The Express: Climate change is just a 1,500 year cycle
- 25 Jan 2012, 17:00
- Christian Hunt
The Express today features an impassioned
defence of Lord Nigel Lawson, chairman of the climate skeptic
lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) from
journalist Adrian Lee.
Obviously we don't agree with aiming 'venomous' or 'vitriolic'
messages at anyone. But separate to any online ire directed at
Lawson, there have been many reasonable comments about Lawson and
the GWPF which have taken issue with their
portrayal of climate science and their expertise
on climate and energy matters.
In defending Lawson, the Express article itself makes a series
of errors which appear to demonstrate an inaccurate understanding
of climate science, and some basic failings of fact checking on
points about shale gas.
First up, the climate science. It has been well established that
the rise in global average temperature over recent decades cannot
be explained by natural causes alone. A new branch of scientific
research has developed, trying to quantify how much of the recent
rise in global temperatures comes from different causes, such as
man-made greenhouse gas emissions, solar forcing, or volcanic
The studies which comprise the peer-reviewed scientific
literature agree that human activities, particularly greenhouse gas
emissions, have caused nearly all of the warming over recent
decades. For example, a paper by
Gillet et al. published earlier this year calculated that the
Earth warmed by nearly 0.7 °C over the fifty years between 1961 and
2010, and that human activity accounted for all of that warming. In
fact, the study showed, man-made greenhouse gas emissions would
have caused even more warming than we got, were it not for the
cooling effect of other processes such as aerosols reflecting
energy back out to space. Other attribution studies show similar
findings (see for example
So when Lee writes:
"Many scientists now believe that
climate change is much more likely to be part of a cycle of warming
and cooling that has happened regularly every 1,500 years for the
last million years, without causing major harm."
This is just wrong. Who are these 'many scientists'? They aren't
publishing in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.
The 1,500 year cycle the Lee refers to are probably sudden
climate fluctuations that happened during the most recent glacial
period, and which can be detected in ice cores. A cooling and
re-warming in the northern hemisphere
by warming and re-cooling in the southern hemisphere, so these
fluctuations are a re-distribution of heat in the Atlantic, and not
a change overall global temperatures.
This, of course, makes these events different to current
warming, which has seen temperatures rise across the planet.
Furthermore, there is no peer-reviewed scientific research we're
aware of which suggests that these events are linked to current
This video explains further:
The article also holds up TV presenter Johnny Ball as someone
claiming to have been
"vilified for opposing the commonly held
view about global warming."
Ball's take on climate science is certainly far from being in agreement with
the peer-reviewed scientific consensus on the topic. But Ball
denied claiming that environmentalists were involved in
smearing his name, as was reported at the time.
Finally, the piece moves on shale gas and fracking. The article
makes the point that "fracking is already big business". Certainly
true - as a US
Energy Information Administration report points out, shale gas
could account as much as 47% of US domestic production by 2035, but
not, as the Express article claims,
"by the end of the decade"
Finally, the article notes:
"Shale gas emits larger amounts of
methane, a potent greenhouse gas, than conventional gas but still
far less than coal."
This is somewhat confused. Gas in general produces lower
greenhouse gas emissions than coal - roughly half the amount. But
shale gas is just natural gas taken from shale, so is still mostly
methane. Gas - it's mostly just methane.
It may be that the extraction of shale gas emits more methane
know, there were different views on this at an event we attended
last week), but the gas itself is the same, just removed from a
different type of rock.
So, again, the Express have produced an article that promotes
basic scientific and factual inaccuracies. But as they don't
participate in the Press Complaints Commission process there is no
mechanism to seek corrections to their coverage.