Are we sure that there are 11,000 world scientists warning of a climate emergency? | Commentary

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By Dave Wilkin

I have written previously on energy and climate change, including thoughts on how Canada could help with a responsible transition to a more diverse, lower carbon, sustainable energy future. So a recently published study by a group called the Alliance of World Scientists caught my eye. Their report, World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency, was published in BioScience, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and quickly picked up  by most of the mainstream media, some featuring catchy headlines like this one from CNN: 11,000 scientists warn of ‘untold suffering’ caused by climate change. Or this one in The Guardian: Climate crisis: 11,000 scientists warn of ‘untold suffering’.

So, what new important insights did this scientific report contain? First, I checked out some of the scientists who had signed it, expecting to see many top climatologists and atmospheric researchers. Surprisingly, the list appeared to be a collection of ecologists, biologists, social scientists, physiologists, doctors, therapists, students, professors, activists and maybe some real climate scientists. The day after its release, someone noticed that Mickey Mouse and Hogwart’s Headmaster Albus Dumbledore were on the list too. The list quickly disappeared, sighting “administrative errors”, before reappearing, slightly cleaned up. Turns out anyone simply clicking on their web page and filling out a few fields and submitting it made the list of “signatory scientists”, pranksters included. Point made.

Further, a quick look at the “scientist” representation from the “153 countries”, reveals the vast majority (>90 per cent) are from the US, Europe or Canada. I saw maybe a hundred from India, a dozen or so from China, and a small number from Russia and Africa.

The conclusions and key messages, contained in the report? — “Economic and population growth are among the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.”; “The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle.” — Obvious, but no new science there.

What actions and solutions were proposed? — “Excessive extraction of materials … driven by economic growth, must be quickly curtailed.”; “The world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced”; “implement massive energy efficiency and conservation practices and must replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables..”. — Pretty extreme stuff, but few thoughts on how.

This is an opinion piece masquerading as a scientific report. None of the mainstream media bothered to fact-check the 11,000 “scientists” signing claim, question or challenge anything in the piece. It obviously fit their profile of what grabs people’s attention.

One obvious question, given such drastic proposed actions is: at what costs/impacts to people? The message I think developing countries get from pieces like this: Sorry that we in the wealthy countries (20 per cent of the world’s population) have used up the earth’s CO2 atmospheric capacity, but to save our planet now, we all must curtail economic growth and reduce our population. But don’t worry (you 80 per cent in economically deprived/energy poor countries), we are here to help you. Little wonder so few people from developing countries (let alone climate scientists) “signed” it.

Scaring people as the mainstream media often does on climate change, has unintended consequences too. One example: A growing number of young families are going “childfree”, fearing their children would suffer horribly in a world on the brink of climate catastrophes and extinction.

Pushing opinion pieces masquerading as scientific consensus reports diminishes the mainstream media’s credibility and undermines the broader climate change movement.

Correction: The final sentence in the fourth paragraph of this commentary has been updated to include the word ‘new’, and now reads “Obvious, but no new science there.”

Dave Wilkin is a Professional Engineer who lives in Huntsville. He is an electrical engineer with a career spanning 35 years in IT, banking and consulting.

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17 Comments

  1. I would agree with Dave, there is way too much published scary opinions about climate change but very little hard science to prove climate change is nothing more than the natural cycles of nature. Although there is no doubt man kind contributes heavily to the pollution of the earth and seas.

  2. About time someone decided to tell it like it is good for you Dave. Now if we could get a few people to talk about pollution and forget all about climate change things might get better. One thing we can all do is stop spaying chemicals all around our homes to try and make them smell better try opening a window these things called air fresheners are nothing but chemicals that cover up other smells and no one knows for sure what is in them but whatever it is you can bet it’s not good for you to be breathing.

  3. whether there were 11, 1,100, or even the assertion of 11000, the fact is that climate change, of which pollution is one aspect, is irreparably damaging this planet. To think otherwise would be akin to being an ostrich.
    It is true that the planet goes through warming as well as cooling cycles; the last mini ice age was during the 1850’s and we are living in the resulting warming trend yet the data suggests a much quicker heating than if climate was to react only itself not with the addition of industrial carbon spewing factories and industry.
    to rebuke some of your statements Mr. Wilkin;
    The conclusions and key messages, contained in the report? — “Economic and population growth are among the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.”; “The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle.” — Obvious, but no science there.
    here is the science;
    https://skepticalscience.com/empirical-evidence-for-global-warming-intermediate.htm

    there are, as always, three sides to any discussion and I would just like to bring yours to light as I hope you will do with mine and after that we can reach the middle ground where, hopefully, something can be agreed and acted on.

