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Judith Curry and Margaret Thatcher on Climate Change

By Yen Makabenta
IT’s that time of year again when Filipinos are impelled by force of circumstance and the monsoons to turn their thoughts to the running debate on climate change

Because many women I know have become believers in climate change on account of the torrential rains and Super Typhoon “Yolanda” (international name: “Haiyan”), I have sometimes wondered whether the females of the species are more disposed to worship in the church of climate change.

The strange spectacle of teenage activist Greta Thunberg of Sweden might seem to confirm this predilection.

In fact, some of the biggest and most persuasive skeptics on climate change are women.

Thunberg is hardly representative of what women think when they reflect on the climate issue. As with menfolk, women’s views run the gamut of opinion from credulity to skepticism to fierce opposition to the climate change movement.

Since 2015, when the Paris climate agreement was signed, I have chiefly used the work of male scientists and professionals as sources in my columns on climate change.

I want to correct this unintended gender bias by featuring today the views of two women, both distinguished in their fields, who have written persuasively on the issue. The two are:

1. Dr. Judith A. Curry, American climatologist and former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She has published over a hundred scientific papers and co-edited several major works.

2. Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, for three consecutive terms. She included in her final book Statecraft (2002), a chapter on climate change.

Judith Curry on climate change

Dr. Judith Curry spoke in July as part of a panel on the subject of climate change. All panelists were asked to answer the following question in five minutes:

“How would you explain the complexity and uncertainty surrounding climate change plus how we should respond (particularly with regard to CO2 emissions) in five minutes?”

This is the text of her response:

“Last week I served on a panel for a summer school in Canada for engineering students. They are working on the energy transition, and their professor wanted them to be exposed to the debate surrounding all this, and to think critically. I was the only climate scientist on the panel, the others were involved in renewable energy. Each panelist was given five minutes to make their main points. The essay below is what I came up with:

“Let me start with a quick summary of what is referred to as the ‘climate crisis:’

“It’s warming. The warming is caused by us. Warming is dangerous. We need to urgently transition to renewable energy to stop the warming. Once we do that, sea level rise will stop, and the weather won’t be so extreme.

“So, what’s wrong with this narrative? In a nutshell, we’ve vastly oversimplified both the problem and its solutions. The complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity of the existing knowledge about climate change is being kept away from the policy and public debate. The solutions that have been proposed are technologically and politically infeasible on a global scale.

“Specifically with regard to climate science. The sensitivity of the climate to a doubling of carbon dioxide has a factor of three uncertainty. Climate model predictions of alarming impacts for the 21st century are driven by an emissions scenario, RCP8.5, that is highly implausible. Climate model predictions neglect scenarios of natural climate variability, which dominate regional climate variability on inter-annual to multi-decadal time scales. And finally, emissions reductions will do little to improve the climate of the 21st century; if you believe the climate models, most of the impacts of emissions reductions will be felt in the 22nd century and beyond.

“Whether or not warming is “dangerous” is an issue of values, about which science has nothing to say. According to the IPCC, there is no evidence yet of changes in the global frequency or intensity of hurricanes, droughts, floods or wildfires.

“Climate change is a grand narrative in which manmade climate change has become the dominant cause of societal problems. Everything that goes wrong reinforces the conviction that there is only one thing we can do to prevent societal problems – stop burning fossil fuels. This grand narrative misleads us to think that if we solve the problem of manmade climate change, then these other problems would also be solved. This belief leads us away from a deeper investigation of the true causes of these problems. The end result is a narrowing of the viewpoints and policy options that we are willing to consider in dealing with complex issues such as public health, water resources, weather disasters and national security.

“Does all this mean we should do nothing about climate change? No. We should work to minimize our impact on the planet, which isn’t simple for a planet with seven billion inhabitants. We should work to minimize air and water pollution. From time immemorial, humans have adapted to climate change. Whether or not we manage to drastically curtail our carbon dioxide emissions in the coming decades, we need to reduce our vulnerability to extreme weather and climate events.

