The Christopher Booker Prize: Our Man in Michigan
Well the recommendations are coming in thick and fast, and it's hard to know where to begin. But this week I'm going to feature a rank outsider already causing migraines among the bookies. Though the race to include the greatest number of misrepresentations, distortions and falsehoods in a single article, statement, lecture, film or interview about climate change began only a week ago, he is well on the way to winning the three bars of Kendal mint cake which we hope will encourage him to take a delightful solo kayak trip to the North Pole.
Indeed, Christopher Booker will have to raise his game if he's going to have a chance of winning the beautiful trophy that bears his name when the competition closes on 31 December.
It's true that he made a brave effort in both the Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator last week, but sadly he seems to have misread the rules of the competition, and concentrated on bowdlerising the science of evolution instead. Having decided he knows more than the entire scientific community about one canon of scientific evidence, he appears to have approached another one in the same spirit. At this rate I'll have to set up several awards in Booker's name.
Meanwhile, the new contender is a man by the name of John Tomlinson. He has come out of nowhere (well, Flint, Michigan) to take the world by storm. Not only does he possess the distinction of living in Michael Moore's home town, he has also managed, by my provisional reckoning, to cram 18 misleading statements about climate change into a column of just 486 words.
That's almost three times as many as Mr Booker managed ten days ago in a column twice this length. Mr Tomlinson has achieved a hit rate of one misleading statement every 26 words. Could this be a world record?
So here we go (take a deep breath):
Claims 1 and 2: "At December's UN Global Warming conference in Poznan, Poland, 650 of the world's top climatologists stood up and said man-made global warming is a media generated myth without basis."
He appears to be referring to the Manhattan Declaration, which is a petition signed by 652 "experts". But the 652 did not stand up at Poznan: it was launched at a meeting of climate change deniers in New York in March.
And has since continued online.
And the world's top climatologists? Here are the first 10 people named on the New York petition. Judge for yourself:
1. David Archibald, BSc (Geology), CEO, Summa Development, Perth, Australia
2. Bob Armstrong, MA, MS (Mathematical Psychophysics, Northwestern University), computer language consultant, Community of Science , Woodland Park, Colorado, USA.
3. J. Scott Armstrong, Professor of Marketing, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Founder of the International Journal of Forecasting, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
4. Ron Arnold, executive vice-president, Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, Bellevue, Washington, U.S.A.
5. Leon Ashby, Mt Gambier, South Australia, Australia
6. Dennis T Avery, Economist, Senior Fellow, Director of the Center for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute, Washington, DC, USA.
7. Timothy F. Ball, PhD, environmental consultant and former climatology professor - University of Winnipeg, chair, Natural Resources Stewardship Project, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
8. E. Calvin Beisner, PhD, founder and national spokesman, Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, serves on the pastoral staff of Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church, Broward County, Florida, USA.
9. Paul Berkowitz, BSEE/MSEE, Telecommunications R&D, President, Berkowitz Professional Services, Little Silver, New Jersey, USA.
10. Tom Borelli, PhD, Portfolio Manager, Free Enterprise Action Fund, Eastchester, New York, U.S.A.
"The earth's temperature peaked in 1998. It's been falling ever since"
It is true that the highest average global temperature recorded so far was in 1998. The effects of climate change were exacerbated in that year by an exceptional El Niño event. It is untrue that the world's temperature has been falling ever since. The Met Office reports - that "a simple mathematical calculation of the temperature change over the latest decade (1998-2007) alone shows a continued warming of 0.1C per decade."
According to the Met Office's HadCRUT3 temperature series - the 10 warmest years ever recorded (ie since 1850) are ranked as follows:
1. 1998 2. 2005 3. 2003 4. 2002 5. 2004 6. 2006 7. 2007 8. 2001 9. 1997 10. 2008.
"it dropped dramatically in 2007 and got worse in 2008, when temperatures touched 1980 levels."
The average global temperature in 2008, which is the tenth warmest year on record, was 0.2 degrees C higher than in 1980.
This might not sound like much, but it is massive in terms of the annual record. It means that the historical warming anomaly in 2008 was three times greater than in 1980.
