Has global warming really stopped?

Mark Lynas responds to a controversial article on newstatesman.com which argued global warming has s

On 19 December the New Statesman website published an article which, judging by the 633 comments (and counting) received so far, must go down in history as possibly the most controversial ever. Not surprising really – it covered one of the most talked-about issues of our time: climate change. Penned by science writer David Whitehouse, it was guaranteed to get a big response: the article claimed that global warming has ‘stopped’.

As the New Statesman’s environmental correspondent, I have since been deluged with queries asking if this represents a change of heart by the magazine, which has to date published many editorials steadfastly supporting urgent action to reduce carbon emissions. Why bother doing that if global warming has ‘stopped’, and therefore might have little or nothing to do with greenhouse gas emissions, which are clearly rising?

I’ll deal with this editorial question later. First let’s ask whether Whitehouse is wholly or partially correct in his analysis. To quote:

"The fact is that the global temperature of 2007 is statistically the same as 2006 as well as every year since 2001. Global warming has, temporarily or permanently, ceased. Temperatures across the world are not increasing as they should according to the fundamental theory behind global warming – the greenhouse effect. Something else is happening and it is vital that we find out what or else we may spend hundreds of billions of pounds needlessly."

I’ll be blunt. Whitehouse got it wrong – completely wrong. The article is based on a very elementary error: a confusion between year-on-year variability and the long-term average. Although CO2 levels in the atmosphere are increasing each year, no-one ever argued that temperatures would do likewise. Why? Because the planet’s atmosphere is a chaotic system, which expresses a great deal of interannual variability due to the interplay of many complex and interconnected variables. Some years are warmer and cooler than others. 1998, for example, was a very warm year because an El Nino event in the Pacific released a lot of heat from the ocean. 2001, by contrast, was somewhat cooler, though still a long way above the long-term average. 1992 was particularly cool, because of the eruption of a large volcano in the Philippines called Mount Pinatubo.

‘Climate’ is defined by averaging out all this variability over a longer term period. So you won’t, by definition, see climate change from one year to the next - or even necessarily from one decade to the next. But look at the change in the average over the long term, and the trend is undeniable: the planet is getting hotter.

Look at the graph below, showing global temperatures over the last 25 years. These are NASA figures, using a global-mean temperature dataset known as GISSTEMP. (Other datasets are available, for example from the UK Met Office. These fluctuate slightly due to varying assumptions and methodology, but show nearly identical trends.) Now imagine you were setting out to write Whitehouse’s article at some point in the past. You could plausibly have written that global warming had ‘stopped’ between 1983 and 1985, between 1990 and 1995, and, if you take the anomalously warm 1998 as the base year, between 1998 and 2004. Note, however, the general direction of the red line over this quarter-century period. Average it out and the trend is clear: up.

Note also the blue lines, scattered like matchsticks across the graph. These, helpfully added by the scientists at RealClimate.org (from where this graph is copied), partly in response to the Whitehouse article, show 8-year trend lines – what the temperature trend is for every 8-year period covered in the graph.

You’ll notice that some of the lines, particularly in the earlier part of the period, point downwards. These are the periods when global warming ‘stopped’ for a whole 8 years (on average), in the flawed Whitehouse definition – although, as astute readers will have quickly spotted, the crucial thing is what year you start with. Start with a relatively warm year, and the average of the succeeding eight might trend downwards. In scientific parlance, this is called ‘cherry picking’, and explains how Whitehouse can assert that "since [1998] the global temperature has been flat" – although he is even wrong on this point of fact, because as the graph above shows, 2005 was warmer.

Note also how none of the 8-year trend lines point downwards in the last decade or so. This illustrates clearly how, far from having ‘stopped’, global warming has actually accelerated in more recent times. Hence the announcement by the World Meteorological Organisation on 13 December, as the Bali climate change meeting was underway, that the decade of 1998-2007 was the “warmest on record”. Whitehouse, and his fellow contrarians, are going to have to do a lot better than this if they want to disprove (or even dispute) the accepted theory of greenhouse warming.

The New Statesman’s position on climate change

Every qualified scientific body in the world, from the American Association for the Advancement of Science to the Royal Society, agrees unequivocally that global warming is both a reality, and caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. But this doesn’t make them right, of course. Science, in the best Popperian definition, is only tentatively correct, until someone comes along who can disprove the prevailing theory. This leads to a frequent source of confusion, one which is repeated in the Whitehouse article – that because we don’t know everything, therefore we know nothing, and therefore we should do nothing. Using that logic we would close down every hospital in the land. Yes, every scientific fact is falsifiable – but that doesn’t make it wrong. On the contrary, the fact that it can be challenged (and hasn’t been successfully) is what makes it right.

