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Johnny Ball in talks with GWPF over teaching of climate change in schools

  • 22 Mar 2011, 12:06
  • Luke

Johnny Ball may be commissioned by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) to investigate the teaching of climate change in British schools. The two parties have not yet confirmed a deal but GWPF director Benny Peiser has told the Carbon Brief that the foundation are in the "discussion process with Ball and another researcher".

He said the study will not contest the basic physics of climate change but how the range of impacts are being taught. Peiser added that he wanted the study to be "as objective as possible" and that the GWPF do not have a clear idea of what they expect to find. Ball's research will include scrutinising text-books and exam papers.

Johnny Ball is a former children's TV presenter and famous for engaging kids with science. He made headlines last month when he expressed fears that he was a victim of an internet smear campaign as a result of his climate scepticism. The claims were picked up by the Times, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and the Express.

Ball outlined his position on teaching in schools in a piece for the BBC's Daily Politics show:

"How are your kids, your grandchildren, the next generation? Their potential is incredible. In a few years' time, the world will be their oyster. So why are we filling their heads with doom and gloom?

…Why, when everything about our lives is getting better by miles, are we giving our kids the impression that the world is becoming unravelled and may not be able to support life?"

It seems Johnny Ball - who was a fantastic science communicator in his time - already has some strong views on how climate change is communicated in schools.

He also has some strong views on climate science which include labelling the idea that "this natural gas" [CO2] may pose the greatest threat to the future as "nonsense".

In the same article for the BBC, Ball writes

"From my reading around the subject, only 4% of the CO2 that goes into the atmosphere is put there by man. The rest is completely natural - the rain falls and washes it out again and so you have to have a carbon cycle to keep replenishing it. It's all completely natural."

This statement that carbon dioxide can be "washed out" of the atmosphere by rain is not accurate - and indeed demonstrates a lack of understanding of the global carbon cycle.

An individual molecule of CO2 does have a relatively short lifespan (estimated at about 3-4 years), after which it is transferred into oceans, vegetation, or soil as a part of the carbon cycle - as illustrated below by NASA.

NASA Carbon Cycle

In the natural carbon cycle, the molecules change but the percentage of carbon does not (for more detail see here). The problem with the extra 4% of man-made carbon is that it cannot be absorbed by nature so over time the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere increases. As a result atmospheric carbon dioxide is currently at its highest level in 15 to 20 million years.

Johnny Ball has made several other dubious claims about climate change. Last month we scrutinised them in a little more detail. You can read them here.

Bearing in mind Benny Peiser has said the GWPF's study will not contest the "basic physics" of climate change and will be "as objective as possible", the selection of Johnny Ball as a lead researcher is a little bemusing.

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