Christopher Booker uses Times Atlas story for his own purposes
- 22 Sep 2011, 14:00
- Tim Holmes
Christopher Booker's full-page
article in the Mail yesterday predictably attempted to connect
the Times Atlas' recent mistake on the melting of the Greenland ice
sheet with previous mistakes made by the IPCC - all in the service
of a narrative that "belief in global warming may be little more
than a vastly over-blown scare".
Booker is a vociferous climate change skeptic of long standing,
and not averse to accusations about mainstream scientists'
"alarmism". In February, for instance, he
"Prof Peter Stott of the UK Met Office's
Hadley Centre and Dr Myles Allen, head of Oxford's Climate Dynamics
Group ... have long been among the most influential scientists in
the world in stoking up climate alarmism."
So the fact that it was mainstream climate scientists (part of
the overwhelming scientific consensus on human-caused climate
change) who knocked this particular claim on the head of course
posed something of a problem for Booker's
conventional mode of argument.
As the Telegraph's
Geoffrey Lean and
other commentators have already pointed out, the claim made by
the Times Atlas that Greenland had lost 15% of its mass was
"swiftly denounced" by the
Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) at Cambridge University
and the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder,
Colorado. Scientists from the SPRI at the University of Cambridge
a letter to the Times and issued a
press release which labelled the claim "incorrect and
misleading". Julienne Stroeve of the NSIDC weighed in with a forthright comment on the
climate skeptic blog Watts
up With That:
"..we're trying to get figure out
exactly what they did - what data source they used, what processing
they did, etc. Obviously we are not too happy about it (and nor or
any the glaciologists who study Greenland)."
Booker himself quoted experts from the Scott Polar Research
Institute and (oddly enough) his
erstwhile foes at the Met Office. His explanation for this is
that some climate scientists have become more wary of exaggerated
claims in recent years:
"... the fact that responsible
scientists who are by no means climate sceptics should have been so
anxious to point out the errors in the Times Atlas is perhaps an
indication that some of the lessons of those blunders by the IPCC
have struck home.
"The more responsible members of the
'warmist' scientific community seem now rather more on their guard
than they were against the peddling of baseless scare stories to
promote the case for global warming."
Later on he stated that the Times Atlas has been "damningly
challenged by real scientific experts".
So what else are these "responsible members" of the overwhelming
majority of climate scientists - the "real scientific experts" -
saying? Environmental journalist Mark Lynas
cites a number of experts, among them Dr. Jeffrey S. Kargel,
Senior Research Scientist at the University of Arizona, who is
scathing in his criticism of the Times Atlas's error:
"make no mistake: this is not what is
happening, this is not science, and this is not what scientists are
saying ... these new maps are ridiculously off base, way
exaggerated relative to the reality ... I don't know how
exactly the Times Atlas produced their results, but they are NOT
scientific results. ... a number like 15% ice loss used for
advertising the book is simply a killer mistake that cannot be
Here, however, is what else he has to say about, in his words,
"the reality of rapid change in Greenland":
"Greenland specialists have documented
what is actually happening in Greenland, and it involvessome
incredibly rapid changes, mainly increasing melting, thinning, and
retreat; and slight thickening in some sectors, butoverall
Greenland is a story of massive, rapid retreat."
Here is the
graphic that accompanied Christopher Booker's piece in the
Mail. Its caption stated:
"the Times atlas showed a dramatic
contraction of the Greenland ice shelf between 1999 and 2011. In
fact the real change was negligible."
The rate of loss may seem very small if it is judged by looking
at a map. But the caption gives a highly misleading impression that
the current rate of loss of the Greenland ice sheet is
"negligible". As noted in an
earlier piece on Carbon Brief, the Greenland ice sheet has lost
approximately 0.1% of its volume over the last 12 years. This is a
long way from 15%, but the recently accelerated rate of melting of
the Greenland ice sheet is a matter of widespread and intense
concern. Scientists have warned
that, "[i]f this trend continues, ice sheets will be the dominant
contributor to sea level rise in the 21st century."