“With regard to energy. All other things being equal, everyone would prefer clean over dirty energy. However, all other things are not equal. We need to secure, reliable, and economic energy systems for all countries in the world. This includes Africa, which is currently lacking grid electricity in many countries. We need 21st century infrastructure for our electricity and transportation systems, to support continued and growing prosperity. The urgency of rushing to implement 20th century renewable technologies risks wasting resources on an inadequate energy infrastructure and increasing our vulnerability to weather and climate extremes.

“How the climate of the 21st century will play out is a topic of deep uncertainty. Once natural climate variability is accounted for, it may turn out to be relatively benign. Or we may be faced with unanticipated surprises. We need to increase our resiliency to whatever the future climate presents us with. We are shooting ourselves in the foot if we sacrifice economic prosperity and overall societal resilience on the altar of urgently transitioning to 20th century renewable energy technologies.

“We need to remind ourselves that addressing climate change isn’t an end in itself, and that climate change is not the only problem that the world is facing. The objective should be to improve human well-being in the 21st century, while protecting the environment as much as we can.”

Margaret Thatcher on climate change

The following is an excerpt from Mrs. Thatcher’s book, Statecraft:

“In matters of public policy, it is important to recognize what we don’t know as much as what we do. Governments, in this respect, are not like private individuals. An individual can most of the time act on hunches or incomplete information without doing any great harm. But governments, whose actions affect millions of individuals, must be much more circumspect.

“The golden rule is: All government interventions are problematic, so intervene only when the case is fully proven.

“How does this affect the vexed issue of climate change? The answer can be considered in five stages, each of which involves a further question.

“First, is the climate actually warming? This may seem so obvious if one reads most of the press and listens to most politicians that it hardly needs answering. But the facts are in some doubt…

“Ground-based temperature stations indicate that the planet has warmed by somewhere between 0.3 and 0.6 degrees Centigrade since about1850. But against that, the temperatures taken from weather balloons and satellites over the last 20 years actually show a cooling trend.

“The indirect evidence from rainfall, glaciers, sea levels and weather variability, often adduced to prove global warming, is similarly ambiguous. Some glaciers have expanded, some contracted.

“Such complexities though have not discouraged the politicians from claiming that freak weather conditions show the need for dramatic action.

“Second, is carbon dioxide responsible for whatever global warming has occurred? Here too the uncertainties are formidable. CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas. As well as CFCs, methane, nitrous oxide, aerosols and water vapor – the most abundant greenhouse gas – make major contributions.

“So exclusive concentration on CO2 in analysis or in policy prescription is bound to mislead.

“Third, is human activity, especially human economic activity, responsible for the production of the carbon dioxide which has contributed to any global warming? This again might seem naive if you accept the political rhetoric surrounding the issue. The facts are unclear.

“The widely respected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded in 1995 that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate… However, our ability to quantify the human influence on global climate is currently limited.”

“Actually, not all scientists agree even with this view; but in any case, it is a great deal more tentative than some alarmist assertions…

“Fourth, is global warming anyway quite the menace suggested? The world climate is always changing, and man and nature are always, by one means or another, finding the means to adapt to it.

“Earth temperatures today are probably at about their 3,000-year average. and we have known periods of warming before. The Dark Ages and the Early Medieval period – about 850 to about 1350 – for example, saw a quite sharp increase in temperature of 2.5 degrees Centigrade. Although there was some coastal flooding, there were also improvements in agricultural productivity, in trade, and in life expectancy. It was rather when the climate cooled again that agriculture failed and diseases spread.

“Fifth, can global warming be stopped or checked at an acceptable price? At Kyoto, the United States answered “no,” at least to the proposals on offer. Perhaps the answer will always be “no.” On the other hand, perhaps a more realistic package may emerge. But in any case, it will be necessary to resolve many remaining uncertainties before taking action that makes the world poorer than it would otherwise be, by restraining economic growth.”