A Very Modern Mania

Eye of storm

From Beliefs To Manias: In his book “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”, Charles Mackay describes multiple historical examples of what can best be described as mass hysteria, where large fractions of the population fell under the sway of a particular delusion, many of which had at their base some speculative economic scheme. Perhaps the best known example is the ‘Tulip Mania’ in 17th Century Holland, where single tulip bulbs could be as valuable as a house – solely because the people believed it to be so. The rise in bulb valuations were largely due to two human factors, ‘FOMO’, or ‘Fear of Missing Out’, and the ‘Greater Fool’ theory, where one believes that no matter how overpriced something seems, there is always a greater fool around who will pay more. Many modern economic trends seem little different, except that the items traded (stocks, houses, etc) may have more underlying (utilitarian) value that a tulip bulb. One underlying principle here seems to be that people will believe almost anything if their livelihood (or rising fortune) depends upon it, but the plunge into mania depends on more than the prospect of mere economic gain.

Although there are participants who have a clear idea of what is actually happening but cynically go along with this type of trend for what they can get out of it, the majority appear to be in the thrall of a true belief system and will strongly resist any contradictory evidence. Like a religious belief, these delusions seem to become a part of their identity, which must be defended at all costs; only a strong shock will sever the belief from them, and then only slowly. As Charles Mackay said:

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one. “

Gain does not have to be economic, in fact one could argue that is a less powerful goad than having one’s peers hold you in regard as a special person. Even crooks don’t like to think of themselves as crooks, so the inner feeling of virtue is important, and therefore must be signaled so that the inner virtue can be recognized by others. Thus, ‘virtue signaling’ becomes an important form of emotional currency, and whatever beliefs sustain that inner feeling must be protected at all costs, since it now becomes part of the core of one’s identity. Since there is no greater virtue than believing that you are doing something to save all of mankind (or even just your country, people, tribe, etc), believing yourself to be everyone’s savior can be intoxicating, and this enthusiasm can be literally contagious – sometime with tragic results.

There Once Was A Prosperous Tribe

ProphetessThe Xhosa were a numerous and prosperous tribe in South Africa and were in constant conflict with the British. The Xhosa wanted them to leave but were unable to force them out – and then a miracle occurred. In 1856, a 15 year old girl, Nongqawuse , claimed she met spirits who said that the dead would arise and help her people if they slaughtered all of their cattle and destroyed all their crops, which they claimed were ‘contaminated’ by witchcraft. At first she was not believed, but later her uncle Mhalakaza said her description matched that of his dead brother, and the prophesy spread. Over the next year, virtually all the cattle and crops were destroyed but their dead ‘saviors‘ never arrived, and at last, the starving survivors turned to the British, who ‘helped’ them by effectively enslaving them as laborers in the South African colony. Such is the amazing power of belief…

Note that this particular episode has all the hallmarks of a religious frenzy; current contamination (sin) which must be expiated through rigorous sacrifice (expiation) before a miraculous new era can be born (resurrection), combined with ostracism – or worse – of those who refuse to believe and join in the sacrifice. One might laugh and think very non-PC thoughts about this sad episode, but it appears we are falling prey to a similar and equally destructive ‘religious’ frenzy in the West, the frenzy surrounding ‘Global Warming’.

Before going any further, I should explain what I mean by this term. ‘Global Warming’ was a shortened form of ‘Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW)’ , which sought to convey that human activity was causing the global climate to warm at an unusual rate, primarily due to the increase in atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (CO2) released by our burning fossil fuels. This term was later modified to ‘Climate Change’ when the predicted warming did not appear, although the proponents still tout warming as the main effect. It is indisputable that humans have some effect on climate, at least locally or regionally, through urbanization, farming, land clearance, aerosols, and so on, but as we shall see, it is more difficult to discern indisputable global effects. CO2 is also now increasingly referred to as a ‘pollutant’, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Plants, from algae to trees, take in CO2 and, using the energy from sunlight, combine it with water to form simple sugars and give back oxygen into the atmosphere. Complex life couldn’t exist on the earth if CO2 was not present, and today’s concentration is far below the optimum amount for best plant growth.