Bearing all this in mind, what should a magazine like the New Statesman do in its coverage of the climate change issue? Newspapers and magazines have a difficult job of trying, often with limited time and information, to sort out truth from fiction on a daily basis, and communicating this to the public – quite an awesome responsibility when you think about it. Sometimes even a viewpoint which is highly likely to be wrong gets published anyway, because it sparks a lively debate and is therefore interesting. A publication that kept to a monotonous party line on all of the day’s most controversial issues would be very boring indeed.

However, readers of my column will know that I give contrarians, or sceptics, or deniers (call them what you will) short shrift, and as a close follower of the scientific debate on this subject I can state without doubt that there is no dispute whatsoever within the expert community as to the reality or causes of manmade global warming. But even then, just because all the experts agree doesn’t make them right – it just makes them extremely unlikely to be wrong. That in turn means that if someone begs to disagree, they need to have some very strong grounds for doing so – not misreading a basic graph or advancing silly conspiracy theories about IPCC scientists receiving paycheques from the New World Order, as some of Whitehouse’s respondents do.

So, a mistaken article reached a flawed conclusion. Intentionally or not, readers were misled, and the good name of the New Statesman has been used all over the internet by climate contrarians seeking to support their entrenched positions. This is regrettable. Good journalism should never exclude legitimate voices from a debate of public interest, but it also needs to distinguish between carefully-checked fact and distorted misrepresentations in complex and divisive areas like this. The magazine’s editorial policy is unchanged: we want to see aggressive action to reduce carbon emissions, and support global calls for planetary temperatures to be stabilised at under two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Yes, scientific uncertainties remain in every area of the debate. But consider how high the stakes are here. If the 99% of experts who support the mainstream position are right, then we have to take urgent action to reduce emissions or face some pretty catastrophic consequences. If the 99% are wrong, and the 1% right, we will be making some unnecessary efforts to shift away from fossil fuels, which in any case have lots of other drawbacks and will soon run out. I’d hate to offend anyone here, but that’s what I’d call a no-brainer.

Mark Lynas has is an environmental activist and a climate change specialist. His books on the subject include High Tide: News from a warming world and Six Degree: Our future on a hotter planet.
Jonathan McHugh
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The left wing case for leaving the EU

Supporters of the EU sneer “Little Englander” at those with a different opinion, but most of the arguments against membership are left-leaning and liberal.

Despite the denials by our political and media elite, the most important issue of the 2015 election was Britain’s membership of the European Union. Nearly four million votes went to Ukip, a party that has been consistently abused and dismissed by our controllers, with much of that support coming from former Labour voters, while big numbers of people backed the little-loved Conservatives.

Both parties offered referendums on Britain leaving the EU – Ukip powerfully, the Tories reluctantly. It is not hard to work out why they did so well, yet there is still little acknowledgement of this fact from the establishment. An arrogant refusal to listen to the public has left Labour and the Liberal Democrats in tatters. Nick Clegg could moan about “identity” politics in the election’s aftermath, but this matters to the majority of people.

Our membership of the EU undermined the major debates and warped most of the policies being put forward in the build-up to the election. The EU will influence the future of the NHS just as it helped smooth Tory privatisation of the Post Office and the organisational break-up of the railways; it is in tune with austerity and drives a larger and more deadly version in the eurozone; it escalates problems linked to housing, work, wages and education; creates worry and stirs up anger and threatens people’s sense of self. A lazy acceptance of establishment propaganda and a fear of being branded “xenophobic” have silenced many liberals and left-wingers. And yet the EU is driven by big business. This is a very corporate coup.

It is essential to understand where the EU is heading. The mission? To create a centralised superstate. As the former European Commission president José Manuel Barroso said in 2007: “. . . I like to compare the EU as a creation to the organisation of empire. We have the dimension of empire.” While there have been idealists involved and progressive laws made along the way, at its core it is undemocratic and distant, a threat to all those living in its shadow. However sweet the propaganda, it is a tool for multinationals, another part of the globalisation process.

A majority of the British population is either opposed to or sceptical about our inclusion in the EU, and yet any serious discussion of what it represents and where it is leading is near enough impossible. Instead we have McCarthy-like campaigns directed at those who have a different vision for Britain and the other member countries.