Booker apparently believes that we should listen to the experts.
As he tells us later on:
"When so much now hangs on whether or
not there is genuinely reliable evidence for man-made climate
change, it is more vital than ever that the claims made to support
that change are grounded in proper science."
If Booker is right, shouldn't we be heeding these scientists'
warnings? Or do they only count as "real scientific experts" when
they agree with his own preferred version of events? If articles
Rise of sea levels is 'the greatest lie ever told'" - penned by
Booker in March 2009 - are anything to go by, apparently so.
In fact, prominent mainstream climate scientists have long
subjected "alarmist" statements on climate science to the same
standards of rigorous public scrutiny and criticism as climate
"skepticism". Indeed it was a mainstream climate scientist, Georg
Kaser, who - as Booker himself
acknowledged - first pointed out the IPCC's mistaken claim on
Himalayan glacier melt. It was this that initiated the spate of
revelations Booker claims has now made the "responsible" scientists
more "anxious" and "on their guard". This episode is thus not a
change, but entirely in keeping with what has long been climate
scientists' standard practice.
The comparison with Christopher Booker's work - which has been
found repeatedly to be
riddled with fundamental errors on climate science and climate
change - is not flattering (see for example
here, here and
Booker suggested that there was a deliberate intent to mislead
on the part of the Times Atlas, and of those who have "approved"
"one of the world's most respected
reference books, it seems, has been caught outperpetrating what
amounts to yet more propagandafor the belief in global warming.
"now the new Times Atlas can be added to
the approved propaganda list, to ensure that once again school
students are being fed with the right-on, politically correct
No evidence has however emerged that this error was
"perpetrated" specifically "to ensure" the indoctrination of
students. And Harper Collins has today announced that it will be
reviewing" the maps in response to
further criticism from the scientific community.
Booker also claimed that the educational syllabus has been
massively distorted by climate change agenda:
"In geography, the present curriculum no
longer concentrates on countries, continents, rivers, mountains or
cities. Instead, it insists that pupils should learn about global
warming and climate change and the likely effects of rising sea
Notwithstanding Booker's peculiarly narrow conception of the
rich and complex field of geography, this claim is obviously
untrue. AQA, for instance, currently lists on its Geography syllabus
"rivers", "world cities", "cartographic ... skills", "plate
techtonics", "young fold mountains"; and so on.
Booker also wrote that:
"A High Court judge decided that the
'apocalyptic vision' of global warming presented in the film was
politically partisan and not an impartial analysis of the science
of climate change."
Yet this is highly misleading. In fact, in his ruling Mr Justice
"I have no doubt that Dr Stott, the
Defendant's expert, is right when he says that:
"Al Gore's presentation of the causes
and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly
Booker referred to "grievous errors" by the IPCC. Yet a thorough
inquiry by the Dutch Government "found no errors that would
undermine the main conclusions in the 2007 report of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change" in its Working Group II
Report - the source of the errors Booker mentions. Not exactly
"grievous". Yet Booker still persists in asserting that:
"too much evidence has come to light in
recent years to suggest that much of their belief in global warming
may be little more than a vastly over-blown scare."
Scientists who wrote
to the Times expressing their concern about HarperCollins'
mistake wrote that
"It is... crucial to report climate
change and its impact accurately and to back bold statements with
concrete and correct evidence"
Christopher Booker says that he agreed with this statement. But
his writings appear to indicate the contrary.
UPDATE: 22nd Sept, 5.30pm - Some minor edits were made to this
article, following a request from the author
UPDATE: 23rd Sept, 4.20pm - Text which initially said "the
Greenland ice sheet melt is currently proceeding at about 0.1% a
year" was changed to read "the Greenland ice sheet has lost
approximately 0.1% of its volume over the last 12 years" when this
error was pointed out to us.