s up to the protagonists to prove it. They can’t. They can’t even provide any credible evidence that CO2 is actually exercising a significant effect on climate. Until they do, we should stop squandering billions on futile attempts at mitigation.

  2. ChrisP says:

    I am not a Scientist. So I do not know what the Scientific definition of ‘theory’ is. My question to you is. Is their actually, such a thing as a ‘Theory of Global Warming’ by Scientific definition, As your post suggests? Like the Theory of Gravity for example? Or were you using the term theory in a more general sense?

    • I’m using the term “theory” to indicate the ideas around global warming promoted first and foremost by the IPCC, and by their disciples in academia, the media and the political world. This is a fairly discrete set of ideas which I believe will be familiar to most people who follow the news. It is often called “the consensus”, although that word is less and less appropriate as the House of Cards falls apart.

  3. Phil Burrows says:

    Ooops, Roger seems to have forgotten about the Beer-Lambert Law and seems incapable of considering the atmosphere as anything other than a solid.
    Have the last 60 years of climate science bypassed you?
    A Saturated Gassy Argument Part I

  4. clive jones says:

    I understand the principle of the CO2 warming effect. I also understand that there are both positive feedback mechanisms that amplify the effect and also negative feedback mechanisms that reduce the effect. However, this very small CO2 warming is a second order effect, or less. The primary warming comes from the sun’s radiation combined with water vapour ‘greenhouse’ heat retention. Because it is an area of my expertise, ‘lay’ people often ask me about global warming. I observe that very few people realize that a) water vapour is the main greenhouse gas, or b) the CO2 warming effect is very small, or c) the potential severity of positive feedback is the real issue, or d) vastly more CO2 is currently being produced by ‘nature’ than human industry. Most people think what the media has led them to believe. Namely, we are making atmospheric CO2 go up which will lead to disaster and that is scary. This a vastly oversimplified picture and it is scaremongering. I believe this is the type of ‘little knowledge’ you were refering to, Roger. The world does indeed need to act now, but it needs to act in favour of logic and reason, not junk science and alarmism.

    With regard to Phil’s comment above that “global warming theory … is a small side theory to the larger and more expansive theory of global climate destabilisation”. I do not understand how global warming is a ‘side theory’. Surely ‘global warming’ is central to the AGW movement’s case. The logic of AGW is 1)small additional warming from industrial CO2, 2) small warming is amplified by positive feedback, 3) larger resulting warming destabilizes climate. So, perhaps you could clarify that for me Phil; I clearly did not understand your point there.

    • Philip Burrows says:

      Hi Clive, there are some very clear mistakes in your text so I have to ask: where did you study and what was the title of your PhD?

      • clive jones says:

        Hi Phil, what are the clear mistakes? By the way, that was a good pun (I like puns) on my asking you to ‘clarify’ why you think global warming is a ‘small side theory’. However, I note that you did not manage to muster up an answer.

        Here are a couple of quotes from pro-warming website that appear to agree with my four points: –
        “Water vapour is the most dominant greenhouse gas. Water vapour is also the dominant positive feedback in our climate system and amplifies any warming caused by changes in atmospheric CO2. This positive feedback is why climate is so sensitive to CO2 warming.”

        “Manmade CO2 emissions are much smaller than natural emissions. Consumption of vegetation by animals & microbes accounts for about 220 gigatonnes of CO2 per year. Respiration by vegetation emits around 220 gigatonnes. The ocean releases about 332 gigatonnes. In contrast, when you combine the effect of fossil fuel burning and changes in land use, human CO2 emissions are only around 29 gigatonnes per year…”

        Perhaps you should contact them and let them know about their ‘clear mistakes’. Here is the link.


        This pro-warming website then goes on to conclude that the small amount of human CO2 is upsetting the ‘natural balance’. This could be possible, but is not probable because we are not seeing rapid warming, now, at a time of accelerating human produced CO2. In addition, we have had previous periods of rapid warming, similar to those of the 80’s and 90’s, during periods when there has been virtually no CO2 produced by humans compared with today. This makes it hard to unambiguously attribute the warming of the late 20th C to human produced CO2.

        I maintain that we are not currently in a period of catastrophic warming.

    • Philip Burrows says:

      I think you are confusing your Phils.

  5. eric goodyer says:

    Dear Roger

    As polite as ever – thank you. Having designed Infra Red cameras for civilian and military use I suspect that I do know a little more about CO2 absorption than you do – there are of course 3 absorption bands not two as you have stated, but never mind I can only accept that you are a higher authority in these matters. However as I am sure you remember well your views were greeted with derision by the audience. I look forward to our next debate.

    • “Views treated with derision”, eh, Eric? Not how I remember it. Have you forgotten that the latest polls show only about 20% of our fellow countrymen still believe in anthropogenic global warming? We don’t believe it, and we won’t pay for it.

      • Philip Burrows says:

        And even less people buy your version of climate change as a fraud.
        Most sensible people believe that climate change is both man made and natural.

    • Philip Burrows says:

      Great response Eric. Rogers knowledge on the subject of climate change has been shown to be deeply flawed before, but he will never correct himself.
      I was reading my copy of Houghton’s first year undergraduate textbook “Global Warming (third edition)” and one of the first questions he asks at the end of the first chapter is on the fallacy of thinking we have already met C02 saturation.
      Psychologically I think he suffers from a chronic case of confirmation bias. He doesn’t seem to read any books or papers by anyone other than denialists.
      Maybe you can clarify this Roger, what is in your library? Just Christopher Booker et al?

  6. ChrisP says:

    Clearly many people, myself amongst them, believe that climate change is both man made and natural. The real questions though are, to what extent is it man made. What extent is natural. To what extent is mans involvement in climate detremental, as opposed to beneficial or neutral. To what extent is it practical to reverse man made effects where it is detrimental. To what extent can man made effects be reversed. How much money and resources would be involved, if so. And could the money/resources be spent more beneficially for mankind on something else.
    Establishing all of this, and acting properly, is not a team sport. There are no ‘sides’. It may be there are no clear-cut solutions either, (assuming that solutions are required). It would be naive to imagine that this whole subject will not be used by powerful interests politically and profit motivated, to gain self interested advantage

  7. eric goodyer says:

    As I said to Roger as a scientist I look at the balance of the scientific evidence, and it is currently overwhelming. I have read the few papers that provide counter arguments, and whilst a few have some useful mathematics, most notably on the planet’s natural radiation – I also found a lot of flaws, and errors of physical facts. As for sun-spots (Nigel farage’s latest theme) I know Piers Corbyn very well, and even invested good money in his company Weather Action when it was floated – but he has yet to publish his methods and his company went bust and turned in to an Internet Gambling Company (Intelliplus). The problem is that politicians have turned the science in to a religious cult – which is why Roger uses terms like Believer or Sceptic etc. It would better if the cult minded politicians stopped believing or disbelieving and instead returned to the scientific evidence. It substantially states that climate change is for real, and it is man-made. Policians have a duty to listen and act on professional advice. Incidentally whay is the UKIP submission to the Science and Technology select committee from Godfrey Bloom MEP (UKIP) identical to Roger’s? Are the the same person?

  8. Philip Burrows says:

    I would be interested in finding out if Roger’s submission the the Science and Technology select committee was Roger’, Godfrey’s or whether it was written by somebody else completely.

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