However, decades of pro-EU spin have failed to convince the mass of working people of its worth; the only reason their opposition has been so restrained is the secrecy and speed of the takeover. This has occurred across generations, a slow-motion transfer of control, driven by the rich and powerful. Our leaders are complicit, know where their futures rest. There are careers to protect and promote, fortunes to be made. The feelings of the wider society are ignored.

The idea put across by its promoters, that the EU is somehow synonymous with “Europe”, is nonsense and yet this use of language has become commonplace. We are told that to be anti-EU is to be “anti-European”, but, in reality, to oppose the EU makes you pro-European. If Europe is its people and cultures then it is surely better that France, Greece, Poland and every other member state becomes a proper democracy again. If the main legacy of the European Enlightenment was the collectivisation of political power in the hands of the masses, then the EU model is the antithesis of this: centralising decision-taking in the hands of an unaccountable technocratic elite.

A single European nation suits the US government, its multinationals and its military. One leader is a lot easier to deal with than many. The same goes for a single currency. This is clear in moves by the EU and the US to impose the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which will allow the corporations of both blocs the chance to exploit each other’s markets, smoothing out “obstacles” in the process. The NHS would be targeted by US health-care companies and trade union rights threatened. Negotiations to bring in TTIP have been taking place in secret. There is no voting involved, no pretence at democracy, little proper coverage by the media. The main parties are broadly supportive. With TTIP comes the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system, whereby business can take governments to court if its profits are infringed upon. This is mind-blowing stuff, but our politicians say nothing.

The media tell us that the Tories are anti-EU while Labour and the Lib Dems are fighting their narrow-mindedness, and Ukip is dismissed as a far-right group bordering on the fascist. This is bubblegum politics. Little Europeans sneer “Little Englander” at those with a different opinion, peddling stereotypes, unwilling to consider the bigger arguments.

That it was the Conservatives who took Britain into a six-nation EEC in 1973 is dismissed. This was a betrayal of the Commonwealth, which a mere 28 years earlier had fought with us against two of these countries, the then fascist Germany and Italy. Commonwealth economies suffered as a result. Prime Minister Ted Heath insisted that the Common Market was no more than a trade arrangement, but a large chunk of the population was outraged and saw it for what it was, and Heath would later admit he had lied about its long-term goal. Labour was socialist at this point and along with the trade unions naturally opposed the Tories. Despite some big talk, Margaret Thatcher and John Major did not take us out, while Tony Blair would have joined the eurozone if he’d had his way. Backing the EU because the Tories are supposedly against it is pathetic. The EU is not a party issue. It is much more important.

David Cameron is softly pro-EU but has been forced into holding a referendum by rebel elements in his party. Ed Miliband was also a firm supporter, his own sceptical backbenchers keeping quiet for fear of being branded right-wing by the Labour Party’s thought police.

Last year saw the death of two genuinely left-wing figures within a matter of days in Tony Benn and Bob Crow. These were honest men who refused to bend to the group mind. They were idealists and knew where the EU was leading us. In later life Benn was patronised as a well-meaning crank when he tried to talk seriously about the EU. Crow died young and his dream of a left-wing, anti-EU party will be harder to achieve now he is gone. But this is what Britain needs. Urgently.

The move towards a European state is a long way down the line and yet even this simple truth is denied by those whose careers are sewn into the process. According to House of Commons Library research, if one counts regulations as well as directives, half of all UK laws are derived from Brussels, measures that cannot be reversed once passed; but if even one law is made outside parliament, then that is a huge abuse of power.

The EU has a president and a militarised police force in EUROGENDFOR, is pushing for its own army, and has helped stir up the crisis in Ukraine with its expansionism. Its single currency has caused untold misery for tens of millions of working people across Europe, yet there is no apology, just an arrogant demand for greater powers. The Greeks are branded lazy and forced to cut services in return for more loans.

If there is a referendum on our EU membership in this new parliament, the propaganda unleashed by the establishment will be unparalleled. From the Guardian to the Times, from the BBC to Rupert Murdoch, our masters will close ranks as withdrawal is deemed a disaster. But would Britain be damaged? For a start, we would save roughly £10bn a year in our net handout to the EU. This is a huge sum, which, if used properly, would benefit those who actually pay these taxes. The idea that our neighbours would no longer trade with us is simply untrue. Trade would continue and we would be able to deal with the rest of the world more freely. Only about 15 per cent of British GDP is accounted for by our exports to the rest of the EU and this percentage is falling as the eurozone stagnates. The future for Britain lies in building ever better trade relations with the economically expanding parts of the world, such as the Commonwealth countries. Britain would be liberated.

