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Financial Times
Financial Times
Pilita Clark

Don’t underestimate the power of climate bullshit

Floods in Pakistan killed more than 1,700 people this year. China had its longest heatwave since national records began. The UK sweltered in 40C heat and the past eight years are set to be the planet’s warmest on record.

What a relief it would be if none of this had anything to do with climate change. Imagine if scientists had got it wrong and there was no need to stop burning coal, or build more wind farms, or reduce carbon emissions to net zero.

As it happens, some people say this is actually the case. They may be in a minority but in a year of spiralling energy costs, there are signs their guff is hitting home. It is to them that my 2022 climate bullshit awards are dedicated.

Canada produced an early contender in January, when writer and psychologist Jordan Peterson claimed the climate models that underpin our understanding of global warming were bedevilled by serious defects.

Speaking on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, Peterson said trying to model something as complicated as the climate posed a “big problem” and “as you stretch out the models across time, the errors increase radically”.

That might be the case for weather forecasts but it’s different for climate, which is average weather over time. And in fact, climate modelling published as far back as the 1970s has done a remarkably good job of predicting future warming patterns.

Not every warming estimate has been 100 per cent spot on, but the overall record shows the models are more than capable of simplifying a highly complex world usefully.

None of this has deterred Christopher Monckton, a veteran climate bullshitter who deserves a lifetime achievement award this year for his efforts. The British hereditary peer spent much of 2022 claiming global warming had flatlined for at least seven years, all the better to bolster his view that “global warming will continue to be, as it has long been, small, slow, harmless and net-beneficial”.

If only he were on to something. In fact, it is possible to see a “pause” in warming, or indeed an acceleration, if you just look at temperature data over a relatively brief period. That’s because there are times when warming is slower or faster than average.

Unfortunately, the long-term warming trend that took off as humans started burning fossil fuels in earnest after the industrial revolution is inescapably evident.

Monckton’s claims are mostly ignored in mainstream news outlets and swiftly rebutted by scientists if they ever surface. But it has been harder to contain a whole new level of climate misinformation that erupted as energy costs began soaring this year. Gas prices surged to more than 10 times their normal levels after economies rebounding from Covid-fuelled demand and Russia squeezed supplies to those supporting Ukraine in Vladimir Putin’s war against the country.

Imported supplies of gas lay at the heart of the energy crisis. But you might have thought climate policies, particularly net zero, were the chief culprits if you only read the rubbish.

First, Nigel Farage, the former Brexit party leader, demanded a referendum on “ruinous” net zero policies he called a “scandal of epic proportions”. Then, some UK newspapers claimed green levies accounted for as much as 25 per cent of household fuel bills. The figure was closer to 8 per cent at the time, as they later clarified.

But the gold net zero bullshit prize goes to former Brexit minister Lord David Frost. “The choice by net zero proponents to rely on renewables and interconnectors, and to run down storage, means we face blackouts, hideous business-crushing costs, and people shivering and dying in the cold,” he wrote in August. “The people responsible for this are as culpable as the ‘guilty men’ whose policies ended up with German tanks at the Channel coast in 1940.”

Equating net zero advocates with second world war appeasers is high-grade bullshit. But it might be effective.

Recent adverts posted by the Reform UK party, which grew out of the Brexit party, echo Lord Frost and claim that: “The Tories’ net zero obsession, backed by Labour, is making us colder and poorer.”

A YouGov poll last month found 44 per cent of British adults support a net zero referendum, two percentage points higher than in October last year. Another 27 per cent were opposed and 29 per cent did not know.

This is just one poll and it’s by no means clear the nation is in the mood for another referendum. But it is nonetheless a reminder that climate bullshit, in all its forms, should never be ignored or underestimated.

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