Building a Greenhouse

GreenhouseSpeaking of plant growth, the term ‘Greenhouse Gas’ is used to describe gasses which can trap heat in the atmosphere, much like heat is retained in a greenhouse. This analogy is largely incorrect in that a greenhouse keeps the inside warm by preventing the escape of air from its sun-warmed interior, while greenhouse gasses slow the re-radiation of heat into space through infrared emissions, but there is one characteristic which both a greenhouse and our atmosphere share which is inconveniently left out of such popular explanations.

Let us assume you build a nice greenhouse in your backyard in a Northern clime, and you find it increases the interior temperature by 20 degrees, enough to give you an earlier start on your tomato plants. Now you want to start your plants even earlier, so you add another layer of glass to provide even better insulation. How much warmer will it get now? It certainly won’t get warmer by another 20 degrees – more likely a degree or two, if that. This demonstrates the nature of diminishing returns, and the same thing applies to CO2 in our atmosphere. When CO2 is present at 20 parts per million (ppm), it will provide 50% of its maximum warming potential. If that concentration is doubled, the warming increases to 75%, and doubling again increases it to 87.5%, and again to 93.8% and again to about 97%. So – we are now up to 320 ppm and have experienced all but 3% of the possible warming that can be directly provided by CO2, and since the maximum warming directly from CO2 is estimated to be between 20 to 30 degrees C, the most we could ever get from increased CO2 is about one more degree. So why all the fuss?

Simply Extraordinary

Carl SaganCarl Sagan said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, but in all of these public manias, the opposite seems to be true; the more extraordinary the claim the less any real proof matters. The theory that carbon dioxide can cause atmospheric warming goes back at least to Arrhenius in the late 19th Century and is an undisputed fact. The real question is, how much CO2 causes how much warming? The subject never gained any popular traction until a 1989 speech by British PM Margret Thatcher, who warned that increasing CO2 (largely from burning coal) could cause catastrophic warming if its causes were not addressed. Not often mentioned was that she really wanted to break the political power of the coal miners union in the UK and switch to CO2-free nuclear power. It was also politically useful to her in that she was a chemist and could speak authoritatively about a subject on which other politicians were utterly ignorant. So now we have a ‘sin’ - the extravagant use of fossil fuels – causing ‘suffering’ (to Gaia), which must be expiated through shared (or forced) sacrifice. Just as it took a while for all Xhosa to come around (or be forced) to believe in the spirits, it took a while for the Global Warming movement to gather momentum, but this movement had something that the Xhosa spirit movement lacked - overwhelming amounts of money.

Mountains Of $$$

MoneyEach year, tens of billions of dollars are lavished on ‘Global Warming’ studies and mitigation. Entire sections of universities, government agencies and corporations are funded based upon this theory, and all participants know (if only deep in their hearts) that their livelihood depends on this theory being upheld. It is not at all surprising that these participants will do whatever is necessary to keep the gravy train flowing, but it (should) be more surprising that so many non-participating citizens seem to have a need to believe as well. If I were told that something terrible would happen if I didn’t immediately perform a painful sacrifice, I would surely ask quite a few pointed questions before I acted, even if everyone else seemed to believe it. Depending upon who one listens to, the claims vary from “things will get very uncomfortable” to “all life on the planet will perish”. Either end of this spectrum of claims is extraordinary, so where is the extraordinary proof?

There Are No Clothes...

No ClothesIt would surprise most people to find out that there is actually NO scientific proof for this theory – none… All that exists are some computer models and relatively few (and biased) historic temperature records. Every one of the extravagant claims of doom are based entirely on the computer models (and/or a researcher’s imagination). To begin with, we should first look at how these models came about and what they actually say.