Most of the arguments against EU membership are left-leaning and liberal. Ukip has done so well because it tells the truth about the EU, even if some of its tactics and emphases put people off. That it can pull in Labour voters despite its Thatcherite, non-patriotic economics is revealing. Just as depressing has been the cowardice of the so-called independent parties. The Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru exist to promote localism and the devolution of power, yet they refuse to challenge an EU that is about the centralising of power.

The Scottish referendum quickly became about money rather than identity, yet few talked seriously about the madness of a standalone Scotland re-entering the EU as a new applicant and adopting the euro. Why would the SNP want to gain independence and then hand it over to a larger, more remote body, where it would have less say than now in how it runs its own affairs? Why would it want to have even less control of its economy? You have only to look at Sinn Fein’s attempts to keep Ireland out of the euro for a comparison. The whole debate about Scotland leaving the UK seems pretty pointless if the SNP’s willingness to join the EU isn’t challenged. If Scotland had its own currency and rejected Brussels it would make sense, but leave the UK and join the EU instead?

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Open borders are essential to the EU’s single state. It makes for a more mobile (often cheaper) workforce on one level, allows business and the wealthy easy access on another. It will also change voting patterns, as there will come a point when elections are going to be open to whoever lives in a country at a given time. There has always been movement of people and there always will be. Leaving the EU will not stop this, just take us away from the Fortress Europe model.

Ukip targets poorer workers, warning of the threat to working-class jobs and wages in the same way certain trade unions do, but it ignores “high-end” immigration and the negative effect this has had on the lives of the everyday person, especially in and around London. This probably hindered the party in last month’s election, limiting the swing from Labour. Everything we have has been put up for sale and the rich and powerful of the world are making a fortune at our expense. House prices are driven up and new properties sold as investments rather than homes. In large areas of London local people have been driven out, their culture erased. This creates huge ripples that spread through the rest of the country. It is natural to feel angry at this unfairness.

We are continually told that Britain’s muted opposition to the EU is somehow a quirk that shows us to be intolerant, but we are one of the most open-minded countries in the world. And the idea that every European is happy being in the EU is untrue. Most are resigned, feel more powerless and despondent than we do. The need for a left-wing opposition to the EU should be taken care of by the Labour Party, but it lost its nerve when Thatcher was in power, along with elements in the trade union movement, selling its soul to Brussels in return for some positive legislation. Then it was hijacked and turned into New Labour. Its collapse in the election is a continuation of this thread. Too many voters see it as hypocritical, unpatriotic, politically correct and in the hands of an aloof, wealthy clique.

Most important in all this is people’s sense of identity. This is seldom mentioned by anyone with a public voice, perhaps for fear of being branded “racist”. The less you have, maybe the more your identity matters, and the powerful elite do not have the right to sell this off to the EU or anyone else. Our controllers, tucked away in their big houses, worshipping money either openly or from behind their fake-liberal lectures, do not understand or care about this, and yet it is in the mass population that the real integration has always occurred, where diversity isn’t measured by the colour of your skin. This is ongoing, part of the British tradition. It is no shame to want to preserve your culture.

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During this year’s election campaign Tony Blair argued that the people should not be given the chance to vote in an EU referendum because, in effect, we could not be trusted to make the “sensible choice”. His elitist questioning of the intelligence of the electorate is no different from those 19th-century reactionary Tories who argued on similar grounds that the franchise should not be extended to women and the working class. Most within our political and media classes and big business seem to think the same way as Blair, want the EU issue sidelined, ruled off-limits for democratic debate.

The EU offers us little. It costs billions to belong to a club that interferes in our affairs and has created needless divisions, one that will ultimately lead to our removal from the map. If a European superstate is achieved, the resentment and anger will flow through the centuries to come, creating resistance movements right across the continent.

Leaving the EU would save Britain money that could (in the right hands) be ploughed back into the public sector to safeguard jobs and services. And yet, nearly every mainstream politician lifts his nose in the air and turns away, embarrassed at ideas he considers crass. Across the world people are fighting to be more independent, not less so. They crave democracy and accountability, want to see their identities and cultures live on. The European Union is not new and it is not progressive, its trail winding back to the Roman empire. Britain needs to look to the future.

John King is the author of novels such as “The Football Factory” and “Human Punk”. He has acted as an adviser for the People’s Pledge and co-owns London Books

This article first appeared in the 11 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Who owns the future?