    • Thanks for your comments Dave. Here is my longish take on the big picture here.
      As I per my future energy series of articles, (co-authored with Tim Lutton), we do need to be transitioning to a lower carbon-energy future, much faster. What is certain is that we will run out of low cost/affordable oil and gas, sooner or later. The impact of man generated CO2 on the planet’s future temperature is not certain by any means.

      From our 2nd article, based on current 3P reserves, which includes low 10% probability extraction success reserves, we have under 60 years left. Way before that, once reserves fall into steady decline, prices will rise dramatically. We expect that in no more than about 30 years, by 2050. That is not that much time to significantly reduce the worlds 85% of all energy that is carbon energy today. We should have been working much harder at it by now. So if the action from the risks associated with global warming gets us going at it, that is good.

      But, going over the top with warnings of catastrophic outcomes, including man’s extinction, is not helpful. I gave one downside example above re childless families. Others will just give up, and a few stupid countries, hopefully not Canada, may destroy their economies rushing to eliminate all CO2 in a decade or two, only to discover it made virtually no difference in the big global emissions picture.

      As for the climate models, of which there are about 40 apparently, they have future temperature rises predicted from as low as 1 degree to over 8 degrees. That’s a huge range. None of them accurately replicate the actual temperature fluctuations measured over the last 150 years or so. The best/most accurate of the bunch at fitting actual measurements turns out to be the Russian models, and they just happen to be the ones that predict the lowest future temperature rise. Few understand this simple fact.

      Models have big limitations, and they have a huge number of parameters and assumptions that drive them. So tuning is a common practice to get expected results . Our climate system is the most complex system known to natural science to model, so predicting the climate in 10 let alone 70 years time is extremely challenging at best. The issue I think many climate scientists have, (few of whom speak up now, for fear of being shut down and defended) is that the IPCC has chosen to base all recommendations on the average predictions of the many models. They purposely chose not to weight those which most accurately map to actual history higher. Every once in a while, a group speaks up (like a bunch in Italy earlier this year) to object, but it never gets any mainstream coverage.

      Those pushing climate change fear the most come from Western Europe, and to a lessor degree, the USA (which is now shifting given the Republicans in the white house). As I explained in article # 3 on Geopolitics, It’s no surprise at all. Europe is hugely carbon energy
      insecure, totally dependent on Russian and the Middle East energy. They are still a very big user (80% of all their energy is still carbon based). US is energy independent now because of shale and tight oil and gas extraction success, all technology driven. That won’t last more than a decade, perhaps 2 at best, then they have the same problem as Europe.

      80% of the worlds population are in the fast growing developing world, and they prioritize economic growth and human development (which takes lots of energy) far higher than future risks of a warmer planet. That is not surprising.

      That’s my take on the big picture anyway. Sorry for the long response, some times I get on a roll..

      • Whatever the cause, it’s killing our children and they’re just beginning to fight for their lives.

        California is burning, New South Wales is burning, they’re not going to put up with it much longer. And all us old boys are going to be dead leaving them to fix things.

        • Brian, I agree the stakes are high for all. Even a small risk of an out-of-control global warming tipping point being reached should be taken very seriously. Unfortunately most of the world doesn’t care enough today about it. Lots of talk by politicians and not enough action on workable solutions.

          If most of the countries leaders realized that within 30 years there won’t be enough affordable oil and gas to feed a much more energy hunger world, (few do or admit it today) it just might change things. We have seen the wars and chaos caused by past oil crises. That will pale in comparison to one that is permanent. In a world still full of nuclear weapons, that we can’t let that happen.

          The long term answer to this dilemma has to come from new technology, particularly affordable greener energy and carbon capture.

          Trying to convince the 80% they can’t consume carbon energy in 20 years, thus condemning them to energy poverty, isn’t going to work. The same as trying to convince the well-off 20% to give up their modern lifestyles enabled and still sustained by carbon energy.

      • Mr Wilkin….I read all you articles on climate change and commented (without reply). The whole series was to a large extent factually wrong, built on supposition and not science. For example the whole final article was you building a fantasy case and then address it

        Then you have the arrogance to suppose that 11,000 scientists are an opinion piece. (For the record, to those of us who actually know statistics (pretend as you might, you have shown no such knowledge) you can’t collect 11000 signatures without “noise” such as Mickey Mouse”. But you highlight such noise.