"Meanwhile, the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center released conclusive satellite photos showing that Arctic ice is back to 1979 levels."
Nothing resembling this appears on the Arctic Climate Research Center's website. I have written to its staff asking for comments on this claim - watch this space.
In the meantime, the published datasets suggest it is total bunkum.
"What's more, measurements of Antarctic ice now show that its accumulation is up 5 percent since 1980."
There is some evidence that parts of the East Antarctic ice sheet have been growing. There is no evidence that Antarctic ice as a whole has been growing, but some evidence that it has been shrinking
"Just as an aside, do you remember when the hole in the ozone layer was going to melt Antarctica?" Fact:
It's the other way around: scientists have warned ( that the RECOVERY of the ozone layer over Antarctica could accelerate warming there: Claims 8, 9 and 10:
"CO2 emissions make absolutely no difference one way or the other ... every scientist knows this, but it doesn't pay to say so."
The hypothesis of manmade global warming through carbon dioxide emissions was first proposed in 1896. Since then there have been thousands of papers published demonstrating the connection, and statements endorsing the consensus behind this proposition have been made by the most distinguished scientific bodies on earth (such as the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences) and the pre-eminent climate science bodies (such as the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union). Those scientists who doubt it are in a very small minority.
You can demonstrate the enhanced greenhouse effect caused by rising CO2 levels in a flask in the laboratory. And it can pay to deny the effects of CO2 emissions, as you can see
Claim 11: "global temperatures are experiencing the biggest sustained drop in decades"
No, just ordinary fluctuations, as you can see from the Met Office HadCRUT3 temperature series
Claims 12, 13 and 14:
"Because a massive study, just released by the Russian Government, contains overwhelming evidence that earth is on the verge of another Ice Age."
I have searched high and low for this study, and can provisionally record that it does not exist. The only thing that resembles it is an article published on Pravda.ru - the website founded by journalists who used to work for the Pravda newspaper. This was an official propaganda outlet of the Soviet Union, with a reputation to match.
The pravda.ru article contains all the claims that Tomlinson repeats but:
a. it is not a study b. it was not released by the Russian government c. it contains no such evidence.
The most recent scientific paper it refers to was published in Nature in 1999, and says nothing about an imminent ice age.
"This evidence suggests that the 12,000 years of warmth we call the Holocene period is over."
Fact: This contention, again, appears to come from the Pravda.ru article, but no evidence was adduced to support it.
If I am wrong, and Mr Tomlinson can demonstrate that a massive new study released by the Russian Government containing overwhelming evidence that earth is on the verge of another ice age has indeed been published, I will gladly deduct four points from his score. I have written to him asking for a reference.
"As for CO2 levels, core samples show conclusively they follow the earth's temperature rise, not lead it."
Had he said "followed" this might have been permissible, if irrelevant, as it is true that CO2 responded to (but also amplified) temperature changes in the pre-human past. But he is wrong to deduce from this that the current relation of CO2 to temperature must be the same. In fact (see above), the evidence points very strongly in the other direction.
"It turns out CO2 fluctuations follow the change in sea temperature. As water temperatures rise, oceans release additional dissolved CO2."
As Brian Angliss points out, "If heating oceans were the source of the CO2 in today's atmosphere, we could expect a historical trend of dropping CO2 concentrations in the oceans, yet we see the exact opposite - CO2 concentrations in the ocean have increased even as their temperature has risen". See also the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the IPCC.
"Early last year, liberals suggested we spend 45 trillion dollars and give up five million jobs to fix global warming."
I can find no evidence of anyone calling for such a thing. Again, if Mr Tomlinson can put me right, I will deduct a point.
Well that was a virtuoso performance, and shows what you can do if you put your mind to it - and recycle a lot of half-digested material from climate sceptic websites. It sets a very high bar for all subsequent contestants and might even have established a world record for bullshit.
So congratulations to him, and buck up the rest of you. Christopher Booker, your good name is at stake. Will you really allow a rank outsider from Flint, Michigan, to walk off with this prestigious trophy? If you don't pay closer attention to the rules, the answer can only be yes.
© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited 2009