The Little Ice Age ended in the late 19th Century and rising temperatures in the 20th Century probably peaked around 1930-1940 and declined thereafter to the point where there was a ‘Global Cooling’ scare in the 1970s. CO2 concentrations had not really risen all that much at that time, but by the 1990s, CO2 had risen (presumably due to burning increasing amounts of fossil fuels) and so had the temperature. In 1988, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was established by the UN, and working groups were set up to investigate this new warming trend, which was presumably due to the increasing CO2 concentration. Since CO2 was believed to be the only thing that could have changed to increase the temperature, computer models were written to elucidate this link – and only this link. However, there was a problem. Arrhenius had laid out the basic formulas for calculating warming from the so-called ‘greenhouse gasses’, and when these were plugged into the computer models, it was found that the increased CO2 could only account for a trivial amount of warming. Since it was believed then that only the CO2 could be responsible, the models were tweaked to boost the CO2 effect almost 10X, posited on a theoretical interaction of the CO2 and upper-atmospheric moisture.

Models - No, Not That Kind!

ModelsAll of the climate models are actually what are referred to as ‘process models’, which try to describe what is happening and better understand the processes involved in climate interactions. Even the people who write and use the models claim that they have absolutely no predictive power because they can model only a tiny amount of the whole picture, and even their limited ‘predictions’ depend upon a number of ‘educated guesses’. However, the politicians and others who benefit from chaos find these ‘Scientific Predictions’ (or more honestly, ‘scenarios’) to be useful in gaining support and funding because almost no one really looks at the fine print disclaimers from the model writers themselves. There is not a single model that has accurately predicted the actual course of ‘global’ temperatures, so while their output might be useful for some studies, they can’t be used for any prediction of the future, and because of the chaotic (mathematically speaking) nature of climate, it is unlikely that a prediction can be made with any accuracy at all. So what about real-world temperature measurements themselves, don’t these show dramatic warming?

Weather stations, from where the temperature measurements generally came from, were set up to aid weather forecasting and not to provide precise results. If the supposed warming is in a few tenths of a degree and the thermometers were read to the nearest degree (sometimes half-degree), there seems to be an issue here with precision. Additionally, since temperature varies over the course of the day, one either uses a thermometer which records the daily maximum and minimum temperatures or tries to read it at set times. Modern electronic weather stations can log temperatures continuously, but the historical records were largely from manually-read stations. To make things even more uncertain, to measure temperatures correctly, there should be no environmental factors which influence the temperature at the station. Originally, most of the stations were in rural areas and correctly sited, but with increasing urbanization, cities began to surround most weather stations and increased the local temperature due to the urban heat-island effect. Anyone who travels from a city to the countryside is aware that things are cooler away from the city, so the bias in the temperature record from this effect can be as large as several degrees and hard to correct for. Even worse, weather stations tended to be installed at airports, which are islands of hot concrete hosting airplane engines… So, how reliable are the traditional (historic) temperature records when we need to discern tiny changes in average temperature? The answer seems to be - pretty useless. Based on the early (pre-WW2) temperature records, which were less affected by these biases, it seems that average temperatures in the US did increase from the late 19th Century up to about WW2, with a peak being reached somewhere in the ‘30s or ‘40s. Since there was no appreciable build-up of CO2 in that period, this temperature rise had to be due to other factors. To get a better handle on temperatures, from 1979 to the present, there is a satellite record.

Satellites can measure the temperature of the upper atmosphere, which removes the heat-island effect, and they can provide global coverage. One nice thing is that the satellite temperature measurements can be checked using radiosonde balloons, and the readings from these two independent sources agree quite well, and these results show that global temperatures have not increased at all (or at best by only a tiny amount) over the last 30 years, in spite of a substantial increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration. In 2008, NOAA also set up a climate reference network of properly sited high-quality terrestrial measurement stations, and to date these show no increase in temperature. Based upon the satellite measurements and the reference measurements, there does not appear to be any evidence at all for warming , at least in the last few decades. However, there are other proxy findings which are trotted out to ‘prove’ global warming, and as expected, these are problematical as well.