        Please try to stick to the facts.

        • Paul, respectively, I thought I had replied to your previous comments. If I missed any that needed comment, sorry. I will take a look back.

          I encourage you to write your own series, especially since you think ours was factually wrong, or a fantasy. That’s the beauty of living in a democracy.
          The more debate on this important topic the better!

      • Mr. Wilkin; makes a little more sense now!
        Am not sure why there is not a greater push for renewable and carbon neutral sources of energy. With the exception of NIMBYism there is no reason not to have large scale wind and or solar farms. Sure the initial outlay is high bit then so is a pipeline or refinery!

  4. I agree: When the media publish a so-called news article about anything; they do irreparable damage, when it turns out to be a “puff” piece, and disappears. The essential thrust of the headlines couldn’t be more true, but when people start to quibble over numbers and qualifications, most folk feel that it’s safe to stick their heads in the sand. AGAIN.

    Certainly, there is no surprise as to the main triumvirate of signatories; and India (with their constantly worsening weather conditions) should be represented. China, with their huge reliance on coal; as well as their exponential population growth; should remain silent. And finally, isolationist Russia (with their stores of nuclear weapons), and Africa (who didn’t cause the problem, but are an ever-ready source of pollution “credits” for the North) are rightfully disinterested.

    It’s ironic to me that The Manhattan Project proceeded seamlessly, while this alternative way to destroy the world can’t get past the “nattering nabobs of negativism” stage.

  5. Dave, thank you for the many hours you have devoted to trying to understand two of the most complex issues of our time. Predicting climate change is an enormously complex subject and it is easy to pick holes in any analysis, but most of those doing so have spent little if any time doing research themselves. Predicting the future demand and supply for energy is in some ways even more complex because it is affected by some who want change at an impossible rate and some who want no change. Iran recently claimed to have discovered another 50 billion barrels of oil. That sounds like a lot but in fact would extend global consumption by only 1.4 years. We no longer need to rely on climate scientists to understand what global warming is already doing and will do much more of in the future. We just have to wake up and pay attention to our own eyes and ears.

  6. Thanks Hugh. By the way, I do understand other Scientific opinions matter on this complex topic, as long as it’s relevant to the actual science behind the claims. My main issue: it brought headlines blazing climate disaster, supported by so many “world scientists”. It was misleading as the list was far more than just scientists. It was designed to scare people. Afterall, how could so many scientific experts be wrong, particularly on what we have to do now to survive? That included reducing populations and denying modern lifestyle benefits to billions of people world wide. Pretty extreme stuff.

    It likely was effective at its goal of scaring people, thanks of course to the mainstream media.

  7. Michael Witkowskyj on

    Pleasantly surprised by the number of people that want sanity & real science included in the Climate Change debate.
    This issue has been over politicized by globalist liberal ideologies with a poor track record of achievement or accuracy.
    There are no absolutes in science. To believe so – would be an academic & intellectual folly.
    Locally, if ongoing weather occurrences predict more precipitation wouldn’t it be wise to look at building water reservoirs & irrigation systems to remedy the oncoming semi-regular spring floods.

  8. On Climate Deniers,
    Our economic system, a system, which led to great amounts of wealth, both as a nation and for individuals also teaches us to be skeptical of the claims made for products we purchase. This said, it was likely unavoidable that some thinkers would treat climate change in the same frivoless manner we use to assess a new shampoo or laundry detergent. Unfortunately ignoring or down playing climate change is akin to ignoring the pilots message, before a hard landing and not fastening their seat belt. If the landing is successful, they are OK. If the plane skids off the runway, they may be the only fatality!
    The most extreme predictions see a planet uninhabitable by mammals. The predictions, which allow for human survival, sees rising sea levels and a rewrite of global weather patterns. This scenario is not able to predict the long term outcome which might to occur. Such predictions are complex bordering on chaotic.
    It is the weather which drives the seas. A common euphemism “The sea is a cruel mistress” was coined by people watching foolish sailors venture onto heavy seas. Those who ignore climate change warnings and act for all of us, will politicize the issue to legitimize hollow arguments against our risk position, often driven by cash flow fears or unsustainable lifestyles threatened by change.
    Ken Bowd

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