Even More Calamities?

CalamitiesSea level rise would be expected as the climate warms and the water in the oceans expands, and indeed we do see sea level rise. The only problem with this is the rise is 11" per century, and the rate of rise has been steady for centuries, as documented by human tidal records and dated sediments. Actually, the rate of rise has slowed over the past decades, so if anything, this should be proof that unusual warming is not happening. In some areas, however, land subsidence has caused flooding, but this is not sea level rise. Satellite imaging has shown that islands such as Vanuatu have actually increased in area instead of being swallowed by the sea, so the aqueous apocalypse seems to be on hold…

Polar icePolar ice and glaciers are not going away either; although there has been a slight decrease in Northern polar ice, the ice fields around Antarctica have expanded; this oscillatory feature of polar ice seems to be a usual feature of Earth’s climate. Some glaciers have shrunk, while others are growing. In the 1920s, it was believed that the glaciers were disappearing because some were melting fast, but they re-grew in a few decades. Recently, human remains were found under a retreating glacier. Rather than this being evidence of current warming, one might ask why it was so much warmer in the past (and it was) when people lived there? People with fixed ideology always look for confirmatory evidence and ignore anything to the contrary, but all this information is present on reputable websites and in government agencies if one looks for it. WUWT has many compendiums of climate topics for those who want to see for themselves, and all material is referenced.

Terrible storms, flooding, wildfires and other natural disasters are also claimed to be increasing, and although the dollar value of damage is increasing due to more people and property in affected areas, there is actually no increase in such events over historic norms. In fact, the most destructive storms ever recorded had occurred during the cold period of the Little Ice Age. This should not be surprising since weather is driven by temperature differences, and the highest gradients will be found with a cold Northern Hemisphere and a warm Equator. The best real-world scientific evidence suggests that a doubling of the (pre-industrial) CO2 level would be beneficial, with a very modest warming at the Northern latitudes and much more water-efficient plant growth. This will cause (and is causing now, as seen from satellite images) a ‘greening of the deserts' from this effect. Increased crop yields would be a good thing with a growing but not yet stabilized population. So, if all of the usual assertions are untrue, why do so many people insist on believing in a proposition that all real-world evidence runs against?

Are We The Xhosa?

ScrewedAs with the Xhosa and the manias documented by Mackay, there is a strong need to believe as a group, and to promote group solidarity. Like the dissenting Xhosas, people labeled as ‘climate deniers’ are hounded in the social media, scorned by mainstream and denied promotion (or employment) and even physically attacked. There are no doubt a cynical core who realize the whole panic is an elaborate scam and use it for their enrichment (former VP come to mind?), but the bulk of the ‘believers’ seem to have found a ‘true faith’ for modern times which can give their lives meaning and importance.

Both the Xhosa and we have a lot in common...

An unquestionable authority prophesies a momentous coming event: Spirits of the ancestors vs Climate scientists at universities & agencies.

Warning of past sins which must be expiated: Contamination of food supplies by witchcraft vs Contaminating the atmosphere with CO2.

Great sacrifices are needed to cleanse: Destroy the food supply vs cripple the economy.

Dissenters are ostracized and attacked: ‘Stingy ones’ attacked vs ‘Climate Deniers’ ostracized and attacked.

Salvation coming after sufficient sacrifice: New ‘clean’ cattle & food arise from the sea vs Abundant and cheap ‘Green Energy’.

Similar to all belief-driven manias, what would appear to be reasonable solutions to the ‘problem’ of CO2 are ignored because they don’t require penitence and painful sacrifice. Germany has essentially destroyed its electrical system and crippled its economy by shutting down their nuclear reactors and replacing them with windmills and solar panels – in Germany!! Unsurprisingly, the unstable electrical grid now has to be fed with new coal-fed power plants, with even more CO2 emissions than before – but at least they are trying…

Like all the other manias, this one will also end in tears. One can hope it ends before the ritual sacrifices destroy modern civilization – but I would not bet on that.